<< MATTHEW XX: Spiritual Meaning >>
THIS chapter commences with the parable of the labourers in the vineyard. In the general sense it relates to the calling of the Jews and Gentiles, the Jews being meant by the labourers first called into the vineyard, and the Gentiles by those called at the eleventh hour. In a more interior sense, it relates to the universal call of the gospel, and the different characters of those who accept it. Those first called are such as claim merit for their works, and those called last, and indeed, all who entered the vineyard after those first hired, are such as do good from charity and love. The character of the self-righteous is described by their bargaining for their hire, while the character of those who do good from charity and love is described by their being satisfied with the assurance of the householder that they would receive what was right, and by the murmuring of the first and the contentment of the others.
As every part of the Word in the internal sense relates to the regeneration of man, this parable is to be understood as descriptive of a certain part of that divine work. To see it in this application we must consider the transaction as taking place in the mind of one who has entered on the new life; and the various persons mentioned in the parable are to be regarded as corresponding principles, in their relation to, and connection with, each other. These consist of three different characters – the householder, the steward, and the labourers. Then there are three different places with which these are more immediately connected – the house, understood, though not expressed, from which the householder went out, the vineyard, and the marketplace. These correspond to certain principles, and to faculties of the human mind, to which they belong. The house denotes the will, the vineyard the understanding, and the market-place the memory; and the householder, the steward, and the labourers are the three different kinds of principles that respectively belong to these faculties, or are at least found in connection with them at that stage of the regenerate life which the parable describes. There are also three different times, and three different classes of labourers hired – those hired first, at the dawn, those hired during the progress of the day, and those hired last, at the eleventh hour, As these successive times denote successive states, the first is a state of obedience, the second a state of faith, and the last a state of love. Having presented this general view of the meaning of the parable, we proceed to consider the particulars of the parable itself.
1 For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard.
2 And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard.
1-8, The vine signified the church where the Word is and the Lord is known by it, thus here the Christian church. R. 650.
Vineyard signifies the spiritual church. From the signification of vineyard it may appear that by gathering the vintage is signified to collect for use those things which are to be serviceable to the understanding, and to give intelligence and wisdom. E. 919.
1-13. The church in many places in the Word is called a vineyard. T. 708.
1-16. The Lord’s parables of the labourers in the vineyards likewise signified spiritual churches. A. 1069.
The number three was representative not only in the ancient church and in the Jewish, but also among various nations. This is evident from those who laboured in the vineyard and were hired at the third hour, the sixth hour, the ninth hour and the eleventh hour. A. 2788.
See Chapter V., n, 12. A. 8002.
The Lord gives reward to everyone according to his labour in His vineyard. R. 463.
Does He not say also that He gives reward to everyone according to his work in His vineyard? T. 462.
It may in some degree be known from those parts of the Word where the term hour is mentioned that it signifies something else besides time, and implies both time and state. By.the hours here mentioned are understood times, but in heaven states of the life, as there are no hours in heaven, because times there are not measurable, and distinguished into days and these into hours, as in the world. Therefore instead thereof the inhabitants perceive the states of the life of those who die, whether old, young, adolescent, or children, all of whom have alike procured to themselves spiritual life. To labour in the vineyard stands for procuring spiritual life by the knowledges of truth and good derived from the Word, and applied to uses of life. By the third, sixth and-ninth hours are signified similar states of life, for all numbers in the Word are significative, and those numbers have a similar signification. Three signifies a full state or even what is complete to the end. The same is signified by six and nine, but eleven signifies a state not yet full, but yet a state of reception, such as pertains to well-disposed children and infants. The twelfth hour to which they all laboured, signifies truths and goods in their fulness, and thus a state of light or intelligence thence derived. (See John xi. 9.) E. 194.
1 et seq. A vineyard denotes the spiritual kingdom. The Lord so often likened the kingdom of the heavens to a vineyard, as in Mark xii. 1-13. A. 9139.
1 The parable commences by saying that the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard. The kingdom of heaven is the Lord’s government in the heart and understanding. The kingdom of heaven is formed in the mind by regeneration; therefore, whether we speak of the regeneration of man, or the establishment in his mind of the kingdom of heaven, it amounts to the same. The kingdom of heaven is like unto a man, an householder, which went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard, because this going out of the householder at the early dawn describes the commencement of regeneration, or of that stage of it which is here represented. Regeneration, we have often had occasion to remark, consists in bringing the external man into conformity with the internal. The internal itself, indeed, has first to be reformed. But as the great labour of the regenerate life consists in regenerating the external, this is described in the present parable. This work is begun when a man, no longer with thinking and feeling within himself that religion is true and good, begins to carry it out in the business and the pleasures of life – to go with it into the market and the vineyard. It is then that the regenerating man, like the householder, goes out, by bringing his principles forth from their place in the interiors of his mind into the active duties of life, to call into action his lower faculties, with their acquirements, that by their means he may work out the true end of life, which is to bring forth the fruit of righteousness. The beginning of this work is the early morning, the dawn of actual regeneration.
