The explanation is too plain to be mistaken, but we may briefly touch its main features. Notice, then, that our Lord begins with the case in which there is least contact between His word and the soul, and that, as the contact is least in degree, so it is shortest in duration. A minute or two finishes it. Notice especially that the path has been made hard by external pressure. It is not rock, but soil like the other parts of the field. It represents the case of men whose insensibility to the word is caused by outward things having made a thoroughfare of their natures, and trodden them into incapacity to receive the message of Christ's love. The heavy baggage-wagons of commerce, the light cars of pleasure, merry dancers, and sad funeral processions, have all used that way, and each footfall has beaten the once loose soil a little firmer. We are made insensitive to the gospel by the effect of innocent and necessary things, unless we take care to plough up the path along which they travel, and to keep our spirits susceptible by a distinct effort. How many hearers of every teacher are there, who never take in his words at all, simply because they are so completely preoccupied!
Notice what becomes of the seed that lies thus bare. 'Immediately,' says Mark, 'Satan cometh.' His agents are these light-winged thoughts that flutter round the hearer as soon as the sermon or the lesson is over. Talk of the weather, criticism of the congregation, or of the sower's attitude as he flung the seed, or politics, or business, drive away the remembrance of even the text, before many of our hearers are out of sight of the church. Then the whirl of traffic begins again, and the path is soon beaten a little harder. If the seed had got ever so little way into the ground, the sharp beaks of the thieves would not have carried it off so easily. Impressions so slight as Christ's word makes on busy men are quickly rubbed out. But if the seed sown vanishes thus swiftly, the fault is not in it, but in ourselves. Satan may seek to snatch it away, but we can hinder him.
Our Lord uses a singular expression, 'This is he that was sown by the way side,' which appears to identify the man with the seed rather than with the soil. It has been suggested by some commentators that this expression is to be regarded as conveying the truth that the seed sown in the heart and growing up there becomes the life-spring of the individual, and that therefore we may speak of him or of it as bearing the fruit. But this explanation will not avail for the case where there is no entrance of the word into the heart, and so no new birth by the word. More probably we are to regard the expression simply as a conversational shorthand form of speech, not strictly accurate, but quite intelligible.
II. The next variety of soil differs from the preceding in having its hindrance deep seated. Many a hillside in Galilee—as in Scotland or New England—would show a thin surface of soil over rock, like skin stretched tightly on a bone. No roots could get through the rock nor find nourishment in it; while the very shallowness of earth and the heat of the underlying stone would accelerate growth. Such premature and feeble shoots perish as quickly as they spring up; the fierce Eastern sun makes a speedy end of them, and a few days sees their springing and withering. It is a case of 'lightly come, lightly go.' Quick-sprouting herbs are soon-dying herbs. A shallow pond is up in waves under a breeze which raises no sea on the Atlantic, and it is calm again in a few minutes. Readily stirred emotion is transient. Brushwood catches fire easily, and burns itself out quickly. Coal takes longer to kindle, and is harder to put out.
The persons meant are those of excitable temperament, whose feelings lie on the surface, and can be got at without first passing through the understanding or the conscience. Such people are easily played on by the epidemic influence of any prevalent enthusiasm or emotion, as every revival of religion shows. Their very 'joy' in hearing the word is suspicious; for a true reception of it seldom begins with joy, but rather with 'the sorrow which worketh repentance not to be repented of.' Their immediate reception of it is suspicious, for it suggests that there has been no time to consult the understanding or to form a deliberate purpose; stable resolutions are slowly formed. It is the sunny side of religion which, has attracted them. They know nothing of its difficulties and depths. Hence, as soon as they find out the realities of the course which they have embraced so lightly, they desert, like John Mark running away as soon as home comforts at Cyprus were left behind. The Christian life means self-denial, toil, hard resistance to many fascinations. It means sweat and blood, or it means nothing. Whether there be 'persecution' or no, there will be affliction, 'because of the word,' and all the joyful emotion will ooze out at the man's finger-ends. The same superficial excitability which determined his swift reception of the word will determine his hasty casting of it aside, and immediately he stumbles. All his acts will be done in a hurry, and none of his moods will last. Feeling is in its place down in the engine-room, but it makes a poor pilot. Very significant is that phrase, 'No root in himself.' His roots are in the accidents of the moment. His religion has never really struck root in him, but only in the superficial layer of him. His conscience, will, understanding, are unpenetrated by its fibres. So it is easily pulled up, as well as soon withered.
There is another profound truth in this picture. The hard, impenetrable rock lies right under the thin skin of soil. The nature which is over-emotional on its surface is utterly hard at its core. The most heartless people are those whose feelings are always ready to gush; the most unimpressible are those who are most easily brought to a certain degree of emotion by the sound of the word. This class is an advance on the former, in that there has been a real contact with the word, which has lain longer in their hearts, and has had some growth. We may regard it as either better or worse than the former, according as we consider that it is better to accept and feel than not to accept at all, or that it is worse to have in some measure possessed and felt than not to have received the word of the kingdom.
III. In one part of the field was a patch where the soil was neither rammed solid, as on the footpath, nor thin, as where the rock cropped out, but where there had been a tangle of thorns, which grow luxuriantly in Palestine. These had been cut down, but not stubbed up, as is plain from the very fact that the seed reached the ground, as also from the description of them as 'springing up.' The two growths advance together. In this case, the seed has a longer life than in the former. It roots and grows, and even, according to the other evangelist's version, fruits, though it does not mature its fruit. There is no question of 'falling away' here. Only the hardier growth, which had the advantage of previous possession, and which pushes up its shoots above ground all round the more tender plant, gets the start of it, and smothers its green blades, overtopping it, and keeping it from sun and air, as well as drawing to itself the nourishment from the soil. The main point here is simultaneousness of the two growths. This man is, as James calls him, a 'double-minded man.' He is trying to grow both corn and thorn on the same soil. He has some religion, but not enough to make thorough work of it. He is endeavouring to ride on two horses at once. Religion says 'either—or'; he is trying 'both—and.' The human heart has only a limited amount of love and trust to give, and Christ must have it all. It has enough for one—that is, for Him; but not enough for two,—that is, for Him and the world. This man's religion has not been powerful enough to grub up the roots of the thorns. They were cut down when the seed was sown, for a little while, at the beginning of his course; the new life in him seemed to conquer, but the roots of the old lay hid, and, in due time, showed again above ground. 'Ill weeds grow apace'; and these, as is their nature, grow faster than the good seed. So the only thing to do is to get them out of the ground to the last fibre.
Christ specifies what He deems thorns. We can all understand care being so called; but riches? Yes, they too have sharp prickles, as anybody will find who stuffs a pillow with them. But our Lord chooses His words to point the lesson that not outward things, but our attitude to them, make the barrenness of this soil. It is not 'this world,' but 'the care of this world,' not 'riches,' but 'the deceitfulness of riches,' that choke the word. These two seem opposites, but they are really the same thing on two opposite sides. The man who is burdened with the cares of poverty, and the man who is deceived by the false promises of wealth, are really the same man. The one is the other turned inside out. We make the world our god, whether we worship it by saying, 'I am desolate without thee,' or by fancying that we are secure with it. Note that the issue in this case is—unfruitfulness. The man may, and I suppose usually does, keep up a profession of Christianity all his life. He very likely does not know that the seed is choked, and that he has become unfruitful. But he is a stunted, useless Christian, with all the sap and nourishment of his soul given to his worldly position, and his religion is a poor pining growth, with blanched leaves and abortive fruit. How much of Christ's field is filled with plants of that sort!
IV. The parable tells us nothing about the comparative acreage of the path and the rocky and thorny soils on the one hand, and of the fertile soil on the other. It is not meant to teach the proportion of success to failure, but to exhibit the fact that the reception of the word depends on men's dispositions. The good soil has none of the faults of the rest of the field. It is loose, and thus unlike the path; deep, and thus unlike the rocky bit; clean, and thus unlike the thorn brake. The interpretation given of it by our Lord seems at first sight incomplete. It is all summed up in one word, 'understandeth.' Then, did not the second and third classes, at all events, understand? They received the word, and it had some growth in them. The distinction between them and the good-soil hearer is surely of a moral nature, rather than of so purely intellectual a kind as 'understanding' suggests. Hence, Luke's keep fast 'in an honest and good heart' may seem a more adequate statement. But Biblical usage does not regard 'understanding' as a purely intellectual process, but rather as the action of the whole moral and spiritual nature. It knows nothing of dividing a man up into water-tight compartments, one of which may be full of evil, and the other clean and receptive of good. According to it, we 'understand' religious truth by our hearts and moral nature in conjunction with the dry light of intellect. So the word here is used in a pregnant sense, and includes the grasp of the truth with the whole being, the complete reception of the word of the kingdom not merely into the intellect, but into the central self which is the undivided fountain from which flow the issues of life, whether these be called intellect, or affection, or conscience, or will. Only he who has thus become one with the word, and housed it deep in his inmost soul, 'understands' it, in the sense in which our Lord here uses that expression. 'Thy word have I hid in mine heart' exactly corresponds to the 'understanding' which is here given as the distinctive mark of the good soil.
