Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. CIRCUMSTANCES OCCASIONING IT. The order of Matthew and Mark preferable and explanatory. Various considerations led him to adopt this method of teaching.
1. A reasonable prudence. His enemies were busy, and scarcely suffered a single opportunity to pass without spying or planning means by which to destroy him. Out of doors he would be able to keep the crowd at a greater remove, and so hostile listeners would be under better observation.
2. Sympathy for those who were "without. In the small country cottages, where for the most part he resided, there was no accommodation for the numbers that thronged to his ministry. Stifling heat and inconvenient jostling would ill accord with the dignity of his message. Multitudes were unable to hear or see him, and he had compassion on their souls. A different class of people, too, might be reached by this new method.
3. The charm of nature. There are abundant evidences of Christ's poetic and artistic sense of nature. He would be drawn forth from the heat and squalor of the small cottage to the spaciousness, grandeur, and ever-varying phenomena of the outside world. It was his own world. He was present when the morning stars sang together" at its birth, "and without him was not anything made that was made."
II. ADVANTAGES OF THIS MODE OF TEACHING.
1. It linked the ideas of the spiritual world with the real world of every-day experience.
2. By its associating the common life of men with the Divine and eternal, the former was refined and elevated. The many were thus addressed, and a certain general benefit received by them.
3. The inner meaning of such teaching could only be discerned by the spiritual and devout, and thus his safety was secured. His enemies were baffled and kept in ignorance.
4. This teaching was attractive to all.
III. WHAT IT SUGGESTED AS TO THE SPHERE AND FUNCTION OF THE "KINGDOM OF GOD."
1. That it was coextensive with the universe.
2. That the heavenly element is to penetrate and include the earthly element in Gods world.
3. That the senses, if rightly used, are aids to the spirit. - M.
I. THAT HOSTILITY MAY CHANGE OUR METHOD, BUT MUST NOT BE ALLOWED TO PREVENT OUR WORK. The Pharisees had become openly antagonistic to our Lord. Their spies followed him everywhere. Their controversial champions argued with him and misrepresented him in the synagogues. This hostility drove the Lord from the sanctuaries of his people. He would not suffer his Father's house to be desecrated by such tactics. Accordingly, he no longer, as a rule, was found in the synagogues, but in the fields and streets, in the homes of the people, or in the fishing-boats that rocked on the Sea of Galilee. He thus acted on the principle he laid down for his disciples when he said to them, "If they persecute you in one city, flee to another." And that principle still holds good, and may have the widest application. St. Paul acted on it when he adapted himself, under varying circumstances, to the conditions of his hearers. If he addressed the people of Lystra, he did not argue from the Old Testament, of which they knew nothing, but pointed to the mountains and fields, and spoke of the God who gave them "fruitful seasons." If he was surrounded by Athenians in their beautiful city, he referred to the temples which crowned the Acropolis, and to the statues which adorned the Agora. If he was in the synagogue at Antioch, in Pisidia, he argued from the sacred Scriptures, the authority of which his hearers acknowledged. He became "all things to all men, if by any means he might win some;" and in this he followed in the footsteps of the great Teacher, who, when refused a fair hearing in the synagogue, preached beside the open sea. Thus, with the utmost flexibility and freedom, Christian workers should alter their methods to meet the changing circumstances in which they find themselves; never for a moment losing sight of the object they have set before themselves, but seeking to attain that by the most suitable means. This may be applied to those who preach or teach, whether amongst the sceptical or the indifferent, among the children or the cultured.
II. THAT THERE IS NO PLACE WHERE GOD'S WORK MAY NOT BE DONE. The change in method, indicated by the text, did not trouble our Lord as it would have troubled any one to whom place and mode seem everything in worship. All the earth was holy in his eyes. The heavenly Father was near him everywhere. The rippling of the sea or the rustling of the corn would be more grateful to him than the murmured repetitions of formal prayers by the mechanical and unspiritual worshippers in the synagogue. Apart from persecution, he would often have chosen, from preference, such a sphere of work as this, as indeed he did when he preached the sermon on the mount. Read his teaching to the woman of Samaria (John 4:20, 21), and see how acceptable to God is spiritual worship wherever it may be offered. Study the parable that immediately follows our text, and you will notice that the sower threw out his seed broadcast upon all kinds of soil. Our Lord would preach in a Pharisee's house, or on a mountain, or from a boat, as readily as in a synagogue or in the temple; for "Holiness to the Lord" (Zechariah 14:20) was written everywhere, and he accounted "nothing common or unclean" (Acts 10:15). Too often Christian workers select their little sphere for service, and strictly confine themselves to it, contented that multitudes should be left untouched who might easily be brought under their influence. The true sower is willing to scatter his seed broadcast.
III. THAT THE MODE OF OUR LORD'S TEACHING MADE HIS UTTERANCES MORE WIDELY ACCEPTABLE. This was not only true of his own day, but of ours. Publicans, lepers, and outcasts, excluded from the synagogue, could hear him on the beach; and all "the common people heard him gladly," for he spake "as one having authority, and not as the scribes." It is well for us also that it was so. There is wonderfully little local colouring about his words; a marvellous freedom from such theological technicalities as the rabbis were wont to use; and his teaching, therefore, comes home to us as it never would have done if couched in the phraseology currently used for the interpretation of the Law. His utterances are fragrant with the fresh air, and they ring with a pleasant freedom, for which we cannot be too thankful; for what might have been Jewish is human, and the words of him who called himself, not "the Son of David," but the "Son of man," are so simple and natural, that there is not a fisherman on our coasts, not a merchant in our streets, not a housewife in our homes, not a sower in our fields, who may not know something of the meaning and beauty of the doctrine of the great Teacher who has come from God.
IV. THAT OUR LORD'S POSITION IN THE FISHING-BOAT IS A SIGN OF THE TRANSIENT NATURE OF ABUSED PRIVILEGES. Christ in the boat has often been regarded as an emblem of Christ in his Church. From both he preaches to the world. The Church, in comparison with the world it seeks to influence, is small, as the boat with the few in it was small compared with the crowds listening upon the beach; and her comparative poverty may be represented by that fisherman's barque, which had about it, we may be sure, no costly adornment. But small and poor as the Church may seem, and the Christ who is in it, she is free as the Master was, who could in a moment leave those who were hostile or unreceptive, and pass over to the other side (Luke 8:37). There are yet to be found amongst us the impenitent and foolhardy, to whom he will have to say, "Because I have called, and ye refused; I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded; but ye have set at nought all my counsel, and would none of my reproof: I will also laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh.' - A.R.
e who taught by every act of his life, and who had already given many most important lessons with his lips, now, after the interruptions just recorded, "began to teach" more formally. It was "by the seaside," the multitude standing "by the sea on the land," and he "entered into a boat, and sat in the sea." "He taught them many things in parables." The first of these and one of the chief of the parables and the chiefest of all on the subject of "the Word," is, with its explanation, the key to many others. The lesson of the whole is summed up in the words of Ver. 24, "Heed what ye hear." It was not without purpose that he spoke of hearing. All depends upon it. Noah, Moses, Paul, Jesus himself, will preach in vain if men hear not with care. The parable teaches -
I. THE ESPECIAL, EVILS AGAINST WHICH MEN GUARD IN HEARING THE WORD.
1. The first evil is losing the Word before faith has made it fruitful. "The parable is this: the seed is the Word of God." The kingdom of heaven grows from this seed only. By it alone is conviction of sin wrought; by it is faith begotten; by it Christ is revealed; by it regeneration is effects; by it the way of life is defined; by it are men sanctified; by it hope, and patience, and charity, and all graces are strengthened. This great lesson is, by both preachers and hearers, to be pondered. But the Word, by whomsoever sown, may be lost before it is fruitful. It may be taken out of the heart, out of the memory, from the understanding. "When they have heard, straightway cometh Satan, and taketh away the Word which hath been sown in them."
2. A second danger is from a mere temporary faith. There is "no deepness of earth," "no root in themselves." They "endure for a while." A little thing turns them away from that which they received "straightway with joy," but without counting the cost.
3. A third evil is the fruitlessness of the Word through the "cares of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things," especially "the pleasures of this life." The ground is good; the seed is good; it is well received and kept in the heart; yet is it choked. Yea, even God's good Word sown in the heart by Christ's own hand may be choked. This is a danger to which every believer is exposed. It is allowing other growths to sap this, other things to take up the time and attention, to absorb the interest, to steal the affections. The poor are in danger from "the cares of the world;" the rich from "the deceitfulness of riches." The parable teaches -
II. THE REWARD OF FAITHFUL HEARING. "He that hath, to him shall be given." To him that hath as the fruit of his diligence, not simply what was given to him - all had this - to him shall be added the Lord's increase, over and above the natural consequences of his carefulness. He who so uses Divine truth as to be the better for it is in more favorable circumstances to receive and understand. Such know the truth, for "the mystery of the kingdom of God is given" to them. Every step in the ascent makes the next step possible. Truth grows to its perfection (that is to say, the character which is the product of truth) when it is "heard" and held fast in "an honest and good heart;" a heart inwardly good and outwardly honest; a heart honestly desiring the Word and acting honestly by it. To such there is "fruit, thirtyfold, and sixtyfold, and a hundredfold." This is the truly prepared ground - ploughed, as could not be said of "the wayside" or the "stony ground." The parable further teaches -
III. THE CONDEMNATION OF HIM WHO HEARETH NOT TO PROFIT.
1. " He that hath not," i.e. hath not any fruit of his careful hearing, hath nothing more than was first given to him; "even that which he hath" - that which was given to him - "shall be taken away." Disregarded truth becomes disliked truth, and by him who does not use his understanding about it, it is naturally forgotten. So the condemnation takes the form of a removal of the truth.
2. In carelessness he puts the truth away from him. His measure is small, so he metes it to himself.
3. To hear is a duty; to neglect brings God's condemnation.
4. He who does not so receive God's truth as to become a true subject of the kingdom of heaven, is in the kingdom of evil, and continued disobedience leaves the man further and further from God.