2 The object of the householder in going out early was to hire labourers into his vineyard. And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard. We have said that the market where the householder went to hire the labourers is the memory. The labourers are the truths which have been acquired and laid up in the memory, but have not as yet been employed in the active labour of cultivating the higher faculties of the mind, with a view to produce the good things of a useful and righteous life. In order to enable us to enter into the meaning of this part of the parable, a few remarks on that part of the process of mental development to which this parables relates, may be offered. Of the three faculties of the mind meant by the house, the vineyard, and the market, the highest and the lowest are the first developed. The will and the memory are the first of the faculties that come into active existence. It is well known that in children the will and the memory are active and powerful long before the understanding is in any great measure developed. Indeed, it is by the united action of the will and the memory that the understanding is formed. Children must will or love knowledge, that they may know, and they must know, that they may understand. It is for this reason that the young are inspired by the Almighty with the love of knowledge, and that they are gifted with a memory so capacious, to receive it, and so retentive, to retain it. The rational faculty is gradually developed during the years of early education; but it is not till a later period of life that it comes to such maturity and independent action as to make man, in the true and full sense of the word, an intelligent as well as a knowing creature. It is then, too, that he finds his previously acquired knowledges as labourers that he can hire and send into his vineyard, to do the work of real life; in producing the fruits that God has ordained to be the means both of employing and rewarding the faculties that produce them. Now, as regeneration is a second and higher birth, the spiritual is in exact antetype of the natural life of man. The Christian has his infancy and childhood, and the early states of the spiritual man are as necessary as are those of the natural man to bring him maturity – to bring him to the full measure of the stature of Christ. His first education, too, is of the same character as that of the natural man. He has first to learn the principles of the doctrine of Christ, that he may leave them and go on unto perfection. He must acquire truths from the Divine Word, and lay them up in his memory. There they remain for a time as knowledge, unemployed and unproductive. The beginning of regeneration as an active or actual work, consists in, or is marked by, the calling forth of these knowledges out of the memory, and elevating them into the understanding, and there making them active labourers in advancing the interests of the soul, by contributing to the performance of deeds of charity. This is the hiring of the labourers in the marketplace, and sending them into the vineyard. In agreement with this view, the labourers are waiting in the market-place, and ready and even anxious to be employed; for it is the nature of the truths which have their origin in the good of truth, that they are not only adapted to perform works of good use, but that they have an inherent desire to be actively engaged in the labour of the spiritual life, but they cannot work in man’s vineyard till he hire them. They have no power of independent action. They do not act, but are acted upon. They do not operate, but co-operate. Theirs is not action, but re-action. Action in this matter must begin in the will. And when the will of the inner man becomes active in the business of salvation, a man will find that the truths he has learnt will be ready to go and do the work one. Such is the state which is depicted in which be requires to be done this instructive parable. When the householder went out to hire labourers, he agreed with the first he engaged to give them a penny a day. It is laid down as a principle in the Word that the labourer is worthy of his hire; for it is a law of divine order, and therefore of heaven itself, that every heavenly work brings with it its own reward. In the parable, the reward to be given by the householder to the labourers is a penny a day. The denarius, or silver penny, is the symbol of truth. But here, the penny which is the hire of the labourer is to be given by the householder to the labourers. As the labourers were to receive from the householder a penny a day as their hire, this is intended to express the idea that, when truths are raised out of the memory into the understanding, and employed in carrying out the purposes of the internal man, they receive their reward in a higher perception of truth, and this is communicated to them on the completion of every state that the mind passes through a state being meant by a day. There is something in the contract entered into between the householder and the labourers that illustrates the nature of the state of the regenerate man which this early period of the day represents. He agrees with the first-hired labourers for a penny a day, but there is no such agreement entered into with the others, who go on the simple assurance that they will receive what is right. We have said that the early morning, when the first labourers were hired and went to work in the vineyard, is the beginning of the regenerate life, when a man is in a state of obedience, He does good from a sense of duty. Good works are not to him as yet a labour of love. In this state the reward is not reckoned of grace, but of debt (Rom. iv. 4). He rests on the letter of the law; he must have his bond. He has not yet entered into the spirit of the law, which leads him to confide in the goodness of the Lord, and trust to be rewarded by his righteousness and bounty.
3 And he went out about the third hour, and saw others standing idle in the marketplace,
4 And said unto them; Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you. And they went their way.
5 Again he went out about the sixth and ninth hour, and did likewise.
6 And about the eleventh hour he went out, and found others standing idle, and saith unto them, Why stand ye here all the day idle?
7 They say unto him, Because no man hath hired us. He saith unto them, Go ye also into the vineyard; and whatsoever is right, that shall ye receive.
8 So when even was come, the lord of the vineyard saith unto his steward, Call the labourers, and give them their hire, beginning from the last unto the first.
3, 5. See Chapter XIII., 8, 23. R. 610.
3-5. But another and better state succeeds this first and initiatory one. Besides the first, there were other labourers hired afterwards by the householder at different hours of the day. And he went out about the third hour, and saw others standing idle in the market-place, and said unto them, Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you. And they went their way. Again he went out about the sixth, and ninth hour, and did likewise. The truths that have been received into the natural mind, and laid up in the memory, are not all called forth and elevated into the understanding at once. The truths themselves differ from each other, and the mind passes through successive states. Every general state consists of many particular states. The day advances from morning to evening; but besides the natural periods of morning, noon, evening, and night, we mark it off into artificial periods of hours and lesser divisions. “Are there not twelve hours in the day?” So did our Lord teach that the day, whether understood as the day of probation or the day of a realized state of life, has a succession of lesser times, each having a distinct character and a different use and experience. The day in which the householder went forth to hire his labourers is divided here into periods of three hours. He went out at the third, sixth, and ninth hours. These advancing hours are expressive of advancing states, in which the particular truths suited to these states are desired and sought for, and therefore seen and chosen. Truths in the memory are like truths in the Word. When we search the Scriptures with a particular object, we see or attend to those truths only which relate to it. At another time, when our object is different, truths which before passed unobserved are readily seen and eagerly seized upon. So with those truths which have entered the memory, and there await the calls of the higher and active faculties of the mind – calls that are made and answered according to its changing and advancing states. But the successive times of the day here mentioned not only express successive mental states, they express also the nature, quality, or character of those states. The number three, whenever it occurs in the Word, is expressive of states of faith as distinguished from states of love; and this number, while it forms the first of the series, enters into the two others. Yet the more a number is increased, the higher the state which it describes; so that the present progression by periods of three is expressive of progress into higher or more interior states of faith and intelligence. The nature of the states through which the regenerate pass, and which are successively formed in them, is also indicated by the different hours at which the labourers were hired. Three is expressive of a holy state, of which truth is the foundation and faith the superstructure. This state, once commenced, is purified by temptation, which is signified by the number six, and is perfected by experience, which is meant by the number nine.
