Part of this message was published in the A Witness and A Testimony magazine in 1955 as an article: The Treasure and the Pearl.
"It is written, Things which eye saw not, and ear heard not, and which entered not into the heart of man, whatsoever things God prepared for them that love Him. But unto us God revealed them through the Spirit: for the Spirit searches all things, yea, the deep things of God" (1 Cor. 2:9,10).
"And He spoke to them many things in parables" (Matthew 13:3).
"He that hath ears, let him hear. And the disciples came, and said unto Him, Why speakest Thou unto them in parables? And He answered and said unto them, Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given. For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that which he hath. Therefore speak I to them in parables; because seeing they see not, and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand. And unto them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall in no wise understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall in no wise perceive: for this people's heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest haply they should perceive with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and should turn again, and I should heal them. But blessed are your eyes, for they see; and your ears, for they hear. For verily I say unto you, that many prophets and righteous men desired to see the things which ye see, and saw them not; and to hear the things which ye hear, and heard them not" (Matt. 13:9-17).
"All these things spake Jesus in parables unto the multitudes; and without a parable spake He nothing unto them: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken through the prophet, saying, I will open My mouth in parables; I will utter things hidden from the foundation of the world" (Matt. 13:34-35).
"The kingdom of heaven is like unto a treasure hidden in the field; which a man found, and hid; and in his joy he goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is a merchant seeking goodly pearls: and having found one pearl of great price, he went and sold all that he had, and bought it" (Matt. 13:44-46).
"Have ye understood all these things? They say unto Him, Yea" (Matt. 13:51).
These parables are said by the Lord to be mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, things which are heaven's secrets, and only known and understood by those who have the heavenly gift of understanding.
A Work of Discrimination
You will have noted probably that in this chapter, Matthew 13, the great chapter of teaching, there is a divide between the multitude and the disciples, marked by a distinct movement: the Lord Jesus speaking His parables to the multitude, and then sending the multitude away and being alone with His disciples, showing a difference, a divide. The chapter is particularly and peculiarly marked by an act of discrimination between the multitude and the disciples, and you must remember that the multitude was Israel, not the pagan world in general.
Twice over the prophet Isaiah is quoted in connection with this ministry. There are in this chapter people who had all the ministry of the prophets, and had that ministry available in written form; religious people with all at their disposal that God had given. On the other hand there are these disciples in their relationship with the Lord Jesus, and these are put into two very distinct categories: those who, with all, see not, understand not, to whom the mysteries are still mysteries, and those, on the other hand, who are being given an opening into the secrets of heaven. This discrimination is something which has to be noted, because it is carried forward in the New Testament. It does not only relate to Israel and the church as represented by the disciples, it is something carried right forward, and is to be found in Paul's letters. It is here so clearly in the Corinthian letter. That is largely what the beginning of this first letter is about, the difference between people who have got Christian truth and those also who, having it, have something more: insight into it. This is a very searching chapter, this second chapter of the first letter to the Corinthians, where Christians are concerned. Let us remember that these were Christians, they were in the church, and yet these things were written to them.
And then we know how this very thing is carried over into the book of the Revelation, right to the end. The first three chapters of the book of the Revelation, containing the messages to the churches, are largely based upon this very thing. It is a work of discrimination, every message concluding with: "He that has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says." That is singling out some in the churches who have had all the apostolic ministry, and yet at length there is a difference in the churches between those who have spiritual understanding and perception, the ear to hear what the Spirit is saying, and those in the churches who have no such capacity.
A Judicial Factor
And notice in that connection there is a judicial factor. We must note these things before we can get to the positive message. There is a judicial factor, both here in Matthew 13 and in Revelation 2 and 3; the Lord is passing judgment.
To Israel, Isaiah here quoted, is passing a judicial verdict on the people. They have had the truth, they have had the ministry, they have had the oracles of God; they are held responsible, and not having the spiritual perception - by reason of their own reaction, of course, to it - they are passed under judgment, and terrible judgment.
