THE TESTIMONY OF THE PROPHETS
Reading: Matthew ch. 13
The complete inspiration of the Scriptures forms the very foundation of our faith and hope, the things which we cherish and endeavour to follow, and that fellowship that calls us all together around these emblems in obedience to our Lord’s command. How frequently we remind one another, and indeed our interested friends also, that every Word of God is pure, that He has magnified it above all His Name, and of that statement through Peter that “The prophecy came not in old time by the will of man, but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.” So it is, then, that being thus God-inspired, the Scriptures contain all that is necessary both as regards doctrine and practice, to the attainment of what a loving Father has in store for His children.
What Scriptures are these to which Peter refers? Are they not the Old Testament Scriptures, those which are so lightly esteemed by the people around us? And so when we read in the New Testament writings—which are equally inspired—such expressions as, “That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet,” then there we have the Holy Spirit’s own confirmation of those previous utterances, and it makes us realize that such references are of double value.
Now the gospel record by Matthew is especially rich in instances such as these; for example, in chapter 12 we read that the Lord Jesus Christ charged those whom he had miraculously healed that they should not make him known; and the record continues: “That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, Behold my servant, whom I have chosen; my beloved, in whom my soul is well pleased; I will put my spirit upon him, and he shall shew judgment to the Gentiles. He shall not strive, nor cry; neither shall any man hear his voice in the streets. A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench, till he send forth judgment unto victory. And in his name shall the Gentiles trust.” There is a quotation from the Septuagint version, which Christ used. It is impossible to miss the meaning of those words; he would not break even a bruised reed or put out smoking flax. This shows the humility of Christ which he would exhibit; and so it is in this manner that the Holy Spirit directs our attention to what God had caused to be placed on record some seven centuries previously regarding the glorious future that awaits the Son of His love: His judgments upon the disbelieving and the ungodly, the mercy and truth which He promised to the righteous, whether Jew or Gentile. In order to emphasise the certainty of all these things, the divine comment is, “Thus saith God the Lord, he that created the heavens, and stretched them out; he that spread forth the earth, and that which cometh out of it; he that giveth breath unto the people upon it, and spirit to them that walk therein . .
Behind these glorious words there is the confirmation of the great Creator Himself. And you see how the chain of it works: first of all we have the prophecy set forth all those centuries before, and then in due course, when God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law, the Son of His love exhibited just those traits He declared he should; and so the Holy Spirit takes us back to those words previously uttered.
Those then are some of the things which the Holy Spirit would have those who love and revere God’s Word, to remember as they read of the gentleness, the meekness and the humility of our dear Master in the days of his flesh. We can recall other passages of Scripture also, as for example Paul’s testimony in Philippians 2:”. . . But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant” (a reference to Isaiah 42, “Behold my servant”); “and was made in the likeness of men; and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also bath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name.” As we reflect upon these words, does it not bring home to us the great value, the inestimable value, which our heavenly Father places upon true meekness and humility? And the lesson? Paul gives it to us: “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.”
In Matthew 13 there is the same direction of the Holy Spirit. There are recorded a number of parables. In verse 34 we read: “All these things spake Jesus unto the multitude in parables; and without a parable spake he not unto them: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world.” Where are we directed this time—which prophet is referred to? It is from Psalm 78, and the prophet was probably David himself. Those secret things, or dark sayings, are the mighty works of God which He wrought on behalf of His people Israel, the history of their repeated waywardness and rebelliousness, and again, God’s repeated mercy and forgiveness, then His final selection of Zion as the place of His holiness and David as His anointed; in other words, the Kingdom of God in the past and in the future. That was the very theme which lay behind almost all the parables which Christ uttered, the deep things which were hidden in the comparatively simple stories which he told. But why in parables, why not in plain speech? The disciples asked that very question after Christ had spoken the parable of the sower. Verse 10: “And the disciples came, and said unto him, Why speakest thou unto them in parables? . . . Therefore speak I to them in parables, because they seeing see not, and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand. And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand, and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive; For this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.”“In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah,” and the reference is to chapter 6, which reveals the sad condition of Israel as a nation at that time; her waywardness is fully set out in the preceding five chapters of that prophecy, and it goes on to speak of the judgments God would bring upon them on that account, and concludes with a brief promise of final restoration.
