The Tares.
"Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field: but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way. But when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also. So the servants of the householder came and said unto him, Sir, didst not thou sow good seed in thy field? from whence then hath it tares? He said unto them, An enemy hath done this. The servants said unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up? But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn.... Then Jesus sent the multitude away, and went into the house: and his disciples came unto him, saying, Declare unto us the parable of the tares of the field. He answered and said unto them, He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man; the field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one; the enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels. As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world. The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; and shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear." -- MATT. xiii.24-30, 36-43.

As the main design of the first parable is to exhibit the kingdom in its relation to unbelieving men, who, in various forms and with various measures of aggravation, ultimately reject it; the main design of the second is to exhibit the kingdom in its relation to the wicked one, who endeavours, by cunning stratagem, to destroy it. In either case there is a conflict: in the first, the conflict is waged chiefly between the word, which is the seed of the kingdom, and the various evil dispositions which impede its growth in the hearts of men; in the second, the conflict is waged chiefly, as in the mysterious temptation in the wilderness, between Christ, man's Redeemer, and the devil, the adversary of man. In the first parable the obstacles to the progress of the kingdom lay in the heedlessness, the hardness, and the worldliness of men; in the second, the old serpent is the opposer, and wicked men are wielded as instruments in his hands.

The picture is sketched from nature; the lines are very few, but each contributes a feature, and all, together, make the likeness complete.

A Galilean countryman, after having fenced and ploughed and cleaned his field, has watched the condition of the soil and the appearance of the sky, until he has found a day on which both were suitable for the grand decisive operation of the season, the sowing of the seed. With anxiety, but in hope, this critical and cardinal act is performed; the seed is committed to the ground.

It was "good seed" that the careful husbandman cast among the clods. If the last season's crop was of inferior quality, he and his children have cheerfully lived upon the worst, that the best might be reserved for sowing; if the last crop was scanty, the family were content with a less plentiful meal; and if none of the previous year's produce was well ripened, better grain has been bought in a distant market, that at all hazards a sufficient quantity of good seed may be secured for the coming season. Those only who have lived among them, and shared their lot, know how much the poor but intelligent and industrious cultivators of the soil will do and bear in order to preserve or obtain plenty of "good seed."

The great crisis of the season is now past; and the husbandman, wiping his brow as he glances backward upon his completed work, goes home at sunset with limbs somewhat weary, but a heart full of hope. The next portion of the picture is of a dark and dismal hue. When the farmer and his family, innocent and unsuspicious, are fast asleep, a neighbour, too full of envy for enjoying rest, stalks forth into the same field under cover of night, and with much labour scatters something broadcast over its surface. He is secretly sowing tares, with the malicious design of damaging or destroying the wheat. As soon as the deed of darkness is done, he creeps stealthily back to his own bed, and in the morning, when he meets his fellow-villagers, does his best to put on the air of an innocent man.

Weeks pass; showers fall; the seed springs and covers all the ground with beautiful green. The owner visited his field from time to time in spring, and thought it promised well. But at that period of the summer, still a good while before harvest, when the ears of the grain begin to appear, some of the farmer's servants, looking narrowly into the quality of the crop, discovered that a large proportion of it was darnel. Forthwith they reported the sad intelligence to their master, and requested permission to pluck out the intruders. It was agreed among them that good seed had been sown, and the darnel or false wheat was by common consent and without hesitation set down as the work of an enemy. As to the treatment of the disaster now that it had occurred, the master's judgment was clear, and his order explicit: to pull out the darnel at this stage, as the servants proposed, would hurt the wheat more than help it; both must be permitted to grow together till the harvest; they may be safely and effectually separated then.

Some interesting questions connected with the natural objects claim our regard in the first instance, before we proceed to investigate the spiritual significance of the parable.

