The Wheat & the Tares
by Glenn Conjurske

“Let both grow together until the harvest.” (Matt. 13:30). This is one of the most abused scriptures in the Bible, for it is often used to overthrow the plain scriptures which require discipline and purity in the Church—-a subject with which the parable of the wheat and the tares has nothing to do. Its true scope lies in another direction altogether.

The disciples of Christ were expecting the Messiah to set up the kingdom of God on the earth. They were led to this expectation by numerous Old Testament prophecies. They were evidently mistaken as to the time of it, expecting it at the first coming of Christ, not understanding that he must first be killed, return to the Father, and come again to reign. This mistake was excusable, for though the Old Testament was clear enough concerning “the sufferings of Christ and the glories that should follow,” it was not so explicit about the time. The very prophets themselves, who wrote the prophecies, remained unenlightened about the time, and enquired and searched diligently into their own prophecies, “searching what or what manner of TIME the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify.” (I Pet. 1:11). The disciples of Christ were in the same ignorance. They thought that now that the Christ was come “the kingdom of God should immediately appear.” (Luke 19:11). The Lord corrected their error by speaking a parable in which he represents himself as going “into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom, and to return” (verse 12)—-to return, obviously, to exercise the authority of that kingdom.

The character of that kingdom was well known from Old Testament prophecy, one of its most conspicuous features being the utter destruction, at its commencement, of all the ungodly. The Gentile kingdoms were to be broken to pieces and driven away as the chaff before the wind (Dan. 2:35). All that did wickedly were to be burned up as stubble, leaving them neither root nor branch (Mal. 4:1). These things were the legitimate expectations of the disciples of Christ, based solidly upon the prophecies of the Old Testament. Nor did the Lord himself ever speak a word to discourage those expectations. He only indicated that the time for their fulfillment had not yet come. He spoke the parable in Luke 19 to teach them that the kingdom of God was not to immediately appear—-not till he had gone to the far country and returned. When he did return the expected destruction of the ungodly would surely take place, for the parable concludes with “But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me.” (Luke 19:27).

The parables in Matthew 13 were spoken to indicate what they were to expect in the mean time, while he himself had gone to the far country to receive the kingdom, but before he returned to establish it. They were not to expect the purging of the earth—-yet. They were not to expect the destruction of the ungodly—-yet. “Let both grow together until the harvest.” “The harvest is the end of the age” (vs. 39). Then, at the end of the age, “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 wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then shall the righteous shine forth in the kingdom of their Father.” (Verses 41-43). Meanwhile, “Let both grow together.”

But understand, there is no hint or thought here of letting both grow together in the church. “The field is THE WORLD.” So says the Lord’s own interpretation of the parable (vs. 38). Yet it is not to be wondered at if those who baptize babies and belong to national churches, which in principle embrace the whole population of the country, and thus obliterate the distinction between the church and the world—-it is not to be wondered at if such men find the Church in this parable.

Thus Martin Luther, the founder of such a national church says, “The Christian Church is as a field planted with good seed, but during the night comes the devil and secretly sows the tares. Hence the good seed and the tares will ever grow together in the Church; the good and the evil will intermingle; nor can this be prevented in this world. In the future world it will be otherwise; then will the good be separated from the wicked; for the Lord says, that at the harvest time His servants, the reapers, will perform this task according to His commands.

“We see therefore how this Gospel condemns the Donatists, Novations, Anabaptists, and other heretics, who zealously endeavored to establish a church free from all blemishes and composed of perfect saints.” This needs no comment, except to point out that Luther misrepresents the opposite position, making it appear untenable by stating it in too extreme a form, for who ever dreamed of composing any church on earth of perfect saints? Real saints is all that they actually sought—-wheat rather than tares.

J. C. Ryle (a bishop in the national Church of England) speaks along the same lines, saying, “In the first place, this parable teaches us, that good and evil will always be found together in the professing Church, until the end of the world.

“The visible Church is set before us as a mixed body. It is a vast `field’ in which `wheat and tares’ grow side by side. We must expect to find believers and unbelievers, converted and unconverted, `the children of the kingdom, and the children of the wicked one,’ all mingled together in every congregation of baptized people.”

Such statements are not only directly against the plain injunctions of the New Testament regarding church discipline: they are also quite wide of the mark in interpreting this parable. The field is not the church, but the world. To root up the tares is not to put them out of the church, but to put them out of the world. This is what the disciples expected the Lord to do when he established his kingdom. This is indeed exactly what the Lord will do when he does establish his kingdom. Moreover, this is what the Israelites of old were obliged to do in the administration of that local kingdom which was the type of the world-wide kingdom of Christ which is yet to come. Offenders were to be put to death. And it is perfectly clear that if “the field is the world,” to root up the tares must be to put them out of the world, which can only mean to put them to death. This has nothing to do with the godly discipline of the church. All of this is clear enough to those who know the difference between Israel and the church, and between the church and the world.

Thus Henry Varley: “This parable is constantly cited as though our Lord’s words gave sanction to mixed and corrupt Church associations. The words of Christ have no reference whatever to the toleration of evil in Christian assemblies. The absence of effective discipline is directly contrary to the revealed will of our Lord. We are commanded to withdraw from those who walk disorderly (EPHES. V,11; I COR. V,9-13).

