George H. Morrison - Devotional Sermons
The Pearl of Great Price
The kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it--Mat 13:45-46
The Pearl in Ancient Times
Although the pearl is still held in high esteem, it does not now occupy the place which once belonged to it. In the old world, at any rate in the East, it was the most precious of all precious stones. The diamond was not unknown to the ancients, but it was too rare for effective illustration. Its introduction here would have had little meaning for the disciples to whom this parable was spoken. The measure of value which we give the diamond was by them associated with the pearl, and the comparison of the kingdom to a pearl was one that they would understand at once. Many stories were current in the East of fabulous prices being given for pearls. The most famous of antiquity were Cleopatra's, which were valued at $400,000 apiece. And the story of one of these is current yet, even where the queen is but a name, for have we not all read how she dissolved it, and drank it when at supper with her lover? It is very probable that the Old Testament ruby is in reality our pearl. When it is said of wisdom that her price is above rubies, it is likely that "above pearls" is the true rendering. And if this be so, it gives an added meaning to the comparison of the kingdom to a pearl, for between the kingdom of heaven and true wisdom there is a very slight difference indeed. There were very curious fancies in the East, too, about the way in which the pearl was formed. It was thought to be a drop of dew which had fallen from heaven into the open shell. And according to the hour at which it fell, and the brightness and the darkness of the sky then, was the perfection or imperfection of the pearl. Now of all this Jesus Christ makes nothing, and where He makes nothing we should not make much. His parables live because they have their roots, not in fancies, but in simple facts. Yet, as His hearers scattered to their homes and meditated on the story of the pearl, may there not have been some who thought on Hosea's text, "I will be as the dew unto Israel"?
The Finder Was a Seeker
Now the first thing to impress us in the parable is that the finder of the pearl had been a seeker. He was a merchantman seeking goodly pearls--that was his business as it was his quest. In the preceding parable of the hid treasure there is no mention and no thought of seeking. The man is walking abroad one summer morning, when unexpectedly he finds the treasure. But here there is no stroke of sudden fortune, no unexpected joy of treasure-trove; it is the business of the merchant's life to gather pearls, and he is a seeker before he is a finder. Probably it was his father's trade, for callings were generally ancestral with the Jews. Or else as a boy his fancy had been caught by the beauty of the stones in some bazaar. But at any rate this was his calling now, and for his calling he had been nicely trained, so that with eager heart and open eye he ranged from market to market of the East. There was a certain nobleness about the man, too. He had no traffic with inferior articles. It was goodly pearls he was in search of; such as were not goodly he despised. And so in a large and honourable way, a man of business of the worthiest kind, he gave himself to the search of what was goodly and, searching, found a better than the best.
Now, as we look abroad on human history we see it is so with the finding of the Kingdom. There are some who light upon it unexpectedly; there are others who win it after weary search. How many there are like the man who found the treasure who have been tolerably contented with their lot. They did not ask for much, nor look for much; they were never visited by high ambitions. They would have been satisfied to have moved on, surrounded by the comforts of their homes, and only praying to be undisturbed in the even and quiet tenor of their days. But God refused to leave them undisturbed. Something happened, and everything was changed. It may have been some message that aroused them. It may have been some trial or some sorrow. And the old barriers were swept away, and the old contentment was no longer possible, and the need of the living God grew very strong, and the things of eternity grew very real. Such, for instance, was the Samaritan woman who came up to Jesus sitting by the well. Little she reckoned on all that was to happen when she set out with her pitcher from the village. All unexpectedly she lit on Christ, and found in a moment a better than her best, just as the man, sauntering in the field, lit unexpectedly on the hid treasure. Now, with such a case as that, contrast the case of the Apostle Paul. What an unwearied search his life had been for peace of conscience and for spiritual liberty. He was a merchant seeking goodly pearls, unwearied and undaunted in his search; he gave himself to the search of what was goodly and, searching, found a better than his best.
