The Hidden Treasure
William Bacon Stevens, 1857
"The kingdom of Heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field!"
There are no less than seven parables in this thirteenth chapter of Matthew. They cluster together like stars in a constellation, forming, in the firmament of truth, a parabolic Pleiades. The first four were spoken in the hearing of the multitude by the sea-shore. But after Jesus had sent the people away, and "went into the house," He first, at the request of His immediate disciples, unfolded the parable of the Weeds of the Field, and then proceeded to speak three more parables, of which that under consideration was the first.
In the earlier parables, our Lord had spoken of Christianity in its general aspects and effects. He now brings it down to the personal needs of each individual, showing that it is not merely to be observed and admired at a distance; that it is not a thing about which we may or may not be interested without involving any moral consequences — but is, on the contrary, a matter of intense personal importance — that which each one must possess or lose his soul.
"The kingdom of Heaven," says our Lord, "is like a treasure hidden in a field." The value of the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ does not lie upon the surface. It is indeed a treasure of great worth, even when regarded only in its historic or its literary aspect; as illustrating ancient manners and customs, as enforcing certain moral precepts, as exhibiting much rhetorical elegance and power. Hence, we often find the Bible prized and lauded by those who are not animated by its spirit. Poets, philosophers, statesmen, heroes, magistrates of highest name, have rendered profound praise to the inspired writings, who, nevertheless, "received not the truth in the love of it," and did not become "new creatures in Christ Jesus."
The reason of their commendation is obvious. There are in the Bible . . .
such pages of history,
such strains of poetry,
such teachings of wisdom,
such maxims of state policy,
such illustrious deeds of valor,
such profound principles of eternal and universal law —
that even the prejudiced infidel has been forced to concede their merit; so that throughout Christendom the Bible has established itself, not only as the great moral classic of the world — but Art finds in its scenes its sublimest subjects, and Science acknowledges it as her loftiest standard.
All this, however, is not the particular value here alluded to. The Gospel has a deeper worth than what is thus patent and generally acknowledged; its real preciousness lies in its spiritual blessings, by which it imparts to the soul "durable riches and honor."
The blessedness of its faith, by which the soul is united to Jesus Christ;
the peace, "passing all understanding," which it imparts to the heart;
the "joy unspeakable" with which it ravishes the inner man;
the "hope that makes not ashamed," pointing the drooping spirit to its bright inheritance in Heaven;
the abundant supplies of grace through the manifold gifts of the Holy Spirit, which are bestowed upon the prayerful seekers for the Divine favor
— these are some of the inestimable blessings which constitute the riches of this "treasure hid in a field." He who admires the Bible because of its external excellencies, admires, indeed, a most rare and costly casket — but he knows nothing of what the casket contains! It is only the man of faith, who, with the key of prayer, unlocks this casket — who truly beholds the treasure, and understands its value.
There was, therefore, great propriety in Christ making this treasure to lie hidden in a field; and this he could the more naturally do, because in Eastern countries, where there are no banks, or safe places of public deposit, and where, owing to the despotism of the rulers, or the relaxed state of society, property is unsafe — it is not uncommon for people to make deposits of their treasures in the ground, selecting obscure and unattractive places, and there hiding them away. And as, in the convulsions which so often shake oriental nations, the owner of such a treasure might be cut off before he could have time to designate its locality to his friends or family — so, the secret dying with him, it would perhaps a long while continue there until by accident it was discovered.
The parable brings before us just this case. A person has by chance discovered concealed treasure; he sees enough to know that it is there, and that it is very valuable; but yet, respecting the law which made all that was in the earth the property of its owner — he seeks to buy the field at its assumed value, keeping all the while the secret to himself, as a piece of knowledge to which he had exclusive right by reason of his exclusive discovery. Paying to the owner of the field the full price that he asks, the finder "sells all that he has," and buys the field, knowing that the treasure hidden there will remunerate all his outlays, and make him rich for life.
Two points are to be noted here:
First, The discovery of this treasure.The man who found it was not expecting or seeking it. He did not know of its existence; it was by the merest accident that he stumbled upon it; he may have been examining the field for the purpose of ascertaining the quality of its soil, the nature of its situation, or its agricultural capabilities, and while thus engaged, some fortuitous event brought him to the spot of concealment, and directed him to its hidden treasure.
Here, we think, lies the distinction between this parable and the following one. In that, the merchant was on the search for goodly pearls; it was his set aim and business; here, however, there was no seeking for hid treasure until chance brought it to his notice.
