The Wheat and the Weeds
William Bacon Stevens, 1857
"Jesus told them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.
"The owner's servants came to him and said, 'Sir, didn't you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?'
"'An enemy did this,' he replied.
"The servants asked him, 'Do you want us to go and pull them up?'
"'No,' he answered, 'because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.'"
"Then he left the crowd and went into the house. His disciples came to him and said, "Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field."
He answered, "The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.
"As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear."
This parable, like that of the Sower, is drawn from the walks of agriculture, and needs no explanations to unfold the terms used, or the personages introduced. The field, the wheat, the weeds, the servants, the landowner, the enemy sowing weeds at midnight — are each intelligible to the common mind, involving no points of thought, or usages of life — diverse from those with which we are daily conversant.
There is one peculiarity about this parable, however, which it has in common with that of "The Sower," namely, its subsequent interpretation by our Lord himself, in answer to the special request of His disciples. Since He, therefore, who uttered it, has condescended to unfold it, it is more glorious to follow His footsteps than to mark out any new path of our own. When He instructs — we have nothing to do but listen, practice, and obey.
"The field," says our Savior, "is the world;" a thought so great that we are really startled at its magnitude. And looking at it in its merely human aspect, as the utterance of a Jew, whose nation was separated from all other nations by theocratic institutions, which constituted them "a peculiar people," and who, from this national standpoint, regarded the Gentiles as "aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenant of promise" — there is something in it morally sublime; indicating a mind of vast breadth, a soul devoid of prejudice, a heart that expanded its affections to the circumference of earth, and a faith that looked upon the far off — yet certain result, with the calmness of anticipated triumph.
But Christ was not a narrow-minded Jew, bound down by national prejudices. He was God as well as man; and His utterance here was the Divine annunciation of a truth brought from Heaven, and by Him revealed to man. So that it is a prophecy as well as an assertion; it is the glorious prediction of His own assured success, as well as the statement of an ultimate fact. And uttered as it was in the day of His humiliation, with but a handful of followers, amidst the scorn and neglect of His own countrymen — it showed God bringing the future before the eye of the present, with a clearness of vision and distinctness of statement which could only result from an omniscience that saw "the end from the beginning."
The narrow province of Judea sufficed for the Jewish Church, which was only designed to be the temporary depository of God's law and promise, the forerunner of that dispensation which the Messiah, "the hope of Israel," would, "in the fullness of time," establish "for all nations." The laws and ritual of the Jewish Church absolutely precluded it from ever becoming universal; it was a church which, as a church — could only flourish in certain latitudes and longitudes, and contained within itself the elements of its own dissolution. Its great office was:
to be the depository and keeper of revealed truth;
to prefigure Christ by type and ritual;
to announce His advent by an ever augmenting voice of prophecy;
to receive Him into its bosom when He appeared;
and then to give place to a dispensation, which, rejecting the Jewish ritual and the Jewish boundaries — would be equally adapted to every land and climate, and become the sole religion of the world.
In this world-wide field was to be sown "good seed" by "the Son of man." This "Son of man" is none other than Jesus Christ; that being one of His peculiar titles, and by which He most frequently designated himself; thus rightly appropriating the title under which Daniel prophesied of the Messiah's kingdom and glory.
"The good seed are the children of the kingdom." That is, those individuals in whom the good seed of God's word had so taken root and fructified, as to identify themselves with it, in such manner that they might well be called "the good seed." Not indeed in the abstract, as that which was sown, for as children of the kingdom they were not sown — but as being the fruit of that which had been sown by the Son of man, and which, in the parable of the Sower, is called "the word of God." This, falling into "good ground," takes root and springs up, and develops itself into "children of the kingdom," who are thus, by a figure of speech, called the "good seed."
