Thoughts on the Similitudes of the Kingdom; Part 20

Matthew 13:47  •  14 min. read  •  grade level: 9
Another similitude the Lord gives to the disciples, and here not confined to the true heirs of the kingdom, but taking in the whole scene as in that of the tare field. Only here it is not from a world-stand-point as that was, but it is God’s estimate of the whole thing, and the real work that He was doing while men were glorying in theirs. That was given to the outside multitude-the world; this to the disciples within the house. And accordingly the Lord gives prominence to that which accomplishes His purpose in setting up the kingdom, or rather in allowing it to subsist in its present form, namely, to have the good taken out from the bad, and put into a place apart. The great object in this parable is to put the good fish into vessels. All the glory and power which accrued to the kingdom through the wickedness and failure of those to whom it was entrusted, is here ignored. It is not worth a thought in the mind of the Lord, save as the object of judgment, but which comes out plain and definite in what is added to the parable. (Ver. 49.) From the former parable we have the appearance of the kingdom as it might be viewed by the outside world, which knows not the purpose of God to gather in souls in spite of men and devils: the latter is the carrying out of that purpose, and therefore gives God’s reality.
We learn from this how impossible it is to have a right judgment of what transpires here below, of the world’s history, the ways and doings of men, unless we are with God and learn His mind about them. So the disciples with Jesus get the mind of God, and looking beneath the surface of events find the accomplishment of His will in all. But we must be with Jesus to know it, “Who of God is made unto us wisdom.” With Him we get the truth. The four empires were gold, silver, brass, and iron, splendor and strength to the world; and the world admired and bowed to them. But what were they before God? When He would give his estimate of them to His servant Daniel, how and under what likeness did he present these empires? As ravening beasts, monsters. Nothing in created nature was adequate as an emblem of their reality. So he unites different, and to our present perceptions, discordant attributes to form a picture of what He sees them to be. In our little path we cannot have a true estimate of the smallest circumstances apart from God. A wrong judgment sometimes tends to a wrong path.
This parable presents several interesting and important points for consideration. The sea, the fishermen, the casting of the net, the drawing to shore, and the final sorting. It presents the same thing the main as the tare field, but under different symbols. As for instance, the sea here answers to the field there, yet with this difference that the field is the world at the beginning of the present period; it is the commencement both of the good and the evil, of which the following parables give the development. So the good fish answer to the good seed, and the rejected fish to the tares. But the parable before us, that of the net, supposes the previous existence of the kingdom, and is a similitude of it, after certain events have taken place. The sea being all the same emblematic of the condition of the world when the net was first cast into it, i.e. when the gospel of the kingdom was first promulgated.
It was from an earthly stand-point that the world was said to be a field. A place where good seed having been sown, a good result might reasonably be expected. That is, I judge, it has respect to man’s responsibility. And a good result would have been realized if tares had not been sown and the good seed overmatched. A field moreover suggests the thought of order and regularity, and such there were in the world to the eye of man.
But it is God’s view we have here. The scene is unfolded before us from a heavenly stand-point, and not from an earthly. The disciples are in the house with Jesus, it is not a parable addressed to the multitude outside. This world so fair to man is but a sea; always unsteady and restless, sometimes turbulent and casting up mire and dirt. All is agitation, or if seemingly quiet, it is only a treacherous calm where the least breath of Satan may raise the angry waves of hatred and war: where at all times the passions of men openly or secretly are active against all that is good. And if ever the world could be compared to a sea it was when the Apostles began to preach the gospel. There was no stable belief of any kind. There were “gods many” presented to the mass for their worship. But the philosophers although at variance among themselves as to what truth was, or where to find it, looked with cold contempt upon the popular notions. The very priests of idolatry laughed in secret at the vulgar superstitions which they inculcated; and the people themselves, the profanum vulgus scorned by the educated few, transferred their idolatrous homage from one god to another as their own depraved desires led them. Nothing was certain, the past was shrouded in obscurity, the future was utter darkness, the present was only a lottery. A general professed belief in their gods, with perhaps an equally general secret denial. In a word, we cannot read the history of that period without seeing that atheism, violence, and corruption everywhere prevailed.