I think it is Henry Drummond who, in that very famous book of his, 'Natural Law in the Spiritual World', cites the case of a little crab who always chooses to live in the dark caves. Originally it had a wonderful eye, but now it is found only to have an eye-socket. Because it chose to live in the dark, it lost the faculty of sight, and gradually the organ was destroyed by its own choice, and that is exactly applicable here. Having the truth as they had, and not taking a right attitude towards it and being exercised about it, and being open to it and its implicates, means that the very faculty of the new birth not being used, deteriorates, and at last brings its own judgment of complete disability to understand. Now, that is the judgment passed in the churches in the book of the Revelation. It is a very serious thing, this matter of spiritual knowledge, the things of the Spirit, "what the Spirit says".
Preparation for the Coming of the Holy Spirit
As to the disciples here, while I believe they in all good faith meant what they said, they did not speak the whole truth. When the Lord challenged them: "Have ye understood all these things?", they said, "Yes". Well, they meant that, I believe, but subsequent behaviour and history before the day of Pentecost made it perfectly clear that they had not really grasped it and entered into it. The point is this: that the Lord was stocking the ground unto the day of the coming of the Holy Spirit. He was putting into the ground of their hearts that which would be the basis of the Holy Spirit's operation when He came. We remember, don't we, the references to recollection afterward: "Then they remembered His words" (John 2:22, etc.). We find in Peter, for instance, years afterwards, the signs that now he understands what the Lord meant when He was here. It is perfectly clear that theirs was an imperfect apprehension, but that the Lord was preparing and stocking the ground of their hearts against the day of the Spirit's coming.
We call them 'disciples', and that is how the word is translated here. You know that is not the exact translation of the word. We have a better English word, but it would not sound very suitable if it were put into the New Testament, but actually and literally, the word which we have as 'disciples' means 'apprentices'. That is a better word to explain exactly what they were. They were apprentices.
Now, you know what an apprentice is, one who is being trained and prepared unto a coming day, a day of efficiency and responsibility. They were in that position while they were with the Lord, being prepared and trained for a coming day, and that day was the day of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the One Who brings to life in us everything that is of God, and if it is not brought to life in us, what a sorry state there is.
Look at these men who had it (so far as the words were concerned) in them before Pentecost, and what a sorry state of things. They had it all in them as words, as teaching, and they thought they knew it, and said, 'Yes, we have understood', and yet look at them! But after the coming of the Spirit that which was in them sprang into life. You see how we can have a lot, a great deal, but until the Holy Spirit has really lighted upon it, it is not only valueless, but may put us into an altogether false position full of contradictions. Hence the importance of the Spirit, and that is the focal point of the whole message.
And this is the true life of the church. That interim period of discipleship or apprenticeship was not the true life of the church. The condition in Corinth was not the true life of the church. All that, both the Lord said and the apostle said, was to get them to their true life, their true position, and the true position is that of spiritual understanding, spiritual knowledge, where the truth is alive and dynamic; a power in the life. That is the true life of the church. It is not something extra to salvation. It is the true life to have it.
The Church the Hidden Treasure
Now with that background, let us come to these two parables which we selected, two parables of three which the Lord gave to His disciples alone, that which is called the parable of the hidden treasure, and the parable of the pearl of great price. We need to get perfectly clear about this, perhaps to correct misapprehensions and get adjusted as to really what these parables mean.
We have a very lovely hymn and we shall go on singing it, but it leads us altogether wrong in interpretation if we apply it to the parable of the pearl: "I've found the pearl of greatest price, My heart doth sing for joy."
Well, let us go on singing and let us go on appreciating, but do not give that as the interpretation to the pearl mentioned in this parable because it is not true. Yes, Jesus is the pearl of greatest price, but you cannot buy Him, and you have not got any means worthy of Him. You may go and sell all that you have. Do you think that is of sufficient value to secure the Lord Jesus, or His salvation, or anything that He can give? No, Jesus is not for sale, salvation is not for sale, redemption is not for sale, and if they were, show me where the wealth is that is commensurate with Him and His salvation! So let us get clear on that matter.
Neither the treasure nor the pearl are things that any man can purchase or merit by works. He cannot be bought, and salvation cannot be bought. We have not the means if it were to be purchased.