What are the tares? The original term does not elsewhere occur in Scripture, and in the total absence of examples for comparison, it is somewhat difficult to ascertain its precise signification. The word and the thing which it signifies have exercised the learning and ingenuity of expositors both in ancient and in modern times. On such a subject as this it is on the line of natural history rather than philology that the investigation should mainly proceed; there, from the nature of the case, surer results may be obtained. Through the increased facility of making local inquiries which has of late years been enjoyed, it is now known, and apparently with one consent acknowledged by intelligent inquirers, that the seed which the malicious neighbour sowed in order to injure the produce of the field was Lolium temulentum, or darnel, a kind of false wheat to which the Arabs of Palestine at this day apply a name (zowan) which bears some resemblance to ([Greek: zizania]) the original word in the Greek text.[11] It has long narrow leaves and an upright stalk, and is indeed in all respects so like the wheat, that even an experienced eye cannot distinguish the two plants until they are in ear: the distinction then is manifest, and any one may observe it. The grains of the darnel are not so heavy as the wheat, and not so compactly set upon the stalk. They are poisonous, their specific effect both in man and in beast being nausea and giddiness. The remark of Schubert in his "Natural History," quoted by Stier, that "this is the only poisonous grass," is deeply significant in relation to the spiritual meaning of the parable; it suggests the reason why the Healer selected this plant as the symbol of sin.

[11] "The Land and the Book," by Dr. Thomson. T. Nelson & Sons.

But another question meets us here, more obscure and difficult than either the appearance or the characteristic effects of the darnel, -- the question whether it is originally a specifically different plant, or only wheat degenerated. Some maintain that it is wheat which, by some mysterious causes in the processes of nature, has fallen, as it were, into a lower type. This view imparts additional fulness to the parable in its spiritual application. So interpreted, the picture exhibits not only the low estate of the sinful, but also the fact that they have fallen from a higher. In such cases, however, there is some danger lest the beauty and appropriateness of the conception should entice us to receive it on insufficient evidence. The fact that some plants in certain adverse circumstances tend to degenerate, and in certain favourable circumstances to attain a higher type, is well known in natural history; but it seems questionable whether these changes ever take place to such an extent, and in such a uniform method, as must be assumed if we take darnel for degenerated wheat. Agriculturists in Palestine believe and declare, that, when the season is wet, the wheat which they sow in certain fields in spring grows as zowan in harvest. It is difficult for one who is accustomed to observe the uniformity of nature in the reproduction of each species from its own seed, to believe that transformations so great are accomplished at a single step. An American writer, one of the latest authorities, and, in respect to his abundant opportunities of observation, one of the best, bears witness that he has often seen the wheat and barley fields overrun with darnel, and that the native owners stoutly declare that the good wheat which they sowed has been changed into the false in the process of growth during a single season; but he intimates at the same time that he believes the men are mistaken, and that the presence of the darnel must be attributed to some other cause, and accounted for in some other way.[12] The suggestion that the same peculiarities of season which destroy the sown wheat may favour the springing of the darnel, that had lain in the ground dormant before, may possibly account for the present experience of the Syrian cultivators; or the effects may be in whole or in part due to other causes of which we are not cognizant; but the solution of this question is by no means essential to the right interpretation of the parable, and therefore we shall not prosecute the investigation further in this direction.

[12] "The Land and the Book." Note by Principal Fairbairn in translation of "Lisco on the Parables."

Dr. Thomson gives unequivocal testimony, at the same time, that at the present day no instance is known of the growth of darnel among the wheat being caused by the malicious act of an enemy. This, however, as he distinctly owns, does not prove that the transaction depicted in the parable had no foundation in fact. It must have happened substantially in history, otherwise it would not have been introduced as a supposition into these lessons of the Lord. Some travellers have stated that this species of crime is known in India; but I do not set much value on the discovery of precisely identical facts in modern times. The existence of the representation in this parable is, simply as a matter of rational evidence, a tenfold stronger proof that the facts in their essential features actually happened, than any quantity of analogous cases drawn from other countries in later times. It is of greater importance to note that the malice which endured the toil of sowing tares in a neighbour's field grows yet, and grows rankly in human breasts. In different ages and regions, that spiritual wickedness may clothe itself in bodies of diverse mould and hue, but it is in all times and places the same foul and malignant spirit, acting according to its kind. The same spirit that sowed darnel among wheat at night in a corn field of Galilee, two thousand years ago, will set fire to a stackyard, or hamstring the horses, or shoot the overseer from behind a hedge in our own day, and, alas! in some parts of our own land. As in the highest good, so in the deepest evil, there are diversities of operation by the same spirit. When we take into account the changes of fashion which occur both in clothing and in crime, we have no reason to be sceptical as to the ancient fact, and no difficulty in obtaining a modern specimen.

