Commentary on the Bible, by Adam Clarke, , at sacred-texts.com
Christ teaches the multitudes out of a ship, they standing on the shore, Mat 13:1, Mat 13:2. The parable of the sower, Mat 13:3-9. He gives his reasons for speaking in parables, Mat 13:10-17. Explains the parable of the sower, Mat 13:18-23. Parable of the tares and the wheat, Mat 13:24-30. Of the grain of mustard seed, Mat 13:31, Mat 13:32. Of the leaven, Mat 13:33. The prophecy fulfilled by this mode of teaching, Mat 13:34, Mat 13:35. He explains the parable of the tares and the wheat, Mat 13:36-43. Parable of the treasure hid in a field, Mat 13:44. Of the pearl-merchant, Mat 13:45, Mat 13:46. Of the dragnet, Mat 13:47-50. His application of the whole, Mat 13:51, Mat 13:52. He teaches in his own country, and his neighbors take offense, Mat 13:53-56. Our Lord's observations on this, Mat 13:57. He works no miracle among them because of their unbelief, Mat 13:58.
The same day - Our Lord scarcely ever appears to take any rest: he is incessant in his labors, and instant in season and out of season; and in this he has left all his successors in the ministry an example, that they should follow his steps: for he who wishes to save souls will find few opportunities to rest. As Satan is going about as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour, the messenger of God should imitate his diligence, that he may counteract his work. The gospels are journals of our Lord's life.
Went Jesus out of the house - This was the house of Peter. See Mat 17:24.
Sat by the sea side - The sea of Galilee, on the borders of which the city of Capernaum was situated.
Into a ship - Το πλοιον, The vessel or boat. Mr. Wakefield supposes (which is very likely) that a particular vessel is uniformly specified, which seems to have been kept on the lake for the use of Christ and his apostles: it probably belonged to some of the fishermen, (see Mat 4:22), who, he thinks, occasionally, at least, followed their former occupation. See Joh 21:3.
The thought of pious Quesnel on this verse should not be neglected. We see here a representation of the Church, which consists of the people united to their pastors. These, being more exposed to violent tossings and storms, are, as it were, in a ship, while those continue at ease on the shore.
He spake many things unto them in parables - Parable, from παρα, near, and βαλλω, I cast, or put. A comparison or similitude, in which one thing is compared with another, especially spiritual things with natural, by which means these spiritual things are better understood, and make a deeper impression on an attentive mind. Or, a parable is a representation of any matter accommodated, in the way of similitude, to the real subject, in order to delineate it with the greater force and perspicuity. See more on this subject at the conclusion of this chapter. No scheme, says Dr. Lightfoot, of Jewish rhetoric was more familiarly used than that of parables; which, perhaps, creeping in from thence among the heathens, ended in fables.
It is said in the tract Sotah, chap. 9. "From the time that Rabbi Meri died, those that spake in parables ceased." Not that this figure of rhetoric perished in the nation from that time; but because he surpassed all others in these flowers, as the gloss there from the tract Sanhedrin speaks. "A third part of his discourses was tradition; a third part allegory; and a third part parable." The Jewish books every where abound with these figures, the nation inclining by a kind of natural genius to this kind of rhetoric. Their very religion might be called parabolical, folded up within the covering of ceremonies; and their oratory in their sermons was like to it. But is it not indeed a wonder, that they who were so much given to and delighted in parables, and so dexterous in unfolding them, should stick in the outward shell of ceremonies, and should not have brought out the parabolical and spiritual sense of them? Our Savior, who always spoke with the common people, uses the same kind of speech, and very often the same preface which they used, To what is it likened? See Lightfoot in loco. Though we find the basis of many of our Lord's parables in the Jewish writings, yet not one of them comes through his hands without being astonishingly improved. In this respect also, Surely never man spoke like this man.
Under the parable of the sower, our Lord intimates,
1. That of all the multitudes then attending his ministry, few would bring forth fruit to perfection. And
2. That this would be a general case in preaching the Gospel among men.
Some seeds fell by the way side - The hard beaten path, where no plough had broken up the ground.
Stony places - Where there was a thin surface of earth, and a rock at the bottom.
Among thorns - Where the earth was ploughed up, but the brambles and weeds had not been cleared away.
Good ground - Where the earth was deep, the field well ploughed, and the brambles and weeds all removed. See more on Mat 13:19 (note), etc., and see on Luk 8:15 (note).
Some a hundred-fold - For the elucidation of this text, I beg leave to introduce the following experiment. In 1816 I sowed, for a third crop, a field with oats, at Millbrook, in Lancashire; the grains weighed, on an average, 3/4 of a grain each. One grain produced three stalks with three ears: the largest had 68 grains in it, the second 26, and the third 25.
Whole number of grains 119, which together weighed 82 grs.
The root separately, after washing and drying, weighed 13 grs.
The stalks and remaining leaves (for many had perished in the wet season) 630 grs.
Weight of the whole produce of one grain of oats 726 grs. which was 725 times and one quarter more than the original weight.