“The prohibition is directed against the rooting up of the tares until our Lord does it, by angelic agency, at the end of the age. We have no business to persecute our fellow men, be they godly or ungodly. The equivalent of the rooting up of the tares is not discipline but death. The rooting up is nothing less than violent persecution, unto death. Christ, until the close of this age, is the Saviour, not the destroyer of men’s lives.”

John Wesley, always a clergyman in the Church of England, adopts a middle position, seeking to allow for keeping the unconverted in the church, while at the same time advocating discipline for scandalous offenders. Says he, “Darnel, in the Church, is properly outside Christians [that is, outward Christians], such as have the form of godliness without the power. Open sinners, such as have neither the form nor the power, are not so properly darnel as thistles and brambles; these ought to be rooted up without delay, and not suffered in the Christian community.” But this is error all over, and shows how easily a good man may go astray when trying to support a false position. He begins with “darnel [tares, that is] in the Church,” as do all the rest who fail to recognize that the field is the world. Next he introduces a third class into the parable, the thistles and brambles, of which the parable knows nothing. There are but two classes, in the parable, and in the world. Further, he assumes that it is permissible to remain in fellowship, in the Church, with outward Christians, who have the form of godliness without the power of it, whereas these are the very ones of whom Paul says, “from such turn away.” (II Tim. 3:5).

Wesley’s position can be no better answered than by quoting from William Kelly, who says, “The tares are not for the present taken out of the field: there is not judgment of them. Does this mean that we are to have tares in the church? If the kingdom of heaven meant the church, there ought to be no discipline at all: you ought to allow uncleanness of flesh and spirit there, swearers, drunkards, adulterers, schismatics, heretics, antichrists, as much as the rest.” And this is the absolute truth of the matter, for God does not distinguish between clean and unclean tares, or between tares who have the form of godliness without the power, and tares who have neither the form nor the power. Tares are tares, and all of them are to be left to grow until the end of the age, and all of them will be destroyed then.

But it is not God’s time to destroy them now. This is the day of grace. It is altogether out of character to think of cutting them off now, while the gospel is preached, and the Spirit strives with men, and we have a commission to win them to Christ. But the Spirit will not always strive. The present day of grace will expire, and then the ungodly will be destroyed, and we will take part with the Lord in executing the judgement. “Behold, the Lord cometh, with ten thousands of his saints, to execute judgement upon all.” (Jude 14-15). “Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world?” (I Cor. 6:2). We shall indeed do so, but this is not the time for it. The day of judgement is yet to come. Therefore, “Let both grow together until the harvest.” Let grace have its way in the day of grace, as judgement will have its way in the day of judgement. All of those stranglings and drownings and burnings at the stake, which reputed churches have perpetrated in order to rid the world of tares, have been altogether contrary to the spirit of the gospel, and they have uprooted a good deal more wheat than they have tares.

But note well: though the time has not yet come for judgement upon the world, the time is always present for judgement in the church. Observe how Paul speaks of these diverse judgements. “Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world?” (I Cor. 6:2). The tense is future. But for the present, “For what have I to do to judge them that are without [outside the church]? Do ye not judge them that are within?” (I Cor 5:12). Here the subject is judging those who are in the church, and here the tense is present. There is no accident or mistake in this difference of tense. The two statements are only two verses apart, and Paul is speaking with the precision that always characterizes him, not to mention the Spirit of God.

We do judge them that are inside—-in the church. This is a present and continuous responsibility. Paul reprimands the Corinthians for failing to do so. He commands them to do so. “Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened.” (Verse 7). The church not only can be kept pure, but must be. The leaven must be purged out. How is this to be done? “Put away from among yourselves that wicked person.” (Verse 13). Thus we do judge them that are within the church.

Observe further, this judgement is entirely consistent with the spirit of grace which now reigns. The wicked person is to be delivered to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, “that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.” (Verse 5). He is cut off from the church, but not from the mercy of God. Indeed, the very judgement is designed to be a means of mercy, to bring him to repentance and salvation. Not so the judgement upon the tares in the parable. The tares which are uprooted are deprived of life—-cut off for good and all from mercy and hope and God and salvation. This will surely be done in its time, at the end of the age, but this is not its time. Therefore, “Let both grow together until the harvest.” Then the tares will be uprooted and gathered and burned.

Such is the true scope of the parable, and it is no excuse whatever for the mixing of good and evil in the church. Neither is it any excuse for the commingling or fellowship of the wheat and the tares in the world. The commandment of God still stands in all of its strength, “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? and what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? . . . Wherefore come out from among them and be ye separate, saith the Lord.” (II Cor. 6:14-16).

There is no excuse anywhere in the New Testament for the mingling and fellowship of the righteous and the wicked, whether in the church or in the world, for any reason whatever, whether religious, or political, or social, or civic, or personal. We have exactly the same responsibility to come out from among them as we have to put them away from among ourselves. Both are explicitly commanded in the Scriptures. The righteous and the wicked, the wheat and the tares, the church and the world, are as distinct and opposite as Christ and Belial. There is neither fellowship, nor communion, nor concord, nor part, nor agreement between them, and there is nothing in the parable of the wheat and the tares to imply the contrary. They are both to grow together in the same field, which is the world, till the wheat is ripe for glory and the tares are ripe for perdition. That is all, and anyone who makes anything more than this of the matter must do so at the expense of other scriptures which are too plain to be mistaken.

Glenn Conjurske