Into this confused and agitated sea the fishermen cast their nets. This is evidently the preaching of the gospel, the proclamation of God’s salvation, of the name of Jesus. From the kingdom-point of view, it is not the actual salvation of all enclosed within the net, but a truth believed, a name confessed; salvation was there for those who truly believed and unfeignedly confessed, but many were found in that net who were “‘ejected when it was brought to shore. All the enclosed are necessarily professors, but not real believers. The bad that are cast away are neither Jews, Pagans; nor Mahometans, but those who have borne the name of Christ falsely.
The Apostles were the first fishermen sent to fish in the troubled and foul waters of this world. And in the power of the Holy Ghost they went into all the world. Paul could tell the Colossians that the truth of the gospel was come to them as in all the world. (Col. 1:66Which is come unto you, as it is in all the world; and bringeth forth fruit, as it doth also in you, since the day ye heard of it, and knew the grace of God in truth: (Colossians 1:6).) We possibly have but a limited notion of how far the gospel was preached in the first age. Many a place now fallen into worse than the previous darkness once enjoyed the light of the truth. Nevertheless the net was cast there, and there were many of every kind gathered, and in a certain modified sense we may say it was quickly brought to land. That is, we find in almost every Gentile city that the Apostles visited, a local assembly was founded, in which were seen those of every rank. It is one peculiar feature of the gospel, and which is in marked contrast with the law, that it speaks freely to all; to Greek as well as to Jew. And if to Greek, then to every condition of Greek as well as of Jew; to the low and wretched and outcast as well as to the better sort. We find from the inspired record that there were devout Jews and devout Gentiles—Cornelius and Lydia. There were honorable men and women at Berea who believed. Dionysius the Areopagite, and Damaris at Athens. At Thessalonica a great number of devout Greeks and of the chief women not a few. But we find also the persecutor and bigot—Saul of Tarsus. The ruffianly jailor of Philippi; the dealers in curious arts (witchcraft and sorcery) at Ephesus. Servants in Caesar’s household and runaway slaves. In fact, there is abundant proof in the first days of the gospel that “they gathered of every kind.”
Perhaps there is not a language or people upon earth which will not have its representative among those put into the vessels. We do know that in the great body of the redeemed there will be those of whom the elders sing, “for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed to God by thy blood out of every kindred and tongue, and people and nation.”
If sin came into the world and broke up into diverse languages (Babel), and divided into distinct races the hitherto one family of man, and instilled hatred and hatefulness among them, the gospel brings them together again. And the King when He takes the kingdom will re-unite them, and, they shall be under one rule and one Prince.
But the parable of the net does not give a picture of what the kingdom presented at the beginning, but rather of its appearance after it had been a certain time in existence. “Again the kingdom of the heavens is like to a net which has been cast into the sea, and which has gathered together of every kind, which, when it has been filled, having drawn up on the shore and sat down, they gathered the good into vessels and cast the worthless out.” (Lit. Translation.) Evidently the point of the parable is in the last clause, “they gathered the good into vessels,” all the former are but the condition or state of the kingdom, that is, all the previous events had taken place. The net had been cast, the fish caught were drawn to the shore; and the fishermen were sitting down, separating the good from the bad. Clearly this is not the commencement but a subsequent stage of the history of the kingdom. I doubt not but that the end of the present time of the Lord’s absence is before Him, though I should hesitate to refer the parable exclusively to the end. That which will be a distinguishing feature at the end may even now be discerned, namely, the sorting of the good from the bad. No sorting was needed at Pentecost, when the church and the kingdom were conterminous. It was not till the kingdom became a power of as well as in the world, and all sorts of evil like birds nestling in the branches of a tree, had found a home within it, that the separating the good from the bad became necessary.