The power of grain to multiply itself, even in the same year, is a subject as much of curiosity and astonishment as of importance and general utility. For the farther elucidation of this text, I shall give the following example from a practice in agriculture, or rural economy, which is termed filtering.
On the 2nd of June, 1766, Mr. C. Miller, of Cambridge, sowed some grains of the common, red wheat; and on the 8th of August a single plant was taken up, and separated into 18 parts, and each planted separately: these plants having pushed out several side shoots, about the middle of September some of them were taken up and divided; and the rest between that time and October. This second division produced 67 plants. These plants remained through the winter, and another division of them, made between the middle of March and the 12th of April, produced 500 plants. They were divided no farther, but permitted to remain in the field. These plants were in general stronger than any of the wheat in the field. Some of them produced upwards of 100 ears from a single root and many of the ears measured seven inches in length, and contained between sixty and seventy grains. The whole number of ears produced from the single plant was 21,109, which yielded three pecks and three-quarters of clear corn, weighing 47lbs. 7oz., and, from a calculation made by counting the grains in an ounce, the whole number of grains was about 576,840. Mr. Miller thinks that, had he made a second division in the spring, the number of plants would have amounted to 2000. Who can help admiring the wisdom and providence of God in this single grain of corn! He has, in some sort, impressed on it an idea of his own infinity; and an idea which, like the subject to which it refers, confounds our imagination and reason. How infinitely great is God, even in his minor works.
Who hath ears to hear, etc. - Let every person who feels the necessity of being instructed in the things which concern his soul's welfare pay attention to what is spoken, and he shall become wise unto salvation.
It is given unto you to know the mysteries, etc. - By mysteries, here, we may understand not only things concerning the scheme of salvation, which had not yet been revealed; but also the prophetic declarations concerning the future state of the Christian Church, expressed in the ensuing parables. It is not given to them to know the purport and design of these things - they are gross of heart, earthly and sensual, and do not improve the light they have received: but to you it is given, because I have appointed you not only to be the first preachers of my Gospel to sinners, but also the persons who shall transmit accounts of all these things to posterity. The knowledge of these mysteries, in the first instance, can be given only to a few; but when these faithfully write and publish what they have heard and seen, unto the world, then the science of salvation is revealed and addressed to all. From Mat 13:17, we learn, that many prophets and righteous men had desired to see and hear these things, but had not that privilege - to them it was not given; not because God designed to exclude them from salvation, but because He who knew all things knew, either that they were not proper persons, or that that was not the proper time: for the choice of the Persons by whom, and the choice of the Time in which it is most proper to reveal Divine things, must ever rest with the all-wise God.
Whosoever hath, to him shall be given - This is an allusion to a common custom in all countries: he who possesses much or is rich, to such a person, presents are ordinarily given.
Whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath - That is, the poor man: he that has little may be easily made a prey of, and so lose his little. This is a proper sense of the word εχειν in sacred and profane writers. In Co1 11:22, τους μη εχοντας, those who have not, means simply The Poor: and Aristophanes uses τους εχοντας, those that have, for the Rich or Opulent. See a variety of pertinent examples in Kypke on Luk 8:18. There is one example in Juvenal, Sat. iii. l. 208, 209, that expresses the whole of our Lords meaning, and is a beautiful illustration of this apparently difficult passage.
Nil habuit Codrus: quis enim negat?
et tamen illud Perdidit infelix Totum Nil.
"'Tis true, poor Codrus Nothing had to boast,
And yet poor Codrus All that Nothing lost."
Now what was this Nothing which, the poet said, Codrus had and lost? The five preceding lines tell you.
Lectus erat Codro Procula minor, urceoli sex,
Ornamentum abaci; necnon et parvulus infra
Cantharus, et recubans sub eodem marmore Chiron;
Jamque vetus Graecos servabat cista libellos,
Et divina Opici rodebant carmina mures
He had one small bed, six little pitchers, the ornament of a side-board; a small jug or tankard, the image of a centaur, and an old chest with some Greek books in it, on which the mice had already begun to make depredations. And all this he lost; probably by continuing, in spite of his destiny, to be a poet. So those who devote not the light and power which God has given them to the purposes for which he has granted these gifts, from them shall be taken away these unemployed or prostituted blessings. This seems to have been a proverbial mode of speech, which our Lord here uses to inform his disciples, that he who does not improve the first operations of grace, howsoever small, is in danger of losing not only all the possible product, but even the principal; for God delights to heap benefits on those who properly improve them. See the note on Luk 8:18.
Therefore speak I to them in parables - On this account, viz. to lead them into a proper knowledge of God. I speak to them in parables, natural representations of spiritual truths, that they may be allured to inquire, and to find out the spirit, which is hidden under the letter; because, seeing the miracles which I have wrought, they see not, i.e. the end for which I have wrought them; and hearing my doctrines, they hear not, so as to profit by what is spoken; neither do they understand, ουδε συνιουσι, they do not lay their hearts to it. Is not this obviously our Lord's meaning? Who can suppose that he would employ his time in speaking enigmatically to them, on purpose that they might not understand what was spoken? Could the God of truth and sincerity act thus? If he had designed to act otherwise, he might have saved his time and labor, and not spoken at all, which would have answered the same end, viz. to leave them in gross ignorance.
