Thoughts on the Similitudes of the Kingdom; Part 10

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" Another parable put be forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed," &c.
EVER since sin came into the world, the people of God have-always been a remnant. A people separated from their fellows according to nature, and in habit, principle, and aim, living apart. I speak here of those who were truly born of God, not of a nation separated from other nations as Israel of old, who were indeed nominally the people of God, but really as regards the majority, not His people. In the antediluvian world the sons of God were distinct from the daughters of men.
After the flood God has handed down to us a few names. Idolatry was mixed up with the knowledge of the true God. And God called out and separated Abram from all else, notwithstanding that Terah 'appears to have had some knowledge of God. But God would have a testimony outside idolatry, and Abram must be separated from his father. But the line of witnesses for God was always a narrow one. Israel was called the people of God, but how few among them were faithful. In the time of Elijah, out of all the nation then subject to Ahab, God had only a remnant of seven thousand who had not bowed the knee to Baal. (1 Kings 19:1818Yet I have left me seven thousand in Israel, all the knees which have not bowed unto Baal, and every mouth which hath not kissed him. (1 Kings 19:18).)
When the Lord came, how few gathered round Him. And now that the kingdom is set up, we find the same thing. It is but a remnant of those within the kingdom who are found faithful. They are the Church of God. The kingdom itself, through the unwatchfulness of the servants who slept, is become an earthly thing. The tares have completely changed its aspect from what it ought to have been according to the intention of God who set it up. Small in its beginning, as a grain of mustard seed, it has seized the agencies the world afforded, forgetful of its divine origin, to extend itself; courted the world, assimilated itself to the world, in fact bowed down to it, and eventually succeeded in obtaining its
power, and then gave shelter and protection to the world in its bosom.
Such is the picture presented to us in the parable of the great tree, which, " when it is gown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds-of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof." Both symbols, the tree and the birds, are explained in God's word, and thence we learn the meaning.
We find in Ezek. 31 that the Spirit of God likens Assyria to a great tree, which afforded shelter to the fowls of heaven and the beasts of the field. It is a figurative description of the great power of that empire. Its moral character is not in question. It might be good, it might be bad; but the fact was that the surrounding nations enjoyed shelter and protection. So great was it that birds had their nests in its branches, under which the beasts of the field brought forth their young. So towering, so " fair by the multitude of his branches, that all the trees of Eden that were in the garden of God, envied him." In Dan. 4, the same figure is employed concerning Nebuchadnezzar. The reason why he is named and not his empire, is that all the power, legislative and executive, was vested in his own person, which was not the case in the succeeding monarchies. He was the head of gold, the rest were inferior. He is a great tree.
But even the future kingdom of our Lord is under the same similitude (Ezek. 17) and here too is a place for the birds of the air, protection is given them. This is the millennial kingdom where we know that righteousness shall" rule the earth. "All the trees of the field shall know that I am the Lord," that is, the kings and princes shall own and bow to the sway of the King of kings. There is no question here of the moral character of the power. So we have Assyria, Babylon, and the millennial kingdom respectively under the figure of a tree giving shelter and protection to others. The proof then is ample that in Scripture language a tree symbolizes a great power whether good or bad, on the earth.
Now, in the parable, we have a tree affording like shelter to the birds of the air, given as the similitude of the kingdom in its present form; and the conclusion is just, that the kingdom of heaven has assumed the aspect and the position of an earthly power. Truly it is the "mysteries of the kingdom of heaven." But it could only be set up in mystery, for Jesus, the King, must retire from the scene. The solemn fact is, that men have availed themselves of the principles of the kingdom while denying the rights of the King, and molded them to their own purpose, have even dared to use the King's name to establish a vast hierarchical power which, as represented by the tree, has shot forth its branches and extended itself far and wide. The birds of the air lodge in the branches thereof; and this system appropriates to itself the name of "the Church of God."
Strange! The Church of God as given in the New Testament is itself rejected and persecuted by the world. Yet these very despisers and persecutors, those who are within the limits of the kingdom, assume the name of that which they despise and reject.
But if a tree is used to denote a power in the earth, whether good or evil, how are we to determine the moral character of the tree in the parable? Look at those who are sheltered and protected by its branches-the birds of the air. But prophecy tells us that the millennial kingdom of the Lord, will be a tree giving protection to the birds of the air, and in this case we know that it will be a righteous kingdom, and according to the mind and will of God. Why should not the same character be borne by it in the parable? Bemuse in immediate connection with the parable the Lord tells us who and what are symbolized by the birds. They are the agencies of Satan. In the first parable they pick up the good seed. And the Lord in explanation says, "then cometh the wicked one." There is, then, no doubt as to whom the birds represent. The same chapter gives both the symbol and its meaning, and to interpret them of anything else is to set aside not only sound principles of interpretation, but also to deny the truth of God.
Here, then, in the parable of the tree, the wicked one and his emissaries are cherished and have their place, their own place in the kingdom. " They lodged "-had their nests-"in the branches." What, then, can be the character of that power or system which sustains and protects Satan's evil, but wicked and abominable in God's sight?
(To be continued, D. V.)