Jesus also said, "The kingdom of God is like a man who scatters seed on the ground.
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.
So is the kingdom of God, as if a man should cast seed into the ground.I. The religion of Christ is a REIGN. It is not a creed, or a sentiment, or a ritualism, but a regal force, a power that holds sway over intellect, heart, and will. As a reign it is —
1. Spiritual. Its throne is within.
II. It is a DIVINE reign. This is proved by —
1. Its congruity with human nature. It accords with reason, conscience, and the profoundest cravings of the soul.
2. Its influence on human life. It makes men righteous, loving, peaceful, godlike.
III. It is a GROWING reign. It grows in the individual soul, and in the increase of its subjects.
1. This growth is silent. It does not advance as the reign of human monarchs, by noise and bluster, by social convulsion and bloody wars. It works in the mind and spreads through society, silent as the distilling dew or the morning beam.
IV. Christ's religion may be PROMOTED BY HUMAN AGENCY. Whilst man cannot in nature create the crop, no crop would come without his agency; so Christ has left the extension of His religion to depend in some measure on man.
V. Human effort is founded on CONFIDENCE IN DIVINE LAWS.
(D. Thomas, D. D.)I. The first lesson taught us here is, that progress in personal religion is VITAL and not MECHANICAL (Mark 4:26).
1. The "seed" contains in itself the germ of all the future growth. Hence, all expectation must actually begin and end with the grain which is sown. If the initial impartation of Divine grace in the truth through the Holy Ghost be not received, it will do no good whatsoever to watch and hope and encourage ourselves. (See John 6:65.)
2. The "ground" develops the germ. The human life and experience which the seed falls into has to be prepared, and, of course, needs to be cultivated; then God sends His celestial benediction of the sunshine and the showers. But the fruit "the earth bringeth forth of herself." This union of human fidelity with Divine grace constitutes the cooperation with which the mysterious work goes on. We are to "add" to our attainments, "giving all diligence" (2 Peter 1:5). We are to "work out" our own salvation "with fear and trembling" (Philippians 2:12, 13).
3. The "man" casts the seed. God gives it, and the germ of salvation is in what God gives. But a free. willed man must let it sink into his heart and life. There are "means of grace;" human beings must put themselves in the way of them. The first step in the new life is displayed in the willingness to take every other step. (See 2 Corinthians 3:18, in the New Revision.)
II. Our next lesson from the figure which Christ uses is this: progress in personal religion is CONSTANT and not SPASMODIC. (See verses 26, 27.)
1. Observe here that the growth of the seed is continued through the "night and day." One little brilliant touch of imagination does great service in this picture. The man rests; he has done his duty. God, the unseen, is silently keeping His promise. And while we rejoice in the sweet helpful sunshine, and thank Him for it, we ought to thank Him too for these heavy moist nights of gloom, which surprise us often with their darkness, and then surprise us more afterwards with the extraordinary progress they have brought. (See Hebrews 12:11.)
2. Hence also we observe that even hindrances help sometimes. Those are the hardiest plants which have been oftenest shadowed; and those are the most stable trees which have been oftenest writhed and tossed by the blasts as they blustered around them.
3. So, above everything else, we observe that here we are taught the necessity of trust. No one thing in nature is more pathetically beautiful than the behaviour of certain sensitive plants we all are acquainted with, as the nightfall approaches. They tranquilly fold up their leaves, as if they were living beings, and now knew that from the evening to the morning again they would have to live just by faith in the Supreme Hand which made them. We must make up our minds that there can be never any healthy growth which undertakes to move forward by frantic leaps or spasms of progress. We must trust God; and He neither dwarfs nor forces. Hothouse shoots are proverbially feeble, and almost always it has been found that conservatory oranges are the bitterest sort of fruit.
III. Once more: let us learn from the figure which our Lord uses, that progress in personal religion is SPIRITUAL and not CONSPICUOUS. The seed grows, but the man "knows not how."
1. The man cannot possibly "know how." Our Saviour, in another place, gives the full reasons for that (Luke 17:20, 21). When He declares "the kingdom of God cometh not with observation," He adds at once His sufficient explanation; "for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you." We are unable to become in any case thoroughly acquainted with each other. We are often mistaken about ourselves. The most we can hope to understand is to be found in grand results, and not in the processes.
2. The man does not need to "know how." He needs only to keep growing, and all will be right in the end. Christians are not called knowers, but "believers." The old promise is that "the righteous shall flourish like the palm tree." And the singularity of the palm tree is that it is an inside grower; it is always adding its woody layers underneath the bark, and enlarging itself from the centre out of sight. Botanically speaking, man is "endogenous." Our best attainments, like Moses' shining face, axe always gained unconsciously, and others see them first.
3. Many men make mistakes in trying to "know how." The religious life of a genuine Christian cannot be dealt with from the outside without injury. It is harmed when we attempt to make it showy. You will kill the strongest trees if you seek to keep them varnished. All penances and pilgrimages, all mere rituals and rubrics, all legislations and reforms, are as powerless to save the soul as so many carvings and statues and cornices on the exterior of a house would be to give health to a sick man within. Time is wasted in efforts to help men savingly in any other way than by teaching them to "grow up in all things into Christ, which is the head" (Ephesians 4:14-16).
IV. Let us learn, in the fourth place, from the figure our Lord uses, that progress in personal religion is NATURAL and not ARTISTIC. (See ver. 28.)
1. Our Lord Himself was entirely unconventional.
2. Hence, a conventional religion cannot be Christian. For it is not possible that "a man in Christ" should be artistic. Fancy forms of devoteeism are simply grotesque.
3. The "beauty of holiness" will not stand much millinery of adornment. Naturalness is the first element of loveliness.
4. Meantime, let us remember that all Christ seems to desire of His followers is just themselves. Timothy was not set to find some extraordinary attainment, but to "stir up the gift" which was "in him." Jesus praised the misjudged woman because she had "done what she could."
V. Finally, we may learn from the figure which our Lord uses, that progress in personal religion is GARNERED at last, and not LOST. (See ver. 29.)
