Spiritual Meaning of

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Matt. 21:33-41.

There was a certain Householder, which planted a vineyard, and hedged it round about, and dug a winepress in it, and built a tower, and let it out to tenants, and went into a far country; and when the time of the fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants, that they might receive the fruits of it. And the tenants took his servants, and beat one, and killed another, and stoned another. Again, he sent other servants more than the first: and they did to them likewise. But last of all he sent to them his son, saying, They will reverence my son. But when the tenants saw the son, they said among themselves, This in the heir; come, let us kill him, and let us seize on his inheritance. And they caught him, and cast him out of the vineyard, and slew him. When the Lord therefore of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants? They say to Him, He will miserably destroy those wicked men, and will let out his vineyard to other tenants, which shall render him the fruits in their seasons.

The Householder is the Incarnate God, whose name is Jesus Christ, and He is called a Householder because He is All in All in His house, which is Heaven and the Church.

By Jesus Christ being All in All in Heaven and the Church, is meant, that Heaven and the Church, or, what is the same thing, the angels of Heaven and men of the Church, are formed from, and sustained by, His divine love and wisdom, so that there is nothing in Heaven and the Church but what is under the guidance and government of those divine principles, consequently, under the guidance and government of Jesus Christ Himself.

That Heaven and the Church may with propriety be called the house of Jesus Christ is evident from this consideration, because they are so called in the Sacred Scriptures. For the temple built by Solomon is sometimes called a temple, and sometimes a house; and this is the case, too, with the temple seen in vision by Ezekiel. And since there is every reason to believe that both these temples, or houses, were types or figures of Heaven and the Church, therefore, there can be no impropriety in calling Heaven and the Church the Lord's house. Moreover, a house means a place to dwell in, and, according to this meaning, Heaven and the Church may fitly be called the house or habitation of Jesus Christ, inasmuch as He dwells in angels and men, agreeably to his own words, where he says, If a man love me he will keep my words, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him, and make our abode with him (John 14:23).

It is said of this Householder that he planted a vineyard. A vineyard is a place where vines grow; and by a vine is signified spiritual truth, which is the truth of God's Most Holy Word, spiritually understood, according to which sense, Jesus Christ calls Himself the True Vine. The vineyard, therefore, here spoken of, denotes the reception of such truth by the men of the Church; and, therefore, the men of the Church, or the receivers of such truth, are called by the Prophet, The vineyard of the Lord of Hosts, where it is written, The vineyard of the Lord of Hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah his pleasant plant; (Isaiah 5:7). for by the house of Israel and the men of Judah are meant the men of the Church.

As the vineyard, here spoken of, manifestly denotes a spiritual vineyard, so the hedge, by which it is encompassed, must denote a spiritual hedge; the meaning of which may be discovered from the use of a natural hedge; the latter, as every one knows, is for defence, and also to distinguish a garden, a field, and vineyard, from that which is not a garden, a field, and vineyard. In like manner, a spiritual hedge is for the defence of a spiritual garden, field, or vineyard, and also to distinguish it from that which is not a spiritual garden, field, or vineyard.

The principles of mind and life which constitute this spiritual hedge are all those principles of heavenly love and wisdom which lead man to distinguish clearly in his own mind between good and evil, between truth and error, between what is of God, and what is not of God; thus, between heaven and hell, between light and darkness, between what makes an angel and what makes an infernal. For, in proportion to the clearness in which such distinctions are seen, will be the defence and security of the spiritual vineyard: not that defence and security arise from distinctions alone, but from the arrangement and order to which distinctions lead. For it is an eternal law that there can be no spiritual defence and security without arrangement and order; and there can be no arrangement and order without distinction of the principles which are to be arranged and brought into order; therefore it is necessary for every individual member of the Church, who wishes to secure his spiritual vineyard by its proper hedge, to distinguish well, in himself, between his internal and external man, also between his will, his understanding, and his operation; thus, between good and truth, between charity, faith, and good works, because his salvation depends, in a great measure, on the conjunction of these things in himself; and they can never be conjoined until they be first clearly seen and distinguished.

The meaning of the winepress, can only be discovered from the use of a natural winepress, which, every one knows, is to separate the juice of the grape from the husk, and thus to discover and make manifest the quality of the grapes which are pressed in it. For, before the grapes are put into the winepress, it is impossible to know whether they be good or bad grapes, sweet or sour, wholesome or unwholesome. In like manner, without exploration and examination of man's works, which are the fruits of his vineyard, it is impossible for him to know what is their proper quality, whether they be good works or evil works - works which will save, or works which will condemn him; and, hence, it is to be concluded, that exploration and examination form the true spiritual winepress which every wise householder digs in his vineyard.