5. So truth assumes the form of a parable to him. His eye is dimmed. He sees only the outward word; of the inward meaning, which is experimental, he knows nothing. Even Christ, his work and his gospel, may be to men a mere parable. They know not "the things" which are spoken. Thus is to be seen:
(1) The terrible and to-be-dreaded consequence of not heeding the Word. It becomes a parable, a dark saying, a riddle. "If they hear not Moses," etc.
(2) The mercifulness of him who would hide truth in a beautiful parable, to tempt the careless to inquire that they may be roused to effort and be saved.
(3) The great lesson, "to hear the Word," "to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the same, that by patience and comfort of the Scriptures we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which is given to us in our Saviour Jesus Christ." - G.
logos, which contains everything relating to ideas and the reception of them.
I. THE RELATION OF TRUTH TO THE SOUL. It is mysterious, because in it the secret of life lies. We know certain things about the seed; we know certain things about the soil; we know that their contact is necessary that germination and growth may take place. Sight, experience, teach us this. But the relation itself is unseen and defies the grasp of thought. Well may the poet say of the "flower in the crannied wall" that he has plucked and holds in his hand, could he know its mystery, he should know "man and God and all things." Piety lacks root without reverence; and reverence is begotten of mystery, i.e. of the sense that God is present in every fact of life, in every act of thought.
II. THE RECEPTION OF TRUTH IN THE SOUL. The parable clearly teaches that the whole intelligence and will are closely concerned in this.
1. There must be attention. The frivolous listener lets the sound of instruction "go in at one ear and out at the other." Pictures of life and duty, which need to be seized and fixed in conduct so soon as they arise in the inner chambers of imagery, melt away like dissolving views.
2. There must be retention. Memory depends on attention: "Therefore we ought to give earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest at any time they should slip by us." Memory is a talent of which some have more, some less; but in every case it may be increased. Truth does not strike all minds in the same way; the important thing is to seize the truth which does strike us, and which we know to be truth by the way in which it strikes us. If conscious of the frailty of our memory, let a few things be constantly brought before our thoughts. Non multa, sod multum.
3. There must be simplicity of choice. Truth is jealous, and admits no rival. We must be true to her, for she alone gives freedom. Passions, cares, excitements of the imagination - these cannot be avoided in our active life in the world. For a time they may overcloud our ideal, cause us to lose sight of our goal. But the cloud will lift again, and directness of purpose will dispel these mists and cause the weight of the μέριμναι βιωτικαί (see 'Ecce Homo!' p. 221) to fall. Christ sympathizes with our life-difficulties, but implies that we may overcome them.
III. THE PROGRESS OF TRUTH IN THE SOUL.
1. It follows the analogy of plant-growth. We can hardly think of spiritual growth under any other image. Herein the need of some knowledge of natural science to the theologian. There lie some of his best instructions and illustrations. It is the Divine counterpart in nature of the ideal truth of spirit.
2. There is diversity in spiritual as in natural growth. Here the corn only is used as an analogy. But we may generalize. The differences in kind as well as degree of produce are not less numerous than in the immense plant-world. The world of souls is as varied as a garden - as a tropical forest. 'Tis a universe of variety. God spiritually unfolding himself in endless forms of beauty and of strength, delicacy and vigor. "He that hath ears to hear, let him hear." For the parable is in fact a sketch-picture of the ideal world - of God's kingdom of the invisible and eternal. We are in this world to be acted upon by him, that we may react upon him in all the devout activities of a fruitful life. - J.
I. THE PARABLE OF THE SOWER.
1. Benefit of acquaintance with Scripture topography. To the right comprehension of Scripture acquaintance with Scriptur
I. A PRINCIPLE OF LIFE. Outwardly insignificant; exposed to the uncertainties of human agency and the vicissitudes of circumstance; yet embodying vital force, and capable under suitable conditions of producing its kind. Ever commencing anew, in germ and vital unit. A result as well as a cause, even as the seed is a fruit in the first instance. Requiring everything external of itself that is necessary to its being deposited in the minds of men to be done for it; yet containing an independent, original power of its own, viz. reproduction.
II. A PROCESS OF GROWTH. Dependent upon:
1. Manner of its reception;
2. Character of the hearer, i.e. whether deep or shallow, thorough or otherwise, like the soil;
3. Place which it holds in human regard - whether considered as the chief or only as a subordinate interest in life;
4. Time, - this in all cases.
III. A CONDITION OF FRUITFULNESS. The soul, just like the ground, if left alone, will be barren or overgrown with weeds. It must be tilled, sown, and tended. Sometimes these duties are divided, sometimes combined, but all are necessary.
1. All true believers are not alike fruitful. This is analogous to material and mental culture.
2. It is enough if each brings forth according to capacity and ability.
3. all cases there is compensating power of increase in the Word, beyond the natural qualities and powers of the believer, although a certain relation is always observed to the proportion of faith and diligence. The blessing of God is especially manifest in the fruits of the Word. - M.
I. TRUTH IS MEANT FOR ALL MEN.
II. TRUTH IS OFFERED TO ALL,
III. IT IS RECEIVED BY MANY DIFFERENT SORTS OF PEOPLE, AND IN DIFFERENT WAYS.
IV. IT IS FRUITFUL ONLY WITH A FEW. - M.
I. IN ITS BEGINNINGS.
II. ITS PROCESSES.
III. ITS RESULTS, - M.
I. THE VALUE OF THE STATEMENTS OF THE GOSPEL.
1. Affecting the personal interest of every one. Happiness or misery, life or death.
2. Determining the character of every one.
3. The condescension and compassion of infinite love.
II. THE DIFFICULTY OF GIVING THEM THE ATTENTION AND CONSIDERATION THEY DESERVE.
1. They appeal to the least-developed side of human nature.
2. They have little or no immediate earthly interest to commend them.
3. They have commoner and more latent meanings, and the latter may not be apprehended.
4. They have many counterfeits. "Lo here! Lo there!"
5. The earthly life of men is full of distractions.
III. THE RESPONSIBILITY ATTACHING TO THEM. This remains with the hearer, and he cannot free himself. The language of Scripture and the deepest experiences of human nature alike assure us of this.
1. God has given all men power to understand and receive his gospel. That is, of course, provided they have not lost their reason.
2. Personal moral effort is required with respect to them.
(1) To cease delaying.
(2) To use what faculty and opportunity we have.
(3) To suppress prejudice, aversion, sin, etc. - M.
John 1:1). This heavenly seed is the gift of God. It has life in itself (John 5:26); it is the germ of life to the world; and, when it is received, it brings forth those "fruits of the Spirit" of which St. Paul speaks. The mode in which that seed is received is a test of character, and this is illustrated in the words before us. The four kinds of soil upon which the sower cast his seed represent four conditions of heart, which we propose to consider.
I. THE HARDENED HEART. Our Lord speaks of some seed falling by the wayside; that is, on the trodden pathway running through the field, which is impervious to anything which falls gently, as seed falls. Finding a lodgment there, either the birds carry it away or else it is crushed by the foot of the wayfarer. Just as the once soft soil becomes hard, so do our moral sensibilities become blunted by the frequent passing over them of ordinary duties, and stilt more of evil words and deeds. We often read in Scripture of the hardening of the heart. Pharaoh is said to have " hardened his heart" because, after being stirred to some thought by the earlier plagues in Egypt, he conquered feeling until he became past feeling. Hence, after the most terrible of the plagues, he pursued God's chosen people to his own destruction. The Israelites, too, hardened their hearts in the wilderness. All the issues of this sin recorded in sacred history give a significant answer to the question of Job, "Who hath hardened himself against God, and prospered?" This process still goes on, not least amongst regular attendants on the means of grace. Address a gathering of outcasts, and though you may hear a mocking laugh, you will more probably see the penitential tear as you speak of the Saviour's death and of the Father's love; but speak of this to those who have often heard the truth, and their calm impassivity will drive you to despair, if it does not drive you to God. He who knows all but feels nothing is represented by the wayside; for the truth preached to him is gone as swiftly from his thoughts as though evil birds had carried it away.
II. THE SUPERFICIAL HEART is also graphically portrayed. The stony ground is not ground besprinkled with stones, but rocky soil covered with a thin layer of earth, such as might often be seen in the rocky abutments which ended the terraces of cultivated soil on a hillside in Palestine. Seed falling there would take root and grow, but would soon strike rock, and then withering would begin. This represents those who "receive the Word with gladness." They are interested, instructed, impressed; but they have no understanding of its spiritual meaning or of Christ's requirements. They have no sense of sin, and no conflict with it. Their knowledge and experience alike are shallow, and they have "no root," because they have no depth of nature. Very significant is the phrase, "They have no root in themselves;" for there is a want of individuality about them. Their faith depends upon surrounding excitement and enthusiasm, and they are wanting in the perseverance which can only arise from personal conviction. Let temptation come to them, and they give up at once their poor shreds of faith; let them go among sceptics, and soon their mockery will be the loudest; let persecution arise, and straightway they stumble to their fall.
III. THE CROWDED HEART. "Some fell among thorns;" that is, in soil in which thorns were springing up. The soil possibly was good, and therefore unlike the last, but it was already full. Soon the thorns springing up choke the seed, crowding it down, and so depriving it of air and sunshine that the withering stalk can produce no fruit. Every one knows the meaning of this who has pondered the words," Ye cannot serve God and mammon," or who understands the warning against "the cares of the world, the deceitfulness of riches," and inordinate desires after other earthly things. Here is such a one. He was once earnest in work for God; he made time for the study of his Word; he was eager for the quiet hour when he could speak to his Father in secret. But this is only a memory to him now. And how came the woeful change? There has been no hour when he has deliberately cut himself adrift from holy influence, nor can he recall any special crisis in his history. But the cares of life, the plans he felt called upon to make, thoughts concerning money and the best way to make it or to keep it, obtruded themselves more and more, even on sacred times, till holy thoughts were fairly crowded out. Thorns have sprung up, and they have choked the seed, so that it has become unfruitful.
