The Prophetic Parables of Matthew 13 (p3)
with The Prophetic Scope of Matthew 24 (p4)
AW Pink (1886-1952)
Copyright: Public Domain
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The Prophetic Parables of Matthew 13
The Parable of the Hid Treasure
“Again the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; that which when a man has found, he hides, and for joy thereof goes and sells all that he has, and buys that field” (Mat 13:44).
The common interpretation of this parable, both by Calvinists and Arminians, is as far removed from what I am fully assured is its true meaning as is the explanation they give of the earlier ones in Matthew 13. Dr. John Gill tells us that the treasure in this parable is “the Gospel,” that the field in which the treasure is hidden is “the Scriptures,” and that the man who sought and found the treasure is “an elect and awakened sinner.” It is amazing how such an exegete of the Scriptures, and a man so deeply taught of God, could wander so far astray when he came to this parable. In the first place, the “field” is mentioned in two of the preceding parables—the field in which the good Seed was sown, and the field that was over-sown by tares; and in verse 38 of this very chapter Christ has told us the field is the world Then why should it be supposed that the field means something entirely different in this fifth parable of the same chapter? Again, we have already had a “man” before us in the first two parables—a man who sowed good Seed in his field (v. 24). The Lord Jesus Himself has told us who that man is: “He that sows the good seed is the Son of man” (Mat 13:37). If, then, the man in the second parable represents the Son of man, why, in this fifth parable, without any word to the contrary, are we to understand Him to point to someone entirely different?
Against the popular interpretation of the parable we advance these objections: First, if in this parable the Lord Jesus was setting forth the way of salvation, teaching that earnestness and diligence are needed on the part of an awakened sinner if he is to reach the treasure and make it his own (which treasure is hidden from the dilatory and careless), then how strange it is that it was not spoken in the hearing of the multitude! Instead, we are told that Christ had sent the multitude away, had entered the house and spoke this parable to His disciples only. Second, in this parable the treasure is hid in “the field,” and, as we have seen, the field is the “world.” In what possible sense is Christ or the Gospel hidden in the world? In the third place, when the man had found this treasure he hid it again: “the which when a man has found, he hides.” If the treasure represents the Gospel and the field be the world, and if the man who is seeking the treasure be an awakened sinner, then our parable teaches that God requires the awakened sinner, after he has found peace and obtained salvation, to go out and hide it in the world! How absurd! Christ plainly told His disciples to let their light, so shine that men might see their good works and glorify their Father which is in heaven. In the fourth place, in the parable we are told that after this man had found the treasure and then hid it again, that he went and “sold all that he had” and “bought it.” What does an awakened sinner have to sell, and what is it that he purchases? Surely not the world! Such a loose interpretation may suit and satisfy lazy people who are too dilatory to carefully examine the parable for themselves, but it certainly will not do for those who, by the grace of God, have become prayerful and diligent students of the Word. We need hardly say that any interpretation that contains such absurdities must be promptly dismissed.
Now the first key to this parable is found in the fact that it was spoken by Christ after He had dismissed the multitudes and had taken His disciples into the house. This parable, unlike the four which precede it, was spoken to the disciples only. Those disciples must have been perplexed and dismayed at the gloomy picture which Christ had drawn of the form which His kingdom was going to assume in this world after His departure. He told them, or at least He had said in their hearing, that they would go forth and scatter the good Seed broadcast, but, with meager results. The sowing which had been begun by Him was to be continued by them, and He had warned them that, though there should be a broadcast sowing throughout the field, only a fractional portion of the good Seed would take root and bear fruit. Second, He had said that the Devil would turn farmer and over-sow the field with tares. And they were forbidden to pluck them up: the tares and the wheat were to grow side by side until the harvest, and then the tares would be found in such quantities it would be necessary to bind them in “bundles!” Third, He had warned them that His professing cause on earth would develop so extensively and rapidly that it would be like a little mustard-seed growing up into a herb, ultimately becoming a tree, with wide spreading branches; but that the Devil and his agents would find shelter in them; Fourth, He announced that into the meal, which was the emblem of His pure truth, a foreign and corrupting element would be introduced, stealthily and secretly, and the outcome should be that ultimately the whole of the meal would be leavened.
Yes, there was every reason for the poor disciples to be perplexed and dismayed. Then the Lord Jesus (it was just like Him), took them apart, and in the parables of the treasure and pearl He spoke words to reassure their hearts. He made known to them that, though the outward professing cause of Christianity upon earth would develop so tragically, yet there will be no failure on the part of God. He tells them there are two bodies, two elect peoples, who are inexpressibly precious in His sight, and that through them He will manifest the inexhaustible riches of His grace and glory—and that, in the two realms of His dominion—on the earth and in heaven. Two distinct elect companies, one the “treasure” hid in the field, symbolizing the literal nation of Israel; the other, the one “pearl,” symbolizing the one body which has a heavenly calling, destiny, citizenship, and inheritance. The order of these next two parables is this: “To the Jew first, and also to the Greek.” Therefore, the hidden treasure in the field, the symbol of Israel, is given before the pearl, which is the figure of the Church.
The second key which unlocks the parable before us, and the two which follow, is indicated in the way in which the Lord divided the whole series. There are seven parables in all, and He divided them into four and three: the four being spoken by the seaside in the hearing of the multitudes, the last three being spoken inside the house to the disciples only. Four is the number of the earth, the world. God has stamped “four” upon it. There are four points to the compass; four seasons to earth’s year, and so on. Four then, is the number of the earth or the world; hence in the first four parables of Matthew 13 Christ has described the kingdom of heaven as it appears in the world, as it is manifested here on earth. Three is the number of the Holy Trinity, and therefore in the last three parables the kingdom is looked at from God’s viewpoint. We have God’s thoughts upon it, we are shown what God has in the kingdom—a hidden treasure, a pearl of great price.
