Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Roger Williams, Religious Liberty, and the Parables (part 4): The Debate with John Cotton (cont.)

The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution . . . .


Williams responds to Cotton’s argument that tares are so similar to wheat in appearance that they must designate hypocrites within the church by examining the Greek text of the parable. The word for tare (zizania) designates all sorts of weeds, so the term signifies people who are “manifestly different from, and opposite to, the true worshippers of God.” In addition, in the parable, the servants easily recognize the difference between the wheat and the tares very early in their development (Chapter 20), and Williams later insinuates that Cotton, ensconced in his “soft and rich saddle” of the city life in Boston, may not be the best judge of agricultural practices (Williams 1963: 304).

The church, Williams argues, is a beautiful garden within the sinful world but distinguishable from it. The garden of the church should remain pure with its righteous wheat, but the field of the world in which it finds itself includes sinful tares. The parable demonstrates that Christian rulers and ministers should not confuse the garden of the church with the field of the world. Constantine, the first Roman emperor to be identified as a Christian, began this horrible confusion within the history of Christendom with terrible results:

Doubtless these holy men, emperors and bishops, intended and aimed right to exalt Christ; but not attending to the command of Christ Jesus, to permit the tares to grow in the field of the world, they made the garden of the church and the field of the world to be all one; and might not only sometimes, in their zealous mistakes, persecute good wheat instead of tares, but also pluck up thousands of those precious stalks by commotions and combustions about religion . . . wrought by such wars . . . (Chapter 64).

Jesus uses the field to symbolize the entire world, not just the church, because the world is an extremely wicked place. The problem is that as soon as:

the Lord Jesus had sown the good seed, the children of the kingdom, true Christianity, or the true church, the enemy, Satan, presently, in the night of security, ignorance, and error, while men slept, sowed also the tares which are anti-Christians, or false Christians.

People like Cotton incorrectly desire to call down fiery judgments upon these people:

and to pluck them by the roots out of the world. But the Son of man, the meek Lamb of God—for the elect’s sake which must be gathered out of Jew and Gentile, pagan, anti-Christian—commands a permission of them in the world until the time of the end of the world, when the goats and sheep, the tares and wheat, shall be eternally separated from each other” (Chapter 21).

In the next post, I will discuss how Williams connects the parable of the Sower to this argument.

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