The most wonderful secrets of the plant world hang round the process of fertilisation, and the ways in which these springs of the second birth are guarded and set going, but the flower's simple work is to open and receive.
"The gift of God is eternal life" -- oh, marvellous words! -- "through Jesus Christ our Lord." "As many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name." "He that hath the Son hath life, and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life." "Behold I stand at the door and knock: if any man hear My voice and open the door, I will come in to him."
It is utterly, unbelievably simple. Receive Jesus with a heart-grasp, and you will find, like the flower, a spring of eternal life, entirely distinct from your own, that is perishing, set working deep down in your inmost being.
And all that is needed, for the fulfilment of God's uttermost purpose for you, is that this "new man" should be formed and that the old should pass away.
From the very outset of its new birth we see this double process going on in the plant. Within a few hours the throb of new life has spread through the flower, with this first result, that the petals begin to wither. Fertilisation marks the striking of the death-blow to all that went before. Look at a clover head; do you know why some of the spikes are upright and others turned downwards and fading? It is because these last have received the new tide, and the old is ebbing out already. The birth-peal and the death-knell rang together. Fertilisation marks the death of the flower and the death of the flower the death of the annual, though the carrying out of its doom comes gradually.
And in like manner the sentence of death passes, in the Cross, on the old nature in its entirety, as the new comes into being. This is the one only basis and groundwork for all carrying out in our practical experience of what that death means. Once for all let this be clear. Apart from the work done on Calvary, all working out of a death process in our own souls is only a false and dangerous mysticism... . "I have been crucified with Christ." (R. V.) -- Yes, long before ever I asked to be -- glory be to God! and yet as freshly as if it were yesterday, for time is nowhere with Him.
And simultaneously, in figure, in the little flower-heart, while "that which is natural" begins to fade, "that which is spiritual" dawns. The seed-vessel with its hidden treasure -- the ultimate object of this miracle of quickening -- begins immediately to form. It was within three days of "the heavenly vision" when the once rejected Jesus was received by St. Paul, that the commission came -- "he is a chosen vessel unto Me, to bear My Name." A chosen vessel unto Him. The seed-vessel belongs to the seed, only and for ever: it is formed for itself and has no purpose apart. Separation has nothing austere and narrow in it when it is unto Him.
Chosen vessels to bear His Name -- His personality; with all that is wrapped up in that Name of fragrance and healing, authority and power; chosen to go about this weary sinful world with the living Christ folded in our hearts, ready and able as of old to meet the need around. Is not this a calling for which it is worth counting, as St. Paul did, all things but loss?
Chosen vessels -- there is the vessel and there is the treasure in it, for ever distinct, though in wonderful union, like the seed-vessel and the seed: the one enshrines the other.
God builds up a shrine within us of His workmanship, from the day in which Jesus was received. The seed-vessel is its picture. With the old nature He can have nothing to do except to deliver it to death: no improving can fit it for His purpose, any more than the leaf or tendril, however beautiful, can be the receptacle of the seed. There must be "a new creation" (R.V., margin), "the new man," to be the temple of the Divine Life.
And as the petals drop off, and the growing seed-vessel comes into view, we see a fresh individuality developed. Compare in these four pages some of the seed-vessels of a single family -- vetch and clover: we found over thirty species of it in that one field of the frontispiece. These will show something of their extraordinary variety -- we have bunches of horns great and small, and bunches of imitation centipedes, and bunches of mock holly leaves, prickly coils and velvety balls; mimic concertinas, and bits of quaint embroidery; imitation snail-shells, croziers, pods with frills at the seams, spiked caskets with curious indentations, clusters of stars, bladders like soft paper, and plaited spirals wound into a tiny cocoanut, that, untwisted, becomes a minature crown of thorns -- are they not all a visible expression of the thoughts that are more than can be numbered? And the greater part spring from little unnoticeable flowers, so alike in their yellow or pink that you have to look closely in order to find out any difference! It is the seed-bearing that gives them their individual character.
And the same God has manifold plans for our development too, as vessels for His Christ-life. It is by the Divine indwelling that our true, eternal personality dawns, and for the expression of the special manifestation of Himself which is entrusted to each one of us. The protoplasm that quickens each different seed is one and the same essence, but in no two does it find the same expression. He needs the whole Church to manifest His whole character and accomplish His appointed ministry, and so the individual development must differ widely in everything but the common vital principle. Life -- eternal life -- is the essence of all -- life receiving and life-giving. There is no need to imitate the seed-vessel of a brother vetch! -- only to draw into our own the fulness of grace that we may develop into its full individuality the mission entrusted to us.
There is nothing arbitrary in these differing shapes of the seed-vessels. If we look closely, we shall find that they are formed in union with the seed that each contains -- it is this that determines the form of each, and builds it up. See these few instances: the peas need their long pod with its daintily-cushioned divisions, to allow each little globe to round itself to perfection; the crescent-shaped seeds of this other vetch, each set into its own place again, form the distinctive character of their different sheath -- so do the tiny rod-shaped ones of the third vetch, which clothe themselves in a segmented rod in turn. While on the other hand the fine sand-like grain of this snap-dragon needs storing in a capsule -- such a quaint one it is (whether most like a bird or a mouse sitting on a twig is hard to say) -- but it is a perfectly adapted treasure-bag for the delicate things, and when they are ripe the two eyes open, and the wind shakes the seed out by them! Each one lays itself out for the special trust committed to it. Is it not the same wonderful Fashioner Who fits us and our ministry together, and forms us through it with unerring precision, preparing us for the white stone and the new name which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it, eternity's seal on the heavenly individuality of each. That eternal future will show how the Lord had need of each of us in our varying character, and how all that made up this earthly life fitted us for "bearing about" the special manifestation of Jesus entrusted to us, in which no other could take our place. He needs us, every one of us, as if there were no other besides.