From the results already gained, it appears obvious that the translation "tares" in our English version is unfortunate: it not only fails to represent clearly the state of the fact, but leads the reader's mind away in a wrong direction. To an English reader the term suggests a species of legume, which bears no resemblance to wheat at any stage of its progress. By the use of this word the characteristic feature of the picture is greatly obscured. Had the plant which sprung from the envious neighbour's seed been a legume, its presence would have been detected at the first, and it could have been separated at any stage. The darnel, on the contrary, cannot be distinguished from wheat until both are nearly ripe, and the process of separation, whether in the field or on the threshing-floor, is much more difficult.

* * * * *

Again the Lord becomes his own interpreter: at the request of the disciples he explained to them in private the meaning of his allegory. The points are great, few, and clearly defined. In this journey the Master has kindly gone before us; reverently, trustfully, we shall follow his steps. "He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man; the field is the world." It is in connection with the "field" that the greatest difficulty has occurred, the greatest mistakes have been made, and the deepest injury has been done. Few words of Scripture are more plain; and yet few have been more grievously misunderstood and wrested. At the entrance of the inspired explanation, the expositor, bent on the defence of his own foregone conclusion, takes his stand, like a pointsman on a railway, and by one jerk turns the whole train into the wrong line. "The field is the world," said the Lord: "The field is the Church," say the interpreters. It is wearisome to read the reasonings by which they endeavour to fortify their assumption. Having determined that the field is the Church, they are compelled immediately to address themselves to the great practical question of discipline. If they were prepared to admit that there should be absolutely no discipline -- that no man should be shut out from communion, however heretical his opinions or vicious his practice might be, their task under the general principle of interpretation which they have adopted would be very easy. The command is clear, cast none out of the "field," however fully developed their wickedness may be, until the angels make the separation between good and evil at the consummation of all things. If the field means the Church, the exclusion of the unworthy by a human ministry is absolutely forbidden. But the expositors are not willing altogether to abandon discipline. They maintain, on the one hand, that this parable deals with and settles the question of the right to eject unworthy members from the communion of the Church; and on the other hand, that while it condemns excessive and puritanical strictness, it permits and justifies the ejection of those who are manifestly unworthy. Most of the commentaries that have come under my notice betray on this point weakness and inconsistency. If by this feature of the parable the Lord gives a decision on Church discipline, he forbids it out and out, in all its forms, and in all its degrees. The separation suggested, he permits not to be attempted at all, until he shall charge his angels to accomplish it at the end of the world. In my judgment, to contend for the right of excluding some of the ranker tares, after admitting that this parable bears upon the subject of ecclesiastical discipline, tends not only to perplex the student, but to throw a reflection on the authority of the Word. I see only two doors open: either cease to hold that the field is the Church, or cease to claim the right of excluding any from communion.

