Thus it is plain that the kingdom in its present form is not to be a universal one. From that which the prophets of the Old Testament picture, it is widely distinguished. Left to man's reception of it, and not set up by the right hand of power, it is received by some, rejected by many; and even where outwardly received, in many cases no real fruit Godward is the result. There are thus "children of the kingdom" who in the end, like those among Israel, are cast out of it; and that where there is no fault with the seed or with the sowing of it, but the fault is entirely in the nature of the soil in which the seed is sown.
But that is not the whole picture by any means. We are now to see not merely the ill success of the good seed, but the result of the introduction of seed of another character, and sown by another hand,- the positive sowing of the enemy himself, and not simply his opposition to that sown by another. "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" (vs. 24, 25). Thus, in the very midst of that which the first parable has shown us springing up - good wheat, although there may be many barren and blighted ears - the enemy sows, not wheat at all, but tares. In this case, it is not the Word of Christ that is sown, clearly, but Satan's corruption of it. The springing up of the good seed could not produce tares, nor the father of lies preach truth. Hence the test of a man's speaking by a good or evil spirit could be, "Every spirit that confesseth Jesus Christ come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that confesseth not Jesus Christ come in the flesh is not of God; and this is that spirit of anti-christ," etc. (1 John 4:2, 3). The enemy of Christ ("His enemy," v. 25), even "as an angel of light," will not hold up Christ, for he knows too well what Christ is for souls.
On the other hand, when Christ was preached, even of envy and strife, the apostle could rejoice for the same reason (Phil. 1). But here, not the "corn of wheat," (John 12:24) which would bring forth wheat if it sprang up at all, but "tares" are sown; and "tares" and nothing else spring up. The word "sown," in imitation yet in real opposition to the truth, produces under a Christian name and dress a host of real enemies to the truth and to Christ, "children of the wicked one" (vs. 38), not mere children of nature, however fallen, but the devil's own, - begotten by his word, as God's children by His.
And here, alas, we read of no hindrances, no opposition of hard-trodden ground, or underlying rock, - no catching away by the birds of the air,- no choking by thorns. All circumstances favour this seed and its growth. It needs no nursing; will thrive amid "cares of this world," and grow up in companionship with the "deceitfulness of riches." It is at home everywhere, and the soil everywhere congenial, for its "wisdom" is not "Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God:" it "descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish" (James 3:15).
So it prospers. And even the children of God,- nay, "the servants" (vs. 27), are slow to discern the true nature of what is being sown, and growing up amongst them. Sad and solemn it is to see how lightly we think of error; for it is but another way of saying how lightly we value the truth. Yet by the word of truth are we begotten, and by the truth are we sanctified (James 1:18; John 17:17). It is this by which we alone know either ourselves or God. It is of the perversion of this that the apostle said, "Though we or an angel from heaven preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed" (Gal. 1:8); words that he emphatically repeats, that we may be assured that it was no hastiness of ill-tempered zeal that moved him, but the true inspiration of the Spirit of Christ.
The seed springs up, then, and there are now tares among the wheat. How soon that began in the professing church! Judaism, legalism, ceremonialism, and even the denial of the resurrection itself, the keystone of Christian doctrine, you may find again and again among the churches of the apostolic days; and in the sure Word of God what solemn warnings as to the future,- a future long since present. "Even now are there many antichrists," wrote the last of the apostles, "whereby we know it is the last time."
But for the sowing of these tares, those are responsible to whom the field has been intrusted, "While men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat." There was the failure. In the case given in the first parable, they had not power to prevent the ill-success of the Word of truth in men's hearts, or the hollowness of an external profession of the truth, which yet had no proper root in the man who made it. All who "gladly received the Word upon the day of Pentecost" were baptized "the same day." There was no waiting to see if, when tribulation came, they would endure, and yet that was the real test for the stony-ground hearer. Such would "immediately with joy" receive the Word, and so baptism, and be added to the disciples. It was not failure on the part of the baptizers, if such there were, for the heart they could not read. There each man stood on his own responsibility to God.
But it was a different thing when that which was not the Word, but Satan's corruption of it, began to be sown, and that in the very midst of disciples. And, once again I say, how soon that took place! and how soon it became needful to write even to the little babes about Antichrist; and to exhort men "earnestly to contend for the faith once delivered to the saints;" and that, because of "certain men, crept in unawares,- un godly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ" (Jude 3, 4). Thus were the tares already manifested. "The children of the wicked one" were there. Christ was denied in His own kingdom. The question of His actual sovereignty was raised, and He must come in sovereignty and in judgment to decide that question. The servants are not competent to decide it. "The servants said unto Him, 'Wilt thou, then, that we go and gather them up?' "- these tares. "But He said, 'Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them.'"