1. The "fruit" is what is wanted. And the gains of the growth are all conserved in the fruit. Growth is for the sake of more fruit. Some might say, "The seed that we cast into the ground is quite lost." No; the seed will be found inside of every fruit. Others might say, "The increase in size and strength is certainly all lost." No; the increase is ten or a hundred fold inside of the fruit. There is a whole field-full of living germs in the matured fruit of each honest life for God.
2. The "harvest" fixes the final date of the ingathering. There does not appear to be anything like caprice in God's plan. "He hath made everything beautiful in His time." And in the harvest time, surely, the fields of ripened grain are loveliest.
3. For it is the ripeness of the fruit which announces the harvest. That must be the force here of the fine and welcome word "immediately." When the believer is ready to go to his home, the Lord is ready to receive him.
(C. S. Robinson.)I. IN ITS BEGINNINGS. God permits us to cooperate with Him; but the great work is His. We learn the truth by prayer, and study, and obedience. We make it known. He gives its life. As the farmer can only sow the seed he has obtained, and must depend on the life within it, and the earth which brings forth fruit of herself, so we can only make known the truth we have received, and must trust entirely to God to make it effective.
II. IN ITS GROWTH God advances this new life according to its own laws. We need not be impatient, nor attempt to force unnatural growth, nor dig it up to see if it is growing. But we must make the utmost of our own powers to aid those that are beyond us. As it requires a whole man to make a successful farmer, so all the energies of character, study, and devotion are needed to make a successful sower of the seed of the kingdom.
III. IN ITS PERFECTION. There is a harvest time. God completes the work He has begun in each soul; but He has made us so interdependent that its completion calls for our watchful activity. We are not responsible for the laws of spiritual growth; but we are commanded to be at hand to watch the blade as it appears, to welcome the ear and the full fruit.
(A. E. Dunning.)I. Man's knowledge and power, in matter and in mind, are small, yet requisite.
II. Natural powers are made to do much for him, but secretly and slowly.
III. He has to wait in patience, and then to take possession.
(J. H. Godwin.)I. SPIRITUAL GOODNESS IS A GROWTH. It springs and grows up. Cut the stone and carve it, so it remains; cut the tree, lop off its branches, and then it will sprout. Man can impart motion, and make automata, but he cannot give life. The test of real life is growth.
II. Spiritual goodness is an INDEPENDENT GROWTH. Not a hot house plant. Needs no petting. Ministers need not torment themselves about the issue of the work: God gives the increase.
III. Spiritual goodness is a MYSTERIOUS GROWTH. The law of development is hidden, though real.
IV. Spiritual goodness is a CONSTANT GROWTH. Our souls do not rest.
V. Spiritual goodness is a PROGRESSIVE GROWTH. The blade is the mark of tenderness; the ear is the mark of full vigour; the full corn in the ear is the mark of maturity.
(F. W. Robertson, M. A.)
I. THE GROWTH AND FRUITFULNESS OF THE DIVINE WORD IN THE ENTIRE HISTORY OF THE CHURCH.
1. The certain growth of the truth through this dispensation. Christianity is always spreading.
2. The orderly development of the truth. Providence continually brings into view long-hidden meanings and applications of the gospel.
3. The mystery of the gospel's extension and development. Even the wisest are far from understanding the true reason and mode of its growth.
II. THE GROWTH AND FRUITFULNESS OF THE DIVINE WORD IN INDIVIDUAL LIVES.
1. They who hear the gospel should consider the consequences of their conduct in relation to it. The honest reception of it is the beginning of a life of holy fruitfulness to the glory of God. The rejection involves a state worse than barrenness.
2. This parable should teach cheerful confidence to all who sow the good seed — ministers, teachers — all who speak a word for Christ. The result is beyond their power or knowledge, but it is sure.
3. It should produce joy in all Christian hearts by the prospect which it opens. The glorious issue of each Christian life. The blessed consummation of the world's history. The final rejoicing of all who labour in the gospel. Above all, the harvest gladness of the Lord.
1. External agencies. We are not passive and powerless recipients of heavenly influences; we are required to use diligently all the appliances of the husbandman, leaving the rest to Him who disposes all things. The eye of God marks what becomes of each grain of seed: how one lies disregarded on the surface of the worldly heart, and another sinks no deeper than the first stratum of fitful impulse piety; how the young choke the seed with pleasures, the middle-aged destroy it with worldly ambitions, and the old stifle it with corroding cares; yet, dead as this seed may seem, it springeth up, ay, and will spring up in another world, if not in this, and bear its testimony against all who neglect or despise the message of God.
2. The invisible methods of its succeeding processes. There is no discovering of the subtle law, by which the preaching of the self-same Word becomes powerless here, and effectual there. An unperceived influence is brought to bear on a man's heart, constraining but not compelling him, causing principles and desires and feelings to spring up "he knows not how." It is for him to yield to this influence.
3. The certain progressiveness of true religion. No standing still. All religion is a spreading and an advancing thing. God leads on the converted soul step by step; He restores the features of our lost spiritual image little by little; He destroys the dominant passions of the old man one by one; and so leads us on from strength to strength, till in the perfect righteousness of Christ we appear before Him in Zion. To continue babes in Christ, would be like saying that we have the leaven of God within us, and yet that it is not affecting the surrounding mass; that the fire of God is within our hearts, without burning up the dross and stubble; that, aged trees as we are, we put forth nothing but the tender shoot, and patriarchs as we should be in spiritual things, we are but as infants of a day old.
4. The end: the final gathering of the ripe sheaves into the garner of life. Here our progress may be slow; there is an infinitude of holy attainment beyond.
(Daniel Moore, M. A.)
(S. R. Hole, M. A.)I. Do not worry yourself about the growth of grace in others. Do not press too hardly for evidence of growth in your children. Confine your care to the seed you sow, and, calm and hopeful, leave the rest to God.
II. Be not too anxious about the work of grace in your own soul. It grows like the corn; like the corn you cannot see it growing. Take care of your action, and your nature will take care of itself. Harbour no thoughts of despair.
III. Be patient with yourself. Plants that are meant to live long grow slowly. A mushroom grows swiftly, and passes away swiftly. The oak grows slow to stand long. Grace is meant to live forever, and grows, therefore, slowly. Each good act helps it a little, but you cannot trace the help. If God has patience with you, have patience with yourself; and make not your grace less by worrying because it is not more.