The result of that reception into the depths of the spirit is that he 'verily beareth fruit.' The man who receives the word is identified with the plant that springs from the seed which he receives. The life of a Christian is the result of the growth in him of a supernatural seed. He bears fruit, yet the fruit comes not from him, but from the seed sown. 'I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.' Fruitfulness is the aim of the sower, and the test of the reception of the seed. If there is not fruit, manifestly there has been no real understanding of the word. A touchstone, that, which will produce surprising results in detecting spurious Christianity, if it be honestly applied!
There is variety in the degree of fruitfulness, according to the goodness of the soil; that is to say, according to the thoroughness and depth of the reception of the word. The great Husbandman does not demand uniform fertility. He is glad when He gets an hundredfold, but He accepts sixty, and does not refuse thirty, only He arranges them in descending order, as if He would fain have the highest rate from all the plants, and, not without disappointment, gradually stretches His merciful allowance to take in even the lowest. He will accept the scantiest fruitage, and will lovingly 'purge' the branch 'that it may bring forth more fruit.'
No parable teaches everything. Paths, rocks, and thorns cannot change. But men can plough up the trodden ways, and blast away the rock, and root out the thorns, and, with God's help, can open the door of their hearts, that the Sower and His seed may enter in. We are responsible for the nature of the soil, else His warning were vain, 'Take heed, therefore, how ye hear.'
EARS AND NO EARS
'Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.—MATT. xiii. 8.
This saying was frequently on our Lord's lips, and that in very various connections. He sometimes, as in the instance before us, appended it to teaching which, from its parabolic form, required attention to disentangle the spiritual truth implied. He sometimes used it to commend some strange, new revolutionary teaching to men's investigation—as, for instance, after that great declaration of the nullity of ceremonial worship, how that nothing could defile a man except what came from his heart. In other connections, which I need not now enumerate, we find it. Like printing a sentence in italics, or underscoring it, this saying calls special attention to the thing uttered. It is interesting to notice that our Lord, like the rest of us, had to use such means of riveting and sharpening the attention of His hearers. There is also a striking reappearance of the expression in the last book of Scripture. The Christ who speaks to the seven churches, from the heavens, repeats His old word spoken on earth, and at the end of each of the letters says once more, as if even the Voice that spoke from heaven might be listened to listlessly, 'He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches.'
I. We all have ears.
Now, it is a very singular instance of the superficial, indolent way in which people are led away by sound rather than by sense, that this saying of my text has often been taken to mean that there is a certain class that can listen, and that it is their business to listen, and there is another class that cannot, and so they are absorbed from all responsibility. The opposite conclusion is the correct one. Everybody has ears, therefore everybody is bound to hear. Which being translated, is that there is not a man or woman among us that has not the capacity of hearing in the sense of understanding, and of hearing in the sense of obeying the word that Jesus Christ speaks to us all. Every one of us, whatever may be our diversities of education, temperament, natural capacity in regard to other subjects of study and apprehension, has the ears that are capable of receiving the message that comes to us all in Jesus Christ.
For what is it that He addresses? Universal human nature, the universal human wants, and mainly and primarily, as I believe, the sense of sin which lies dormant indeed, but capable of being awakened, in all men, because the fact of sin attaches to all men. There is no man but has the needs to which Christ addresses Himself, and no man but has the power of apprehending, of accepting, and of living by, the great Incarnate Word and His message to the world. So that instead of there being a restriction implied in the words before us, there is the broadest implication of the universality of Christ's message. And just as every man comes into the world with a pair of ears on his head, so every man comes into the world with the capacity of listening to, and accepting, that gracious Lord. That is the first thing that our Master distinctly declares here, that we all have ears.
II. If we have ears we are bound to use them.
'Let him hear.' In all regions, as I need not remind you, capacity and responsibility go together; and the power that we possess is the measure of the obligation under which we come. All our natural faculties, for instance, are given to us with the implied command, 'See that you make the best use of them.' So that even these bodily organs of ours, much more the higher faculties and capacities of the spirit of which the body is partly the symbol and partly the instrument, are intrusted to us on terms of stewardship. And just as it is criminal for a man to go through life with a pair of ears on his head, and a pair of eyes in his forehead, neither of which he educates and cultivates, so is it criminal for a man having the capacity of grasping the great Revelation of God, who 'at sundry times and in divers manners hath spoken unto the Fathers by the prophets, but in these last days hath spoken unto us by the Son,' to turn away from that Voice, and pay no heed to it.
It is universally true that obligation goes with capacity. It is especially true with regard to our relation to Jesus Christ. We are all bound to 'hear Him,' as the great Voice said on the Mount of Transfiguration. The upshot of all that manifestation of the divine glory welling up from the depths of Christ's nature, and transfiguring His countenance, the upshot of all that solemn and mysterious communion with the mighty dead, Moses and Elias, the end of all that encompassing glory that wrapped Him, was the Voice from Heaven which proclaimed, 'This is My beloved Son; hear ye Him.' Moses with his Law, Elijah with his Prophecy, faded away and were lost. But there stood forth singly the one Figure, relieved against the background of the glory-cloud, the Christ to whom we are all bound to turn with the vision of longing eyes, with the listening of docile ears, with the aspiration of yearning affection, with the submission of absolute obedience.
'Hear ye Him.' For just as truly as light is meant for the eye, so truly are the words of the Incarnate Word, and the life which is speech and revelation, meant to be the supreme objects of our attention, of our contemplative regard, and of our practical submission. We are bound to hear because we have ears; and of all the voices that are candidates for our attention, and of all the music that sounds through the universe, no voice is so sweet and weighty, no words so fundamental and all-powerful, no music so melodious, so deep and thunderous, so thrilling and gracious, as are the words of that Word who was made flesh and dwelt among us. We are bound to hear, and we hear to most profit when it is Him that we hear.
III. We shall not hear without an effort.
Christ says in my text, 'Let him hear,' as if the possession of the ear did not necessarily involve that there should be hearing. And so it is; 'Having ears, they hear not,' is a description verified in a great many other walks of life than in regard to religious matters. But it is verified there in the most conspicuous and in the most tragic fashion. I wonder how many of us there are who, though we have heard with the hearing of the outward ear, have not heard in the sense of attending, have scarcely heard in the sense of apprehending, and have not heard at all in the sense of obeying? Friend, what is it that keeps you from hearing, if you do not hear? Let me run over two or three of the things that thus are like wax in a man's ears, making him deaf to the message of life in Jesus Christ, in order to bring out how needful it is that these should be counteracted by an effort of will, and the vigorous concentration of thought and heart upon that message.
What is it that keeps men from hearing? Being busy with other things is one hindrance. There is an old story of St. Bernard riding along by a lake on his way to a Council, and being so occupied with thoughts and discussions, that after the day's travel he lifted up his eyes and said, 'Where is the lake?' And so we, many of us, go along all our days on the banks of the great sea of divine love, and we are so busy thinking about other things, or doing other things, that at the end of the journey we do not know that we have been travelling by the side of the flashing waters all the day long. Everybody knows how possible it is to be so engrossed with one's occupations or thoughts as that when the clock strikes in the next steeple, we hear it and do not hear it. We have read of soldiers being so completely absorbed in the fury of the fight that a thunderstorm has rattled over their heads, and no man heard the roll, and no man saw the flash. Many of us are so swallowed up in our trade, in our profession, in our special branch of study, in our occupations and desires, that all the trumpets of Sinai might be blown into our ears, and we should hear them as though we heard them not; and what is worse, that the pleading voice of that great Lord who is ever saying to each of us, 'Come unto Me, all ye that labour, and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest,' passes us by, and produces no effect, any more than does the idle wind whistling through an archway. Brethren, you have the need, the sin, the weakness, the transiency, to which the Gospel appeals. You have the faculties to which it addresses itself. Jesus Christ is speaking to every one of us. I beseech you to ask yourselves, 'Do I hear Him?' If not, is it not because the clatter of the world's business, or the more refined sounds of some profession or study, have so taken up your attention that you have none to spare for that which requires and repays it most?
Then there is another thing that makes attention, and concentration, and a dead lift of resolution necessary, if you are rightly to hear, and that is the very fact that, superficially, you have heard all your days. You do not know the despair that sometimes comes over men in my position when we face our congregations of people that are familiar to weariness with everything that we have to say, and because they are superficially so familiar with it, fancy that there is no need for them to give heed any more. What can a poor man like me do to get through that crust of familiarity with the mere surface of Christian truth and teaching which is round many of you? You come and listen to me, and say, 'Oh! he has nothing original to say. We have heard it all before.' Yes, your ears have heard it. Have you heard? 'Jesus Christ died for me,' you have been told that ever since you were a little child; and so the thousand-and-first, the million-and-first, repetition of it has little power over you. If once, just once, that truth could get through the crust of familiarity, and touch your heart, your bare heart, with its quick naked point of fire-shod love, I think there might be a wound made that would mean healing. But some of you will go away presently, just as you have gone away a thousand times before, and my words will rebound from you like an india-rubber ball from a wall, or run off you like water from the sea-bird's plumes, just because you think you have heard it all before—and you have never heard it all your days. 'He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.'
