The Wise and Foolish Builders. -- This was not a parable in the sense of a complete story. It was more in the nature of a simile interwoven with plain discourse. Still, it is instructive, as the conveyance of important truths by illustration. -- A man built a house on the solid rock: another built his on the loose sand -- a supposition borrowed from the practice of the East, and not so obvious in the West where the nature of the foundations, though of some importance, is not so important. While the weather is fine, the difference between the two houses, as regards the foundation, is immaterial. But a time of storm and inundation comes. The difference is then both great and apparent. The one falls to ruins; the other is unhurt by the violence of the storm, and remains a useful habitation when the storm has passed away.
The application is of great importance. Jesus supplies it. The building of the house is the acceptance of the teaching of Christ, in both cases. (Note by the way: apart from this acceptance, a man has no house -- no abiding place in futurity: must die without hope. Ergo, the growing and popular view that "morality" will save, especially the thought that all will be saved, is a delusion). But a man may accept the teaching of Christ and not conform to it. His house -- his hope, is in that case on the sand. For only that acceptance of the truth which is accompanied by affectionate submission to its requirements will be acceptable with God. "Not every one that saith, Lord, Lord, will enter into the kingdom, but he that doeth the will of my Father" (Matt. vi. 21). Faith will not save a man whose "works" are not in accordance with faith. Without faith, he cannot please God: but he cannot please God by an inoperative faith. "Faith without works is dead" (Jas. ii. 20). A disobedient man's belief of the gospel will go for nothing in the day of the issues of things -- the day when the judgment will "try every man's work, what sort it is" (1 Cor. iii. 13). The house of hope which he has built will fall to ruins in the day of storm, -- lacking a stable foundation -- even that foundation to which Paul refers when he exhorts rich men to "lay up for themselves a good foundation against the time to come" (1 Tim. vi. 18). -- "But the man who heareth these sayings of mine and doeth them is like a man who built his house on the rock." The judgment of God is coming like a storm to "sweep away all the refuge of lies" (Is. xxviii. 17). In that terrible day, the man will stand unmoved who has acted the part of a friend of God in the midst of "the crooked and perverse generation" now upon earth in apparent safety. He will pass unharmed through the destructive revolutions in which thrones will perish and society itself be dissolved. He will be "under the shadow of the Almighty" during "the time of trouble such as never was:" and when the storm has passed, and the sun shines out, he will stand forth in safety and glory as one of those "kings and priests" whose work it will be to re-build the shattered fabric of human life, and lead mankind in ways of peace, blessedness and well-being. But in vain will you look round at that moment for those believers who merely have a name to live during these times of probation, but who are dead, as shewn by their non-submission to all the requirements of the Word of the living God. The difference between the two classes is scarcely discernible now; it will be known and read of all men then.
Seed cast into the ground -- "So is the Kingdom of God as if a man should cast seed into the ground, and should sleep and rise night and day, and the seed should spring and grow up, he knoweth not how. For the earth bringeth forth fruit of herself: first, the blade: then, the ear: after that, the full corn in the ear. But when the fruit is brought forth, immediately he putteth in the sickle because the harvest is come.' A knowledge of what God has revealed concerning His Kingdom makes it easy to understand this parable. Although the Kingdom of God is not yet in existence in the sense of an actually developed and visibly established institution in the earth, yet it is a thing for which great preparations have been made "from the foundation of the world," and are still going forward. If we imagine ourselves at the crisis of its establishment (even in the presence of Christ at his return), we can the more easily realise this. For what is the most striking aspect of things then? The retrospective. The past is gathered up into that moment with a reality and a brightness impossible at any other time. Here are "Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets" (Luke xiii. 28). Here are the multitudinous "many" who have come from the east and the west, and the north and the south to sit down with them. "These have come out of great tribulation." The joy of the hour is largely made up of what is past. Even the Lord Jesus, the centre of the manifested glory of God, draws much of his joy from looking back: "He shall see (the result) of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied" (Is. liii. 11). The history of the land, the history of the nation, the history of the Gentiles, all contribute their ingredient to the perfect satisfaction that will be the experience of each individual constitutent of that wonderful assembly. That history has developed them all. They (the very kernel of the Kingdom of God) are the result of all that has gone before: and in all that has gone before, the hand of God has been the chief agent. For had not God made promises to Abraham: had He not spoken by the prophets: had He not issued an invitation by the hand of the Apostles: had He not given His own son as a propitiation for our sins: had He not raised him from the dead, and exalted him to His own right hand: had he not confided His plan to the hands of the angels (then present in their hosts