Wherever "the word of God" finds lodgment in the heart and receives, through the agency of the Holy Spirit, fructifying power — there will it ever bring forth a child of the kingdom. This is its only and its legitimate fruit; hence, Peter speaks of Christians as "being born again, not of corruptible seed — but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which lives and abides forever;" "and this," he adds, "is the word which by the Gospel is preached unto you." Thus the preached Gospel is that good seed, which, in the field of the world, will ever produce the children of the kingdom.
It is said to be sown by the Son of man, because the word, which is the seed, "proceeds out of His mouth," and because it is by His authority and commission that the blessed Gospel is preached, or scattered broadcast, throughout the world; for His irrevocable promise to His ministering servants, the seed-sowing farmers of His Church, is, "Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the world;" so that, through all time, to all classes of people, throughout all the habitations of men — the ministers of the Gospel have the promised presence of "the Son of Man," giving . . .
efficiency to their sowing,
fructification to the seed, and
causing it in every part of this world-field to bring forth "the children of the kingdom."
This is one, and the bright side of this parabolic picture. We turn with reluctance to the other, wherein we behold . . .
another kind of seed,
another sower, and
widely different results.
"The Son of man," who sowed the good seed, had "an Enemy," here called "the Devil," who, after the wheat had been cast into the ground, and while the sowers slept — came stealthily into the field, and "sowed weeds among the wheat, and went his way." From the Bible we learn that the devil is a person, not an idea. That he was once an angel of light — now a fallen spirit; that he is the deceiver of the world, the enemy of God, the earthly antagonist of Jesus Christ; that he is "the spirit who rules in the hearts of the children of disobedience;" that he is full of deceit, subtlety, and falsehood; that he is "a murderer from the beginning," and "the father of lies;" "the accuser of the brethren," and "as a roaring lion, he walks about seeking whom he may devour."
His great aim is to thwart the moral and redemptive purposes of God in man's creation; which he first attempted, and with apparent success, in the garden of Eden, in that fearful assault upon the faith and obedience of Adam and Eve. But when, at the very moment of his seeming triumph, there was uttered the hope-inspiring promise, that "the seed of the woman should bruise the serpent's head" — then were all his mighty energies gathered into one effort to oppose that "seed of the woman," even Jesus Christ, and overthrow Him and the kingdom which He came from Heaven to establish.
This was the one aim of all his multifarious movements before and at the coming of Christ; this caused him to make that daring assault on Jesus himself, when the blessed Savior was weak through protracted fasting, and unsustained by human aid, in the wilderness. This led him to enter . . .
into Judas to betray his master,
into the high priests and scribes to condemn Him,
into the people to cry out "crucify him,"
into Pilate to deliver Him to his soldiers to be hung upon the accursed tree.
And ever since, he has waged a relentless conflict with the Great Head of the Church and His ministers, and the children of the kingdom — being . . .
unremitting in toil,
unrelaxing in vigilance,
unsparing in deception,
unblushing in effrontery,
unscrupulous in his wiles to entrap the souls of men, and lead them as captives to his own abodes of eternal sorrow.
This is that arch-enemy of God and man who sowed "weeds" in the field of the world; and it marks the great wiliness of this enemy — that he sowed that kind of seed which, in its upspringing, would require some time to develop its true characters, its first appearings being so like the good grain, that only when it had taken too deep root to be plucked up without injuring the wheat also, could its real character be detected.
The "weeds" spoken of, were not another kind of seed from the wheat — but of the same kind, only a perverted or degenerate wheat. Thus we find that all the grievous heresies and defections that have been produced in the Church are not the results of bald and undiluted falsehoods — but of degenerate or perverted truths, retaining enough of the truth to catch the conscience — yet using the little truth only as a means of making more deadly the error which it was designed to advance.
The danger of any soul-destroying error, is in proportion to the amount of truth which it enfolds; the nearer the truth, while it yet avoids it — the more deceptive does it become! It is when Satan "transforms himself into an angel of light" that he most effectually seduces the children of the kingdom; and never did he come so near uttering the truth in its letter, and yet fail to speak it in its spirit — as when he thrice tempted the blessed Savior, backing one of his assaults with a quotation from the Word of God.
