This is a parable or similitude wherein our Saviour compared the kingdom of God, that is, the preaching of his word, wherein consisteth the salvation of mankind, unto a husbandman who sowed good seed in his field.
But before we come unto the matter, you shall first learn to understand what this word parable, which is a Greek word, and used in the Latin and English tongue, means; that is to say, "A parable is a comparison of two things that are unlike outwardly;" while in effect they signify but one thing, for they appertain to one end; as in this place, Christ compared the word of God unto seed: which two things are unlike, but yet they teach one thing; for like as the seed is sown in the earth, so is the word of God sown in our hearts: and thus much of this word parable.
The sum of this gospel is, first he speaks of a husbandman that sowed good seed; after that he mentions an enemy that sowed evil seed. And these two manner of seeds, that is, the husbandman's seed that was good, and the enemy's seed which was naught, came up both together: so that the enemy was as busy as the other in sowing his evil seed. And while he was busy in sowing it, it was unknown. And at the first springing up, it all seemed to be good seed, but at length the servant of the husbandman perceived the evil seed sown amongst the good; therefore he came and told his master, showing him all the matter, and required leave to gather the evil seed from amongst the other. The husbandman himself said, "Our enemy hath done this. But for all that, let it alone until the harvest, and then will I separate the good from the evil." This is the sum of this gospel.
First, note that he saith, "When everybody was asleep, then he came and sowed his seed." Who are these sleepers? The bishops and prelates, the slothful and careless curates and ministers; they with their negligence give the devil leave to sow his seed, for they sow not their seed. That is, they preach not the word of God, they instruct not the people with wholesome doctrine, and so they give place to the devil to sow his seed. For when the devil cometh, and findeth the heart of man not weaponed nor garnished with the word of God, he forthwith possesses the same, and so getteth victory through the slothfulness of the spirituality, which they shall one day grievously repent. For the whole scripture, that is to say, both the Old and New Testament, is full of threatenings against such negligent and slothful pastors; and they shall make a heavy and grievous account one day, when no excuse shall serve, but extreme punishment shall follow, for a reward of their slothfulness.
This gospel gives occasion to speak of many things: for our Saviour himself expounded this parable unto his disciples after the people were gone from him, and he was come into the house. For the disciples were not so bold as to ask him of the meaning of this parable in the presence of the people; whereby we may learn good manners, to use in everything a good and convenient time. Also we may here learn to search and inquire earnestly, and with great diligence, for the true understanding of God's word. And when you hear a sermon and are in doubt of something, inquire about it, and be desirous to learn; for it is written, "Whosoever hath, unto him shall be given; and he shall have abundance." (Matt. xiii.) What means this saying? -- When we hear the word of God, and have tasted somewhat thereof, and are afterwards desirous to go forward more and more, then shall we have further knowledge; for God will give us his grace to come to further understanding. And so the saying of our Saviour shall be fulfilled in us.
Now when our Saviour heard the request of his disciples, he performs their desire, and begins to expound unto them the parable, saying, "I am he that soweth good seed: the adversary, the devil, is he who soweth evil seed." Here our Saviour, good people, makes known that he goeth about to do us good; but the devil doth quite the contrary, and he seeks to spoil and destroy us with his filthy and naughty seeds of false doctrine. The field here is the whole world. The harvest is the end of the world. The reapers are the angels of God, who are his servants: for as every lord or master has his servants to wait upon him, and to do his commandments, so the angels of God wait upon Him to do his commandments. The angels at the time of the harvest shall gather first all such as have been evil and have given occasion of wickedness, and go forward in the same without repentance or amendment of their lives. All such, I say, shall be gathered together and cast into the furnace of fire, "where shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth." For in the end of this wicked world, all such as have lived in the delights and pleasures of the same, and have not fought with the lusts and pleasures of their flesh, but are proud and stubborn, or bear hatred and malice unto their neighbours, or are covetous persons; also all naughty servants that do not their duties, and all those that use falsehood in buying and selling, and care not for their neighbours, but sell unto them false wares, or otherwise deceive them; all these are called "the offenders of this world," and all such shall be cast into the furnace where shall be weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth.