In them is fulfilled - Αναπληρουται, Is Again fulfilled: this proper meaning of the Greek word has been generally overlooked. The evangelist means, that as these words were fulfilled in the Jews, in the time of the Prophet Isaiah, so they are now again fulfilled in these their posterity, who exactly copy their fathers example. These awful words may be again fulfilled in us, if we take not warning by the things which these disobedient people have suffered.
By hearing ye shall hear - Jesus Christ shall be sent to you, his miracles ye shall fully see, and his doctrines ye shall distinctly hear; but God will not force you to receive the salvation which is offered.
Heart is waxed gross - Επαχυνθη, is become fat - inattentive stupid, insensible. They hear heavily with their ears - are half asleep while the salvation of God is preached unto them.
Their eyes they have closed - Totally and obstinately resisted the truth of God, and shut their eyes against the light.
Lest - they should see, etc. - Lest they should see their lost estate, and be obliged to turn unto God, and seek his salvation. His state is truly deplorable who is sick unto death, and yet is afraid of being cured. The fault is here totally in the people, and not at all in that God whose name is Mercy and whose nature is love.
But blessed are your eyes - Ye improve the light which God has given you; and you receive an increase of heavenly wisdom by every miracle and by every sermon.
Many prophets and righteous men - These lived by and died in the faith of the promised Messiah: the fullness of the time was not then come for his manifestation in the flesh. See also on Mat 13:11 (note).
When any one heareth the word of the kingdom - Viz. the preaching of the Gospel of Christ.
And understandeth it not - Μη συνιεντος, perhaps more properly, regardeth it not, does not lay his heart to it.
The wicked one - Ο πονηρος, from πονος, labor, toil, he who distresses and torments the soul. Mark, Mar 4:15, calls him ὁ σατανας, the adversary or opposer, because he resists men in all their purposes of amendment, and, to the utmost of his power opposes, in order to frustrate, the influences of Divine grace upon the heart. In the parallel place in Luke, Luk 8:12, he is called ὁ διαβολος, the devil, from διαβαλλειν, to shoot, or dart through. In allusion to this meaning of the name, St. Paul, Eph 6:16, speaks of the fiery Darts of the wicked one. It is worthy of remark, that the three evangelists should use each a different appellative of this mortal enemy of mankind; probably to show that the devil, with all his powers and properties, opposes every thing that tends to the salvation of the soul.
Catcheth away - Makes the utmost haste to pick up the good seed, lest it should take root in the heart.
A careless inattentive hearer is compared to the way side - his heart is an open road, where evil affections, and foolish and hurtful desires, continually pass and repass, without either notice or restraint. "A heart where Satan has" (as one terms it) "ingress, egress, regress, and progress: in a word, the devil's thoroughfare."
But he that received the seed into stony places - is he - That is, is a fit emblem of that man who, hearing the Gospel, is affected with its beauty and excellency, and immediately receiveth it with joy - is glad to hear what God has done to make man happy.
Yet hath he not root in himself - His soul is not deeply convinced of its guilt and depravity; the fallow ground is not properly ploughed up, nor the rock broken. When persecution, etc., ariseth, which he did not expect, he is soon stumbled - seeks some pretext to abandon both the doctrine and followers of Christ. Having not felt his own sore, and the plague of his heart, he has not properly discovered that this salvation is the only remedy for his soul: thus he has no motive in his heart strong enough to counteract the outward scandal of the cross; so he endureth only for the time in which there is no difficulty to encounter, no cross to bear.
He also that received seed among the thorns - In land ploughed, but not properly cleared and seeded. Is he - represents that person who heareth the word, but the cares, rather the anxiety, η μεριμνα, the whole system of anxious carking cares. Lexicographers derive the word μεριμνα from μεριζειν τον νουν, dividing, or distracting the mind. Thus a poet,
Tot me impediunt curae quae meum animum diverse trahunt.
"So many cares hinder me which draw my mind different ways." Terence.
The deceitfulness of riches - Which promise peace and pleasure, but can never give them.
Choke the word - Or, together choke the word, συμπνιγει, meaning, either that these grow up together with the word, overtop, and choke it; or that these united together, viz. carking worldly cares, with the delusive hopes and promises of riches, cause the man to abandon the great concerns of his soul, and seek, in their place, what he shall eat, drink, and wherewithal he shall be clothed. Dreadful stupidity of man, thus to barter spiritual for temporal good - a heavenly inheritance for an earthly portion! The seed of the kingdom can never produce much fruit in any heart, till the thorns and thistles of vicious affections and impure desires be plucked up by the roots and burned. The Persic translator renders it asle kalme-ra khube kund, chokes the root of the word: for it appears the seed had taken root, and that these cares, etc., choked it in the root, before even the blade could show itself.
Good ground - That which had depth of mould, was well ploughed, and well weeded.
Is he that heareth - Who diligently attends the ministry of the word.
