1 Corinthians 3:9
For we are laborers together with God: you are God's husbandry, you are God's building.
I. THE FIRST CONDITION OF THE SOIL — its wilderness condition — IS NOT WITHOUT GROWTHS. It is overgrown with forests, choked with underbush, and cumbered with falling and decaying materials. The sun is always hidden from its interior. It is apt to be a lair of beasts. This is certainly the state of the human soil before religious culture is applied to it. Men are in a state of wilderness in the beginning.
II. THE FIRST STEP OF HUSBANDRY IS TO RELIEVE THE SOIL OF THESE WILD GROWTHS, AND PREPARE IT FOR TILLAGE. The trees are felled and burned, so that the ground may be disencumbered and laid open to the sun. But some, for expedition, are only girdled. All connection between the sap at the roots and the top is severed by a line of sharp cuts around the trees; and so girdled, they will stand for a while, but they will never leaf again; so that, little by little, more and more ground is susceptible to the plough. The first work of religion is analogous to this. Many of the things which men practise in an unregenerate state are, by the power of God's grace at their conversion, cut down peremptorily and taken out of the way. But there are a great many things which are only girdled, and only little by little brought to the ground.
III. When this preliminary process is complete, the pioneer farmer is ready for THE NEXT STAGE, which IS THAT OF SEED-PLANTING. It is not smooth sward that the plough is now to turn; but rough soil, full of the green stumps of trees but just disappeared. And, worse than this, roots are matted all over the ground; but the ground is, at any rate, open to the sun, and every year and every ploughing will rip up and throw out some of these roots. And so it is with men. Their first efforts at goodness are very crooked and shallow. When men first begin to let go the lower forms of wickedness, and to sow the higher seeds of virtue, it is often like the sudden taking away of the forest, and the laying open of the soil to the sun. The first crops are very unsatisfactory; yet these incipient mistakes must be taken, if you are going to have a good farm by and by.
IV. HAVING GOT THUS FAR THE HOME-LOT IS CLEARED. The stones are cleared away, the stumps rooted out, and the ground fenced round where his house is to be. Then he gives the ground a more thorough farming, and so the house-lot is got into a better condition. So men usually begin to smooth down those traits of their character which lie next to themselves, as it were, and which are in the family. Then one and another habit is attacked, and trait after trait is added. And so they enlarge, more and more, every year, their husbandry.
V. Hitherto the farmer has only sown the grains and roots absolutely needed for sustenance; but NOW A GARDEN AND ORCHARD ARE PLANTED. And so in spiritual life. At first it is a tough, hard fight for life. By and by times of richer gladness come — more liberty, more hope. Prayer grows out of duty into pleasure. God's Word opens, and Christians walk amid beds of flowers. Clusters of fruit are gathered — richer experiences — the fruits of the Spirit.
VI. EVENTUALLY IT IS RESOLVED UPON TO BRING IN EVERY ACRE. All outlying lots are to be cleared. So, eminently, is it with advancing Christians. After a time many men experience a second conversion, as it seems to them. They are aroused to a sense of the largeness and symmetry of Christian character. And their purpose is to subdue every thought and every feeling to the will of God.
VII. THE FARMER, AS HIS LAST STEP, APPLIES TO HIS SOIL, THUS BROUGHT FORWARD, THE MOST SCIENTIFIC METHODS OF ASCERTAINED HUSBANDRY. He underdrains deep the whole estate; and when all those stagnant pools and chilling springs that deluge the roots of tender-growing plants are carried away, then he subsoils. He puts down the plough as far as iron can go, and mellows the soil and the subsoil down deep in the earth. Then he begins to select better herbs than before. And just so it is with Christians. As they grow in grace, and as God, the great Husbandman, perfects the work of clearing up and bringing into a condition of complete tillage the human heart, the religious feelings grow deeper. Many of those causes which obstructed their growth are now drained and carried off from the soul. Men give themselves more thorough religious cultivation. And the later periods of Christian experience are by far the most assiduous and the most faithful Conclusions: Note —
1. Some practical lessons we may perceive from what has been said.
(1) The difference between instantaneous beginnings and gradual developments. No man ever suddenly cleared up forty acres of land. A man may and does begin suddenly, but the doing requires a long period. And so no man ever began to be a Christian without an instantaneous volition; but the mere volition is only a beginning. The evolution of Christian character is gradual.