He Found What He Was Looking For
I think, too, we must notice this about the merchant, that it was along the line of his quest he made his great discovery. All his days had been spent in seeking pearls, and it was a pearl of great price he found at last. Many must have been the rarities he saw as he travelled among the riches of the Orient. In India, when his journeys took him there, his eye would be sated with barbaric splendours. Yet to all that our Lord does not refer, nor does He indicate that the man so much as saw them. The merchant's object was procuring pearls, and it was a pearl of great price he found at last. Now we might draw from that the simple lesson that we commonly see what we are looking for. It is he who has eyes for every common flower who will detect the rarity upon the hedge-bank. But I think that we may read a deeper lesson, and it is that if we are seeking what is goodly, then the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, when we discover it, will be found in the direction of our quest. Christ Jesus never contradicts the best. He comes to crown and to complete the best. He never says to any earnest seeker, "That weary search of yours is all in vain." It is not in vain if it be for goodly pearls, for the final blessing also is a pearl, the very same as has been sought so long, yet pure and precious beyond the highest hope. In the first ages of the Christian Church we light on a deeply interesting figure. His name was Justin, and from the death he died he is known to history as Justin Martyr. Well, Justin has told us how he came to Christ, and never was there a more fascinating story. Hungering for peace and spiritual liberty, he passed from school to school of the philosophers. And some were cheats with an eye upon his fees, and others bade him study mathematics, and the best of them, for all their wisdom, were powerless to give him the peace for which he longed. And then one day as he walked by a lake shore he met with an aged and venerable man. And the man, reading his trouble in his face, entered into conversation with him. And he spoke of Christ, and of the work of Christ, till the heart of Justin began to glow within him, and he saw that here was all he had been seeking, and what others had been so powerless to give. Justin had been seeking goodly pearls; he had scorned delights and lived laborious days; and now he had discovered the great pearl, and in that finding all his past was crowned. For all he had sought for with such painful toil, and all he had hoped to win by his philosophy, and all he had struggled for through weary years, became his own when he discovered Christ. A man is always on the Kingdom's avenue when he is inwardly true to what is highest. Let him have worthy and unselfish aims, and his face is always set towards Jerusalem. And that is why, when in the chill of doubt, a man's first duty is to be living nobly, for only when one is seeking goodly pearls does the best lie along his line of search.
The Absence of the Mention of Joy
It is notable also that in this parable our Saviour does not say anything of joy. That is one of the minute, and I think intentional, differences between our parable and the preceding one. When the man has found the treasure in the field, immediately for joy he goes and acts. It is such a surprise he can scarce believe it real, and his heart throbs with the wonder of it all. Now here there is a thing of equal value and an act of similar and swift decision, and yet the joy that thrills in the one parable is not mentioned in our parable at all. I do not think that means that it was lacking. It means that the joy was of a different kind. In the one case it was tumultuous joy. In the other it was very quiet and deep. In the one case there was excitement in it, and the swift surprise of unexpected fortune. In the other there was the inward satisfaction that what had been long dreamed of had come true. The first was the joy as of a day in spring after a season of dark and wintry weather, when the contrast so intensifies the joy that the whole of nature seems to thrill with it. But the other was the quieter, fuller joy of a perfect morning in the height of summer, when for days the earth has been very warm and beautiful, and the sunset has given promise of the morn. Now in the realm of spiritual experience we are often conscious of a kindred difference. Sometimes when men have suddenly found Christ there has been a gladness about them that nothing could restrain. But when discipleship has come as the last stage of a long period of quiet preparation, then there is less disturbance of the feelings and fewer outward signs of the great change. When the lame man was healed at the Gate Beautiful he leapt and ran, he was so full of gladness. His healing was such an unexpected thing that his joy was overwhelming in intensity. But had it come to him as the last stage of a long period of medical attention his gladness would have been not less real, but of a quieter and less obtrusive kind. Let no one then doubt his being in Christ because the acceptance was very quietly made. The vital thing is making the decision; it is not the feelings that go with the decision. Our greatest decisions oftentimes are made in such a strange quietness of the heart that none could ever tell what was transacting save by the results of subsequent days.