6, 7. But another stage in the regenerate life, and the formation of another state of the heavenly life, follows that which has now been explained, and is described by the hour at which the last of the labourers were hired. And about the eleventh hour he went out, and found others standing idle, and saith unto them, Why stand ye here all the day idle? They say unto him, Because no man hath hired us. He saith unto them, Go ye also into the vineyard – and whatsoever is right, that shall ye receive. It seems as if the householder hired at the different hours all he found waiting in the market-place. After hiring some at day dawn, when he “went out about the third hour, he saw others standing idle in the market-place.” Yet he asks those he found at the eleventh hour, “Why stand ye here all the day idle?” and they answer, “Because no man hath hired us.” Understood as it commonly is, the parable presents, in this particular, either a serious difficulty or a very extraordinary doctrine. If it relates to the calling of persons into the church, and the exercise of God’s right to bestow the same reward on those who are converted at the last hour of life and those who have borne the burden and heat of the day, we are constrained to believe that these late converts are the victims of divine neglect, since they had remained all the day idle, only because no man had hired them. But if we understand the parable as applicable to every regenerate man, and as descriptive of the progress of his regeneration, we can see not only the consistency, but the beauty and truthfulness of the imagery. As the labourers in the market-place are the truths which have entered the memory during the early period of life, or, indeed, at any period of life before regeneration has actually commenced, the labourers hired at the eleventh hour not only may, but must, have been standing all the day idle. Those truths that are last called into the vineyard are really those which have been longest in the market-place, and have stood there all the day idle, because no man hath hired them. The truths that are last called out of the memory are really the first that entered it. We have more than once had occasion to remark that regeneration is a retracing of our steps back towards the Eden of our infancy; and that in this backward, or rather upward, progression, truths are called forth in the inverse order to that in which they were acquired, and states are perfected in the inverse order to that in which they were formed. The rudiments of our best states are formed in our earliest life, and the best are the last to be realized. The highest state of the regenerate life is that which a man acquires when he returns to the innocence of his infancy, enriched with the knowledge and experience of his after-life. Then does he truly become one of those little children of whom our Lord said that of such is the kingdom of heaven. Those labourers, then, that were called into the vineyard at the eleventh hour, are the truths of innocence that have been in the mind from the earliest period of life – truths that were then implanted by the hand of the divine Householder himself, for he only reaps where and what he has sown, and sends forth labourers he has provided and prepared. Of these labourers it may be said that they have stood all the day idle; for the state of the regenerating man, during the previous stages of his advancement, has not been such as to require, or even admit, of their being actively employed, nor even of being observed as labourers standing ready to be engaged for active duty. The character of these truths, like that of those hired at the third, sixth, and ninth hours, as distinguished from that of the labourers first hired, is again expressed by the absence of anything like demand, on the part of the labourers, of the amount of wages they were to receive for the time they were to labour; but the assurance of the householder, that whatsoever is right, that should they receive, is held by them to be sufficient guarantee that they would obtain their due. If anything is wanted, besides the general scope of the parable, to point out the last of the labourers as the types of the truths of innocence, and their period of hire and labour as signifying a state of love and goodness, we may derive additional confirmation from the spiritual meaning of the hour at which they were hired. When the labourers are considered as symbols of persons, eleven signifies a state not yet full, but still a receptive state, such as pertains to well-disposed children. Therefore, when applied to the regenerate, it signifies the truths implanted and the rudimentary states formed during early life, and which, being the purest, because the freest from selfish feeling and worldly considerations, are the germs of the highest and holiest states that can exist in the human mind, and to which the regenerate can attain.
8 The kingdom of heaven having been thus gradually formed, and finally established in the human heart, the time has come for rewarding those by whose labours it has been established. So when even was come, the lord of the vineyard saith unto his steward, Call the labourers, and give them their hire, beginning from the last unto the first. There are some particulars in this part of the parable which mark the transition state which it describes. The householder is now called the lord of the vineyard, to express the idea that, in the regenerate, the internal man has obtained the lordship or dominion over the, external, having succeeded in bringing external things into subordination to internal principles. Now, also, for the first time, his steward is introduced. He himself hired the labourers; the steward is commissioned to pay them their hire. We have said that the steward, as occupying a place and acting as a medium between the householder and the labourers, denotes the rational principle, which is a facility or principle intermediate between the internal man, as a lord, and the external man, as a servant. The steward is himself a servant, yet he represents his lord; for the rational is but all interior natural principle, and exercises the power and authority of the spiritual principle in the natural mind, acting at the same time as a medium between them. There is an important reason for the steward being now first introduced into the parable. We have remarked (v. 2) that the will and the memory are more early developed and active than the understanding. The rational principle, indeed, is formed by the united action of the will and the memory, and partakes of the nature of both; and therefore is qualified to act as a medium between the internal and external man. As this, which may be called the second part of the parable, describes the influx of the internal man into the external, for the purpose of communicating to him something of his own perceptions and affections, of his own satisfactions and delights, as the reward of his labour, this influx of the spiritual mind into the natural is through the rational. The lord of the vineyard desires his steward to call the labourers and give them their hire. But this command is accompanied with the particular direction that the steward, in paying the labourers, is to begin from the last, and proceed regularly down to the first. There is here the introduction of a new arrangement among the labourers. The last hired are the first paid. The last labourers hired being types of the truths first acquired, and the truths first acquired, and the states of life formed by their means, being the highest and best, they come nearest in perfection to the principles of the inner man, and therefore they first receive the influx that descends out of the spiritual mind, through the rational into the natural.
9 And when they came that were hired about the eleventh hour, they received every man a penny.
10 But when the first came, they supposed that they should have received more; and they likewise received every man a penny.
11 And when they had received it, they murmured against the goodman of the house,
12 Saying, These last have wrought but one hour, and thou hast made them equal unto us, which have borne the burden and heat of the day.
13 But he answered one of them, and said, Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a penny?
14 Take that thine is, and go thy way: I will give unto this last, even as unto thee.
15 Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good?
16 So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen.
17 And Jesus going up to Jerusalem took the twelve disciples apart in the way, and said unto them,
16 See Chapter XIX., 30. A. 2027.
See Chapter XIX., 30. A. 5164.
16, 25-28. See Chapter XIX., 30. A. 3417.