Good old Benjamin Keach, in a portly volume on the parables, addressed "to the impartial reader," and sent "from my house in Horsley Down, Southwark, August 20.1701," indicates with clearness and simplicity his own judgment; but, overawed by authority, seems afraid at the sound of his own words: "The field is the world; though it may, as some think, also refer to the Church. Marlorate saith by a synecdoche, a part for the whole, it signifies the Church; though this seems doubtful to me, and I rather believe it means the world." The second of two reasons which he submits as the grounds of his opinion is, -- "Because tares, when discovered to be such, must not grow among the wheat in the Church, but ought to be cast out, though they ought to live together in the world." Here Keach reasons most naturally, and indeed irrefragably, against the interpretation that the world is the Church, from the monstrous consequence to which it necessarily leads. I am beyond measure amazed to find the general stream of interpretation, as far as I have had an opportunity of examining it, ancient and modern, German and Anglican, flowing in this channel. When I find the great and venerated name of Calvin contributing to swell this tide, I am compelled to pause and examine the subject anew; but my judgment remains the same. We must call no man master on earth; one is our master in heaven. It is not necessarily presumption in one of us to oppose the judgment of the great and good of a former age, especially on such a subject as this. In regard to all the relations between the Church and the civil power, we are in a better position for judging than either the early Reformers or the Continental and Anglican theologians of the present day. The general progress made since the time of Calvin in the historical development of the Christian Church, and the particular experience through which Christians in Scotland have in later times been led, greatly contribute to elevate our stand-point in relation to the discipline of the Church, and its right to freedom from civil control. As a child on the house-top can scan a wider landscape than a man on the ground, although the child may have been indebted to that man for his elevation; so we may own the Reformers as in a right sense our teachers, and yet on some subjects form a sounder judgment than they. Although no new revelation has been made since the Lord's apostles were removed from the earth, the Church does under the government of her Head, advance from age to age; and the principle embodied in the declaration, "The least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he" (Matt. xi.11), emerges still in manifold subordinate fulfilments. As to the greatest modern scholars of Germany and England, the accepted and even lauded Erastianism in which they are steeped is a beam in their eye, which dims and distorts their sight when they look in the direction of the Church with its constitution and discipline. While on other subjects their insight is such that we may be content to sit at their feet, the view on this side is from their stand-point cut off short, as if by a mountain in the foreground, and they can afford us no help.

"The field is the world:" in the prevailing confusion we hold to this, as the ship to her anchor in a storm. Men should remember when they explain away the meaning of the term "world," and teach that it signifies the Church, that they are dealing not with a parable, but with the explanation of a parable given by the Lord. The parable is professedly a metaphor; but when the Lord undertook to tell his disciples what the metaphor meant, he did not give them another metaphor more difficult than the first. I venture to affirm that the expositors would have found it easier to show that the "field" is the Church than to show that the "world" is the Church. According to their view, it results that the Lord proposed to interpret his own allegory, but only gave on this point another allegory somewhat more obscure. The outrageousness of the conclusion proves the premises false. In affectionate tenderness to the twelve, the Lord Jesus undertook to translate a figurative expression which puzzled them into a literal expression which the feeblest might be able to comprehend. The "field" is the metaphor, and that metaphor interpreted is the "world;" it does not need to be interpreted over again. This Teacher means what he says. He points to this globe, man's habitation, and mankind its inhabitants in all places and all times.

Into this world Christ, the Son of man, the Son of God, cast good seed. The children of the kingdom are the good seed: in the beginning men were made in God's likeness, and placed in his world. Thereafter and thereupon an enemy stealthily and maliciously sowed tares in the same field. The enemy is the devil; and the tares which he by his sowing caused to spring in the field are the children of the wicked one. In the first instance, the Day in which the sower spread good seed in his field was the day in which God made man upright: the Night in which the enemy sowed tares was the period of the temptation and the fall. Both these antagonistic processes are carried on still. The Son of man sows the good seed day by day in the world, and night by night the enemy sows his tares. Especially and signally in the fulness of time the good seed, more completely developed, was again committed to the ground in the ministry and sacrifice of Christ; and again the wicked one renewed and increased his efforts to counteract and destroy it. These two, opposite in origin and in nature, are commingled and interwoven in all the ordinary relations of life. The children of the wicked one and the children of the kingdom live together in the world, eat of the same bread, and breathe the same air, and look upon the same light.

In the Galilean field, which the Lord employed as a type with which to print his lesson, portions might be seen where, owing perhaps to peculiar wetness and sourness in the soil, the wheat had wholly disappeared, and the darnel grew alone; in other parts, probably where the soil was warm and dry, the good seed had gained the mastery, and the false scarcely showed its head; and in a third quarter the good and bad might appear in equal numbers and equal strength. Such precisely is the aspect of the world. Large portions of it have been heathen from a higher date than that to which history ascends; large portions, which were Christian long after the apostolic age, have been overrun and laid waste by the blind but strong system of Mahomet; while in other parts a vigorous Christian life appears, although even there the good seed must maintain a struggle against bitter roots below and poisonous fruit rearing its head on high.

