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Expositions of Holy Scripture by Alexander Maclaren

Part 4 out of 12

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II. The disobedient prophet and the perfect Son.

Jonah stands as the great example of human weakness in the chosen
instruments of God's hand.

Take the story--his shrinking from the message given him. We know
not why; but perhaps from faint-hearted fear, or from a sense of his
unworthiness and unfitness for the task. His own words about God as
long-suffering seem to suggest another reason, that he feared to go
with a message of judgment which seemed to him so unlikely to be
executed by the long-suffering God. If so, then what made him
recreant was not so much fear from personal motives as intellectual
perplexity and imperfect comprehension of the ways of God. Then we
hear of his pitiable flight with its absurdity and its wickedness.
Then comes the prayer which shows him to have been right and true at
bottom, and teaches us that what makes a good man is not the absence
of faults, but the presence of love and longing after God. Then we
see the boldness of his mission. Then follows the reaction from that
lofty height, the petulance or whatever else it was with which he
sees the city spared. Even the mildest interpretation cannot acquit
him of much disregard for the poor souls whom he had brought to
repentance, and of dreadful carelessness for the life and happiness
of his fellows.

Now Jonah's behaviour is but a specimen of the vacillations, the
alternations of feeling which beset every man; the loftiest, the
truest, the best. Moses, David, Solomon, Elijah, John the Baptist,
Peter, Luther, Cranmer. And it is full of instruction for us.

Then we turn to the contrast in Christ's perfect obedience and
faithfulness in His prophetic office. In Him is no trace of
shrinking even when the grimness of the Cross weighed most on His
heart. No confusion of mind as to the Father's will, or as to the
union in Him of perfect righteousness and infinite mercy, ever
darkened His clear utterances or cast a shadow over his own soul. He
was never weakened by the collapse that follows on great effort or
strong emotion. He never failed in his mission through lack of pity.

But there is no need to draw out the comparison. We look on all
God's instruments, and see them all full of faults and flaws. Here
is one stainless name, one life in which is no blot, one heart in
which are no envy, no failings--one obedience which never varied. He
says of Himself, 'I do always those things which please Him,' and
we, thinking of all the noblest examples of virtue that the world
has ever seen, and seeing in them all some speck, turn to this whole
and perfect chrysolite and say, Yes! 'a greater than they!'

III. The bearer of a transitory message of repentance to one Gentile
people, and the bearer of an eternal message of grace and love to
the whole earth.

Jonah is remarkable as having had the sphere of his activity wholly
outside Israel.

The nature of his message; a preaching of punishment; a call to

The sphere of it--one Gentile city. The effect of it--transitory. We
know what Nineveh became.

Jesus is greater than Jonah or any prophet in this respect, that His
message is to the world, and in this, that what He preaches and
brings far transcends even the loftiest and most spiritual words of
any of them.

His voice is sweetest, tenderest, clearest and fullest of all that
have ever sounded in men's ears. And just because it is so, the
hearing of it brings the most solemn responsibility that was ever
laid on men, and to us still more gravely and truly may it be said
than to those who heard Jesus speak on earth, 'The men of Nineveh
shall rise in judgment with this generation and condemn it.'


'A greater than Solomon is here.'--MATT. xii. 42.

It is condescension in Him to compare Himself with any; yet if any
might have been selected, it is that great name. To the Jews Solomon
is an ideal figure, who appealed so strongly to popular imagination
as to become the centre of endless legends; whose dominion was the
very apex of national glory, in recounting whose splendours the
historical books seem to be scarce able to restrain their triumph
and pride.

I. The Man. The story gives us a richly endowed and many-sided
character. It begins with lovely, youthful enthusiasm, with a
profound sense of his own weakness, with earnest longings after
wisdom and guidance. He lived a pure and beautiful youth, and all
his earlier and middle life was adorned with various graces. There
is a certain splendid largeness about the character. He had a rich
variety of gifts: he was statesman, merchant, sage, physicist,
builder, one of the many-sided men whom the old world produced. And
on this we may build a comparison and contrast.