And understandeth it - Lays the subject to heart, deeply weighing its nature, design, and importance.
Which also beareth fruit - His fruitfulness being an almost necessary consequence of his thus laying the Divine message to heart. Let it be observed, that to hear, to understand, and to bring forth fruit, are the three grand evidences of a genuine believer. He who does not hear the word of wisdom cannot understand what makes for his peace; and he who does not understand what the Gospel requires him to be and to perform, cannot bring forth fruit; and he who is not fruitful, very fruitful, cannot be a disciple of Christ - see Joh 15:8; and he who is not Christ's disciple cannot enter into the kingdom of God.
From the different portions of fruit produced by the good ground, a hundred, sixty, and thirty, we may learn that all sound believers are not equally fruitful; all hear, understand, and bring forth fruit, but not in the same degrees-occasioned, partly, by their situation and circumstances not allowing them such extensive opportunities of receiving and doing good; and, partly, by lack of mental capacity - for every mind is not equally improvable.
Let it be farther observed that the unfruitfulness of the different lands was not owing to bad seed or an unskilful sower - the same sower sows the same seed in all, and with the same gracious design - but it is unfruitful in many because they are careless, inattentive, and worldly-minded.
But is not the ground naturally bad in every heart? Undoubtedly. And can any but God make it good? None. But it is your business, when you hear of the justice and mercy of God, to implore him to work in you that which is pleasing in his sight. No man shall be condemned because he did not change his own heart, but because he did not cry to God to change it, who gave him his Holy Spirit for this very purpose, and which he, by his worldly-mindedness and impiety, quenched. Whoso hath ears to hear let him hear: and may the Lord save the reader from an impenitent and unfruitful heart!
The kingdom of heaven - God's method of managing the affairs of the world, and the concerns of his Church.
Is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field - In general, the world may be termed the field of God; and in particular, those who profess to believe in God through Christ are his field or farm; among whom God sows nothing but the pure unadulterated word of his truth.
But while men slept - When the professors were lukewarm, and the pastors indolent, his enemy came and sowed tares, ζιζανια degenerate, or bastard wheat. The righteous and the wicked are often mingled in the visible Church. Every Christian society, how pure soever its principles may be, has its bastard wheat - those who bear a resemblance to the good, but whose hearts are not right with God. He who sows this bastard wheat among God's people is here styled God's enemy; and he may be considered also as a sower of them who permits them to be sown and to spring up through his negligence. Wo to the indolent pastors, who permit the souls under their care to be corrupted by error and sin! This word does not, I believe, occur in any of the Greek classics, nor in Dioscorides; but it may be seen in the Geoponica, or Greek writers De Re Rustica: see the edition by Niclas, vol. i. lib. ii. c. 43, where το ζιζανιον is said to be the same which the Greeks call αιρα; and Florentinus, the author, says, Το ζιζανιον, το λεγομενον Αιρα, φθειρει νον σιτον, αρτοις δε μιγνυμενη, σκοτοι τους εσθιοντας. "Zizanion, which is called αιρα, darnel, injures the wheat; and, mixed in the bread, causes dimness of the eyes to those who eat of it." And the author might have added vertigo also. But this does not seem to be the grain to which our Lord alludes.
The word ζιζανια, zizania, which is here translated tares, and which should rather be translated bastard or degenerate wheat, is a Chaldee word; and its meaning must be sought in the rabbinical writers. In a treatise in the Mishna called Kelayim, which treats expressly on different kinds of seeds, the word זונים zunim, or זונין zunin, is used for bastard or degenerated wheat; that which was wholly a right seed in the beginning, but afterwards became degenerate - the ear not being so large, nor the grains in such quantity, as formerly, nor the corn so good in quality. In Psa 144:13, the words מזן אל זן mizzan al zen, are translated all manner of store; but they properly signify, from species to species: might not the Chaldee word זונין zunin, and the Greek word ζιζανια, zizania, come from the psalmist's זנזן zanzan, which might have signified a mixture of grain of any kind, and be here used to point out the mixing bastard or degenerate wheat among good seed wheat? The Persic translator renders it telkh daneh, bitter grain; but it seems to signify merely degenerate wheat. This interpretation throws much light on the scope and design of the whole passage. Christ seems to refer, first, to the origin of evil. God sowed good seed in his field; made man in his own image and likeness: but the enemy, the devil, (Mat 13:39), corrupted this good seed, and caused it to degenerate. Secondly, he seems to refer to the state of the Jewish people: God had sowed them, at first, wholly a right seed, but now they were become utterly degenerate, and about to be plucked up and destroyed by the Roman armies, which were the angels or messengers of God's justice, whom he had commissioned to sweep these rebellious people from the face of the land. Thirdly, he seems to refer also to the state in which the world shall be found, when he comes to judge it. The righteous and the wicked shall be permitted to grow together, till God comes to make a full and final separation.
When the blade was sprung up - then appeared the tares also - Satan has a shoot of iniquity for every shoot of grace; and, when God revives his work, Satan revives his also. No marvel, therefore, if we find scandals arising suddenly to discredit a work of grace, where God has begun to pour out his Spirit.
