Chapter 4 - The Tares, the Wheat, and the Harvest

Mr. Brown brings forward in further proof the Scripture statements as to the end of the age and the harvest; but these we shall better consider as more fully taken up by another writer, B. W. Newton, to whose arguments I therefore turn. The parable of the wheat and tares will come before us in this connection, and he believes it decisive as to the whole question before us. I think it will be found that all depends as to this upon how the para-ble is to be explained. But we must go carefully through his arguments which touch many questions and a considerable range of prophetic scripture. He says:- "I have long felt the parable of the tares to be quite conclusive of the question we are considering Whatever else may be true, the Lord's explanation of the parable must certainly stand. We have in it a period definitely, and I might also say, chronologically marked, commencing with the sowing of the Son of man, and ending with the separation of the children of the wicked one. It is said that this separation shall not take place until the harvest; consequently until the harvest the field has some wheat in it. 'Let both grow together until the harvest.' No words could be more plain than these. They could not grow together until the harvest, if all, or even some of the wheat were gathered in many years before the tares were fully ripened; and they will not fully ripen until the time of Antichrist; indeed, it is expressly said that the tares are to be gathered first; and let it be remembered that not one tare is gathered except by angels sent forth; not one is gathered except at the time of harvest; not one is gathered without being rooted up; that is, taken out of the world. The meaning of the gathering of the tares is not left to our conjecture, but is explained by the Lord Himself : '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 [this is the explanation of the gathering] 'all things that offend and them that do iniquity, and shall cast them into a furnace of fire:' this is the explanation of the burning. The wheat and the tares are to grow together until this is done . "How can any one doubt after reading this parable that the saints of this dispensation (for to them alone the name of wheat, as contrasted with tares, belongs) will continue in the world together with the professing visible body until the end of the age, that is the harvest? for it must be remembered that the harvest is not said to be in the end of the age, but that the harvest is the end of the age." (Pp. 18-20.) This is the whole of Mr. Newton's argument; which he defends, however, at the close of his pam-phlet from objections drawn in part from some very natural mistakes as to his doctrine, which will serve to keep us from falling into theni, while some of them with his answers we shall have to consider fur-ther on. First of all, as to the ''end of the age," a term which we have already considered, and which is of very great significance in relation to the whole matter before us, he guards us from the mistake that lie takes it to be "one definite moment, marked by one event, and that the saints remain until it is entirely over and passed away." He regards it "as the name of a certain period, perhaps a considerably lengthened period, during which many events will occur. But this period," he remarks, "must have a beginning, and as soon as ever that beginning comes, we may say, 'the end of the age' has come.  I have never said that the saints will remain on the earth until the end of the end of the age."(P. 95.) One may agree then thoroughly with this, that the saints of the present time will remain upon earth, neither resurrection nor rapture will take place, until the end of the age arrives. The Lord's concluding words in Matthew are alone sufficient proof of this: "Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the age." Nay, more, they should make us also expect that this would be the precise measure of the time in which we should need such an assurance. When the end of the age arrives, we may infer that the period of the Church's stay upon earth will have reached its limit, and His coming to take us to Himself will be no more delayed. It has been already shown that the "end of the age" can in no way be taken as the end of the Christian age; for there is no such age: times and seasons are now not being reckoned, but we live in a gap of time, a blank in Old Testament prophecy, which has Israel always in the foreground. Israel it is that is to ' blossom and bud, and fill the face of the world with fruit "(Isa. xxvii. 