The Pulpit Commentary

Matthew 13:1-58 (Matthew 13:1-58)

(a) , Matthew 13:1-23 , also in Mark and Luke, except some characteristic enlargements in verses 10-17. The section contains the parable of the sower and its interpretation, together with a statement of our Lord's reasons for teaching by parables. This is so nearly akin to the fundamental lesson of the first parable, that we cannot be surprised that the two should be recorded together. They seem, indeed, to have formed the nucleus of the whole collection.

(b) Verses 24-35, of which verses 31, 32 alone are found both in Mark and Luke. Verses 34, 35 also are represented in Mark, besides some expressions occurring in verses 24-30. This part contains the parables of the tares, the mustard seed, and the leaven, and a statement flint our Lord spoke in parables to the multitudes, together with a passage from the Old Testament illustrating his doing so.

(c) Verses 36-52. A series wholly peculiar to our Gospel, containing matter addressed to the disciples alone (the explanation of the parable of the tares, and the three parables of the treasure, the pearl, and the dragnet), ending with a special promise to disciples as such.

It is far more natural to see in the parables a summary by our Lord of certain principles which are always at work, i.e. "the ideas and laws, not the actual facts, of the Church's history". Thus we have the leading thoughts of the dissemination and reception of the kingdom of God (the sower), the obstacles to its success that exist even within its borders (the tares), its external and internal influence (the mustard seed and the leaven), the need for making it a personal possession, cost what it may, especially as it is worth all else (the treasure and the pearl), and the necessity of personal holiness if the benefit of being within it is not to be lost.

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Matthew 13:31-32 (Matthew 13:31-32)

The parable of the mustard seed. Parallel passages: Mark 4:30-32 ; Luke 13:18 , Luke 13:19 . The central thought of the parable is the growth of the kingdom of heaven considered externally. Although it has small beginnings, it is to have a marvellous expansion, so that even those who naturally are outside it are glad to avail themselves of its protection. Observe that we have no right to limit its growth either to the reputation of its principles alone or to the power of its organization; both are included.

Regarded as a prophecy, the parable is partially fulfilled every time that a heathen nation places itself under the protection of a Christian nation, and more truly fulfilled whenever a nation accepts Christianity as its own religion. It is parodied when a nation or a collection of nations submits its political freedom to the dictates of claimants to spiritual superiority, whether these claim to have received such superiority as an inheritance from the past, or to have acquired it in the present.

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Matthew 13:31 (Matthew 13:31)

Another parable put he forth unto them ( Matthew 13:24 , note), saying, The kingdom of heaven is like unto ( Matthew 13:24 , note; also Matthew 11:16 , note) a grain of mustard seed. "The Common Mustard of Palestine is Sinapis nigra, of the order Cruciferae, the Black Mustard, which is found abundantly in a wild state, and is also cultivated in the gardens for its seed. It is the same as our own Mustard, but grows especially in the richer soils of the Jordan valley to a much greater size than in this country. We noticed its great height on the banks of the Jordan, as have several other travellers; and Dr. Thomson remarks that in the Plain of Acre he has seen it as tall as a horse and its rider". Which a man took. The insertion of λαβών is probably to exclude the idea of a chance sowing. True that the seed might, under certain circumstances, then grow as well, but the reality which is being described was the result of long and deliberate purpose ( Titus 1:3 ; 1 Peter 1:20 ). And sowed in his field. "His garden" (Luke) suggests a piece of ground that was at once smaller and more cared for.

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Matthew 13:24-43 (Matthew 13:24-43)

The tares; the mustard seed; the leaven.

I. THE STORY OF THE TARES .

1 . Resemblance to the first parable. Again we have the field, the sower, and the seed. Again the seed is good. "God saw everything that he had made, and, behold, it was very good." Again the Sower sowed the good seed all over the field. No part was neglected.

2 . The differences.

II. THE GRAIN OF MUSTARD SEED .

1 . The parable. The mustard seed is small. It is sown in the field; it becomes greater than the herbs, a tree; the birds of the air lodge in its branches.