Then there is another hindrance. A man may put his fingers in his ears. And some of you, I am afraid, are not ignorant of what it is to have made distinct and conscious efforts to get rid of the impressions of religion, and of Christ's voice to us.
And then there are some of us who, out of sheer listlessness, do not hear. It is not because we are too busy. It is not because we have any intellectual objection to the message. It is not because we have made any definite effort to get away from it. It is not even because we have been so accustomed to hear it, that it is impossible to make an impression on our listless indifference. Go down into Morecambe Bay when the tide is making; and, as the water is beginning to percolate through the sand, try to make an impression with a stick upon the tremulous jelly. As soon as you take out the point the impression is lost. And there are many of us like that, who, out of sheer stolid listlessness, retain no fragment of the truth that is sounding in our ears. Dear friends, 'If the word spoken by angels was steadfast, how shall we escape if we'—what? Reject? Deny? Fight against? Angrily repel? No;—'if we neglect so great salvation?' That is the question for you negligent people, for you people who think you know all about it and there an end, for you people who are so busy with your daily lives that, amidst the hubbub of earth, heaven's silent voice is inaudible to your ears. Neglect stops the ears and ruins the man. But you will not hear, though you have ears, unless you make an effort of will and concentration of attention.
IV. And now the last thing that I have to say is:—If we do not hear, we shall become deaf.
That is what Christ said in the context. The sentence which I have taken as my text was spoken at the close of the Parable of the Sower; and when His disciples came and asked Him why He spake in parables, His answer was in effect that the people to whom He spoke had not profited by what they had heard, 'hearing, they heard not,' and therefore He spoke in parables which veiled as well as revealed the truth. It was not given to them to know the mysteries of the Kingdom, because they had not given heed to what had been made known to them. The great law was taking effect which gives to him that has and takes from him that has not; and that law applied not only to the form of Christ's teaching, but also to the faculty of receiving it. That diminished capacity is sometimes represented as men's own act, and sometimes as the divinely inflicted penalty of not hearing, but in either case the same fact is in view—namely, the loss of susceptibility by neglect, the dying out of faculties by disuse.
Just as in the bodily life capacities untrained and unexercised become faint and disappear; just as the Indian fakir, who holds his arm up above his head for years, never using the muscles, has the muscles atrophied, and at last cannot bring his arm down to his side;—so the people who neglect to use the ears that God has given them by degrees will lose the capacity of hearing at all. Which, being put into plain English, just comes to this: that if we do not listen to Jesus Christ when He calls to us in His love, we shall gradually have the capacity of hearing diminished until—I do not know if it ever reaches that point here—until its ultimate extinction.
Dear friends, this word of the love and pity and pardon and purifying power of God manifest in Jesus Christ for us all, which I am trying to preach to you now, is not without an effect even on the men by whom it is most superficially and perfunctorily heard. It either softens or hardens. As the old mystics used to say, the same heat that melts wax hardens clay into brick. The same light that brings blessing to one eye brings pain to another. You have heard, and hearing you have not heard; and you will cease to be able to hear at all; and then the thunders may rattle over your heads, and be inaudible to you; and that Voice which is as loud as the sound of many waters, and sweet as harpers harping on their harps, and which says to each of us, 'Come to Me, and I will be thy peace and thy rest and thy strength,' will no more be audible in your atrophied ears. Dear friends! I do not know, as I have said, whether that ultimate tragic result is ever wholly reached in this world. I am sure that it is not reached with some of you as yet. And I beseech you to obey that voice which says, 'This is My beloved Son; hear Him,' and to let there not be only outward hearing, but to let there be inward acceptance, attention, apprehension, and obedience. And then we shall be able to say, 'Blessed are our ears, for they hear; blessed are our eyes, for they see.' 'Many prophets and righteous men desired to hear the things that ye hear, and heard them not, take care that, since you are thus advanced in the outward possession of the perfect word of God, there be also the yielding to, and reception of it.
'TO HIM THAT HATH SHALL BE GIVEN'
'Whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath.'— MATT. xiii. 12.
There are several instances in the Gospels of our Lord's repetition of sayings which seem to have been, if we may use the expression, favourites with Him; as, for instance, 'There are first which shall be last, and there are last which shall be first'; or, again, 'The servant is not greater than his master, nor the disciple than his lord.' My text is one of these. It is here said as part of the explanation why He chose to speak in parables, in order that the truth, revealed to the diligent and attentive, might be hidden from the careless. Again, we find it in two other Gospels, in a somewhat similar connection, though with a different application, where Jesus enunciates it as the basis of His warning, 'Take heed how'—or, in another version, 'what'—'ye hear.' Again He employs it in this Gospel in the parable of the talents, as explaining the principle on which the retribution to the slothful servant was meted out. And we find it yet once more in the parable of the pounds in Luke's Gospel, which, though entirely different in conception and purpose from that of the talents, is identical in the portion connected with the slothful servant.
So there are two very distinct directions in which this saying looks, as it was used by our Lord—one in reference to the attitude of men towards the Revelation of God, and one in reference to the solemn subject of future retribution. I wish, now, mainly to try and illustrate the great law which is set forth here, and to follow out the various spheres of its operation, and estimate the force of its influence. For I think that large and very needful lessons for us all may be drawn therefrom. The principle of my text shapes all life. It is a paradox, but it is a deep truth. It sounds harsh and unjust, but it contains the very essence of righteous retribution. The paradox is meant to spur attention, curiosity, and inquiry. The key to it lies here—to use is to have. There is a possession which is no possession. That I have rights of property in a thing, as contradistinguished to your rights, does not make it in any deep and real sense mine. What I use I have; and all else is, as one of the other evangelists has it, but 'seeming' to have.
So much, then, by way of explanation of our text. Now, let me ask you to look with me into two or three of the regions where we shall find illustrations of its working.
I. Take the application of this principle to common life.
The lowest instance is in regard to material possessions. It is a complaint that is made against the present social arrangements and distribution of wealth, that money makes money; that wealth has a tendency to clot; the rich man to get richer, and the poor man to get poorer. Just as in a basin of water when the plug is out, and circular motion is set up, the little bits of foreign matter that may be there all tend to get together, so it is in regard to these external possessions. 'To him that hath shall be given'; and people grumble about that and say, 'It never rains but it pours, and the man that needs more money least gets it most easily.' Of course. Treasure used grows; treasure hoarded rusts and dwindles. The millionaire will double his fortune by a successful speculation. The man with half a dozen large shops drives the poor little tradesman out of the field. So it is all round: 'To him that hath shall be given; but from him that hath not shall be taken even that he hath.'
Next, go a step higher. Look at how this law works in regard to powers of body. That is a threadbare old illustration. The blacksmith's arm we have all heard about; the sailor's eye, the pianist's wrist, the juggler's fingers, the surgeon's deft hand—all these come by use. 'To him that hath shall be given.' And the same man who has cultivated one set of organs to an almost miraculous fineness or delicacy or strength will, by the operation of the other half of the same principle, have all but atrophied another set. So with the blacksmith's arm, which has grown muscular at the expense of his legs. Part of the physical frame has monopolised what might have been distributed throughout the whole. Use is strength; use makes growth. We have what we employ. And even in regard to our bodily frame the organs that we do not use we carry about with us rather as a weight attached to us than as a possession.
Again, come a little higher. This great principle largely goes to determine our position in the world and our work. The man that can do a thing gets it to do. In the long run the tools come to the hand that can use them. So here is one medical man's consulting-room crammed full of patients, and his neighbour next door has scarcely one. The whole world runs to read A's, B's, or C's books. The briefless barrister complains that there is no middle course between having nothing to do and being overwhelmed with briefs. 'To him that hath shall be given'—the man can do a thing, and he gets it to do—'and from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath,' That law largely settles every man's place in the world.
Let us come still higher. The same law has much—not all, but much—to do in making men's characters. For it operates in its most intense fashion, and with results most blessed or most disastrous, in the inner life. The great example that I would adduce is conscience. Use it, obey it, listen for its voice, never thwart it, and it grows and grows and grows, and becomes more and more sensitive, more and more educated, more and more sovereign in its decisions. Neglect it, still more, go in its teeth, and it dwindles and dwindles and dwindles; and I suppose it is possible—though one would fain hope that it is a very exceptional case—for a man, by long-continued indifference to the voice within that says 'Thou shalt' or 'Thou shalt not,' to come at last to never hearing it at all, or to its never speaking at all. It is 'seared as with a hot iron,' says one of the Apostles; and in seared flesh there is no feeling any more. Are any of you, dear friends, bringing about such a state? Are you doing what you know you ought not to do? Then you will be less and less troubled as the days go on; and, by neglecting the voice, you will come at last to be like the profligate woman in the book of Proverbs, who, after her sin, 'wipes her mouth and says, I have done no harm.' Do you think that is a desirable state—to put out the eyes of your soul, to stifle what is the truest echo of God's voice that you will ever hear? Do you not think that it would be wiser to get the blessed half of this law on your side, instead of the dreadful one? Listen to that voice. Never, as you value yourselves, neglect it. Cultivate the habit of waiting for its monitions, its counsels prohibitory or commendatory, and then you will have done much to secure that your spirit shall be enriched by the operations of this wide-spread law.