Now these things were said to Israel, who had ears dull of hearing, and eyes that would not see. They could, had they wished, have seen the condition in which they were as a nation, why God had so treated them, and what was to come; but no, they did not see it. And what of Israel’s special wickedness? It lay in their obstinate refusal to pay any heed to their divinely sent prophets which the Almighty repeatedly sent—”rising up early and sending,” but they would not listen. Doubtless the surrounding nations, whose ways Israel had copied, were equally wicked, probably worse, but God had sent no prophet to them to rebuke them and to testify against them for their sins: Israel only had He known, and therefore He would punish them. This reference by Jesus to the people of his day must have meant, if they would but see it, that as a nation they were no better than their fathers, and such, we know, was his outspoken witness against them, and in particular against their wicked leaders, who exercised such a powerful influence upon the people. We remember the parable of the wicked husbandmen, to whom His servants the prophets were sent and badly treated by them, and then last of all He sent Christ himself, whom they killed. To the Scribes and Pharisees, who knew the Scriptures after a manner and should have known better, he spoke plainly: “Ye generation of vipers, hypocrites.” Jesus did not spare these wicked men, for they could see through his parables in many cases; on one occasion it is said “they perceived that he spoke against them”; and what had he done? He had set before them a true assessment of their evil, envious ways and murderous intentions, which only infuriated them the more. As to the common people, they were fickle, as most multitudes are. Did they not hail him as the Son of David and later cry, “Crucify him”? But they were indifferent; their hearts were fat and gross, they were lacking in warmth for the things of the Truth, their ears were dull, and they were deaf to all the divine entreaties and pleadings and warnings. They even attributed his wonderful works to Beelzebub, for which Christ said there was no forgiveness. But the people had got used to the mighty works, their eyes were closed to those works which none other man ever did. And so, ill-equipped as they were to heed the gospel of the Kingdom, although exhibited to them by the King himself in their midst, the words of Isaiah fit exactly, as Christ said.
But to whom did he address those words in Matthew 13.11? Not to the people, but to those few to whom he said: “It is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.” Who were these? They were disciples, men and women, who recognised in Jesus a Teacher sent from God, loving him for the character he displayed, the beautiful words he spoke, his reverence for his Father’s words, his gentleness and patience which were for all to see if they would see. They listened eagerly to his preaching and believed the gospel. These were the people to whom he said, “Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven.” Then he says in v. 16: “Blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear.” Those words come home to us this morning as we read these records. True, we did not see the actual works which he did, but we read the Spirit-inspired account and we believe them; and we see God’s hand at work as exhibited in His Holy Word. Many wise men have sought to know the things known to us in this Word. How do we respond to it all?
So it was, then, that while the multitude could for the most part see in this parable of the sower only a picture of some common-place every-season happening, some may have puzzled as to why this great Teacher should speak in this manner, and have wondered whether something was hidden which they could not see; nevertheless they were ignorant as to its true import. Yet there were some who really wanted to know what he meant, and when they were alone we are told they asked him, “What might this parable be?” Even they were unable to understand it at that time, and we wonder whether we should have done so had we listened. For my pant doubt it. They did not have our Scriptures in their hands, and quite possibly, as common people, they knew very little of their own Scriptures. So the record goes on that Christ graciously undertook to expound it to them. He showed them that it was a graphic description of the various classes of people who would come within the sound of the gospel message, and, moreover, what their reactions to it would be. The seed is the Word, the Word of the Kingdom, the Word of God; and remember that seed, wherever and whenever it is sown, is consistently good, it cannot be otherwise; there is nothing wrong with the seed. The parable therefore has an application in our day, and it has an application to us, an application, moreover, which is calculated to make us think over all that the Master has said. It may be helpful if we bear in mind the three records of this parable. Let us look at it very briefly.