The ingenuity of the deceptions, and the protean shapes of evil which the devil assumes — are such as no unaided mind can either comprehend or unravel. It requires the aid of God's Holy Spirit to enable us, like Milton's Ithuriel, so to touch him with the spear of truth, under whatever form he may be disguised — as to cause him "to return to his own likeness."
As in the case of the Son of man, the seed which was sown was not "the children of the kingdom," but that which produced them; so here, the weeds scattered by the devil were not "the children of the wicked one," but that which brought them forth — those evil principles and thoughts, which in their germination result in men of such sinfulness and guilt, as well to deserve the denunciation, "Children of the wicked one."
In this class are included all who are not the "children of the kingdom;" for there are but these two moral families in God's household — termed sometimes,
"children of light" — and "children of darkness;"
those who "walk by faith" — and those who "walk by sight;"
"men of the world, who have their portion in this life" — and men who "confess themselves to be strangers and pilgrims upon earth, seeking a better country, that is, a heavenly one;"
men "alive unto God" — and men "dead in trespasses and sins;"
the "friends" of Christ — and the "enemies" of Christ.
We may thus search through the Word of God, and though we find these two classes described under diverse names — yet we never discover any third or middle family; a matter which our blessed Lord has set at rest in the most positive terms by saying, "He who is not with me — is against me, and he who gathers not with me — scatters abroad."
It is indeed a fearful thing to be one of the children of the wicked one; to have such a moral paternity as only the devil can furnish . . .
to be one of his fiendish household,
copying his example,
animated by his precepts,
following his rules, and
day by day ripening for the weeping, and the wailing, and the gnashing of teeth, which shall be the portion of the children of the wicked, forever and ever!
In consequence of this double sowing, we find springing up in this world-field, wheat and weeds; and to the question of the servants of the landowner, "Do you want us to go and pull them up?" the reply is, "No, because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn."
In this answer, as we understand it, lies the real force and import of the parable; which seems to have been uttered to show that in the visible Church of Christ on earth — there will ever be the bad mingled with the good, and that those who look for an unalloyed communion here, will not find it until after the harvesting, "at the end of the world." We draw then, from this statement, these four propositions:
1st. That in the visible Church, there is a present intermixture of the children of the kingdom, and the children of the wicked one.Here, the term visible distinguishes it from the invisible Church — composed of those who "are very members incorporate in the mystical body of Christ, which is the blessed company of all faithful people," and who are known only to God himself. The word men confines it to this earth, in contradistinction to that community of which "the whole family in Heaven and earth is named," embracing angels and the spirits of the just made perfect, as well as beings still on earth. The word faithful restricts the term Church to those who believe in the Lord Jesus, and consequently excludes all associations of imposture — infidelity or heathenism.
The visible church is the Church militant on earth, not the Church triumphant in Heaven; the Church warring in the wilderness on earth — not the Church at rest beyond its swellings in the Canaan above. But though the visible, militant Church, is in general terms "a congregation of faithful men," yet it manifestly embraces many who have no real faith towards God, and no true love to Jesus Christ, and no new birth of the Holy Spirit. And such has been the fact through the entire period of the Church's history.
We need but casually read the records of the Old and New Testaments, to see how many there were who by hereditary descent, or outward profession, became members of the visible Church, under the Patriarchal, the Levitical, and the Christian dispensations — who yet had neither part nor lot in the blessings of the covenant of grace, because their heart was not right in the sight of God.
In the band of our Lord's Apostles — was a Judas;
in the little Church of Samaria — was a Simon Magus;
in the Church of Pergamos — were those "who held the doctrines of Balaam;"
in the Church of Thyatira — was a Jezebel-like woman;
in the Church of Sardis — were those whose works "had not been found perfect before God;"
and in the Churches of Rome, Corinth, Colosse, Ephesus, Philippi, Thessalonica — were those "who had a name indeed to live — but who yet were dead in sins and sins."