IV. THE HONEST HEART. The seed which fell into "good ground" not only sprang up into strong stalk, but brought forth fruit in the golden harvest-time, and over it the sower rejoiced. Our Lord often spoke of the conditions which are essential to the fulfillment of this in the spiritual realm. For example, he said, "He that is of the truth heareth my voice;" and he bade his disciples become as little children, that they might rejoice in him. Nathanael was a beautiful example of what Jesus meant. When the truth is thus received, in the love of it, it guides the thoughts, rules the affections, checks and controls the plans, and sanctifies the whole being of the man. "Christ is formed" in his heart "the hope of glory." Abiding in prayer, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, he experiences a quickening and a refreshment like that which the growing corn has when enriched and blessed by showers and sunshine, and "the fruits of the Spirit" appear in him, to the glory of God the Father. "Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit." - A.R.
I. IT AGREES WITH THE MANIFEST END OF DISCIPLESHIP. The learner seeks for knowledge. The disciple of any master desires to receive his special doctrine or discovery. It is the highest, the esoteric, teaching that is here promised. There are to be no secrets or reserves between the Master and his disciples. Revelation not the mere anticipation of experience, but its determining influence and its consummation.
II. IT IS BEYOND THE COMPASS OF UNAIDED HUMAN FACULTY. Christ said," To you it is given. They were not to discover it of themselves.
1. The noblest saints who had preceded them were not able to understand (1 Peter 1:10-12).
III. IT IS A DIVINE GRACE FOR MORAL PURPOSES. This appears from the negatives of Ver. 12. To produce:
1. Repentance and faith.
2. Sympathy with Christ in his aims, works, and sufferings.
3. Triumphant superiority to the evil circumstance of the world. - M.
I. THIS IS A PRINCIPLE NOT TO BE UNIVERSALLY ACTED UPON IN EARTHLY THINGS. Because of:
1. Limitation of human powers.
2. Obscurity, complexity, and occasional discontinuity and non-uniformity of nature and human life.
II. TO THOSE WHO ARE ILLUMINATED IT IS ABSOLUTELY VALID IN DIVINE THINGS.
1. Not because the forms and successive stooges of the truth are mere repetitions of one another.
2. But they are all centred and interpreted in one Person.
3. They all require the exercise of the same spiritual faculty. - M.
living epistles." In a sense, the Lord himself must become incarnate in each of his followers (Colossians 1:27). For the world's sake, as well as our own, may we receive the seed of the kingdom! This parable speaks of -
I. THE PERILS WHICH THREATEN THE GOOD SEED. Let us seek to recognize them in the various thoughts which contend for the mastery with Christ's truth.
1. Evil thoughts. They come through companions, from books, etc., but find their source in Satan (Ver. 15). Often we find that they are most intrusive just after or during our holiest hours. They are like the birds of prey which swooped down on Abraham's sacrifice when he was making his covenant with God (Genesis 15.). Like him, we must seek by constant watching and effort to drive them away.
2. Vacant thoughts. The foolish habit of letting thoughts wander as they list, settling nowhere on what is definite or dignified, is a characteristic of the shallow characters represented by the rocky soil. Earnest conviction and the abiding stability which follows it cannot belong to these. Well is it when each can say, "I hate vain thoughts, but thy Law do I love."
3. Anxious thoughts. "The cares of this world" (Ver. 19) are destructive of the serenity and rest which Christ's true disciples should always rejoice in. Therefore our Lord so urgently warns us against them (Matthew 6:25-34). St. Paul says, "Be careful for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God," and then "the peace of God... shall keep your hearts."
4. Adverse thoughts. "The lusts of other things "so absorb some that their minds are like a soil full of growing thorns. "If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him." Judas Iscariot was a terrible example of this. It would be useless to point out such perils as these if it were not that our hearts are not like the soil, which is destitute of will, of effort, and of a voice to cry to Heaven. Our condition largely depends upon our choice, or rather on the prayer which is the outcome of it; so that it is not in vain that we have guarded ourselves against the perils which beset the seed. From them let us turn to consider -
II. THE PROGRESS WHICH AWAITS THE SEED in various hearts.
1. Swiftly gone, devoured by the birds, i.e. dissipated or destroyed by other thoughts. Warn against the flippancy and worldliness of much conversation in Christian homes on the Lord's day, and point out the injury which young people may thus receive.
2. Springing soon, withering soon. This is specially seen in sentimental natures. There is a shallowness in thought and experience from which we should earnestly pray for deliverance. It is well when such underlying rock is broken up by the plough of affliction.
3. Growing, not fruit-bearing. This is the condition of many professed Christians, whose homes witness to unconquered tempers and whose Churches mourn unattempted service.
4. Producing fruit and increase. All do not bring forth the same fruit, either in kind or in degree. Still we see the "thirtyfold," the "sixty-fold," and the "hundredfold," according to the gift and capacity of each. God only expects of us according to that which we have, and not according to that which we have not. The different talents entrusted to the servants (Matthew 25.) remind us of this; yet that every one of them could win the reward of him who had been "good and faithful." Allude to various examples of fruit-bearing among Christians, e.g. the quiet ministrations in the home, of which no one outside it hears; the steadfast adherence to Christian principle when slight swerving from it would bring an advantage, which as a keen man he is quick to see, but as a devout man is swift to spurn; the privilege of writing words which go forth to unseen multitudes, stirring in them loftier thoughts of God and of his Word and works; the pleasantness of the gentle girl who at school or at home thinks of every one before herself; the influence of the brave lad whose "wholesome tongue is a tree of life," etc. Each of these bears fruit, and that fruit is the new seed from which future harvests spring. - A.R.
I. THIS APPEARS FROM:
1. Its very nature. That which reveals (e.g. light) is not to be itself hidden. Its whole tendency is and has been towards greater manifestation. Each revelation of God has been grandee than that which preceded.
2. Its central significance in the Divine economy. It has evidently a practical relation to the whole, just as "the lamp" had to the peasant's room, as the general means of illumination. Everything in the world, in human lives, and in the constitution of the human soul answers to its interpreting light, which is the only true light by which they can be understood.
3. The existence in man of a faculty for its discernment. This may have been overlaid or perverted; but it really exists, and will answer to the believing effort to exercise it. It is Satan, not God, who has blinded the minds of those who are lost.
II. HOW STRONG MUST HAVE BEEN THE REASONS FOR TEMPORARY CONCEALMENT!
1. The fearful wickedness of the contemporaries of Jesus. A last time with reference to many preceding stages of darkening spiritual consciousness.
2. The revelation of that wickedness in convicting it of ignorance of Divine things.
3. The preservation of the Personal Truth in human/Grin until his manifestation should be complete. - M.
I. THE FACULTIES OF THE HUMAN SPIRIT COMPARED TO LIGHT. We may take any division of them we please: intellectual, emotional, volitional; head, heart, hand; - the comparison holds good.
1. Light is cheering, so is intellect; sound reasoning, bright fancy, lambent wit, genial humor, sound knowledge.
2. With light goes heat. The sound head is generally associated with the large heart. Carlyle said that a great heart was the foundation of talent.
3. Light promotes morality, purity, progress; dispels the thoughts and deeds of darkness. Great is the blessing of the presence and action of the man of high principle in the home, the Church, the court, the senate, the judgment seat.
4. It is revealing. The beauties of nature exist not for us in the darkness. Nor can we see the wonders of God in the spiritual or ideal world without the light shed by the genius of the scientific man, the moralist, the philosopher, and the poet.
II. FACULTIES GIVEN TO BE USED.
1. If not used they are hardly possessed. They dwindle and become enfeebled in disuse. "To him that hath shall be given," etc. this lies the important differences between man and man. The seeming stupid becomes bright by patient friction with difficulty, while the idle clever man rusts and blunts his edge.
"If our virtues go not forth from us, 'tis all 2. God is an exact creditor, he starts us in life with a certain fixed capital of energy; just such and such a sum or number of talents. The rest is our part. The increase may be indefinite, in this world and worlds to come. He "lends not the smallest scruple of his excellence, but, like a thrifty creditor, demands both thanks and use." Let life be the grateful repayment of the spiritual loan. If we do not "pay our way" we shall suffer for it. "Wouldst thou seal up the avenues of ill? 3. In the long run, success or failure, prosperity or ruin, is the reaction of our own deeds. We reap as we sow. A Nemesis presides over all our works. "If you serve, or fancy you serve, an ungrateful master, serve him the more. Put God in your debt. Every stroke shall be repaid. The longer the payment is withholden, the better for you; for compound interest on compound interest is the rate and usage of this exchequer." "The benefit we receive must be rendered again, line for line, deed for deed, penny for penny, to somebody. Beware of too much good staying in your hand. It will fast corrupt and breed worms. Pay it away quickly in some sort." - J.
2. God is an exact creditor, he starts us in life with a certain fixed capital of energy; just such and such a sum or number of talents. The rest is our part. The increase may be indefinite, in this world and worlds to come. He "lends not the smallest scruple of his excellence, but, like a thrifty creditor, demands both thanks and use." Let life be the grateful repayment of the spiritual loan. If we do not "pay our way" we shall suffer for it.
"Wouldst thou seal up the avenues of ill? 3. In the long run, success or failure, prosperity or ruin, is the reaction of our own deeds. We reap as we sow. A Nemesis presides over all our works. "If you serve, or fancy you serve, an ungrateful master, serve him the more. Put God in your debt. Every stroke shall be repaid. The longer the payment is withholden, the better for you; for compound interest on compound interest is the rate and usage of this exchequer." "The benefit we receive must be rendered again, line for line, deed for deed, penny for penny, to somebody. Beware of too much good staying in your hand. It will fast corrupt and breed worms. Pay it away quickly in some sort." - J.
