"Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain." -- James v: 7.
Notice these four things about sowing and reaping: A man expects to reap when he sows; he expects to reap the same kind of seed that he sows; he expects to reap more; and ignorance of the kind of seed makes no difference.
First: When a man sows, he expects to reap.
If a farmer went on sowing, spring after spring, and never reaping in the autumn, you would say he was a fit subject for the lunatic asylum. No; he is always looking forward to the time when he will reap the reward of his toil. He never expects that the seed he has sown will be lost.
A young man serves a long apprenticeship to some trade or profession; but he expects by and by to reap the fruit of all those years of patient industry. Ask an engineer why he works so hard for five, six, or seven years in the endeavor to learn his profession. He replies that he is looking forward to the reaping time, when his fortune and reputation will be made. The lawyer studies long and hard; but he, too, anticipates the time when his clients will be numerous, and he will be repaid for his toil. A great many medical students have a hard time trying to support themselves while they are at college. As soon as they get their diploma and become doctors they expect that the reaping time is coming; that is what they have been working for.
Some harvests ripen almost immediately, but as a rule we find it true in the natural world that there is delay before the seed comes to maturity. It is growing all the time, however; first the little green shoot breaking through the soil, then the blade, then the ear, then the full corn in the ear. The farmer is not disappointed because all his crops do not spring up in a night like mushrooms. He looks forward with patience, knowing that the reaping time will come in due season.
So with the harvest of our actions. Few men, if any, would indulge in sin unless they expected pleasure out of it. A drunkard does not drink for the mere sake of drinking, but in the hope of present enjoyment. A thief does not steal for the mere sake of stealing, but for the sake of gain. And similarly with the good man. He does not make sacrifices merely for the sake of sacrifice, but because thereby he hopes and expects to do good, and help others. All these things are means to ends: there is always expectation of a harvest.
The Certainty of the Reaping.
The text bids us look forward to the certainty of the reaping: "Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap."
We know what it is to have a failure of the crops, but in the spiritual world no such failure is possible. Wet soil may rot the seed, or frost may nip the early buds, or the weather may prove too wet or too dry to bring the crops to maturity, but none of these things occur to prevent the harvest of one's actions. The Bible tells us that God will render to every man according to his deeds. "To them who by patient continuance in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life: but unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish upon every soul of man that doeth evil." How careful we should be of our actions in all departments of our being, physical, moral, intellectual! The deeds we do, the words we speak, the thoughts we harbor, are all recorded, and shall meet their just reward, for God is no respecter of persons.
And it must not be overlooked that the harvest comes as a necessary consequence of the sowing. It has been said that God is not a sort of a moral despot, as He is so frequently regarded. He does not sit on a throne, attaching penalties to particular actions as they come up for judgment. He has laid down certain laws, of which the law of sowing and reaping is one, and punishment is the natural outcome of sin. There is no escape. It must be borne; and though others may have to reap with you, no one can reap for you.
The text teaches, further, that the harvest is one or other of two kinds. There are two, and only two, directions in which the law leads: Sowing to the flesh, and a harvest of corruption -- sowing to the Spirit, and a harvest of everlasting life.
Sowing to the Flesh.
"Sowing to the flesh" does not mean simply taking due care of the body. The body was made in the image of God, and the body of a believer is a temple of the Holy Ghost, and we may be sure that due care for the image is well-pleasing to God. The expression refers rather to pandering to the lusts of the body, pampering it, providing gratification for its unlawful desires at the expense of the higher part of a man, indulging the animal propensities which in their excess are sinful. "Sowing to the flesh" is scattering the seeds of selfishness, which always must yield a harvest of corruption.
"When we were in the flesh, the motions of sins did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death." And what does Paul say are the works of the flesh? "Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like."
I was at the Paris exhibition in 1867, and I noticed there a little oil painting, only about a foot square, and the face was the most hideous I have ever seen. On the paper attached to the painting were the words "Sowing the tares," and the face looked more like a demon's than a man's. As he sowed these tares, up came serpents and reptiles, and they were crawling up on his body, and all around were woods with wolves and animals prowling in them. I have seen that picture many times since. Ah! the reaping time is coming. If you sow to the flesh you must reap the flesh. If you sow to the wind you must reap the whirlwind.
And yet it must not be thought that indulgence in the grosser vices is the only way of sowing to the flesh. Every desire, every action that has not God for its end and object is seed sown to the flesh. If a man is sowing for a harvest of money or ambition, he is sowing to the flesh, and will reap corruption, just as surely as the liar and adulterer. No matter how "polite" and "refined" and "respectable" the seed may be, no matter how closely it resembles the good seed, its true nature will out, the blight of corruption will be upon it.
How foolish are the strivings of men in view of this judgment! Many a man will sacrifice time, health -- even his character -- for money. What does he gain? Corruption; something that is not eternal, that has not the qualities of "everlasting life." John said, "The world passeth away, and the lust thereof." Peter said, "All flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away." None of these fleshly things have their roots in the eternal. You may even outlive them in your own short life.
No Bridge Between.