I. THIS GREAT LAW OF SPIRITUAL GROWTH IS NOT ALWAYS RECOGNIZED, NOR ARE MEN ALWAYS CONTENTED WITH IT. We are eager for quick results; we have not the patience to wait for the slow development from seed to fruit.
II. BUT THIS IS GOD'S PLAN IN ALL THINGS. He produces nothing by great leaps and transitions; all His great works are quiet processes. Light and darkness melt into each other; the seasons change by gradual transition; all life, vegetable and animal, grows from a germ; and the higher and nobler the type of life, the slower and more gradual is the process of growth. The oak attains to maturity more slowly than the flower; man than the lower animals; the mind than the body; the soul than the mind.
III. APPLICATION TO THE CHARACTER AND COURSE OF THE CHRISTIAN LIFE.
1. Its beginning. Only a blade, hardly to be discerned above the soil, or distinguished from common grass. We may often confound the real beginnings of religion with ordinary human virtues.
2. Its progress. We look for the formation of the ear, and for the full corn in the ear. A child of God, always a babe, is a deformity.
3. Its consummation. How fruitful and beautiful it should be, not with the verdant beauty of the blade, but with the golden beauty of the ripe corn.
(Henry Allon.)i.e. with intensity of will, with all their sensibilities stirred to the sowing of it; and yet let them know — it is well for us all to know — that a sower can only sow. He cannot decompose the grain. He cannot vitalize the inward germ. He must leave the seed with God. Attempts are made, sometimes, in times of religious revival and excitement, to force the living process, and even to have essential power and action in it; to make it begin at certain times and in certain ways; but the success of these efforts is but small. Very often the result of such intrusive violence is simply this, that Nature is made to look like grace for a little while, only to sink back into Nature again. We are only sowers. We "cast the seed into the ground," we "sleep and rise night and day." We go about our customary avocations and know nothing for certain of what has become of the seed for a time. By and by we shall know by the appearing of the blade above the soil, by the growing and by the ripening; but at first we knew nothing. The blade. — Not only is there secrecy at the beginning, but even after life is begun the manifestations of it are very slender and even dubious. Life must appear in some way, else we cannot apprehend it. We know life, not in its very substance, but only in its attributes and fruits. The first appearance of life is therefore a time of great interest; we watch it as the farmer watches the blade when it first shows above the soil. It does not then look at all like the corn it ultimately becomes. "First the blade." Take it when it is just visible above the soil — tender, pale, hardly green as yet — and compare that with the treasures of the threshing floor. What a difference! and how wonderful it seems that those should come from that! Not only is the first appearance small and slender, but to the unskilled eye it is very dubious and uncertain. Even so! The springing of the precious seed of Divine truth out of the secret soul into the visible life, is known at first often by manifestations very slender and sensitive. The begun life is so feeble that you can hardly say "It is there." A flush on the cheek or a gleam of the eye betokens some unusual inward feeling. Something is done, or something is left undone, and that is all! A Bible is kept in the room, and sometimes read in the morning or the evening. A new walk is taken that a certain person may be met, or missed. A letter has a sentence or two with the slightest touch of a new tone in it. Or there is some other faint suggestion of a change of mind and view. And if one should come with a high standard and a strict measuring line he might, of course, say, "Is that all?" Do you expect that to endure the conflicts and tests of life, and overcome its difficulties? Do you look for golden harvest only out of that? And yet that young, tender, trembling soul will grow in grace, and will be at last as ripe and mellow and ready for the garner as the other. "Then the ear." — God's day of revelation. Everyone knows corn in the ear — all dubiety is over when we look on the ear of corn. In the spike that holds the grain, as in a protective loving embrace, we know, although we do not see it, that the corn is enfolded. And when the spike expands with the force of vegetation, and the seeds of corn appear, no one can deny or doubt their existence. So there is a revealing or declaring time in the spiritual life. Life, hidden beyond the proper time of manifestation, will die. The corn in the ear cannot be preserved; it must grow on, or perish. "The full corn in the ear." — The work of grace perfected. As the result of the growing comes the ripening, or what is here called "the full corn in the ear." How little there is of man! How much of God! Man throws the seed into the ground, as one might throw a handful of pebbles into the sea! and months afterwards he comes, and carries away, by reaping and harvesting, thirty fold or sixty fold. He throws in one and carries away thirty, as it were direct from the hand of God. It is God who has been working during all these silent months. He never leaves the field. Down beneath the red mould He has His laboratory. He kindles there ten thousand invisible fires. He carries on and completes in unreckonable instances that process of transmutation which is the most wonderful that takes place beneath the sun. He opens in every field ten thousand times ten thousand fountains of life, and out of these living fountains spring the visible forms, blade, and sheath, and ear, and ripened corn. And after God has been thus working, then again comes the man, with his baskets, with his empty garners, and God fills them. Now the chief lesson — the very teaching of the parable — is this: that the human agency is no more in proportion and degree within the "kingdom of God" than it is in the field of corn. "So is the kingdom of God." The spiritual life is as much and as constantly under God's care as, in the natural world, is the field of growing corn. Indeed, we may say the spiritual life has more of His care. For, while the man has the sowing and the reaping in the natural field, in the spiritual field he has the sowing but not the reaping. "The angels are the reapers." Souls ripened for heaven are not reaped by men on the earth. The practical uses of the great truth taught in the parable are such as these. It teaches us a lesson of diligence. We can only sow, therefore let us sow. A lesson of reverence. What wonders are being wrought very near to us in silence! The Spirit of God is striving with human spirits! A lesson of abstinence. Having sown the seed, leave it with God. Think — "It has passed now from my care into a more sacred department, and into far higher hands. With Him let me leave it." Finally, a lesson of trust.
(A. Raleigh, D. D.)I. Let us attend to the words before us, by observing BRIEFLY THE STAGES OF CHRISTIAN LIFE AS PRESENTED TO US BY THEM. A thing of events must have stages; a thing of time must also have its stages; so must all things of growth and advancement Christian life is a thing of events, of time, and of growth; as such, it has its stages of development and maturity.