The man in both cases is the Lord Himself. He was the sower in the earlier parable of the sower, and said to be so: the sower, the Son of Man. He is the One who sows good seed in His field. Turning now from the world to believers, sowing believers in the world, and the enemy putting counterfeit believers alongside. It is the same Man sowing the saints in the earth, and here the Man who finds the treasure and the merchant Man who finds the pearl are still the same Man, the Lord Jesus in every case.
The Preciousness of the Treasure to the Lord
But when we come to these two parables, we are met with a little difficulty until we think and pray much about it. Many interpretations are given, some of them quite commonly held. I am not going to dispute, but I am afraid I cannot accept many of the common interpretations of these two parables. However, I leave it to you with the Word to see whether there is truth in what we are going to say about them.
I think we can get the key to the matter by lifting out the dominant and all-governing idea, and that is undoubtedly the preciousness to the Lord of what is mentioned in the treasure and the pearl. Here we have something very precious to the Lord, and until we have got that, we have not got the key. If He is the man in both instances, then His heart is set upon something that is very precious to Him, and in both of these things He finds it. In both cases He puts the value of what He finds before everything else that He has. Well, we have got a lot of later light upon that, such as Philippians chapter 2 and Ephesians chapter 5 which shed a lot of light on this, that which is transcendently precious to the Lord which has led Him to leave all, sell all, if you like, sell all that He had in glory in order to become possessed of this that is typified or represented here.
The Treasure Buried in the World
So, getting the word 'preciousness' in our hands, we have got the key to these parables. I do not think there is any real ground for doubting and questioning that the treasure is the church. The Lord has said earlier that the field is the world. A treasure is buried in the world. He buys the world, He has redeemed the whole world by His blood, He has paid the price for the whole world's redemption. The whole world will not become His peculiar treasure. He knows that quite well. He knows well enough that all the world will not acknowledge what He has done for it in redeeming it, paying the price for its redemption, but nevertheless He has done that.
Not one man, not one soul in eternity will be able to say that He did not pay the price for them, for him, for her. He did. We have to leave the larger issue with Him, but He does know that within that world, hidden, buried in that world, is that which He will have. He has got His elect in the world. "Elect, precious" (1 Pet. 2:6), says Peter. Oh, but listen to this parable: precious, elect, precious.... The elect is buried in this world and the Lord has His heart set upon that, His church.
Now, within that word 'buried' lies all the gospel about the Son of Man having come to seek and to save that which was lost. All that has to do with the lost possession, the lost inheritance. And all that has to do with the seeking and the saving at so great a cost, is there in that very first suggestion. It is buried in the world.
The Treasure Found
Then it is found. A lot of help may be derived from recognising a very common fact in those days. You know Palestine had been occupied by many nations in its history, many wars had taken place, and many an invading army had had to quit just as quickly as it could. The various nations and armies very often left behind very much as they went away, and buried it, hoping that they would come back one day and find it again. It was quite a common thing in Palestine, this being known, for men to be digging about all over the place for treasure, searching to find some of this buried treasure. A great deal was discovered in that way, and we are still discovering buried treasure of bygone days. So it is from a very common and well-known phenomenon that the Lord Jesus is illustrating. Here are men all over the country perhaps, digging for treasure. Now here is a Man looking for treasure, and He has found the treasure. The Lord Jesus puts Himself in that position. He is a treasure-hunter Himself, or He was, in the world, and He has found a treasure of great price.
The Treasure Hidden
Then what does He do? He hides it - and I want to draw a difference between a buried treasure and a hidden treasure. He hides it deliberately.
I ask you, is it true that the true church is a hidden thing in this world? There is no doubt about it. The mystery of the church, the mystery of the Body of Christ is that it is something hidden. Man is always trying to bring it out into display and popularise it, make it something that belongs to this world, to be recognised. But you cannot alter the fact that, by a deliberate act, Jesus has hidden His church. Don't you try to expose yourself to this world. Now that, you see, also leads us into another large realm of things, but we have got to get on.
The most precious thing to the Lord, which is the church, "Christ loved the church and gave Himself for it" (Eph. 5:25) has, as a part of its preciousness, the fact that it is hidden. The parable does not go on beyond that point. He purchased the field in order to get it. It is quite true that He has got it, but the principle of the hiddenness remains for the time being. We know the day is coming when the church will be manifested. That belongs to the future. At present it is hidden. The treasure then, is the church.