In like manner, all idle persons that will not work for their living, but go about loitering and are chargeable unto others; and also drunken persons that abuse the benefits of God in dishonouring themselves, so that they lose the use of reason, and their natural wits wherewith God has endued them, and make themselves like swine and beasts; also those who break wedlock, and despise matrimony, which is instituted of God himself. Hereunto add all swearers, all usurers, all liars, and deceivers; all these are called the seed of the devil; and so they are the devil's creatures through their own wickedness.
But yet it is true that wicked men have their souls and bodies of God, for he is their Creator and Maker: but they themselves, in forsaking God and his laws, and following the devil and his instructions, make themselves members of the devil, and become his seed; therefore in the last day they shall be cast out into everlasting fire, when the trumpet shall blow, and the angels shall come and gather all those that offend from among the elect of God.
The form of judgment shall be in this manner: Christ our Saviour at the day of judgment, being appointed of God, shall come down with great triumph and honour, accompanied with all his angels and saints that departed in faith out of this world before time: they shall come with him then, and all the elect shall be gathered to him, and there they shall see the judgment; but they themselves shall not be judged, but shall be like as judges with him. After the elect are separated from the wicked, he shall give a most horrible and dreadful sentence unto the wicked, commanding his angels to cast them into everlasting fire, where they shall have such torments as no tongue can express.
Therefore our Saviour, desirous to set out the pains of hell unto us, and to make us afraid thereof, calls it fire, yea, a burning and unquenchable fire. For as there is no pain so grievous to a man as fire is, so the pains of hell pass all the pains that may be imagined by any man. There shall be sobbing and sighing, weeping and wailing, and gnashing of teeth, which are the tokens of unspeakable pains and griefs that shall come upon those that die in the state of damnation. For you must understand that there are but two places appointed by Almighty God, for all mankind, that is, heaven and hell. And in what state soever a man dieth, in the same he shall rise again, for there shall be no alteration or change. Those who die repentant and are sorry for their sins -- who cry to God for mercy, are ashamed of their wickedness, and believe with all their hearts that God will be merciful unto them through the passion of our Saviour Christ; those who die in such a faith, shall come into everlasting life and felicity, and shall rise in the last day in a state of salvation. For look -- as you die, so shall you arise. Whosoever departeth out of this world without a repentant heart, and has been a malicious and envious man, and a hater of the word of God, and so continues, and will not repent and be sorry, and call upon God with a good faith, or has no faith at all; that man shall come to everlasting damnation; and so he shall arise again at the last day. For there is nothing that can help a soul when departed out of its damnation, or hinder it of its salvation.
For when a man dies without faith in Christ, all the masses in the whole world are not able to relieve him; and so to conclude, all the travails that we have had in time past by seeking of remedy by purgatory, and all the great costs and expenses that may be bestowed upon any soul lying in the state of damnation, can avail nothing, neither can it do any good. For as I said before, the judgments of God are immutable, that is -- as you die, so shall you rise. If you die in the state of salvation, you shall rise so again, and receive your body, and remain in salvation. Again, if you die in damnation, you shall rise in the same state, and receive your body, and return again to the same state, and be punished world without end, with unspeakable pains and torments. For our natural fire, in comparison to hell-fire, is like a fire painted on a wall; but that shall be so extreme, that no man is able to express the terrible horror and grief thereof.