3. In the long run, success or failure, prosperity or ruin, is the reaction of our own deeds. We reap as we sow. A Nemesis presides over all our works. "If you serve, or fancy you serve, an ungrateful master, serve him the more. Put God in your debt. Every stroke shall be repaid. The longer the payment is withholden, the better for you; for compound interest on compound interest is the rate and usage of this exchequer." "The benefit we receive must be rendered again, line for line, deed for deed, penny for penny, to somebody. Beware of too much good staying in your hand. It will fast corrupt and breed worms. Pay it away quickly in some sort." - J.
I. TEMPORARY OBSCURATION. The heathens in their mysteries had esoteric doctrines only made known to the initiated, and not designed to be revealed at any time to the uninitiated. The obscuration in their case was permanent. Our Lord, at a particular period of his ministry and for a special purpose, veiled his teaching in parable. But this obscuration was only meant to continue for a time. Our Lord guards against the notion that the doctrines thus propounded were designed for perpetual concealment, or for revelation only to a select few. Accordingly he asks whether at all (μήτι) a lamp (λύχνος) is brought into an apartment in order to be secreted or to be set on a lamp-stand. The lamp is not brought, is it, to be put under a bushel (rather, a peck-measure, equivalent to the Roman modius) or under a bed, and not to be set on a lamp-stand? The light in a dwelling may be concealed for some necessary purpose and for some short time, but this is contrary to its regular and proper use. So our Lord here implies that the light of his teaching may be partially concealed by parable, and confined for a time to a few immediate followers, but shall be manifested, and is meant to be manifested, all the more afterwards. The matter is expressed in two ways - first as a prediction, and secondly as a purpose. As a prediction, "There is nothing hid, that shall not be manifested;" or, more literally, There is not anything hid, that (or whatsoever) may not be revealed. As a purpose," Neither was anything kept secret, but that it should come abroad;" rather, Neither did anything become secret, but that it might come into open view. Like a lamp placed under some piece of domestic furniture for a short space and for some sufficient reason, the light of our Lord's doctrine was placed under the veil of parable or other obscuring medium for a time. But this position was never meant to be permanent - nay, the purpose was the very opposite; that is, to promote rather than prevent the future splendor and the further outshining of that bright and beautiful light.
II. RELATION OF LEARNING TO TEACHING. Our Lord's maxims never undergo a change of meaning, but their application necessarily varies with the context. After enunciating one of these maxims, viz. "If any man have ears to ear, let him hear," as a safeguard against possible error, and to prevent a not unlikely misconception, he proceeds to state another principle of his teaching, and another purpose to be accomplished. This principle was that the measure of attention given by the disciple to his Master would be rewarded with a proportionate measure of improvement; that in proportion to the desire of instruction and the use made of it by the disciple would be the benefit bestowed by the teacher. Again, the purpose was that the instructions thus received should be utilized for the advantage of others, so that the more the disciples profited as learners, so much the more they themselves would be able to impart to others, as preachers of the gospel and as teachers of the truth. Further, ulterior and higher attainments are promised to him who makes a right use of present attainments; while he "who has not," that is to say, who has not for ready use, and who does not make available his present or previous attainments, shall forfeit even what he has, or fancies he has. We thus learn that spiritual attainments and spiritual knowledge are never exactly at a standstill. They are either increasing by proper application and improvement, or decreasing by misuse and diminishing by neglect. - J.J.G.
Matthew 7:2) with special application to spiritual learning. One of the phases of the exactitude of relation between God and man, which yet admits of grace and blessing.
I. THE WORD OF GOD MUST BE RIGHTLY ATTENDED TO IN ORDER TO ITS BEING UNDERSTOOD. There is no process of mere mechanical transfer of truth into the nature of man. Experience and progress in truth are subject to the conditions of all intellectual inquiry, and also to special moral ones.
II. ACCORDING TO THE PROPORTION OF HEARING WILL BE THE SPIRITUAL BENEFIT.
1. It is to the use of faculties, and not to their mere possession, the reward attaches.
2. The communication of truth is therefore a spiritual discipline. "Quicquid recipitur, recipitur ad modum recipientis." Obedience is the gateway of knowledge. "Holding the truth in unrighteousness," we shall sooner or later lose it; holding it "in a pure conscience" and a willing spirit, we shall advance to the fullness of truth. - M.
I. THERE IS A PRE-ESTABLISHED HARMONY BETWEEN THE TRUTH AND HUMAN NATURE. The seed left in the soil germinates because of the mutual adaptation; so the Word of God.
II. THE WORD OF THE KINGDOM HAS AN INNATE POWER OF DEVELOPMENT. Under the appointed conditions it is bound to grow.
III. GOD DOES NOT INTERFERE WITH IT OR REMOVE IT UNTIL IT HAS PRODUCED ITS FRUIT.
1. It is left to the law of gradualness. First "the blade," etc.
2. It is taken account of and judged in its final result. - M.
I. WHAT GOD DOES BY AND THROUGH HIS SERVANTS. The mere sowing of the seed.
1. Receiving the seed for one's self.
2. Imparting it vitally to other minds.
II. WHAT GOD DOES WITHOUT HIS SERVANTS. The pre-existence and independent growth of the seed a great mystery. Its hidden processes provocative of spiritual discipline to the sower. In God's hand and the womb of time (Psalm 65.). Committing it thereto, and leaving it there, a proof and exercise of faith.
III. RESULTANT RESPONSIBILITIES.
1. The harvest a living growth, not a dead, mechanical effect; manifold in its producing, modifying, and enriching causes, one in result.
2. Judgment on sower and sown alike. It is in the final product that the evidence as to faithfulness, obedience, and diligence is found. - M.
Matthew 13, following "the sower," preceding "the mustard seed," but is not to be identified with it. It teaches us that Divine life, like ordinary seed, requires time for its development, that its growth is unnoticed and but little dependent upon human interference, and that it will have a glorious consummation.
I. THE GROWTH OF THE DIVINE LIFE.
1. It is secret (Ver. 27). Man "knoweth not how" the seed springs. Our "natural laws" are little more than generalizations of observed facts, and afford no adequate explanation of the nature of life and growth. While we are busy or are resting the seed is quietly growing up under the care of God. We know but little more of the Divine life, even in ourselves. We know that we have it and that it produces certain effects, but of its essential nature our keenest analysis discovers but little. Still less do we know of the Divine life in others; and, as Christian teachers or parents, we must neither intrude upon it, as a child will do on growing seed, nor be over-anxious about it, as a foolish husbandman may be. With faith in God, leave it prayerfully to him, and "in due season we shall reap, if we faint not."
2. It is independent (Ver. 28). The meaning of the phrase, "The earth bringeth forth fruit of herself," is this, that she has powers of developing life which exclude our agency, though they include God's agency. After sowing his seed, man may sleep or rise, leaving it to natural influences. We are not taught to be idle, but are reminded that we can do but little after sowing. In religious work we must never try to force growth by unnatural methods. First religious feelings are too sacred and delicate to be treated as they sometimes are. Intrusive and over-anxious teachers may sometimes do harm, not least in the confessional. The principle applies to our own life also. A morbid brooding over our own spiritual condition, a petty and constant measurement of our own feelings, is injurious. "He that observeth the wind shall not sow, and he that regardeth the clouds shall not reap."
II. THE MANIFESTATION OF THE DIVINE LIFE. True seed, under favorable conditions, cannot keep hidden beneath the soil. It must grow, and, if it grows, it must ultimately be seen. Nor can we keep our spiritual life a secret from others if it be true; for in holy influence and loving deeds and devout life it must appear. This parable describes its gradual progress, representing it in three stages, which correspond with those represented by St. John (1 John 2.) in his references to "children," "young men," and "fathers."
1. The blade represents the "little children" in grace, "whose sins are forgiven for his Name's sake." A wise husbandman never despises the blades of corn. He knows their value, their tenderness, their possibilities. God has provided for their safety. When the wind sweeps over the fields they bend before it and are uninjured, though much that is stronger is swept away. So young Christians, though in some respects weak, give promise of the future, have a special grace and beauty of their own, and, amidst temptations under which those older fall, abide and appear more fresh and fair.
2. The ear represents the "young men," who have "overcome the wicked one." Here there is a loss of freshness, but a gain in strength. There is less enthusiasm, but more principle. The showers of adversity as well as the sunlight of prosperity are necessary to this. Speak of some who in special circumstances of temptation have proved the power of the grace of God.
3. The full corn in the ear. The "fathers," who have "known him that is from the beginning," are like the full-grown wheat, bending its head under the weight of the rich grain it bears, ready to be cut down and carried home. Such a one has a fulfillment of the promise, "Thou shalt come to thy grave in a good old age, like as a shock of corn cometh in in his season."
III. THE CONSUMMATION OF THE DIVINE LIFE. (Ver. 29.) Here the reference is to its earthly consummation only, for when the ripe corn is carried home, though it no longer adorns the field in which it grew, it is only beginning to fulfill its true destiny. The moment of death is the time when the reaper puts in the sickle, because the harvest is come; and the same sickle which destroys one life gives new energy to another and Higher life. Mortality is swallowed up of life. The outcome of time shall be the seed of eternity. - A.R.
I. THE LAW OF THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE CHRISTIAN LIFE.
1. The human heart is the suitable "earth" for the heavenly seed. But one kind of seed," the Word," is named. From this alone the kingdom grows. Yet the seed is not always sufficiently winnowed. The same hand sometimes scatters darnel with the wheat, or the gaudy, bright, but useless poppy. But seeds, bad and good, will grow together in the same field. What will not grow in the human heart! He who made the warm soil suitable for the growth of the useful herb for the service of man, and adapted the seed to the earth, has made the heart so that the best and highest truths will grow therein. There, what would otherwise be a dead truth - a hard seed - may find the suitable conditions for its nourishment and growth. There it is quickened. Every holy truth may find a home in the heart of man; the richest, ripest, most wholesome, most abundant fruit may be gathered in that Eden.