With this somewhat lengthy introduction, let us take up the parable in detail. “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field.” If scripture is allowed to interpret scripture there will be no difficulty whatever in discovering what this “hid treasure” actually and definitely signifies. Go back to Exo 19:5, “Now therefore, if ye will obey My voice—it was the house of Jacob, the children of Israel that was addressed—and keep My covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is Mine”—corresponding with “the field” in which the “treasure” is found! Again “For thou art a holy people unto the Lord thy God and the Lord has chosen thee to be a peculiar treasure unto Himself” (Deu 14:2). The Hebrew in this verse is the same as in Exo 19:5. Again, “When the Most High divided to the nations their inheritance (that means their earthly portion), when He separated the sons of Adam, He set the bounds of the people according to the number of the children of Israel. For the Lord’s portion is His people; Jacob is the lot of His inheritance” (Deu 32:8): that is. here, on earth, for the context is speaking solely about earthly things—the apportioning of the earth to the nations. Once more: “For the Lord has chosen Jacob unto Himself, and Israel for His peculiar treasure“ (Psa 135:4). These passages have no reference at all to the saints of this present dispensation, or to the church which is the body of Christ, but speak of the earthly Israel according to the flesh. They are God’s treasure on earth, His earthly elect people. Confirmation of this definition of the “treasure” in our parable, is found in the fact that never once in the twenty-one Epistles in the New Testament is the word “treasure” used of the Church! It is never applied to the saints of this present dispensation.
Now the first thing we are told in Mat 13:44 about this treasure is that it was hid in a field, and the field was “the world” (see v. 38). This is precisely the condition in which God’s earthly elect people were found at the beginning of His dealings with them. The parable starts with the treasure hid in the field, and the Old Testament begins with Israel hidden in the field! Who was the father of Israel according to the flesh? Abraham. Go back to the starting-point in Abraham’s life. Where was he when God’s hand was first laid upon him? Was he living in separation from the idolatrous people around him? No, he was hidden away among them—one of them! Take a later point in their early history. After Abraham came Isaac, and after Isaac Jacob, for Esau was not in the elect line. Look at Jacob, away from the promised land, an exile in Padan-aram, working for an unprincipled godless Gentile—for that is virtually what he was. Look at Jacob there among all the servants of Laban, hidden—nothing to indicate that he was one of the high favorites of God.
Proceed a little further. Abraham’s and Jacob’s descendants have become a numerous progeny, until they number some two million souls. Where are they to be found? Working in the brick-kilns of Egypt, a company of slaves. What was there to distinguish them? What was there to denote that they were God’s peculiar treasure? Nothing, indeed: the treasure was “hidden.” That is where the parable begins, and that is where their history as a nation began—buried, as it were, amid the rubbish of Egypt. That is why we read. “And it shall be, when thou art come in unto the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee for an inheritance, and possessest it, and dwellest therein; that thou shalt take of the first of all the fruit of the earth, which thou shalt bring of thy land that the Lord thy God giveth thee, and shall put it in a basket, and shalt go unto the place which the Lord thy God shall choose to place His name there . . . And thou shalt speak and say before the Lord thy God, A Syrian ready to perish was my father” (Deu 26:1, Deu 26:5). Yes, the treasure was hidden in the field at the beginning. From Isa 51:1-2, we learn how, at a later point in the history of Israel, God reminded them of their lowly origin, of the humble start that they had as a people: “Hearken to Me, you that follow after righteousness, you that seek the Lord: look unto the rock whence you are hewn, and to the hole of the pit whence you are digged. Look unto Abraham your father, and unto Sarah that bear you.” One other passage on this point: “For the Lord’s portion is His people; Jacob is the lot of His inheritance. He found him in a desert land, and in the waste howling wilderness” (Deu 32:10). There is their lowly origin mentioned again: the treasure was “hid,” buried in the field.
Coming back to our text let us turn to the second detail in it: “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man has found.” That is the next point, the finding of the treasure. That is so very simple it needs no interpretation. The “man” here is Christ Himself—as the “man” is Christ in verse 24, see verse 37; and in the parable that follows, verse 45. The “finding” of the “treasure” by Christ refers to the days of His earthly ministry. We are told in Joh 1:11, “He came unto His own;” that does not mean His own spiritually, for we read that “His own received Him not.” It was His own people according to the flesh. As He said to the Canaanitish woman in Mat 15:24, “I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Christ, the Man, came to Israel, the Jews. His ministry was confined unto them. The “treasure” was “found”—it was no longer hidden when Christ came here. The Jewish nation was not as it was in the days of Moses in Egypt. The sons of Jacob were in their own land. They had their own temple; the priesthood was still intact. And it was to them, this Man, Christ, came.
“Again the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man has found, he hides.” There is a distinct step in each clause. He “hides” it. That is the most solemn word in the chapter, with the one exception of the furnace of fire. Remember what was before us in the 12th of Matthew, which furnishes the key to the 13th. In Matthew 12 Christ presented Himself to the Jews and the Jews rejected Him, and because of their rejection He rejected them, pronounced sentence of doom upon them—the evil spirit coming back and taking with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, “Even so shall it be also unto this wicked generation.” Then at the close of the chapter Christ intimated He would no longer acknowledge any bond or tie, any kinship except a spiritual one—”Whosoever shall do the will of My Father”: it was Christ severing the link which, according to the flesh, bound Him to Israel. So here in the parable: first we have the treasure hid in the field: that was Israel’s condition at the beginning of their national history in Old Testament times. Second, we have the Man coming to the treasure: that was the earthly ministry of Christ. Third, we have the treasure hid once more: that was Christ’s rejection of Israel. The “hiding” of the treasure referred to the last dispersion and scattering of the Jews throughout the whole earth. And, so effectually has He “hidden” the treasure that ten out of the twelve tribes are still lost! Yes, they are hidden, so securely hidden that no man to this day knows where they are!