The spiritual meaning of the tower, which the householder built in his vineyard, like that of the winepress, can only be learnt from the use of a natural tower; which use, as every one knows, is two-fold, namely, for observation and defence; for observation, in discovering the approach of an enemy, and for defence against an enemy when his approach is discovered. A natural tower, therefore, is an elevated building, to increase its power of observation; and it is also a strong building, to increase its power of defence. Exactly similar is the case of the spiritual tower, with this only difference, that the spiritual tower is designed for the observation of spiritual enemies, and for defence against them. The spiritual tower, therefore, consists of elevated thought, that is to say, thought derived from the truths of God's Most Holy Word, and exalted to conjunction with Jesus Christ and His kingdom, through the elevating power of heavenly love and charity; and such thought is capable of discovering the approach of spiritual enemies, and, at the same time, of defending itself against their assaults.

The power of observation, arising from a state of elevated thought, and the power of defence, in the spiritual idea, are one and the same thing; spiritual defence being, in all cases, the result of elevated thought, as spiritual insecurity is at all times the effect of non-elevated thought. And the reason is, because elevated thought, as was observed, is thought exalted to conjunction with Jesus Christ, consequently to conjunction with His Omnipotence; whereas, non-elevated thought, not being connected with the Divine Omnipotence, has no power at all against spiritual adversaries.

By tenants, to whom the vineyard is said to be let out, are to be understood spiritual tenants; and by letting out the vineyard to such tenants is meant, the communicating to them the knowledge of the Eternal Truth, to the intent that they may cherish it in their hearts and lives until it brings forth its heavenly fruits of love and charity. In the same sense, the Lord is said to have placed the first man in the garden of Eden, to dress it, and to keep it, because the garden of Eden, like the vineyard, here spoken of, was a figure of man's intellectual mind, stored with the rich and holy truths of God's Most Holy Word; and to dress and keep this garden, is to preserve those holy truths from decay, that so they may bring forth their proper fruits of heavenly love, and life, and peace.

By the Householder, it has been already seen, is meant, the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ; and by his going into a far country is to be understood his apparent absence, whilst man is under the first insemination of truth; for, during such insemination, he is necessarily led to conceive that God is afar off, nor can he possibly get quit of this sentiment, until the truth produces its fruit of love and charity; for it is the spirit of love and charity which alone brings God near to man, and removes all idea of distance and separation.

The time of the fruit drawing near, denotes the period when truth, received in the understanding, begins to affect the will and its love; for the fruit, here spoken of, is the fruit of the spiritual vineyard, and the fruit of the spiritual vineyard is nothing else but love and charity, and the good works to which they give birth. For, in the kingdom of grace, as in that of nature, there is a variety of seasons, answering to the four seasons of the year, called Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter. Spring is a season distinguished by the first insemination and reception of the Eternal Truth in the human understanding. Summer is the season when such truth enters and operates on the will, or love, and produces in it its own heavenly fruits of righteousness, joy, and peace. Autumn is the season when the above fruit is brought to its maturity. And Winter is the season of spiritual trial and temptation, in which the plants of heavenly truth take deeper root in the faithful and patient mind, and are thus prepared for future seasons of increased fruitfulness and use.

By the servants, sent by the Householder to receive the fruits of the vineyard, are to be understood, the teachers of Holy Truth, and thus, the truths which they teach, especially respecting God, as the sole Author of all that is good in man, consequently, as the sole Proprietor of all the fruits of man's spiritual vineyard. Not that God, for His own sake, wishes to be regarded as such a Proprietor, but for the sake of man, because it is for the happiness of man that he should acknowledge - and acknowledge gratefully - that all the fruits of his vineyard, that is to say, all his love and charity, all his good words and works, all his joys and delights, are from God, and, therefore, properly belong to God.

But it is said, that the tenants took his servants, and beat one, and killed another, and stoned another.