2 . Its meaning. Such was the kingdom of heaven. It was small in its beginning; only a little Child was born in Bethlehem of Judaea. At first its growth seemed very slow. The King was a Man of sorrows; he died the cruel death of the cross. Twelve men were sent forth to fight the battle of the kingdom, to confront the whole power of heathendom; they were few; they were, for the most part, of no reputation, unknown and unregarded. But as the little seed had a vital power inherent in it, so was it with the kingdom of heaven. It spread itself with a strange expansive force, till it filled all the greatest kingdoms of the earth, and men flocked from all sides to take refuge in its shelter.

3 . Its encouragement. It may be, as Chrysostom thinks, that this and the following parable were intended to encourage the disciples. There was something very saddening in the lessons of the first two parables. Three parts of the good seed were lost; the remainder was mingled with tares. It seemed a melancholy prospect. But now there is a word of comfort. The seed will grow; it will become a tree, spreading its branches far; it will offer refuge to the wandering and the homeless. Let us take courage. The Church hath a vital expansive force, so long as it abides in Christ who is the Life. It will live on; it will spread. The wandering children will return; the restless, who have been driven about by every blast of vain doctrine, will find a home at last in the Church of Christ.

III. THE LEAVES .

1 . The difference between this parable and the last. The seed has a principle of life in it. Plant it, and under favourable circumstances it will grow. You cannot watch the actual process of growth from minute to minute; but day after day you see the results. The plant springs up, rises into the air, expands on all sides. So doth the Church of Christ. The leaven works secretly, silently, invisibly; it is hidden in the meal; little by little it spreads its assimilating influence through the whole mass. It figures the silent, unseen spreading of the gospel

2 . The silent growth of Christianity. The gospel was hidden in the world, in its three ancient divisions, among the descendants of the three sons of Noah. Its growth at first was silent; few marked it, as by slow degrees it spread its influence through the masses of heathenism. Heathen contemporary writers seem for the most part ignorant of its existence; but in silence and in secret it worked on, softening, refining, purifying.

3 . The unseen growth of personal religion. But the three measures of meal may well be understood of the three constituent parts of our human nature—body, soul, and spirit. The leaven which is to regenerate society must first regenerate its individual elements. The germ of spiritual life is hidden in the soul; it is unseen, hid with Christ in God. But it is quick and powerful. It works under the surface with a strange penetrating energy. It diffuses its influence through the heart, which without it would be dull and heavy, indifferent to religion. Little by little it expels the counteracting agencies of the world, the flesh, and the devil. It spreads itself more and more through the whole life, assimilating with its secret influence every form of human activity. It works, and will work, till every thought is brought into captivity to the obedience of Christ; till we have learned, whatever we do, to do all in the Name of the Lord Jesus.

IV. REMARKS OF THE EVANGELIST .

1 . The Lord ' s method. On that occasion he taught the multitude only by parables. He spoke to the people as they were able to hear it ( Mark 4:33 ). He reserved the explanation for his disciples. Religious teaching should be adapted to the circumstances of the hearers. Simple teaching is best suited for simple minds. The teacher should imitate the Lord's example, and teach in singleness of heart, seeking only the good of souls.

2 . The reason : the fulfilment of prophecy. There were other reasons, mentioned already, for the adoption of this mode of teaching. But the fulfilment of prophecy always underlay all the Lord's acts and words. The whole Scriptures of the ancient covenant spake of him and the new covenant which he was to inaugurate. Thus the seventy-eighth psalm prefigured his use of parables. That psalm represents the history of God's ancient people as a parable of spiritual things. There was a spiritual meaning in all its details. "These things were our examples ( τύποι )" ( 1 Corinthians 10:6 , 1 Corinthians 10:11 ); they were types of the vicissitudes of the spiritual life, written for our admonition; a parable of God's dealings with the individual soul. Let us learn to look on the Old Testament in this light, to understand its religious use.

V. EXPLANATION OF THE PARABLE OF THE TARES .

1 . The petition of the disciples. The multitude had departed; the Lord and his disciples had returned to the house; they were alone. The disciples sought further instruction. So it is now. The multitude depart; the true disciples follow the Lord whithersoever he goeth. They are near him in the crowded church, sometimes even nearer in the silent hour of solitary prayer. Then they sit at his feet like Mary, seeking to learn ever deeper lessons of faith and love. He hears their prayer; he answers in his grace and mercy.