One passage of Scripture in proof of what we have said above on Christ’s “hiding“ Israel: “For they are a nation void of counsel, neither is there any understanding in them. O that they were wise, that they understood this, that they would consider their latter end” (Deu 32:28-29). How often is a sermon preached on this as though it applied to every man on earth, and his “latter end” is made to mean his deathbed! But the “latter end” here is of the nation of Israel, and it is the latter end of their history on this earth. Now read the next verse: “How shall one chase a thousand and two put ten thousand to flight, except their Rock had sold them, and the Lord had shut them up!” Yes, they “sold” Him for thirty pieces of silver. But “whatsoever a man sows that shall he also reap,” and God delivered them into the hands of the Gentiles! Their Rock “sold” them, and “the Lord shut them up.” That is parallel with the treasure “hidden” again. They are “shut up.” When a thing is shut up you cannot see it, it is hidden from sight.
Consider now the fourth point in our text: which is the most puzzling detail in the parable. Look at it closely: “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man has found, he hides, and for joy thereof goes and sells all that he has, and buys that field.” The purchase is made after the treasure had been “hidden,” and, as we have seen, the hiding of the treasure had respect to Christ’s judgment upon Israel and His dispersion of them throughout the earth. Turn now to Joh 11:51-52: “And this he spoke not of himself: but being high priest that year, he prophesied.” What did he prophesy? “That Jesus should die for”—for whom?—”for that nation, and not for that nation only, but that He also should gather together in one the children of God that are scattered abroad.” Now what could be plainer than that? We have two distinct objects there, two distinct companies—”that nation” and also the gathering together in one of “the children of God” that are scattered abroad. The gathering together in one of the children of God that are scattered abroad is what God is doing in this present dispensation, taking out of the Gentiles a people for His name, and gathering them together into one Body. That is what we have in the sixth parable—one pearl. But before that, we are told here in Joh 11:51, He also died for “that nation.” This is what you have in the fifth parable, the earthly people, hid in the field, the world, the earth. This is God’s earthly elect, “that nation.” In the sixth parable, the pearl, you have His heavenly elect people, the one body. But we are told in the parable that “for joy thereof He goes and sells all that He has and buys that field.” Turn to 2Pe 2:1, “But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them.” These false teachers are reprobates, yet this very verse says the Lord bought them. Many have created their own difficulty there in failing to distinguish between ransoming and redeeming. The Lord has “bought” the world, but He has not “redeemed” the world. There is a big difference between the two things. The first Adam was placed at the head of the world: God said “Have thou dominion over all”: and he lost it, he forfeited it; the Devil wrested it from his hands: and the last Adam, as man—“the second Man front heaven”—needed to purchase that which Adam had lost; therefore He bought the field. He has bought the whole world, but He has not redeemed it. Particular redemption is for God’s elect only, but ransoming, purchasing, is much wider. He bought the field—”Denying the Lord that bought them”—-you cannot get away from it. Now, then, He bought the field also because of the treasure that was hidden in it. The treasure in the field is Israel. The man in the parable is Christ. He went and sold all that He had. He who was rich became poor, and bought the field. Now that is mentioned after the re-hiding of the treasure in the field for this reason: the Jews do not enter into the value and the benefits of Christ’s atonement until after this age is over. It is not until the Millennium that Israel will enjoy the benefits of that purchase of His. He bought the field because of the treasure that was in it, and that is why the purchasing of the field is mentioned after the re-hiding of the treasure in it.
To summarize. First, we have the treasure hid in the field: that takes us back to the beginning of Israel’s history as a nation. Second, we have the Man finding that treasure; that is Christ coming to this earth and confining His message to the Jews in Palestine. Third, we have the Man hiding the treasure; that is Christ’s judgment upon Israel because of their rejection of Him referring to their dispersion abroad throughout the earth. Fourth, we have the Man purchasing the treasure and the whole field in which it was found, referring to the death of Christ. Now, have you noticed there is a fifth point omitted?—the logical completion of the parable would be the Man actually possessing the treasure that He purchased. He hid it, then He purchased it. Logically, the parable needs this to complete it—the Man owning and possessing the treasure. Why is that left out? Because it lies outside the scope of Matthew 13. This chapter, dealing with the “mysteries of the kingdom of heaven,” has to do with the history of Christendom. It describes the cause of Christ on this earth during the period of His absence, and therefore there is nothing in this parable about the restoration of Israel and the Lord possessing His earthly treasure, because that comes after this dispensation is over, after the history of Christendom has been wound up, after the new age has been inaugurated, namely, the Millennium! How perfect is Scripture in its omissions! For passages treating of Christ’s recovery and possession of the treasure see Amo 9:14-15; Act 15:17. In due time the Jews shall be manifested as God’s peculiar “treasure’’ on “earth”—see Isa 62:1-4.
The Parable of the Pearl
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it” (Mat 13:45-46).
First of all, let us deal briefly with the popular and current interpretation of this parable. When we say “popular” we mean, particularly, that which has been given out principally (though not exclusively) by Arminians. The general conception of its meaning is this! Christianity is likened unto one who earnestly desired and diligently sought salvation. Ultimately his efforts were rewarded by his finding Christ, the Pearl of great price. Having found Him, as presented in the Gospel, the sinner sold all that he had: that is to say, he forsook all that the flesh held dear, he abandoned his worldly companions, he surrendered his will, he dedicated his life to God; and in that way, secured his salvation. The awful thing is that this interpretation is the one which, substantially, is given out almost everywhere throughout Christendom today. That is what is taught in the great majority of the denominational Sunday School periodicals. During the last twenty years I have examined scores of Sunday School teachers’ aids in which an exposition of this parable has been found. The one which I have just given is an outline of that which has commonly been advanced.
Now, against that popular interpretation let us name three or four objections which are fatal to it. First, we are told this parable teaches that the sinner earnestly and diligently seeks salvation. But the truth is there has never been a single sinner on this earth who took the initiative in seeking salvation. The sinner ought to seek salvation, for he needs it badly enough. He ought to seek it, for God commands him so to do: “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord.” “Seek ye the Lord while He may be found,” is His command; but fallen man, the sinner in his natural state, never does and never will seek the Lord or His salvation.