(2) The meaning of succession in Christian experience. We know that in husbandry, until some things are done, other things cannot be reached. And so there must be an order of development in Christian life. We cannot anticipate those graces which come only after the ripening of preceding graces. Graces grow just as grains do; first the sprouting under the ground, &c.
(3) That the hardest part in both kinds of husbandry is apt to come at the beginning; but that, if well met then, it grows easier and easier every successive year. How hard was it at first to bring the soil to such a state that you dared to think "plough!" and how hard is it for a man at first to bring himself into such a state that he dares to think "prayer!" How many men who would like to be able to get their graces just as they can get an old, well-cultivated farm; but, though you can do that in natural husbandry, you cannot do it in spiritual husbandry.
2. The various kinds of spiritual husbandmen and husbandry.
(1) There are shiftless and lazy farmers who raise just enough grain to keep them through the year. That is all they ask, and therefore they have no ambition to seek for more. And how many men there are who, after having been in the Church ten or twenty years, are just about where they were when they first entered it!
(2) Scheming, changeable farmers who, instead of laying out their strength upon well-ascertained processes, are bewitched with new schemes and experiments. And there are just such spiritual farmers. One is running after new promises, another after a new faith, and another after new solutions of miracles. One has got a new doctrine, another some new idea of Church organisation, and another some new way of putting this or that religious truth. They see their old farms left untilled.
(3) Pedigree farmers, whose fruit bears the highest-sounding names, but is the poorest in the neighbourhood. Their oxen are lean, their cows are milkless, but what a line of blood they sprung from! Did you never see just such husbandmen in the Church? — men who had no greater morality, or piety, or spiritual experience, but who went back through a long pedigree.
(4) Chaff farmers. Suppose you should find a farmer who said that he was satisfied that farmers had been doing injustice to many kinds of seeds; and that he felt assured that if a man would sow cockle-seeds; and do it sincerely, God would give the increase: so He would — of cockles. Suppose a man should sow that detestable Canada thistle, and say that it was wheat. Would any amount of botanical sincerity on the part of this fool secure to him a harvest of anything better than the seed sown? Now a great many persons say, "Why do you teach us such doctrines? What matter is it whether we believe in the Bible or not, so that we live about right, or that we are sincere? Is not that enough?" No, it is not enough. There is the same connection between spiritual seed and the result. Sincerity is a very good thing, but it cannot make grain out of chaff; neither can it make Christian graces out of worldly affections and worldly estates.
(5) Fence farmers. What would you think of a husbandman who neglected everything because he was giving his whole time to the building of his fences? And, oh, such fences! The best and highest that could be built. Oftentimes, when he has got them all built up, he goes to work and pulls them down again. And what for? Why, just so that he can build them up again! And did you never hear of spiritual husbandmen that were for ever defining the great points of doctrine; for ever running boundaries round the kingdom of God; rebuilding the middle walls of partition, but never sowing and never reaping? There never was a fence that would keep vermin out of a man's farm, nor a fence that would keep hawks off from it. The best thing a farmer can do is to take such care of his soil as to have a harvest so rich that he will be able to spare a little to vermin and birds. The only safe way is to have so much spiritual culture in the Church that such minor troubles make little difference with its prosperity.
(6) Nimrod farmers — hunting farmers. There are in the Church heresy-hunters. They are searching for foxes, and wolves, and bears, that they suppose are lying waste God's husbandry! They never do anything except fire at other folks. I have no doubt that Nimrod was a very good fellow in his own poor, miserable way; but a Nimrod minister is the meanest of all sorts of hunters!
(H. W. Beecher.)
Parallel VersesKJV: For we are labourers together with God: ye are God's husbandry, ye are God's building.