9 And when they came that were hired about the eleventh hour, they received every man a penny. The silver penny which the labourers received from the householder is the perception, and with it the satisfaction and delight, of what is spiritual and heavenly flowing from the spiritual into the natural mind. This is the reward of the labour by which the natural mind is brought into harmony with the spiritual, – that the perceptions and satisfactions of the spiritual mind are imparted to the natural, so that all the natural thoughts and affections become animated by a higher life, and as a consequence come into the possession of a clearer light and purer love, with their perceptions and delights. This is their reward; for the rewards of the religious life do not come from without, but from within. They come from the Lord, who is the fountain of happiness, as well as of everything that deserves the name of reward; but they come from him through the higher down into the lower faculties of our nature, and through the spiritual into the natural affections of our minds. And the delights of heaven can only be received in their true state into those principles in us that have been brought into conformity with the order and life of truth and love. Every truth that has been thus brought into connection with love, as its life and end, becomes receptive of the reward of its labour. Thus every man receives a penny, so that the measure of his joy is full.
10 But when the first came, they supposed that they should have received more; and they likewise received every man a penny. The first had made a special agreement to receive for their labour a penny a day, and would have been satisfied with their hire had they not seen others receive comparatively more. It is characteristic of the earliest state of the regenerate life, in which we do pod fro in obedience, or when we do so much work for so much reward, that we are never satisfied with the reward we obtain. Our righteousness is meritorious, and in this state we think that our merit is never sufficiently rewarded. Yet, so far as respects the Lord, the reward is impartially dispensed. Every man receives his penny. Nor does this express only the impartial goodness of God in giving, but the equal capacity of men for receiving, the gifts of his mercy and grace. It is like the half shekel which every Israelite gave as a ransom for his soul unto the Lord, and respecting which it was ordered that the rich should not give more, nor the poor less (Exod. xxx. 12). But the first hired labourers, when they came to receive their hire, supposed that they should have received more. There is a show of reason in this expectation, but it is reason in favour of self, and would not be allowed, much less suggested, were self-sacrifice, instead of self-interest, concerned. Viewed in relation to the regenerate, it is highly expressive of the character of the state which it describes. The true religious principle is, that the reward is not of work, but of grace. We are not rewarded for our work, but through it and in it. The divine power that rewards us through our works is the same power that enables us to perform them. Works that are not wrought in God can bring no reward from him, and for the reason, that the reward is in the work. So far, therefore, as we are hirelings, or do our work for the sake of hire as an end, so far will our expectations be greater than our deserts, and than our capacity of reception. Until we are in the heartfelt conviction that the least of the divine mercies exceeds all our deserts, and is of the divine bounty, we are in bondage to our own self-righteousness.
11, 12. But those who had expected more than their hire, when they had received it, they murmured against the good man of the house, saying, These last have wrought but one hour, and thou hast made them equal unto us, which have borne the burden and heat of the day. This murmuring of the labourers against the good man of the house expresses contrariety between the external man and the internal. This contrariety was only on the part of the labourers first hired, these being the types of the first imperfect thoughts and feelings, or of the truths first received and not yet united to good, or the first faith not yet united to charity. But they murmured, not because the householder had been unfaithful to them, but because he had been charitable to others – because those who had wrought but one hour had been made equal to them, who had borne the burden and heat of the day. Yet, spiritually understood, the one hour’s labour of the last was of more value than the whole day’s labour of the first. One, in its best sense, is expressive of the principle of goodness. Truths are many, but good is one. It is the one thing needful – the one thing which the young man lacked, and without which his great possessions were but a hindrance to his entering into the kingdom of heaven. Without this, great labour, like vast wealth, is an obstacle to admission into the kingdom. Without it, work is tainted with ideas of merit, which lead men to grudge another’s gain, and think they themselves are never sufficiently rewarded. Their work, too, is a ton to them. They bear the burden and heat of the day; the pride of self-intelligence makes labour burdensome, the heat of self-love makes it oppressive. Such as the self-righteous man is, such is every one in the earliest stage of his religious life, and such are the early principles themselves: they rise up and murmur against the higher and purer principle that rules in the inner man.
13 But he answered one of them, and said, Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a penny? In the individual application, this is to be understood as a perception of the inner man as to the quality of the natural mind, as still under the influence of self-interested feelings. The householder addresses the murmuring labourer as a friend, but this does not express the correct idea of the original; for the natural man is not yet in the state which makes him the friend of the spiritual, but is only as a companion, being in fact a hireling, because labouring for the sake of the reward. The householder, to the complaint of the labourer, answers that he did him no wrong, since he gave him the penny which had been agreed upon as his hire. The householder representing the internal, and therefore the right perception of the truth, his statement to the labourer, that he had done him no wrong, implies an interior perception and conviction of rectitude and, justice in the abnegation of all self-righteousness and merit.
14 He therefore says to the labourer, Take that thine is, and go thy way: I will give unto this last, even as unto thee. This expresses a perception that the natural man should be satisfied with what the spiritual had agreed to dispense to him; in other words, it expresses a desire of undue reward should spiritual perception that the natural be suppressed, and submission to the law of righteousness should be cultivated. In order to lead the natural man to this duty, the householder says to the labourer, “Go thy way” – that is, he counsels him to live in agreement with the truth, as the means of realizing it in practice. This will enable him also to see the justice, as well as mercy, of the householder’s conduct, according to his words, “I will give unto this last, even as unto thee;” for it is the will and desire of love and goodness, which form the essential principle of the inner man, to bestow equally upon all the natural thoughts and affections the capacity of receiving and enjoying the reward of satisfaction and delight, which a grateful reception and faithful practice of the truth never fail to ensure.
15 The householder further appeals to the labourer’s sense of right by demanding of him, Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good? Here we find the principle laid down, that all reward – all the power of perceiving and receiving heavenly truth, with its joys and delights, which the natural mind can experience – is derived from the spiritual, and is indeed its own. And when the householder says, “Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own?” we are instructed that all which the natural mind can enjoy ought, by the laws of order, to be dispensed according to or in agreement with the will of the internal man; that is, that the spiritual will should rule over the natural will, and spiritual wisdom should guide and direct natural wisdom, but that the natural will and wisdom of man should not be allowed to dictate to and overrule his spiritual. And when the householder further says, “Is thine eye evil, because I am good?” we are further instructed that the natural understanding, meant by the eye, is evil when it is under the influence of the natural will and that in such case it opposes itself to spiritual good, which forms the will of the internal man.