2. The needful committal of the seed to the earth has its parallel in Christ's committal of his kingdom to the fruit-bearing heart. There it grows, "we know not how," though we know so much. There is but one true Sower to whom the field belongs, and who provided the one basket of seed. But many sow in his Name and by his direction - preachers, parents, teachers, writers, friends. But the truth once sown in the heart must be left to Heaven's own influence. Days and nights follow. Patient waiting is needed, for the growth of good principles is slow and the perfect fruitfulness not immediate. And the lesson of patience is silently hidden in the words of the parable. He who causes the seeds of the earth to swell and burst and die, and out of the hidden germ a new life to spring up, brings the truth to the remembrance, awakens dormant thought, stirs the indolent conscience, carries conviction deep within, whence springs faith, to be followed by all holiness. The growth retains its own distinctive character, being nevertheless affected by the nature of the soil - "the earth which beareth fruit of herself."
3. The progression of the spiritual life is as the growth of the field. The truth quickly works its way. The first signs are found in a slightly changed manner of life, as it submits to the restraining and guiding truth; the tint on the face of the field is slightly altered: a delicate tinge of spring green blades mingles with the russet-brown of the soil. All is immature and feeble, but beautiful, as the field in the first days of spring; and it is full of promise. A longer space follows ere the ear appears. It is the time of growth. The responsibility of the sower is transferred to the earth, save that he may guard it from being trampled by the rude, rough hoof of stray cattle, or from being ploughed up wrongfully by careless hands. Now the sower must "sleep and rise night and day." He cannot hurry the growth. This is the time of trial, exposure, and danger. It is the needful time for Christian culture, for the gradual acquisition of strength and wisdom, and the slow building up of character: And what is true of the individual growth is true also of the great wide field which is the world, where all good, and alas! all evil, may grow, and whose prolonged history goes on slowly towards the great harvest. "The full corn in the ear" points to the matured Christian character, the trained, subdued, chastened spirit. Sunshine and shadow, calm and storm, darkness and light, have all passed over the field; all helpful, each in its own way, in promoting the growth, strength, and fruitfulness, alike in the less or the greater field; and all tending towards that moment "when the fruit is ripe." Then, and not until then, "he putteth forth the sickle, because the harvest is come." So is it with every believer - every varied growth in the wide field; so is it with the entire history which tends towards that "harvest" which "is the end of the world." Hence from this parable, which is one long teaching, we learn the wisdom and duty:
1. Of thankfully receiving the Word into our hearts.
2. Of faithfully cherishing it.
3. Of patiently waiting for its full fruits. - G.
I. THE SMALL BEGINNING. What smaller or more seemingly feeble than the seed - the thought - the word - the volition? Yet in the beginning lies the end, in the acorn the oak.
II. THE IMMENSE DIVINE POWER. We lie on the bosom of nature as the seed lies in the earth. For as winds blow and waters move and earth rests, God in his might and love bears up and onward the living soul. All things are ours to work our good.
III. THE SECRECY AND SLOWNESS OF THE PROCESS. God does the best for us while we sleep. The Greek artist represented Fortune driving cities into the net of the sleeping conqueror Timotheus. Cultivate a wise patience. Know the power of the word Wait!
Think you of all the mighty sum
I. RELATION TO THE IMMEDIATELY PRECEDING PARABLE. This parable, which may very appropriately be called "the secret growth," is recorded by St. Mark alone. It is peculiar to his Gospel. Its relation to the parable of the sower, which precedes it, is somewhat of the following kind: - The former parable describes the soil, this one, the seed; the former the quality of the soil, and this the vitality of the seed.
II. THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN. "The kingdom of heaven" is an expression of frequent occurrence in Scripture. Thus we read, "The kingdom of heaven cometh not with observation," that is, "outward show," as the margin expresses it; also, "The kingdom of heaven is within you," or "among you," as the margin again has it. The meaning of this important expression is sufficiently plain to every reader of the New Testament, and does not, at least in its present connection, require any lengthened explanation. It denotes the reign of Heaven's principles in the heart of man, the spread of Heaven's principles among the families of man, and the glory of Heaven's principles as exhibited in all their plenitude and in all their power in that new heaven and new earth in which dwelleth righteousness. It may be more briefly summed up as the kingdom of grace in the heart, of peace in the family, and of glory through all the world. In Luther's 'Smaller Catechism,' on that petition of the Lord's Prayer, "Thy kingdom come," it is asked, "How does this take place?" and the answer is, "When our heavenly Father gives us his Holy Spirit, that through his grace we believe his Holy Word, and live a godly life, here in time and yonder in eternity."
III. QUALITY OF THE SEED. The seed here, as in the former parable, is the Word of God; thus we read, at the fourteenth verse of this chapter, "The sower soweth the Word:" so also in that other Scripture, "Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the Word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever." Husbandmen are particularly careful about the quality of the seed which they cast into the furrows of the field, and very properly so, for the prospect of the harvest depends so much thereon. They reject the seed that is mixed, or unhealthy, or dead; otherwise the result would be most disastrous. Exactly so should it be with the Word of God. Here is a duty incumbent both on those that speak and on those that hear that Word; it behoves them both to see well to it that it is in truth the Word of God which they speak and hear. It must be the Word of God - nothing less, and nothing else; the Word of God in its purity, the Word of God without any mixture, whether of human error or human passion, or doubtful disputation, or unsettling speculation, or tradition of men, or doctrines of men, or philosophy and vain deceit. That Word, too, must be faithfully spoken, not handled deceitfully; for we are not to speak as pleasing men, but God, which trieth our hearts; the whole counsel of God must be declared, and no part kept back; its force, too, must not be weakened, or its meaning explained away. Thus, "the truth as it is in Jesus" must be exhibited faithfully and fully, plainly and openly, just as the apostle says, "But as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ." The danger of the contrary course is very forcibly pointed out in a remarkable Scripture (1 Corinthians 3:12), where the apostle, after stating the true and only foundation to be Jesus Christ, proceeds to say, "Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble," that is, either doctrines more or less sound, or practice more or less consistent with profession, "the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is." If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire."
IV. ADAPTATION OF THE SEED TO THE SOIL. In natural husbandry men are at pains to get seed suited to the soil. Every kind of seed does not suit every kind of soil; seed suitable for one kind may not be suitable for another. There is need, therefore, of selection and adaptation. There must be proper discrimination and judicious distribution. So with the seed of the Word; there is enough for all, and something for each, but it must be duly and discreetly apportioned. This is the direction of Scripture itself, for we are told therein that there are little children, young men, and fathers in Christ, and each is to get his portion of meat in due season; and, again, milk is intended for babes, and strong meat for them that are of mature age. Accordingly, the careless are to be aroused, the unawakened are to be stirred up, the indifferent to be alarmed; the ignorant, again, are to be instructed, the timid to be encouraged, and the presumptuous to be rebuked; the tempted are to be fortified against temptation, the weak are to be strengthened, and the sorrowful to be consoled in their time of trouble; such as have backslidden, or have been overtaken in a fault, are to be restored in the spirit of meekness; saints are to be edified, believers built up in their holy faith; the lukewarm are to be brought back to their first love, and the graces of all quickened. For these various purposes there is enough in the treasury of God's Word, and out of that treasury are to be brought forth things both new and old.
V. THE PART WHICH BELONGS TO HUMAN AGENCY. Man's part is to sow the seed. This is his plain duty, this is his palpable concern, and his practical part of the business. He has not to make the seed, or manufacture the seed, or meddle in any way with the production of the seed; this were a task far above his ability and beyond his power. The seed is ready to his hand, and provided for his use. All he has to do, and all that is required of him, is to put the seed into the soil, and deposit it properly in the furrows - suiting, of course, as far as may be, the seed to the soil and to the sort of previous preparation made for it. We insist on the indispensable necessity of casting the seed into the furrow of the field, and likewise of sowing the seed of truth in the human heart; we affirm, moreover, the need of diligence in accomplishing this part of the operation, which is man's work and man's duty; we assert the absolute requirement of IIuman instrumentality in this part either of natural or spiritual husbandry. The passage we are considering sets this duty clearly before us in the words, "As if a man should cast seed into the ground."
VI. THE NECESSITY FOR DIVINE INFLUENCE. There must be Divine influence as well as human agency; for in Ver. 27 we read that the husbandman, after sowing the seed, may sleep by night and rise by day, while the seed springs up and grows he knows not how. Here, in the first place, we must take note of the vitality of the seed: it buds and lengthens (βλαστάνῃ καὶ μηκύνηται). God gave it this vital energy at the first, and so wonderfully powerful is this energy, that the seed which had lain three thousand years in the hand of the mummy will, when deposited in the earth under the ordinary conditions, sprout, spring up, and grow. We have seen that the deposition of the seed in the ground is necessary for any produce, but it must be added that for the development of the seed itself another distinct and indeed a Divine influence is required. Man can only go a certain length either in the department of nature or the sphere of grace. "Paul may plant, and Apollos water, but it is God that giveth the increase." When the seed has been committed to the earth in the most careful and skillful manner, the husbandman must wait for the fertilizing shower to make the seed grow and fructify. So in the spiritual sphere; not only has the seed of truth to be sown in the heart, and the lessons of God's Word to be deposited in the soul - and all this may be effected by human agency - but the influence of the Holy Spirit of God must be added. If the Word of God be the seed, as we are assured it is, then the Spirit of God is rain-shower, the descent of which on the heart, or rather on the seed sown therein, is indispensably required for germination and fructification, or whatever else may be included under spiritual growth. Thus two distinct agencies must come together, unite, and blend in this great and important as well as mysterious process of spiritual vegetation. There must be the Word of God - that is the seed; there must be the Spirit of God - that is the shower. Without the seed and the shower, without the Word and the Spirit, there can be no spiritual vegetation. The soil may be good, the seed both good and suitable; but the dews of heavenly grace - the influences of the Divine Spirit - cannot be dispensed with. Again, the influences of the Spirit may be vouchsafed at the proper season, and in sufficient abundance; but if the seed of troth, if the lessons of the Divine Word, have not been sown in the heart, there is no germination, no quickening. However favorable the conditions of growth may otherwise be, there can be no growth, for the material is wanting. There is no seed, and so no germ of life, and consequently no life. The presence of both is absolutely and indispensably necessary. There are two elements of growth in the natural world - the seed and the shower; the deposition of the former in the soil belongs to man's department of work, the descent of the latter is God's good gift. The one acts upon the other, while the united operation results in healthy vegetation. The seed supplies the material, the shower is the fructifying agency; the shower gives efficacy to the seed, the seed expands by the combined action of the sun and shower. In spiritual husbandry the seed is the Word, the shower represents the Spirit; the Word has life, but the Spirit is required to develop it. Without the Spirit the Word would remain inert, by the Spirit it is made productive; the Word is the germ of spiritual life, the Spirit unfolds and quickens it; their mutual action issues in the happiest results.