1. There is the blade stage. Human life, in all its forms, has its blade form and condition, as well as the plant.(1) It is the first expression of life to human sense. It is not the first stage of life in fact, but it is so in appearance and visible evidence.(2) The blade is a result of some unseen power behind what appears to sense. The blade is a production, produced by some unseen power of vitality outside itself as to origin and law. Christian life, as well as the blade, is the result of vital power higher and apart from itself.(3) The blade form is a stage of tenderness. As yet it is not hardened in its fibre, and consolidated in its root. The smallest force can crush it, the faintest blight can destroy it. Its slenderness may have one advantage — there is only a small quantity of the storm that can be brought to bear upon it compared with what would be if it were broader, taller, and more massive.(4) It is hopeful as to future prospects. As days and nights revolve it will take deeper root, and spread its offshoots on every hand. Its appearance is a promise, and its feebleness, with careful attention to the order of its life, will gain strength and tallness. Take care of the convictions, the aspirations, the promises, and the small expressions of goodness and godliness in life; they are the blades of true and Christian life.
2. Then the ear. This is the middle stage of Christian life.(1) This shows a life partially developed. It has not reached its intended ultimate end, but has made considerable progress towards it. The dangers which surround the beginning of life are overcome.(2) It is a life partly consolidated in strength and maturity. It is not so strong as to be out of danger, it is not so complete as to be perfect; yet it is beyond the reach of many of the smaller forces which once threatened its life and growth, and is also in a fair way of reaching the higher perfection which it aspires after.(3) It is a life of greater testedness than that of the blade. It has stood the test of storms and frosty nights; and in the midst and through them all it has grown, and stands fair for a brighter and richer future still.(4) It is a life in active progress. It is a life of history. It is a life of experience.
3. The full corn in the ear.(1) It is a condition of substantial possession. It is not a life of uncertain promise, which may never be fulfilled, but of reality and substance. It is not a matter of outward form, but one of precious value — the ear is full of corn. It is a life of weight, of value and of fitness.(2) It is a stage of maturity. The organs are fully developed, and the end is fully obtained. It comes up to the expectation of the proprietor.(3) It is a state of triumph. All inherent weakness has been conquered, and a mature life has been gained. Such a life is worth the aim and effort; it is the end of all agents and means of God's grace and providence.
4. It is intended to show us a life having answered its right end. The end of all toil and culture was to make it full and rich in the ear; that period has arrived without a failure, and all rejoice in the fact. Such a life is the highest thing possible, for there is nothing better for us than to answer the end of the Divine plan of wisdom and goodness.
II. THE PROGRESS OF CHRISTIAN LIFE. Divine order is one of progress. Among finite imperfect beings, this is a necessity in law, and a kindness in provision. We are born infants, and we gain strength and knowledge by gradual progression.
1. It is a progress by events. Sometimes there is a discovery made which reveals more in an hour than otherwise in an age. We on a sudden rise to the top of some sunny mountain, and see more by that event than all the travel in the valley below would have shown us all our life — the haziness is removed from the vision in one moment by the re. relation of events, and we become truer, stronger, and happier, as by the magic of lightning. The peeping of the blade through the earth, the forming of the ear, and the filling of the ear, are events in the plant which show its advancement, as well as being the means of its progress. Birth, in our natural life, is an event of amazing progress; so is the quickening of our moral sentiments in our religious life; and often the reading of a book, the intercourse with a superior friend, or entrance into a school, become the greatest possible events in our mental life. Nature is full of events, so is religion. They break the monotony of life, and give freshness and force to the general and common in existence, so as to make them varied and attractive. Let us not think that they are not of Divine ordination by reason that they are only rare and occasional; they have their class, laws, and work, as much as the common in every day's transaction.
2. It is a progress of law and order. Progress is only possible by law; the thing that does not advance by law is a retrogression. We may not be able to understand all in the law of life, but we can follow it, for that is both our duty and privilege alike. The law of progress is within the reach of the babe; by submitting to it he advances into true manhood. It is the fixing of the soul upon high objects, using all means given us for that end, and unyielding perseverance in the application.
3. It is a progress through opposing forces and difficulties. Nothing escapes the opposing powers of life. If the little blade could give us the history of days and nights, oh! what a story of difficulties and dangers would it tell us! Can sinful man expect to advance more easily than the beautiful flower or the innocent blade? Human nature is weedy and thorny, a very uncongenial soil for the seed of life.
4. It is a progress in itself imperceivable in its actual process. The growth of the blade is not seen in itself, it is only seen at different epochs.
5. It is a progress hidden in mystery. We speak of things as if we knew them, whereas we know very little more than their existence and their names. No physiologist can explain all the laws of life and growth in the plant; and it can be no amazement if we know as little in the greater thing of spiritual life in the soul.
6. It is a progress of gradual, slow development. The plant does not reach its maturity in one hour, but it is the growth of different seasons, treatment night and day, weeks and months. Good culture can only bring it forward more rapidly, and produce a better quality; it cannot alter the law of gradual advancement. Slow and gradual development of Christian life in our heart and practice corresponds with our powers to bear and to do. If it were all at once, we could not bear it; also its educational power over our patience and hope would be of little value, as well as the perpetual enjoyment which it throws over the whole period of gradual growth. It is dependent upon our activity, and if we acted more earnestly it would be much faster in growth than it is: but if we acted to the top of our strength, used all means, and failed in nothing, it would be still an advancement by degrees. If we are slow in the climbing, we have time to reflect and gain wisdom as we proceed; if it is gradual and tedious, we get more consolidated in the growth and soil. Let us not be discouraged; this is not an exception in our spiritual life, it is the law in other matters much the same. The organs of our bodies, the powers of our minds, reach their full height and maturity little by little. The great building is reared by slow and gradual advancement, and the tall and broad oak reaches its climax maturity through very slow degrees. We have no reason to be discouraged; law is safe and sure; it is as faithful in the slow process as it is in the event of the faster advancement. We have nothing to fear apart from ourselves; enough for us to know that it will be finished in due time if we fail not to give all diligence to secure the happy result.
III. THE CONDITIONAL LAWS OF CHRISTIAN LIFE, REQUIRED IN EVERY STAGE OF ITS ADVANCEMENT AND INVOLVED EVEN IN THE FACT OF ITS EXISTENCE.