How was it with the first sinner? When Adam sinned, and in the cool of the evening of that first awful day, the voice of the Lord was heard rolling down the avenues of Eden; what did he do? Did he hasten to the Lord and cast himself at His feet and cry for mercy? No, he did not seek the Lord at all; he fled. The first sinner did not “seek” God—the Lord sought him: “Adam, where art thou?” And it has ever been thus. How was it with Abraham? There is nothing whatever in Scripture to indicate that Abraham sought God; there is not a little to the contrary. He himself was a heathen, his parents idolaters worshiping other gods—as the last chapter of Joshua tells us—and the Lord suddenly appeared to him in that heathen city. Abraham had not been seeking God; it was God who sought him. And thus it has been all through the piece. When the Savior came here He declared, “The Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luk 19:10).
But perhaps there are some saying in themselves, “I cannot deny my own experience; I know quite well there was as a time when ‘I sought the Lord.’” We do not deny it; what we would call attention to is, there was something before that. What caused you to “seek” the Lord? Ah, the truth is, you sought Him because He first sought you—just as truly as you love Him because He first loved you. It is not the sheep that seeks the Shepherd; it is the Shepherd who seeks the sheep; and having sought the sheep, He creates in the heart of that sheep a desire after Himself, then it begins to seek Him.
Thus, to make this parable teach that the natural man, an unconverted sinner, is seeking Christ, “the Pearl of great price,” is to repudiate Scripture and to dishonor the grace of God. In Rom 3:11 are these words, and they are final: “There is none that seeks after God.” No, there is not one. There are multitudes that seek after pleasure, and seek after wealth, but there is none that seeks after “God.” He is the great Seeker. Oh that He may seek out some poor, needy souls now, and show them their need of Him, and create in their hearts a longing after Himself. O Spirit of God seek out Thine own.
In the second place, we are told in the popular interpretation of this parable that, having sought and found Christ, the Pearl of great price, the sinner sells all that he has and buys it, But that cannot be, because the sinner has nothing to sell! Righteousness he has none, for Isa 64:6 says that all our righteousnesses are as “filthy rags.” Goodness he has none, for Rom 3:12 tells us “There is none that doeth good, no, not one.” Faith he has none, for that is God’s “gift” (Eph 2:8). The sinner has nothing to sell. The popular view of this parable turns God’s truth upside down, for He declares that salvation is without money and without price (Isa 55:1).
In the third place, to say that the sinner sells all that he has and buys the one pearl of great price—buys Christ—is positively awful! What a travesty! What a blasphemy! If there is one thing taught more clearly than anything else in Holy Writ, it is that salvation cannot be purchased by man: “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us” (Tit 3:5). “The gift of God is eternal life” (Rom 6:23). If it is a “gift” it is not to be sold or bartered.
Let us give now what we believe is the true interpretation of this parable. “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchantman.” The “man” referred to is Christ, as He is all through this chapter. The “man” that sowed the good Seed in the field in the first parable is Christ. The “man” referred to in verse 24 at the beginning of the second parable is Christ, and the “man” in this parable, the “merchantman,” is the Lord Jesus. Now, notice five things concerning this “man.”
First, he desired this goodly pearl: “the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchantman seeking goodly pearls: who when he had found one pearl of great price went and sold all that he had, and bought it.” The parable begins by intimating that the Merchantman had set His heart upon this pearl. The pearl represents His church in its entirety, and that people, that church, the Lord Jesus desired. This is something which altogether passes our comprehension. What was there in us poor, fallen, depraved, sinful creatures to awaken His desire?
“What was there in us
That could merit esteem,
Or give the Creator delight?
‘Twas even thus, Father!
We ever must sing,
For so it seemed good in Thy sight.”
That is the only reason.
Now let us turn to two or three scriptures which bear out this thought—Christ’s desire for a people. “So shall the King greatly desire thy beauty” (Psa 45:11). O wonder of wonders, that He, the King, should greatly desire poor, sinful worms of the earth! In the light of that, recall those blessed words of His in John 14—how they lay bare the very heart of the Savior—”Let not your heart be troubled: you believe in God believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.” How that speaks forth His love for His own people! How precious they must be in His sight! “I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again”—beautiful as that place may be, perfect as that place is, it does not satisfy the longing of His heart until that place is occupied by those for whom it is prepared. “I will go and prepare a place for you, and if I go . . . I will come again, and receive you unto Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.” How that tells out the intense desire of the heart of Christ which will not be satisfied until He has His own blood-bought people around Himself! Compare Eph 5:25; Rev 3:20! The parable then begins by intimating the desire of Christ for this “pearl.”
The second thing is that He regarded this pearl as being of “great price.” That is what has staggered so many of the commentators. Even Mr. Spurgeon used to think that such language could never be true of poor sinners of the earth, that it could only be appropriate of the Christ of God. It is staggering—that not only should Christ desire you and me, but that we should be of “great price” in His sight! It only illustrates what we are told in Isaiah 55: “My thoughts are not your thoughts . . . as the heavens are higher than the earth . . . so are My thoughts than your thoughts.” Yes, they are. Would any redeemed sinner have formed such a conception in his own mind if God’s Word had never so told us—that we were of “great price” in His sight? No, I am sure none of us would; for God’s people are not of “great price” in their own sight, let alone the sight of the Lord Himself. O think of it, that we were of “great price” in His sight! There is an intimation of this in that wonderful 8th chapter of Proverbs, where we are taken back into the eternal counsels of God, and are permitted to witness something of the relationship that existed between the Father and the Son before earth’s foundations were laid: “Then I was by Him as One brought up with Him: And I was daily His delight.” And then in the 31st verse we read the words of Christ, spoken prophetically or in anticipation: “My delights were with the children of men.” “My delights“: O my brethren and sisters in Christ, not only were we present in His thoughts, not only did we stand before His mind in the eternity of the past, but His heart was fixed on us; His affections went out to us. We were His “delights” even then. “My delights are with the sons of men.” It may be asked, “Can you understand that?” And we say, No, dear friends, we cannot: our poor little minds are altogether inadequate for rising to such a level: we can only bow in wonderment and worship where we cannot understand.
