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§ 130. Parable of the various Kinds of Fish in the Net.316316   Matt., xiii., 47.Of the Wheat and the Tares.317317   Matt., xiii., 24.

Marvellous was the spirit-glance with which Christ surveyed not only the process by which the higher life which he had introduced into humanity was to develope itself, according to its own inherent laws, but also the manifold corruptions and hindrances that awaited it. The parables in which he illustrated the hindrances and obstacles of the truth were also derived from the sphere of nature and of life immediately around him—the toils of the fishermen in the Sea of Genesareth, and of the husbandmen in the fertile fields about its shores.

He had to teach his disciples that not all who joined him were fitted to be genuine followers, and that the spurious and the true should be intermixed in his visible kingdom, until that final process of decision which God had reserved to himself. To convey this truth, he compares the kingdom of God, in the process of its developement on earth (which corresponds to the visible Church as distinguished from the invisible), to a net cast into the sea, in which fish of all kinds, good and worthless, are caught, and which are only assorted after the net has been drawn to the shore.

It was, perhaps, an expression of surprise on the part of his disciples, at the long forbearance of Christ toward some whom they deemed unworthy—and certainly there was one such in the immediate circle of his followers—that gave him occasion to utter the parable of the “Wheat and the Tares.” Its object was to warn them (and the leaders of the Church in all ages) against arbitrarily and impatiently anticipating the Divine wisdom, which guides all the threads of the Church’s progress to one aim; against attempting to distinguish the spurious from the genuine members before that final sifting of the kingdom which God himself will make; to teach them that men have no means of making such decisions unerringly, and might cut off, as false, some who were, or might become, true subjects of the kingdom.

The chief point in the parable is, that while the genuine seed germinates and brings forth fruit, the bastard seed is also sown among it, and both shooting up together, the bastard wheat, from its likeness to the true, cannot well be discriminated until harvest, when its real nature is manifested. The other point of comparison is the impatience of the servants, who wish to pull up the tares at once.


It is a question whether the individual trait that the tares were sown by the enemy “while men slept” had any special prominence. If so, it contains an exhortation to the leaders of the Church to be watchful; implying that carelessness and indifference on their part may admit false members among the true. But no such exhortation is afterward expressed, and, moreover, the whole plan of the parable presupposes that these spurious admixtures will necessarily take place in the progress of the kingdom; that no care or foresight can prevent them. We must, therefore, consider this trait as belonging to the colouring rather than the substance of the parable.

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