Brother James C. Riggin, of Fulton Co., Ill., desires our views on the parable of the net, Matthew 13:47-49.
“Again the kingdom of heaven is like unto a net that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind: which when it was full, they drew to shore, and sat down, and gathered the good into vessels, but cast the bad away. So shall it be at the end of the world: the angels shall come forth and sever the wicked from among the just.”
With much fear and trembling, we venture a few remarks upon the design and application of this parable. We have generally felt but very little confidence in our ability to expound any of the parables; mostly from a sense of our incompetency, and also because we meet with so many forced interpretations from those who are wiser than ourself, and so much which seems to us speculative and unwarranted by the general bearing of the scriptures. It is true that all the wise and gracious sayings of our divine Lord and Master are parabolical to those who are not born of God and instructed by his Spirit. But there are very many plain declarations in the holy scriptures, many precious promises, divine assurances, and important lessons of instruction which are so clearly stated as to prevent a liability to speculate upon them. If we were humble enough to always acknowledge our ignorance, and wait for divine instruction on such portions of the word as are sealed and hidden from our understanding, it would be more safe for us to express our views: but there is a kind of aspiring ambition in our proud hearts to attempt to forge out some plausible interpretation of the most profound mysteries, rather than let it be known there are some things in the word too deep to be sounded by our short lines.
What remarks we may now make on this parable are to be received only as our remarks, and to be carefully examined by our readers, and not hastily adopted without assurance that they are sustained by better and higher authority.
The Kingdom of heaven is a kingdom, principality or government of a spiritual nature; it is not of this world, neither is it like the kingdoms of this world; but still it is, a portion of it at least, in the world. The terms are used, as we understand them, not to designate the general providential government of God, which extends alike to all beings and all events; but more particularly to designate that kingdom which Daniel prophesied that the God of heaven should set up in the days of the Caesars of Rome, that should never be destroyed. John the Baptist in preaching declared in his day that it was at hand, and so Jesus also preached while with his disciples under the law, before his church was organized. We suppose the kingdom of heaven in this parable means what we sometimes call the visible church of Christ; and if so, the question arises, how is it like a net that was cast into the sea? The sea is, as divinely interpreted, “the gathering together of the waters (Genesis 1:10);” and figuratively the waters represent “people, and multitudes and nations and tongues (Revelation 17:15);” the net may therefore signify the church or kingdom set up among the Gentile nations of the earth, and the gospel of this kingdom sent forth to every nation and tongue under heaven, as nets are cast into the sea by fishermen, for the purpose of catching fish; so the gospel kingdom is cast among the Gentiles, to collect into it those who are to be saved; those other sheep, which Christ said he must also bring into his fold (John 10:16). No intelligent fishermen would think of casting his net where he knew there were no fish; none would be so stupid as to believe the casting of the net would make the fish; but in living waters, where there are living fishes, the net is cast for the purpose of gathering them into its folds, and drawing them to the shore.
Now we suppose our Lord designed by the parable to give his disciples to understand that as the net often collects in its folds some kinds of fish which are of no value, which are thrown away when the fish are examined; that so in the progress of the kingdom of heaven among the Gentiles many would be gathered into the church, which have no affinity to the people of God, and will be again cast out from fellowship. “Every plant, which my heavenly Father hath not planted shall be rooted up (Matthew 11:13).” We do not believe that any can enter the spiritual precincts of the kingdom of Christ but those who are born again of the water and of the spirit (John 3:3,5). And none of them can ever be cast out, for Jesus says, “I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall any pluck them out of my hand (John 10:28).” But we do believe there are many hypocrites and nominal professors who get into churches of the saints, not by the door, but as wolves get in among the sheep, to devour and waste the flock. And we are very certain that all who come in without the grace of God will be cast out without his favor. Many of this sort imposed upon and even bewitched the churches of Galatia; they gained a standing among them. Paul, “Would that they were even cut off;” for they troubled the saints, instead of comforting them. So there was found in some of the churches of Asia some who held the doctrine of Balaam, and of the Nicolaitanes, and a certain very popular and queenly prophetess with her illegitimate brood which were to be cast into a bed, and killed with death. For if any man defile the temple of God, him will God destroy. There were false prophets among the people of Israel, even as there shall be false teachers among you; but swift destruction awaits them; their judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not. See II Peter 2:1-3.
Be not deceived, God is not mocked. A separation is decreed; for, “So shall it be in the end of the world; the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just.” Many flatter themselves that they may enter the kingdom in some other way than that which God has provided, and they boastfully say, it will not be asked how they got there. But it was demanded of one, “Friend how comest thou in hither, not having the wedding garment,” and his fate shall be a warning to others, for he was bound hand and foot, and cast into outer darkness, etc. (Matthew 22:18) That there will be a final purging of the church of God, and effectual and everlasting separation of the wicked from the saints is fully declared in the word. There have been from time to time severe trials and persecutions brought upon the church to scourge out those who have no vital connection with the mystical body of Christ, and these may be used, and we have no doubt are used at the present time for the purging of the church. We know that fiery trials shall try all the saints, individually and collectively, and when they shall be thoroughly tried they shall come forth from the furnace like gold seven times tried in the fire. As the fishermen draw to the shore much that is cast away as worthless, so is the progress of the kingdom of heaven, or organized church, among the Gentiles. It has and does gather much that will not stand in the trying day. The angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just. Thus the Savior applies this parable, almost in the same words in which he did that of the wheat and tares which precedes it in this same chapter; thus signifying that the same lesson of instruction and admonition is embraced in both parables. The angels are the messengers commissioned to draw the discriminating line between the living and the dead; between the wicked and the just. This the faithful ministers of Jesus have been doing ever since the net was first cast into the Gentile seas; but in the end of the world, as the final closing up of the mystery of God; angels are commissioned at the time when the Lion of the Tribe of Judah shall open the seventh seal, to sound the seven trumpets, and pour out the last plagues upon the earth. These angels shall execute their commission in the end of the world; and the execution of their work extends until the final separation indicated in our parable shall be fully accomplished.
However the wicked and the just may be intermixed here on earth, and the church infested with hypocrites and false professors, the day is at hand that shall burn as an oven; when all they that are proud and they that do wickedly shall be stubble. God, by the angels, or messengers of his own appointment, will thoroughly purge his floor, and burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire. May we through rich, free, sovereign and abounding grace be garnered with the wheat, and saved with an everlasting salvation.
March 15, 1864.
Elder Gilbert Beebe
Editorials Volume 6
Pages 10 – 13