O what a pitiful thing is it, that man will not consider this, and leave the sin and pleasure of this world, and live godly; but is so blind and mad, that he will rather have a momentary, and a very short and small pleasure, than hearken to the will and pleasure of Almighty God; who can take away everlasting pain and woe, and give unto him everlasting felicity! That a great many of us are damned, the fault is not in God, for "God would have all men be saved." But the fault is in ourselves, and in our own madness, who had rather have damnation than salvation. Therefore, good people, consider these terrible pains in your minds, which are prepared for the wicked and ungodly, avoid all wickedness and sin: set before your eyes the wonderful joy and felicity, and the innumerable treasures which God hath laid up for you that fear and love him, and live after his will and commandments; for no tongue can express, no eye hath seen, no heart can comprehend, nor conceive the great felicity that God hath prepared for his elect and chosen, as St. Paul witnesses. Consider, therefore, I say, these most excellent treasures, and exert yourselves to obtain the fruition of the same. Continue not, neither abide nor wallow too long in your sins, like as swine lieth in the mire. Make no delay to repent of your sin, and to amend your life, for you are not so sure to have repentance in the end. It is a common saying, "Late repentance is seldom sincere." Therefore consider this thing with yourself betimes, and study to amend your life: for what avails it to have all the pleasures of the world for a while, and after that to have everlasting pain and infelicity?
Therefore let every one examine his own conscience when he finds himself unready. For all such as through the goodness of God have received faith, and then wrestling with sin, consent not unto it, but are sorry for it when they fall, and do not abide nor dwell in the same, but rise up again forthwith, and call for forgiveness thereof, through the merits of our Saviour Jesus Christ -- all such are called just: that is to say, all that die with a repentant heart, and are sorry that they have sinned, and are minded if God give them longer time to live, to amend all faults, and lead a new life; then are they just; but not through their own merits or good works. For if God should enter into judgment with us, none are able to stand before his face; neither may any of his saints be found just; neither St. John Baptist, St. Peter, nor St. Paul; no nor is the mother of our Saviour Christ herself just, if she should be judged after the rigour of the law. For all are and must be justified by the justification of our Saviour Christ, and so we must be justified, and not by our own well-doing, but our justice standeth in this, that our righteousness is forgiven us through the righteousness of Christ, for if we believe in him, then are we made righteous. For he fulfilled the law, and afterwards granted the same to be ours, if we believe that his fulfilling is our fulfilling; for the apostle Saint Paul saith, "He hath not spared his own Son, but hath given him up for us; and how then may it be, but that we should have all things with him?"
Therefore it must needs follow, that when he gave us his only Son, he gave us also his righteousness, and his fulfilling of the law. So that we are justified by God's free gift, and not of ourselves, nor by our merits: but the righteousness of Christ is accounted to be our righteousness, and through the same we obtain everlasting life, and not through our own doings; for, as I said before, if God should enter into judgment with us, we should be damned.
Therefore take heed and be not proud, and be humble and low, and trust not too much in yourselves; but put your only trust in Christ our Saviour. And yet you may not utterly set aside the doing of good works; but especially look that you have always oil in readiness for your lamps, or else you may not come to the wedding, but shall be shut out, and thrust into everlasting darkness. This oil is faith in Christ, which if you lack, then all things are unsavory before the face of God: but a great many people are much deceived, for they think themselves to have faith when indeed they have it not. Some peradventure will say, How shall I know whether I have faith or not? Truly you shall find this in you, if you have no mind to leave sin; then sin grieves you not, but you are content to go forward in the same, and you delight in it, and hate it not, neither do you feel what sin is: when you are in such a case, then you have no faith, and therefore are like to perish everlastingly. For that man who is sore sick, and yet feels not his sickness, he is in great danger, for he has lost all his senses; so that man who has gone so far in sin, that he feels his sin no more, is like to be damned, for he is without faith.
Again, that man is in good case, who can be content to fight and strive with sin, and to withstand the devil, and his temptations, and calls for the help of God, and believes that God will help him, and make him strong to fight. That man shall not be overcome by the devil. And whosoever feels this in his heart, and so wrestles with sin, may be sure that he has faith, and is in the favour of God.
