By James H. Brookes
PARABLES OF MATTHEW XIII.
Our post-millennial brethren very properly insist that these parables were designed to set forth the state of things during the present age, or up to the time of Christ’s second advent. This is shown by the fact that they tell us the parable of the mustard seed exhibits the growth of the Church from a small beginning, “the least of all seeds,” into its branching glories that will in due time afford shade and shelter for all the nations of the earth. They also inform us that the parable of the leaven indicates the spread of the gospel or of Christianity until the whole world shall be permeated with the benign influences of religion, as it is called.
But surely they will admit that no interpretation of the two parables, which the Saviour did not explain, can be correct, if forced to teach a doctrine directly opposed to the two that He did expound. Thus he announces in the parable of the sower that “the seed is the Word of God.” One part falls upon the hard, beaten pathway skirting the field, “and the fowls came and devoured them up,” “the wicked one,” Matt. xiii, 19; “Satan,” Mark iv. 15; “the devil,” Luke viii. 12. Another part falls on a thin layer of soil covering a rock, and being quickly heated the seed springs up immediately, but having no depth of root it as soon withers. Another part falls among thorns, and the thorns spring up, and choke the seed, Another part falls into good ground, but brings forth variously, some an hundred fold, some sixty fold, some thirty fold.
Thus does our Lord describe the different effects of scattering the Word of God, and where is the intimation that the time is coming when all the seed, or the larger portion of it, will find good soil and bring forth an abundant harvest? But if the parable of the mustard seed and of the leaven denote the outward and inward expansion of the Church and Christianity until universal supremacy is attained, it is obvious that their meaning is in flat contradiction of the testimony given in the parable of the sower. But history for 1860 years confirms the truth of the Lord’s statement and gives no support to the other view. Only a small part of the seed sown has become fruitful. There has been no country, no county, no city, no community, all of whose inhabitants have received Christ as their Saviour; and to-day not a fourth even of those who belong to any denomination or particular congregation give the slightest evidence of possessing real spiritual life. Not a fourth can be found to attend regularly the services of God’s house, to be present at the prayer meeting, to teach in the Sunday school, to be separate from the world, to speak a word for Christ, really to live for Christ.
The second parable our Lord explained is that of the tares and wheat. “The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field; but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat,” the tares being a bastard wheat, so like the true that they cannot be distinguished from the latter except by their emptiness. ‘He that soweth the good seed is the Son of Man; the field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one; the enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age; and the reapers are the angels.” Dr. David Brown declares the design of the parable was “to set forth the mixed character of the visible Church till Christ come. All are agreed in this. But the millennium is as truly, though not in the same degree, a mixed state of the visible Church as this is . . . , The millennium differs in nothing worthy of mention in the parable from the present state of the Church.” The italics are his own. But how does this comport with the theory that the leaven is the symbol of the Gospel or of Christianity, which must work its way “till the whole was leavened”? How does it agree with the testimony of the Holy Ghost, celebrating the reign of the coming King, “that in His days shall the righteous flourish; and abundance of peace so long as the moon endureth,” Psalm lxxii. 7; “they shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea,” Isaiah xl. 9; “Thy people also shall be all righteous,” Isaiah lx. 21; “they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, know the Lord; for they shall all know Me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord,” Jer. xxxi. 34; “for from the rising of the sun even unto the going down of the same, My name shall be great among the Gentiles; and in every place incense shall be offered unto My name, and a pure offering; for My name shall be great among the heathen, saith the Lord of Hosts?” Mal. i. 11. How this state of things can be made to harmonize with the present state of things, does not appear clear to the ordinary reader; and if the millennium differs in nothing worthy of mention from the present state of the Church, the Lord have mercy on us, and bring the millennium to a speedy end.
Jesus likens the growth of the Church to a mustard seed that shoots up and widens out, and ‘when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof.” The word for birds is the same that is translated fowls in the parable of the sower; and inasmuch as He explains the meaning of the word in one parable, and does not explain it in the other, it is singular exegesis which supposes that He means by the second use of the word in the same discourse, something entirely unlike, and even opposed to, the meaning He gives to it in His first use of the word. If the fowls or the birds represent the wicked one, Satan, the devil, in one place, they represent the same in the other place; and the Saviour teaches that “the prince of the power of the air” will find lodgment in the branches of the great tree.