I accept, therefore, in all simplicity, the Master's own definition: I see in the field of the injured husbandman a picture, not of the Church in the world, but of the world in which the Church must for the present live and labour. The ingenious effort made by a recent Swiss expositor[13] to find a middle path only serves to show how heavily the difficulties of the common interpretation press on those who maintain it. Having confessed, according to the terms of the text, that the field or ground is not the Church, but the world, he proceeds, with a very strong animus against what he calls puritanism or separatism,[14] to argue in the usual way against every attempt to purify the visible Church except by the exclusion of persons who are notoriously heretical or vicious. The grounds on which he pleads against separation from the impure, in as far as this parable is concerned, are -- (1.) That there was no need of a revelation to make known the universally acknowledged maxim that bad people should be tolerated in the world; (2.) That, according to the terms of the parable, the farmer sowed wheat in his ground, but did not sow the whole of his ground -- so that the ground may be the world, and the portion sown, or the wheat field, may still represent the Church; (3.) That the parable of the fishing-net confirms this interpretation; and (4.) That in the world there was no wheat until the preaching of the gospel reached it, and consequently the mixture is in the church, and not in the world.

[13] Die Parabeln des Herrn, fuer Kirche, Schule, und Haus, erklaert von Dr. De Valenti. Basel, 1841.

[14] It is quite possible that the separatists whom De Valenti scolds, with more warmth than elegance, may deserve his censure; for severe restrictive measures adopted by governments to suppress religious dissent have frequently the effect of deteriorating its character, on the principle that oppression makes a wise man mad.

The first of these grounds seems most unfortunate; for corrupt ecclesiastics, from an early age to the present day, have ever shown themselves ready to cast those whom they call heretics, not out of the Church only, but out of the world:[15] the second is a refinement too narrow for building any conclusion upon: the third applies a mistaken view of one parable to support a mistaken view of another: and the fourth is the second in another form. After having in effect explained away his own admission, that the field is the world, and not the Church, he freely concedes in the close that the openly heretical and vicious should not be tolerated within the Church. But I ask what right has he to exclude those whom, according to his exegesis, the Lord commanded his ministers to tolerate in the Church?

[15] Lange (in loc.), having quoted Gerlach to the effect that this prohibition refers to extremes of ecclesiastical discipline, for the purpose of excluding all unbelievers and hypocrites, and constituting a perfectly pure Church, timidly replies: "We can scarcely agree with him that it contains no allusion to the punishment of death for heresy.... It is well known that Novatianism, on the one hand, and the Papal hierarchy, on the other, have addressed themselves to this work of uprooting despite the prohibition of the Lord, and that the Romish Church has at last ended by condemning to the flames only the best wheat.... The auto da fes of the middle ages were only a humble caricature and anticipation of that fiery judgment."

In the intimation that it was while men slept that the mischief was done, I cannot find any covert reproof of an indolent ministry in the Church. It was night: all the community had retired to rest. The species of criminal which the parable depicts was not numerous, -- the crime was not of daily occurrence. It was neither the practice nor the duty of the people, after they had toiled all day in their fields, to watch their work by night, to protect it from possible injury. The expression, "while men slept," is intended merely to indicate that the evil-doer took advantage of the darkness to cover his deed: accordingly, in the interpretation no specific meaning is attached to this feature of the parable.

In regard to the servants, and their proposal instantly to pull up the tares, the interpretation is attended with difficulty. With some eminent ancient expositors I am convinced that, if not exclusively, yet primarily and chiefly, the servants who offered to make the separation are the angels. The parable stretches far into both time and space: it comprehends the world, and the successive dispensations of God there. Morning stars sang together when they saw beautiful worlds starting into being at their Maker's word: the same high intelligences must have been surprised and grieved when they saw God's fairest work marred by sin. It is like the impulse of beings perfect in holiness, but limited in knowledge, to offer themselves on the instant as willing instruments to cast the defilers out. Pleased, doubtless, with their instinctive zeal for holiness, but comprehending his own purposes better than they, the Lord declined the proffered ministry. At the same time he intimated that the separation which the servants suggested was not refused, but only postponed. His plan required that good and evil, now that evil had begun, should mingle in the world till the end. At the close of the dispensation, when the Son of man shall come in his glory, he will give the commission for a final separation to the angels who shall constitute his train.

