In Eastern countries, both in ancient and modern times (2), the wealth of men has consisted very much in gems and jewels, in precious stones, pearls, diamonds and similar forms of wealth. Property is often not deposited in banks or coined into gold in the East; it is rather hung about the person or employed in display. And Jesus seized upon that practice to commend His truth to the attention of men. He did all that could be done to allure and attract them to heaven and to happiness there.
And what is the special truth which Jesus would teach by this parable? He himself is the Pearl of great price – white, pure and much to be desired. Salvation through Him is worth more than rubies to the soul of man. All the gold of Ophir could not purchase it, nor all the diamonds of the mine, nor all the gems possessed by all the monarchs of the world. And the Saviour therefore tells us here that if we would make sure of salvation through Him we must be ready to forsake all for Him.
It was difficult to find the pearl, and it is not easy to find salvation. The merchantman in the parable presses urgently forward to get possession of the gem which he greatly desires and he eagerly holds out all his wealth to make the coveted jewel his own; just so are we to be ready to give up all we have that we may win a Saviour, that the soul may be forgiven for His sake, and that His unsearchable riches may be our portion for ever. Paul did that; he counted everything but loss, however rich and promising it might seem, if it would have deprived him of this one heavenly pearl, Jesus. For the Saviour’s sake, Paul took up the cross, and carried it even with joy, that the priceless pearl – salvation for ever and ever – might be his. Like the merchant travelling far and enduring much for his gems, Paul suffered; he toiled; he taught; he was a prisoner again and again; he wandered from country to country; he fought with wild beasts, and wilder mobs; at last he died a cruel death for the Saviour’s sake. Surely that man knew the pearl of great price – as surely he was willing to lose all rather than lose it.
Now suppose that some one in early youth were beginning to seek this goodly pearl, the Saviour or salvation, how should he proceed? Where or how is he likely to find what he must obtain – or else live and die poor and wretched and miserable and blind and naked?
The pearl merchant was determined to get the gem which he had discovered. He would let nothing stand between him and it. Nay, he gave his all for it; and with equal resolve we must choose a Saviour for the soul. Does sin whisper, “Continue a little longer in me?” That youth will remember the pearl merchant, and at once forsake all for Christ. Does some thoughtless friend try to hinder him from seeking the Saviour or salvation yet? But that youth will remember that a companion cannot be a friend if he would deprive us, even for a day, of a thing so rich as the priceless pearl, Jesus. Or does the world tell that youth that it has many pleasures which he may enjoy, and many happy scenes which he may frequent, before making his choice? But are any of these to be compared for a moment with the Saviour or salvation? Ah no! And though you could turn the whole globe into one sparkling gem and make it the property of any man, his soul would be worth far more than that. Jesus once asked, “What is a man profited if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul?”
Cleopatra, queen of Egypt, had a gem which was valued at £80 729, but she dissolved it in a liquid, and proudly drank it at a draught while at supper with Mark Antony. One Roman lady is said to have worn jewels to the value of £322 916 when she appeared in full dress. The king of Portugal has a gem in his crown which has been absurdly valued at £224 million. Now suppose that any man possessed all these gems together; what are they worth? What would they be worth when he comes to die? Can they pardon his sins? No, but Jesus can. Can they save his soul? No, but Jesus can. Can they add a single minute to his life? No, but Jesus can bestow life everlasting. And is He not then the goodly pearl? Is He not the better portion? Who that is wise would not choose Him?
But more than this. Merchants have often to travel far in quest of their pearls, and sometimes they have suffered much. But the pearl of great price – that is, the Saviour and salvation – is always near at hand. Without money and without price He may be ours. No distant journey, no long troubles, no heart-breaking sorrow. Just welcome this pearl, and He is instantly our own. Who, then, would not choose? Having chosen, who would not resolve and say, “By God’s help, not even death shall part me from Thee”? He “is more precious than rubies, and all the things thou canst desire are not to be compared with” Him. The great moan of the world, broken only by the hysterical laughter of the irrational, would all be hushed then. The priceless pearl would ensure eternal peace, and God, even our God, would bless us.
1. Another chapter, slightly edited, from Tweedie’s book, Parables of Our Lord. It is based on the parable in Matthew 13:45-46.
2. This was published in 1865, which also means that the values quoted towards the end of the article are very modest against present-day figures.