VII. THE BOND OF UNION BETWEEN THE TWO AGENCIES, DIVINE AND HUMAN. The absence of either agency would end in disaster. Nothing can supply the place of the seed, neither the soil itself nor the stones imbedded in it. Where there are no seeds the showers of heaven may fall in abundance, the sunshine of heaven may be bright and beautiful, but neither, in the absence of the seed, would be of any avail. Contemplate in the season of harvest a field of golden grain; the stalks are strong and vigorous; the ear is filled with kindly fruit, and bending under the weight; the whole is white unto the harvest. Let this be the case not in one field, but in all; not in one district, but in many; not in one part of the country, but in every part where the land is arable and under cultivation; and yet not one particle of the plenty thus supposed sprang up without seed having been previously put into the earth. Among all the multitudinous stems that constitute that rich, luxuriant crop that waves in the autumn wind, and covers with such abundance the face of the earth in the time of harvest, not one is found that grew without a root, and not a root that grew without a seed. And just so it is with the seed of truth rooted in the heart, and producing the harvest of grace in the life of man. But, as we have already intimated, the fructifying energy of the Divine Spirit, whether it acts by the dew, or shower, or sunshine, or all combined, is equally important, and indeed absolutely necessary in producing the manifold blessings of the spiritual harvest. What, then, is the link that brings these two agencies together - the seed which man sows in the soil, and the shower or other influence which God sends down from the sky? What means must be used to procure for the seed, when sown in the human heart, the quickening and refreshing power of the Divine Spirit? The only means available to man is the power of prayer, and prayer is a power as well in the domain of the temporal as of the spiritual. No doubt man has done his all when he has properly deposited suitable seed in fertile soil; but, though he cannot actually and of himself go further or do more, there remains a duty, the proper performance of which may carry the work much further, and set other and mightier energies in operation; for "prayer moves the hand that moves the world." Once upon a time, long ago, in the land of Israel, drought and dearth prevailed; "the prophet prayed,... and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit." So when, in answer to believing prayer, God bestows his Spirit, the seed of truth germinates in the heart, and yields the fruits of the Spirit in the life.
VIII. THE FRUITFUL EARTH AND THE FAITHFUL HUSBANDMAN. "The earth bringeth forth fruit of herself." God, in his wise and powerful organization of our earth, gave it this power. In obedience to his original command, and in virtue of power originally imparted, the earth brings forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit after his kind - the three great divisions of the vegetable kingdom. The productive earth still retains the power which God at first impressed on it, and to God it is still indebted for its productiveness, as we read, "He watereth the hills from his chambers: the earth is satisfied with the fruit of thy works. He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle, and herb for the service of man, that he may bring forth food out of the earth." We can only follow the process of vegetation a very short way. We know, indeed, that the seed dies, and is decomposed, for it is not quickened except it die; and then it germinates, and new life succeeds. But the entire process is mysterious as it is invisible; it is hidden from man's scrutiny, and high above man's comprehension; while in those secret processes in the sky above and in the earth below we trace the handiwork of God, without which the earth would be barren as the granite and unfruitful as the sea. The faith of the husbandman rests securely ca the established law of the earth's fertility, produced and promoted as it is by the mighty power of God; while his patience is justified by the uniformity of such natural law. "Behold," says James, "the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and the latter rain." This parable affords great encouragement to both faith and patience, and the encouragement thus afforded forms a main feature of the parable. When, therefore, like the husbandman, we prepare the soil of the heart diligently and dutifully, and when we sow thereon the seed with carefulness and caution, and duly supplicate the blessing of heaven on our spiritual handiwork, looking up and expecting an answer, we have no more that we can do, and no more that we need to do. We may then safely leave the result to God; we may commit it quietly and confidingly to his hand, assured that he will give the increase in due time and in due measure. This principle is embodied in the husbandman sleeping and rising night and day, while the seed springs and grows up, he knows not how. There is much comfort in this assurance, much also to strengthen faith and brighten hope. Though all our care will not cause the seed to grow, though we cannot give power to the Word, though God alone can make it effectual, though we must wait patiently for his influence, though the process is mysterious in itself and hidden from the eye of man; yet we may forbear all hurtful anxiety, and forego all unseemly impatience, leaving the issue entirely to God. We must beware of enacting the part of those silly children who pull up their plants or flowers from time to time in order to examine the roots and inspect the process of growth. Though we cannot unveil the inward processes of grace any more than of nature, yet we need not dread any failure in those processes. What is required of us is to use aright the means, and instrumentalities and agencies within our reach, without meddling with what is too high above us or too deep below us; and we may feel fully persuaded that, if we labour in the Lord, our labour will not be in vain.
IX. THE GRADUAL GROWTH. By the earth of herself according to the course of nature, and by the concurring power of the God of nature, fruit is brought forth; "first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear." In like manner, the Word of truth received by faith into the heart becomes the work of grace. This the Spirit carries on while the preacher sleeps and can do no work, or is engaged in other business, or has entered into rest; for the Word preached not unfrequently does its work even after the preacher has been gathered to his fathers. When men sow their seed, they sow "not that body that shall be,... but God giveth it a body as it pleases him." The old dies, but the new blade shoots up; in this we have an emblem of the new nature, for "if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature." Next comes the ear, and in this we find the promise of, and preparation for, fruitfulness. At length we have the full corn in the ear; this is the fruit of righteousness to the praise and glory of God, and this includes all the graces of the Christian character, and all the virtues of the Christian life. Thus Divine truth, under the teaching of the Holy Spirit, first enlightens the mind, then convinces the understanding, gradually quickens the conscience, and converts the heart, while, last of all and best of all, it saves the soul.
X. THE HARVEST. Now the great end is attained. The faithful recipient of the Divine Word has grown in grace; he has added to his "faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; and to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness, and to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness charity;" he has attained to deadness to the world, spirituality of mind, heavenly dispositions, resignation to the Divine will, conformity to the Divine image, and assimilation to the Divine character. When, moreover, the Christian has thus borne the fruits of godliness, made himself useful in the Church and in the world, having served his generation in both; and when the good purposes of his heavenly Father have been fulfilled in him and by him; at length the harvest comes, the sickle is put in; meetened for heaven, ripened for the garner of the skies, he is taken home like a shock of corn in his season. Thus to the child of God "to die is gain " - the gain of heaven for earth, of rest for labour, of glory everlasting instead of the varied sorrows of this present time. - J.J.G.
I. THERE ARE MANY SIMILITUDES OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD.
II. SOME ARE BETTER THAN OTHERS. Either absolutely or relatively to present circumstances.
III. WE ARE NOT TO BE ONLY PASSIVE RECIPIENTS OF CHRIST'S TEACHING.
IV. SAINTS ENJOY FELLOWSHIP WITH CHRIST IN THE DISCOVERY OF TRUTH AND IN SPIRITUAL REALIZATION. - M.
I. THE BEGINNINGS OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD, AS COMPARED WITH THOSE OF OTHER INFLUENCES AFFECTING THE WORLD'S LIFE, ARE VERY SMALL AND INSIGNIFICANT. A parable and a prophecy. Two plants, either of which might have been referred to by Christ - Sinapis Orientalis, a garden herb, bushy in habit, with black or white seeds, from four to six in a pod; or the Salvadora Persica, commonly known as the tree mustard; the latter the most likely. The comparison expressed in the phrase, "the least of all seeds," is a free one, and not to be understood absolutely. How minute and obscure have been the first origins of Christianity! The Incarnation; the upper room at Jerusalem. The first throb of repentance; the dawning power to resist temptation; the first acts of faith and charity; the first words of invitation and appeal. As a seed, it has been for the most part hidden; as a plant, it has seemed in its first upspringing like the herbs. This is true of
(1) the understanding of the kingdom of God;
(2) of interest in spiritual things;
(3) of spiritual influence.
1. It contrasts in this respect with powers founded on force, material advantages, prestige, or accidental circumstances. Political empire; military aggrandizement; advance of mechanical arts and material improvements.
2. In this respect it resembles but far exceeds the mortal and intellectual movements that have marked the progress of the world: philosophies, civilization, the sentiment of humanity, growth of science, etc.
II. ITS ULTIMATE DIMENSIONS WILL BE DISPROPORTIONATELY VAST.
1. It grows according to its own law, yet imperceptibly. As the bud into the rose, the village into the city.
2. It becomes comprehensive. Other forces and vital principles are revealed as in relation to it and ultimately included.
3. Its increase is in the direction of beneficence and universal blessing. The truth of the epithet, "Mother Church." All the best interests of humanity are included and protected. It saves and ennobles whatever it affiliates.
4. This is due to its own inherent genius; not an accident. Circumstances have not favored Christianity, but it has grown in spite of opposition, and converted obstacles into auxiliaries, enemies into friends. It is an absolutely central, and therefore the only truly universal, principle. - M.
e.g. to its corrective power in disease, to its efficacy against venom, to its fiery vigor, to its giving out of virtue after being bruised, and so forth, appear to us beside the main purpose of the parable, which was to set forth the great issues which, in the kingdom of our Lord, would spring from small beginnings. This principle we propose now to illustrate.