Take another illustration. People who, by circumstances, are placed in some position of dependence and subordination, where they have seldom to exercise the initiative of choice, but just to do what they are bid, by degrees all but lose the power of making up their minds about anything. And so a slave set free is proverbially a helpless creature, like a bit of driftwood; and children who have been too long kept in a position of pupilage and subordination, when they are sent into the world are apt to turn out very feeble men, for want of a good, strong backbone of will in them. So, many a woman that has been accustomed to leave everything in her husband's hands, when the clods fall on his coffin finds herself utterly helpless and bewildered, just because in the long, happy years she never found it necessary to exercise her own judgment or her own will about practical matters.
So do not get into the habit of letting circumstances settle what you are to do, or you will lose the power of dominating them, before very long. And if a man for years leaves himself, as it were, to be guided by the stream of circumstances, like long green weeds in a river, he will lose the power of determining his own fate, and the Will will die clean out of him. Cultivate it, and it will grow.
Again, this same principle largely settles our knowledge, our convictions, the operations and the furniture of our understandings. If a man holds any truth slackly, or in the case of truths that are meant to influence life and conduct, does not let it influence these, then that is a kind of having truth that is sure to end in losing it. If you want to lose your convictions grasp them loosely—do not act upon them, do not take them for guides of your life—and they will soon relieve you of their unwelcome presence. If you wish mind and knowledge to grow, grip with a grip of iron what you do know, and let it dominate you, as it ought. He that truly has his learning will learn more and pile by slow degrees stone upon stone, until the building is complete.
So, dear friends, here, in these illustrations, which might have been indefinitely enlarged, we see the working of a principle which has much to do in making men what they are. What you use you increase, what you leave unused you lose. There are grey heads in my present audience who, when they were young men, had dreams and aspirations that they bitterly smile at now. There are men here who began life with possibilities that have never blossomed or fruited, but have died on the stem. Why? Because they were so much occupied with the vulpine craft of making their position and their 'pile' that generous emotions and noble sympathies and lofty aspirations, intellectual or otherwise, were all neglected, and so they are dead; and the men are the poorer incalculably, because of what has thus been shed away from them. You make your characters by the parts of yourselves that you choose to cultivate and employ. Do you think that God gave us whatever of an intellectual and emotional and moral kind is in us, in order that it might be all used up in our daily business? A very much scantier outfit would have done for all that is wanted for that. But there are abortive and dormant organs in your spiritual nature, as there are in the corporeal, which tell you what you were meant for, and which it is your sin to leave undeveloped. Brethren, the law of my text shapes us in the two ways, that whatever we cultivate, be it noble or be it bestial, will grow, and whatever we repress or neglect will die. Choose which of the two halves of yourselves you will foster, and on which you will frown.
So much, then, for the first general application of these words. Now let me turn for a moment to another.
II. I would note, secondly, the application of this two-fold law in regard to God's revelation of Himself.
That is the bearing of it in the immediate context from which our text is taken. Our Lord explains that teaching by parable—a transparent veil over a truth—was adopted in order that the veiled truth might be a test as well as a revelation. And although I do not believe that the Christian revelation has been made in any degree less plain and obvious than it could have been made, I cannot but recognise the fact that the necessities of the case demand that, when God speaks to us, He should speak in such a fashion as that it is possible to say, 'Tush! It is not God that is speaking; it is only Eli!' and so to turn about the young Samuel's mistake the other way. I do not believe that God has diminished the evidence of His Revelation in order to try us; but I do maintain that the Revelation which He has made does come to us, and must come to us, in such a form as that, not by mathematical demonstration but by moral affinity, we shall be led to recognise and to bow to it. He that will be ignorant, let him be ignorant, and he that will come asking for truth, it will flood his eyeballs with a blessed illumination. The veil will but make more attractive to some eyes the outlines of the fair form beneath it, whilst others are offended at it and say, 'Unless we see the truth undraped, we will not believe that it is truth at all.'
So, brethren, let me remind you—what is really but a repetition in reference to another subject of what I have already said,—that in regard to God's speech to men, and especially in regard to what I, for my part, believe to be the complete and ultimate and perfect speech of God to men, in Jesus Christ our Saviour, the principle of my text holds good.
'To him that hath shall be given.' If you will make that truth your own by loyal faith and honest obedience, if you will grapple it to your heart, then you will learn more and more. Whatever tiny corner of the great whole you have grasped, hold on by that and draw it into yourselves, and you will by degrees get the entire, glorious, golden web to wrap round you. 'If any man wills to do His will he shall know.' That is Christ's promise; and it will be fulfilled to us all. 'To him that hath shall be given.'
If, on the other hand, you 'have' Christian truth and Christ, who is the Truth, in the fashion in which so many of us have it and Him, as a form, as a mere intellectual possession, so that we can, when we go to church, repeat the creed without feeling that we are telling a lie, but that when we go to market we do not carry the Commandments with us—if that is our Christianity, then it will dribble away into nothing. We shall not be much the poorer for the loss of such a sham possession, but it will go. It drops out of the hands that are not clasped to hold it. It is just that a thing so neglected shall some day be a thing withdrawn. So in regard to Revelation and a man's perception and reception of it, my text holds good in both its halves.
III. Lastly, look at the application of these words in the future.
That is our Lord's own application of them, twice out of the five times in which the saying appears in the three Gospels: in the parable of the talents and in the parallel portion of the parable of the pounds. I do not venture into the regions of speculation about that future, but from the words before us there come clearly enough two aspects of it. The man with the ten talents received more; the man that had hid the talent or the pound in the ground was deprived of that which he had not used.
Now, with regard to the former there is no difficulty in translating the representations of the parables, sustained as they are by distinct statements of other portions of Scripture. They come to this, that, for the life beyond, indefinite progress in all that is noble and blessed and Godlike in heart and character, in intellect and power, are certain; that faith, hope, love, here cultivated but putting forth few blossoms and small fruitage, there, in that higher house where these be planted, will flourish in the courts of the Lord, and will bear fruit abundantly; that here the few things faithfully administered will be succeeded yonder by the many things royally ruled over; that here one small coin, as it were, is put into our palm—namely the present blessedness and peace and strength and purity of a Christian life; and that yonder we possess the inheritance of which what we have here is but the earnest. It used to be the custom when a servant was hired for the next term-day to give him one of the smallest coins of the realm as what was called 'arles'—wages in advance, to seal the bargain. Similarly, in buying an estate a bit of turf was passed over to the purchaser. We get the earnest here of the broad acres of the inheritance above. 'To him that hath shall be given.'
And the other side of the same principle works in some terrible ways that we cannot speak about. 'From him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.' I have spoken of the terrible analogy to this solemn prospect which is presented us by the imperfect experiences of earth. And when we see in others, or discover in ourselves, how it is possible for unused faculties to die entirely out, I think we shall feel that there is a solemn background of very awful truth, in the representation of what befell the unfaithful servant. Hopes unnourished are gone; opportunities unimproved are gone, capacities undeveloped are gone; fold after fold, as it were, is peeled off the soul, until there is nothing left but the naked self, pauperised and empty-handed for evermore. 'Take it from him'; he never was the better for it; he never used it; he shall have it no longer.
Brethren, cultivate the highest part of yourselves, and see to it that, by faith and obedience, you truly have the Saviour, whom you have by the hearing of the ear and by outward profession. And then death will come to you, as a nurse might to a child that came in from the fields with its hands full of worthless weeds and grasses, to empty them in order to fill them with the flowers that never fade. You can choose whether Death—and Life too, for that matter—shall be the porter that will open to you the door of the treasure-house of God, or the robber that will strip you of misused opportunities and unused talents.
SEEING AND BLIND
'They seeing, see not.'—MATT. xiii, 13.
This is true about all the senses of the word 'seeing'; there is not one man in ten thousand who sees the things before his eyes. Is not this the distinction, for instance, of the poet or painter, and man of science—just that they do see? How true is this about the eye of the mind, what a small number really understand what they know! But these illustrations are of less moment than the saddest example—religious indifference. I wish to speak about this now, and to ask you to consider—
I. The extent to which it prevails. II. The causes from which it springs. III. The fearful contrasts it suggests. IV. The end to which it conducts.