1. One condition in the life and growth of the plant is, there must be vital seed. No one with experience thinks of planting lifeless particles, for experience and reason unite to proclaim it hopeless and useless. A mere form or appearance of life is not sufficient; it must be real in the heart of the seed to give life to the plant. Christian truth in its right relation is life, and thus planted and cultivated, produces life in the believing mind and heart that receives it.
2. Another condition in the order of law is, there must be a proper soil to receive the seed. To receive the seed of life, there is a fit soil required in our mind, heart, and conscience.
3. Another law in the growth of the plant is the one of means. The plant you must cultivate, or it will decline into feebleness, and will die. You must water its root, remove destructive weeds from communion with it, take away the thing that shades it, and sometimes you must prop it; these are the means of law and life, and you never say they are hard and unreasonable; you think yourself sufficiently rewarded for all in being able to preserve the life of the plant. Think not that spiritual life requires less at your hands than that of the plant.
4. Another law in the advancement of life, both of the plant and Christian, is variety in unity of operation. Before a little plant can live and grow, you must have combination of elements operating in beautiful harmony for the purpose. The wind must blow, the rain must fall; light, heat, and gases must meet in nice equality and harmonious activity. The absence of one would make the process imperfect; even an inequality would impair the total result of the whole. The law applicable to the plant is analogically the same in Christian life. As in the life of the plant, so there are various elements and agencies required to sustain and carry on the process of Christian life to its full beauty and perfection. Light, faith, love, hope, patience, action, communion, perseverance, and sacrifice, must be united in the delicate and important work of the building up of Christian life.
5. Another law in the economy of life is active exercise. Life is an active thing; it is preserved and advanced by unceasing activity. To preserve Christian life in full and healthy vigour, the whole soul must be in full exercise.
6. Another condition I shall just name — something supernatural, and above and behind life, is required for its existence and growth. Life in the plant, as well as in the heart, is incapable of producing itself, and the source of it must be above and independent of the means which produce and sustain it.
(T. Hughes.)I. We shall, first, learn from our text WHAT WE CAN DO AND WHAT WE CANNOT DO. "So is the kingdom of God, as if a man should cast seed into the ground:" this the gracious worker can do. "And the seed should spring and grow up, he knoweth not how:" this is what he cannot do: seed once sown is beyond human jurisdiction, and man can neither make it spring nor grow. Notice, then, that we can sow. Any man who has received the knowledge of the grace of God in his heart can teach others. We need never quarrel with God because we cannot do everything, if He only permits us to do this one thing; for sowing the good seed is a work which will need all our wit, our strength, our love, our care. Still, wise sowers discover favourable opportunities for sowing, and gladly seize upon them. This seed should be sown often, for many are the foes of the wheat, and if you repeat not your sowing you may never see a harvest. The seed must be sown everywhere, too, for there are no choice corners of the world that you can afford to let alone, in the hope that they will he self-productive. You may not leave the rich and intelligent under the notion that surely the gospel will be found among them, for it is not so: the pride of life leads them away from God. You may not leave the poor and illiterate, and say, "Surely they will of themselves feel their need of Christ." I have heard that Captain Cook, the celebrated circumnavigator, in whatever part of the earth he landed, took with him a little packet of English seeds, and scattered them in suitable places. He mould leave the boat and wander up from the shore. He said nothing, but quietly scattered the seeds wherever he went, so that he belted the world with the flowers and herbs of his native land. Imitate him wherever you go; sow spiritual seed in every place that your foot shall tread upon. Let us now think of what you cannot do. You cannot, after the seed has left your hand, cause it to put forth life. I am sure you cannot make it grow, for you do not know how it grows. The text saith, "And the seed should spring and grow up, he knoweth not how." That which is beyond the range of our knowledge is certainly beyond the reach of our power. Can you make a seed germinate? Certainly this is true of the rise and progress of the life of God in the heart. It enters the soul and roots itself we know not how. Naturally men hate the Word, but it enters and it changes their hearts, so that they come to love it; yet we know not how. Their whole nature is renewed, so that instead of producing sin it yields repentance, faith, and love; but we know not how. How the Spirit of God deals with the mind of man, how He creates the new heart and the right spirit, how we are begotten again unto a lively hope, we cannot tell.
II. Our second head is like unto the first, and consists of WHAT WE CAN KNOW AND WHAT WE CANNOT KNOW. First, what we can know. We can know when we have sown the good seed of the Word that it will grow; for God has promised that it shall do so. Moreover, the earth, which is here the type of the man, "bringeth forth fruit of herself." We must mind what we are at in expounding this, for human hearts do not produce faith of themselves; they are as hard rock on which the seed perishes. But it means this — that as the earth under the blessing of the dew and the rain is, by God's secret working upon it, made to take up and embrace the seed, so the heart of man is made ready to receive and enfold the gospel of Jesus Christ within itself. Man's awakened heart wants exactly what the Word of God supplies. Moved by a divine influence the soul embraces the truth, and is embraced by it, and so the truth lives in the heart, and is quickened by it. Man's love accepts the love of God; man's faith wrought in him by the Spirit of God believes the truth of God; man's hope wrought in him by the Holy Ghost lays hold upon the things revealed, and so the heavenly seed grows in the soil of the soul. The life comes not from you who preach the Word, but it is placed within the Word which you preach by the Holy Spirit. The life is not in your hand, but in the heart which is led to take hold upon the truth by the Spirit of God. Salvation comes not from the personal authority of the preacher, but through the personal conviction, personal faith, and personal love of the hearer. So much as this we may know, and is it not enough for all practical purposes? Still, there is a something which we cannot know, a secret into which we cannot pry. I repeat what I have said before: you cannot look into men's inward parts and see exactly how the truth takes hold upon the heart, or the heart takes hold upon the truth. Many have watched their own feelings till they have become blind with despondency, and others have watched the feelings of the young till they have done them rather harm than good by their rigorous supervision. In God's work there is more room for faith than for sight. The heavenly seed grows secretly.