Some of the good seed is sown by the wayside, the hard and rocky part of the field. No good seed could possibly get below a surface as hard as that, and so it was devoured by the fowls. And the meaning? These are the people who have no genuine interest in divine things; they may have a passing curiosity, but the Word can make no impression upon such; their lives are devoted to things of this life, they never rise any higher, and eternal life and the kingdom of God have no part whatever in their life. What an apt description of the fate of the good seed at their hands, to say that the devil or Satan taketh it away. Have we not all experienced such cases in our public and private endeavours to sow the seed?
Then there is the stony ground without any depth of soil. Such seed springs up quickly but it lacks root, and when the sun rises up it withers away. And the meaning of this? There are some who obey the Truth with every evidence of joy and gladness, but, with the advent of trial and afihiction, and perhaps persecution, their hold upon the Truth is severely shaken—they lose hold, they did not think it would be like this, and though the Word warned them, they stumble, and give up the race for eternal life. Have we not experienced this sort of thing? Have we not known of some who have loved and obeyed the gospel but have gone back into the world?
Then there is the third class, those sown among thorns. The seed grows well, but there are weeds and thorns around it and they grow up even faster than the seed itself. They are strong and quick- growing, they sap the very life out of the plant and take away all the nutriment from the good seed; it grows thin and spindly and yields no fruit. How did the Master interpret that class? What are the weeds? There are several kinds. The cares and anxieties of this order of things which must inevitably come upon us all; if allowed to, they can prey upon a brother or sister, upon their spiritual life, and can choke it. So too can ambition or an inordinate desire for prosperity and wealth. The Master refers to the deceitfulness of riches, because of their utter inability to realty satisfy. There are other kinds of weeds, lusts and desires which crowd in upon the servant of Christ and render his life unfruitful; he brings forth no fruit to perfection. Fruit is what Christ looks for and which he will require in the day of account. There are all sorts of deadly weeds ready to sap the life of the well-grown seed if given the opportunity. There is the danger of a close association with those who are beyond our station, whether socially or intellectually, or in the world of business. God has chosen the poor of this world, rich in faith, as heirs of the Kingdom. There may be the desire to attain to some high standard of learning or affluence; and in all these things (because remember, the plant starts strongly enough), wisdom begotten of the Word is profitable to direct. We need to be careful, cautious and circumspect, and to keep always before us the Master’s perfect example of humility and meekness.
Then, finally, there is the good ground, not all equally productive, but all alike good. And who constitute this class? In the chapter in Matthew they are described as “he that heareth the word, and understandeth it, which also beareth fruit, and bringeth forth, some an hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.” In Luke’s account the record reads: “That on the good ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience.” Now the proportion of these, as compared with the rest, no one would dare to presume to say; Christ knows and the day will declare it. Doubtless we may say it has varied constantly and considerably throughout the history of the Truth. Our concern, each one, should be and must be, that we shall strive continually to be consistently good ground, keeping the Truth in its purity in an honest and good heart, giving willing service according to our several ability:
as the Scriptures put it, by love serving one another. The various forms by which this faithful service can be accomplished are set forth in the Scriptures, and especially in the epistles. It is a consolation to know that Christ knows all our hearts, and if the fruit we are able to produce places us only in the thirty fold class, nevertheless Christ will know if it is out of a good and honest heart, and that will be all that matters. He will not expect sixty or a hundredfold, which undoubtedly some in the Truth’s history have been able to produce. Faithful service will mean his approval and that “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of thy Lord.” That will be said equally to the two talent brother or sister, as to the five or ten talent.
What does the Scripture say? “Blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear.” Greatly indeed have we been privileged to come within the sound of the gospel, because it has been given to us, as to the disciples, to know the mysteries of the Kingdom, those mysteries of which the Scriptures speak: God’s eternal purpose, centred in Christ, and association with them as Gentiles, before not called, but now called through Christ, made nigh unto him, and become the seed of Abraham by faith, prospective Sons and daughters of the Lord God Almighty; and all made possible by the loving obedience, even to the death of the cross, of the One whom we celebrate here this morning in the breaking of bread and drinking of wine, until he comes.—C. H. Lindars