16 The householder concludes by saying, So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen. We have already explained the meaning of this first statement. The truths first actuated and the states first formed in the progress of the regenerate life are the most external and imperfect, and the last are the most perfect. When man is regenerated, that which was first becomes last, and that which was last becomes first; for that which is most perfect becomes first in his estimation, highest in his regard, while that which is least perfect he esteems least. It is according to order, also, that the principles we have acquired should finally have this arrangement in our minds; for that which is less perfect should be subordinate to that which is more perfect. We begin our religious life with obedience, we end with love, and when this state is attained, the last should be first, and the first last. The parable is summed up in the words, “For many be called, but few chosen.” Whether this be true literally, in regard to the human race, as the called of God, is not necessary now to be discussed. According to the spiritual meaning, which we are now considering, numbers express quality, not quantity. Many mean those who are in truth, and few mean those who are in good; and the true are “called,” while the good are “chosen.” We are not to understand that those who are only called, but not chosen, are rejected or excluded from the kingdom, but only that they occupy the lowest place. We therefore find them spoken of in the Word as belonging to the army of the King of kings, for “they that are with him are called, and chosen, and faithful” (Rev. xvii. 14).
18 Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man shall be betrayed unto the chief priests and unto the scribes, and they shall condemn him to death,
19 And shall deliver him to the Gentiles to mock, and to scourge, and to crucify him: and the third day he shall rise again.
18 As the land of Canaan signifies the Lord’s kingdom, the parts which were more remote from its ultimate boundaries signified things interior, and therefore the expression go up is here used. In like manner from all about to Jerusalem, and in Jerusalem to the house of God. For Jerusalem was the inmost of the land, because by it was signified the Lord’s spiritual kingdom, and the house of God was the inmost of Jerusalem, because by it was signified the Lord’s celestial kingdom, and in the supreme sense the Lord Himself. A. 4539.
See Chapter XVII., 12, 22, 23. A. 9807.
18, 19. See Chapter XII., 40. A. 2788.
The Lord’s Divine rational as to good could not suffer or undergo temptations, for no genius or spirit inducing temptations can come near to good Divine. It is above all attempt at temptation. But truth Divine bound was what could be tempted, for there are fallacies, and still more falsities, which break in upon and thus tempt it. It was truth Divine which was no longer acknowledged when the Lord came into the world, and therefore it was that from which the Lord underwent and endured temptations. Truth Divine in the Lord is what is called the Son of Man, but good Divine is what is called the Son of God. Of the Son of Man the Lord says many times that he was to suffer, but never of the Son of God. A. 2813.
The Lord is called the Son of Man when the passion is treated of, where He foretells His passion. L. 24.
The spiritual sense of these words is, that Divine truth in the church, where mere falses of doctrine and evils of life reign, shall be blasphemed, the truth thereof perverted, and the good thereof destroyed. The Son of Man signifies Divine truth, which is the Word, and Jerusalem signifies the church, where mere falses and evils reign. By the chief priests and scribes are signified the adulterations of good and falsifications of truths, both from infernal love. By condemning Him and delivering Him to the Gentiles, is signified to adjudge Divine truth and Divine good to hell, and to deliver them to the evils and falses which are thence. The Gentiles or nations signifying the evils which are from hell, and destroy the goods of the church. To be mocked, to be scourged, and to be crucified, signifies blasphemation, falsification and perversion of truth, and the adulteration and distruc-tion of the good of the church and of the Word. The third day He shall rise, means the plenary glorification of the Human of the Lord. E. 655.
See Chapter XII., 40. E. 532.
17-19. When the Lord had finished the parable of the labourers, he went up to Jerusalem, and taking the twelve disciples apart in the way, be told them of his passion. He said unto them, Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man shall be betrayed unto the chief priests and unto the scribes, and they shall condemn him to death, and shall deliver him to the Gentiles to mock; and to scourge, and to crucify him: and the third day he shall rise again. The Lord told the disciples this after Peter’s confession (ch. xvi. 21). But as an important addition is made to what he then said to them, not to break the connection, it will be well to explain the whole. “The spiritual sense of these words is, that divine truth in the church where mere falsities have rule, will be blasphemed, the truth of the church perverted, and its good destroyed. The Son of man is divine truth, which is the Word and Jerusalem, the church where mere falses and evils have rule. The chief priests are adulterations of good, and the scribes falsifications of truth, both from diabolical love. By condemning him, and delivering him to the Gentiles is signified to adjudge divine goodness and divine truth to hell, and to deliver them to the evils and falses which are from it. Gentiles signify evils from hell which destroy the goods and truths of the church. To mock, to scourge, and to crucify, signify the blasphemation, falsification, and perversion of truth, and the adulteration of the good of the church and of the Word. On the third day he shall rise again, signifies the complete glorification of the Lord’s humanity. This statement differs but little from that which we find in chapter xvi. 21. But to the general statement the Lord adds this particular information, that he would suffer many things from the elders and scribes, that they would deliver him up to the Gentiles to mock, and to scourge, and to crucify. The Lord was now on his last journey to Jerusalem; and as the event of his passion drew near, be became more specific in his description of it. In adding the Gentiles, he introduces a new representative agency into the transaction; for the Gentiles represent evils, especially those of an external kind. But the Gentiles here mentioned are the Romans, to whom the Lord was delivered up by the Jews. And as the Romans represented the natural rational principle, the evil which they, as Gentiles signified, is one of greater malignity than evil that proceeds from minds less instructed. The elders and scribes denoting interior evils and falsities, it is said of them that they shall condemn him to death; but as the Gentiles denote exterior evils, it is said that the Lord shall be delivered to them to carry out the purpose of the Jews, and that they shall mock, scourge, and crucify him – mocking having reference to the operation of evil, scourging to falsity, and crucifying to the combined action of both. But the Divine promise is given, “he shall rise again.” Those very acts of direful hostility, intended to falsify all his claims and predictions, were turned into the means of their accomplishment, by their being made instrumental in finishing the Lord’s great works of redeeming the world and glorifying his humanity.
