We have four short parables in these verses.
I. That of the treasure hid in the field. Hitherto he had compared the kingdom of heaven to small things, because its beginning was small; but, lest any should thence take occasion to think meanly of it, in this parable and the next he represents it as of great value in itself, and of great advantage to those who embrace it, and are willing to come up to its terms; it is here likened to a treasure hid in the field, which, if we will, we may make our own.
1. Jesus Christ is the true Treasure; in him there is an abundance of all that which is rich and useful, and will be a portion for us: all fulness (Col. 1:19; John 1:16): treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Col. 2:3), of righteousness, grace, and peace; these are laid up for us in Christ; and, if we have an interest in him, it is all our own.
2. The gospel is the field in which this treasure is hid: it is hid in the word of the gospel, both the Old-Testament and the New-Testament gospel. In gospel ordinances it is hid as the milk in the breast, the marrow in the bone, the manna in the dew, the water in the well (Isa. 12:3), the honey in the honey-comb. It is hid, not in a garden enclosed, or a spring shut up, but in a field, an open field; whoever will, let him come, and search the scriptures; let him dig in this field (Prov. 2:4); and whatever royal mines we find, they are all our own, if we take the right course.
3. It is a great thing to discover the treasure hid in this field, and the unspeakable value of it. The reason why so many slight the gospel, and will not be at the expense, and run the hazard, of entertaining it, is because they look only upon the surface of the field, and judge by that, and so see no excellency in the Christian institutes above those of the philosophers; nay, the richest mines are often in grounds that appear most barren; and therefore they will not so much as bid for the field, much less come up to the price. What is thy beloved more than another beloved? What is the Bible more than other good books? The gospel of Christ more than Plato’s philosophy, or Confucius’s morals: but those who have searched the scriptures, so as in them to find Christ and eternal life (John 5:39), have discovered such a treasure in this field as makes it infinitely more valuable.
4. Those who discern this treasure in the field, and value it aright, will never be easy till they have made it their own upon any terms. He that has found this treasure, hides it, which denotes a holy jealousy, lest we come short (Heb. 4:1), looking diligently (Heb. 12:15), lest Satan come between us and it. He rejoices in it, though as yet the bargain be not made; he is glad there is such a bargain to be had, and that he is in a fair way to have an interest in Christ; that the matter is in treaty: their hearts may rejoice, who are yet but seeking the Lord, Ps. 105:3. He resolves to buy this field: they who embrace gospel offers, upon gospel terms, buy this field; they make it their own, for the sake of the unseen treasure in it. It is Christ in the gospel that we are to have an eye to; we need not go up to heaven, but Christ in the word is nigh us. And so intent he is upon it, that he sells all to buy this field: they who would have saving benefit by Christ, must be willing to part with all, that they may make it sure to themselves; must count every thing but loss, that they may win Christ, and be found in him.
II. That of the pearl of price (Matt. 13:45, 46), which is to the same purport with the former, of the treasure. The dream is thus doubled, for the thing is certain.
Note, 1. All the children of men are busy, seeking goodly pearls: one would be rich, another would be honourable, another would be learned; but the most are imposed upon, and take up with counterfeits for pearls.
2. Jesus Christ is a Pearl of great price, a Jewel of inestimable value, which will make those who have it rich, truly rich, rich toward God; in having him, we have enough to make us happy here and for ever.
3. A true Christian is a spiritual merchant, that seeks and finds this pearl of price; that does not take up with any thing short of an interest in Christ, and, as one that is resolved to be spiritually rich, trades high: He went and bought that pearl; did not only bid for it, but purchased it. What will it avail us to know Christ, if we do not know him as ours, made to us wisdom? 1 Cor. 1:30.
4. Those who would have a saving interest in Christ, must be willing to part with all for him, leave all to follow him. Whatever stands in opposition to Christ, or in competition with him for our love and service, we must cheerfully quit it, though ever so dear to us. A man may buy gold too dear, but not this pearl of price.
III. That of the net cast into the sea, Matt. 13:47-49.
1. Here is the parable itself. Where note, (1.) The world is a vast sea, and the children of men are things creeping innumerable, both small and great, in that sea, Ps. 104:25. Men in their natural state are like the fishes of the sea that have no ruler over them, Hab. 1:14. (2.) The preaching of the gospel is the casting of a net into this sea, to catch something out of it, for his glory who has the sovereignty of the sea. Ministers are fishers of men, employed in casting and drawing this net; and then they speed, when at Christ’s word they let down the net; otherwise, they toil and catch nothing. (3.) This net gathers of every kind, as large dragnets do. In the visible church there is a deal of trash and rubbish, dirt and weeds and vermin, as well as fish. (4.) There is a time coming when this net will be full, and drawn to the shore; a set time when the gospel shall have fulfilled that for which it was sent, and we are sure it shall not return void, Isa. 55:10, 11. The net is now filling; sometimes it fills faster than at other times, but still it fills, and will be drawn to shore, when the mystery of God shall be finished. (5.) When the net is full and drawn to the shore, there shall be a separation between the good and bad that were gathered in it. Hypocrites and true Christians shall then be parted; the good shall be gathered into vessels, as valuable, and therefore to be carefully kept, but the bad shall be cast away, as vile and unprofitable; and miserable is the condition of those who are cast away in that day. While the net is in the sea, it is not known what is in it, the fishermen themselves cannot distinguish; but they carefully draw it, and all that is in it, to the shore, for the sake of the good that is in it. Such is God’s care for the visible church, and such should ministers’ concern be for those under their charge, though they are mixed.
