A Few Thoughts on How Christ Builds His Assembly

Matthew 13-17

C. E. H. Warren

This section of the Gospel is very definitely marked off from the rest, and gives us the revelation of those “new things” (13:52) of the kingdom and the Church, which in the ways of God follow on the rejection of Christ in His mission here. That rejection is very fully detailed in chapters 11 and 12, with its sad and solemn consequences for the nation (12:45). In result Christ accepts man’s refusal, and Himself refuses to acknowledge those ties that existed with Israel (of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came), and owns those which the Spirit alone can make, by producing subjection to His Father’s will.

It may be noted in passing that these two chapters 11 and 12 indicate the fulfilment of that remarkable utterance of the Spirit of Christ in Isaiah 49, “Then I said, I have laboured in vain, I have spent my strength for nought, and in vain: yet surely my judgment is with Jehovah and my reward with my God.”

In accordance with this, the Lord is seen in the following chapter in an entirely new character of service. If harvest for God is to be secured according to His gracious purposes, the Son must take His place as the Sower of the seed.

This parable of the Sower is not, however, given us as a similitude of the kingdom. These similitudes are given us in six succeeding parables, their import being hidden from the nation in its wilful unbelief, but given to be known by a remnant who are thus distinguished from the nation.

The first three of these parables indicate the outward form the kingdom would take during the absence of the King. The first likeness is that of a field in which tares, the fruit of Satan’s work, grow up with the wheat from the very first (“then appeared the tares also”). Next a great tree illustrates the fact that Christendom would become a great world-power, as Babylon and Assyria in the past (Dan. 4, Ezek. 31). How little of spiritual value exists in such a figure need hardly be said. Third, the kingdom of the heavens would become like a leavened mass.

As to these first three kingdom parables, it must be carefully noted that what is described is in no way the fruit of the Spirit’s work nor according to the Divine mind. They exhibit with most remarkable precision what is manifested to the eye, so that men, with mistaken pride, have boasted of the great tree and of the leavened mass, instead, of being humiliated at the corruption of God’s work where human wisdom and energy have been permitted to mingle with it.

From an outside point of view the whole position seems most hopeless—Christ is refused on earth, and the form the kingdom takes, marred by the hostility of the enemy and the consequent on His refusal, is permitted to be activity of the will of man.

What a climax to reach as the result of the coming of Christ and the mission of the Holy Spirit! The Lord looks to God and waits to see His hand. Is He to be baffled by the desperate failure that seems stamped on all His efforts? A reply is given to faith in the three succeeding parables, where we learn what is of value to the Lord in these conditions on earth. These secrets of the kingdom of the heavens have quite another aspect to that which the first three parables set forth. Little understood as they are, when known they afford instruction which gives purpose and character to the whole of our lives.

In spite of all outward appearances, Christ has His treasure on earth. If at so great a cost He purchases the field, it is for the sake of the treasure which He acquires and keeps. (A reward for His work—Isa. 49:4, margin.) The pearl of great price is His to wear for His eternal joy. Finally, the servant instructed unto the kingdom of heaven knows it is His Master’s will that the good fish should be gathered together; the bad may be left for other servants to deal with in another day.

In that part of the Gospel which comes between the parables of the kingdom in chapter 13 and the declaration of the Great Artificer in 16:18, we find the characteristics of this present age portrayed in living illustrations, as also how the Spirit of Jesus acts in such circumstances. The importance of this can hardly be over-estimated, but it would be entirely beyond the limits of this paper to take up all this in detail. That must be left for individual and prayerful study. Such attention will be fully repaid in spiritual advancement. A few salient points may be indicated. At the close of chapter 13 the opposition to God’s testimony is seen in unbelieving indifference—“Is not this the carpenters Son?” The Spirit’s commentary may well be taken to heart. “He did not many mighty works there, because of their unbelief.” Habitual intercourse with the truth, where no soul-need is realized, deadens the conscience.

The unholy alliance of Herod with his brother’s wife (14) shows how ecclesiastical evil [the woman of 13:33] seeks the aid of the world-power to set aside God’s witness. This is a form of the opposition which has been more or less in evidence since the Church and the world became allied early in the fourth century. How many faithful martyrs have there been since Antipas?

On hearing of the murder of His great forerunner the Lord does not threaten either Herod or his more guilty paramour with judgment, nor denounces them in their presence or to the multitudes; He retires with His disciples into a desert place. Thus He would teach us the lesson so often needed since then by His followers—“Resist not evil.”

In the wilderness He ministers to the poor of the flock (Zech. 11:4, 7). Divine mercy is not stopped by human opposition, it always finds channels in which to express itself.