III. Thirdly, our text tells us WHAT WE MAY EXPECT IF WE WORK FOR GOD AND WHAT WE MAY NOT EXPECT. According to this parable we may expect to see fruit. But we may not expect to see all the seed which we sow spring up the moment we sow it. We are also to expect to see the good seed grow, but not always after our fashion. Like children we are apt to be impatient. Your little boy sowed mustard and cress yesterday in his garden. This afternoon Johnny will be turning over the ground to see if the seed is growing. There is no probability that his mustard and cress will come to anything, for he will not let it alone long enough for it to grow. So is it with hasty workers; they must see the result of the gospel directly, or else they distrust the blessed Word. Certain preachers are in such a hurry that they will allow no time for thought, no space for counting the cost, no opportunity for men to consider their ways and turn to the Lord with fall purpose of heart. All other seeds take time to grow, but the seed of the Word must grow before the speaker's eyes like magic, or he thinks nothing has been done. Such good brethren are so eager to produce blade and ear there and then, that they roast their seed in the fire of fanaticism, and it perishes. We may expect also to see the seed ripen. Our works will by God's grace lead up to real faith in those He hath wrought upon by his Word and Spirit; but we must not expect to see it perfect at first. How many mistakes have been made here. Here is a young person under impression, and some good, sound brother talks with the trembling beginner, and asks profound questions. He shakes his experienced head, and knits his furrowed brows. He goes into the cornfield to see how the crops are prospering, and though it is early in the year, he laments that he cannot see an ear of corn; indeed, he perceives nothing but mere grass. "I cannot see a trace of corn," says he. No, brother, of course you cannot; for you will not be satisfied with the blade as an evidence of life, but must insist upon seeing everything at full growth at once. If you had looked for the blade you would have found it; and it would have encouraged you. For my own part, I am glad even to perceive a faint desire, a feeble longing, a degree of uneasiness, or a measure of weariness of sin, or a craving after mercy. Will it not be wise for you, also, to allow things to begin at the beginning, and to be satisfied with their being small at the first? See the blade of desire, and then watch for more. Soon you shall see a little more than desire; for there shall be conviction and resolve, and after that a feeble faith, small as a mustard seed, but bound to grow. Do not despise the day of small things.
IV. Under the last head we shall consider WHAT SLEEP WORKERS MAY TAKE AND WHAT THEY MAY NOT TAKE; for it is said of this sowing man, that he sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed springs and grows up he knoweth not how. But how may a good workman for Christ lawfully go to sleep? I answer, first, he may sleep the sleep of restfulness born of confidence. Also take that sleep of joyful expectancy which leads to a happy waking. Take your rest because you have consciously resigned your work into God's hands. But do not sleep the sleep of unwatchfulness. A farmer sows his seed, but he does not therefore forget it.
(C. H. Spurgeon.)
I. IN THE AGRICULTURAL PROCESS THERE IS MUCH THAT IS LEFT TO BE DONE BY NATURE AND IN A WAY THAT THE WORKMAN KNOWETH NOT HOW; NOR IS IT AT ALL NECESSARY THAT HE SHOULD. He puts forth his hand and sets a mechanism ageing — the principles of which he, with his head, is wholly unable to comprehend. The doing of his part is indispensable, but his knowledge of the way in which Nature doeth her part is not indispensable. Now, it is even so in the work of spiritual husbandry. There is an obvious part of it that is done by the agency of man; and there is a hidden part of it which is independent of that agency. What more settled and reposing than the faith which a husbandman has in the constancy of Nature. He knows not how it is; but, on the strength of a gross and general experience, he knows that so it is. And it were well in a Christian teacher to imitate this confidence. There is in it both the wisdom of experience and the sublime wisdom of piety. But, again, it is the work of the husbandman to cast the seed into the ground. It is not his work to manufacture the seed. This were wholly above him and beyond him. In like manner, to excogitate and to systematize the truths which we are afterwards to deposit in the minds of those who are submitted to our instruction, were a task beyond the faculties of man. These truths, therefore, are provided to his hand. What his eye could not see, nor his ear hear, has been brought within his reach by a communication from heaven; and to him nothing is left but a simple acquiescence in his Bible, and a faithful exposition of it. Our writers upon education may have done something. They may have scattered a few superficial elegancies over the face of society, and taught the lovely daughters of accomplishment how to walk in gracefulness their little hour over a paltry and perishable scene. But it is only in as far as they deal in the truths and lessons of the Bible that they rear any plants for heaven, or can carry forward a single pupil to the bloom and the vigour of immortality. And as we have not to manufacture a seed for the operations of our spiritual husbandry, so neither have we to mend it. It is not fit that the wisdom of God should thus be intermeddled with by the wisdom of man. But again — we do not lose sight of the analogy which there is between the work of a spiritual and that of a natural husbandman — when, after having affirmed the indispensableness of casting into the ground of the human heart the pure and the simple Word, we further affirm the indispensableness and the efficacy of prayer. Even after that, in the business of agriculture, man hath performed his handiwork by depositing the seed in the earth — he should acknowledge the handiwork of God, in those high and hidden processes, whether of the atmosphere above or of the vegetable kingdom below, which he can neither control nor comprehend. By the work of diligence which he does with his hand, he fulfils man's parts of the operation. By the prayer of dependence which arises from his heart, he does homage and recognition to God's part of it. And we are not to imagine that prayer is without effect, even in the processes of the natural economy. The same God who framed and who organized our great mundane system has never so left it to the play and the impulses of its own mechanism as to have resigned even for one moment that mastery over it which belongs to Him; but He knows when to give that mysterious touch, by which He both answers prayer, and disturbs not the harmony of the universe which He has formed. It is when man aspires upwards after fellowship with God, and looks and longs for the communications of light and of power from the sanctuary — it is then that God looks with loudest complacency upon man, and lets willingly downward all the treasures of grace upon his soul. It is said of Elijah that, when he prayed, the heaven gave rain and the earth brought forth her fruit.