And what was true then — is true now.
In every Gospel field we find weeds growing up with the wheat!
In every ecclesiastical net are enclosed good and bad fish!
In every fold of Christ are there sound and tainted sheep!
Into every ark of the Church, as into the ark of Noah — there enter both clean and unclean beasts.
This is indeed a lamentable fact, and one that should make us walk humbly in the presence not only of God — but of a carping, sneering world. And yet it is a fact which, in the end, both illustrates and promotes the glory of the grace of God: for by this state of things, not only are the goodness, mercy, long-suffering, forbearance, and other attributes of God more gloriously displayed — than if he immediately visited sin with prompt punishment.
The character of His children, and their fitness for Heaven, are greatly benefitted by the very processes of trial and temptation through which, in consequence of this intermixture of good and evil, they are called to pass. Thomas Fuller, in the fifth book of his "Holy State," gives these six reasons why God permits the wheat and the weeds to grow up together in the field of the Church until the harvest:
1st. Hypocrites can never be severed, but by Him who can search the heart.
2dly. If men would make the separation — weak Christians would be counted no Christians; and those who have a grain of grace, under a load of imperfection, would be counted as reprobates.
3dly. God's vessels of honor for all eternity not as yet converted — but wallowing in sin, would be made castaways.
4th. God, by the mixture of the wicked with the godly — will try the patience and watchfulness of his servants.
5thly. Because thereby He will bestow many favors on the wicked to clear His justice, and render them the more inexcusable.
Lastly: Because the mixture of the wicked grieving the godly, will make them the more heartily pray for the day of judgment."
The second proposition is, that the bad members of the Church in many respects resemble the good — but have a different origin and a different termination.
The weeds mentioned in the parable are probably the darnell or degenerate kind of wheat which, in its early blade, closely resembles true wheat. The Rabbis say that the weeds of Palestine are like the wheat, except that the ears are not so large, nor the grains so many, nor the quality so good.
Just so, in the Church of God — the bad or unsound members SIMULATE the good in very many particulars. Their outward profession, appearance, and participation of ordinances — are the same. They . . .
are perhaps liberal in the support of church institutions,
show great regard to the sanctuary and sacraments,
go through the same outward round of religious duties
— and thus grow up together until the harvest.
But they DIFFER from the children of the kingdom in their origin — they have not been born again by that spiritual regeneration which is effected by the Holy Spirit. The seeds which have sprung up with such semblance of goodness, are weeds sown by the wicked one, producing counterfeit graces and spurious doctrines, with which multitudes rest satisfied, because at least it gives them an outward position in the Church of God.
Sometimes these seeds are received unwarily at first, and when they spring up, they look so much like the true wheat, that the recipients never trouble themselves to examine whether the resemblance continues, or whether, after all, it is not darnell that they are cultivating, instead of wheat. Many there are, who rest their salvation on the fact, that once they had convictions, and, as they supposed, conversion; and, wresting to their own destruction, the doctrine that man cannot fall from grace — they settle down their hopes upon a past experience, and say, "once saved — always saved," and thus grow up as rank and noxious weeds, fit only for the burning!
But God has not left us to uncertainty in this matter. Though we may be deceived about others — we have at least the means of detecting the falsity within ourselves. He has given us the proper tests and criteria by which we may discriminate between the good and the bad seed — so as to know whether or not we are the children of the kingdom, or the children of the wicked one.
If we are really anxious to know the truth and the whole truth, as to our souls' sanctification and justification — we can know it by marks and evidences of that personal spiritual kind, beyond the artifices of the devil to counterfeit or invalidate; for the Bible distinctly declares, "Whoever does the will of God — shall know of the doctrine whether it be of God."