to witness its completion), had He not taken steps to prepare for Himself a family by the ministry of the Word, and by the guidance of their affairs in chastisement and discipline and instruction, how could the glorious result that will then be manifest have been achieved? When we realise that the Kingdom of God is the result of a work of long preparation, involving all that God has done in past times, we can see how it is like seed cast into the ground, which, though invisible to the passer by, is slowly advancing by a process of germination, and a result of harvest that are alike independent of man. The ripening of natural grain comes at a fixed time; and the reapers come at the ripeness. So with the Kingdom of God: the maturity of God's plan will be reached, and the harvesting will come off at a time that is fixed in the nature of things, independent of the knowledge or care or will of man. In this there is great ground of patience and peace for those who are instructed in the testimony. Their motto is, "Patient waiting, through all apparent delays, and in the face of the most adverse occurrences." It is a waiting for God who has given His word: and He has said "They shall not be ashamed that wait for me." Our life is "but for a moment." There is no waiting after our threescore years and ten: and the waiting may stop long before that, "Wherefore, gird up the loins of your mind: watch and be sober." Walk worthy of the calling to which ye have been called, "Be holy in all manner of conversation." The hope of the righteous shall not always be deferred. The grain is ripening: the harvest is coming.
The Good Shepherd. -- "He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. But he that entereth in by the door, is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the porter openeth: and the sheep hear his voice, and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out. And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice. And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him, for they know not the voice of strangers" (Jno. x. 1-5). "This parable," we are told, "Jesus spake unto them, but they understood not what things they were which he spake unto them." Presently, however, he explained, and anyone may understand who is capable of the necessary attention and discrimination. The explanation shows that Christ himself is the import of more than one feature of the parable. The sheep occupy a secondary place.
The Two Debtors. -- "There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence and the other fifty. And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me, therefore, which of them will love him most? Simon answered and said, I suppose that he to whom he forgave the most. And he (Jesus) said unto him, Thou hast rightly judged" (Luke vii. 41). The bearing of this is best seen in connection with the circumstance calling it forth. Jesus had accepted a Pharisee's invitation to dine. In the house, while reclining Oriental fashion at a table, a woman of blemished character approached Jesus from behind, and began to kiss his feet and wipe them with the hair of her head, and anoint them with precious ointment. The Pharisee, who knew the character of the woman, watched the proceeding with some considerable contemplations. He was undecided in his mind as to the true character of Christ. He had evidently asked him to dine for the purpose of getting a closer view of him than he could get out of doors or in the synagogue, and this incident of the woman taking such liberties with him unrebuked, exercised him unfavourably. The argument going on in his mind was, "This man, if he were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him." The parable was Christ's way of meeting this argument, for he not only knew who and what manner of woman the woman was, but he knew what was passing in the Pharisee's mind, though the Pharisee was not aware of it. Christ's application of the parable was that the very character of the woman was the explanation of her affectionate attention -- so different from the Pharisee's cold courtesy. Her greater love was the result of the forgiveness of her many sins. "To whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little." On reflection, it will be found that this principle goes beyond the individual case that called forth its enunciation. It supplies the key to the plan on which God is guiding the earth to its everlasting place in the universe. That plan is the permission and the cure of evil, with reference to the supremacy of His declared will in the minds and actions of men. It is a distressing process while it lasts: as Paul testifies, and we all know from experience: "The whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now." But enlightened intelligence is enabled to endure it in view of the other testified fact, that the affliction is "working out for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory." But for the evil, the good never could have been appreciated as it requires to be -- in humility and gladness. The prevalence of sin provides the occasion also for forgiveness of sin; and forgiven sin opens the way for love and joy. The multitude of God's glorified children could never have sung the thrilling strains of the gladsome song heard in vision by John in Patmos, if there had not first been a population requiring to be washed from their sins by the blood of the Lamb. It required the reign of sin, misery and death to prepare the way for that glorious song, and all the unutterable glories it represents in detail: "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and wisdom, and riches and honour, and glory and blessing.... Thou hast redeemed us unto God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue and people and nation; and hast made us unto our God kings and priests, and we shall reign on the earth."