2 . The answer. The Lord explained the parable to his disciples, as he will explain to us the meaning of our trials and perplexities, if we come to him in faith and prayer.

LESSONS .

1 . The malice of the devil is hellish. You have renounced him and all his works; hate him and them with energetic hatred.

2 . The mustard seed will grow; the leaven will diffuse its influence. He who hath begun the good work will fulfil it. Be of good cheer; only believe.

3 . Think of the great harvest. "Set your affection on things above."

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Matthew 13:31-33 (Matthew 13:31-33)

The mustard seed and the leaven.

These parables illustrate the worldwide growth and influence of the kingdom of heaven. It might not be wonderful that a peasant living in remote Syrian highlands should have dared to predict such a vast future for his work if he were only speaking in the enthusiasm of hope; but it is the wonder of the ages that the Galilaean predictions have been verified by history, which has proved that the Speaker uttered true words and was able to realize what he foretold. Let us consider the prophecy in the light of its fulfilment. The two parables set forth two different phases of the extension of the kingdom.

I. THE VISIBLE GROWTH OF THE KINGDOM ITSELF .

1 . It appears in a small beginning. Christ gathered about him a little group of fishermen; there was the kingdom, but as yet a minute seed. How many of the best movements spring from small beginnings—the river from the brook, the man from the child, the city from the hamlet, the empire from the city! History forbids us to despise the day of small things. It is better to begin obscurely and grow, than to commence with a flourish of trumpets, raising expectations which we may not be able to fulfil.

2 . It contains a centre of life. The pebble will not grow. Multitudes of small ventures are destined to remain small or to fade away altogether. It is only the vital seed that grows. There is a life-principle in Christianity. Christ himself is in it.

3 . It has a great development. The mustard seed becomes a tree. The little group of disciples becomes a world wide Church. Christ has large aims, and he accomplishes them. He has not yet seen the full growth of the seed he sowed. Christianity is still spreading—spreading in heathen lands as in no previous age; it has in it vitality enough to fill the whole world.

4 . Its growth is beneficial to the world. The kingdom of heaven is not a deadly Upas tree; it does not destroy all other Jives in fostering its own life. The mustard tree furnishes night shelter for the birds; the kingdom of heaven is a great refuge for helpless, benighted souls.

II. THE INVISIBLE INFLUENCE OF THE KINGDOM . It works like leaven in a mass of meal.

1 . It spreads through the world. The gospel has a marvellous penetrating influence. Early Christianity extended itself without any organized method of propagation, reaching all classes of society and touching remotest regions. There is a happy infection in Christian truth. A saintly example is healthily contagious.

2 . It influences the world. The whole mass of meal is leavened. Christ gives us a leaven of society, not merely a new life to be in society and to spread itself, growing and multiplying, but a transforming and uplifting influence. Left to itself the world is dead. The gospel comes as a ferment, breaking up the old lethargy and rousing fresh activity. It affects every part of life, and whatever it affects it assimilates to itself. We are not to think of the kingdom of heaven standing aloof from the world, which is to be let lie in its own deadness. It is sent into the world that it may benefit the world. Plunged into the midst of society, it works for the benefit of society. Commerce, science, literature, art, politics, social order, and domestic life are all sought out by the Christian spirit, and as they come under its influence they are purified and quickened. Seeing that the influences of the gospel are destined to be so widespread and manifold, it becomes us not to cramp them by any narrowness of our own, but rather to further them with courageous hopefulness.—W.F.A.

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Matthew 13:24-43 (Matthew 13:24-43)

The great Administrator's foresight.