II. We now come to the second thing proposed, which was to show HOW SOME OF WHAT MAY BE CALLED THE LARGER OPERATIONS OF CHRISTIAN PHILANTHROPY ADMIT OF A CERTAIN MEASURE OF LIGHT BEING THROWN UPON THEM BY THE COMPARISON MADE IN THIS PARABLE BETWEEN THE WORK OF A CHRISTIAN TEACHER AND THE WORK OF A HUSBANDMAN. And first, it may evince to us the efficacy of that Christian teaching, which is sometimes undertaken by men in humble life and of the most ordinary scholarship. Let them have but understanding enough for the great and obvious simplicities of the Bible, and let them have grace enough for devout and depending prayer; and, on the strength of these two properties, they are both wise unto salvation for themselves, and may become the instruments of winning the souls of others also. It is well for the families of our land that the lessons of eternity can fall with effect even from the lips of the cottage patriarch. But this brings us to the last of those analogies between the natural and the spiritual husbandry which we shall at present be able to overtake — an analogy not certainly suggested by the text, but still close enough for the illustration of all which we can now afford to say in defence of those parochial establishments which have done so much, we think, both for the Christianity and the scholarship of our people. A territorial division of the country into parishes, each of which is assigned to at least one minister as the distinct and definite field of his spiritual cultivation — this we have long thought does for Christianity what is often done in agriculture by a system of irrigation. You are aware what is meant by this. Its use is for the conveyance and the distribution of water, that indispensable aliment to all vegetation over the surface of the land. It is thus, for example, that by the establishment of duets of conveyance the waters of the Nile are made to overspread the farms of Egypt — the country through which it passes. This irrigation, you will observe, does not supply the water. It only conveys it. It does not bring down the liquid nourishment from heaven. It only spreads it abroad upon the earth. Were there no descent of water from above, causing the river to overflow its banks, there is nothing in the irrigation, with its then dry and deserted furrows, which could avail the earth that is below. On the other hand, were there no irrigation, many would be the tracts of country that should have no agriculture and could bang no produce. Let not, therefore, our dependence on the Spirit lead us to despise the machinery of a territorial establishment, and neither let our confidence in machinery lead us to neglect prayer for the descent of living water from on high.
(J. Vaughan, M. A.)1. God does His work silently.
2. God does His work slowly.
3. God does His work surely Underneath all apparent disasters His kingdom comes.
I. In expounding this parable observe that this law of God supposes HUMAN EFFORT.
II. It supposes HUMAN CONFIDENCE quite as much as human effort.
(W. G. Barrett.)I. God carries on His work of grace by THE INSTRUMENTALITY OF MEN — "As if a man should cast seed."
II. This work of grace is often for some time UNPERCEIVED. Thus the seed of Divine grace sown in the heart is frequently there when not discerned. It is often concealed owing to the gradual and imperceptible manner in which it is produced; by the privacy of a man's situation, and because of the natural timidity of his temper. It should excite the prayer, "Let Thy work appear unto Thy servant," etc.
III. Where this work of grace exists it must sooner or later APPEAR — "Springeth and groweth up."
IV. It is GRADUAL in its growth — "First the blade," etc. For some time knowledge, faith, love, hope, joy, are small and feeble. But gradually the believer gathers strength. He grows in knowledge and hatred of sin. But let not the weakest be discouraged; the tenderness of Jesus is a strong consolation.
V. The work of grace is BENEFICIAL IN ITS PRESENT EFFECTS — "When the fruit is brought forth." The fruit of piety towards God and of usefulness to men.
VI. This work of grace is glorious in its FINAL RESULT — "Immediately he putteth in the sickle, because the harvest is come." The gathering of saints to heaven is God's harvest. The value which God attaches to His own people, and the tender care which He exercises over them. When this work is done they are gathered into heaven.
1. Has the Word of God been sown in your hearts? You have it in your Bibles, but have you received it?
2. You that seem to receive the Word, what evidence have you of its growth?
3. What prospect have you of this glorious result?
(T. Kidd.)1. The law of growth is one of the necessary laws of life. All life must be actually growing.
2. That growth in Christian life involves change. Our views of God may be expected to change and grow; of the relationship between God and Christ; of the relative importance and the proportions of different doctrines; our views of God's Word will change. But as these changes pass over the growing Christian he is often greatly distressed. Be humble, but do not fear. Some of the changes incident to Christian growth will affect our views, of religious duties and the religious life. As we grow we form a different estimate of the active and passive, of the working and waiting.
(R. Tuck, B. A.)
(R. Tuck, B. A.)
(H. W. Beecher.)
(H. W. Beecher.)vised. We were all of us hurried out suspiciously, as if we were contrabands. Then we went over, and I knew I was in Austria. But in America you can go from one State to another, as there is no Custom House, thank God, on the lines; as there are no passports required; as there is nothing to interrupt the journey. You glide into the State of New York from Connecticut, from New York into Pennsylvania, and from Pennsylvania into Ohio, and you do not think you have made any change in the State, though you have really. You bring a person up in Christian nurture, and in the admonition of the Lord, in the household, and he is gaining more light; he is adapting the light which he has; and he comes into that state of mind in which all he wants in order to realize that he is a Christian is to wake up into consciousness.
(H. W. Beecher.)
(Josiah D. Smith.)
(J. Wells, M. A.)
(F. W. Robertson.)
(F. W. Robertson.)
(F. W. Robertson.)
(F. W. Robertson.)
(F. W. Robertson.)
(A. B. Bruce, D. D.)
(H. W. Beecher.)I. In the first place, we shall see that we ought never to be discouraged in a true Christian work, of whatever kind, by what seems a slow growth.
II. We may see that we are never to be discouraged in our efforts for Christ's kingdom by adverse circumstances; nor by any unexpected combination of these, and their prolonged operation.
III. Let us remember that good influences are linked to good issues in this world, as the seed to its fruitage; and that so every effort for the good of mankind, through the kingdom of Christ, shall have its meet result.
IV. Let us remember, too, as a thing which illustrates all the rest, that God is within and behind all forces that tend to enlarge and perfect His kingdom, as He is beneath the physical forces which bring harvest in its season, and set on the springing seed its coronal. He never forsakes a true work for Himself, and is certain to carry it to ultimate success.
V. Let us remember what the glory of the harvest shall be in this developing kingdom of God; and in view of that let us constantly labour with more than fidelity, with an eager enthusiasm that surpasses all obstacles, makes duty a privilege, and transmutes toil into joy!