6). Israel then being nation-ally set aside, it is not hard to realize that all is at a stand as far as this is concerned, until she is again taken un. What, then, must be the significance of times be-ginning again which are specifically times determined upon Israel to bring her into blessing! Such times we find in Daniel's seventy weeks, which are to end with this, sixty-nine having already passed when Messiah the Prince having come and being cut off, the downfall and ruin of the nation followed, and all was indefinitely suspended. The one week that re-mains is naturally and necessarily therefore the end of the age, the last seven years of these determined times. The beginning of this period means that God's thoughts have once more returned to Israel; consequently, that the Church period is just at an end. With the beginning, therefore, of the end of the age, the hour strikes for her removal to heaven. Of all this Mr. Newton has nothing to say. For him the Church and the remnant of Israel are found side by side during at least a considerable time towards the end of the Christian age, as he considers it, - a view which we have to consider presently. We have seen already, however, how differently the whole structure of the book of Revelation speaks. But the Lord's words: "So shall it be at the end of this age; the Son of man shall send forth His angels and they shall gather together out of His Kingdom," show that now the Kingdom of the Son of man is come, and the present time of the Son upon the Father's throne is already over. But this is the Lord's interpretation of the parable, and not the parable itself, which ends short of any actual coming of the harvest. The householder tells his servants what will take place when the time of harvest shall have come, but this is when he is com-forting them for their own impotence in undoing the mischief that has been done. They are not competent to remove the tares that have been sown amongst the wheat: but angel hands shall do it effectually at a future time. The time is future: the action of the parable does not go on to it. Notice now another thing: the interpretation of the parable is cut off from the parable itself, and begins a second section of the whole series, which is thus divided, as commonly with a septenary series, into four and three. Four is the number of the world, and the first four parables, as spoken in the presence of the multitude, give us the public or world-aspect of the Kingdom in the eyes of men; and not one of them goes on in its action to the end. The three parables which follow (the number being that of divine manifestation) give us on the other hand what is told to disciples in the house; and in them we have the divine side, the secrets whispered in the ear of faith. Thus the parable of the treasure gives us the purpose of God as to Israel; that of the pearl, the Church in its preciousness to Christ; that of the net, the going forth of the everlasting gospel among the nations after the Church period is over. It is with this second series that the interpretation of the second parable has its place, and thus we come in it to the "end of the age," as in the last parable of the draw-net; for we are in both beyond the present time. The interpretation, therefore, carries us beyond the present, and we must not hastily assume that the gathering the tares out of the Kingdom and casting them into the fire is simply the equivalent of the expressions in the parable itself. Indeed upon the face of them they are not so: gathering into bundles to be burnt is not the same as the actual burning, though it may be preparatory to it; just as again the gathering the wheat into the barn is not the equivalent of the righteous shining forth as the sun in the Kingdom of their Father. Mr. Newton even allows this, although he does not carry the difference out sufficiently, as we see by the answer he makes to an objection. The Lord Himself explains, he says, the gathering of the tares as gather-ing out of His Kingdom all things that offend. And to the objector who urges that "All the tares being burned before the saints are caught up at all, nothing remains to be judged," he answers, "I have never said that the tares would be burned before the saints are caught up. I make a distinction between gathering them into bundles, and burning them."(P. 100.) This is true, but how far does the distinction go? for he says of the gathering, "Not one is gathered without being rooted up; that is, taken out of the world." Thus the objection is not really met: for the meaning would be the same if it were put: "All the tares being rooted up' out of the world before the saints are caught up, nothing remains to be judged (on earth)." Then his only reply would be what follows: "Even if the tares were all burned," (or rooted out of the world), "there yet remain Jews, Apostates, Heathen Nations, to be judged." (P. 100.) He says again: "'Gathering' does of itself imply removal from the field; for the reason given for allowing the tares to grow with the wheat until the harvest is this, 'Lest while ye gather (evAAeyn,-the same word) the tares, ye root up the wheat with them." (P. xoi.) Thus the tares he takes to be really rooted up out of the world as the first thing; then the wheat being gathered into the barn, the field of Christendom is entirely empty. Before we go on to consider what he says is left in this case as objects of the judgments afterwards, let us see if this idea of gathering as rooting out of the world he in this case warranted. We are told in the parable that the servants of the householder, as soon as they discerned the tares among the wheat, inquired if they should go and gather them up. Are we to suppose that their question meant, should they root them up out of the world - exterminate them? No doubt, Romanists have attempted to do so, and illustrated the inability to separate the tares from the wheat; but is that what the servants wished really to