2. Here is the explanation of the latter part of the parable, the former is obvious and plain enough: we see gathered in the visible church, some of every kind: but the latter part refers to that which is yet to come, and is therefore more particularly explained, Matt. 13:49, 50. So shall it be at the end of the world; then, and not till then, will the dividing, discovering day be. We must not look for the net full of all good fish; the vessels will be so, but in the net they are mixed. See here, (1.) The distinguishing of the wicked from the righteous. The angels of heaven shall come forth to do that which the angels of the churches could never do; they shall sever the wicked from among the just; and we need not ask how they will distinguish them when they have both their commission and their instructions from him that knows all men, and particularly knows them that are his, and them that are not, and we may be sure there shall be no mistake or blunder either way. (2.) The doom of the wicked when they are thus severed. They shall be cast into the furnace, Note, Everlasting misery and sorrow will certainly be the portion of those who live among sanctified ones, but themselves die unsanctified. This is the same with what we had before, Matt. 13:42. Note, Christ himself preached often of hell-torments, as the everlasting punishment of hypocrites; and it is good for us to be often reminded of this awakening, quickening truth.
IV. Here is the parable of the good householder, which is intended to rivet all the rest.
1. The occasion of it was the good proficiency which the disciples had made in learning, and their profiting by this sermon in particular. (1.) He asked them, Have ye understood all these things? Intimating, that if they had not, he was ready to explain what they did not understand. Note, It is the will of Christ, that all those who read and hear the word should understand it; for otherwise how should they get good by it? It is therefore good for us, when we have read or heard the word, to examine ourselves, or to be examined, whether we have understood it or not. It is no disparagement to the disciples of Christ to be catechised. Christ invites us to seek to him for instruction, and ministers should proffer their service to those who have any good question to ask concerning what they have heard. (2.) They answered him, Yea, Lord: and we have reason to believe they said true, because, when they did not understand, they asked for an explication, Matt. 13:36. And the exposition of that parable was a key to the rest. Note, The right understanding of one good sermon, will very much help us to understand another; for good truths mutually explain and illustrate one another; and knowledge is easy to him that understandeth.
2. The scope of the parable itself was to give his approbation and commendation of their proficiency. Note, Christ is ready to encourage willing learners in his school, though they are but weak; and to say, Well done, well said.
(1.) He commends them as scribes instructed unto the kingdom of heaven. They were now learning that they might teach, and the teachers among the Jews were the scribes. Ezra, who prepared his heart to teach in Israel, is called a ready scribe, Ezra 7:6, 10. Now a skilful, faithful minister of the gospel is a scribe too; but for distinction, he is called a scribe instructed unto the kingdom of heaven, well versed in the things of the gospel, and well able to teach those things. Note, [1.] Those who are to instruct others, have need to be well instructed themselves. If the priest’s lips must keep knowledge, his head must first have knowledge. [2.] The instruction of a gospel minister must be in the kingdom of heaven, that is it about which his business lies. A man may be a great philosopher and politician, and yet if not instructed to the kingdom of heaven, he will make but a bad minister.
(2.) He compares them to a good householder, who brings forth out of his treasure things new and old; fruits of last year’s growth and this year’s gathering, abundance and variety, for the entertainment of his friends, Song 7:13. See here, [1.] What should be a minister’s furniture, a treasure of things new and old. Those who have so many and various occasions, have need to stock themselves well in their gathering days with truths new and old, out of the Old Testament and out of the new; with ancient and modern improvements, that the man of God may be thoroughly furnished, 2 Tim. 3:16, 17. Old experiences, and new observations, all have their use; and we must not content ourselves with old discoveries, but must be adding new. Live and learn. [2.] What use he should make of this furniture; he should bring forth: laying up is in order to laying out, for the benefit of others. Sic vox non vobis—You are to lay up, but not for yourselves. Many are full, but they have no vent (Job 32:19); have a talent, but they bury it; such are unprofitable servants; Christ himself received that he might give; so must we, and we shall have more. In bringing forth, things new and old do best together; old truths, but new methods and expressions, especially new affections.