In the third place, we are told that the Merchantman not only desired this pearl, and esteemed it of so great value, but He sold all that He had—words easily uttered, I am afraid sometimes glibly spoken. If our minds were incapable of rising to the level of the thought that has just been expressed, who amongst us is capable of gauging what it meant for the Lord of glory, the Creator of the universe, to sell all that He had? He who was rich for your sakes became poor—poorer than any of us have ever been; much poorer. So poor that He occupied a manger—that one day we might occupy a mansion. So poor that He had not where to lay His head—in order that you and I, who are amongst His favored ones, might rest our heads forever on His sacred bosom. “He who was rich for your sakes became poor, that you through His poverty might be rich.”
In the fourth place, this Merchantman sought the pearl. “The kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchantman seeking.” This points a contrast from what was before us in the preceding parable. In the fifth parable the treasure was “found”: in the case of the pearl it was “sought.” The distinction appropriately expresses the difference between God’s earthly election, the Jews; and God’s heavenly election, which are, for the most part, gathered out from the Gentiles (Act 15:14). Turn to Eph 2:17; “And came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh.” Were not all sinners “far off” from Him? Were there any sinners that were “nigh” to Him? In one sense, No. In another sense, Yes. Spiritually all of Adam’s race were “far off” from Him, yet dispensationally the Jews were “nigh,” and the Gentiles were “far off”; but they both needed the word of peace preached to them. He preached “peace to you which were far off (that is, the Gentiles) and to them that were nigh” (that is, the Jews). Hence, in the first of these two parables the treasure was “found”; it did not need “seeking!” It was already in the land when the Christ of God became incarnate: the Jews were already there in outward covenant relationship with God—with the Word of God in their hands, the temple of God in their midst, and so on. But in the next parable, where the Gentiles are in view, they not only had to be “found,” but they needed to be “sought!” They were “afar off” from God in every way. O the minute accuracy of Scripture!
Now notice in the next place, the Merchantman bought the “pearl.” There is no need to enlarge on that, except perhaps to quote 1Pe 1:18-19. ” . . .not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.” It was at the Cross that He bought the pearl, and the price that He paid was His own precious blood.
Let us now consider the “pearl” itself, and admire the accuracy, beauty, and fullness of this figure that Christ selected for portraying His Church. First, notice its unity. “A Merchantman was seeking goodly pearls, and when he had found one pearl of great price.” Let us observe, however, that this Merchantman had several pearls. He was seeking goodly pearls, and, of course, if He sought them He found each one. Yes, Christ has several pearls. There are quite a number of distinct companies among His redeemed. The Old Testament saints is one, and so on. But attention is here focused on “one pearl” in particular: the unity of God’s saints of this present dispensation is what is referred to. “In Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, bond nor free, male nor female, for we are all one“ (Gal 3:28). Now, it is a significant fact that a pearl is the only gem whose unity cannot be broken without destroying it. I may take a diamond and cut it into two, then I have two diamonds. I may take a lump of gold and divide it into two, and I have two lumps of gold. But if I take a pearl and cut it into two, I have nothing: I have destroyed it! A pearl significantly stands for the unity of the saints of this present dispensation.
In the second place, a pearl is the product of a living creature, and it is the only gem that is. Not only so, but it is the result of suffering. Away down in the ocean’s depths there lives a little animal encased in a shell; we call it an oyster. One day a foreign substance, a grain of sand, intrudes, and pierces its side. Now, God has endowed that animal with the faculty of self-preservation, like He has all others of His creatures, and it throws out, exudes, a slimy substance called nacre and covers the wound, repeating the process again and again. One layer after another of that nacre or mother-of-pearl is cast out by that little animal on the wound in its side, until ultimately there is built up what eventuates in a pearl. So that a pearl is the product of suffering. How wonderful the figure! How accurate the emblem! The Church, the saints of this dispensation, are the fruitage of the travail of Christ’s soul. The pearl, we may say, is the answer to the injury that was inflicted upon the animal. In other words, it is the offending particle that ultimately becomes the object of beauty: that which injured the oyster becomes the precious gem. The very thing that injured the animal, the little grain of sand that intruded, is ultimately clothed with a beauty that is not its own and covered with the comeliness of the one that it injured. How manifestly is the Author of the Bible and the Savior of our souls the Regulator of everything in nature. Yes, He saw to it, when He created the oyster, that it should furnish an appropriate type and figure of His Church.
In the third place, the pearl is an object that is formed slowly and gradually. It does not come into existence in a single day. There is a tedious process of waiting while the pearl is being slowly but surely formed. And so it has been with the Church. For nineteen centuries now that, of which the pearl is the figure and type, has been in process of formation by the power and grace of God. Just as the oyster covered the wound in its side and that which pierced it with one layer after another of the beautiful nacre, constantly repeating the process, so out of each generation of men on earth God has called a few and added them to that Church which He is now building for His Son.
In the fourth place, notice the lowly origin of that which is a type of the Church. That beautiful pearl originally had its home in the depths of the sea, amid its mire and filth, for that is where oysters congregate. They are the scavengers of the ocean. Down in the ocean’s depths, amidst the mire, is that precious gem being formed. What a lowly origin! Yes, and that is to remind us, and to humble us with the remembrance of it, that we, who have by sovereign grace been made members of Christ, had by nature our origin in the filth and mire and ruin of the fall. Compare Eph 2:11-12.
In the fifth place, the pearl, as it is being formed down there in the ocean’s depths, is not seen by the eye of man. It is a secret formation; none but God witnesses its building up. In like manner, that Church which Christ is now building, that body of His which is now in process of formation, is unknown and unseen by the world. I am not speaking of the visible churches, I am talking about that Church, which is now being built (see Eph 2:21; Eph 4:16, etc.), and which as it is being formed, like the oyster, is unseen by the eye of man. Your life is hid with Christ in God (Col 3:3). Significant, too, is the fact that just as the pearl is found not in the mines of earth, but in the sea, so the Church of this dispensation is composed mainly of Gentiles—the “waters” figuring such, see Rev 17:15.