(R. S. Storrs, D. D.)Mark 4:26-29 is fitly styled, "The parable of the seed growing secretly." Again: Not the least wonderful of the phenomena of plant growth is this: it is, at least apparently, automatic. "The earth yieldeth fruit of herself." It is the echo of the divine dixit on the third day of the creative week: "Let the earth bring forth plants; and the earth brought forth plants." Not that the soil is the source of vegetation — it is only the sphere of vegetation; not that the soil is the sire of the plant — it is only, so to speak, the matrix of the plant. Nevertheless, so far as appearances go, it does seem as though the soil were a thing of life, bringing forth fruit of herself. There lies the seed buried in the ground. It needs no one to come and touch its pent-up potentialities. It springs up independently of man. True, it is for man to plant the seed, and supply conditions of growth. But it is not for man to cause the seed to germinate or to fructify. The process, so far as man is concerned, is strictly automatic. Verily, the plant does seem to be a living person, self-conscious and self-regulating. But the processes of vegetation are not only mysterious and automatic, they are also gradual. The kernel does not become the full corn in the ear in an instant. In the case of cereals, months intervene between the sowing and the reaping; in the case of fruit trees, years intervene between the planting and the gathering. Nature, at least in the sphere of life and growth, does nothing by leaps. The processes of vegetation are also as orderly as they are gradual. They follow each other in due and regular succession: first the blade, then the ear, then the full corn in the car. The kernel does not become the plump golden corn except by way of the blade. And all these processes issue in fruit. The harvest is but the unfolded seed, unfolding in orderly succession along the axis of growth; and the axis has as its purpose fruit. It is the very nature of the growth, the very law of the seed, to unfold and culminate in crop. And now our farmer comes again into view. Having sown the seed, he went away, confidently leaving it to its own inherent forces. But now that the fruit has ripened, he reappears, and, putting in his sickle, he shouts: "Harvest home!" Such is the parable of the unfolding seed. And now let us ponder the meaning of the parable. In other words, let us trace some of the analogies between the unfolding seed and the unfolding kingdom of God and Christianity.
I. The growth of Christianity is MYSTERIOUS. As the seed springs up and grows, we know not how, so it is with the kingdom of God. Take, for example, the very beginning of Christianity, the miraculous conception in Nazareth. Who is there that can understand it? Incomparably more mysterious is it than the germination of any seed. Or take the problem of the growth of Christianity — I mean the genuine, original Christianity, truth as it is in Jesus. Once, like a grain of mustard seed, it was the smallest of seeds; but now it has become the largest of herbs, overshadowing with its blessed canopy that tallest portion of the world which we fondly call Christendom. But how came it thus to spread? Because the doctrine of the cross has been preached. And the doctrine of the cross is to the wise men of this world, in an eminent sense, foolishness. Who will explain this mystery, namely, that the foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of man, the weakness of God stronger than the strength of men? How elaborately the solution of this problem has been undertaken, and how wretched the failure, is strikingly seen in the famous fifteenth chapter of Gibbon's "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire." Or take the growth of Christianity in the case of any individual soul. How secret and underground is the process! How subtle the workings of the Divine life within! The Christian is a mystery even to himself. His life is a life hid with Christ in God.
II. Again: As THE SEED GROWS AUTOMATICALLY, the earth yielding fruit of herself, SO GROWS THE KINGDOM OF GOD. Christianity is in its own inherent nature self-vital and self-evolving. See how like a thing of life it is. Behold its wondrously absorbing power, subsidizing to its own purposes, and assimilating into its own growing structure, whatever there is of worth in learning, or wealth or influence, or statesmanship, or sect, or providences.
III. The kingdom of God, like the seed which GROWS GRADUALLY, stage by stage, does not burst forth full-grown, like panoplied Minerva from the cloven brow of Jove. See how slow has been the growth of Christendom, taken as a matter of geography. Nearly two millenniums have rolled away since the heavenly Sower declared that His field was the world; and yet by far the larger part of that field is still heathen, never as yet sown with the heavenly seed. Again: See how gradual has been the growth in respect to the moral character of Christendom. More than eighteen centuries have swept away since the Lord of the kingdom pronounced His Beatitudes, and yet there are still in His Church the proud, and the censorious, and the avaricious, and the quarrelsome, and the revengeful. Nevertheless, for let us be just, there has been real growth. We have seen idolatry shaken, slavery abolished, intemperance checked, monopoly curbed, woman emancipated, brotherhood asserted, war preparing to go into perpetual exile. But how tedious has been the growth. In like manner, how slow is the growth in the case of each individual Christian. How slow this unfolding along the axis of Christ's character! In this is seen the immense advantage of early piety, for it takes a long, long time to unfold into the full-grown man, even the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.
IV. Just as the seed does not leap instantly or whimsically into the fruit, but unfolds itself in ORDERLY SUCCESSION — first the tender blade, then the swelling ear, then the ripe grain in the ear — so it is with the seed of the kingdom, or God's truth. This is true in respect to doctrine. First , the exponent of the doctrine of Christ; then , the exponent of the doctrine of Man; then Anselm, the exponent of the doctrine of Grace; then Luther, the exponent of the doctrine of Faith; even faith in that Divine Christ whose grace saves sinful man. Nor has the growth, or advancing order of due succession, ceased. The problem of this present age is the doctrine of the Church, or what constitutes the true body of Christ. And even now we see faint glimmers of the final doctrine — the parousia, or the doctrine of last things. And all this is in due succession; advancing from the Christ who saves to the heaven which is the issue of His saving. And this law of orderly unfolding is equally true in respect to personal character. Do not be so unphilosophical, then, as to look for the full-bearded grain of saintliness preceding the blade of youthful piety; the ripe fruits of the Spirit clustered around the subterranean root. First little children; then young men; then fathers. But there is one more likeness of the kingdom of God to the seed.
V. As the unfolding seed has FRUIT FOR ITS ISSUE, so it is with the seed of the kingdom, or truth as it is in Jesus. When the fruit is ripe, straightway he putteth forth the sickle, because the harvest is come. Christianity means something more than sowing: it also means reaping. Do not be over-anxious. Christian responsibility does have its limits. Beware of Uzziah's sin of distrust. Plant faithfully the seed, and then go trustfully away.
(G. D. Boardman, D. D.)
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