So the servants - said unto him, Sir, didst not thou sow - A faithful and vigilant minister of Christ fails not to discover the evil, to lament it, and to address himself to God by prayer, in order to find out the cause of it, and to receive from him proper information how to behave on the occasion.
An enemy hath done this - It is the interest of Satan to introduce hypocrites and wicked persons into religious societies, in order to discredit the work of God, and to favor his own designs.
Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up? - A zeal which is rash and precipitate is as much to be feared as the total lack of strict discipline.
But he said, Nay - God judges quite otherwise than men of this mixture of good and evil in the world; he knows the good which he intends to produce from it, and how far his patience towards the wicked should extend, in order to their conversion, or the farther sanctification of the righteous. Men often persecute a true Christian, while they intend only to prosecute an impious person. "A zeal for the extirpation of heretics and wicked men," said a pious Papist, "not regulated by these words of our blessed Savior, allows no time for the one to grow strong in goodness, or to the other to forsake their evil courses. They are of a spirit very opposite to his, who care not if they root up the wheat, provided they can but gather up the tares." The zeal which leads persons to persecute others for religious opinions is not less a seed of the devil than a bad opinion itself is.
Let both grow together - Though every minister of God should separate from the Church of Christ every incorrigible sinner, yet he should proceed no farther: the man is not to be persecuted in his body or goods, because he is not sound in the faith - God tolerates him; so should men. False doctrines are against God - he alone is the judge and punisher of them - man has no right to interfere in this matter. They who burnt Vanini for atheism usurped the seat of judgment, and thus proved themselves to be not less a diabolical seed than the person they thus, without God's leave, hurried into eternity. Mary, Queen of England, of execrable memory, and the inquisitorial tormentors she employed, were all of this diabolical sowing. See more on this parable at Mat 13:37, etc.
The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed - This parable is a representation of the progress of the Gospel in the world; and of the growth of grace in the soul. That grace which leads the soul to the fullness of glory may begin, and often does, in a single good desire - a wish to escape hell, or a desire to enjoy God in heaven.
Which indeed is the least of all seeds - That is, of all those seeds which produce plants, whose stems and branches, according to the saying of the botanists, are apt δενδριζειν, arborescere, to grow into a ligneous or woody substance.
Becometh a tree - That is, it is not only the largest of plants which are produced from such small seeds, but partakes, in its substance, the close woody texture, especially in warm climates, where we are informed it grows to an almost incredible size. The Jerusalem Talmud, tract Peah. fol. 20, says, "There was a stalk of mustard in Sichin, from which sprang out three boughs; one of which, being broken off, served to cover the tent of a potter, and produced three cabes of mustard seed. Rabbi Simeon ben Chalapha said, A stalk of mustard seed was in my field, into which I was wont to climb, as men are wont to climb into a fig tree." See Lightfoot and Schoettgen. This may appear to be extravagant; and it is probable that, in the case of the three cabes of seed, there is considerable exaggeration; but, if it had not been usual for this plant to grow to a very large size, such relations as these would not have appeared even in the Talmud; and the parable of our Lord sufficiently attests the fact. Some soils being more luxuriant than others, and the climate much warmer, raise the same plant to a size and perfection far beyond what a poorer soil, or a colder climate, can possibly do. Herodotus says, he has seen wheat and barley in the country about Babylon which carried a blade full four fingers-breadth: and that the millet and sesamum grew to an incredible size. I have myself seen a field of common cabbages, in one of the Norman isles, each of which was from seven to nine feet in height; and one in the garden of a friend, which grew beside an apple-tree, though the latitude of the place is only about 48 deg. 13 min. north, was fifteen feet high, the stem of which is yet remaining, (September, 1798). These facts, and several others which might be added, confirm fully the possibility of what our Lord says of the mustard-tree, however incredible such things may appear to those who are acquainted only with the productions of northern regions and cold climates.
The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven - On the nature and effects of leaven, see the note on Exo 12:8. As the property of leaven is to change, or assimulate to its own nature, the meal or dough with which it is mixed, so the property of the grace of Christ is to change the whole soul into its own likeness; and God intends that this principle should continue in the soul till all is leavened - till the whole bear the image of the heavenly, as it before bore the image of the earthly. Both these parables are prophetic, and were intended to show, principally, how, from very small beginnings, the Gospel of Christ should pervade all the nations of the world, and fill them with righteousness and true holiness.
All these things spoke Jesus - in parables - Christ descends from Divine mysteries to parables, in order to excite us to raise our minds, from and through natural things, to the great God, and the operations of his grace and Spirit. Divine things cannot be taught to man but through the medium of earthly things. If God should speak to us in that language which is peculiar to heaven, clothing those ideas which angelic minds form, how little should we comprehend of the things thus described! How great is our privilege in being thus taught! Heavenly things, in the parables of Christ, assume to themselves a body, and thus render themselves palpable.