When the Lord Jesus was about to leave His disciples, (Matt. 28) He commanded them to go into all the world and to disciple all nations, and to baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. A Jew or a heathen when he professed belief in the doctrines of the Apostles, and was baptized, became outwardly a disciple, that is a professor. He at once entered within the limits of the kingdom, and came under all the responsibilities of his new position. He was enclosed within the net; a Christian by profession. Now the object of the mission committed to the Apostles, as recorded by Matthew (ch. 28), is to assert the rights of the Lord Jesus as Son of man. Rights which had been denied by the Jews. And not those merely over Israel as heir to the throne of David, but His power over all. For all power in heaven and in earth was now in His hand. The charge here given to the Apostles was not in virtue of His being Son of God, nor as being Head of the Church—for the Church supposes an absent Lord, and there is no ascension here, no going away for a time—but it is in virtue of His title as Son of Man, which is now made good in resurrection; and thus He says, “all power is given to me,” and the Apostles go forth to disciple all nations, not to call individuals, which is rather a church call (if we may so say). This is a call to submit to the authority of the King, and the ceremony of induction into the new relationship and duties was to baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.
Thus every baptized person has, so to speak, taken the oath of allegiance to the Lord Jesus as King, and if unconverted will be judged as a rebel against his rightful master. We of course do not say that this is all, or the most important truth that baptism implies; but it is an awful consideration for those who, outwardly confessing, in their heart deny Him.
This parable applies specially to the time when the tree and the leaven are in full development. But the kingdom does now at this present time present this appearance. It is Christendom. And there is presented to the wondering eye of man a system equally corrupt as that which it displaced, and far more offensive to God. This religious system which has given form and character to the kingdom raised the astonishment of John. (Rev. 17.) But how comes it that this system which contains more evil than can be found in any other, unlike every other, has taken such firm hold of man? Mahometanism where it exists, does hold man. tenaciously in its grasp; but it does not extend, nay, is showing evident symptoms of decay. On the contrary, this system which gives character to the kingdom flourishes. The answer is, because it pampers to the lusts of men, not less now than before. The vices of men may be in somewhat different shape, but they are still lusts. One reason why the new doctrine-for it was only dogma that was preached in corrupted Christendom, not the power of God to salvation—was because there was nothing of the looseness of opinion which bowed to this or that god as caprice, or worse, led the people. The doctrines of Christianity even when thoroughly leavened, offered in direct contrast with the vain speculations of philosophy, a fixity of creed, and a quasi-resting place for the tired and wearied mind. For whatever evil men joined to the Christianity of the word, there was an innate strength, an inherent cohesiveness which made itself felt even when the saving power of the Word was denied. And in general, after the first opposition of pagan prejudice, communities and nations submitted to the new religion, and ended by becoming its zealous advocates and fierce supporters.
It is the way in which the dogmas of corrupt Christianity were made palatable to the natural man which accounts for its success. It was mainly the adoption of heathen feasts and ceremonies into the new system. The so-called Christian feasts of the Nativity and others were so arranged, that the time of their celebration should be the same as the pagan feasts. The clergy of the day seeking thus to wean the idolater from his paganism to the profession of Christianity; and the scheme was successful.
Some little change was made, the old idol was taken down, baptized, another name was given to it, and then it was put up into its old niche, its worship to be observed with the same scenes of lewdness and sin as was paid to it under the old pagan regime. Saints’ festivals were instituted to replace the heathen. Mary superseded Venus; the temple of the goddess became the church of the virgin, in which not the old sacerilos, but the monk was the priest. The feast of the Nativity (commonly called Christmas) was changed to the end of December, in order to take the place of the Saturnalia; and so for other pagan orgies. The people did no longer resist the new doctrine when they were allowed their old practices. The mass became nominally Christian, in reality it remained idolatrous no less than before; nothing was changed but the name. The old evils were carried on, and sanctioned by the ministers of a system calling itself Christian, who pleaded necessity in order to secure the adhesion of the people.
This condition of man, so different from the sea into which the net of the gospel was first cast, is in part the result of the preached gospel. It is the effect of God’s truth received by the natural man where the Spirit has not communicated divine life. Nothing else could be expected but that man having so much better material would work out a worse wickedness than before. Christendom will have a heavier judgment than heathendom.
(To be continued, D. V.)