I. The extent to which it prevails.
I have no hesitation in saying that it is the condition of by far the largest proportion of our nation. It is the true enemy of souls. I do not believe that any large proportion of Englishmen are actual disbelievers, who reject Christianity as unworthy of credence, or attach themselves to any of the innumerable varieties of deistical and pantheistical schools. I am not saying at present whether it would be a more or less hopeful state if it were so, but only that it is not so, and that a complacent taking for granted of religious truth, a torpor of soul, an entire carelessness about God and Christ, and the whole mighty scheme of the Gospel, is the characteristic of many in all classes of English society. We have it here in our churches and chapels as the first foe we have to fight with. Disbelief slays its thousands, and dissipation its tens of thousands, but this sleek, well-to-do carelessness, its millions. As some one says, it is as if an opium sky had rained down soporifics.
II. The causes from which it springs.
Of course, the great cause of this condition is man's evil heart of alienation, the spirit of slumber—but we may find proximate and special causes.
There is the indifference springing from the absorbing interests of the present. A man has only a certain quantity of interest to put forth. If he expends it all on small things, he has none for great. This overmastering, overshadowing present draws us all to itself, and we have no power of attention or interest to spare for anything else, or for reflection upon Christian truth in connection with our own conduct.
Then there is the indifference caused by fear of what the results of attention might be. It is sometimes broken in upon, and men are in danger of having their eyes opened, then with an effort they fling themselves into some distraction, and sleep again. As the text says, 'Their eyes have they closed; lest they should see with their eyes.'
Then there is the indifference fed by an indolent acquiescence in the truth. That is a favourite way of breaking the force of all unwelcome moral truth, and especially of the Gospel. A man says, 'Oh yes, it is true,' and because it is, therefore he thinks he has done enough when he has acknowledged it. Many do not seem to dream that the Word has any personal application to them at all.
Then there is the indifference which comes from long familiarity with the truth. It is this which haunts our congregations and makes it so impossible to get at many who know all our message already. You can tell them nothing they do not know. As with men who live by a forge, the sound of the blow of the hammer only lulls them to sleep. The Gospel is so familiar to them that there is no longer any power about it. The vulgar emotion of wonder is not excited, and the other of love and admiration has not taken its place.
Men who live in mountain scenery do not know its beauties, and as with all other operations of the listless eye so with this, the old is deemed to be uninteresting, and the common is the commonplace. As even in the piece of earth that you have trodden on longest, you would find marvels that you do not dream of if you would look, so here. You have heard too much and reflected too little. Oh, brethren, it oppresses a man who has to speak to you when he reflects how often you have heard it all, how the flow of the river only seems to have worn your souls smooth enough to let it glide past without one stoppage.
III. The contrasts it suggests.
Contrast the indolence here with the earnestness in life. The same men who sit with faces stolid and expressionless over a sermon—meet them on Monday morning! They go to sleep at prayer or over a Bible, but see them in a bargain or over a ledger. Think of what powers of intense love, yea, of almost fearful devotion and energy, lie in us, ay and come out of us, and then think how poor, how cold we are here, and we may well be ashamed. It is as if a burning mountain with its cataract of fire were suddenly quenched and locked in everlasting frost, and all the flaming glory running down its heaving sides turned into a slow glacier. There comes ice instead of fire, frost instead of flame, snow instead of sparks. It is as if some magician waved a wand and stiffened men into a paralysis. Religion seems to numb men instead of inspiring them. It is an awful thought of how they serve themselves and the world, how they can love one another, how they can be stirred to noble enthusiasm, and how little of all this ever comes to God.
Contrast the indifference of the men and the awfulness of the things they are indifferent about. God—Christ—their souls—heaven—hell. The grandest things men can think about, the mightiest realities in the universe, the eternal, the most powerful, these it is which some of you, seeing, see not.
Contrast men's indifference and the earnestness of the rest of the creation. God rose early and sent His prophets. He so loved the world that He gave His Son. Christ died, lives, works, rules, expects, beseeches. Angels desire to look into the wonders that you 'seeing, see not'. What makes heaven fill with rapture, and flash through all her golden glories with light, what makes hell look on with the lurid scowl of baffled malignity, that is what you are careless about. My friend, you and other men like you are the only beings in the universe careless about the salvation of your souls.
IV. The end to which it conducts.
That end is certain ruin. Ah, dear friends, you do not need to do much to ruin your own souls. You have only to continue indifferent and you will do it effectually. Negligence is quite enough. Ruin is what it will certainly end in.
And remember that when the possibility of salvation ends, your indifference will end too. The poor toad that is fascinated by the serpent, and drops powerless into the cruel jaws, wakes from the stupor when it feels the pang. And the lifelong torpor will be dissolved for you when you pass into another world. What an awful awaking that will be when men look back and see by the light of eternity what they were doing here! Oh! friends, would to God that any poor word of mine could rouse you from this drugged and opiate sleep! Believe me, it is merciful violence which would rouse you. Anything rather than that the poison should work on till the heavy slumber darkens into death. Let me implore you, as you value your own souls, as you would not fling away your most precious jewel to 'awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.' Beware of the treacherous indifference which creeps on, till, like men in the Arctic regions, the sleepers die.
MINGLED IN GROWTH, SEPARATED IN MATURITY
'Another parable put He forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field: 25. But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way. 26. But when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also. 27. So the servants of the householder came and said unto him, Sir, didst not thou sow good seed in thy field? from whence then hath it tares? 28. He said unto them, An enemy hath done this. The servants said unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up? 29. But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them. 80. Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn.' —MATT. xiii. 24-30.
The first four parables contained in this chapter were spoken to a miscellaneous crowd on the beach, the last three to the disciples in the house. The difference of audience is accompanied with a diversity of subject. The former group deals with the growth of the kingdom, as it might be observed by outsiders, and especially with aspects of the growth on which the multitude needed instruction; the latter, with topics more suited to the inner circle of followers. Of these four, the first three are parables of vegetation; the last, of assimilation. The first two are still more closely connected, inasmuch as the person of the sower is prominent in both, while he is not seen in the others. The general scenery is the same in both, but with a difference. The identification of the seed sown with the persons receiving it, which was hinted at in the first, is predominant in the second. But while the former described the various results of the seed, the latter drops out of sight the three failures, and follows its fortunes in honest and good hearts, showing the growth of the kingdom in the midst of antagonistic surroundings. It may conveniently be considered in three sections: the first teaching how the work of the sower is counter-worked by his enemy; the second, the patience of the sower with the thick-springing tares; and the third, the separation at the harvest.
I. The work of the sower counter-worked by his enemy, and the mingled crops.
The peculiar turn of the first sentence, 'The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man that sowed,' etc., suggests that the main purpose of the parable is to teach the conduct of the king in view of the growth of the tares. The kingdom is concentrated in Him, and the 'likening' is not effected by the parable, but, as the tenses of both verbs show, by the already accomplished fact of His sowing. Our Lord veils His claims by speaking of the sower in the third person; but the hearing ear cannot fail to catch the implication throughout that He Himself is the sower and the Lord of the harvest. The field is 'his field,' and His own interpretation tells us that it means 'the world.' Whatever view we take of the bearing of this parable on purity of communion in the visible Church, we should not slur over Christ's own explanation of 'the field,' lest we miss the lesson that He claims the whole world as His, and contemplates the sowing of the seed broadcast over it all. The Kingdom of Heaven is to be developed on, and to spread through, the whole earth. The world belongs to Christ not only when it is filled with the kingdom, but before the sowing. The explanation of the good seed takes the same point of view as in the former parable. What is sown is 'the word'; what springs from the seed is the new life of the receiver. Men become children of the kingdom by taking the Gospel into their hearts, and thereby receive a new principle of growth, which in truth becomes themselves.
Side by side with the sower's beneficent work the counter-working of 'his enemy' goes on. As the one, by depositing holy truth in the heart, makes men 'children of the kingdom,' the other, by putting evil principles therein, makes men 'children of evil.' Honest exposition cannot eliminate the teaching of a personal antagonist of Christ, nor of his continuous agency in the corruption of mankind. It is a glimpse into a mysterious region, none the less reliable because so momentary. The sulphurous clouds that hide the fire in the crater are blown aside for an instant, and we see. Who would doubt the truth and worth of the unveiling because it was short and partial? 'The devil is God's ape.' His work is a parody of Christ's. Where the good seed is sown, there the evil is scattered thickest. False Christs and false apostles dog the true like their shadows. Every truth has its counterfeit. Neither institutions, nor principles, nor movements, nor individuals, bear unmingled crops of good. Not merely creatural imperfection, but hostile adulteration, marks them all. The purest metal oxidises, scum gathers on the most limpid water, every ship's bottom gets foul with weeds. The history of every reformation is the same: radiant hopes darkened, progress retarded, a second generation of dwarfs who are careless or unfaithful guardians of their heritage.
There are, then, two classes of men represented in the parable, and these two are distinguishable without doubt by their conduct. Tares are said to be quite like wheat until the heads show, and then there is a plain difference. So our Lord here teaches that the children of the kingdom and those of evil are to be discriminated by their actions. We need not do more than point in a sentence to His distinct separation of men (where the seed of the kingdom has been sown) into two sets. Jesus Christ holds the unfashionable, 'narrow' opinion that, at bottom, a man must either be His friend or His enemy. We are too much inclined to weaken the strong line of demarcation, and to think that most men are neither black nor white, but grey.
