"Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchantman seeking goodly pearls, Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it" (Mt. 13:45-6).
In one sense, it is no wonder that by the term, "the pearl of great price," Christians should imagine the Lord to be of necessity intended; but God's thoughts are not as our thoughts. It is the Church which is thus spoken of, and its preciousness to Him insisted on, and explained in measure also. It is carefully put before us that its value is estimated by one who knows fully what it is He values. The figure is not longer simply of a man who finds, but of "a merchant seeking goodly pearls." The thing he finds, he is in pursuit of, and with the practiced eye of the skilled craftsman. Notice too, that it is intimated there are other pearls. This is, however, one whose value for him is above all else: he sells all he has for it.
It is evident, then, that we have not here the love of God pictured as something inscrutable - of which we can give no account, except that it is His, but as something of which we can tell - although in measure, surely - why it is. The merchant, I repeat, is seeking pearls, and he finds one of surpassing value. Let us see what is conveyed by this figure, and we shall see what it is that attracts the merchant's eye. It may be, even, that we shall be able to see somewhat of what gives special value to this particular pearl.
What, then, is a pearl? A pearl is the product of a living being: it is the only gem that is so; and this is the first thing which is surely intended for our instruction in it. A pearl is the result of injury done to the animal that produces it. Its material is the nacre, as it is called, or "mother of pearl," which lines the interior of its shell, and which is renewed by it as often as injured or worn away. A particle of sand getting between the animal and its shell, the irritation causes a deposit of nacre upon it, which proceeds, layer after layer, till a pearl is formed. But "completely spherical pearls" - and these are the valuable ones - "can only be formed loose in the muscles or other soft parts of the animal. The Chinese obtain them artificially, by introducing into the living mussel foreign substances, such as pieces of mother of pearl fixed to wires, which thus become coated with a more brilliant material."
It is thus an answer to an injury, as we may say - the pearl; and it is the offending object that becomes, through the work of the injured one, this precious and beauteous gem. It is clothed with a comeliness put upon it, as the objects of divine grace are with the beauty and glory of Him we crucified. How simple and clear the figure is! How bright and lustrous! Yes, we have no difficulty in realizing this heavenly merchantman, seeking goodly pearls. In truth, He seeks nothing else, in coming among us, but objects of His grace. Every soul saved, Jew or Gentile, in whatever dispensation, is a trophy of this, a specimen of divine workmanship which is to glorify forever the blessed Worker; a piece of dust overlaid with the beauty of Christ! -As layer upon layer of the brilliant nacre, till the pearl is formed, so "grace upon grace," till His full image is created in us.
This shows us what the parable itself clearly implies: that there are other pearls beside the Church. Israel herself, when in the future converted to God, will be one of these. But the "pearl of great price" will not be Israel. We have yet to consider what is meant by it.
And here it is plain that the difference between an ordinary pearl and one of surpassing value is simply a difference of degree. The size and brilliancy depend, not upon the difference of the grain of sand which is enwrapped, but upon the number of the layers of nacre which enwrap it. The sinner, or the number of sinners, to whom grace is shown - that is not the point, but the greatness of the grace is the distinguishing feature. "Who maketh thee to differ from another? What hast thou that thou didst not receive?" asks the apostle; and he asks it of differences obtaining among those alike saved and children of God. May not God do as He will with His own? Need He have shown grace at all? If men could have required it of Him, then it would not be grace. And if He shows it, may He not bestow it as He will? No doubt the bestowal will be according to His wisdom; for His will is according to His nature - never can deny it. And would not it be even enough to show the wisdom of this different bestowal of grace, that it does plainly show His entire freedom in it? Thus, it shows the grace indeed to be of His own will, and so more precious as coming from His own heart only.
But, however this be, different bestowals of grace there are, and Scripture asserts it in the fullest way. The calling of Israel is not that of the Church; the position of the believer in the past, the present, and the future dispensations, although all be of grace, are not all equal. There is to be a "new earth, in which dwelleth righteousness," where yet our home as Christians shall not be, but with Christ where He is (Jn. 14:2). And though the departed saints of former dispensations will plainly be in heaven where we are, still Scripture again makes a difference between "the church of the first-born ones" and "the spirits of just men made perfect" (Heb. 12:23). Is this a difference in nature - a difference in the grain of dust itself, or a difference we have received? A difference of the riches of the enfolding, precious grace? Alas! Men may cavil now; in the day to come, everyone shall find his perfect satisfaction and delight in the sphere in which divine grace has chosen to place him.
