Spiritual Meaning of
|Back to Parables index|
THE WISE AND THE FOOLISH BUILDER.
Therefore, whoever hears these sayings of mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man, who built his house upon a rock; and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock. And every one that hears these sayings of mine, and does them not, shall be like a foolish man, who built his house upon the sand; and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.
By the sayings of Jesus Christ are to be understood the words which he spoke, and which contained the whole of his Divine Love and Wisdom in close conjunction. Thus the sayings of Jesus Christ are to be regarded as the complex of all divine good and divine truth, intending to form in man the divine image and likeness, by opening in him the kingdom of Heaven, by purifying him from all his natural evils, by restoring him to the form and order of Heaven, and by finally leading him to an eternal conjunction of love and of life with the God of Heaven.
A distinction is made in the above parable between hearing and doing. Let us examine the ground and meaning of this.
By hearing the sayings of Jesus Christ is to be understood their reception in the memory and understanding, where they appear and are stored up under the form of truths; but by doing them, is to be understood their reception in the will, or love, and their consequent operation on the thoughts, words, and works of the devout receiver of them. Thus hearing the sayings of Jesus Christ denotes their admission into the external man or mind only, by virtue of which the external thoughts, words, and works are in a measure directed and controlled; whilst doing the sayings of Jesus Christ denotes their admission into the internal man or mind, by virtue of which admission, interior evils are seen and combatted, interior goods are manifested and exalted, and thus the whole man, both internal and external, is brought into submission to, and conformity with the divine love and wisdom.
All the comparisons applied by Jesus Christ are to be regarded not as mere comparisons only, but as agreements or correspondences between the things compared; which agreements or correspondences were established at creation, and are the results of the relationship subsisting between things spiritual and things natural, in consequence of the derivation of the latter from the former, and thus of their constant connection with each other. The comparisons, therefore, applied by Jesus Christ, differ from other comparisons principally in this respect, that they are comparisons, or agreements and correspondences, between things natural and things spiritual; whereas other comparisons are comparisons only between things natural, which bear some kind of resemblance to each other. When Jesus Christ therefore says, I will liken him to a wise man which built his house upon a rock, he means to declare the existence, not only of a similitude between the two cases, but of a real agreement or correspondence, and this of such a nature, that, when considered in reality and truth, the things compared are the same. Thus, in the present instance, the things compared are a person who hears the sayings of Jesus Christ and does them, and a person who builds his house upon a rock. When, therefore, Jesus Christ says, that these persons are like each other, he intended to mark, by the most significant terms, the proper character of the person who hears and does these sayings, and to say, not only that he resembles a person who builds his house on a rock, but also that he really and virtually is such a person, which will be further evident from the consideration of what is to be understood by building a house upon a rock.
By the house here spoken of, is manifestly to be understood a spiritual house, which is no other than the interior and exterior mind of man, who is called a house in consequence of being the habitation, not only of the man himself, that is to say, of his supreme love, with all its derivative affections and thoughts, but also of the Lord himself, with his divine love and wisdom, together with all the angelic host, who constitute his eternal kingdom. This house is said to be built upon a rock, whenever man opens his mind to the reception of the divine truth of the Most High, and especially to that highest and most sublime truth, the manifestation of God in the flesh, or his revelation of himself in the Divine Humanity of Jesus Christ. For in the Sacred Scriptures all truth is called a rock, by reason of its consistency and durability, and the term is applied pre-eminently to Jesus Christ as being the Supreme Truth, agreeably to his own declaration, where he says, I am the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6). The first step, therefore, towards building this spiritual house is to believe in Jesus Christ as the Supreme God, and thus, as the source and fountain of all divine truth, and the building is afterwards advanced and perfected, in proportion as man forms his mind and his life in agreement with the precepts of Jesus Christ, and especially of that most edifying and purifying precept, to shun all evil as sin against that Great and Holy God.
But it is said that the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house.
The rain, the floods, and the winds, here spoken of, are to be understood spiritually, or according to a spiritual idea, because they are here mentioned as beating upon a spiritual house; and by rain, according to a spiritual idea, is meant the assault of false principles and persuasions in their opposition to the truths and precepts of the revealed wisdom of the Most High; by floods, a destructive accumulation of those principles and persuasions; and by winds, the infernal influences with which they are in continual connection, and from which they derive all their activity, force, and overwhelming operation. By rain, indeed, and by wind, when applied in a good sense, as the terms frequently are applied in the Sacred Scripture, is to be understood the descent of the heavenly doctrine of truth and wisdom, operative under the influence of the power and spirit of the Most High; but in the present instance the two terms are manifestly applied in an opposite, or bad sense, and accordingly denote, as was said above, the assault and operation of false and destructive principles and persuasions infused by the powers of darkness.
The term beating, has relation to the assault made by false principles and persuasions against the principles and persuasions of heavenly truth in the human mind, and therefore it relates to a state of trial or temptation, which is necessary for all to undergo, before the principles and persuasions of heavenly love and wisdom, or, what is the same thing, of heavenly goodness and truth, can be fully fixed and confirmed in the mind and life of man.
It is afterwards said of the house, when thus beaten by the rain, the floods, and the winds, that it fell not, for it was founded upon a rock.