By the prophet - As the quotation is taken from Psa 78:2, which is attributed to Asaph, he must be the prophet who is meant in the text; and, indeed, he is expressly called a prophet, Ch1 25:2. Several MSS. have Ησαιου, Isaiah; but this is a manifest error. Jerome supposes that Asaph was first in the text, and that some ignorant transcriber, not knowing who this Asaph was, inserted the word Isaiah; and thus, by attempting to remove an imaginary error, made a real one.
Jesus - went into the house: and his disciples came - Circumstances of this kind should not pass unnoticed: they are instructive and important. Those who attend only to the public preaching of the Gospel of God are not likely to understand fully the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven. To understand clearly the purport of the Divine message, a man must come to God by frequent, fervent, secret prayer. It is thus that the word of God sinks into the heart, is watered, and brings forth much fruit.
Declare (φρασον, explain) unto us the parable of the tares of the field. - To what has already been spoken on this parable, the following general exposition may be deemed a necessary appendage: -
I. What is the cause of Evil in the world?
1. We must allow that God, who is infinite in holiness, purity, and goodness, could not have done it. Nothing can produce what is not in itself. This is a maxim which every man subscribes to: God then could not have produced sin, forasmuch as his nature is infinite goodness and holiness. He made man at first in his own image, a transcript of his own purity: and, since sin entered into the world, He has done every thing consistent with his own perfections, and the freedom of the human mind, to drive it out, and to make and keep man holy.
2. After a thousand volumes are written on the origin of evil, we shall just know as much of it as Christ has told us here - An enemy hath done it, and this enemy is the devil, Mat 13:39.
1. This enemy is represented as a deceitful enemy: a friend in appearance, soliciting to sin, by pleasure, honor, riches, etc.
2. A vigilant enemy. While men sleep he watches, Mat 13:25.
3. A hidden or secret enemy. After having sown his seed, he disappears, Mat 13:25. Did he appear as himself, few would receive solicitations to sin; but he is seldom discovered in evil thoughts, unholy desires, flattering discourses, bad books, etc.
II. Why was evil permitted to enter into the world?
1. There are doubtless sufficient reasons in the Divine Mind for its permission; which, connected with his infinite essence, and extending to eternity, are not only unfathomable by us, but also, from their nature, incommunicable to men.
2. But it may be justly said, that hereby many attributes of the Divine Nature become manifest, which otherwise could not have been known; such as mercy, compassion, long-suffering, etc. All of which endear the Deity to men, and perfect the felicity of those who are saved.
III. But why does he suffer this mixture of the good and bad seed now?
1. Because of the necessary dependence of one part of the creation on the other. Were the wicked all rooted up, society must fail, the earth be nearly desolated, noxious things greatly multiplied, and the small remnant of the godly, not being able to stand against the onsets of wild beasts, etc., must soon be extirpated; and then adieu to the economy of grace!
2. Did not the wicked exist, there would be no room for the exercise of many of the graces of the Spirit, on which our spiritual perfection greatly depends.
3. Nor could the grace of God be so manifest in supporting and saving the righteous; and consequently could not have that honor which now it justly claims.
4. Were not this evil tolerated, how could the wicked be converted? The bastard wheat, by being transplanted to a better soil, may become good wheat; so sinners may be engrafted in Christ, and become sons of God through faith in his name; for the longsuffering of God leads multitudes to repentance.
IV. Observe the end of the present state of things:
1. The wicked shall be punished, and the righteous rewarded.
The wicked are termed bastard-wheat - the children of the wicked one, Mat 13:38, the very seed of the serpent.
Observe the place in which the wicked shall be punished, - a Furnace. The instrument of this punishment, Fire. This is an allusion to the punishment inflicted only on those supposed to be the very worst of criminals. See Dan 3:6. They were cast into a burning fiery furnace. The effect of it, Despair; weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth, Mat 13:42.
2. Observe the character and state of the righteous:
1. They are the children of the kingdom, a seed of God's sowing, Mat 13:38.
2. As to their persons, they shall be like the sun.
3. The place of their felicity shall be the kingdom of heaven: and,
4. The object of it, God In the relation of Father, Mat 13:43. This is a reference to Dan 12:2, Dan 12:3.
Some learned men are of opinion that the whole of this parable refers to the Jewish state and people; and that the words συντελεια του αιωνος, which are commonly translated the end of the world, should be rendered the end of the age, viz. the end of the Jewish polity. That the words have this meaning in other places there can be no doubt; and this may be their primary meaning here; but there are other matters in the parable which agree far better with the consummation of all things than with the end of the Jewish dispensation and polity. See on Mar 4:29 (note).
The kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field - Θησαυρω κεκρυμμενω, to a hidden treasure. We are not to imagine that the treasure here mentioned, and to which the Gospel salvation is likened, means a pot or chest of money hidden in the field, but rather a gold or silver mine, which he who found out could not get at, or work, without turning up the field, and for this purpose he bought it. Mr. Wakefield's observation is very just: "There is no sense in the purchase of a field for a pot of money, which he might have carried away with him very readily, and as honestly, too, as by overreaching the owner by an unjust purchase."