The third proposition is, that no thorough separation can take place in this life.The command is, "Let both grow together until the harvest," and the reason assigned is, "lest while you gather up the weeds — you root up also the wheat with them." While the eye of God beholds with unerring certainty, who are the weeds and who are the wheat — man does not. And were it left to him to root up the weeds, he might leave many stalks of weeds, supposing them to be genuine wheat — and pluck up many stalks of wheat, under the mistaken notion that they were weeds.
The terrible persecutions which have taken place between different sections of the Church, for the so-called purgation of the church, afford sad examples of the way in which human servants, had they the power, would root up what they would call the "weeds" in the field of the Church. We have great reason to bless God that He has removed this power from the hands of short-sighted and narrowminded men. The Church has never used the extirpating sword, but to the disgrace of its name, and to the dishonor of its Divine head.
What Christ has commissioned the Church to do is, to plant and sow and cultivate the seed of the Word with best skill — but not to root up weeds. This He has reserved for His commissioned angels, who, when sent forth, "they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth!"
So far is this passage, therefore, from sanctioning persecution, it strongly, though inferentially, condemns it. It reserves the final decision to omniscient power — and the final gathering to angelic reapers, ministering spirits, swayed by no human passions, and acting under the eye and finger of their Eternal King.
The fourth and last proposition is, that both the parable and the interpretation given by our Lord, emphatically show, that a separation shall take place at some future day.Whatever, then, may be the condition of the Church of God now, there is a day coming, when "judgment shall begin at the house of God."
Then shall this mixture of good and evil end.
Then shall the weeds be gathered for the burning — and the wheat for God's barn.
Then shall there be a separation, total, complete, and forever — of the true and false professors, who now grow up together in the field of the Church.
As it is the design of another parable, namely, "The Draw-Net," to represent this special truth, we shall not dwell upon it here; but, simply announcing the fact that such a separation will take place by Divine command, under Divine direction, and for purposes of Divine judgment — we pass to the final result of such a severing of the good from the bad — first, as to the weeds; and then, secondly, as to the wheat.
The "WEEDS" are first reaped, then bound "in bundles to burn," then cast "into a furnace of fire," producing "wailing and gnashing of teeth" — words designed to show the intensity of the suffering of the wicked in the world to come; for it is only by terms borrowed from physical pain, or from implements and instruments of bodily torture — that we can set forth the unspeakable anguish of soul which they shall experience who "lie down in everlasting sorrow," "where their worm never dies, and their fire is never quenched."
The fierce struggle of contending passions;
the unchecked power of evil, rising and swelling with tumultuous rage;
the writhings of a spirit bereft of every hope, and haunted by despair;
the goadings of a conscience quickened into intense activity by the memory of the past;
the forebodings of an ever-increasing torment, waxing keener throughout eternity;
the remembrance of what is lost — Heaven, the soul, God's pardon, Christ's favor, everlasting bliss;
and the consciousness of what has been self-induced — weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth forever!
Oh! this, this is the fire that ever burns with gnawing — but never-consuming flame! This is the furnace, "seven times heated" by the fuel of an ungodly life, in which retributive justice shall cast the unrepenting soul, and leave it there — to memory, to conscience, to Satan, to despair. Well may the prophet say, "Woe to the wicked! Disaster is upon them! They will be paid back for what their hands have done!"
With equal truth does God declare, "Say unto the righteous, it shall be well with him, for they shall eat the fruit of their doings." Their condition, after the day of judgment, shall be one of splendor and rejoicing.
Freed from the body of this death,
removed from a world of sin,
exempt from the temptations of the adversary,
full of love and peace and joy —
they shine forth in their true characters, as "children of light and of the day." While on earth they were "lights in the world," but the light was obscured by their imperfections and sins; it was more frequently hidden under a bushel, than set on a candlestick. But now, the clouds of error, of unbelief, of sin, have been rolled away — and, in the clear sky of Heaven, they manifest their true character, and shine forth "as the sun" in the kingdom of God; and there they shall shine, says the prophet Daniel, "forever and ever!"