It is not a difference, let us remember, as to salvation. For the need and guilt of man as fallen, the cross of Christ is absolutely necessary, and provided for all alike. The saint in the new earth will be no less completely saved than a saint in the heavenly places; the church of the first-born ones will be no more so than the perfected spirits of just men. It is strange that the question of salvation should be confounded in the minds of any with the positions accorded by grace to those equally and fully saved. Yet the confusion exists; and to deny that the Church which is Christ's body includes the whole company of redeemed men, seems in the eyes of many to question the completeness of their redemption. Yet, so we miss entirely this "pearl of great price," made so by the manifold wrappings of the grace which encircles it.
If we look at the two parables of the treasure and the pearl - so alike in some respects that their very likeness invites us to consider their points of difference, we shall find none in this: that he who finds, whether it be the one or the other, sells all that he has to buy it. The comparison, we must remember, in these two parables of the kingdom of heaven is between Israel and the Church alone. The saints of the past dispensation have no place in these, which refer to New Testament times alone. This enables us to see more fully what is before us. Israel and the Church are represented by this treasure and this pearl, and no others. The contrasts are intended simply as contrasts between these.
Now the contrasts are the unity of the pearl as compared with the treasure; and that, to possess the latter, the field is bought; and the field, according to the Lord's own interpretation of the second parable, "the field is the world." The application is obvious. If the Lord take up Israel, all His promises concerning her assure us He must take up the earth. And though it may be urged, with truth, that "the earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof," yet this in no wise affects the need of purchasing it for this purpose. Only on the ground of the work of the cross, could He take up the earth for blessing. Even the heavenly places, defiled by the angels' sin, and although for them no sacrifice is offered or avails, are thus alone "purged" (Heb. 10:23). God must be glorified as to all in which He has been dishonoured, and this is what the cross has accomplished. There is now no hindrance, upon that score, to the fulfillment of all those precious promises which give us, as to the scene of so long and appalling misrule, such unspeakable comfort. "Then the moon shall be confounded, and the sun ashamed, when the Lord of Hosts shall reign in Mount Zion, and in Jerusalem, and before His ancients gloriously."
But where the Church is spoken of, there is no buying of a field. And why? Surely for a reason unutterably sweet, and yet perfectly simple, to the heart of the Christian. He who "loved the Church, and gave Himself for it," is going to present it to Himself, a glorious Church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing;" and we shall be with Himself, where He is. "For we are members of His body," "the fullness of Him that filleth all in all" - the complement to our glorious Head, as such. Where can the body be but where the Head is?
This gives us the oneness of the parable -"one pearl of great price." Can there be another:- another body of Christ - another fullness, or complement, to the Head? Impossible. That word, "fullness," is exclusive of all else. This is a place given us by that baptism of the Spirit into one body (1 Cor. 12:13), which began at Pentecost, and not before, even as there was not, before the Lord's ascension, a Head in heaven (Eph. 1:20, 22). Other pearls there may be, and there are; but there is but "one pearl of great price," which the Lord has chosen in a peculiar manner for Himself - as we may even say, for His own personal adornment, for His glory forever. Such is the destination of the Church.
Let us consider for a brief moment, as well as we may, and as guided by this figure, what constitutes the preciousness of this "one pearl." We have seen that, whatever it be, it is glory put upon us: the luster is that of His own grace. If of Israel's beauty He could say, "It was perfect through My comeliness, which I had put upon thee," so the figure here still speaks to us. It is "God, who is rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ (by grace ye are saved), and hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus; that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us through Christ Jesus" (Eph. 2:4-7).
This surely is the lustre of the pearl of great price. An Israel blessed on earth was not enough to show the grace that is in God. He must put His gem in a higher place, that it might shine further; so He opens His sanctuary in the heavens, and takes us in to the Father's house. But even that is not enough; we must be members of Christ, and co-heirs with Him. Thus in the eyes of all His creatures, God in His grace shall be made known and glorified, and the joy and blessedness of it shall be for all; every heart shall be drawn nearer to Him; in every soul, His full-orbed love shall shine.
As Paul, Cephas, Apollos, all are ministers of His, and thus belong to the whole Church of God, so shall the Church itself at length be minister of His to all, belong to all. And God shall rest in His love, in the blessedness of His own; and we, how shall we rest! As we think of it, the light of a great city seems to rise upon us - a city by whose light the nations walk - a city which has no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it; for the glory of God doth lighten it, and the Lamb is the lamp thereof. Of this city, it is written, "And the twelve gates" - the place of exit and entrance, of intercourse with all outside -"And the twelve gates were twelve pearls; every several gate was of one pearl."