Thus is it often with men in spiritual matters. From the force of early habit, or because of the propriety of the thing, or from motives of a literary or secular character, some may be daily reading God's Word, intent on giving breadth and vigor to their minds — but neither seeking nor caring for its buried treasure. They are looking at the Bible in every light but its true one, and seeking in it every blessing but that which is spiritual. While thus engaged, the Holy Spirit opens the eyes of their understanding to perceive that, which by nature they cannot know, and lo! they behold glimpses of a hidden treasure, which at once awaken joy and excite increased desires after a deeper and more experimental knowledge of God's blessed Word. When the soul is thus wrought upon by the Holy Spirit — everything is changed. The field of Scripture, in which this precious treasure has so long been hidden, now becomes, in his estimation, of infinite value. It is that . . .
which puts him in possession of salvation and eternal life,
which makes him an heir of God, and
which gives him the riches of Divine grace for time and for eternity!
For the discovery of this, he is not indebted to the research or acumen of his own powers — for by no intellectual effort could these hidden treasures be brought to light, but to the Holy Spirit, who gave him that spiritual discernment and spiritual taste, by which he was enabled to discover and appreciate the peculiar blessings of grace as they lie concealed from the natural eye and the carnal mind. Such is the cause of the man's discovering the treasure.
This brings us to the second point, namely — The value which he puts upon this treasure.
In the parable it is said, that, "in his joy," the man "goes and sells all that he has, and buys that field." This is precisely the feeling of the finder of Divine grace. In the joy of his discovery, he is ready to renounce everything of an earthly nature that conflicts with his possessing it, and would willingly part with that which the world most highly esteems, that he may gain it as his own.
Such was the feeling of Paul. As a member of the Jewish community, and observing rigidly its Levitical observances, he had, at one time, to use his own language, great "confidence in the flesh," that is, great reliance on his own self-righteousness, a trusting for salvation to his rigid Phariseeism; but, when he was arrested on his persecuting journey, and made to see the truth as it is in Jesus, when the scales had fallen from his eyes, and he beheld the long-hidden treasure before him — then he quickly abandoned all that he held most dear, saying, "But whatever was to my profit — I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss — compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish — that I may gain Christ and be found in him. I want to know Christ!"
This is the very spirit of the man finding the hidden treasure. He puts upon it, its true value; he estimates everything else as comparatively worthless; he feels the force of the Savior's assertion, "He who loves father or mother more than me — is not worthy of me;" and that if we would be His disciples, we must "forsake all and follow him." And, in the spirit of these injunctions, he is ready to give up everything which impedes his progress in the Divine life, or that conflicts with his getting possession of these hidden treasures of the Gospel.
The first aim of life, now, is to be "rich towards God;" to obtain that soul-wealth which consists in faith, and love, and joy, and peace in the Lord Jesus; to receive within himself "the pledge of his inheritance." Whatever pursuit formerly engrossed his mind — is now abandoned, or made subservient to his new aim. Whatever passions ruled in his soul, and led him captive — are now mastered or made to do willing service to his Redeemer. He no longer "lives unto himself," but unto Him who loved him, and gave Himself for him!
It is-impossible to put too high an estimate on this Gospel treasure. In whatever light we regard it, whether in itself, as an emanation from God; or in its effects, as renewing the soul, and making it fit for the inheritance of the saints in light — it is of priceless value!
In comparison with it, those things which the world most prizes, and after which men most strive — are as worthless dross! They have lost their accustomed place in his thoughts. He has found nobler riches; and he will part with all that earth can give him, though it could multiply its gifts a thousandfold, that he may gain this priceless treasure — the salvation of his soul.
We can never estimate spiritual blessings above their real value. In truth, we can never give them their true worth — we always underrate them, because we do not and cannot now see the full blessedness and glory which they contain. So much of the Christian's happiness lies in the eternal world, and so large a portion of it is revealed under figures which the mind can scarcely comprehend — that we completely fail in estimating their worth.
The pleasures of the world we always set down at too high a figure; they ever appear in inflated magnitude and unreal importance. But the pleasures of true religion are always set too low. The world, the flesh, and the devil aim to depreciate their value, by . . .
distorting their character,
maligning their influence,
and perverting their power.
But it will all be of no avail, to him who has truly found Christ. To all such "Christ is precious," "the Chief among ten thousand, and the altogether lovely one." His soul finds its full joy and delight in Him. Christ is formed within him, as the hope of glory; his heart has become a temple of the Holy Spirit; his life is hid with Christ in God; and, walking in faith, rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, constant in prayer — he moves on through life without any fear of the future, knowing that, when the earthly house of his tabernacle is dissolved, "he has a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens!"