Hints for explaining the Parable of the Tares,

to show the truth of Scripture

from the accomplishment in experience and observation

[These notes were used for a series of 3 lectures
preached on consecutive Wednesdays – 14, 21 and 28 August 1782 – at St Mary Woolnoth.
Due to the way the notes are written, they are transcribed here as one batch.]
Matthew 13.24-30
Commissioned ye 14 August 1782
24 Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field: 25 But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way. 26 But when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also. 27 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? 28 He said unto them, An enemy hath done this. The servants said unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up? 29 But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will 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.
No. 1     General Scope


After an introduction on the seed, sower and field observe:
1. The sowing the good seed the occasion of the tares
2. The sower is the enemy – the devil
3. The opportunity while men slept
4. The time of appearance: when the good came up
5. The hasty zeal of the servants
6. The Lord's patience and forbearance with the reason given
7. The harvest and the time of separation
  7.1 The instruments: the angels
  7.2 The tares to be: gathered
bound in bundles
cast into the fire
8. The good seed safely laid up
The six former particulars – prophesy already fulfilled and fulfilling. The two latter – to be fulfilled hereafter.
The whole a subject of importance, not without difficulty, nor to be duly considered in one or two discourses.
Prayer for wisdom to guide the speaker and to direct the hearers.
[these points were spread over 3 Wednesdays:
1.    points 1-2
2.    points 3-4
3.    points 5-8]
1. [the tares]
The tares are said to be the children of the wicked one. All mankind are so as considered in their natural state, under the power of Satan for a season – though the Lord knoweth them that are his. But these wicked are so in a peculiar sense – under a profession – wickedness in such a form as would not have appeared but by occasion of preaching the Gospel. False teachers. False professors. Under the influence of erroneous principles, or holding true principles in such a way as taking encouragement from them to serve their own appetites and passions.
The tares are spoken of as persons – but they are denominated from their evil principles, or evil practices.
2. [the enemy]
The enemy is Satan. And the parable leads to consider the methods he takes to prevent the progress or spoil the beauty of Gospel profession. Before the Gospel comes, he reigns like the strong one armed and his goods are in peace. But the light disturbs him, his kingdom is shaken, many of his captives delivered. Usually his first attempt is to stir up the world to persecute the truth. But in this he cannot do all he would, nor does he trust to this alone. The first Christians were severely persecuted – yet even then tares were plentifully sown – but the more outward peace, the more his success in sowing the tares is generally observable.
[3.] [errors of believers:]
To specify all the different characters which answer to the tares is perhaps beyond the compass of one man's ability. If we consider them as persons, we must be cautious to restrain them so as not to include any of the children of the kingdom, but if in a larger view, we include all such sentiments and practices as are not countenanced by the Gospel we shall find much in believers themselves which may be compared to tares – being no part of the gracious work of the Spirit – but rather blemishes and hindrances.
The general enclosure which takes in both the wheat and the tares is an acknowledgement of the Scriptures and a profession of the name of Jesus. We are not now to speak of the evils which obtain among heathens, Jews or Mahometans but Christians:
  [3.]1 Those who maintain such fundamental errors as are inconsistent with a work of grace – respecting the work of the Redeemer – the agency of the Holy Spirit – the state of human nature by the fall.
  [3.]2 Those who not only neglect obedience to the Lord's precepts, but plead a liberty so to do from the Gospel itself - making Christ the minister of sin.
  I am not fond of multiplying particulars under this head – the Lord's own people are liable to gross errors – but not in fundamentals. An awakened heart must feel the need of a Saviour, and of a divine teacher, and can never deliberately and upon principle plead for sin. But they may be under the influence of wrong tempers and views, and by their example and conduct do much harm, and seem more like tares than wheat. Several sorts of hurtful tares have been sown among true Christians: fierce zeal – spirit of party – human authority – vain reasonings. Hence spring up persecutions, controversies, strife and hatred.

No. 2     August 21
Treated the 3rd and 4th particulars – showing that thus was in the apostles' age and thus it has been in and after all succeeding revivals of religion – tares appearing with the wheat.

