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Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters
The Man Which Sowed Good Seed in His Field but His Enemy Came and Sowed Tares Among the Wheat
THE Son of Man lived in obscurity in Nazareth till He began to be about thirty years of age, growing in wisdom every day, and every day saving to Himself-
-What if Earth
Be but the shadow of Heaven, and things therein
Each to other like more than on Earth is thought?
And one day in His solitary and meditating walks He came on a field in which blades of tares were springing up among the blades of the wheat all over the field. When, meeting the husbandman, He said to him, "From whence hath thy field these tares?" "An enemy hath done it," said the heart-broken husbandman. "While men slept, mine enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way." It was a most diabolical act. Diabolical malice, and dastardly cowardice, taken together, could have done no more. That enemy envied with all his wicked heart the husbandman's well-ploughed, well-weeded, well-sowed, and well-harvested, field, till he said within himself, Surely the darkness shall cover me. And when the night fell he filled his seed-basket, and went out under cover of night and sowed the whole field over with his diabolical seed. And when our Lord looked on the wheat-field all destroyed with tares, He took that field, and that husbandman's faith and patience with his field, and put them both into this immortal sermon of His. And here are we tonight learning many much-needed lessons among our tare-sowed fields also: learning the very same faith and patience that so impressed and pleased our Lord in this sorely-tried husbandman. And at the end of the world, when he is told about us, as we have been told about him, that husbandman will say, It was well worth a thousand fields of wheat to be the means of teaching a little patience and a little long-suffering even to one over-anxious and impatient heart. For, what that husbandman knew not about his field when he bore himself so wisely beside it, he will know when the harvest is the end of the world, and when the reapers are the angels.
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. And He gave them an interpretation of His parable, which was to be the authoritative and the all-comprehending interpretation from that time to the end of the world. At the same time, and in and under that interpretation of His, there are occasional, and provisional, and contemporaneous, interpretations and applications of this parable, that are to be made by each reader of this parable, according to his own circumstances and experiences. I will not take up your time, therefore, with the Donatist controversy in the days of Augustine; nor with the great struggles for toleration and liberty of thought recorded for all time in the Areopagitica, and in such like noble arguments. Only, there will no doubt yet emerge and arise new Donatist debates, and new demands for toleration of opinion, even of erroneous opinion, and with that, new calls for the utmost caution, and faith, and patience, especially in church censures, and in church discipline. Occasions will arise, and may be at the door, when we must be prepared, both by knowledge and by temper, to play our part in them like this husbandman in his field. Occasions and opportunities when the discretion, and the patience, and the long-faith of this wise-hearted husbandman, will be memorable and will be set before us for our imitation and our repetition.
Occasions have often arisen in the past, and they will often arise in the future, when a great alarm will be taken at the new discoveries, the new opinions, and the new utterances, of men who are under our jurisdiction, as the tares were under the jurisdiction of the servants in the parable. Now, for what other purpose, do you think, was this parable spoken to us by our Master, but to impose upon us patience, and caution, and confidence in the truth, and to deliver us from all panic, and all precipitancy, and all sudden execution of our fears? This is a very wonderful parable. No parable of them all is more so. Very wonderful. Very startling, indeed. Very arresting to us. For, even when the wheat-field was all covered with real, and not doubtful, tares, the wise husbandman still held in the hands of his indignant and devoted servants. Even when, demonstrably, and admittedly, and scandalously, and diabolically, an enemy had done it,-No! said this master of himself, as well as of his servants,-No! Have patience. Let the tares alone. Lest while you gather up the tares, you root up also the wheat with them. Let both grow together till the harvest. And then I will give the reapers their instructions myself.
My friends, if any one but our Lord had said that, or anything like that, in the presence of any actual instances of real or supposed tares, what would we have said to him, and said about him? I will not, for reverence sake, repeat what we would have said. But if our Divine Lord actually uttered these great and wonderful words, full of such calmness, and such patience, and such toleration, and such endurance; such endurance even of evil,-shall we not take His wonderful words to heart, and humbly and believingly apply them, where it is at all possible; even erring, if err we must, on the safe side; and leave it to Him, when we at all can, to give His own orders about His own field at the end of the world? And, if we leave it to Him, it will be a sight on that day to see how He will vindicate our patience and His own parable.