A solemn lesson, from which we may, if we will, learn much; while it does not teach what so many seem disposed to learn from it. For plainly, communion at the Lord's table is not at all the question here, and it is nothing less than willful blindness to persist in this application of it in the face of the manifold Scriptures which contradict it. What meaning could "Put out from among yourselves that wicked person," addressed to the church at Corinth, have for those who here learn from the lips of the Lord Himself, as they say, that tares and wheat are to grow up together in the church, and that it is vain and wrong to attempt any such separation? And what mean even their own feeble efforts to put out some notorious offenders, if this be so?, If this be to gather up tares, why attempt it in the case of even the worst, when the principle they maintain is not to do it at all?
Gathering of Tares in Angels' Hands
On the other hand, this passage does teach us that it is one thing to know and own the evil that has come in, and quite another to have power or authority to set things right again. Men slept, and the tares were sown. No after-vigilance or earnestness could repair the mischief. The gathering up must be left for angels' hands in the day of harvest. "Let both grow together until the harvest; and in the time of harvest I will say unto the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn."
Jude's remedy for the state of things is just the same. Of the ungodly men of whom he speaks as having crept in among the disciples, he says, "And Enoch also, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of these, saying, 'Behold, the Lamb COMETH with ten thousand of His saints, to execute judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed, and of all their hard speeches, which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him." Thus alone in the wheat field of Christendom is the separation of the evil from the good effected. It is quite another thing to purge ourselves, according to the apostle's word to Timothy (2 Tim. 2), from the vessels to dishonour in the house; and this we are bound to do. The purging of the house itself the Lord alone will and can do.
Meanwhile, tares and wheat do grow together. The dishonour done to Christ in Christendom no means of ours can ever efface or rectify. No, not even the most zealous preaching of the gospel, however blessed the result of that, will ever turn the tares of Unitarianism, Universalism, annihilationism, popery, and what not, into good wheat for God's granary. Nor can we escape their being numbered with us as Christians in the common profession of the day. If we meet them at the Lord's table, as if it were no matter, or we could not help it, we should proclaim ourselves "one bread, one body" with them (1 Cor. 10:17); for "we, being many, are one bread and one body; for we are all partakers of that one bread." But while refusing to link ourselves with them to the dishonour of our Lord and Master, we cannot put ourselves outside the common profession of Christianity to avoid companionship with them there. Nor if we had power, have we skill to separate infallibly the Lord's people, many of them mixed up with most of the various forms of error. "The Lord knoweth them that are His" is alone our comfort. He will make no mistake. And "Behold, the Lord cometh," is the only available remedy which faith looks for, for the state of things at large.
Tares Gathered in Bundles for Burning
The separation, which men's hands are thus declared incompetent for, remains for angels' hands in the day of the harvest of Christendom. They are the reapers then. The field is to be cleared of wheat and tares alike; and at one moment it is bidden both to gather the tares in bundles to be burnt, and to gather the wheat into the barn. Thus solemnly the day of Christian profession ends.
But let us look a little more closely at the order and manner of it, which is of the greatest importance in order to understand it rightly.
"Gather together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them." There is no actual burning yet, and there is no removal from the field. It is a separation of the tares in the field, so as to leave the wheat distinct and ready for the ingathering. In what manner, we must refrain from conjecturing; whether it will be gradually or suddenly effected, we do not know. The separation will be, however, made, and the true people of the Lord will stand in their own distinct company at last when that day is come. There will follow then, not the removal of the tares, but of the wheat. The tares are left in bundles on the field; the wheat are gathered into the barn.
Wheat Gathered into His Barn
We know what this is very well; and how many joyful hopes are crowded into that brief sentence. The scene is pictured for us in 1 Thess. 4. The descent of the Lord into the air; the shout, the voice of the archangel, and the trump of God; the resurrection of the dead in Christ, the myriads fallen asleep in Him through the ages of the past; the change of the living saints throughout the earth; the rise of that glorious company; the meeting and the welcome; the henceforth "ever with the Lord,"- all these are the various parts and features of that which these words figure to us: "Gather the wheat into My barn," Suddenly, we know, this will be. "In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye," this change will be effected; every living saint will be gathered out of the length and breadth of Christendom, and it will be left but a tare-field simply, with its tares gathered and bound in bundles, ready for the burning.
* There is a notion current among many who believe in the Lord's coming, that only those who are in a certain state of preparation among the saints then living will be caught up then, and the rest will be left on earth to be purified by the tribulation that follows. I cannot do more than allude to this just now: but it is completely contradicted in the words of the parable before us.
False Professor Finally Linked With the Tares
And where are the barren and blighted ears of false profession? Where is he of the stony ground? Where the man in whom the good seed of the Word was choked with the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and brought no fruit to perfection? We have seen that the "tares" are not simply such, but the fruit of Satan's perversion of the Word. They are not those of whom the apostle speaks as "having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof;" but rather they are those, whether teachers or taught, to whom apply the words of another apostle, concerning "false teachers, who shall privily bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them," and whose "pernicious ways" many shall follow, "by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of" (2 Pet. 2). These are the tares of the devil's sowing, and it is important to distinguish them from the mere formalist and unfruitful professor of the truth. It is on account of these, as both Peter and Jude tell us, that the swift and terrible judgment which ends the whole comes. "Enoch," the seventh from Adam, prophesied of these, saying, 'Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of His saints to execute judgment upon all."