In the sixth place, we learn from this figure that in the eyes of God that Church is an object of value and beauty. That little object, hidden from the eyes of men, is being fashioned into a precious gem, which shall yet reflect the light of heaven and become an object of beauty and admiration in the eyes of all who see it. Turn to 2Th 1:10, “When He shall come to be glorified in His saints (not only in Himself), and to be admired in all them that believe.” That is speaking in the language of the pearl. First, the Lord Jesus will “present to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing; but it shall be holy and without blemish” (Eph 5:27); second, when He returns to the earth itself, He will bring with him His complete and beautified Church and it will be an object of admiration to all who behold it. To a wondering universe Christ will yet display His glorified Church.
In the seventh place, see how in the figure Christ here selected, we have an intimation of the honorable and exalted future that the Church is yet to enjoy. That little object in the ocean’s depths, unseen by the eye of men, which is being gradually built up, ultimately has a position and a place in the diadem of the king. That is the destiny of the pearl of great price: it becomes the jewel of royalty; for this it has been made. And so we are told, “When Christ, our life, shall appear, then shall you also appear with Him in glory” (Col 3:4). And again, “That in the ages to come (that is yet future) He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us” (Eph 2:7). Ah, my friends, many of God’s people today may be poor and despised and hated by the prominent and great of this world, but just as surely as the pearl of great price of lowly origin ultimates in a position of dignity and honor and glory, so those who now are last shall be first.
In closing, let me sum up in two words of practical application. First, to the unconverted. O my unsaved friend, let this parable show you once and for all the utter impossibility and the needlessness of attempting to purchase your salvation, of seeking to win God’s approval by some works and doings of your own. The pearl in this parable is not a Savior whom the sinner has to “buy.” “By grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God . . . not of works lest any man should boast.”
And what is the word to those of us who by the grace of God have been saved? This: the pearl has been purchased by Christ: we are the purchased property of another! You are not your own, but “bought with a price” (1Co 6:20). To what extent is that Divine truth regulating our lives? How far is that fact dominating our daily walk? We are not our own; we belong to Christ! Do we realize that? Are we living day by day as though we realized it? Does our walk manifest it? Not our own—the property of another! Then should we not say, “For me to live is Christ?” Can any of us truthfully say it? “For me to live is Christ?” Is it true that I have only one aim, only one desire, only one ambition; all my efforts concentrated on the honoring, obeying, magnifying of Christ? O my friends, the poor preacher cannot honestly say it. By the grace of God he may say that is his desire. But O how far short he comes of attaining to it in his daily life. May God help all His people to realize in their souls that they are not their own: no longer free, no longer have the right to plan their own life, to say what they will do or what they will not do: no longer any whatever—the purchased property of Another. Our answer to that ought to be, “For to me to live is Christ.” O may Divine, enabling grace be granted to us so to live!
The Parable of the Dragnet
“Again the kingdom of heaven is like unto a net, that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind” (Mat 13:47-50)
We have previously pointed out that it is of first importance to carefully note the manner and method in which these seven parables are arranged, for their order supplies a key to their interpretation. The first one stands by itself, being distinguished from the other six which follow by the omission of the opening clause “the kingdom of heaven is like unto.” The first parable is not a similitude of the kingdom of heaven; the last six are. The first parable treats of a preparatory work, done prior to the introduction of the kingdom of heaven in its present form; that introductory work being the broadcast sowing of the seed. first by the Lord Himself, afterwards by the apostles.
The six parables which follow are plainly divided into two threes. The first three were spoken by the Lord from the ship in the hearing of the multitude by the seaside, and therefore they give us the more public aspect of the kingdom of heaven in its present form—the kingdom of heaven in this world as it is seen by men. The last three parables were not spoken to the multitude nor were they uttered by the seashore, but were spoken by the Lord to the disciples only, and that within the house; intimating that they treat of the internal and hidden aspects of the kingdom of heaven, that which is not manifested before men in this world. So that the last three parables speak from the standpoint of God’s counsels.
The first of the last three is the parable of the treasure hid in the field, a man for joy thereof buying the field—principally for the sake of the treasure that was hidden therein. The next parable, that of the pearl, also sought, desired, and purchased by the same man, the merchantman. Those two objects, the treasure and the pearl, intimate that there are two elect companies, dear unto God and precious unto His Son, purchased by Him: one an earthly people, the other a heavenly; through whom the wondrous riches of Divine grace and glory will yet be made manifest in the two great divisions of God’s dominions—heaven and earth. The earthly people, spoken of under the figure of the treasure. being Israel, the literal Israel; the heavenly people, spoken of under the figure of the pearl, looking forward to the time when the body of Christ will be completed and He shall present to Himself a glorious Church. The order of these two parables, then, is, “to the Jew first and also to the Greek”—the treasure coming before the pearl.
But if these seven parables give us a prophetical outline of the course of Christendom, that is the history of the Christian profession throughout this dispensation, during the time of Christ’s absence from the earth, one more parable is needed to complete the picture. The last parable is in one sense an amplification of the sixth. In the sixth parable there is only one man at work, one agent acting—the Merchant-man. He is the one who does all in connection with the pearl. But while it is true the Merchant-man, the Lord Jesus Christ. is the principal worker in connection with the gathering out of the saints during this dispensation, in His condescending grace He does not work alone. He has been pleased to call His own saints to have a part with Him in the prosecution of this work, in the accomplishing of God’s counsels, in the gathering out of His elect people. Consequently. when we come to this seventh parable, for the first time, the number of the pronoun is changed. Notice this in verse 47: “Again the kingdom of heaven is like unto a net. that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind: which, when it was full, they drew to shore”—not “he” but “they.” That is the first time we have “they” in the parables. Illustrations of what is thereby denoted are found in the Gospels in connection with Christ’s miracles.
Take the first one that He performed—the turning of water into wine. This is a sermon in action. His mother came to Him and said, “They have no wine.” Their own wine had given out. Now “wine” in Scripture is the symbol of joy—not exclusively, but that is one of its essential significations. “They have no wine.” Christ alone can impart real joy to the heart; but in the working of the miracle He used servants. He said to the servants, “Fill the waterpots.” He said to the servants, “Draw it forth.” He said to the servants, Convey it to “the master of the feast.” He deigned to use them, and in their obedience they became workers together with Him in the performing of that miracle.
