Notes on Matthew 13:1-35

Matthew 13:1‑35  •  10 min. read  •  grade level: 7
The chapter to which we are now come has been so often handled that I shall have no need to dwell much on the details. Only we shall need a general glance at the position it holds in the Gospel, and some words on the last parable.
We have seen the Lord pronounce on the Jewish people a judgment, which extends even to the last days, breaking, as come in flesh, all His relations with them. The heads of the people had blasphemed against the Holy Spirit and brought this judgment on the entire system, although the patience of God still sought all those who had ears to hear. The Lord sought no more fruit in His vineyard. There was only verjuice after all His pains. Such really was man; for Israel was only man placed under law with all the advantages God could lavish on him. In the trial to which man had been subjected, two things had been proved: that he could not attain to righteousness according to the law; and that he would not receive God come in grace, manifested in humanity to gain man and exercising a power to heal all the evils to which man had been subjected by sin.
He quits the house, a sign (I doubt not) of the immense change in the ways of God, and sits in a ship on the sea, and presents Himself as a sower, that is, as no more seeking fruit but carrying with Him in this world what was to produce it. The Lord goes no farther than the word of the kingdom. The verses 10-17 state the judgment of “the people according to the prophecy of Isaiah, of which the Lord in His patience had so long put off the accomplishment, and the separation of a remnant owned of the Lord—a remnant whose ears and eyes were opened by grace.
It is well to recall that there are seven parables: the first is not a similitude of the kingdom, the others are. Of these the first three present to us the form the kingdom took in the world: the last three, the thoughts of God in establishing in this manner the kingdom, and then the result of all at the end of the age. The first is occupied with individuals and the visible effect of the word. There is no question of the work of the Holy Spirit, which is found elsewhere doubtless; but here it is the exterior work of Christ in sowing, and in effect the consequence as far as manifested on the earth. We have just the word of the kingdom, but neither the kingdom nor the end of the age. Christ sows and there is the result in this world, in man on the earth: the seed produces fruit in one case out of four. In the first the seed does not penetrate at all: Satan takes it away as soon as it is sown. There is levity of heart, an indifference which receives nothing; the word is not understood, the heart is occupied with something else. However it is a word adapted to man and sown in his heart. In the second case, on the contrary, the heart is gained as to its feelings for a moment, but the conscience is not reached. There is no rest: the doctrine has been received for the joy that the message brings; and when the word brought sufferings instead of joy, the heart wished no more of it. There was not a true want. The Holy Spirit always produces wants. It was not as with the apostles: “Lord, to whom shall we go?” In the third case the world has choked the good seed. Alas! there is no need to explain it: we see it every day. However, it is a subtler thing: the world, business, has not the evil look of gross sin; but the word is choked and produces nothing.
The danger and the tendency of these things are found in the Christian: according to the measure the world exercises empire over him, his life suffers from it. Be it he is not dead but he sleeps, he does not understand spiritual things; he does not see or even enjoy them. Unhappy in the presence of spiritual Christians he enjoys not the things they enjoy, and suffers even from reproofs of his conscience. And if he goes with the world, he suffers also in reflecting on it, his conscience reproaching him with want of faithfulness; like a sick man who suffers, he is not dead: otherwise he would not suffer; but it is a sad means of knowing that life is there.
In the fourth case the word is understood; it penetrates, grows, and produces fruit in different degrees in different persons. In the first case it is said that the word was not understood, in this ease it is said that it was; in the other cases the point is not touched. In the first case it was seen that nothing had penetrated. In the two following there was the appearance of it, but there was nothing: the plant perished without fruit. In the last case the seed is developed in the interior of the heart and fruit is produced: precious effect according to the nature of what was sown, fruit for Him who had sown the seed and for him who had received it! There is no judgment, but the patent facts stated by the Lord in contrast with the vineyard and His fig-tree where He was seeking fruit, and in contrast also with the kingdom or state of things in the world, and their result in the judgment at the end.