By falling, applied to a spiritual house, is to be understood the separation or disjunction of the house, and of all things contained in it, from the divine love and wisdom of Jesus Christ: for when this is the case, the house then of necessity falls, since it is then placed only under the rule and government of selfish and worldly love, which love, in respect to heavenly love, is grovelling and debased, and destitute besides of all order, strength, and consistency necessary for the support of a spiritual building. When, therefore, the house, as in the present case, is said not to fall, the expression was intended to denote, that what is signified by the house was still kept in conjunction with the divine love and wisdom of Jesus Christ, and consequently, that the trial, or temptation, signified by the beating of the rain, the floods and the winds, had produced no other effect than to strengthen the foundations of the house. For such is the nature of all opposition from the powers of darkness, when exercised on the well-disposed mind, that, instead of destroying, it strengthens the heavenly principles which it assaults, by bringing those principles more into exercise, by leading man into deeper humiliation, and by thus elevating him to a closer conjunction with the powers of heaven and their God than could otherwise have been effected. The Almighty, therefore, permits such opposition on account of the end which is accomplished by it, and which is no other than the more radical purification and regeneration of his children, agreeably to his own declaration, where he says, You shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy (John 16:20).
By the rock, as was shown above, is to be understood the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, or the Incarnate God, together with all the truth, or wisdom, which proceeds from him; and the nature of man's connection with this Lord and Saviour is such, that if he be wise to open his mind to the reception of him, and of the heavenly principles of life and love which proceed from him, by renouncing all the evils which are in opposition to those principles, he then connects himself with the Omnipotence of that Great God and Saviour, and thus cannot perish, since none is able to pluck him out of that Saviour's hand (John 10:28). Whenever, then, man is wise to build his house upon this rock, he may console himself with the blessed conviction, that it can never fall, but is that house not built with hands, of which it said, that it is eternal in the heavens (2 Cor. 5:1).
We have now considered what is meant by the sayings of Jesus Christ, and what by hearing and doing them. The meaning, therefore, of hearing and not doing them is plain: but we have yet to seek the reason why the man, who hears them, and does them not, is like a foolish man who built his house upon the sand.
He is like a foolish man, because he is a foolish man, agreeably to what is said above concerning the Lord's comparisons; and therefore the Lord would here teach that this is the essence of all folly, to hear his sayings and not to do them; in other words, to acquire speculative knowledge of holy things in the memory and understanding, without suffering that knowledge to influence the life and conversation. And this folly Jesus Christ further marks by the significant expression of building the house upon the sand. For sand, we know, is a strong substance, without coherence and consistency, and therefore is an exact representative figure of all that truth in the human mind which is not reduced to practice, by being allowed to govern and control the love and the life, in which case, being deprived of the heavenly conjoining spirit of love to the Lord, and neighbourly love, it has nothing to give it consistence and coherence, consequently, nothing to give it strength and stability. As, therefore, a material house must soon fall, if it has no other foundation for its security than material sand, in like manner, a spiritual house must soon fall, if it has no other security than spiritual sand; in other words, if it be built on mere speculative truths, or knowledges, which, being separated from heavenly life and love, are of consequence disjoined from each other, and therefore incapable of supplying a firm and durable foundation. It is accordingly said, that when the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house, it fell, and great was the fall of it, to denote, that in time of spiritual trial or temptation, truth alone cannot stand; in other words, that the man of the church cannot be supported under spiritual conflicts, only so far as knowledge is formed into life, speculation brought into practice, and the whole man thus, both internal and external, restored to an eternal connection and conjunction of life with the divine fountain of all good and truth, whose high and holy name is Jesus Christ.
The fall is called a great fall, to distinguish it from lesser falls, and to teach the edifying and awful lesson, that the greatest fall to which the spiritual house of man is exposed, results not from ignorance, but from the knowledge of heavenly truth received in his understanding, when it is not suffered to operate and produce its proper fruits in the will and life, by purifying man from all his natural evils, and restoring him both internally and externally to the love and the practice of heavenly good. Jesus Christ therefore says, in another place, If the light that is in you be darkness, how great is that darkness! (Matt. 6:23). to instruct us, that great darkness does not result from mere ignorance, or the want of spiritual light, but that it results from spiritual life itself, when it is either perverted, suffocated, or rejected, - in consequence of not applying it to the purposes for which it was given, namely, purification, reformation, and regeneration of the heart and life. The same truth is again inculcated in these words of Jesus Christ, That servant, which knew his Lord's will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many blows. But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of blows, shall be beaten with few blows (Luke 12:47, 48)
From this parable then, we learn, in the first place, the distinguishing marks and characters of wisdom and folly, and what it is which properly constitutes the essence of each. For we are taught that the proper mark and character of wisdom, is both to hear and to do the sayings of Jesus Christ, whereas the proper mark and character of folly is, to hear only, and not to do. A man therefore cannot properly be called wise, merely because he has much knowledge, or because he abounds in the science even of things the most heavenly and sublime, but he becomes wise in proportion as he suffers such knowledge and science to elevate his love and affections, to raise him above his corruptions, and to conjoin him with the Father of his Being, the High and Holy God. Neither can he be properly called foolish on account of any defect in knowledge or science, but he becomes foolish by the possession of knowledge or science unpractised, in consequence of not suffering it to convert him from the love of evil to the love of good, and thus to influence his life and conversation. We are instructed yet further by the above parable, that in building our spiritual house, we ought both to hear and to do the words of Jesus Christ, and thus to lay the foundations on a rock; in other words, we ought to believe in the incarnate God, and to form our life in obedience to his heavenly precepts of love and charity, in which case our house can never fall, because it will ever be kept in connection with the Eternal, and under the support of his Omnipotence; whereas, if we only hear, and do not, we shall then build our house on the sand, and when trial or temptation assaults us, it will fall, and its fall will be the greater, because we knew our duty and did not practise it. Let us endeavour, therefore, from now on, to acquire the blessed character of true wisdom, and for this purpose, both to learn what our Heavenly Father requires of us, and also to practise it, that so, when the hour of trial and temptation comes, we may stand steadfast and unmoved, and may enter into all the comfort of the blessed declaration, It fell not, for it was founded on a rock. Amen.