He hideth - i.e. he kept secret, told the discovery to no person, till he had bought the field. From this view of the subject, the translation of this verse, given above, will appear proper - a hidden treasure, when applied to a rich mine, is more proper than a treasure hid, which applies better to a pot of money deposited there, which I suppose was our translators' opinion; and kept secret, or concealed, will apply better to the subject of his discovery till he made the purchase, than hideth, for which there could be no occasion, when the pot was already hidden, and the place known only to himself.
Our Lord's meaning seems to be this: - The kingdom of heaven - the salvation provided by the Gospel - is like a treasure - something of inestimable worth - hidden in a field; it is a rich mine, the veins of which run in all directions in the sacred Scriptures; therefore, the field must be dug up, the records of salvation diligently and carefully turned over, and searched. Which, when a man hath found - when a sinner is convinced that the promise of life eternal is to him, he kept secret - pondered the matter deeply in his heart; he examines the preciousness of the treasure, and counts the cost of purchase; for joy thereof - finding that this salvation is just what his needy soul requires, and what will make him presently and eternally happy, went and sold all that he had - renounces his sins, abandons his evil companions, and relinquishes all hope of salvation through his own righteousness; and purchased that field - not merely bought the book for the sake of the salvation it described, but, by the blood of the covenant, buys gold tried in the fire, white raiment, etc.; in a word, pardon and purity, which he receives from God for the sake of Jesus. We should consider the salvation of God,
1. As our only treasure, and value it above all the riches in the world.
2. Search for it in the Scriptures, till we fully understand its worth and excellence.
3. Deeply ponder it in the secret of our souls.
4. Part with all we have in order to get it.
5. Place our whole joy and felicity in it; and
6. Be always convinced that it must be bought, and that no price is accepted for it but the blood of the covenant; the sufferings and death of our only Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
A merchant man, seeking goodly pearls - A story very like this is found in the Talmudical tract Shabbath: "Joseph, who sanctified the Sabbath, had a very rich neighbor; the Chaldeans said, All the riches of this man shall come to Joseph, who sanctifies the Sabbath. To prevent this, the rich man went and sold all that he had, and bought a pearl, and went aboard of a ship; but the wind carried the pearl away, it fell into the sea, and was swallowed by a fish. This fish was caught, and the day before the Sabbath it was brought into the market, and they proclaimed, Who wishes to buy this fish? The people said, Carry it to Joseph, the sanctifier of the Sabbath, who is accustomed to buy things of great value. They carried it to him, and he bought it, and when he cut it up he found the pearl, and sold it for thirteen pounds weight of golden denarii!" From some tradition of this kind, our Lord might have borrowed the simile in this parable.
The meaning of this parable is the same with the other; and both were spoken to impress more forcibly this great truth on the souls of the people: - eternal salvation from sin and its consequences is the supreme good of man, should be sought after above all things, and prized beyond all that God has made. Those merchants who compass sea and land for temporal gain, condemn the slothfulness of the majority of those called Christians, who, though they confess that this salvation is the most certain and the most excellent of all treasures, yet seek worldly possessions in preference to it! Alas, for him who expects to find any thing more amiable than God, more worthy to fill his heart, and more capable of making him happy!
Is like unto a net - A drag-net. This is the proper meaning of Σαγηνη, which the Latins translate verriculum, a sweep net; Quod in aquam jacitur ad pisces comprehendendos; imprimis, cujus usus est extrahendis iis a fundo. Martinius. "Which is cast into the water to catch fish, and the particular use of which is to drag them up from the bottom." As this is dragged along it keeps gathering all in its way, both good and bad, small and great; and, when it is brought to the shore, those which are proper for use are preserved, and those which are not are either destroyed or thrown back into the water.
By the net may be understood the preaching of the Gospel of the kingdom, which keeps drawing men into the profession of Christianity, and into the fellowship of the visible Church of Christ. By the sea may be represented that abyss of sin, error, ignorance, and wickedness in which men live, and out of which they are drawn, by the truth and Spirit of God, who cordially close in with the offers of salvation made to them in the preaching of the Gospel.
By drawing to shore, may be represented the consummation of all things, see Mat 13:49, when a proper distinction shall be made between those who served God, and those who served him not; for many shall doubtless be found who shall bear the name without the nature of Christ. By picking out the good, and throwing away the bad, Mat 13:48, is meant that separation which God shall make between false and true professors, casting the former into hell, and bringing the latter to heaven.
Instead of τα καλα the good, the Cod. Bezae, and five copies of the old Antehieronymian, or Itala version, read τα καλλιστα, the best, the very best. Every reader would naturally hope that this is not the true reading, or that it is not to be understood literally, as it seems to intimate that only the very best shall be at last saved.
It is probable that this parable also refers, in its primary meaning, to the Jewish state, and that, when Christ should come to judge and destroy them by the Roman power, the genuine followers of Christ only should escape, and the rest be overwhelmed by the general destruction. See Mat 24:30, etc.
Into the furnace of fire - See the note on Mat 8:12.
Have ye understood all these things? - Divine truths must not be lightly passed over. - Our Lord's question here shows them to be matters of the utmost weight and importance; and that they should be considered again and again, till they be thoroughly understood.