It seems to be generally assumed by modern expositors, that while the reapers who shall separate the tares from the wheat in harvest are angels, the servants who offered to weed out the tares while they were yet green are the human ministers of the visible Church. Archbishop Trench, for example, says: "These servants are not, as Theophylact suggests, the angels (they are the reapers, ver.30); but men, zealous, indeed, for the Lord's honour, but zealous with the same zeal as animated those two disciples who would fain have commanded fire to come down from heaven on the inhospitable Samaritan village" (Luke ix.54). I think the learned author is mistaken here, and that the preponderance of evidence lies on the other side. The subject is interesting, and will repay the labour of investigation.

Here two questions, distinct, yet closely connected, constitute the case: on the answer which may be given to them the decision will turn. One relates to the persons, and the other to their acts: Are the "servants" who propose to pull up the tares in summer, and the "reapers" who are commanded to make the separation in harvest, the same, or different persons? and is the separation proposed by the servants substantially the same in kind with that which is ultimately effected by the reapers, or is it different?

I think the servants and the reapers are substantially identical. The troop of servants who haunt a rich man's house, and the band of labourers who reap his patrimonial fields, stand far apart in our land and our day. Not so, however, in the establishment of a Galilean householder eighteen hundred years ago. When you take into view the habits of society at the date and on the scene of the parable, it will appear certain and obvious that the servants who proposed to weed the fields in summer were, in part at least, the same persons who would be sent to reap the fields in autumn. The reapers might be a more numerous band than the servants who were employed throughout the year, but to a large extent the constituents must have been the same. In another parable (Luke xvii.7-10), a servant, who has been ploughing or feeding cattle, is obliged, after he returns from the field, to gird himself and wait on his master at table. This shows conclusively that the division of labour which obtains among us was unknown then in Galilee. The master does not, indeed, say to the servants who made the proposal, I will employ you in harvest to accomplish the separation: the form of expression is, "I will say to the reapers;" but reapers and servants were of the self-same class, and in all probability to some extent the same individuals.

The second question can be more easily answered. The separation which the reapers ultimately effected is essentially the same with that which the servants at an earlier period proposed. It is an actual, material, final separation of the tares from the wheat.

It results that there is no solid ground in the parable for the assumption that those who proposed to make the separation at an earlier date represent men, while those who were employed to accomplish it afterwards represent angels; and that the separation which the Lord prohibited was spiritual, while that which he permitted was physical. In regard to the separation which he sanctioned, the Lord interprets what the operation is, and who are the operators; whereas, in regard to the separation at an earlier date proposed, he gives no interpretation. Instead of beginning by giving my own assumption as to the meaning of the uninterpreted part, I go first to the part that is interpreted to my hand, and from the point which is illuminated I get light thrown back on the point which was left in the shade. The reapers, I know, are the angels; and the servants were the same, or at least the same class of ministers, proposing to accomplish the work at an earlier date. The separation which was actually effected in the harvest represents, we know, the personal and local as well as moral and spiritual separation of the good and the evil; thence I conclude that the separation which the same ministers, or the same class of ministers, had previously offered to make was personal and local as well as moral and spiritual. The proposed and the accepted separations were precisely the same in kind and degree; they differed only in their dates: while, therefore, one of the two is interpreted to my hand, I have no right to attach to the other an interpretation totally different. The assumption that the separation which the Lord prohibited was only a spiritual sentence, while the separation which he permitted was actual, local, complete, and final, derives countenance neither from the parable nor its interpretation.

It appears to me, then, that the Lord's direct and immediate design in this parable is, not to prescribe the conduct of his disciples in regard to the conflict between good and evil in the world, but to explain his own. Knowing that their Master possessed all power in heaven and in earth, it was natural that Christians of the first age should expect an immediate paradise. Nothing was more necessary, for the support of their faith in subsequent trials, than distinct warnings from the Lord, that even to his own people the world would remain a wilderness. Accordingly, both in plain terms and by symbols, he faithfully, frequently intimated that in the world they should have tribulation, but that all should be set right at last. On both sides they needed, and on both sides he gave, the instruction, that in this life they must lay their account with a mixture, but that after this life they would escape. Left to their own imagination, they would readily have expected that their omnipotent Head would so rule over the world, and so instruct his ministers, whether stormy winds or flaming fires, that evil, as soon as it showed its head, would be weeded out of his people's way: but with this parable and other cognate lessons in their hands, they would not be surprised at any amount of success which the enemy might be permitted to obtain; they would possess their souls in patience, and wait for the end of the Lord.