By taking the servants is to be understood, that they apprehended the truths of God's Holy Word in their understandings; but that this apprehension was confined to the understanding, and did not extend its influence to the will, is plain, from its being said afterwards, that they beat one, killed another, and stoned another: which expressions denote the different methods of treatment of the Eternal Truth by those who are not willing to submit to its guidance and government. For, to beat the servants, denotes the perversion of truth by evils of life; to kill the servants, denotes to deprive truth of its life, by separating it from the spirit of love and charity; and to stone the servants, denotes to falsify truth, by applying it to the confirmation of what is evil and false,

The Householder (it is said) again sent other servants more than the first, and they did to them likewise. From which words we learn, that the Almighty is not satisfied with presenting only one message to His children to require their love and obedience; but, if His first message fails, He multiplies His invitations, being desirous, out of His tender love, to try every possible method of converting them to Himself, that so He may bless them with all the blessings of His Divine Love and Wisdom from Himself.

By the Householder sending His Son, is meant, God manifest in the flesh; for whether we speak of God sending His Son into the world, or of God manifesting Himself in the flesh, it is the same thing, denoting that, in the fullness of time the Eternal Jehovah, the Creator of all things, descended here on earth, and assumed the Humanity, which He afterwards glorified, or made one with Himself, and all this for the purpose of effecting the salvation of man, by subduing his spiritual enemies, and by giving him continual access to Himself in His Glorified or Divine Humanity.

The words, They will reverence my Son, were intended to teach, that no expectation could be more reasonable, than that the Incarnate God, when He appeared upon earth to instruct, to bless, and to save His, otherwise lost, creatures, would have been kindly and affectionately received by them; as, on the other hand, no expectation could be more unreasonable, than that the Maker of the world, coming down to restore to it His peace and love, should be treated with indignity, and, finally, be rejected, crucified, slain, and thus cast out of His own vineyard which Himself had planted, and the fruitfulness of which He was desirous of promoting.

It is said, that when the tenants saw the Son, they said among themselves, This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and let us seize on his inheritance.

By the Son is meant, God manifested in the human nature; and by seeing Him is to be understood, an apprehension of this truth in the understanding, for every one may be said to see the Son of God who receives, in his intellectual mind, any knowledge concerning his manifestation in the flesh.

In the original it is expressed, they said in themselves, to denote that this was the interior thought and purpose of their hearts, to destroy in themselves the revealed truth concerning the manifestation of God in the flesh, because they discerned clearly, that if they admitted this truth to rule in their minds, they could no longer live to themselves and the world as they delighted to do. With the destruction of this truth, respecting the Incarnate God, was connected the additional thought and purpose of seizing on his inheritance, because the inheritance of God is the heart of man; and to seize on this inheritance, is to remove the heart from God, that it may live to itself, without God, as every wicked and unbelieving man lives, by persuading himself that his life is his own, and not God's, and, thus, that he is his own lord and master, independent of God, and of His righteous laws.

By taking him, and casting him out of the vineyard, is to be understood, the closing of their understandings against the bright light of the Eternal Truth announcing the Incarnate God; and by killing him is to be understood, that they voluntarily destroyed in themselves the life of heavenly love and charity, which is the essential life of the Incarnate God.

Jesus Christ here proposes a question in the following words: When, therefore, the Lord of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants? Observe, that Jesus Christ does not Himself pronounce sentence upon the wicked tenants, but puts his hearers on the inquiry concerning it, of which the reason appears to be this, that the punishment of the wicked does not come from Jesus Christ, but from themselves, although the appearance is as if it came from Jesus Christ alone, and not at all from themselves. To lead men, therefore, to correct this appearance, that so they may discover what is the true source and origin of all punishment, Jesus Christ proposes the above significant question.

Then follows the sentence itself, He will miserably destroy those wicked men, and will let out the vineyard to other tenants, who will render him the fruits in their season. We learn from these words, that all evil brings upon itself its own destruction; in other words, that wicked men destroy themselves, although, to appearance, they are destroyed by God. We learn, also, the manner of their destruction, that it is by separating themselves from all communication with the Eternal Truth, and, thus, with Heaven, where the Eternal Truth is All in All. This separation is signified by the vineyard being let out to other tenants, for the vineyard is the knowledge of the Eternal Truth; and to be let out to other tenants denotes, therefore, that this knowledge was taken away from those who abused it, to be given to those who would profit by it. We learn, therefore, further, from the above words, a signal proof of the Divine mercy of the Most High, which leads Him ever to communicate to mankind the saving-knowledge of Himself, that so He may rule in their hearts and bless them; and when this saving knowledge is rejected by one people, it never fails to be immediately imparted to another. Thus, the Divine Providence is continually operative to establish a church of pure worshippers here on earth, with a view, at once to extend its blessings, to find for itself an habitation, and to provide for the increase and support of the angelic kingdom.