Second part of Sermon XVI. for the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany.
Col. iii. 12-17. St. Matt. xiii. 24-30.
Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on
Thee.—ISA. xxvi. 3.
(for the first part, on the Epistle.)
...Now many of the parables which our Lord delivered consist of prophecies
respecting the state of His Church, and at the same time convey instructive
lessons to us when these prophecies are being fulfilled. Such are the parables
respecting the Kingdom of Heaven, that is, our Lord’s own Kingdom upon
earth; and of these, that which constitutes the Gospel for to-day is not
the least remarkable.
The Kingdom of Heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed
in his field. Such was the case when the Word of God was first sown
by our Lord Himself, and afterwards by His. Spirit, through the Apostles
and early Martyrs. The love of the Bride, pure and undefiled, fasted and
mourned for the absence of the Bridegroom, and looked forward with steadfast
watch and in undoubting faith to His return. “They continued steadfastly
in the Apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and
in prayers and fear came upon all.” [Acts ii. 42.] The garment of
Christ was in consequence undivided; without seam throughout, from the
top to the bottom; from the highest doctrine to the lowest duty, all was
one, “One Lord, one faith, one baptism.”
But while men slept, his enemy came, and sowed tares among the wheat,
and went his way. As men became careless in the faith, sleeping over
the things of eternity, while “as the Bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered,”
as the Church in process of time lost her first love, the devil “came while
men were asleep.” In the dead and still night, wrapping up himself in the
darkness, he went forth on his purpose, and having sowed the seeds of false
doctrine while men knew not of it, he departed by stealth as he came. Thus
he leaves them to grow, and take root, and spread in their own time and
season, and to mingle among the fruit, to grow up side by side with it,
as if they were both sown together by the same hand of the one good Husbandman,
claiming the field for their own as much as the good seed, which if they
could, they would stifle and destroy. But when the blade was sprung up,
He says, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the fares also. Not
apparently till they “brought forth fruit,” were the tares seen. “By their
fruits,” says our Lord in another place, “shall ye know them.” [St. Matt.
Corruption, first in practice, then in faith; perversity of life, then
of doctrine; so that, although the Sun of Righteousness hath arisen, and
the dews of His Spirit descend, yet a mingled field awaits the harvest.
And the expression of Job is spiritually fulfilled, which he so eloquently
adds to that catalogue of sins—If mine eye hath wandered in lust, if I
have walked in vanity, if I have neglected the poor, if I have rejoiced
in the misfortunes of mine enemy, if I have covered my transgressions as
Adam, if I feared a great multitudes if my land hath cried against me,
then “let thistles grow instead of wheat, and cockle instead of barley.”
[Job xxxi. 40.] Such have been the manifold aboundings of evil, and
such therefore the field of the great Householder, the Church of God.
So the servants of the householder came, and said unto him, Sir,
didst not thou sow good seed in thy field? from whence then hath it tares?
He said unto them, An enemy hath done this. Good men, the servants
of the house-holder, they see at once the difference; they are grieved,
and, as it were, offended, by it; but, in all difficulties, in all doubts
and offences, they turn and look to God; and He, by His Spirit, gives them
to know the truth that “an enemy hath done this,” that it is the work of
the great enemy of souls. He can, we know, transform him-self into the
appearance of an angel of light; his ministers can do the same—they will
put on them the clothing of the sheep, so that He only Who knoweth His
sheep can know them; and so with their doctrines, they appear like good
seed while growing up side by side—but “by their fruits they are known,”
and then men marvel and are offended.
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. When a person is suddenly awakened to the
truths of religion, he becomes amazed at the aboundings of iniquity, the
wickedness of the world around him, that the goodly field is so full of
tares; and then there is often wont to follow an impatient zeal to root
them out, which, if left to itself unrestrained, is likely to produce more
harm than otherwise. Evil and good have become so confused and blended
together; and the Wise Husbandman hath ordained that they should so continue.
Meanwhile, as always, He converts the evil of the great enemy to His own
good ends. For all things work together for good to those that love Him.
This state of things conduces to the trial of faith, the exercise of patience,
the perfecting of brotherly love, the earnestness of prayer, the furtherance
of humility, the greater watchfulness of godly fear, and the fuller final
manifestation of the sons of God. “The time will come,” says the Apostle,
“when men will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall
heap to themselves teachers.” [2 Tim. iv. 3.] Such is the field overrun
with tares. And still more expressly, of the great enemy sowing the tares,
“some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and
doctrines of devils.” [1 Tim. iv. 1.] Yet this evil, the same Apostle
bears witness, shall not be without consequences of good: “There must be
heresies, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you.”