No.3      for August 28
vv 27-29
27 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? 28 He said unto them, An enemy hath done this. The servants said unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up? 29 But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will 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.
I observed in my former that the event of the Gospel, and its proving the occasion of so many errors and mischiefs – is a perplexing subject in itself[1] – and an enquiring mind can find no relief but in submitting to the wisdom and sovereignty of God. If we compare Christianity as it is described and exemplified in the New Testament with the most of what has borne the name since the close of the first or second century – how striking the difference. Who can help saying – was not good seed sown? from whence then the tares?
So likewise in societies of Christians. If we compare the union, the peace, the liveliness in their early state with the dissensions, errors and evils which appear afterwards – it is both grievous and astonishing.
But what is thus surprising to the servants is not so to the Lord of the field. Though men were asleep he was not. It is not without his knowledge and permission that the enemy is thus busy, thus successful in sowing the tares. Nor would he permit it if he did not design to overrule it for his own glory.
The private experience of each of his people is mingled with weakness, misconduct, declensions, which cause them much trouble. He could prevent them if he pleased but by these things they are taught what is in their hearts. Thus the tares in the church at large, give a more striking view of human depravity, and the subtlety and power of Satan, by which the triumph of his wisdom and grace will be in the issue more glorious. There must be heresies that they which are approved may be made manifest.
The servants proposed a short method – to pluck the tares up. Though in his answer he does not directly blame their zeal he restrains it, and gives them to understand they were not sufficiently qualified for such a service, and that their endeavours, however well meant, to remove the tares hastily and by violence, would prove prejudicial to the wheat itself.
I cannot suppose this passage can be justly pleaded to warrant a total neglect of discipline in societies of professing Christians. The Corinthian church was sharply reproved by the Apostle for permitting a person who lived in a known and notorious sin to continue amongst them. These societies which are voluntarily formed, and have the power of regulation so fully in their own hands, are highly blameable if while they profess a purity of doctrine, they allow any who dishonour the Gospel to remain in their fellowship. But in national churches like ours his Ministers and people (and blessed be his name he has and will have Ministers and people in national churches) cannot do all that they would in this business. In our liturgy the want of a proper discipline is confessed and lamented.  And the temper of the time at present make[s] it probable this want will not be speedily relieved. Till then we have little power but by the ministry of the Word, and this when the Lord is pleased to accompany it by his power, will do a good deal. And I myself in a country place where I could know the people, have frequently seen a considerable number of people at the Lord's table not one of whom, I had reason to wish away, though I had no authority to keep away the most profligate person in the parish. Only I used to warn those who lived in sin not to come at their peril, and so far for the most part I prevailed.
But the parable rather leads us to understand by the tares erroneous persons – and with respect to these, I think my text is full against that angry, bitter zeal, which under the pretence of the glory [of] God invades the peace and liberty of man in the spirit of persecution. First taking it for granted that those[1] who differ from them are tares, and then endeavouring to root them up by violence. The root of this malignant temper lies deep in human nature, and few of God's own people are wholly free from its effects.
The first Christians were severely persecuted by the heathens, but when Christians gained the protection of the civil powers they began to persecute one another. What is the greatest part of church history, but the history of men doing the work of Satan in the name of the Lord.
This was long one principle character of the Church of Rome. Her power was abridged at the Reformation – but those who forsook her other errors, retained this. Such eminent servants of God as Cranmer, Ridley and Calvin (had very imperfect views of liberty of conscience) [1] sat in judgement upon men whom they deemed heretics and consented to their death. Thus the Puritans in England, afterwards, and multitudes of true believers in Scotland suffered by the iron hand of Church Power. But when these sufferers obtained power in their turn, the[y] showed too much of the same spirit. They who fled for liberty to America treated the Quakers there as they had themselves been treated at home. And the Solemn League and Covenant. [2] Of late years civil and religious liberty has been better understood than formerly. In these happy days I may speak my mind in the pulpit, and you may hear without danger. Yet the intolerant spirit is still alive. And the peace we enjoy [is] perhaps more owing to indifference for religion, than a just regard to conscience. I know no religious party or denomination that I could wish possessed of power to treat those who differ from them as they please.
However, our Lord is express – he says, Nay – and from his following words we may assign reasons why none of us should wish to be employed in pulling up tares.
1. The difficulty of knowing a tare from good wheat. Erroneous persons are tares, but who is free from error?  Where shall we draw the line?
2. The power of prejudice, misconceptions and ignorance – the readiness of men to charge upon others' principles, consequences of their own drawing.
3. The influence of unsanctified passions, which render it impossible to judge and determine with coolness. Thus the sheep of Christ under a pretended zeal for him and his truth, may be seduced and persuaded to bite and to devour each other.
As our Lord here, makes no difference or exceptions neither would I. I believe he is alone the Judge of Conscience – and that one man has no right from him to distress another on account of his religious principles, or for his having no religion at all – provided he conforms to the rules of society and government. Be he orthodox or heretic, churchman or dissenter, protestant or papist, Christian, Jew or Mohammedan, he is our neighbour; we are bound to love him, and have no right to punish him because we think he is not so wise as we are ourselves.
Let us prize this liberty – that is praise the Lord for it, and pray for its continuance. It depends upon his blessing, and is what as Christians we have no right to expect because it is not promised.

Let us not abuse it. Though not accountable to men we have a Lord to whom we must give account.

[1] Newton used square brackets here – perhaps to adapt the delivery of his sermon according to the hearers present. ‘I preach my own sentiments plainly, but peaceably, and directly oppose no one. Accordingly, Churchmen and Dissenters, Calvinists and Arminians, Methodists and Moravians, now and then, I believe, Papists and Quakers, sit quietly to hear me.’
[2] The Solemn League and Covenant of 1643, between Scotland and England, was intended to provide military support to overwhelm the Royalists under Charles I in the Civil War. ‘The Scots agreed to send an army into England on condition that Parliament would co-operate with the Kirk in upholding the Protestant religion and uprooting all remaining traces of popery.’ All holding any command or office of parliament were obliged to sign the Covenant. When Charles II came to the throne, the Covenant was declared unlawful and had to be renounced by all in public office. Clergy were required to renounce it under the Act of Uniformity of 1662.

Cowper & Newton Museum, ref 714((18)                    (Newton’s numbering: notebook No. 42)


Marylynn Rouse, 29/03/2019