suggest? had they no thought but of killing the heretics that had come in among the orthodox? Alas! the tares were found much earlier than the time in which the Christians could have used or thought of using the arm of flesh to accomplish such a purification; and they must have sought it in other ways than by carnal weapons which both our Lord and His apostles so emphatically condemn. Was it not, in fact a rectification of the Kingdom which they desired, rather than of the world? a kingdom which, however easy it may be for us now, primitive Christians would ne ver have thought of identifying with the world, or any portion of the world! May not this put us upon the track of what the gathering of the tares would mean in the interpretation? Of course, before harvest-time the riddance of the mischief could only be by the hand, and the rooting up would be what would take place. But at harvest-time it would not be so. Reaping would be ordinarily at least with the sickle, and there would not be rooting up at all. Rather it would be a severing from the root that would take place, which might imply a separation from the doctrinal faith, of the heretic from his heresy, but not for good, so that apostasy would be the outcome. Angelic hands might accomplish the severance, - events might take place even which would make it impossible to retain the heresy; the apostasy would be their own. Thus two of Mr. Newton's classes would be one: a thing which Rev. xvii. would indicate as probable, and which would naturally lead to the Beast throwing off the woman, and the kings of the Roman earth helping to destroy her. The "strong delusion" of 2 Thess. looks exactly in the same direction, except Mr. Newton has proof that the professing Christians that fall into the snare of Antichrist are not "tares." Certainly the present antichristian systems should furnish followers for the Antichrist to come; and his rise in connection with the great head of the revived Roman empire, must make us think of Romanism and kindred systems as those out of which the great mass of these followers come. Are not these tares, who become apostates? if not, what else? It is easy to see, then, why Mr. N. should have to speak as he does of the great book of prophecy in the New Testament. "I see comparatively little," he says, "about the judgment on the tares in the Revelation; it appears to me to be concerned almost entirely with the means which lead to the consummation and the consummation itself of Apostasy. But that apostasy is the result not merely of Christianity first perverted and then renounced, it is also the apostasy of man as man ('worship him who made the earth), and also of the Jew; a threefold combination of Apostasy." No intelligent student of prophecy doubts the combination of other elements with it; but what is this "Christianity perverted, and then renounced," but virtually tares becoming apostates? Nay, but, says Newton, "I also see that angels and not saints, are sent to the Tares, whereas saints come with the Lord against Apostates." "On the Tares [judgment] is by angels sent forth while they are growing quietly with the wheat.” Certainly in this manner we can make plenty of oppositions, by comparing things that cannot rightly be compared. A wheat-field is, no doubt, a very image of quietness; but one may well doubt whether that is what we are meant to gather from it. And angels come with Christ against the apostates; as Mr. Newton himself says: “‘His army,’ i.e. saints and angels.” (P.) As to the exact part each may have in the judgment, Revelation does not seem to say. But to return to the parable: the binding in bundles must come after the reaping, if the figure is to be preserved. Would one naturally think of it as something to follow death? If so, one can hardly expect to translate it into any distinct meaning. If, on the other hand, the tares (though dead as tares) are still viewed as in the field of the world, then we may imagine a various compacting of men loosened from the hold of their religious systems, in ways that are not pointed out, but which lead them on toward their final doom. The gathering out of the Kingdom of the Son of man, as in the interpretation of the parable, goes, I believe, further than this: for the Kingdom of the Son of man is not local, but over the whole earth. It is a gathering after that of the parable itself, and immediately to judgment. Mr. Newton's own interpretation is different in so many respects from this, that there would be little profit in proportion to the labor of any extended comparison. For him the end of the age is the Christian age, and although in the tract from which I have quoted, he allows that the “end” may be “a considerably lengthened period,” yet elsewhere he charges those with endeavoring to avoid the force of the argument from this parable, who suggest that “the end of the age may mean an indefinitely (?) lengthened period.” He replies that it is definitely marked as “the harvest,” quotes the interpretation of the parable as if the gathering and casting of the tares into the fire were the whole matter, and asks, “Is Antichrist to arise after this?“ But we shall apprehend his system better when we have reviewed his arguments as to the Jewish and Christian remnants at the time of the end.