20 Then came to him the mother of Zebedees children with her sons, worshipping him, and desiring a certain thing of him.
20-23. The reason why the mother of Zebedee’s children, James and John, made this request of the Lord was, that by mother is to be understood the church, by James charity, and by John the good of charity in act. These two principles, or they who are in them in heaven, are at the right hand and the left of the Lord. To the right hand there is the south, and to the left hand is the north. In the south are those who are in the clear light of the truth from good. In the north are those who are in the obscure light of truth from good. The Divine itself proceeding from the Lord as a sun produces such a Divine sphere in those quarters, on which account none can possibly dwell there, but those who are in such truths from good. This is signified by its being said, that to sit on the right hand and on the left of the Lord is only for those to whom it is given or prepared by the Father. By the Father is understood the Divine good of the Divine love, from which is heaven, and everything belonging to heaven. E. 600.
20, 21-24. See Chapter XVIII., i. A. 3417.
20 Then came to him the mother of Zebedee’s children with her sons, worshipping him, and desiring a certain thing of him. This incident shows how little the disciples knew at that time, of the nature of the Lord’s kingdom. Their views and hopes of all earthly kingdom were not yet overthrown. They had yet to endure the cross, and rise with the Lord from the dead. But they knew not yet what was signified by the cross, and questioned among themselves what the rising from the dead should mean. These things were mercifully hid from them. The event was now approaching that was to unseal their eyes and remove the hardness of their hearts. But even now, when all the powers of evil on earth and in hell were conspiring to make their last grand effort to prevent the establishment of his spiritual kingdom, the two sons of Zebedee, not the least among the apostles, were seeking, through their mother’s agency, to obtain the two highest places in the temporal kingdom which they still believed he had come to set up. But theirs was the natural form of a spiritual ambition that lurks in the heart of every disciple.
The disposition to be exalted to the chief seats is inherent in every fallen heart, and is carried into the religious life, where it never yields but to the cross, and never ceases to trouble till buried in the tomb with the Lord’s body. But there is a higher sense in which this incident is to be understood, to see which we must raise our thoughts from the temporal kingdom of the disciples’ early notions to the spiritual kingdom of the Lord, as it was about to become after his resurrection. And in this sense it will be seen to be an appropriate sequel to what precedes it. The Lord had been speaking of his death and resurrection, when his new kingdom was to be established; and the circumstance of the mother of James and John coming to Jesus, to ask that her sons might sit on his right and left hand, representatively describes an exaltation that has place in the new and spiritual kingdom of the Lord. The mother of Zebedee’s children represents the church, and James and John represent charity in will and in act. The right hand signifies the good of celestial love, which is the good of love to the Lord; and the left hand signifies the good of spiritual love, which is the good of love to the neighbour. The true church, like the mother of Zebedee’s children, still brings her two sons to Jesus, earnestly desiring that they may sit, the one at his right hand and the other at his left in his kingdom. It is the continual desire and effort of the Lord’s church to see her children exalted to sit with the Lord in his throne. And the children of the church are comprised in the two classes whom the two sons of Zebedee represented – those who are in charity and in the good of charity and these are they who are capable of being exalted in the Lord’s kingdom.
21 And he said unto her, What wilt thou? She saith unto him, Grant that these my two sons may sit, the one on thy right hand, and the other on the left, in thy kingdom.
21 “To sit at the right hand and the left” means to abide in a state of power over others. A. 9422.
21, 22, 25-27. They who are of such a character (like James and John having a terrestrial idea of the Lord’s kingdom) do not know what the heavenly kingdom is, nor what the glory there, nor what love is, yea nor what faith, in general not what good is, for they judge from things corporeal and earthy ; and every delight of the body and its senses they call good, and pre-eminence over others they call glory. The love of the world and the love of self they call heavenly love, and the scientific rendered persuasive they call faith. When they think about God they think materially, and therefore either deny God, and hold nature instead of God, or worship idols, or dead men. A. 10582.
21, 23. Whereas to sit signifies esse or to be, hence to sit upon a throne signifies to be king and to reign. E. 687.
22 But Jesus answered and said, Ye know not what ye ask. Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? They say unto him, We are able.
23 And he saith unto them, Ye shall drink indeed of my cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with: but to sit on my right hand, and on my left, is not mine to give, but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared of my Father.
22, 23. A cup is used to express and describe temptation. A. 5120.
That by the washing of baptism is also signified temptation, is because all regeneration is effected by temptations. A. 10239.
By vials, plates, cups, and goblets, and by bottles those things are signified which are contained in them. R. 672.
A chalice or cup signifies temptations. E. 960.
22, 23. But there is a condition that stands between this desire and its accomplishment, and which must be performed before men can truly understand the nature of their own prayer. Jesus answered and said, Ye know not what ye ask. Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that. I am baptized with? The Lord’s cup and baptism are inward and outward temptation. It is only they who “overcome” in these that the Lord grants to sit down with him in his throne, as he also overcame, and is set down with the Father in his throne (Rev. iii. 21). There is no way of being with the Lord in his glory without first being with him in his humiliation and sufferings. Therefore the Lord asked, “Are ye able?” They say unto him, We are able, to which the Lord answered, Ye shall drink indeed of my cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with. This confirmation by the Lord of their testimony respecting themselves implies not merely the Lord’s promise, but his power. With man alone it is impossible; but with God, during man’s co-operation, all things are possible. The disciple can do all things by Christ strengthening him. But the Lord told the two that even this was not enough. He added, but to sit on my right hand, and on my left, is not mine to give, but for whom it is prepared of my Father. The Father is the Divine Love, the Son is the Divine Truth. The Divine Truth cannot exalt without the Divine Love. We must, indeed, drink of the Son’s cup, and be baptized with the Son’s baptism, for it is truth that is tempted, and that supports us in, and purifies us by means of, temptation; but we must also be receptive of the Father’s love, for it is love that exalts us, or prepares us for true exaltation. It may be necessary to remark that the authorized version makes Jesus say absolutely that the favour the two sons asked was not his to give; but to make the passage express this idea a few words have been added in italics, the emission of which is all that is required to make the sense clear, as we have given it in the explanation. Jesus himself was and is both Father and Son; but when we know the spiritual meaning of these two names, we can see the peculiar force of the Lord’s declaration, and the practical lesson to be drawn from it – that the Lord, from pure love and mercy, gives heaven to those who are in the good of love and of faith, thus who are in celestial and in spiritual good. When the Lord speaks of his Father, he means his own divine love; and those for whom the kingdom is prepared of his Father are those who are principled in love to the Lord, which is the Lord’s love, in them.