Take again the feeding of the multitude. There was the famishing crowd: they had no food. Here was the Lord Jesus Christ. A few loaves and fishes were placed in His hands, and under His miraculous working-power those loaves and fishes were made to feed the hungry multitude. But what was the method that He followed? He did not hand the food directly to the crowd; He first gave to the disciples, and they distributed to the multitude. So that (we say it reverently) between the Lord Jesus Christ and the multitudes, and the wine and food, there is need of consecrated servants, to first receive from Him and then to hand out to others. Therefore we may see that if these seven parables furnish an outline of the history of this present dispensation, it is necessary to complete the picture by showing us that the Lord Jesus, in His condescending grace, uses others to the accomplishing of God’s purpose and the executing of His counsels.
Now the details of this parable are so few in number and so simple that it seems they hardly call for explanation. First of all, there is the “net.” Second, there is the “sea” into which the net is cast. Third, there are the “fishermen” themselves—they gather in. And fourth, there are the “fish” that are enclosed in the net. It should be plain to all that the “net” itself is a symbol of the Gospel, the proclaiming and presenting Christ to the responsibility of men. Second, the “sea” into which the net is cast has the same meaning that it has in the first verse of the chapter: it stands for the nations as such, the Gentiles, and that is why the “sea” is here once more mentioned—because that which is specially characteristic of the present dispensation, in contradistinction from the dispensation that preceded it and the one which shall yet follow, is God’s mercy turning unto the Gentiles: therefore we have the figure of the “sea” once more. The “fishermen,” those who cast the net into the sea, are the Lord’s gospellers, the evangelists, the preachers of the Word. That is clear by comparing Scripture with Scripture: in Mat 4:19 and in Luke 5 the Lord Jesus said to His first disciples, “Follow Me and I will make you fishers of men,” it is His own figure for His evangelists.
Now very briefly let us call attention to seven things connected with the parable. The first thing that has impressed us in studying it is this: the inconspicuousness of the fishermen. Observe that in the 47th verse they are not even mentioned: “The kingdom of heaven is like unto a net, that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind,” while in the 48th verse Christ just refers to them as “they”: “Which when it was full, they drew to shore.” That is all that is said about them. How inconspicuous they are! In other words, those who have been so highly honored by God, and (it is an infinitely higher honor to be a servant of Christ than to be King of the British Empire) to have a part in the casting of this net into the sea, are here hidden from view, nothing is said about them, except they are just referred to once as “they.” O how that rebukes and condemns the preacher-worship of the day! Turn for a moment to 1 Corinthians 3: beginning at verse 4 (1Co 3:4) :—”For while one says, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos, are you not carnal? Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom you believed, even as the Lord gave to every man? I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that plants anything neither he that waters.” Do we realize that, my brethren? Do you realize that the one whom God has called to minister to you, is himself nothing—nothing at all, merely an empty vessel, that, unless the Lord comes, will soon crumble away to dust! But He, the One who deigns to bless, who places His treasure in earthen vessels, He is everything. O my brethren and sisters, it has impressed me deeply in studying this parable that the fishermen are hidden from sight. They are inconspicuous, they are mere nothings that God can dispense with as easily as He can use them. Do not imagine that the prosperity of any church depends upon the presence of some particular man in the pulpit. The Lord is not only able to continue and prosper His work, but to do so a hundredfold more without the most gifted preacher if He so pleases. The instrument is nothing. How that rebukes the preacher-worship of the day! May Almighty God deliver His people from it. May God in His grace (for He is a jealous God, who will not share His glory with another), preserve His people from giving any of the honor and glory to the mere instrument, the whole of which is due and belongs alone to Him. Just as surely as you begin to honor and glorify the instrument, the blessing of God will depart. Heed well this first point in our parable: the fishermen were hidden from sight. May they be hidden from sight in all the churches of God.
Secondly, the object before the fishermen in casting the net into the sea and drawing it forth again. This was simply to gather good fish. That was their one aim and design, the 48th verse shows that—”which when it was full, they drew to shore, and sat down, and gathered the good fish into vessels.” It is true there were also some bad fish in the net, but these they cast away. It is the good fish they were out for. Now, while it is true the servant of God is under marching orders to “preach the gospel to every creature,” nevertheless, that which he must ever keep steadily before him, those whom he must perseveringly seek out, and those he is called to minister unto, are God’s elect. Though the servant of God is sent forth to preach the Gospel to all who come under the sound of his voice, yet he is not sent to draw a bow at a venture. God has not sent him forth so that the success of his labors is made dependent upon the caprice of man or the response of his will. No, the primary purpose of God in raising up His servants and sending them forth is, the good of His own elect. And that end is to be kept in view by those whom God calls upon to engage in His service, whether that work be in the mission-field or in the Sunday School class or in district visitation. God has called you to seek out those whom He has marked out from all eternity—the “good fish”.
There are two Scriptures I want to refer to from the Epistles of Paul which bring both of these aspects before us. First, 1Co 9:22, “I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.” In a general way that means this: Paul was carrying out his Divinely given commission and preaching the Gospel to every creature—the net was cast into the sea at large. Paul was made all things to all men. He welcomed an opportunity to preach the Gospel to the poor; but he did not miss an opportunity to preach God’s Word to the prominent and eminent as well. He was primarily, “the apostle to the Gentiles” (Rom 11:13), yet how often he preached to the Jews! He was made all things to all men. That is one side: that is the casting of the net “into-the-sea” aspect.
Now turn to 2Ti 2:10, which is a verse many Arminians do not seem to know is in the Bible at all; those who have been brought up under “Freewill” teaching need to look at it closely. These were the words of the apostle Paul in connection with his own ministry: “Therefore I endure all things for the elect’s sake, that they may also obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus.” That was the object before the apostle’s heart, that was the goal that he had in view. That was the aim of his ministry, that was what enabled him to endure such a great fight of afflictions. He endured all things “for the elect’s sake.” How that gives the aspect of the Gospel work portrayed in our parable! There is first the broadcasting of the net into the sea at large, and there is secondly the particular design in so doing. The purpose of it is to gather out the “good fish.” So while you and I are called upon to preach the Gospel to every creature, let us not lose sight of the fact that God’s purpose and our submission to it is the seeking out of the good fish, praying that God will use us to find His hidden ones. For, observe that, at first, God’s elect are hidden from His servants, like the “good fish” in the sea; but as we labor in the Gospel they become manifest—they are seen in the “net!”