[1 Cor. xi. 19.]
But how long-suffering is Christ! “Let them alone” was our Lord’s command
in speaking of false and pernicious teachers, “they be blind leaders of
the blind.” “Every plant which My Father hath not planted shall be rooted
up.” [St. Matt. xv. 14. 13.] “Go not after them,” He says in speaking
of false prophets. “Forbid him not,” on another occasion, when there was
much good in one that followed not altogether in Apostolic unity of faith.
These were lessons of forbearance to those who had themselves chosen the
more excellent way. For the elect’s sake He bears long with the wicked.
He makes His Sun to rise on the evil and the good. He is merciful to all,
and patient, and would have us to imitate His own Divine goodness and forbearance.
Let both grow together, he adds, until the harvest; and in the time
of harvest I wilt say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares,
and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into My barn.
“Let both grow together until the harvest,”—this referring all things
to the last Day, is calculated to sober and chasten our zeal, to soften
bitterness, to check impatience, to humble presumptuous self-confidence.
“Judge nothing before the time until the Lord come, Who will bring to light
and make manifest.” [1 Cor. iv. 5.] “Remember the end, and thou shalt
never do “—and, we may add, and thou shalt never judge—“amiss.” [Ecclus.
vii. 36.] Meanwhile it is a very awful consideration to reflect how
good and evil are growing up together, so intermixed, so nearly, so intimately
united, not the principles only, but the persons that hold them; so mingled,
so soon to be set asunder for ever. Two shall be in a field together,
the one taken and the other left; two women grinding together at a mill,
two men shall be in one bed, the one taken and the other left. Oh
the terrible, the overwhelming separation which shall be by Him Who cannot
judge amiss! Oh the infinite distance which shall be set between
those who are under one and the same roof, who partake of one and the same
cup, when one shall be taken into the bosom of God, and the other left
to the devouring flame! Who but God Himself; the discerner of hearts,
can make such a division, and set such a gulf between one and another?
So the Lord foretold it should be, so we in our own day see it fulfilled.
“Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already
to harvest,” and not the goodly grain only, but the noisome weeds are fast
ripening; therefore we know that the time draws near for the Lord of the
Harvest to descend. And now, under such circumstances so wondrously fulfilling
and fulfilled, let us return to the subject with which we first commenced;
let us endeavour to profit by this state of things around us which God
intends for our probation, and for the more effectual working out of our
salvation. Let us consider what a call it is for patience and forbearance
towards others, and a closer walk with God, to keep the flame of charity
alive in our own hearts. Let us not be content to be as others, but labour
to outstrip them in forgiveness and humility, and all that beautiful pattern
of a Christian’s life who has God for his portion, which the Epistle for
to-day pourtrays; “putting on bowels of mercies, humbleness of mind, forbearing,
and forgiving one another.” And surely that state of things which
the Gospel declares is already a wonderful Epiphany—a great manifestation
of the truth of the Divine Word, and therefore points forward with an awful
sanction to that other manifestation which is to be at the great separation.
And one word more on one point of particular advice given in the Epistle,—that
the peace of God which is to rule in the heart—that love which is ever
to be overflowing in the exercise of brotherly kindness —that watchful
earnestness which is to seize every act and word as an occasion of prayer
and thanksgiving—is also to keep itself alive by the aid of psalms and
melodies. This is no light matter, that it should be our duty, our privilege,
and delight, and that God should Himself have supplied us with words sweeter
than honey and the honeycomb. “Thou hast put a new song in my mouth.” “Thy
statutes are my songs in the house of my pilgrimage.” The very attribute
of our gracious God is, that He “giveth songs in the night.” [Job xxxv.
Soldiers in preparation for battle kindle their hearts, and keep themselves
in order by warlike strains of music; men full of lust or wine, when their
minds are enflamed by the great enemy of souls, break forth into singing;
even timid and lonely hearts, in the dark and solitary night, will comfort
their drooping spirits by cheerful melodies; how much more may they who
are engaged in the one great conflict of mankind,—they whose minds are
filled with God,—they who droop in the dark and dangerous night of the
world. How much more may they endeavour to live in psalms and inspired
hymns, kindling and supporting their own souls, and edifying others, and
keeping alive in each other the hope, that they may be admitted hereafter
to that company who have the “harps of God, and sing the song of Moses,
the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb.” [Rev. xv. 3.]