The first of the following parables shows the effect of the sowing in the world up to the end of the age, but does not take in the execution of judgment: this is found, as well as the manifestation of glory, in the explanation made to the disciples in the house. It should be remarked that, in the parable of the sower, he is not named. It is the effect of the word in the heart of man, whoever may have sown. Here, on the contrary, we have a similitude of the kingdom, and he who sows takes the character (not of Christ—we have seen His work closed in His rejection, the Messiah seeking fruit was come to be received in Israel, but) of Son of man. He who sows is the Son of man, and the field is the world; but I anticipate.
We have always the general character of the work that the Lord wrought: He sowed; but not the personal result in the world. He has sown good seed in His field, but the responsibility of man is in question in the result produced; and whilst they slept, the enemy came and sowed tares. That did not hinder the good grain from being in the garner, but spoiled the whole of the crop in the field, and the evil which had been done was without remedy. It is forbidden the servants to root up the tares for fear of rooting up the good grain with them, precisely what happened when they would do so: the two were to grow together till the harvest. The kingdom of the heavens presented in this world a spoiled crop, fruit, on one side of the Lord's work, on the other of the enemy's work. Now in the parable we have only what happens in the kingdom before the manifestation of the King and the execution of judgment by Him. When He shall be manifested and the public judgment come, there will be no more parables, the mystery of God will be closed. In the parables we have mysteries, that which demands a revelation to know them; the execution of judgment is in itself the most striking revelation. In the parable we have then at the end in general the time of the harvest; and the tares are gathered first in bundles to burn them. The tares are there in bundles on the field of this world, and the good grain is hid in the Lord.
Afterward, before explaining the parable of the tares, the Lord gives two other similitudes of the kingdom; and remember that it is a question here of the kingdom. It is well to remark that the word for likeness is not the same in these parables and that of the tares. Here it is only the character the kingdom will take; it is “like” to, &c. In the parable of the tares, “it is become,” has been made, “like.” It is a character that it has taken in actual circumstances considering the rejection of the King.
It is worth while also to remark in these parables those in which the thing in itself is the subject of comparison, and those where it is the individual or those who form the essential part of the parable. The kingdom itself is like a little grain of mustard seed becoming a great tree, symbol in the Old Testament of a thing elevated in the world, of a political power. We know well that that is come—that the birds nestling in its branches signifies the protection it affords. (Cf. Dan. 4:1212The leaves thereof were fair, and the fruit thereof much, and in it was meat for all: the beasts of the field had shadow under it, and the fowls of the heaven dwelt in the boughs thereof, and all flesh was fed of it. (Daniel 4:12).) It is the public appearance of the kingdom system such as it has been for ages: here is no judgment.
Next comes the parable of the leaven. The likeness is the leaven. The woman is not a sower. It is not the Lord who sows what is designated as the good seed, it is not a great tree in the world. It is a doctrine which insinuates itself everywhere in certain limits, and forms the entire lump according to its own nature. The whole is leavened: it is Christendom. But in neither of these two parables do we arrive at judgment. It is the kingdom such as it is when the grain of mustard seed or the leaven has fully acted and produced its effect. It is true that leaven is always employed in an evil sense; yet I do not think this is the aim of the parable, but the doctrine which forms all in one sole lump where it penetrates. If it was purely the evil as evil, we should have had some exception. This is marked in the tares, but on another side. It is not the good that is sown, nor the Lord who sows; so that the notion of positive good is carefully avoided as well as of him who does so. The point is not the word of God but the fact of the general profession of Christians and in a form where no idea of good is presented; for certainly leaven is not, in the word, an image of good. No more is the parable the description of an individual. There is hardly need to discuss this point, because it is a similitude of the kingdom of the heavens, and in no case is an individual the kingdom of the heavens. Besides, the result in an individual is not that which is depicted here.
These then are the three descriptions of the kingdom on the earth during the absence of the King, such as the kingdom is presented to the eyes of all: a mixture of good and bad, the harvest thus spoiled as a whole; afterward a great human and political power on the earth; and a general profession of doctrine without question of the individual state of anyone whatever. Afterward the good corn is hid in the garner; and providence prepares the seed of the enemy to be burnt in binding them together in bundles on earth.