The Good Samaritan. -- The meaning of this parable is shown by the incident that called it forth, and by the application that Christ made of it. A certain interesting young man who was rich, asked him what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus asked him what he found written in the law; to which, the young man responded by quoting that summary of its principles contained in the words of Moses: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart; and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself." Christ's answer was: "Thou hast answered right: this do and thou shalt live." This ought to have closed the colloquy, because the question was completely answered. But we are informed that the young man was "willing to justify himself." He evidently concluded -- (probably from the manner of Christ's answer) -- that Christ implied shortcoming on his part in the desired conformity to the command; not as to God, but as to his neighbour. He took quite a complacent view of his own case on this point. He was evidently of opinion that he not only rendered unto God the things that were God's, but that he fulfilled a neighbour's part as well, or at least that if he did not, it was for lack of opportunity. Perhaps he was one of those who retire into a comfortable corner, and shut their eyes to the miseries of their race, and who become so absorbed in their own personal affairs as to forget that there are any neighbours to love and serve; or, who at the most, think their duty in that direction discharged by a reluctant donation unsympathetically flung here Or there. "Willing to justify himself," he said, "and who is my neighbour?"
This is the question which the parable is designed to answer, and does answer. It has probably done more than anything else uttered by Christ to foster acts of disinterested kindness wherever his teaching has become influential. The parable does not introduce to notice a next-door neighbour or a fellow townsman or a compatriot, but a total stranger in faith and blood. And the man who acts the right part is not a priest or a Jew, but a detested Samaritan. The priest and the Jew are shewn avoiding their duty. "A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his raiment and wounded him and departed, leaving him half dead. And by chance there came down a certain priest that way, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan as he journeyed came where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion on him and went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And on the morrow, when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, 'Take care of him, and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee.' "
The application of the parable Jesus drew from the man's own mouth by a question: "Which now, of these three, thinkest thou was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves?" There could be but one answer: "He that shewed mercy on him." What then? "Go and do thou likewise." Here is what is meant then by "Doing good unto all men as we have opportunity." "Relieve the afflicted" when it is in your power. "Deal thy bread to the hungry; bring the poor that are cast out to thy house: when thou seest the naked, cover him: hide not thyself from thine own flesh (that is, from human nature). Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee, and the glory of the Lord shall be thy reward. Then shalt thou call, and the Lord shall answer: thou shalt cry, and He shall say, 'Here am I' " (Is. lviii. 7-9).
This practical benevolence towards the afflicted is the most beautiful of all the fruits of the Spirit. It is one, however, requiring great hardihood for its cultivation. It has often to be brought forth in great bitterness. The tendency of things as regards man is to make you shut up the bowels of your compassion, and pass on with the Levite and the priest. It seems a hopeless, thankless, useless business. Nothing will keep a man to it but the constant setting of the eye on God and Christ, who have required it, and the constant realisation of the fleeting character of the state of things to which we are presently related, and the certainty of the glorious age that God has promised, which will chase away the self-denials and confusions incidental to the present evil world.