As to the parable of the leaven, it is strange that our Lord made use of sour dough, or incipient putrefaction, as a symbol of the Gospel and Christianity. It is still stranger that He used as a symbol of good that which He Himself, and the apostles, and all the writers of the Bible, without a single exception, employ as the symbol of evil. Dr. Joseph Addison Alexander says, “The usage is indeed so uniform and easily accounted for from rational considerations, that nothing can outweigh it but the equally uniform judgment of interpreters and readers in all ages that this is an exception to the general rule, and that leaven, in this one place and its parallel (Luke xiii. 21), denotes the spreading or diffusive quality of truth and the true religion.” It is not correct to say that such has been the uniform judgment of interpreters and readers in all ages; but even if it were, whether the uniform judgment of ignorant interpreters and mistaken readers should outweigh the uniform testimony of the Holy Ghost, each must decide for himself.
The leaven represents what it always represents in Scripture, that which is evil in doctrine or practice insiduously working its way, until the whole professing mass is leavened, and the Son of God in righteous judgment exclaims, “I will spue thee out of my mouth,” Rev. iii. 16. Leaven first appears in connection with Sodom, and then in Egypt, and it was rigidly excluded from the houses of the Israelites during the feast that followed the passover, two different words being employed to denote inherent evil and that which is evil in outward life, Exodus xii.15. It was also forbidden in any offering to the Lord that set forth Christ, Lev. i. 11. It was allowed in the offerings presented at Pentecost, the admitted type of the gathering of the Church, because evil was there, as we well know, Lev. xxiii. 17; Acts v. 1-10. Our Lord said to His disciples, ‘Take heed, and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees,” Matt. xvi. 6; “and of the leaven of Herod,” Mark viii. 15. The Pharisees were the ancient legalists; the Sadducees were the ancient rationalists; the Herodians were the ancient time-servers, determined to keep in with both parties, God and the devil, Christ and the world. Into these three sects nearly the whole of the professing Church may now be divided, for the woman has succeeded well in hiding the leaven in the meal. The Holy Ghost, writing to the Corinthians about evil practice, says, ‘Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump?” 1 Cor. v. 6. The Holy Ghost, writing to the Galatians about evil doctrine, says, “A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump,” Gal. v. 9.
If the objection is raised that Christ would not liken the kingdom of heaven to that which is evil, it is sufficient to reply that He likens the kingdom to that which includes both tares and wheat, which encloses both good and bad fish, which extends over a wicked servant, Matt. xviii. 23-32, which admits into it a man who had not on a wedding garment, and who was lost, Matt. xxii. 1-13. The phrase which occurs thirty-two times in the Gospel of Matthew, and only there, does not mean heaven, nor even the Church, although there is enough of evil in the latter to justify the use of any term that would express its rottenness, but it signifies the rule of Christ from the heavens over that sphere in which He specially manifests His grace. The kingdom meanwhile exists in mystery, or concealment, or it is not yet made manifest; and the seven parables were spoken to show the state of things during the time of the mysteries of the kingdom, or “till He come.”
Having uttered four of the parables in the presence of “great multitudes,” He went into a house; and when the disciples came to him, and He had expounded unto them the parable of the tares, which must have been a sore discouragement of their faith and a sad clouding of their hope, He cheered their hearts with a brighter view. After all the wretched failure of man, He has treasure hid in a field, which is the world, and for the sake of the treasure He buys the field, so that He will yet make good to Israel, now scattered and hid in the world, His promise long since forfeited, “Ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto Me above all people, for all the earth is mine,” Exodus xix. 5. Nay, there is something more precious to Him still, even “one pearl of great price,” His blood-bought and true Church, for which He sold all that He had, that He might wear it as a jewel on His heart forever.
Once more, the kingdom of heaven is likened unto a drag-net cast into the sea, the entire circle of the agencies and means now employed in gathering men into a profession of Christ’s name. But a net does not catch all the fish in the sea, and even of those caught, some are described as good and some as bad. Hence there is to be a judgment of those professing Christianity, and a casting away of the bad, at the coming of Christ. Until that time, however, the two continue together. There is positively not a hint in the seven prophetic parables of the conversion of the world, but rather only partial success, and a mixed state, growing worse and worse to the end of the age. Is it better to consult our own views as to the future, or to submit to the testimony of God’s Word?