I. IT IS EXEMPLIFIED IN THE EARTHLY HISTORY OF OUR LORD. In his history we see, as in a microcosm, the history of his Church. With limitless powers of choice, he selected for himself the most humble and obscure modes of ministry. His ways are not as our ways. Man makes a pretentious beginning, and often comes to a disastrous ending. The building of the Tower of Babel is a typical instance of this. Our Lord, who came to effect the stupendous work of redeeming the world, began by spending thirty years in comparative seclusion as a dependent infant, as an obedient child, as the son of a village carpenter. During his two or three years of public ministry his converts were few, and for the most part poor and ignorant. At last he died in agony and shame, amidst the hooting of a rabble and the hatred of the reputable; and his body was laid to rest in a borrowed grave. As we consider his life on earth, we see that it may be represented by a seed less in appearance than many others. But there was a fulfillment of his own words about himself, "Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone; but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit."
II. IT IS EXEMPLIFIED IN THE SPECIAL DOCTRINES OF CHRISTIANITY. They were not truths which would commend themselves to sensuous imaginations or to worldly hearts. They did not appear in such form and phrase as at once to win popular applause. Notice some of our Lord's special doctrines as laid down in the sermon on the mount and elsewhere: e.g. happiness is to be found in the sacrifice of self; sin is to be hated, not because its results are painful, but because it is sin; outward obedience and large gifts and sacrifices are valueless in themselves, etc. After his crucifixion, this fact was still more prominent. Paul said, "We preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling-block, and unto the Greeks foolishness; but unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God." Indicate some of the reasons for the non-reception of Christian truth.
III. IT IS EXEMPLIFIED IN THE HISTORY OF THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH. Christianity at the time of our Lord's crucifixion appeared to be buried in the hearts of a few disciples and forgotten by the world. But on the spring day of Pentecost it appeared in a vigor and beauty which amazed all onlookers. It was like the bursting forth of forgotten seeds where you have been busily employed planting something else. Christianity rapidly spread. Give evidences of this from early Christians and from Suetonius, Pliny's letter to Trajan, etc. This, humanly speaking, was the work of poor and illiterate men. Manifestly the result was due, not to the sower, but to the seed. Describe the condition and influence of the Christian Church now: the most powerful and civilized nations largely ruled by its authority; the indirect work it is doing through just laws, wholesome literature, philanthropic agencies, etc. Draw a contrast between the social and religious condition of the peoples now and at the time of Christ's coming. The seed has become a tree, "so that the fowls of the air may lodge under the shadow of it."
IV. IT IS EXEMPLIFIED IN THE EXPERIENCE OF EACH CHRISTIAN. "The kingdom of God" is not to be a something outside ourselves. We are not among its subjects because we can say, "This nation in which we dwell is Christian." "The kingdom of heaven is within you," said our Lord to his disciples. It is within us when we welcome Christ, its King, with all that he represents, to our own hearts to love and obey for evermore. That being so, a new life is ours, the test of whose vitality is to be found in growth until every thought and affection and purpose (like the birds spoken of in this parable) dwell under its influence. If there has been no growth, let us examine ourselves. When a flower or plant is fading, drooping, and likely to die, we try to discover the cause. Perhaps it wants water, perhaps it is shut off from sunshine, perhaps it has been too long coddled under artificial heat and is therefore weakly, or perhaps a worm is gnawing at the root. If our spiritual life has no growth, let us ask why this is. We want showers of blessing, the sunshine of God's favor, independence of artificial stimulants, and above all, freedom from the sin which doth so easily beset us, and then we shall grow like plants of God's right hand planting. - A.R.
The parable illustrates the history of the kingdom of heaven in its outward manifestation, especially the smallness of its beginning contrasted with the greatness of its results.
I. THE KINGDOM OF GOD FINDS ITS APPROPRIATE SYMBOL IN A SEED WITH ITS INHERENT, VITAL, SELF-EXPANDING FORCE. This is true, whether we interpret the kingdom of God to refer to its essential principle - the dominion of the Divine Spirit over the human spirit; or to its outward manifestation in the visible Church of God - the gospel developing itself in the heart and life of mankind; or even to its instrument - the Divine Word. Gathering these together as all comprised in the idea of the kingdom of God, we must see it to be truly represented by a seeder living, inherently vital power. This parable leads us to think more particularly of the outward manifestation of the kingdom of God; and wherever we see it planted we sooner or later see signs of growth and extension. One of the first sentiments stirred in the breast of the newly converted is a desire for the conversion of others; and the first activities evoked from the new life are found in efforts to lead others to like blessing. Each believer becomes the germ of a Church; each is a self-propagating seed. From one may spring a thousand, nay, as many as the stars of heaven for multitude. So was it with the Church in the beginning - the little quickened seed in Jerusalem. So has it been in every age. To-day we joyfully witness the signs of this vitality on every hand.
II. A SECOND FEATURE OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD IS THE EXTREME SMALLNESS OF ITS ORIGIN. Still thought of as an outward manifestation, how small was its beginning! How little a seed! Judging Christ's work by the greatness of its aims, how small were his means! What books did he write? What organization did he frame? What cities did he build? What armies did he raise? What did he? Estimated by outward signs - a mere nothing. A few women and fewer men gathered; no multitude, no Church, no forms of worship, no writings. No; no; nothing. What then? Just a living seed dropped into the warm heart. Not more than a human heart could treasure - not more than Matthew could remember. The record of a brief life, with its few words; its few noble deeds of sincerity, love, and self-denial; and its sad death and marvellous resurrection. All the kingdom of God in that one life, all the heavenly treasure in that one earthen vessel; all in a "mustard seed,... less than all the seeds that are upon earth." But it grew to be "a tree."
III. This the third feature of the parable: THE ULTIMATE EXTENSION OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD. And the point of interest seems to be it grows beyond its probable limits, "greater than all the herbs;" yea, it "putteth out great branches, becometh a tree, so that the birds of the heaven" not only "lodge under the shadow" of it, but "in the branches thereof." Its growth is beyond, far beyond, what might have been reasonably expected. So we see to-day; so will it be more and more seen. These parables Jesus spake unto the multitude "as they were able to hear;" and privately then, as he now does to them who care to know, "he expounded all things." - G.
I. THE KINGDOM OF GOD IS THE KINGDOM OF IDEAS. All forms of the true, holy, and good are included in this kingdom. Life would be intolerable, amidst the greatest physical comfort, without ideas. Our spirit is born to love and live among them. Novelty of ideas is the condition of change for the better in every life-department.
II. IDEAS ARE SELF-MULTIPLYING. Start a beautiful pattern in trade; it gives birth to a whole creation of beauty. Cast in a golden hour a seed of truth or love into the general mind; up springs a flower, whose seed will presently be in all gardens (see Tennyson's poem). Do a noble deed, speak a word from the full voice of the heart; an infinity of echoes will awake; a thousand imitators will arise. Let us speak in these parables of nature to the many; and for the few let us analyze and elicit their wider meaning. For the truths of the seen are less than those of the unseen. Illustrations light up a truth not understood; but their value is transient. The truth escapes from this or that clothing into other forms. - J.
I. DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE PARABLE OF THE MUSTARD SEED AND THE LEAVEN. The latter parable refers rather to the growth of grace in the heart, the former to the extension of the Church in the world; the latter to the assimilating power of Divine grace in the human heart, the former to progressive development and final establishment of the Church on earth.
II. THE SMALLNESS OF THE MUSTARD SEED. The smallness of the mustard seed, if the expression be not proverbial, furnishes at least a striking and frequent subject of comparison. Thus, our Lord uses the illustration in reference to faith, "If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed;" and the present comparison, both here and in the parallel passage of St. Matthew, presents the same figure.
III. THE PROGRESS OF THE CHURCH. While this parable may possibly refer to the progress of religion in the heart, its best exemplification is found in the constantly and rapidly progressive extension of the Church of Christ since apostolic times. When all its member's met in that upper room in Jerusalem, they numbered only a hundred and twenty. Other believers, no doubt, were to be found in the holy city at that early day of the Church's history; but, be that as it may, the number above given included the entire membership of those who publicly met together and professed themselves disciples of the Nazarene. Ten days after - the interval between the Ascension and Pentecost - there took place a signal outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and in connection with St. Peter's sermon there were added to the Church about three thousand souls. Some short time after this, as we read in Acts iv., "the number of the men" who publicly avowed their faith in Christ "was about five thousand." The next notice of the numerical progress of the gospel is contained in Acts 5., where we are informed that "believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women." In the beginning of the very next chapter we have an incidental notice to the effect that "the number of the disciples was multiplied." A further and still fuller notice is found in the seventh verse of the same chapter (Acts 6.), where it is stated that "the Word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a great number of the priests were obedient to the faith." And all this occurred within a period of less than two years, and in the very place where the Founder of our holy religion had been put to death as a malefactor. Thus the mustard seed, comparatively, if not absolutely, the smallest of seeds, becomes a plant, and the plant becomes a tree, and the tree spreads out its branches, and the branches shelter with their shadow, and lodge the fowls of the air beneath their umbrageous foliage. So with the Church of Christ: it has spread from country to country; it has extended from continent to island, and from island to continent; it has enlarged its borders and multiplied its members. It has powerfully influenced all civilized nations, and all barbarous nations to which it has extended have become civilized. And now kingdoms many and mighty repose in safety and rest in security under this widespread gospel tree, like the birds of the air taking refuge under and nestling among the branches of the magnificent mustard tree of this parable. - J.J.G.
I. AN INSTRUMENT OF JUDGMENT.
1. As concealing more than it revealed to the popular mind.
2. As convicting men of sinful ignorance and spiritual incapacity.
II. AN INSTRUMENT OF MERCY.
1. The Word of God was not wholly withdrawn.
2. This, the only practicable form of teaching that remained to Christ, was used with constant regard to the benefit of the hearers.
3. The desire for Divine knowledge was thereby stimulated.
4. Further instruction was ever attainable by sincere inquirers. - M.
I. THE VASTNESS OF HIS SPIRITUAL RESOURCES.
1. When prevented from using direct statements, he adopted an indirect mode of expression. The truth was not stifled, it only assumed another form. There was not the least sign of labour or effort in making this transition. He played upon the varying moods and appearances of nature as a skilled musician upon his instrument, so as not only to discourse sweet sounds, but to suggest Divine ideas and principles. His supplies of spiritual truth must have been as inexhaustible as nature itself. He must have had many modes and degrees of expression in which to clothe the same truth. Restriction of speech in one direction only developed a larger liberty in another.