The question has been eagerly debated whether the tares are bad men in the Church, and whether, consequently, the mingled crop is a description of the Church only. The following considerations may help to an answer. The parable was spoken, not to the disciples, but to the crowd. An instruction to them as to Church discipline would have been signally out of place; but they needed to be taught that the kingdom was to be 'a rose amidst thorns,' and to grow up among antagonisms which it would slowly conquer, by the methods which the next two parables set forth. This general conception, and not directions about ecclesiastical order, was suited to them. Again, the designation of the tares as 'the children of evil' seems much too wide, if only a particular class of evil men—namely, those who are within the Church—are meant by it. Surely the expression includes all, both in and outside the Church, who 'do iniquity.' Further, the representation of the children of the kingdom, as growing among tares in the field of the world, does not seem to contemplate them as constituting a distinct society, whether pure or impure; but rather as an indefinite number of individuals, intermingled in a common soil with the other class. 'The kingdom of heaven' is not a synonym for the Church. Is it not an anachronism to find the Church in the parable at all? No doubt, tares are in the Church, and the parable has a bearing on it; but its primary lesson seems to me to be much wider, and to reveal rather the conditions of the growth of the kingdom in human society.
II. We have the patience of the husbandman with the quick-springing tares.
The servants of the householder receive no interpretation from our Lord. Their question is silently passed by in His explanation. Clearly then, for some reason, He did not think it necessary to say any more about them; and the most probable reason is, that they and their words have no corresponding facts, and are only introduced to lead up to the Master's explanation of the mystery of the growth of the tares, and to His patience with it. The servants cannot be supposed to represent officials in the Church, without hopelessly destroying the consistency of the parable; for surely all the children of the kingdom, whatever their office, are represented in the crop. Many guesses have been made,—apostles, angels, and so on. It is better to say 'The Lord hath not showed it me.'
The servant's first question expresses, in vivid form, the sad, strange fact that, where good was sown, evil springs. The deepest of all mysteries is the origin of evil. Explain sin, and you explain everything. The question of the servants is the despair of thinkers in all ages. Heaven sows only good; where do the misery and the wickedness come from? That is a wider and sadder question than, How are churches not free from bad members? Perhaps Christ's answer may go as far towards the bottom of the bottomless as those of non-Christian thinkers, and, if it do not solve the metaphysical puzzles, at any rate gives the historical fact, which is all the explanation of which the question is susceptible.
The second question reminds us of 'Wilt Thou that we command fire... from heaven, and consume them?' It is cast in such a form as to put emphasis on the householder's will. His answer forbidding the gathering up of the tares is based, not upon any chance of mistaking wheat for them, nor upon any hope that, by forbearance, tares may change into wheat, but simply on what is best for the good crop. There was a danger of destroying some of it, not because of its likeness to the other, but because the roots of both were so interlaced that one could not be pulled up without dragging the other after it.
Is this prohibition, then, meant to forbid the attempt to keep the Church pure from un-Christian members? The considerations already adduced are valid in answering this question, and others may be added. The crowd of listeners had, no doubt, many of them, been influenced by John the Baptist's fiery prophecies of the King who should come, fan in hand, to 'purge His floor,' and were looking for a kingdom which was to be inaugurated by sharp separation and swift destruction. Was not the teaching needed then, as it is now, that that is not the way in which the kingdom of heaven is to be founded and grow? Is not the parable best understood when set in connection with the expectations of its first hearers, which are ever floating anew before the eyes of each generation of Christians? Is it not Christ's apologia for His delay in filling the role which John had drawn out for him? And does that conception of its meaning make it meaningless for us? Observe, too, that the rooting up which is forbidden is, by the proprieties of the emblem, and by the parallel which it must necessarily afford to the final burning, something very solemn and destructive. We may well ask whether excommunication is a sufficiently weighty idea to be taken as its equivalent. Again, how does the interpretation which sees ecclesiastical discipline here comport with the reason given for letting the tares grow on? By the hypothesis in the parable, there is no danger of mistake; but is there any danger of casting out good men from the Church along with the bad, except through mistake? Further, if this parable forbids casting manifestly evil men out of the Church, it contradicts the divinely appointed law of the Church as administered by the apostles. If it is to be applied to Church action at all, it absolutely forbids the separation from the Church of any man, however notoriously un-Christian, and that, as even the strongest advocates of comprehension admit, would destroy the very idea of the Church. Surely an interpretation which lands us in such a conclusion cannot be right. We conclude, then, that the intermingling which the parable means is that of good men and bad in human society, where all are so interwoven that separation is impossible without destroying its whole texture; that the rooting up, which is declared to be inconsistent with the growth of the crop, means removal from the field, namely, the world; that the main point of the second part of the parable is to set forth the patience of the Lord of the harvest, and to emphasise this as the law of the growth of His kingdom, that it advances amidst antagonism; and that its members are interlaced by a thousand rootlets with those who are not subjects of their King. What the interlacing is for, and whether tares may become wheat, are no parts of its teaching. But the lesson of the householder's forbearance is meant to be learned by us. While we believe that the scope of the parable is wider than instruction in Church discipline, we do not forget that a fair inference from it is that, in actual churches, there will ever be a mingling of good and evil; and, though that fact is no reason for giving up the attempt to make a church a congregation of faithful men, and of such only, it is a reason for copying the divine patience of the sower in ecclesiastical dealings with errors of opinion and faults of conduct.
III. The final separation at the harvest.
The period of development is necessarily a time of intermingling, in which, side by side, the antagonistic principles embodied in their representatives work themselves out, and beneficially affect each other. But each grows towards an end, and, when it has been reached, the blending gives place to separation. John's prophecy is plainly quoted in the parable, which verbally repeats his 'gather the wheat into his barn,' and alludes to his words in the other clause about burning the tares. He was right in his anticipations; his error was in expecting the King to wield His fan at the beginning, instead of at the end of the earthly form of His kingdom. At the consummation of the allotted era, the bands of human society are to be dissolved, and a new principle of association is to determine men's place. Their moral and religious affinities will bind them together or separate them, and all other ties will snap. This marshalling according to religious character is the main thought of the solemn closing words of the parable and of its interpretation, in which our Lord presents Himself as directing the whole process of judgment by means of the 'angels' who execute His commands. They are 'His angels,' and whatever may be the unknown activity put forth by them in the parting of men, it is all done in obedience to Him. What stupendous claims Jesus makes here! What becomes of the tares is told first in words awful in their plainness, and still more awful in their obscurity. They speak unmistakably of the absolute separation of evil men from all society but that of evil men; of a close association, compelled, and perhaps unwelcome. The tares are gathered out of 'His kingdom,'—for the field of the world has then all become the kingdom of Christ. There are two classes among the tares: men whose evil has been a snare to others (for the 'things that offend' must, in accordance with the context, be taken to be persons), and the less guilty, who are simply called 'them that do iniquity.'
Perhaps the 'bundles' may imply assortment according to sin, as in Dante's circles. What a bond of fellowship that would be! 'The furnace,' as it is emphatically called by eminence, burns up the bundles. We may freely admit that the fire is part of the parable, but yet let us not forget that it occurs not only in the parable, but in the interpretation; and let us learn that the prose reality of 'everlasting destruction,' which Christ here solemnly announces, is awful and complete. For a moment He passes beyond the limits of that parable, to add that terrible clause about 'weeping and gnashing of teeth,' the tokens of despair and rage. So spoke the most loving and truthful lips. Do we believe His warnings as well as His promises?
The same law of association according to character operates in the other region. The children of the kingdom are gathered together in what is now 'the kingdom of My Father,' the perfect form of the kingdom of Christ, which is still His kingdom, for 'the throne of God and of the Lamb,' the one throne on which both sit to reign, is 'in it.' Freed from association with evil, they are touched with a new splendour, caught from Him, and blaze out like the sun; for so close is their association, that their myriad glories melt as into a single great light. Now, amid gloom and cloud, they gleam like tiny tapers far apart; then, gathered into one, they flame in the forehead of the morning sky, 'a glorious church, not having spot, nor wrinkle, nor any such thing.'
'The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and bid to three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened.'—MATT. xiii. 33.
How lovingly and meditatively Jesus looked upon homely life, knowing nothing of the differences, the vulgar differences, between the small and great! A poor woman, with her morsel of barm, kneading it up among three measures of meal, in some coarse earthenware pan, stands to Him as representing the whole process of His work in the world. Matthew brings together in this chapter a series of seven parables of the kingdom, possibly spoken at different times, and gathered here into a sequence and series, just as he has done with the great procession of miracles that follows the Sermon on the Mount, and just as, perhaps, he has done with that sermon itself. The two first of the seven deal with the progress of the Gospel in individual minds and the hindrances thereto. Then there follows a pair, of which my text is the second, which deal with the geographical expansion of the kingdom throughout the world, in the parable of the grain of mustard-seed growing into the great herb, and with the inward, penetrating, diffusive influence of the kingdom, working as an assimilating and transforming force in the midst of society.