24 And when the ten heard it, they were moved with indignation against the two brethren.
24 The Lord also after He had taught the disciples what it was to be greatest in heaven, still spoke according to their apprehension. A. 3857.
24 And when the ten heard it, they were moved with indignation against the two brethren. It is not surprising that the other apostles should be indignant at this request, seeing the whole of the apostles had disputed among themselves which should be greatest.
25 But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them.
25 Infernal spirits believe themselves to be strong and powerful above others, but this by reason of their prevailing only against those who are in evils and falses-thence derived, for thus one infernal spirit prevails over another. But such power may be compared to that of a mite against a mite, or of a flea against a flea, of dust against dust and of a straw against a straw, the power whereof is only relative to their mutual strength. E. 783.
25-28. See Chapter XX., 24. A. 3857.
The Lord calls Himself a minister in consequence of His serving. E. 409.
25-28. Our Lord took occasion from this to deliver one of those precious gems among the beautiful lessons which he like most general truths of the gospel, and the brilliancy of which these exhibitions of human infirmity serve to display. Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you; but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many. This expresses the true spirit of religion, as opposite to the spirit of the world. It is the spirit of Christianity, as it was the spirit of its Author. The practicability of the precept he has shown by his own blessed example, which enabled him to require of his disciples, “ye should do as I have done to you” (John xiii. 15). True greatness is in usefulness, and usefulness is service. Outward greatness is but the outward sign of great usefulness. He is greatest who performs the highest use. In this sense the Lord was at once the greatest and the least; and that disciple comes nearest to his Lord in these characteristics who most nearly imitates his example. The Lord did not seek, nor did he need to seek, to be great. He was great. His disciples need not contend amongst themselves who shall be greatest. Each must work out his own greatness. He must not attempt to do it as the princes of the Gentiles, by exercising authority over them. This kind of greatness is a perversion of true greatness. It arises from exalting the external above the internal, the shadow above the substance of greatness. Wherever true order prevails, true greatness will rule, for the greater uses will be exalted to the higher place. We should seek greatness through usefulness; or rather, seek use, and leave the outward greatness that belongs to it to follow of its own accord. “Whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; and whosoever will be, chief among you, let him be your servant; even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister.” There is a spiritual sense in these divine words, which leads to the spirit and origin of the moral wisdom they express. The mother of James and John represents, as we, have seen, the church; and these two disciples represent those who are in charity and goodness, or in spiritual and celestial love, to whom greatness and exaltation belong. But these two brethren and the ten represent those who form the internal and the external members of the church, as Joseph and Benjamin and their ten brethren did before them. Their being designated as “the two” and “the ten” spiritually expresses their qualities: for two signifies conjunction, and those who are in the conjunction of good and truth constitute the internal church; and ten is expressive of truths, and those who are in truths form the external church. But each of us has internal and external principles in himself. Good and truth conjoined in the internal man form the internal of the church in us, and truths form the external of the church in us. And we know by experience that, in the progress of regeneration, the external man has indignation against the internal, as the ruler of the external as its proper subject. But the state here described is not one in which the rule of the internal is established, but in which it is sought to be established; and it is then that the indignation on the part of the external takes place. It is for this reason that the Lord warns them against imitating the princes of the Gentiles, who here denote evil exercising dominion over the natural thoughts and affections. The Lord said, “It shall not be so among you;” for in those who are regenerated all principles are in harmonious agreement. All those principles are not equally important, but all are equally necessary; and when all look to one end, and co-operate to produce one result, and each is in its right place, performing its proper use, good ministering to truth, and truth serving good, they have peace one with another. Those which minister are great, and those which serve are chief; for greatness is predicated of goodness, and chief of truth and each has eminence in its own function and use.
But what in this application is the meaning in regard to the Lord’s declaration, that “the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister”? Good, we have seen, is a minister, and truth is a servant: and good ministers to truth, and truth serves good. The Lord’s humanity, before it was glorified, was a servant, because it was divine truth, and then the Son of man was ministered unto; but when the humanity was glorified, it was no longer divine truth and a servant, but divine good and a minister; and then the Son of man was no longer ministered unto, but ministered. And as this glorification of the humanity was the end of the Lord’s coming, he came not to be ministered unto, but to minister. There was another object of his coming. He came also to give his life (Soul) a ransom for many. The term soul means the intellectual life in the Lord – the life of his divine truth. It was this life that the Lord gave as a ransom or redemption; for by the power of his divine truth the Lord redeemed the world. The giving his soul as a redemption is a kindred operation to, his ministering, the first being expressive of the operation of his truth, and the second that of his goodness. Therefore is it said that he gives his soul a ransom for many, for many is predicated of truth, and of those who are in truth; for truths are many, but good is one. But let us look at this subject more especially in relation to ourselves. The Son of man is a servant in us during reformation, when truth is in the first place, and then he is ministered unto; but when we are regenerated, the Son of man is a minister in us, for then good is in the first place, and ministers; and then the truth of good ransoms or redeems us from all evil and falsity.
The miracle which follows exemplifies the redemption which the Lord came to accomplish, as indeed all his miracles did, each representing some specific result.
26 But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister;
27 And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant:
26, 27. They who are in evils and falsities believe themselves high and above others, but they who are in goods and truths believe themselves less and below others. A. 4599.
They are caljed servants in respect to the Divine truth which is from the Lord, and ministers in respect to the Divine good which is from Him. The reason of the last who are first being servants more fully than others is, that they know, acknowledge and perceive, that the all of life, and hence the all of power which they have is from the Lord, and not at all from themselves, while they who do not perceive this, because they do not so acknowledge, are also servants, yet more in acknowledgment of the lips, than of the heart. A. 5164.