2. In order to this his perception of truth must have been of a very deep and vital nature. His parables were not only facile, they were felicitous. In them truth lived and breathed. It is not as more or less distant analogies one reads them, but as one might look at the naked truth itself. How instinctively must he have discerned the Divine side of things! And there is in his figurative teaching an unassuming originality, a vigor and vividness that could spring from nothing less than inward understanding of spiritual principles - a practical, sympathetic familiarity with them in their root and essence. The author of such similitudes cannot be conceived of as standing apart from Divine truth, but as one with it; therefore the conclusion, "I am the Truth," is inevitable.
II. HIS DIDACTIC SKILL. The parables are beautiful, but it is not as creations of artistic genius that they chiefly impress us. Jesus was not the slave of his imagination. A careful adaptation of means to ends is perceptible in all his utterances. You feel he did not want to paint a beautiful picture, but simply to tell the truth. The latter was thus rendered:
(2) familiar and forcible; and
III. HIS PRACTICAL MORAL PURPOSE. By his parables our Lord:
1. Demonstrated the unity of creation. The words and works of God were one in their meaning and message. A multitude of phenomena so varied and different, yet so mutually suggestive and harmoniously concurrent in testimony, could not be a soulless medley or a resultant of blind forces; it must be a system throughout, informed and controlled by one governing mind, and moving onward to a worthy if at present inadequately apprehended end.
2. Redeemed nature and human life from base associations. "In everything there was discernible the idea;" the humblest thing was suggestive, if rightly interrogated, of the Divine. Henceforth nothing was to be considered "common or unclean."
3. Rendered human experience a Divine discipline. Every-day events and circumstances were charged with spiritual lessons, and revealed as "working together for good to them that love God." - M.
Mark 4:35-41Mark 4:35-41.
Christ and his disciples in the storm. The service of Christ - I. CONSISTING IN OBEDIENCE, SYMPATHY, AND CO-OPERATION, II. INVOLVING HARDSHIP AND APPARENT RISK. III. A TRIAL AND DISCIPLINE OF FAITH. 1. Left to the realization of imminent destruction. 2. Discovering the weakness of the carnal nature. 3. Affording opportunity for the moral teaching of the Master. IV. A REVELATION OF THE DIGNITY AND POWER OF CHRIST. "This is the first of a second group of miracles. Those before mentioned are cures of bodily disease. These are deliverances from other adverse influences - the elements of nature, evil spirits, End the sins of men. Christ has authority also over these" (Godwin, on Matthew 8:23). "Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?" The great inference: Although indefinite, yet practically a complete demonstration of Christ's Godhood. - M.
I. CONSISTING IN OBEDIENCE, SYMPATHY, AND CO-OPERATION, II. INVOLVING HARDSHIP AND APPARENT RISK.
III. A TRIAL AND DISCIPLINE OF FAITH.
1. Left to the realization of imminent destruction.
2. Discovering the weakness of the carnal nature.
3. Affording opportunity for the moral teaching of the Master.
IV. A REVELATION OF THE DIGNITY AND POWER OF CHRIST. "This is the first of a second group of miracles. Those before mentioned are cures of bodily disease. These are deliverances from other adverse influences - the elements of nature, evil spirits, End the sins of men. Christ has authority also over these" (Godwin, on Matthew 8:23). "Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?" The great inference: Although indefinite, yet practically a complete demonstration of Christ's Godhood. - M.
II. TRIAL AND APPARENT DANGER.
III. MUTUAL SYMPATHIES AND CARES.
IV. FINAL VICTORY AND ATTAINMENT. - M.
1. In an earlier age they were a sign to unbelievers, evidences of the authority of the Teacher, attestations to the truth of his message. Christ appealed to them: "The works that the Father hath given me to accomplish, the very works that I do, bear witness of me, that the Father hath sent me. Though ye believe not me, believe the works."
2. In later times they have been found to be a treasure of spiritual teaching, a word of revelation and power to believers. Thus they form a part of the Church's inestimable possessions. The instruction divides itself into two branches: the positive knowledge which they convey - as in this, the lordship of the world's Redeemer over external nature; and the typical and more hidden spiritual lessons. The Church has ever seen herself represented in that ship. "The ark of Christ's Church" is a consecrated term, and in the sea she has beheld the wild, raging, unfriendly world. So the incident becomes typical:
(1) of the Church's exposure in the world, as a bark on a stormy sea;
(2) of the Church's true safety in the presence of Christ;
(3) of the ever-present and final stilling of the rage of the world and the perfect deliverance of his own from all surrounding peril.
I. THE HISTORY OF THE CHURCH OF THE LORD JESUS IS A HISTORY OF EXPOSURE TO DANGER. What perils have threatened the holy writings - that ark in which all the truth is held! At first but a few scattered recollections of men; Heaven's high treasures held in earthen vessels. Then written on a few flying leaves of parchment by tremulous human hands in uncertain human letters. Afterwards followed dangers from the errors of dim-sighted transcribers, from injudicious interpolators, from the destructive ravages of fire. Yet after the long ages it is probable we possess a more accurate transcript of the original documents than the Church ever possessed since the very early transcripts were penned. To what perils has the true Society of Jesus - the holy Catholic Church - been exposed in her very varying history! Scarcely had thin barque left the shores ere the strong surf of Judaism threatened to overturn it. Then fitful winds of human wisdom - "the profane babblings and oppositions of the knowledge which is falsely so called." Dangers have arisen from internal contentions - a mutinous crew; from unsteady hands at the helm, and clouded eyes upon the watch; from overlading with worldly goods, gold, raiment, precious stones; from sunken rocks of pride and worldly glory. False lights have threatened to wreck the vessel upon rugged and uncertain coasts, while black darkness has overcast the heavens, when "for many days neither sun nor stars have shone and no small tempest lay" on the exposed craft. Truly this Galilean boat, this "ark of Christ's Church," has been often in perilous seas. But with all she has not sunk. Christ has said, "Let us go over unto the other side." A wider view would lead us to think of the exposure of the whole spiritual interests of men. Though these have been exposed to dire destruction, they still survive, and faith, and hope, and love, and truth, and righteousness abound.
II. THE CHURCH'S SAFETY HAS EVER BEEN, IS NOW, AND EVER WILL BE, IN CHRIST. This no believer will doubt. To all human appearance asleep, he hastily responds to the cry of prayer, of fear, and desire. The Church to-day is as truly safe in the midst of her many dangers as in that night when the whole Church and the Lord thereof were in that one fishing-boat, when all seemed to be risked, and men accustomed to the sea cried, being fearful, "We perish." Up out of the evils of this stormy life will he lift his own by the miracles of his supremacy. His sweet, calm voice will yet be heard above "the raging of the sea and the tumult of the people," above strife and war and cruel hate, above ignorance, and sin, and sorrow, and pain. Even to evil he will say, "Peace, be still." So that unto him whom winds and seas obey shall be glory and honor from the quiet spirits of his whole Church for evermore. - G.
I. STORMS BREAK UNEXPECTEDLY UPON US. The Lake of Galilee was peculiarly exposed to them from the north; the wind rushed as through a funnel down those gulleys and ravines. This was known to the sailors, yet the storm was unexpected. Life is the lake; change may come at any moment, we know; and yet it is the "unexpected which always happens."
II. PRESENCE OF MIND IS NEEDED. To know that the mind is our real place, and all that happens elsewhere is not our affair, - this makes us independent of change, calm amidst scenes of terror. Nature is for mind. Divine reason subdues the wild forces of nature. Faith in that reason is what we need. It is the true and deepest source of "presence of mind."
III. THE ABSENCE OF CONFIDENCE AND COURAGE IS BLAMEWORTHY. "Why are you so fearful?" You may know at any time the worst. Fear is the reflection in our mind of some image of overwhelming power, threatening our existence. With Christ on board, our spiritual existence is safe. Perfect abandonment to duty, truth, and God alone, lifts above this anxiety.
"If my bark sinks,
I. THE CHRISTIAN FREQUENTLY SUFFERED TO ENTER INTO APPARENT PERIL.
1. Outward losses troubles Persecution in its various phases and degrees. The major calamities of life. Everything seems against him, and he is continually disappointed; yet the objects sought are reasonable and proper.
2. Inward griefs and fears. Self-questionings as to being in a state of grace; as to whether or not God's favor has been turned away doubts; prevailing sins.
II. IN THESE CIRCUMSTANCES ORDINARY MEANS OF DELIVERANCE ARE OF SO AVAIL. The ordinances of the Church fail to comfort or strengthen. Work for Christ becomes distasteful and mechanical. Prayer itself appears to be unanswered, etc.
III. THE REASONS FOR THIS.
1. To correct and strengthen character. Besetting weakness is discovered; defective principles of belief are exposed; the backward graces of the Spirit are stimulated; the whole nature is roused to keener sensitiveness, and awakened to the solemn responsibility and greatness of the Divine life.
2. A more signal and immediate manifestation of God is vouchsafed.
(1) To create a closer and higher communion, and a more vivid sense of the supernatural, and to deepen and correct the creed of the believer. A conscious dependence upon his heavenly Father takes the place of the former distance and semi-legalism. Self and self-dependence are subdued, and practical faith made the daily experience. One such great and signal providence may do more than anything else to elevate and confirm the spiritual life.
(2) To be a sign to them that are without. For a "means of grace," or simply as a warning and an undeniable demonstration, which may make them, with the devils, "believe and tremble" even in their rebellion. - M.
I. AS SUGGESTING THE OPPOSITE STANDPOINTS FROM WHICH PRACTICAL DIFFICULTIES OF THE RELIGIOUS LIFE MAY BE REGARDED.
II. As FURNISHING THEIR SOLUTION. - M.