This second parable of the seven proceeds in a certain degree upon the lines of the first. But its object is different; and though quite in the nature of an advance on the former, it is more limited in its scope. The first parable manifestly is the foundation of this one, and perhaps it may be said of all others. We may, perhaps, judge that to each parable, as one succeeded another, quickened attention was given, at any rate, by some of the hearers. But this parable seems to have specially asked, on the part of the disciples, for explanation. The former spoke broadest truth of broadest application for all the world, whether "received" or "not received." But very possibly even the invidious element contained in this may have gained for it a quicker ear and a more curious attention on the part of the disciples. Notice—

I. HOW THIS PARABLE DATES THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN AS AN ORIGINAL PLANTATION IN THE WORLD . IT DOES THIS ALIKE IN FORM AND IN THE NECESSARY IMPLICATION OF ITS MATTER . In however true a sense Jesus Christ was now himself planting afresh the kingdom of heaven on earth, its foundation was from the beginning. Long time, with most varying rate of growth, had it been growing. In how true, and even double sense true, was it that while men slept the enemy came! And how naively true, only in one sense, that when he had sowed his tares, he "went his way"! Note also, as some instance of the perpetually recurring evidential coincidences of Scripture, the ministerial function of the "Son of man" is likewise dated to the beginning, creation itself.

II. HOW FRANK AND CALM THE ADMISSION OF THE DIVINE HOUSEHOLDER OF THE DISASTROUS DAMAGE DONE IN HIS FIELD OF THE WORLD !

III. HOW SILENT - LEFT AND UNTOUCHED TO THE SERVANTS , THE QUESTION ( THEORETIC ONLY , FOR THEM AS IT WOULD APPEAR TO BE DEEMED ) HOW THIS WAS ; AND WHY NO IMMEDIATE STRENUOUS STEPS FOR THE DISCOVERY AND CONDIGN PUNISHMENT OF THE ENEMY WERE TAKEN , OR ORDERED , OR SUGGESTED THE COUNSELS OF HEAVEN , AND ITS HIGHEST OR DEEPEST DECREES BEING HEREIN LEFT , UNQUESTIONED , UNESPIED , IN THEIR PROPER PROFOUND INSCRUTABLE !

IV. HOW WITH PERFECT PATIENCE , WITH LARGE - EYED OBSERVATION , WITH UNPROVOKED FORBEARANCE , AND ENDURING LONG SUFFERING , THE SCENE IS SURVEYED , THE DIRECTIONS THAT ALONE ARE NEEDFUL FOR SERVANTS ARE SENT FORTH , AND TIME ALLOWED TO FLOW ON .

V. HOW TREMENDOUS BUT MOST GRACIOUS THE WITNESS BORNE TO THE LIMITED KNOWLEDGE , LIMITED DISCRIMINATION , AND EVEN VERY LIMITED SKILL OF HANDIWORK , ABLE TO BE CLAIMED BY THE SERVANTS NOW IN QUESTION .

VI. HOW BOLD , TRENCHANT , UNDISMAYED , THE DISTINCT AFFIRMATION , OF THE GREAT PROPHET PRESENT , AS REGARDS THE END , ITS SOLEMN APPORTIONMENTS , AND ITS ENTIRE DETAILED SCENERY .—B.

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Matthew 13:31-32 (Matthew 13:31-32)

The herb that is a tree.

Note, in introduction, how much of most relevant suggestion is comprised in this very brief parable, not nevertheless of the essence of its direct meaning or direct object. E.g. is it not almost a parable within a parable to be able to observe on the appropriateness of the use of the illustration of the small mustard seed, and the seed instanced being such kind of seed as the mustard seed, to characterize Jesus Christ himself (the Sower of the seed of the kingdom) as well as that kingdom which he sowed? Another very relevant suggestion, as just intimated, springs out of the character of the mustard seed, its own intrinsic quality for fragrance, pungency, power to bring out flavour, either adding to that with which it is used, or counteracting it, or so combining with it as to make a new tertium quid. And so once more a most relevant suggestion springs out of the descriptive touch respecting the birds that fly to its shadow by day and its hospitable lodging by night. The subject, however, of this parable is of course still illustration of the kingdom of heaven, in some one certain respect or more. As the first parable was an illustration of it, ever applicable and on the broadest foundation; and the second, one still ever applicable, but intensely important as it might be, and that especially in its far reachingness, yet somewhat more limited in its scope; so we shall be sure to find the specialty of this third parable stamped unmistakably upon it. Notice that it is distinctly foretold that—

I. THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN IS TO HAVE ITS OWN DEVELOPMENT ; IT IS TO GROW OF ITSELF AND FROM ITSELF . Wherever it is, whatever it works upon, whatever it may attract to itself, it shall receive into itself; leave some of it, take some of it, incorporate this, have one body and one spirit, and own to no rival.