Every scribe - Minister of Christ: who is instructed - taught of God; in the kingdom of heaven - in the mysteries of the Gospel of Christ: out of his treasury - his granary or store-house; things new and old - a Jewish phrase for great plenty. A small degree of knowledge is not sufficient for a preacher of the Gospel. The sacred writings should be his treasure, and he should properly understand them. His knowledge does not consist in being furnished with a great variety of human learning, (though of this he should acquire as much as he can); but his knowledge consists in being well instructed in the things concerning the kingdom of heaven, and the art of conducting men thither. Again, it is not enough for a man to have these advantages in possession: he must bring them forth, and distribute them abroad. A good pastor will not, like a miser, keep these things to himself to please his fancy; nor, like a merchant, traffic with them, to enrich himself; but, like a bountiful father or householder, distribute them with a liberal through judicious hand, for the comfort and support of the whole heavenly family.
A preacher whose mind is well stored with Divine truths, and who has a sound judgment, will suit his discourses to the circumstances and states of his hearers. He who preaches the same sermon to every congregation, gives the fullest proof that, however well he may speak, he is not a scribe who is instructed in the kingdom of heaven. Some have thought that old and new things here, which imply the produce of the past and the produce of the present year, may also refer to the old and new covenants - a proper knowledge of the Old Testament Scriptures, and of the doctrines of Christ as contained in the New. No man can properly understand the Old Testament but through the medium of the New, nor can the New be so forcibly or successfully applied to the conscience of a sinner as through the medium of the Old. The law is still a schoolmaster to lead men to Christ - by it is the knowledge of sin, and, without it, there can be no conviction - where it ends, the Gospel begins, as by the Gospel alone is salvation from sin. See the whole of the comment on the Pentateuch.
And when he was come into his own country - Probably Nazareth, where his parents lived, and where he had continued till his thirtieth year, though it appears he had a lodging in Peter's house at Capernaum.
They were astonished - It appears, hence, that our blessed Lord had lived in obscurity all the time above specified; for his countrymen appear not to have heard his doctrines, nor seen his miracles, until now. It is a melancholy truth, that those who should know Christ best are often the most ignorant of himself, the doctrines of his word, and the operations of his Spirit.
Is not this the carpenter's son? - Seven copies of the old Itala have, Is not this the son of Joseph the carpenter? But it is likely our Lord, during the thirty years of his abode at Nazareth, wrought at the same trade with Joseph; and perhaps this is what is intended, Luk 2:51. He went down with them (his parents) to Nazareth, and was Subject unto them. An honest trade is no discredit to any man. He who spends his time in idleness is fit for any business in which the devil chooses to employ him.
Is not his mother - Mary, and his brethren, James, etc. - This insulting question seems to intimate that our Lord's family was a very obscure one; and that they were of small repute among their neighbors, except for their piety.
It is possible that brethren and sisters may mean here near relations, as the words are used among the Hebrews in this latitude of meaning; but I confess it does not appear to me likely. Why should the children of another family be brought in here to share a reproach which it is evident was designed for Joseph the carpenter, Mary his wife, Jesus their son, and their other children? Prejudice apart, would not any person of plain common sense suppose, from this account, that these were the children of Joseph and Mary, and the brothers and sisters of our Lord, according to the flesh? It seems odd that this should be doubted; but, through an unaccountable prejudice, Papists and Protestants are determined to maintain as a doctrine, that on which the Scriptures are totally silent, viz. the perpetual virginity of the mother of our Lord. See Mat 1:25.
And they were offended in him - They took offense at him, εσκανδαλιζοντο εν αυτω, making the meanness of his family the reason why they would not receive him as a prophet, though they were astonished at his wisdom, and at his miracles, Mat 13:54. So their pride and their envy were the causes of their destruction.
A prophet is not without honor - This seems to have been a proverbial mode of speech, generally true, but not without some exceptions. The apparent meanness of our Lord was one pretense why they rejected him; and yet, God manifested in the flesh, humbling himself to the condition of a servant, and to the death of the cross, is the only foundation for the salvation of a lost world. Perhaps our Lord means, by prophet, in this place, himself alone, as if he had said, My ministry is more generally reputed, and my doctrine better received, in any other part of the land than in my own country, among my own relatives; because, knowing the obscurity of my birth, they can scarcely suppose that I have these things from heaven.
And he did not many mighty works there because of their unbelief - Δυναμεις, miracles. So the word is used, Mat 7:22; Mat 11:20; Act 19:11; Co1 12:28; Gal 3:5; Heb 2:4. The Septuagint translates נפלאות אל niphleoth el, the miraculous works of God, by δυναμιν κυριε.
Unbelief and contempt drive Christ out of the heart, as they did out of his own country. Faith seems to put the almighty power of God into the hands of men; whereas unbelief appears to tie up even the hands of the Almighty. A man, generally speaking, can do but little good among his relatives, because it is difficult for them to look with the eyes of faith upon one whom they have been accustomed to behold with the eyes of the flesh. - Quesnel.