And yet the formalist, the man of mere profession, will not escape. In the judgment of the dead before the great white throne they will receive according to their deeds as surely as any, but that is long after the scene before us in this parable. Here is a simple question of good wheat for the granary or of tares for the burning. Nothing else is in the field at all. There is no middle class, no unfruitful orthodox profession; all seem to have taken sides, before the solemn close of the time of harvest, either manifestly for Christ, or as manifestly against Him. Is this indeed so? Have we warrant for such an interpretation of the language of the parable?
The Apostasy of Christendom
The answer to this is a very solemn one; and we shall find it in the second epistle to the Thessalonians. In the first epistle, the apostle had spoken of "the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, and our gathering together to Him." He had assured them that even the sleeping saints would be brought with Christ when He should come again (1 Thess, 4:14); and that in order to accompany Him so on His return to earth, they would be raised from the dead, and together with all the living ones of that day, be caught up to meet the Lord in the air. Thus, when He "appeared" to judge the world, they would appear with Him in glory (Col. 3:4). He could therefore in His second epistle beseech the Thessalonian Christians, by their knowledge of this coming, and this "gathering," not to be shaken in mind, or troubled, as supposing or being persuaded that the day of the Lord had already come.* That day (as all the prophets witness) is the day of the Lord's taking the earth from under man's hand and into His own, the time in which His judgments are upon the earth, and the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness. That day, he assures them, shall not come unless there come a falling away (an apostasy) first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition, who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped.
* Chap. 2:2: The word rendered "is at hand" in the common version, is the one rendered "present," in opposition to "to come," in Horn. 8:38 and 1 Cor. 3:22.; and so Alford renders it here. It is the only proper rendering. The generality of editors also read "the day of the Lord" instead of "the day of Christ."
Now, my object is not any special application or interpretation of this. So much is manifest, that this "man of sin," whoever he may be, is one who heads up an, or rather "the" apostasy of the latter days. The evil, the mystery of iniquity, was already at work even in the apostles' days (vs. 7). There was, however, for the present, a restraint upon it. When that should be removed, the wicked one would be revealed, who was to be destroyed alone, mark, by the Lord's coming (vs. 8).
Thus we are evidently in view of the same period as that contemplated in the parable before us, as well as of the judgment which Jude warns of. The passage in the Thessalonians exhibits, however, the "man of sin" as the distinct head and leader of the latter-day apostasy, and, moreover, declares to us how far this apostasy shall extend. The coming of the "wicked one" is declared to be with a terrible power of delusion which will carry away captive the masses of the unconverted among professing Christians until none of that middle or neutral class remain. "Whose coming is after the working of Satan, with all power and signs and lying wonders, and with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they may believe a lie, that THEY ALL might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness" (vs. 9-12).
Thus terribly shall close the history of Christendom. The true saints once taken out of it, the door of grace will be closed forever upon those who have rejected grace. They will be given over to become, as they speedily will become, from being unbelievers of the truth, believers of a lie. The wheat being gathered out of the field, tares alone will be found in it.
The actual burning of the tares is not found in the parable itself, but in the interpretation of it which the Lord afterward gives to His disciples. "As, therefore, the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, so shall it be at the end of this age. 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" (vs. 40-43).
The Coming of the Son of Man
This is when the Lord comes as Son of Man to take that throne which He has promised to share with His people. Then, when the time of "patience" is over, and the rod of iron shall break in pieces all resistance to the King of kings. Then "judgment"- long separated from it -"shall return unto righteousness," and the earth shall be freed from the yoke of oppression and the bondage of corruption. It is the time of which the thirty-seventh Psalm speaks, when "evil doers shall be cut off: but those who wait upon the Lord, they shall inherit the earth" (vs. 9); when "yet a little while, and the wicked shall not be,- yea, thou shalt diligently consider his place, and it shall not be; but the meek shall inherit the earth, and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace" (vs. 10, 11).
Sometime before will the gathering for heaven have taken place, and the saints have met their Lord, as we have seen. Now, in this day of the judgment, which prepares the way for the blessing of the earth, they are seen in their heavenly place. "Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun." Blessed words! which speak of their association with their Lord in other ways than simply as sharers of His rule with the "rod of iron." For "unto you that fear My Name," says the Word by Malachi to Israel, "shall the Sun of Righteousness arise with healing in His wings." Who bears that name, we know; and how it speaks of earth's nighttime passed away. But "when Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with Him in glory." So, as the Sun, shall the righteous shine forth in the kingdom of their Father.
With Christ, like Him, they shine; themselves subject in one sphere, if rulers in another; but subject with all the heart's deep devotion, where service is fullest liberty, serving as sons Him whom they call, at the same time, God and Father.