Look back for a moment at what He Himself here calls some of the "scandals" in His Kingdom, and you will be fortified in your toleration of many things of that kind in time to come. Everybody has heard of the scandal of Galileo, to the shame of the Church of his day. And we are not without our own scandals in our own day. The highest dignitary now in the Church of England was, not very long ago, all but rooted up, as all but tares, both he and his beautiful writings. Whereas now he is where he is by universal acclamation. In Fitzjames Stephen's brilliant four-days' speech before the Court of Arches, that learned and eloquent counsel said,-"My Lord, such differences have always existed in the Church. I might quote in favour of the accused party, some of the highest names in the Church of England. Hooker was charged, in his day, with subverting the authority of Scripture. Cudworth was called an atheist. Tillotson's life was embittered by persecution. Bishop Burnet, whose work afterwards became a theological text-book, was actually twice censured by the Lower House of Convocation.… My Lord, the one party viewing history, and criticism, and science, accept these results with gladness, and with candour, and the other party tremble before them. The one party would say with Hooker that to detract from the dignity of these things is to do injury even to God Himself, who being that Light which no man can approach to, has sent us these lesser lights as sparkles, resembling, so far, the bright fountain from which they spring." I will not quote what Stephen said about the other party. But he went on to say, "That, my Lord, is the real scope, tendency, and design of this prosecution, and that, as I said before, is its explanation, but not its justification."
And a greater than Fitzjames Stephen, the Golden-mouth of the English Church himself, says in his Discourse of the Liberty of Prophesying-"Let all errors be as much and as zealously suppressed as may be: but let it be done by such means as are proper instruments for their suppression; by preaching and disputation, by charity and sweetness, by holiness of life, by assiduity of exhortation, by the Word of God and prayer. For these ways are the most natural, the most prudent, the most peaceable, and the most effectual, instrument for the suppression of error. Only, let not men be hasty in calling every disliked opinion by the name of heresy. And if men will say that in saying this I persuade to indifferency, there is no help for me; I must bear it as I can. And I am not without remedy, for my patience will help me, and I will take my course."
And on the same subject a greater than either Stephen or Taylor has said: has sung-
Let not the people be too swift to judge,
As one that reckons on the blades in field,
Or ere the corn be ripe. For I have seen
The thorn frown rudely all the winter long,
And after bear the rose upon its top:
And bark, that all the way across the sea
Ran straight and speedy, perish at the last,
E'en in the haven's mouth.
But all that will only the more provoke some of you to retort on me and to demand,-Do you really mean to say, that so and so are to be tolerated, and tolerated where they are? Now, I will not answer that which you put so passionately; for I am not debating with you, but am teaching to the teachable among you, a little of what I have been taught myself. And, moreover, what I have acted on more than once as I had opportunity, and have proved it to be true and trustworthy teaching, and have never repented it. And if, instead of debating about it, you also will receive it, and will act upon it, you also will live to prove it true. Now, with all this, I have not gone out of my way one inch tonight to seek out this wonderful parable, and its so timeous interpretation. Not one inch. For it met me in the very middle of my way to you. And, all I could examine it, and excogitate it, and go round about it, and look at it in every light, and indeed try to escape it-I could make nothing else out of it than what I have now said. But the day will declare both the eternal truth, and the present truth, about this parable of the wheat and the tares. On that day, He who preached this parable will winnow out, and will burn up all false interpretations of it, and mine among the rest. Only, may you and I be judged more tenderly and forgivingly by Him on that day than we have many a time judged other erring men!