Now, men make this mistake -- they sow to the flesh, and they think they will reap the harvest of the spirit; and on the other hand, they sow to the spirit and are disappointed when they do not reap a temporal harvest.
A teacher had been relating to his class the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, and he asked:
"Now, which would you rather be, boys, the rich man or Lazarus?"
One boy answered, "I would rather be the rich man while I live, and Lazarus when I die."
That cannot be: it is flesh and corruption, or, Spirit and everlasting life. There is no bridge from one to the other.
"Seed which is sown for a spiritual harvest has no tendency whatever to procure temporal well-being. Christ declared, 'Blessed are the pure in heart; for they shall see God; blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled' (with righteousness); 'blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.' You observe the beatific vision of the Almighty -- fulness of righteousness -- divine comfort. There is nothing earthly here, it is spiritual results for spiritual labor. It is not said that the pure in heart shall be made rich; or that they who hunger and thirst after righteousness shall be filled with bread, or that they who mourn shall rise in life, and obtain distinction. Each department has its own appropriate harvest, reserved exclusively to its own method of sowing.
"Everything reaps its own harvest, every act has its own reward. And before you covet the enjoyment which another possesses, you must first calculate the cost at which it was procured.
"For instance, the religious tradesman complains that his honesty is a hindrance to his success; that the tide of custom pours into the doors of his less scrupulous neighbor in the same street, while he himself waits for hours idle. My brother, do you think that God is going to reward honor, integrity, high-mindedness, with this world's coin? Do you fancy that He will pay spiritual excellence with plenty of custom? Now consider the price that man has paid for his success. Perhaps mental degradation and inward dishonor. His advertisements are all deceptive, his treatment of his workmen tyrannical, his cheap prices made possible by inferior articles. Sow that man's seed, and you will reap that man's harvest. Cheat, lie, be unscrupulous in your assertions, and custom will come to you. But if the price be too high, let him have his harvest, and you take yours -- a clear conscience, a pure mind, rectitude within and without. Will you part with that for his harvest?"
Sowing to the Spirit.
"Sowing to the Spirit" implies self-denial, resistance of evil, obedience to the Spirit, walking in the Spirit, living in the Spirit, guidance by the Spirit. We sow to the Spirit when we use our abilities and means to advance Spiritual things; when we support and encourage those who are extending the influence of the Spirit. We sow to the Spirit when we crucify the flesh and all its lusts, when we yield ourselves to Him as we once yielded ourselves to the flesh. A Jewish rabbi once said: "There are in every man two impulses, good and evil. He who offers God his evil impulses offers the best sacrifice."
The fruit of such sowing is "love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance."
In this world the harvest is growth of character, deeper respect, increasing usefulness to others; in the next world, acceptance with God, everlasting life.
Among the last recorded words of Henry Lloyd Garrison in his public speeches in England were these "I began my advocacy of the anti -slavery cause in the Northern States of America, in the midst of brickbats and rotten eggs; and I ended it on the soil of South Carolina almost literally buried beneath the wreaths of flowers which were heaped upon me by her liberated bondmen."
A young man was employed by a large commission firm in New York City during the late civil war, to negotiate with a certain party for a lot of damaged beans. The beans were purchased, delivered, and spread out upon the upper floor of the building occupied by the firm.
Men were employed to turn them over and over, and to sprinkle them with a solution of soda, so as to improve their appearance and render them more salable. A large lot of the first quality of beans was then purchased; some of the good beans were first put into barrels, then the barrels were nearly filled with the poor ones; after this the good ones were again put on the top and the barrels headed up for sale.
The employer marked the barrels, "Beans -- A 1." The clerk seeing this, said: "Do you think, sir, that it is right to mark those beans A 1?"
The employer retorted sharply: "Are you head of the firm?"
The clerk said no more. The barreling and heading went on. When all was ready, the beans (many hundreds of barrels) were put on the market for sale. Specimens of the best quality were shown in the office to buyers.
At length a shrewd purchaser came in (no man is so sharp in business but he will often meet his equal), examined the samples in the office, inquired the price, and then wished to see the stock in bulk. The clerk was ordered to go with the buyer to the upper loft and show him the stock. An open barrel was shown apparently of the same quality of the sample. The buyer then said to the clerk:
"Young man, the samples of beans shown me are of the first quality, and it is impossible to purchase beans anywhere in the market for the price at which you offer them; there is something wrong here. Tell me, are these beans the same quality throughout the entire barrel as they appear on the top?"
The clerk now found himself in a strange position. He thought, "Shall I lie for my employer, as he undoubtedly means I shall; or shall I tell the truth, come what will?" He decided for the truth, and said:
"No, sir, they are not."
"Then," said the customer. "I do not want them"; and he left.
The clerk enterers the office. The employer said to him: "Did you sell that man those beans?"
He said, "No, sir."
"Well, sir, the man asked me if those beans were of the same quality through the entire barrel as they appeared on the top. I told him they were not. He then said: 'I do not want them,' and left."
"Go to the cashier," said the employer, "and get your wages; we want you no longer."
He received his pay and left the office, rejoicing that he had not lied for the purposes of abetting a sordid avariciousness, and benefiting an unprincipled employer.