I do not purpose to enter now upon the wide and difficult question of the relation of the kingdom to the Church. Suffice it to say that the two terms are by no means synonymous, but that, at the same time, inasmuch as a kingdom implies a community of subjects, the churches, in the proportion in which they have assimilated the leaven, and are holding fast by the powers which Christ has lodged within them, are approximate embodiments of the kingdom. The parable, then, suggests to us, in a very striking and impressive form, the function and the obligations of Christian people in the world.
Let me deal, in a purely expository fashion, with the emblem before us.
'The kingdom of heaven is like leaven.' Now of course, leaven is generally in Scripture taken as a symbol of evil or corruption. For example, the preliminary to the Passover Feast was the purging of the houses of the Israelites of every scrap of evil ferment, and the bread which was eaten on that Feast was prescribed to be unleavened. But fermentation works ennobling as well as corruption, and our Lord lays hold upon the other possible use of the metaphor. The parable teaches that the effect of the Gospel, as ministered by, and residing in, the society of men, in whom the will of God is supreme, is to change the heavy lump of dough into light, nutritious bread. There are three or four points suggested by the parable which I could touch upon; and the first of them is that significant disproportion between the apparent magnitude of the dead mass that is to be leavened, and the tiny piece of active energy which is to diffuse itself throughout it.
We get there a glimpse into our Lord's attitude, measuring Himself against the world and the forces that were in it. He knows that in Him, the sole Representative, at the moment, of the kingdom of heaven upon earth—because in Him, and in Him alone, the divine will was, absolutely and always, supreme—there lie, for the time confined to Him, but never dormant, powers which are adequate to the transformation of humanity from a dead, lumpish mass into an aggregate all-penetrated by a quickening influence, and, if I might so say, fermented with a new life that He will bring. A tremendous conception, and the strange thing about it is that it looks as if the Nazarene peasant's dream was going to come true! But He was speaking to the men whom He was charging with a delegated task, and to them He says, 'There are but twelve of you, and you are poor, ignorant men, and you have no resources at your back, but you have Me, and that is enough, and you may be sure that the tiny morsel of yeast will penetrate the whole mass.' Small beginnings characterise the causes which are destined to great endings; the things that are ushered into the world large, generally grow very little further, and speedily collapse. 'An inheritance may be gotten hastily at the beginning, but the end shall not be blessed.' The force which is destined to be worldwide, began with the one Man in Nazareth, and although the measures of meal are three, and the ferment is a scrap, it is sure to permeate and transform the mass.
Therefore, brethren, let us take the encouragement that our Lord here offers. If we are adherents of unpopular causes, if we have to 'stand alone with two or three,' do not let us count heads, but measure forces. 'What everybody says must be true,' is a cowardly proverb. It may be a correct statement that an absolutely universal opinion is a true opinion, but what most people say is usually false, and what the few say is most generally true. So if we have to front—and if we are true men we shall sometimes have to front—an embattled mass of antagonism, and we be in a miserable minority, never mind! We can say, 'They that be with us are more than they that be with them.' If we have anything of the leaven in us, we are mightier than the lump of dough.
But there is another point here, and that is the contact that is necessary between the leaven and the dough. We have passed from the old monastic idea of Religion being seclusion from life. But that mistake dies hard, and there are many very Evangelical and very Protestant—and in their own notions superlatively good—people, who hold a modern analogue of the old monastic idea; and who think that Christian men and women should be very tepidly interested in anything except what they call the preaching of the Gospel, and the saving of men's souls. Now nobody that knows me, and the trend of my preaching, will charge me with undervaluing either of these things, but these do not exhaust the function of the Church in the world, nor the duty of the Church to society. We have to learn from the metaphor in the parable. The dough is not kept on one shelf and the leaven on another; the bit of leaven is plunged into the heart of the mass, and then the woman kneads the whole up in her pan, and so the influence is spread. We Christians are not doing our duty, nor are we using our capacities, unless we fling ourselves frankly and energetically into all the currents of the national life, commercial, political, municipal, intellectual, and make our influence felt in them all. The 'salt of the earth' is to be rubbed into the meat in order to keep it from putrefaction; the leaven is to be kneaded up into the dough in order to raise it. Christian people are to remember that they are here, not for the purpose of isolating themselves, but in order that they may touch life at all points, and at all points bring into contact with earthly life the better life and the principles of Christian morality.
But in this contact with all phases of life and forms of activity, Christian men are to be sure that they take the leaven with them. There are professing Christians that say: 'Oh! I am not strait-laced and pharisaical. I do not keep myself apart from any movements of humanity. I count nothing that belongs to men alien to a Christian.' All right! but when you go into these movements, when you go into Parliament, when you become a city Councillor, when you mingle with other men in commerce, when you meet other students in the walks of intellect, do you take your Christianity there, or do you leave it behind? The two things are equally necessary, that Christians should be in all these various spheres of activity, and that they should be there, distinctly, manifestly, and, when need be, avowedly, as Christian men.
Further, there is another thought here, on which I just say one word, and that is the effect of the leaven on the dough.
It is to assimilate, to set up a ferment. And that is what Christianity did when it came into the world, and
'Cast the kingdoms old Into another mould.'
And that is what it ought to do to-day, and will do, if Christian men are true to themselves and to their Lord. Do you not think that there would be a ferment if Christian principles were applied, say, for instance, to national politics? Do you not think there would be a ferment if Christian principles were brought to bear upon all the transactions on the Exchange? Is there any region of life into which the introduction of the plain precepts of Christianity as the supreme law would not revolutionise it? We talk about England as a Christian country. Is it? A Christian country is a country of Christians, and Christians are not people that only say 'I have faith in Jesus Christ.' but people that do His will. That is the leaven that is to change, and yet not to change, the whole mass; to change it by lightening it, by putting a new spirit into it, leaving the substance apparently unaffected except in so far as the substance has been corrupted by the evil spirit that rules. Brethren, if we as Christians were doing our duty, it would be true of us as it was of the early preachers of the Cross, that we are men who turn the world upside down.
But there is one more point on which I touch. I have already anticipated some of what I would say upon it, but I must dwell upon it for a little longer; and that is, the manner in which the leaven is to work.
Here is a morsel of barm in the middle of a lump of dough. It works by contact, touches the particles nearest it, and transforms them into vehicles for the further transmission of influence. Each particle touched by the ferment becomes itself a ferment, and so the process goes on, outwards and ever outwards, till it permeates the whole mass. That is to say, the individual is to become the transmitter of the influence to him who is next him. The individuality of the influence, and the track in which it is to work, viz. upon those in immediate contiguity to the transformed particle which is turned from dough into leaven, are taught us here in this wonderful simile.
Now that carries a very serious and solemn lesson for us all. If you have received, you are able, and you are bound, to transmit this quickening, assimilating, transforming, lightening influence, and you need never complain of a want of objects upon which to exercise it, for the man or woman that is next you is the person that you ought to affect.
Now I have already said, in an earlier portion of these remarks, that some good people, taking an erroneous view of the function and obligations of the Church in the world, would fain keep its work to purely evangelistic effort upon individual souls in presenting to them the Gospel of Jesus Christ the Saviour. But whilst I vehemently protest against the notion that that is the whole function of the Christian Church, I would as vehemently protest against the notion that the so-called social work of the Church can ever be efficiently done except upon the foundation laid of this evangelistic work. First and foremost amongst the ways in which this great obligation of leavening humanity is to be discharged, must ever stand, as I believe, the appeal to the individual conscience and heart, and the presentation to single souls of the great Name in which are stored all the regenerative and quickening impulses that can ever alleviate and bless humanity. So that, first and foremost, I put the preaching of the Gospel, the Gospel of our salvation, by the death and in the life of the Incarnate Son of God.
But then, besides that, let me remind you there are other ways, subsidiary but indispensable ways, in which the Church has to discharge its function; and I put foremost amongst these, what I have already touched upon, and therefore need not dilate on now, the duty of Christians as Christians to take their full share in all the various forms of national life. I need not dwell upon the evils rampant amongst us, which have to be dealt with, and, as I believe, may best if not only, be dealt with, upon Christian principles. Think of drink, lust, gambling, to name but three of them, the hydra-headed serpent that is poisoning the English nation. Now it seems to me to be a deplorable, but a certainly true thing, that not only are these evils not attacked by the Churches as they ought to be, but that to a very large extent the task of attacking them has fallen into the hands of people who have little sympathy with the Church and its doctrines. They are fighting the evils on principles drawn from Jesus Christ, but they are not fighting the evils to the extent that they ought to do, with the Churches alongside. I beseech you, in your various spheres, to see to it that, as far as you can make it so, Christian people take the place that Christ meant them to take in the conflict with the miseries, the sorrows, the sins that honeycomb England to-day, and not to let it be said that the Churches shut themselves up and preach to people, but do not lift a finger to deal with the social evils of the nation.
TREASURE AND PEARL
The kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field. 45. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchantman, seeking goodly pearls: 46. Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.'—MATT. xiii. 44-46.