The completeness of Christ's Humanity transcends all other men, even
the most various, and transcends all gathered together. Every type
of excellence is in Him. We cannot say that His character is any one
thing in special, it falls under no classification. It is a pure
white light in which all rays are blended. This all-comprehensiveness
and symmetry of character are remarkably shown in four brief records.

But we have to take into account the dark shadows that fell on
Solomon's later years. He clearly fell away from his early
consecration and noble ideals, and let his sensuous appetites gain
power. He countenanced, if he did not himself practise, idolatry. As
a king he became an arbitrary tyrant, and his love of building led
him to oppress his subjects, and so laid the foundation for the
revolt under Jeroboam which rent the kingdom. So his history is
another illustration of the possible shipwreck of a great character.
It is one more instance of the fall of a 'son of the morning.' We
need not elaborate the contrast with Christ's character. In Him is
no falling from a high ideal, no fading of morning glory into a
cloudy noon or a lurid evening. There is no black streak in that
flawless white marble. Jesus draws the perfect circle, like Giotto's
O, while all other lives show some faltering of hand, and consequent
irregularity of outline. Greater than Solomon, with his over-clouded
glories and his character worsened by self-indulgence, is Jesus,
'the Sun of righteousness,' the perfect round of whose lustrous
light is broken by no spots on the surface, no indentations in the
circumference, nor obscured by any clouds over its face.

II. The Teacher.

Solomon was traditionally regarded as the author of much of the Book
of Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes was written as by him. Possibly the
attribution to him of some share in the former book may be correct,
but at any rate, his wisdom was said to have drawn the Queen of
Sheba to hear him, and that is the point of the comparison of our

If we take these two books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes into
account, as popularly attributed to him, they suggest points of
comparison and contrast with Jesus as a teacher, which we may
briefly point out. Now, Proverbs falls into two very distinct
portions, the former part being a connected fatherly admonition to
the pursuit of wisdom, and the latter a collection of prudential
maxims, in which it is rare for any two contiguous verses to have
anything to do with each other. In the former part Wisdom is set
forth as man's chief good, and the Wisdom which is so set forth is
mainly moral wisdom, the right disposition of will and heart, and
almost identical with what the Old Testament elsewhere calls
righteousness. But it is invested, as the writer proceeds, with more
and more august and queenly attributes, and at last stands forth as
being, if not a divine person, at least a personification of a
divine attribute.

Bring that ancient teaching and set it side by side with Jesus, and
what can we say but that He is what the old writer, be he Solomon or
another, dimly saw? He is the 'wisdom' which was traditionally
called the 'wisdom of Solomon,' and which the Queen came from far to
hear. Jesus is greater, as the light is more than the eye, or as the
theme is more than the speaker. 'The power of God and the wisdom of
God' is greater than the sage or seer who celebrates it. What is
true of Solomon or whoever wrote that praise of Wisdom, is true of
all teachers and wise men, they are 'not that light,' they are 'sent
to bear witness of that light.' Jesus is Wisdom, other men are wise.
Jesus is the greatest teacher, for He teaches us Himself. He is
lesson as well as teacher. Unless He was a great deal more than
Teacher, He could not be the perfect Teacher for whom the world

The second half of Proverbs is, as I have said, mostly a collection
of prudential and moral maxims, with very little reference to God or
high ideals of duty in them. They may represent to us the impotence
of wise saws to get themselves practised. A guide-post is not a
guide. It stretches out its gaunt wooden arms towards the city, but
it cannot bend them to help a lame man lying at its foot. Men do not
go wrong for lack of knowing the road, nearly so often as for lack
of inclination to walk in it. We have abundant voices to tell us
what we ought to do. But what we want is the swaying of inclination
to do it, and the gift of power to do it. And it is precisely
because Jesus gives us both these that He is what no collection of
the wisest sayings can ever be, the efficient teacher of all
righteousness, and of the true wisdom which is 'the principal

As for Ecclesiastes, though not his, it represents not untruly the
tone which we may suppose to have characterised his later days in
its dwelling on the vanity of life. The sadness of it may be
contrasted with the light thrown by the Gospel on the darkest
problems. Solomon cries, 'All is vanity'--Jesus teaches His scholars
to sing, 'All things work together for good.'