In the third place, we are told that the net gathered in of every kind. Coming back to Mat 13:47, the last part of the verse: “that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind.” Others besides “good fish” were enclosed. This reminds us once more that the main thing which is in view in our chapter is the Christian profession. Here we are shown the effects of Gospel preaching. Here we behold the results of the net being cast into the sea at large—the world-wide proclamation of the Gospel and the universal presentation of Christ unto men. The result is that there is a mixed profession. The net gathers in “of every kind.” Just as at the beginning of the age there were the wheat and tares, so at the end of the age (to which this parable conducts us) there are bad fish as well as good.
Now in the fourth place, the fact that this net gathered in bad fishes as well as good ones was no reflection upon the skill of the fishermen. But on the other hand, they were responsible to distinguish between the good and the bad fish after they had entered the net, and they were responsible to separate the one from the other. That is an essential and important part of the work and duty of God’s servants—to discriminate, to distinguish between the good and the bad fish. Mark it carefully: “which when it was full, (that is, the net) they drew to shore, and (what?) sat down” (v. 8). They sat down before they did anything with the fish. Before they attempted to do any sorting out and separating, they sat down: which indicates that this aspect of their work requires time, care, deliberation!
Now notice also in verse 48: “They gathered the good fish into vessels, but cast the bad away.” That is all that the fishermen did with the bad; just cast them away. They had got into the net, but they were rejected. They would have nothing further to do with them. Nothing else is required of the fishermen, but just to cast them away. Such was Christ’s word in Mat 15:13, where the disciples came to Him and were speaking about the Pharisees, He said, “Every plant which My heavenly Father has not planted, shall be rooted up. Let them alone.” It is not our business to do the rooting up; just leave them alone, that is all; have no fellowship with them. Turn to Rom 16:17, “Now I beseech you brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which you have learned”— imprison them, torture them, burn them? No, God has never told His people, or His professing people, to do any such thing. Even if Rome were right in her doctrines, Scripture absolutely condemns her practices. How has she acted towards those who have differed from her doctrine? Here is what Scripture says, “Brethren mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which you have learned; and avoid them.” That is all! Give them a wide berth; separate yourselves from them; have nothing to do with them, avoid them. Do you avoid them? If some man comes to the City with a great reputation, and the newspapers announce that he is teaching this, that, and the other and huge crowds are being drawn, and a lot of people tell you he is such a nice man, yet you know he is teaching contrary to the doctrine that you have received; what do you do? Do you “avoid” him? I am afraid some of you don’t. Many need this word. “Avoid them!” See also 2 John 10!
In the fifth place. These fishermen were to distinguish and discriminate between the good and the bad fish. Though they are not to be blamed for the entrance of the “bad” fish into the “net”—being under the waters they could not see what sort of fish entered; yet they have a responsibility concerning them once the net is drawn to land: then they are exposed to sight. It is not long before a professing Christian makes it manifest whether or not he has been really born again. It is concerning this God holds His servants responsible.
Perhaps some will ask, How are they able to do it? In what way are God’s servants to distinguish the good fish from the bad? Has God left them to their own discretion in the matter? No, my friends. We need not lean unto our own understanding in anything. The Scriptures have been given that the man of God may be thoroughly furnished unto all good works, and in them God Himself has described the very marks by which we can distinguish good fish from bad!
Turn for a moment to Lev 11:9, “These shall you eat of all that are in the waters, whatsoever has fins, and scales, in the waters, in the seas, and in the rivers, them shall you eat. And all that have not fins and scales in the seas and in the rivers, of all that move in the waters, and of any living thing which is in the waters, they shall be an abomination unto you.” Do you suppose that these verses contain nothing more than instructions to the Hebrews about their diet 3,000 years ago? Do you imagine that God has recorded in His eternal Word something with no other significance and importance than the mere regulating of the table of the Israelites in the past? I trust that by this time most of you have learned that there is a spiritual significance and value to everything in Scripture. There is not time now to expound this, but concerning the good fish there were two things, fins and scales—fins to propel them through the waters and aid their motion; scales to protect, to shield them from the pressure and action of the waters as they passed swiftly through them. Can you interpret it? God has given His people two things: armor to protect them, and also an inward power to propel them through the waters of this world. Those who give evidence of having on them the armor of light (Rom 13:12; Eph 6:13-17), corresponding to the “scales;” and those who make it manifest they are swimming against (instead of floating down with) the tide of this world, furnish proof that they are “good fish.”
In the sixth place, it should be carefully noted that the work of the fishermen did not cease when they drew the net to land. Something else yet remained for them to do. Look again at the parable: “Which when it was full, they drew to shore, and sat down, and gathered the good fish into”—a vessel? It does not say so; but “they gathered the good fish into vessels.” Why? The work of the fishermen was not completed when they gathered the fish into the net, nor was it finished when they had separated the good from the bad: the good ones must be gathered into “vessels.” Surely that does not need interpreting. The “good” fish represent believers; their being “gathered” speaks of association together—fellowship; while the “vessels” tell of separation from the world.
I have only time now to mention the last point without elaborating—If this parable is studied closely it will be found that verses 49 and 59 present two difficulties—those who have not studied it, will not have felt their force: “So shall it be at the end of the world (or of the age): the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just.” In the parable itself the work is done by the fishermen: but in the interpretation of the parable the work is done by “angels.” Again, in the parable itself the good fish are separated from the bad, but when you come to the interpretation, the order is reversed: “they shall sever the wicked from among the just.” So that in the interpretation the bad are separated from the good—the very opposite of the order in verse 48. For the present we leave these two points with you.