And he said, So is the kingdom of God, as if a man should cast seed into the ground;…
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.
Parallel VersesKJV: And he said, So is the kingdom of God, as if a man should cast seed into the ground;