The parable condemns persecution, but it seems not to bear upon discipline at all. In its secondary sense, or by implication, it protects the wicked from any attempt on the part of the Church to cast them out of the world by violence; but it does not, in any form or measure, vindicate a place for the impure within the communion of the Church of Christ. Arguments against the exclusion of unworthy members, founded on this parable, are nothing else than perversions of Scripture. Elsewhere Christians may clearly read their duty in regard to any brother who walks disorderly; elsewhere they may learn how to counsel, exhort, and rebuke the erring, and, if he remain impenitent, how to cast him out of communion by a spiritual sentence; but in this parable regarding these matters no judgment is given.

While the "Notes" of Dr. Trench on the parables are generally judicious and valuable, his exposition of this and one or two others that are cognate is injured by a secret bias towards the forms in which he has been educated, -- a bias that is natural and human, but not on that account less hurtful. The body of the vast and venerable institution of which he is at once a chief and an ornament, stands so near, and bulks so largely, that where it is concerned his usual acuteness fails him. The general announcement at the commencement of the parable, that it concerns the kingdom of heaven, he seems to think is sufficient proof that the "field" must mean the kingdom of heaven or the Church. It does, indeed, concern the kingdom of heaven, for it shows that when that kingdom has, by the Son of man, been introduced into the world, many things spring up and mingle with it there to mar its fruitfulness; but it betrays an unaccountable confusion to argue formally that because the parable concerns the kingdom of heaven, therefore, of all the features which the parable contains, "the field" must specifically represent that kingdom, in the face of the express testimony of Scripture that the field represents a totally different thing. The parable of the mustard-seed concerns the kingdom too, but does the "field" in that parable therefore mean the Church? No. The mustard-seed that grew in the field means the Church, and the field means the world in which the Church is planted. So in this parable the only thing that represents the Church, or aggregate of individual believers, is the mass of the wheat stalks that sprang from the good seed: the good seed are the children of the kingdom, and the field is the world in which these children live and labour. Looking minutely to the phraseology employed, we find that the kingdom of heaven is not said to be likened unto a field, but unto a man that sowed seed; pointing to the Lord himself as the head, and the good seed as his members, and the wide world as their place of sojourn, till he take them to himself.

Dr. Trench remarks further on this point, that the use of the term "world" need not perplex us in the least; and perhaps he was led to make that assertion because the use of the term did perplex him much. His solution of the difficulty is this: "It was the world, and therefore was rightly called so, till this seed was sown in it; but thenceforth was the world no longer." If it has any meaning at all, this sentence must mean that what was the world yesterday becomes the Church to-day, when some seed is sown, when some children of the kingdom are in it. Does the whole world become the Church when one country is christianized? or is it only the portion christianized that becomes the Church? If so, how many Christians must be in a given portion of the world, to constitute that portion the Church? If there were three of the true seed in Sodom, was Sodom the Church? or did not the three constitute the Church in Lot's house, while the world raged around it like the troubled sea?

Some of Stier's remarks are good: "The parable moves in quite a different sphere from that of the question concerning Church discipline." "The householder forbids and will not allow what the servants wish. These would have all the tares removed entirely from their place among the wheat, from the kingdom of Christ (ver.41). But because the field is the world, that were equivalent to removing the bad out of the world (slaying the heretics)," &c.

The conclusion of the whole matter is, that whatever separation the parable forbids, it forbids entirely: if it speaks of discipline, it says there shall be none; so that they are wholly out of their reckoning who lean on it for the condemnation of what they consider excessive strictness while they would retain the power of excluding the worst from communion. But, in truth, the parable has nothing to say on the subject.