But if you will have a trial of your faith, then do this -- Examine yourself concerning your enemy; he does you harm, he slanders you, or takes away your living from you. How shall you conduct yourself towards such a man? If you can find in your heart to pray for him, to love him with all your heart, and forgive him with a good-will all that he has sinned against you -- if you can find this readiness in your heart, then you are one of those who have faith, if you would have him to be saved as well as yourself. And if you can do this you may argue that your sin is forgiven, and that you are none of those that shall be cast out, but shall be received and placed among the number of the godly, and shall enjoy with them everlasting life. For St. Paul saith, "Those that are just," that is, those that are justified by faith, and exercise faith in their living and conversation, "they shall shine like unto the sun in the kingdom of God;" that is to say, they shall be in exceeding great honour and glory. For like as the sun exceeds in brightness all other works of God, and is beautiful in the eyes of every man; so shall all the faithful be beautiful and endued with honour and glory: although in this world they are but outcasts, and accounted as "The dross and filth of the world;" but in the other world, when the angels shall gather together the wicked, and cast them into the fire, then shall the elect shine as the sun in the kingdom of God. For no man can express the honour and glory that they shall have, who will be content to suffer all things for God's sake, and reform themselves after his will; or are content to be told of their faults, and glad to amend the same, and humble themselves under the mighty hand of God.
Also the householder said unto his servants, "Let them alone until harvest." Here you may learn that the preachers and ministers of the word of God, have not authority to compel the people with violence to goodness, although they are wicked. But they should admonish them only with the word of God, not pull the wicked out by the throat; for that is not their duty. All things must be done according as God has appointed. God has appointed the magistrates to punish the wicked; for so he saith, "Thou shalt take away the evil from amongst the people, thou shalt have no pity of him." If he be a thief, an adulterer, or a whore-monger, away with him. But when our Saviour saith, "Let them grow;" he speaks not of the civil magistrates, for it is their duty to pull them out; but he signifies that there will be such wickedness in spite of the magistrates, and teaches that the ecclesiastical power is ordained, not to pull out the wicked with the sword, but only to admonish them with the word of God, which is called "The sword of the Spirit." So did John Baptist, saying, "Who hath taught you to flee from the wrath of God that is at hand?"
So did Peter in the Acts of the Apostles; "Whom you have crucified," he said unto the Jews. What follows? "They were pricked in their hearts;" contrition and repentance followed as soon as the word was preached unto them. Therefore they said, "Brethren, what shall we do? How shall we be made clean from our sins, that we may be saved?" Then he sends them to Christ. So that it appears in this gospel, and by these examples, that the preacher has no other sword, but the sword of the word of God: with that sword he may strike them. He may rebuke their wicked living, and further he ought not to go. But kings and magistrates have power to punish with the sword the obstinate and vicious livers, and to put them to due punishment.
Now to make an end, with this one lesson, which is, If you dwell in a town where are some wicked men that will not be reformed, nor in anywise amend their lives, as there are commonly some in every town; run not therefore out of the town, but tarry there still, and exercise patience amongst them, exhort them, whensoever occasion serves, to amendment. And do not as the fondness of the monkery first did, for they at the first made so great account of the holiness of their good life, that they could not be content to live and abide in cities and towns where sinners and wicked doers were, but thought to amend the matter; and therefore ran out into the wilderness, where they fell into great inconveniences. For some despised the communion of the body and blood of our Saviour Christ, and so fell into other errors, so God punished them for their foolishness and uncharitableness. We are born into this world, not for our own sakes only, but for every Christian's sake. They forgetting this commandment of love and charity, ran away from their neighbours, like beasts and wild horses, that cannot abide the company of men. So there have been some in our time who follow their example, separating themselves from the company of other men, and therefore God gave them a perverted judgment. Therefore when you dwell in any evil town or parish, follow not these examples; but remember that Lot, dwelling in the midst of Sodom, was nevertheless preserved from the wrath of God, and such will be preserved in the midst of the wicked. But for all that, you must not flatter them in their evil doings and naughty livings, but rebuke their sins and wickedness, and in nowise consent unto them. Then it will be well with you here in this world, and in the world to come you shall have life everlasting: which grant both to you and me, God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. -- Amen.