The whole field of letters, also, is more or less like this husbandman's tare-tangled field. You can get at the pure truth in print scarcely in anything. You can with difficulty get a book of the past, and much less a magazine, or a journal, or a newspaper of the passing day, that is not all sown over with the author's own seed-basket; all sown over, now with partiality, and now with antipathy. That field in Galilee was a study in malice to our Lord: and there are fields all around us today of the same sickening spectacle. You are a public writer; and so many are the collisions of interests, and ambitions, and pursuits, and competitions; and such is the pure malice, sometimes, of your own tare-filled heart, that we cannot get from you the naked and real truth about that cause or that man. You simply will not let us get at the real, unadulterated, unvarnished, untampered-with, truth. And, besides, such are the resources and appliances of civilisation in our day, that you can sow your evil seed under cover of anonymity, and your best friend will never know whose hand it was that stabbed him in the dark. You are reviewing a book by tongue or by pen. The author is not liked by you, or by your party, or by your employer; or, you are an author yourself, and the writer of the book before you has run away with your popularity and your profits. You would need to be a saint to review his new book aright. You would need to be an angel to say in your paper about him and about his book, what you would like him to say in his paper about you and about your book. And, indeed, considering what this world is, and what the human heart is, there is far more of such angelic saintliness abroad in it than you would expect to see, unless you were actually on the out-look for it. But, fair writing, and true writing, and loving writing, or no, we have no choice. We must act like this wise husbandman; we must take our history, and our biography, and our politics, and our art, and our law, and our criticism, and our morning and evening and weekly newspapers, as they are-tares and all. Lest if we forbid the tares entering our house we shut out both truth and love with them. Let them grow together until the harvest; and, meantime, make them all so many means of this and that grace to you. In one of his noblest papers Dr. Newman vindicates the study of the great classics-Greek, Latin, and English-in spite of the basketfuls of impurity that are sown so broadcast in some of them. And the old scholar and saint argues that in the interest of the very purity of mind and heart that we fear sometimes are so early poisoned in those shining fields. And now, before leaving this point, I will add this-I am not an author, nor a journalist, but a preacher, and I will therefore add this-that he is a happy preacher who has lived through many times and seasons of temptation, and has never sown some of the tares of his own temper, and of his own partial mind, in his preaching, and even in his prayers. And I, for one, am not that happy preacher. Thomas Boston used to say, that of all men who needed the imputation of Christ's all-round righteousness, preachers and pastors were those men.
And then to come still closer to ourselves than even that. Such is the versatility, and the spirituality, and the inwardness, of our Lord's words in this wonderful parable, that they apply with the very greatest support and comfort to the heart of every sinful man also under his own all-searching sanctification. The heart of a great sinner, under a great sanctification, is the field of all fields. All other fields are but parables to him of his own field. And in nothing more so than in Satan and his satanic seed-basket. And worst of all, and saddest of all, that satanic seed is here almost part and parcel of the very field itself. For, from the beginning, that poisonous seed was, somehow, insinuated, and was already buried deep in the very original ground and soil of the soul; and so insinuated, and so rooted, that with the best husbandry it is never got out of the soil of the soul in this world. It is like those poisonous weeds in his best fields that so vex the husbandman's heart. Let him plough and harrow, and plough and harrow again; let him change his seed, let him rotate his crops; with all he can do, there is the accursed thing always coming up, choking the wheat, drinking up the rain and the sunshine from the wheat, and mocking all that the husbandman and his servants can do; mortifying and indeed breaking his heart. But here also,-and startling and staggering to read it,-our Lord here again advises patience. Why he does not cleanse the honest and good ground with one word of His mouth, He knows Himself. But that He does not so speak the word, and so cleanse the ground, all His best saints have learned to their bitter suffering, and their heart-breaking cost. And among all the counsels and comforts He speaks to our tare-tortured hearts, this wonderful, this even staggering, counsel is heard in and over them all. 'Be patient with thine own sanctification, as with some other things, till I come. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth. Be ye also patient; for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh. And then the Son of Man shall send forth His angels, and they shall gather out of His kingdom all things that offend. And then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.'
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Whyte, Alexander. Entry for 'The Man Which Sowed Good Seed in His Field but His Enemy Came and Sowed Tares Among the Wheat'. Alexander Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/wbc/t/the-man-which-sowed-good-seed-in-his-field-but-his-enemy-came-and-sowed-tares-among-the-wheat.html. 1901.
the Week of Proper 14 / Ordinary 19