When we have made our way through the discussions that have accumulated round it, we return to the text in its simplicity, and grasp its plain positive truth, "The field is the world." It was all empty; nothing good grew there, until the seed was brought from heaven and sown. The nation, the family, the soul that has not Christ, is poor, and wretched, and miserable, and blind, and naked.

"The good seed are the children of the kingdom." They are bought with a price and born of the Spirit; they are new creatures in Christ and heirs of eternal life. Expressly it is written in reference to Christ's disciples, "All things are for your sakes" (2 Cor. iv.15). For their sakes the world is preserved now, and for their sakes it will be destroyed when the set time has come. The darnel is permitted to grow in summer, and in harvest is cast into the fire, -- both for the sake of the wheat. Because Christ loves his own he permits the wicked to run their course in time; but because Christ loves his own he will separate the wicked from the good at last.

The tares are the children of the wicked, and "the enemy that sowed them is the devil." Some people doubt, and some positively deny, the existence of the devil; but one thing is clear, the Lord Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of the Father, has no doubt on that point. He believes in that doctrine and teaches it: he teaches it to the multitude on the margin of the lake, and to the select circle of his followers in a private dwelling.

Lively and energetic are the remarks of Fred. Arndt on this subject: "Yes, Jesus says, in dry, clear words, 'The enemy that soweth them is the devil.' But surely there is not any devil? Who says that? The Son of God, the mouth of eternal truth, who knows the realm of spirits even as he knows this visible world, -- who is the highest reason and the deepest wisdom, yea, even Omniscience itself, -- he believes it. He holds it reasonable to believe in it. He teaches what he believes. Dost thou know it better than he, thou short-sighted being, thou dust of yesterday, thou child of error and ignorance? He says it, and therefore it is eternal truth. 'But is it not intended to be taken figuratively?' Well, suppose it were meant figuratively, we can only comprehend the figures of actually existing things, and the figurative representation of the devil would imply his real being: but here in the text the speech is not figurative; the expression stands not among pictures and parables, but in the interpretation of a picture and a parable."[16] Whence hath it tares? inquired the servants. Already in those days they had begun to probe the question around which the conflict of ages has been waged -- the origin of evil. One thing in the answer of the Lord is fitted to pour a flood of comfort into our hearts when they are agitated by the difficulties of this tremendous problem, -- "an enemy hath done this." Evil does not belong originally to the constitution of man, nor has God, his maker, introduced it. Our case is sad, indeed; for we learn that an enemy whom we cannot overcome is ever lying in wait seeking how he may devour us. But what would our case have been, if evil, instead of being injected by an enemy from without, had been of the essence of the creature, or the act of the Creator? Our condition would have been one of absolute and irremediable despair. What a strong one, who is our enemy, has brought in, a stronger, who is our friend, can cast out -- will cast out. Be of good cheer; believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.

[16] Die Gleichniss-reden Jesu Christi, von Fried. Arndt.

How grand is the view which this picture discloses, when in the interpretation of it we closely follow the Master's steps! It is, indeed, a parable concerning the kingdom of heaven. The whole world belongs to the King; he has placed his children in it, and commanded them to multiply till they people all its borders. The enemy has introduced among them evil persons, and within them evil thoughts. It is not a part of the omniscient Ruler's plan to remove, by the ministry of either angels or men, all the wicked at once from his world. For his own purposes, which are only in part discernible by us, he permits the good and the evil to mingle and contend with each other until the fulness of time, as he left the Canaanites in the land to chastise and exercise his chosen people. When the tares prosper, the wheat languishes: when the wheat prospers, the tares languish. Evil men have lived in God's world ever since sin began: evil thoughts and deeds will be found in God's children as long as they remain in the body. The angels are not sent to-day to make such a separation as would leave the children of the kingdom nothing to do, or to bear.

If you desire the heavenly to prosper within you and around you, fight with the proper weapons against the devilish: if you desire the devilish within and around you to languish and decay, cherish the heavenly. As David's house waxes stronger, Saul's house will wax weaker. When Christ gets more of the world and of our hearts, the devil will get less.

i the sower
Top of Page
Top of Page