III. The Temple builder.

In this respect 'a greater than Solomon is here,' inasmuch as Jesus
is Himself the true Temple, being for all men, which Solomon's
structure only shadowed, the meeting-place of God and man, in whom
God dwells and through whom we can draw near to Him, the place where
the true Sacrifice is once for all offered, by which Sacrifice sin
is truly put away. And, further, Jesus is greater than Solomon in
that He is, through the ages, building up the great Temple of His
Church of redeemed men, the eternal temple of which not one stone
shall ever be taken down.

IV. The peaceful King.

There were no wars in Solomon's reign. But a dark shadow brooded
over it in its later years, which were darkened by oppression,
luxury, and incipient revolt.

Contrast with that merely external and sadly imperfect peacefulness,
the deep, inward peace of spirit which Jesus breathes into every man
who trusts and obeys Him, and with the peace among men which the
acceptance of His rule brings, and will one day bring perfectly, to
a regenerated humanity dwelling on a renewed earth. He is King of
righteousness, and after that also King of peace.

Surely from all these contrasts it is plain that 'a greater than
Solomon is here.'


'The same day went Jesus out of the house, and sat by
the sea side. 2. And great multitudes were gathered
together unto Him, so that He went into a ship, and
sat; and the whole multitude stood on the shore. 8. And
He spake many things unto them in parables, saying,
Behold, a sower went forth to sow; 4. And when he
sowed, some seeds fell by the way side, and the fowls
came and devoured them up: 6. Some fell upon stony
places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith
they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth:
6. And when the sun was up, they were scorched; and
because they had no root, they withered away. 7. And
some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprung up, and
choked them: 8. But other fell into good ground, and
brought forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some
sixtyfold, some thirtyfold. 9. Who hath ears to hear,
let him hear.'--MATT. xiii. 1-9.

The seven parables of the kingdom, in this chapter, are not to be
regarded as grouped together by Matthew. They were spoken
consecutively, as is obvious from the notes of time in verses 36 and
53. They are a great whole, setting forth the 'mystery of the
kingdom' in its method of establishment, its corruption, its outward
and inward growth, the conditions of entrance into it, and its final
purification. The sacred number seven, impressed upon them, is the
token of completeness. They fall into two parts: four of them being
spoken to the multitudes from the boat, and presenting the more
obvious aspects of the development of the kingdom; three being
addressed to the disciples in the house, and setting forth truths
about it more fitted for them.

The first parable, which concerns us now, has been generally called
the Parable of the Sower, but he is not the prominent figure. The
subject is much rather the soils; and the intention is, not so much
to declare anything about him, as to explain to the people, who
were looking for the kingdom to be set up by outward means,
irrespective of men's dispositions, that the way of establishing it
was by teaching which needed receptive spirits. The parable is both
history and prophecy. It tells Christ's own experience, and it
foretells His servants'. He is the great Sower, who has 'come forth'
from the Father. His present errand is not to burn up thorns or to
punish the husbandmen, but to scatter on all hearts the living seed,
which is here interpreted, in accordance with the dominant idea of
this Gospel, as being 'the word of the kingdom' (ver. 19). All who
follow Him, and make His truth known, are sowers in their turn, and
have to look for the same issue of their work. The figure is common
to all languages. Truth, whether intellectual, moral, or spiritual,
is seminal, and, deposited in the heart, understanding, or
conscience, grows. It has a mysterious vitality, and its issue is
not a manufacture, but a fruit. If all teachers, especially
religious teachers, would remember that, perhaps there would be
fewer failures, and a good deal of their work would be modified. We
have here four sowings and one ripening--a sad proportion! We are
not told that the quantity of seed was in each case the same. Rather
we may suppose that much less fell on the wayside, and on the rocky
soil, and among the thorns, than on the good ground. So we cannot
say that seventy-five per cent, of it was wasted; but, in any case,
the proportion of failure is tragically large. This Sower was under
no illusion as to the result of His work.

