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tares, which will be the subject of our present consideration.*
The parable is as follows: "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 thou not 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 unto the harvest; and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, gather ye together first the tares, and bind them up in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn.”
After our Lord had delivered this parable, and one or two more very short ones, we are told that he 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 weeping 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."
This parable well deserves our most serious consideration, as it gives an answer to two questions of great
* Matth. xiii. 24.,
curiosity and great importance, which have exercised the ingenuity and agitated the minds of thinking men from the earliest times to the present, and perhaps were never, at any period of the world, more interesting than at this very hour.
The first of these questions is, how came moral evil into the world?
The next is, why it is suffered to remain a single moment; and why is not every wicked man immediately punished as he deserves?
The first of these questions has, we know, in almost ages, and in all countries, been a constant subject of investigation and controversy among metaphysicians and theologians, and has given birth to an infinity of fanciful theories and systems, to one more particularly in our own times, by a man of very distinguished tal ents;* all which however have failed of solving the difficulty, and have proved nothing more than this mor tifying and humiliating truth, namely, the extreme weakness of the human intellect, when applied to subjects so far above its reach, and the utter inability of man to fathom the counsels of the Most High, and to develope the mysterious ways of his providence, by the sole strength of unassisted reason. That those who were never favoured with the light of revelation should indulge themselves in such abstruse speculations, can be no great wonder, but that they who have access to the original fountain of truth, and can draw from that sacred source the most authentic information on this point, should have recourse to the fallible conjectures of human ingenuity, and should hew out to themselves
cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water," is a misapplication of talents, and waste of labour, and of
† Among the dissertations of Plutarch (which go by the name of his mo rals) there is a very curious and ingenious one, intitled peri ton upo tou theiou bradeos timoroumenon, concerning those whom the Deity is slow in punishing. In this, among other just remarks, he observes, "that many things which great generals, and legislators, and statesmen do, are to common observers incomprehensible. What wonder is it then, says he, if we cannot understand why the gods inflict punishment on the wicked, sometimes at an earlier, some times at a later period?” Plut. Ed. Xyland. v. 2. p. 549.
time. We are told in the very beginning of the Bible, that he who first brought sin or moral evil into the world, was that great adversary of the human race, the devil, who first tempted the woman, and she the man, to act in direct contradiction to the commands of their Maker.
This act of disobedience destroyed at once that innocence and purity and integrity of mind, with which they came out of the hands of their Creator; gave an immediate and dreadful shock to their whole moral frame, and introduced into it all those corrupt propensities and disordered passions which they bequeathed as a fatal legacy to their descendants: of which we all now feel the bitter fruits, and have, I fear, by our own personal and voluntary transgressions, not a little improved the wretched inheritance we received from our ancestors. This is the true origin of moral evil; and it is expressly confirmed by our Saviour in the parable before us; in which, when the servants of the householder express their surprise at finding tares among the wheat, and ask whence they came, his answer is, an enemy hath done this; and that enemy our Lord informs us is the devil; that inveterate implacable enemy (as the very name of Satan imports) of the human race, the original author of all our calamities, and at this moment the prime mover and great master-spring of all the wickedness and all the misery that now overwhelm the world.
To this account great objections have been made, and no small pains taken to confute, to expose, and to ridicule it. But after all the wit and buffoonery which have been lavished upon it, it may safely be affirmed, and might easily be shown, that it stands on firmer ground, and is encumbered with fewer difficulties than any other hypothesis that has been yet proposed.
But still, as I have already observed, there remains another very important question to be answered. Why is the wickedness of man, from whatever source it springs, suffered to pass unobserved and unpunished by the Judge of all the earth? Why is not the bold offender stopped short in his career of vice and iniquity?
Why is he permitted to go on triumphantly, without any obstacle to his wishes, to insult, oppress, and harrass the virtuous and the good, without the least check or controul, and, as it were to brave the vengeance of the Almighty, and set at nought the great Governor of the world? Why, in short, in the language of the parable, are the tares allowed to grow up unmolested with the wheat, to choke its vigour and impede its growth? Why are they not plucked up instantly with an indig nant hand, and thrown to the dung-hill, or committed to the flames?
This has been a most grievous" stumbling stone, a rock of offence," not only to the unthinking crowd, but to men of serious thought and reflection in every age; and scarce any thing has more perplexed and disturbed the minds of the good, or given more encouragement or audacity to the bad, than the little notice that seems to be taken of the most enormous crimes, and the little distinction that is apparently made between "the wheat and the tares, between the righteous and the wicked, between him that serveth God and him that serveth him not."
The reflections which these mysterious proceedings are apt to excite even in the best and humblest of men, are most inimitably expressed by the royal Psalmist in the 73d Psalm, where you see all the different turns and workings of his mind laid open without disguise, and all the various ideas and sentiments that successively took possession of his soul in the progress of his enquiry, described in the most natural and affecting manner. "Truly, says he, (with that piety which constantly inspires him) God is loving to Israel; even unto such as are of a clean heart; nevertheless my feet were almost gone; my treadings had well nigh slipped, And why? I was grieved at the wicked; I do also see the ungodly in such prosperity. For they are in no peril of death, but are lusty and strong. They come in no misfortune like other folk; neither are they plagued like other men. And this is the cause, that they are so holden with pride, and overwhelmed with cruelty.
Their eyes swell with fatness, and they do even what they lust. They corrupt other, and speak of wicked blasphemy; their talking is against the Most High. Tush, say they, how should God perceive it; is there knowledge in the Most High? Lo, these are the ungodly. These prosper in the world, and these have riches in possession. And I said, then I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocen cy ?
>>Sentiments such as these are, I believe, what many good men have found occasionally rising in their minds, on observing the prosperity of the worthless part of mankind. But never were they before so beautifully and so feelingly expressed as in this passage. These complaints, however, soon pass away with men of pious dispositions, and end in meek submission to the will of Heaven. But not so with the wicked and profane. By them the forbearance of Heaven towards sin ners is sometimes perverted to the very worst purposes; and made use of as an argument to encourage and confirm them in the career of vice. This effect is well and accurately described in the book of Ecclesiastes. "Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the hearts of the sons of men arë fully set in them to do evil.”*
It was to obviate these fatal consequences, as well as to give support and consolation to the good, that our Lord delivered this parable of the tares and the wheat, which will enable us to solve the arduous question above-mentioned, arising from the impunity and prosperity of the wicked, and to vindicate in this instance the ways of God to man.
But before I begin to state and explain the reasons of that forbearance and lenity towards sinners, which is so much objected to in the divine administration of the world, I must take notice of one very material circumstance in the case, which is, that the evil complained of is greatly magnified, and represented to be much more generally prevalent than it really is. The fact is,
Eccles. viii. 11.