Seeking Many, Found One
Once more, while this merchant was seeking many pearls, it is notable that he was led at last to one. The crowning possession of his lifelong search was not a multitude of things, it was one thing. With the treasure hid in the field it was not so; that treasure would consist of many things. Armlets and necklets and jewel-hilted swords would lie in the chest beside the hoard of coin. But in our parable the thought is different. It is not a string of pearls that is discovered; one pearl rewards the seeking of a lifetime, and one pearl gives perfect satisfaction. Now, brethren, in the Kingdom of our Lord we see what at once recalls to us both parables. No treasure hidden in any field can be more various than the Kingdom's riches. And yet the joy of the Kingdom is just this, that all its riches are treasured up in Christ, and that everything that the heart needs for satisfaction is to be found in Him and Him alone. What are some of the things that a man needs if he is to have the secret of sweet peace? He needs the pardon of his sins. And he needs fellowship. And he needs a love that will not let him go. And he needs to be assured in his dark hours that there is some hidden meaning in the burden. And he needs to learn that death is not the end, but that everything shall be perfected beyond. At different times of life these needs arise. They vary in urgency with varying hours. We pass from the call of one need to another, as we pass from winter to the call of spring. And the wonderful thing about Jesus Christ is this, that as these needs successively arise the man who looks to Him to have them satisfied never in any hour looks in vain. In Him is all the pardon of our sin. In Him is the strength made perfect in our weakness. He is the way, the truth, the life, the resurrection, the Shepherd, the vine, the door, the hope of glory. He is all we need and more than all we want. He is wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, redemption. All that we need is treasured up in Christ, who is the fullness of the Godhead bodily.
And this is the reason why in Jesus Christ there is such satisfaction for the soul. For we are never at rest until our life is unified, and till our many searchings become one. There is no peace for the man whose life is broken; whose objects are many and whose aims are diverse. If he has to go hither and thither on his quest, he must ever lack the secret of stability. It is only when life is harmonised and unified, and when one Lord can satisfy the soul, that in the busiest round there is a peace which the world cannot give and cannot take away. That was one of the failures of old pagan-ism-men were distracted by their many gods. That was one of the triumphs of the Jew--his life was one, because his God was one. But in Christ the secret of the purest Jews has become the choicest treasure of the humble, for there is not a thing we set our hand to but we can do it heartily as to the Lord. All seeking outside of Jesus Christ is the seeking here and there of goodly pearls. It is a noble search, but at its noblest it leaves a man unsatisfied and restless. "Come unto me,...and I will give you rest." Art thou careful and troubled about many things? One thing is needful. This one thing I do. There is one pearl. We are complete in Christ.
To Gain the Pearl, Great Sacrifice Was Needed
In closing, let us notice this, that to gain the pearl great sacrifice was needed, yet even from the standpoint of a business man that sacrifice was perfectly reasonable. It was not a wild and heady speculation. It was not an unwarrantable plunge into the dark. The man sold all that he had for the one pearl, yet it was a sane and rational transaction. He had not been trained through all these years for nothing. He saw at a glance the value of the one. Had you spoken to this merchant about sacrifice, I think he would hardly have thanked you for your sympathy. "Sacrifice," he would have said, "I never thought of that. I suppose that in one sense it is a sacrifice. Yet if you knew half as much as I do about pearls you would congratulate me on the best bargain of my life." Brethren, I do think that sometimes we put too strong an accent upon sacrifice. We dwell on what we would lose by being a Christian. We dwell too little on all that we would gain. For this is certain, that whatever has to go, and whatever sacrifice one may be called to make, the hour in which a man comes out for Christ is the hour of the best bargain of his life. Like Peter, he may have to give up his nets, or like the rich young ruler, his great fortune. Like Paul, he may have to give up his legal righteousness; like Augustine, the darling object of his passion. Yet, like Peter and Paul and Augustine and Livingstone, the man who has won the pearl by what he gave will find that all he has sacrificed is nothing compared with the infinite worth of what he won. "He that keepeth his life shall lose it." Hold to it miser-like, and it is gone. "But he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it," unto life eternal. So does the figure of sacrifice retire, till God shall have decked her in a bridal garment, and she come forth again, all joy and praise, with life eternal written on her brow.
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