A word -- not exactly on the other side -- for there is not another side, but in deprecation of the extreme to which the helping of the distressed can be and is carried. Christ did not mean to hide any other part of the truth by telling the young man to imitate the Good Samaritan. He did not mean to say that salvation was to be found in the succouring of the destitute, though the succouring of the destitute is one of the duties connected with it. Though he shows a Jew disobedient and a Samaritan doing a neighbourly part, he did not mean to deny or cast the least discredit on what he said to the woman at the well of Samaria, concerning the Samaritans and the Jews respectively: "Ye worship ye know not what: we (Jews) know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews." Nor did he mean to weaken the words he spoke to his disciples, when he told them to "Go not into the way of the Samaritans;" or when he spoke to the Syrophenician woman of the non-Jewish people as "dogs." The modern treatment of the subject calls for this remark. Where the Samaritan example is recognised at all, it is generally done with the effect of nullifying very much else of the teaching of the Spirit of God. The doing of good to the poor in the matter of temporal supplies is made to take the place of the "righteousness of God, which is by faith in Christ Jesus." The outcast position of Adam's race is denied: the mortal and hopeless relation of man to God, both by nature and character, is not admitted: the imperative necessity for the belief of the Gospel, and submission to its requirements before men can become acceptable worshippers of God or heirs of life eternal, is completely ignored -- because of the parable of the Good Samaritan. This is a great evil, and calls for circumspection: "We must contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints," even against many who may seek to shine in the work of the Good Samaritan. We must, on the other hand, contend for the neighbourly part against those who would confine the service of Christ to the agitation of doctrines. We live in a world where there is a constant tendency to extremes; and even good itself carried to an extreme becomes evil. But there is less likelihood on the whole, perhaps, that the parable of the Good Samaritan will be overdone than that it will be overlooked.
The parable itself was a literal truth apart from any spiritual application. Sheep-culture was a prominent occupation in the country as it is to tiffs day. It differed from modern sheep-raising as regards the domestic relations subsisting between the shepherd and the sheep. The sheep were provided with substantially-made folds, into which they were driven at night for safety from the wolves and other dangers. The fold had a solid entrance at which a porter waited, ready to deny entrance to those who were not entitled to it. The sheep-stealer did not present himself at the door, but clambered over some unprotected part of the wall. The lawful owner had no object in using any but the proper entrance. This owner also knew his own sheep as no western sheep-farmer knows his; anti so intimate were the relations between them that they knew his voice and went after him when he called them to go forth upon the hill sides for pasture -- not driving but leading them. To the voice of a stranger they could not be made obedient. They scampered off at the unaccustomed tones.
These are facts in which Jesus asks us to recognise a figure of himself and his people. It is profitable to trace the correspondence and its nature. The thing signified is, of course, much higher than the figure; but there is an analogy which helps the understanding of the matter. There is a variety of points, but all are beautiful and instructive. There is the shepherd, the fold, the door, the porter, the sheep, the wolf, the hireling shepherd, the shepherd's voice, the listening flock, the shepherd's death in defence of the sheep.
The Shepherd. -- "I," says Jesus, "am the good shepherd." Here is the key of the parable. How simple, yet how much there is in it. For who is the "I?" "Who art thou, Lord?" "I am Jesus of Nazareth." But who is he? The Son of Mary (and therefore of Joseph, David, Abraham, Adam), but, which is of much more consequence (for there were plenty of that sort of no benefit to themselves or their kind) -- Jesus of Nazareth was the Son of God -- begotten of the Holy Spirit, and therefore one with the Eternal Father, who sent him forth to be "righteousness, wisdom, sanctification, and redemption" to all who should receive him. The Good Shepherd is God thus manifest in the flesh. It was not the first time the character had been so associated. It had been written (Isaiah xl. 10), "Behold the Lord God (Yahweh Elohim) will come with strong hand, and his arm shall rule for him ... He shall feed his flock like a shepherd, &c." The Creator in Shepherd-manifestation by the Spirit: this is the glorious idea before us in the parable put forth by the son of David, in the hearing of an undiscerning audience in the Temple. Here are power and kindness in combination. You may have power without kindness, and kindness without power: and either or both without wisdom. But when the Creator of the ends of the earth steps into the arena, we have all in combination. The wonderful phenomenon presented to view of a kind, strong, wise, unerring, Shepherd-man, in whom the Father dwells. When, in the history of heads and leaders was ever leader like this? Misguided indeed are the men who seek a head or leader among men. There is no master but Christ -- no shepherd but the good Shepherd. All before him, or after him (claiming the same position) are but thieves and robbers -- seeking their own advantage on the pretext of serving the sheep. This shepherd truly loves the sheep, and is able to save them, and will at last show his power and his kindness in gathering them from the dark mountains into his safe and loving fold, where they will hear his voice and live and rejoice in his presence for evermore.
The other features of the good shepherd parable we must reserve to the next chapter.