In heaven they do not only think, but also talk together about the things of wisdom, yet in their conversation there is nothing of command from one to another, for no one wishes to be master and so to look upon another as a servant, but everyone wishes to minister to and serve the others. A. 5732.
By doing uses or goods is meant serving others and ministering to them. Although they who do this have dignity and wealth, yet they only regard them as a means for performing uses, thus for serving and ministering. Such are meant by these words of the Lord. P. 215.
Minister is here said of good, and servant of truth. R. 128.
26-28. It is the celestial of love not to wish to be one’s own, but to belong to all, so that he wishes to give all the things which are his own to others. In this the essence of celestial love consists. The Lord, because He is love itself, or the essence and life of the love of all in the heavens, wishes to give to the human race all things that are His, which is signified by His saying that the Son of Man came to give His life a ransom for many. A. 1419.
So far as a man acknowledges and believes himself to be as he is, he recedes from the love of self and its lusts, and so far he abhors himself. So far as he does this, he receives heavenly love from the Lord, that is mutual love, which is that he wishes to serve all. These are they who are meant by the least who become the greatest in the Lord’s kingdom. A. 1594.
Truth itself is also relatively a servant, and because it is so the Lord calls Himself one that serveth or ministereth. A. 3441.
He is called a servant who serves, thus who ministers. On this account the Lord as to the Divine Human, when He was in the world is called in the Word a servant, for He then ministered. A. 8241.
Those who in heaven are above others in intelligence and wisdom from fhe truths of faith, are in such humiliation, that they attribute everything to the power of the Lord, and nothing to themselves. Wherefore they do not place anything of glory or of joy in having dominion, but in serving. The Lord flows with power into those who are humble, but not into those who are puffed up, because the former receive influx, but the latter reject it. A. 9039.
From these things it may be evident what kind of governors there are (in heaven) namely that they are in love and in wisdom more than others, and thus from Jove will good to all, and from wisdom know how to provide for its being done. Such governors do not rule and command, but minister and serve, for to do good to others from the love of good is to serve, and to provide for its being done is to minister. Neither do they make themselves greater than others, but less. H. 218.
The Lord says this, because by a servant and by a minister is meant he who serves and ministers by teaching, and abstractly from the person, the Divine truth which He Himself was. R. 3.
The celestial kingdom of the Lord is called His priesthood, and the spiritual kingdom His royalty. Ministry is predicated of those who are in the Lord’s celestial kingdom, but service of those who are in His spiritual kingdom. E. 155.
28 Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.
28. See Chapter XII., 8. L. 27.
Everybody imbued with religion in Christendom may know, and if he does not know may learn, that there is natural nourishment and spiritual nourishment, and that natural nourishment is for the body, but spiritual nourishment for the soul. Now because the body dies and the soul lives after death, it follows that spiritual nourishment is for eternal salvation. I advise him when he takes the bread and the wine, and then hears them called the Lord’s flesh and blood, to think within himself of the Holy Supper, as being the holiest thing of worship, and to keep in remembrance Christ’s passion and His love for man’s salvation. T. 709.
What is to be understood by these words of the Lord is, that they might be vindicated from hell and liberated, for the passion on the cross was the last combat and plenary victory, by which the Lord subjugated the hells, and by which He glorified His Human. E. 328.
The soul here signifies the life of the body, as likewise in other passages where the Lord speaks concerning the life of His body. Isaiah xliii. 4 : John xv. 13. E. 750.
29 And as they departed from Jericho, a great multitude followed him.
29-34. See Chapter IX., 27-31. E. 239.
29 The Lord in his progress to Jerusalem had departed from Jericho. This place is well known as the first station of Israel on entering the promised land, and represents the first stage of introduction into the church. It signifies instruction, and also the good of life, for no one can be instructed in the truths of doctrine but he who is in the good of life. The great multitudes which followed him are those who seek instruction for the sake of this good.
30 And, behold, two blind men sitting by the way side, when they heard that Jesus passed by, cried out, saying, Have mercy on us, O Lord, thou son of David.
31 And the multitude rebuked them, because they should hold their peace: but they cried the more, saying, Have mercy on us, O Lord, thou son of David.
32 And Jesus stood still, and called them, and said, What will ye that I shall do unto you?
33 They say unto him, Lord, that our eyes may be opened.
34 So Jesus had compassion on them, and touched their eyes: and immediately their eyes received sight, and they followed him.
30-34. See Chapter IX., 27—31. A. 6990.
See Chapter IX., 27-29. E. 152.
34 See Chapter VIII., 3. A. 10130.
34. As the Lord, followed by the multitude, was departing, behold, two blind men sitting by the way side, when they heard that Jesus passed by, cried out, saying, Have mercy on us, O Lord, thou Son of David. A similar circumstance occurs in the ninth chapter (v. 27), but this is different in some particulars. Spiritual blindness is ignorance of truth. But these blind men were sitting by the way side; and as a way signifies truth, and sitting signifies a state of the will, this implies a disposition to know and live according to the truth. As we learn from the corresponding accounts in Mark and Luke, these men were begging, and to beg is to be dependent on others for the knowledge of truth, not having the power of procuring it for themselves. The desire to receive that power is expressed in the prayer of the blind men to Jesus, that he would open their eyes. They heard that Jesus passed by. Their first knowledge of his presence reached them through the ear – that is, through the will, of which the ear is more especially the symbol. But they desired to see – to know by the understanding and the light of truth, – and they cried to him, that he might open their eyes; and he heard them, and restored to them the blessing of sight. And they followed him. They no longer sat by the way side, as poor dependents on the bounty of their fellow-men, but walked in the light and in the footsteps of him who is the way, the truth, and the life.
AUTHOR: EMANUEL SWEDENBORG (COMPILED BY ROBERT S. FISCHER AND LOUIS G. HOECK 1906)
COMMENTARY AUTHOR: WILLIAM BRUCE (1866)
PICTURES: JAMES TISSOT Courtesy of Brooklyn Museum