The Pearl of Fellowship in Christ's Sufferings
Now we go to the second parable. What is the pearl? Now, I feel very strongly that these two parables are not two different things, but two aspects of the same thing. The Lord, who knew all and knew the deep things of the Spirit, knew this, and so He gave these together as a kind of pair, isolated as parts of each other, two sides to one thing. The pearl is not another object from the church. The treasure and the pearl are not two distinct objects.
The pearl, as I see it in the light of much Scripture, is another mystery. It is the mystery and value of suffering. Now, if you gather in your New Testament and some of the Old as well, you find that it is one thing for the Lord to have either Israel or the church, to have it as a whole, His own. Yes, He has bought it, it is His own. It is another thing to have in the church that answer to His sufferings, that real response in life to the cost of the possession. You see how much Paul has to say about this, answering to the sufferings of Christ, sharing His sufferings, filling up that which is lacking in the sufferings of Christ (Col. 1:24). You have got the churches in Revelation. They are the Lord's, these are not professors of faith only. They are the churches, they are the Lord's, but look to see how little there is in them that answers to Him in a full way, a suffering way, and we know that the pearl is the embodiment of suffering. Its very existence speaks of its suffering, its anguish.
The great passion of the apostle Paul was that he might be worthy of the sufferings of Christ, that he might be able to make an answer to those sufferings, and that the church might be that. Is not the whole of his ministry bent and focused upon this, not only that Christ should have His church, but that He should have a worthy church: "Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for it", yes, and got it, but in order "that He might present the church to Himself a glorious church, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing" (Eph. 5:27). That compasses the whole of this ministry. And the Lord Jesus, while He is set upon having His church, oh, He wants something in that church that is a real answer to His sufferings. And there is a mystery about it, this suffering, the mystery of the preciousness to the Lord.
His sufferings shared are very precious things to the Lord. When His people really suffer with Him, there is something infinitely precious about that to the Lord. Oh, that we knew and realised that in the day of suffering! Here is something precious above all things to the Lord, the fellowship of His sufferings. To be the Lord's, yes, but to be the Lord's in this way, unto an anguish, unto a passion, unto a travail, the pouring out of our lives. As the little organism bleeds to make the pearl, so did He. So He calls us not to share His redemptive work, but to share His sufferings. And this always has an 'if' connected with it. "If... we suffer with Him, we (shall be) also glorified" (Rom. 8:17). If. There are many who belong to the church and are the Lord's who are not prepared for that, and the Lord knows it quite well, and so He goes farther. He says, 'The church is very precious to Me, but there is something within the church that I am looking for, an answer to My travail, to My suffering.' Now, whether that is the final word about the interpretation or not, I know it is the truth; something very precious to the Lord.
A Practical Application
I did want to say just an extra word, if I might only hint at it. If this is the Lord's estimate of His church and of His suffering saints, if He puts such a price and value upon His church, oh, would it not be only right that we should have a similar regard for His church? If only there were reproduced in our hearts something of this that is in the heart of the Lord as to the value of His church, what a lot of things would go out. Criticisms, unkindness and injuries of every kind to saints, to the church - all that sort of thing - would go. We could not hurt something so precious to us. If it is so precious, we would shield it, we would protect it, we would cherish it, we would do everything to preserve it. The message comes back like that. The things of the Spirit have a very practical application.
It is one thing to have a kind of mental apprehension which makes no difference to us. It is another thing for the Spirit to reveal these things in us, and then we cannot behave contrary to that revelation. It hurts. And is it not true that if you hurt a member of Christ, you are hurt inside? It hurts you, it hurts us, as much as it hurts them. Why? Because the Spirit is grieved, the Spirit is hurt, the Spirit in us. This is a testimony to the value of the church to the Lord.
Oh, that we might really prove it in this way, not the theory, not the doctrine that the church is of infinite value to the Lord, but that it might come into us in this way. It is precious to us in the sense that we are hurt if we hurt it, or if someone else hurts it. We should not be prepared to listen to things that hurt the children of God because the church is precious to us.