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