Three weeks after this the firm sent after the young clerk, entreated him to come back again into their employ, and offered him three hundred dollars salary more per year than they had ever before given him.
And thus was his honesty and truthfulness rewarded. The firm knew and felt that the man was right, although apparently they had lost largely by his honesty. They wished to have him again in their employ, because they knew that they could trust him, and never suffer through fraud and deception. They knew that their financial interests would be safe in his custody. They respected and honored that young man.
The Lesson of Patience.
Let us learn the lesson of patience. "Behold the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain." Delay does not mean denial. Too often one generation sows and another has to reap. God is a jealous God, "visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate Him."
In the early years of Israel's existence as a separate people, God commanded them to give the land of Canaan rest every seventh year.
"Six years thou shalt sow thy land, and shalt gather in the fruits thereof: but the seventh year thou shalt let it rest and lie still; that the poor of thy people may eat, and what they leave the beasts of the field shall eat. In like manner thou shalt deal with thy vineyard, and with thy olive yard." From the anointing of Saul to be king this law was not observed. After four hundred and ninety years God gave the nation into captivity for seventy years. During this period the land had rest; seventy sabbath years to compensate for the sabbath years of which it had been deprived. Those Israelites sowed the bitter seed of disobedience, and their descendants had to reap the harvest in exile and captivity.
A leading surgeon performed a critical operation before his class one day. The operation was successful, as far as his part was concerned. But he turned to the class and said: "Six years ago a wise way of living might have prevented this disease. Two years ago a safe and simple operation might have cured it. We have done our best to-day as the case now stands, but Nature will have her word to say. She does not always repeal her capital sentences." Next day the patient died, reaping the fruit of his excesses.
Paul says: "Let us not be weary in well-doing; in due season we shall reap if we faint not."
In a recent chat with an interviewer, Mr. Edison quite unconsciously preached a most powerful sermon on perseverance and patience.
He described his repeated efforts to make the phonograph reproduce the aspirated sound, and added: "From eighteen to twenty hours a day for the last seven months I have worked on this single word 'specia.' I said into the phonograph, 'specia, specia, specia,' but the instrument responded, 'pecia, pecia, pecia.' It was enough to drive one mad! But I held firm, and I have succeeded."
An insurance case was brought to Daniel Webster when he was a young lawyer in Portsmouth. Only a small amount was involved, and a twenty-dollar fee was all that was promised. He saw that to do his client full justice, a journey to Boston would be desirable, in order to consult the law library. He would be out of pocket by the expedition, and for the time he would receive no adequate compensation. But he determined to do his best, cost what it might. He accordingly went to Boston and looked up the authorities, and gained the case.
Years after, Webster, who had meanwhile become famous, was passing through New York. An important insurance case was to be tried that day, and one of the counsel had suddenly been taken ill. Money was no object, and Webster was begged to name his terms and conduct the case.
"I told them," said Mr. Webster, "that it was preposterous to expect me to prepare a legal argument at a few hours notice. They insisted, however, that I should look at the papers; and this I finally consented to do. It was my old twenty-dollar case over again; and as I never forget anything, I had all the authorities at my fingers' ends. The court knew that I had no time to prepare, and were astonished at the range of my acquirements. So you see, I was handsomely repaid both in fame and money for that journey to Boston; and the moral is that good work is rewarded in the end."
Two men were digging in California for gold. They worked a good deal and got nothing. At last one of them threw down his tools and said:
"I will leave here before we starve"; and he left.
The next day his comrade's patience was rewarded by finding a nugget that supported him until he made a fortune.
"Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil. Though a sinner do evil an hundred times, and his days be prolonged, yet surely I know that it shall be well with them that fear God, which fear before Him; but it shall not be well with the wicked, neither shall he prolong his days, which are as a shadow; because he feareth not before God."
The idea that because a person does a thing in the dark it will never be brought to light, is fatal -- God says it shall be brought to light. It is folly for a man who has covered his sins to think there shall be no resurrection of them and no final adjudication. Look at the sons of Jacob. They sold Joseph and deceived their father. Twenty long years rolled away, and away down to Egypt their sin followed them; for they said: "We are guilty of the blood of our brother." The reaping time had come at last, for those ten boys who sold their brother.
I was once preaching in Chicago, and a woman who was nearly out of her mind came to me. You know there are some people who mock at religions meetings, and say that religion drives people mad. It is sin that drives people mad. It is the want of Christ that sinks people into despair. This was the woman's story: She had a family of children. One of her neighbors had died, and her husband had brought home a little child. She said, "I don't want the child," but her husband said, "You must take it and look after it." She said she had enough to do with her own, and she told her husband to take that child away. But he would not. She confessed that she tried to starve the child; but it lingered on. One night it cried all night; I suppose it wanted food. At last she took the clothes and threw them over the child, and smothered it. No one saw her; no one knew anything about it. The child was buried. Years had passed away; and she said, "I hear the voice of that child day and night. It has driven me nearly mad." No one saw the act; but God had seen it, and this retribution followed it. History is full of these things. You need not go to the Bible to find it out.