In this couple of parables, which are twins, and must be taken together, our Lord utilises two very familiar facts of old-world life, both of them arising from a similar cause. In the days when there were no banks and no limited liability companies, it was difficult for a man to know what to do with his little savings. In old times government meant oppression, and it was dangerous to seem to have any riches. In old days war stalked over the land, and men's property must be portable or else concealed. So, on the one hand we find the practice of hiding away little hoards in some suitable place, beneath a rock, in the cleft of a tree, or a hole dug in the ground, and then, perhaps, the man died before he came back for his wealth. Or, again, another man might prefer to carry his wealth about with him. So he went and got jewels, easily carried, not easily noticed, easily convertible into what he might require.
And, says our Lord, these two practices, with which all the people to whom He was speaking were very much more familiar than we are, teach us something about the kingdom of God. Now, I am not going to be tempted to discuss what our Lord means by that phrase, so frequent upon His lips, 'the kingdom of God' or 'of heaven.' Suffice it to say that it means, in the most general terms, a state or order of things in which God is King, and His will supreme and sovereign. Christ came, as He tells us, to found and to extend that kingdom upon earth. A man can go into it, and it can come into a man, and the conditions on which he enters into it, and it into him, are laid down in this pair of parables. So I ask you to notice their similarities and their divergences. They begin alike and they run on alike for a little way, and then they diverge. There is a fork in the road, and they reunite at the end again. They agree in their representation of the treasure; they diverge in their explanation of the process of discovering it, and they unite at last in the final issue. So, then, we have to look at these three points.
I. Let me ask you to think that the true treasure for a man lies in the kingdom of God.
It is not exactly said that the treasure is the kingdom, but the treasure is found in the kingdom, and nowhere else. Let us put away the metaphor; it means that the only thing that will make us rich is loving submission to the supreme law of the God whom we love because we know that He loves us. You may put that thought into half a dozen different forms. You may say that the treasure is the blessing that comes from Christianity, or the inward wealth of a submissive heart, or may use various modes of expression, but below them all lies this one great thought, that it is laid on my heart, dear brethren, to try and lay on yours now, that, when all is said and done, the only possession that makes us rich is—is what? God Himself. For that is the deepest meaning of the treasure. And whatever other forms of expression we may use to designate it, they all come back at last to this, that the wealth of the human soul is to have God for its very own.
Let me run over two or three points that show us that. That treasure is the only one that meets our deepest poverty. We do not all know what that is, but whether you know it or not, dear friend, the thing that you want most is to have your sins dealt with, in the double way of having them forgiven as guilt, and in having them taken away from you as tyrants and dominators over your wills. And it is only God who can do that, 'God in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them,' and giving them, by a new life which He breathes into dead souls, emancipation from the tyrants that rule over them, and thus bringing them 'into the liberty of the glory of the sons of God.' 'Thou sayest that Thou art rich and increased with goods ... and knowest not that thou art poor ... and naked.' Brother, until you have found out that it is only God who will save you from being bankrupt, and enable you to pay your debts, which are your duties, you do not know where your true riches are. And if you have all that men can acquire of the lower things of life, whether of what is generally called wealth or of other material benefits, and have that great indebtedness standing against you, you are but an insolvent after all. Here is the treasure that will make you rich, because it will pay your debts, and endow you with capacity enough to meet all future expenditure—viz. the possession of the forgiving and cleansing grace of God which is in Jesus Christ. If you have that, you are rich; if you do not possess it, you are poor. Now you believe that, as much as I do, most of you. Well, what do you do in consequence?
Further, the possession of God, who belongs to all those that are the subjects of the kingdom of God, is our true treasure, because that wealth, and that alone, meets at once all the diverse wants of the human soul. There is nothing else of which that can be said. There are a great many other precious things in this world—human loves, earthly ambitions of noble and legitimate kinds. No one but a fool will deny the convenience and the good of having a competency of this world's possessions. But all these have this miserable defect, or rather limitation, that they each satisfy some little corner of a man's nature, and leave all the rest, if I may so say, like the beasts in a menagerie whose turn has not yet come to be fed, yelping and growling while the keeper is at the den of another one. There is only one thing that, being applied, as it were, at the very centre, will diffuse itself, like some fragrant perfume, through the whole sphere, and fill the else scentless air with its rich and refreshing fragrance. There is but one wealth which meets the whole of human nature. You, however small you are, however insignificant people may think you, however humbly you may think of yourselves, you are so great that the whole created Universe, if it were yours, would be all too little for you. You cannot fill a bottomless bog with any number of cartloads of earth. And you know as well as I can tell you that 'he that loveth silver shall not be satisfied with silver, nor he that loveth abundance with increase,' and that none of the good things here below, rich and precious as many of them are, are large enough to fill, much less to expand, the limitless desires of one human heart. As the ancient Latin father said, 'Lord, Thou hast made us for Thyself, and our heart is unquiet till it attains to Thee.'
Closely connected with that thought, but capable of being dealt with for a moment apart, is the other, that this is our true treasure, because we have it all in one.
You remember the beautiful emphasis of one of the parables in our text about the man that dissipated himself in seeking for many goodly pearls? He had secured a whole casket full of little ones. They were pearls, they were many; but then he saw one Orient pearl, and he said, 'The one is more than the many. Let me have unity, for there is rest; whereas in multiplicity there is restlessness and change.' The sky to-night may be filled with galaxies of stars. Better one sun than a million twinkling tininesses that fill the heavens, and yet do not scatter the darkness. Oh, brethren, to have one aim, one love, one treasure, one Christ, one God—there is the secret of blessedness. 'Unite my heart to fear Thy name'; and then all the miseries of multiplicity, and of drawing our supplies from a multitude of separate lakes, will be at an end, when our souls are flooded from the one fountain of life that can never fail or be turbid. Thus, the unity of the treasure is the supreme excellence of the treasure.
Nor need I remind you in more than a word of how this is our true treasure, because it is our permanent one. Nothing that can be taken from me is truly mine. Those of you who have lived in a great commercial community as long as I have done, know that it is not for nothing that sovereigns are made circular, for they roll very rapidly, and 'riches take to themselves wings and fly away.' We can all go back to instances of men who set their hearts upon wealth, and flaunted their little hour before us as kings of the Exchange, and were objects of adoration and of envy, and at last were left stranded in poverty. Nothing that can be stripped from you by the accidents of life, or by inevitable death, is worth calling your 'good.' You must have something that is intertwined with the very fibres of your being. And I, unworthy as I am, come to you, dear friends, now, with this proffer of the great gift of wealth from which 'neither life, nor death, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us.' And I beseech you to ask yourselves, Is there anything worth calling wealth, except that wealth which meets my deepest need, which satisfies my whole nature, which I may have all in one, and which, if I have, I may have for ever? That wealth is the God who may be 'the strength of your hearts and your heritage for ever.'
II. Now notice, secondly, the concealment of the treasure.
According to the first of our parables, the treasure was hid in a field. That is very largely local colouring, which gives veracity and vraisemblance to the fact of the story. And there has been a great deal of very unnecessary and misplaced ingenuity spent in trying to force interpretations upon every feature of the parable, which I do not intend to imitate, but I just wish to suggest one thing. Here was this man in the story, who had plodded across that field a thousand times, and knew every clod of it, and had never seen the wealth that was lying six inches below the surface. Now, that is very like some of my present hearers. God's treasure comes to the world in a form which to a great many people veils, if it does not altogether hide, its preciousness. You have heard sermons till you are sick of sermons, and I do not wonder at it, if you have heard them and never thought of acting on them. You know all that I can tell you, most of you, about Jesus Christ, and what He has done for you, and what you should do towards Him, and your familiarity with the Word has blinded you to its spirit and its power. You have gone over the field so often that you have made a path across it, and it seems incredible to you that there should be anything worth your picking up there. Ah! dear friends, Jesus Christ, when He was here, 'in whom were hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge,' had to the men that looked upon Him 'neither form nor comeliness that they should desire Him,' and He was to them a stumbling-block and foolishness. And Christ's Gospel comes among busy men, worldly men, men who are under the dominion of their passions and desires, men who are pursuing science and knowledge, and it looks to them very homely, very insignificant; they do not know what treasure is lying in it. You do not know what treasure is lying—may I venture to say it?—in these poor words of mine, in so far as they truly represent the mind and will of God. Dear brethren, the treasure is hid, but that is not because God did not wish you to see it; it is because you have made yourselves blind to its flashing brightness. 'If our Gospel be hid, it is hid to them ... in whom the god of this world hath blinded their eyes.' If your whole desires are passionately set on that which Manchester recognises as the summum bonum, or, if you are living without a thought beyond this present, how can you expect to see the treasure, though it is lying there before your eyes? You have buried it, or, rather, you have made that which is its necessary envelope to be its obscuration. I pray you, look through the forms, look beneath the words of Scripture, and try and clear your eyesight from the hallucinations of the dazzling present, and you will see the treasure that is hid in the field.