II. THAT DEVELOPMENT WILL IN NO SENSE BE SIMPLY COMMENSURABLE WITH ITS BEGINNING , EVEN WHEN EVERY ALLOWANCE SHALL BE MADE FOR THE ORDINARY MEASURE OF DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A BEGINNING AND THAT TO WHICH IT MAY GROW . It will contradict and gloriously disappoint untaught expectation. No mere proverbial oak from acorn will suffice to set forth the development this growth will attain. The only analogy that wilt suit will be the example of something that is indeed perfectly natural, but looks something other than natural. Wide nature, the work of God, will indeed find the analogue, however humble the scale of it. This is a very small seed, and its proper growth a herb; but the herb refuses to answer very strictly to its own sort, and waxes into a tree; and shows the features and properties of the tree, "shooting out great branches." So is the kingdom of heaven. And whether the seed be called that which was once found in the manger, or that which was once found in the tomb, it seemed small indeed—neither at the former time nor at the latter was it counted for anything but a thing to be disregarded and despised—yet to what was it to grow!

III. THAT GROWTH FROM SMALLEST SEED , THAT KINGDOM FOUNDED FROM HOST UNPROMISING MATERIAL , SHALL PROVE ITSELF NOT A GROWTH OF MERE GRANDEUR TO BEHOLD , NOT A MONUMENT OF HUMAN PRIDE OF POWER AND CONQUEST ; BUT A RESORT OF HEAVENLY SHADE , HEAVENLY SAFETY , HEAVENLY REST —A HEAVENLY HOME FOR ALL THAT WILL , SEEK IT , FOR ALL THAT WILL WING THEIR FLIGHT , WEARY OR GLAD , TO IT . This tree is in a new sense the tree of life, offered to all, and as free to all as air, and. spreading branches, and whispering winds, the breath of morning, or the sweet sighings of evening, with their invitations, could make it, for all birds and "fowl of every wing" that fly under heaven.—B.

Matthew 13:33-36 (see also Luke 13:20 , Luke 13:21 )

The foretold now become the told.

In introduction, note that perhaps no parable more postulates that the student of it insist on observing the essential canon in the interpretation of every parable, viz. that its one main object be kept steadily in view, and that it was kept in view by the Author of it. So much may be made, even by warrant of Scripture, in respect of the ill associations of leaven, that if this be dwelt upon without a steady memory of the quality and the one use of leaven, whether in good association or in bad, the student vision will be a double one, and his judgment warped and distorted. So, though in risk far inferior, and of far less moment, the incidents of this very brief parable, e.g. of the mention of the "woman" who took the leaven, and of the "three measures" of meal in which she is represented as hiding it, may easily be turned, for they have been so turned, to what tends to mar, instead of to complete our distinct apprehension and appropriation of the matter of the parable. These may, indeed, heighten effect, and, if possible, may beautify effect. They may be, perhaps, not illegitimately used to these very ends. They may so chime in with history, with fact, with reverent associations of faith, as not to be unjustified, for the very helpfulness and devoutness of them. But they must be subordinated to their right place and sphere with a stern resolution. Of this simplest parable illustration of the kingdom of heaven on earth many difficulties have been made, and not a little distortion and perversion even; but in its brief simplicity it says—

I. THAT A CERTAIN PRESENCE OF SELF - ACTING INTRINSIC QUALITY AND TRANSMUTING FORCE IS INTRODUCED INTO WHAT MAY BE CALLED THE SOCIETY OF THIS WORLD , OR , MORE FORMALLY , THE KINGDOM OF THIS WORLD .

II. THAT THIS IS BROUGHT DISTINCTLY FROM WITHOUT , IN NO SENSE BEING ONE WITH THAT INTO WHICH IT IS INTRODUCED .

III. THAT SO SOON AS INTRODUCED , HOWEVER SILENTLY , HOWEVER SUDDENLY , IT BEGINS TO INCORPORATE ITSELF , AND TO BE ASSIMILATED , WORKING . UNCEASINGLY AND IN EVERY DIRECTION UPON THE MASS OF MATERIAL IN WHICH IT IS HIDDEN , AND IN WHICH IT SEEMS SMOTHERED .