It is folly to sow on the hard footpath, or the rocky ground, or
among thorns; but Christ and His servants have to do that, in
endless hope that these unreceptive hearts may become good soil. One
lesson of the parable is, Scatter the seed everywhere, on the most
unlikely places.

I. Our Lord begins with the case in which the seed remains quite
outside the soil, or, without metaphor, in which the word finds
absolutely no entrance into the heart or mind. A beaten path runs by
the end, or perhaps through the middle, of the cornfield. It is of
exactly the same soil as the rest, but many passengers have trodden
it hard, and the very foot of the sower, as he comes and goes in his
work, has helped. Some of the seed, sown broadcast, of course falls
there, and lies where it falls, having no power to penetrate the
hard surface. As in our own English cornfields, a flock of bold,
hungry birds watch the sower; and, as soon as his back is turned,
they are down with a swift-winged swoop, and away goes the exposed
grain. So there is an end of it; and the path is as bare as ever,
five minutes after it has been strewed with seeds.

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

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

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.'


'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

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

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

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.


'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

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.


'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

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.


'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

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

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

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

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

Let me deal, in a purely expository fashion, with the emblem before

'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.


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.

III. Again, let me ask you to notice, further, the two ways of

The rustic in the first story, who, as I said, had plodded across
the field a hundred times, was doing it for the hundred and first,
or perhaps was at work there with his mattock or his homely plough.
And, perchance, some stroke of the spade, or push of the coulter,
went a little deeper than usual, and there flashed the gold, or some
shower of rain came on, and washed away a little of the
superincumbent soil, and laid bare the bag. Now, that is what often
happens, for you have to remember that though you are not seeking
God, God is always seeking you, and so the great saying comes to be
true, 'I am found of them that sought Me not.' There have been many
cases like the one of the man who, breathing out threatenings and
slaughter, with no thought in his mind except to bind the disciples
and bring them captive to Jerusalem, saw suddenly a light from
heaven flashing down upon him, and a Voice that pulled him up in the
midst of his career. Ah! it would be an awful thing if no one found
Christ except those who set out to seek for Him. Like the dew on the
grass 'that waiteth not for men, nor tarrieth for the sons of men,'
He often comes to hearts that are thinking about nothing less than
about Him.

There are men and women listening to me now who did not come here
with any expectation of being confronted with this message to their
souls; they may have been drawn by curiosity or by a hundred other
motives. If there is one such, to whom I am speaking, who has had no
desires after the treasure, who has never thought that God was his
only Good, who has been swallowed up in worldly things and the
common affairs of life, and who now feels as if a sudden flash had
laid bare the hidden wealth in the familiar Gospel, I beseech such a
one not to turn away from the discovered treasure, but to make it
his own. Dear friend, you may not be looking for the wealth, but
Christ is looking for His lost coin. And, though it has rolled away
into some dusty corner, and is lying there all unaware, I venture to
say that He is seeking you by my poor words to-night, and is saying
to you: 'I counsel thee to buy of Me gold tried in the fire.'

But then another class is described in the other parable of the
merchantman who was seeking many goodly pearls. I suppose he may
stand as a representative of a class of whom I have no doubt there
are some other representatives hearing me now, namely, persons who,
without yielding themselves to the claims of Christ, have been
searching, honestly and earnestly, for 'whatsoever things are lovely
and of good report.' Dear brethren, if you have been smitten by the

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