In the storms that Satan is permitted to raise during the passage of the disciples to the other side Jesus exhibits a power that is only more striking the greater the tempest. In the same power He calls a disciple to walk with Him and to leave the boat, which is merely man’s way of escape from a hostile element. (See Eph. 1:19-20, and 6:10). Probably few of us have ever really sought Him outside human order and expediency; the boat seems so peculiarly suited to our needs, and then there are such nice brethren there that any other path is regarded as impractical.

In chapter 15 the Lord is seen in conflict with and exposing the Pharisaism of the religionists of His day, and He plainly declares how the Word of God, which should work effectually in cleansing power in us who believe, is rendered void when souls are brought into subjection to man’s authority. As to the Pharisees, His order is, “Leave them alone”—a terrible fate. How blessed is the contrast in the end of the chapter, where He is seen opening all the resources of heaven to the faith of a poor Gentile dog, and seeking to call the disciples into His confidence with regard to ministering to the needs of the multitude.

Finally, the two common forms of religious opposition are dealt with, and then dangers exposed—the leaven of the Pharisees and that of the Sadducees. These, under a variety of forms, have ever been a very real snare to the people of God on earth. At this very time what part of Christendom could not be included under the heads of Ritualism or Rationalism? The action of the Lord is worthy of our attention: “He left them, and departed” (16:4). Amid all this scene we have looked at, composed of such diverse elements,—a Herod in his guilty case; Pharisees and Sadducees with their old and new theologies, alike indifferent to human need and misery; self-seeking disciples, so very partially alive to the calls of that unique moment,—the Son of God is heard declaring the divine purpose: “I will build my assembly, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” But what material could He find to put into such a structure? Men said many things about Him in curious speculation, nothing they said indicated faith, but when Peter replied, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God,” immediately He discerns the Father’s revelation, a divine work in the soul of His disciple, and He announces in triumph, “On this rock I will build,” it was the Father’s revelation that secured for the Son a Peter—a stone for His building. May we not here, in a worshipping spirit, contemplate the glory spoken of in John 1:14: “We have contemplated His glory, a glory as of an only-begotten with a Father”? So elsewhere with respect to the flock and the security of the sheep “I and My Father are One.” I earnestly desire for myself, as for my fellow believers, that we should be prayerfully exercised on the subject of this glorious declaration of the Son. The fear of Rome and her pretensions has led many an earnest Protestant to avoid this subject. Should we not rather be assured that a subject so beclouded must contain a special blessing for him who seeks?

Let us, then, consider how the Son builds His Assembly, in order that we may be, intelligently, of it.

Is it not by the revelation of Himself as the foundation, or chief corner stone, and the gathering to Himself thus known? Every presentation of Himself should have the effect of producing a corresponding answer in us. We may learn from 1 Peter 2:5 how the building grows, and Matthew 18:20 shows how the truth of it is realized in any locality. He builds, then, by gathering to Himself, and actually, where two or three are thus gathered, He accords His presence, so that during the time of His rejection by the world He has a place on earth where He is owned and where He reveals Himself to those who in love seek Him. A simple illustration may help us to appreciate this point.

A great king is cast out of his kingdom, his subjects disowning him and preferring a usurper; the queen, with others of the royal family, are suffered to remain. To great objects would occupy them during the absence of their lord. They would seek to recover as many as possible to his allegiance, and they would welcome all possible means of intercourse with the king. He on his part assures them that if only two or three of them come together with the purpose of meeting him he will be present to them; and, further, that if they are intimate enough with him to know his mind, whatever they ask he has the means of bringing it to pass. It seems impossible to question, if we read Matthew 18:18-19, with 28:18, and other passages referring to the mission of the Holy Spirit, that we can count on an unseen power to maintain a testimony for God on earth till the Lord comes. He would have us co-operate with Him by prayer to this very end How such opportunities of meeting our Lord should be valued by those who love Him. Yet how many are quite content with going to hear about Him and the interests of His kingdom from other lips, and practically do not seek Himself.

One more point of touching interest and I have done. The Lord having made this announcement to Peter, and given him a special place of authority in the kingdom, speaks of His death. He would not have the proclamation of Himself as the Anointed King be made any more, but seeks the interest of the hearts of His disciples in regard to the only pathway He could now tread, through death to resurrection. Only on the righteous basis of sacrifice could the purposes of God be carried out, so as to embrace such as we are in their accomplishment.

May our hearts embrace the truth that until the kingdom comes in power as witnessed in the next chapter, the Saviour’s pathway marks out ours (Ps. 84:4 and Phil. 3:10-11). The flesh, whether in Peter (16:22) or in ourselves, will always refuse it. Nevertheless, there always has been a remnant whose love has put their feet in His steps, and if still, like Peter, we are slow of understanding, the Master’s grace is unfailing. It is always “Me and thee” (17:27) here and on to the eternal day.

C.E.H.Warren

Words of Grace and Encouragement 1910