IV. THAT ITS OPERATION DOES NOT CEASE UNTIL IT HAS TRANSMUTED THAT WHOLE MASS . All this was fore told; and all this was divinely called parable. But history has told it, and it has ceased by any possibility to be able to be called mere parable. In every respect it has been witnessed to, illustrated by most evident facts, and proved with not a shadow of doubt or uncertainty. The amazing mission of Christ to this world, his sojourn in it, his replacement by the Holy Spirit, the suddenness of this new and most wonderful and most gracious "departure," the silence and obscurity of the subduing and transforming work, and its unceasingness to the present hour, have all been fact, and are all forming an overwhelming presage of the further development and growth of their conquering power and grace. It means that the process, so wonderful, so potent, so beneficent, shall know no pause till the whole lump is leavened.—B.

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Matthew 13:31-35 (Matthew 13:31-35)

Parable and prophecy.

The spirit of prophecy in ancient times enshrined itself in parables. The prophecy of Balaam, accordingly, is called "his parable" ( Numbers 23:18 ). Under the parable of two eagles and a vine Ezekiel shows forth the judgments of God upon Jerusalem for revolting from Babylon to Egypt ( Ezekiel 18:1-32 .; see also Ezekiel 24:3 ; Micah 2:4-6 ; Habakkuk 2:6 ). So are the parables of Christ prophetic. Observe—

I. THAT JESUS TAUGHT IN PARABLES IN PURSUANCE OF PROPHECY .

1 . The end of that teaching was predicted.

2 . So was the means to the end.

II. THAT THE PARABLES BEFORE US MAY BE VIEWED AS PROPHECIES .

1 . They describe the gospel in its feeble beginning.

2 . They describe the gospel in its secret power.

3 . They describe the gospel in its ultimate triumph.

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Matthew 13:31 (Matthew 13:31)

The hope that may be in little things.

Dr. Royle thinks the mustard is the plant called in Syria khardal, and known to botanists as the Salvadora persica. From a small seed it grows into a considerable tree, and its fruit has a pleasant aromatic taste; birds like it much, and frequent the branches. It is said that it grew abundantly on the shores of the Lake of Galilee, and so came under Christ's direct notice. But Dr. Thomson thinks the khardal was very rare in Palestine, and that our Lord referred to the common wild mustard, Sinapis nigra, which grows to a considerable height—as tall, indeed, as a horse and his rider. To call the mustard the least of seeds was a proverbial expression of the time. It was the least that the husbandman would sow, and is fittingly taken as a type of little things that have great possibilities in them.

I. CHRIST 'S KINGDOM ADVANCES BY GROWTH . That is, by unfoldings out of rather than by additions to. It is as a tree rather than as a house. Compare the mechanical extension of a religion, as in the case of Mohammedanism; and the miraculous extension of a religion, which would tend to destroy its moral character. If Christ's kingdom spreads by growth, we should not expect forced leaps, though we may look for periods of fuller flowing life, such as is the spring time of nature. Christ's kingdom comes by the "out-populating of the Christian stock," and by the out-reaching of the Christian example and influence.

II. THE GROWTH OFTEN STARTS FROM VERY MINUTE BEGINNINGS . Illustrate:

1 . By the mustard seed, the acorn, or the cedar cone.

2 . By the Christian Church in Europe, which began with the woman Lydia at Philippi.

3 . By the unfoldings of missionary enterprise.

4 . By the Sunday schools, which started in an effort to save a few children from the street.

5 . By instances of persona! Christian labour. A youth's prayer unfolded into the Young Men's Christian Association. Never "despise the day of small things," or miss the opportunity of doing a little.

III. THE GROWTH MAY AT LAST REACH GLORIOUS RESULTS . A little seed, scarcely covering a spot, may grow to spread its branches in the sky. Illustrate from the Christian Church of today, which is represented in well nigh every land. Do you say, "The results are not yet"? That is only the result of your mode of reckoning. If the kingdom be a life, if it be righteousness and mercy, then the kingdom is nearer its full triumph than we have imagined.—R.T.

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