“So is the kingdom of God, as if a man should cast seed into the ground; and should sleep, and rise night and day, and the seed should spring and grow up, he knoweth not how.” (Mark 4:25,27).
To sow heavenly seed means to give way to Him in the promptings that are sure to come as soon as He finds us broken enough for Him to be able to send them. It is a direct passing on of that which comes to us from God, stripped of all self-effort:the message spoken “not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth”: the work done “striving according to His working which worketh in us mightily”: the prayer that knows not what it should pray for as it ought, and yields itself to His “intercession for us with groanings that cannot be uttered.” These are the things which, small as they are in this world’s count, have the very pulse of eternity beating through them. Nothing but that which He inspires can carry quickening power: no experience – no spirituality even, can set the spark alight. It is not the seed-vessel that can do the work, any more than a bit of leaf-stalk or flower petal, but simply and only the seed. “It is the Spirit that quickeneth.” “I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life.” Hallelujah!
Let us watch the seed-shedding, and see what it can teach us about sowing to the Spirit.
There is a definite moment at which the seed is ripe for being liberated – that is the first thing we notice: and at that moment it is absolutely ready for its work.
The storing of the nourishment for the young plant began on the very day when the new life entered the flower long ago, and it is finished now. All prepared too are the hooks, or spikes, or gummy secretions, needed to anchor it to the ground, and so to give a purchase to the embryo shoot when the time comes for it to heave its tombstone and come out to the light. Even its centre of gravity is so adjusted that, in falling from the sheath, the germ is in the very best position for its future growth. If it is torn out of the husk a day too soon, all this marvellous preparation will be wasted and come to nothing.
Can we not read our parable? How often we have had an impulse or a plan which we knew to be of God, with a flash of intuition, or with a gathering certainty: and the temptation has come to carry it straight off by ourselves, without waiting His time – the very temptation that beset the Master in the wilderness.
Oh! let us learn of Him the lesson of letting God’s seed-purposes ripen! – they can bear no fruit till they have come to their maturity: we shall but waste all He was preparing if we drag it out before its time. And only in a path in which we are learning to do nothing of ourselves but what we see the Father do, can we know when His hour is come. How accurately Jesus knew it! “I go not up yet unto this feast, for My time is not yet full come,” He said to His brethren – and yet in a day or two He was there. “Mine hour is not yet come,” He said to His mother, when it was only a question of minutes. And by what marvellous insight He recognised the dawning of that final “hour” when He was asked for by those nameless Greeks – a hint of the ingathering of the travail of His soul! God can give us the same Divine instinct, when He has weaned us from our natural energy and impatience. And when His hour has struck, the whole powers of the world to come will be set free in the tiny helpless seed. “One day is with the Lord as a thousand years.” He is a God worth waiting for!
And there is another thing closely linked with this patience in the seed-shedding. As we watch it going on in nature, we see how it is all done in cooperation with the forces at work outside itself. The wind knocks off and tosses away the dainty shuttlecocks of the scabious as they ripen one by one, and the pods wait for the hot touch of the sun to split them with the sudden contracting twist that sends the grains flying, like stones from a sling…
And the restfulness of waiting God’s hour for seed-shedding deepens as we learn to recognise the outward dealings of the Spirit as well as the inward, and watch the marked way in which He cooperates with the setting free of every seed as it ripens – how He brings across our path the soul who needs the very lesson He has just been teaching us – how the chance comes with perfect naturalness of reaching another over whom we have been longing. If our eyes are up, and our hands are off – if we learn to “wait on our ministering” like the seeds, in utter dependence on Him, we shall be able constantly to trace the Lord’s working with us, and we shall have done with all the old restless striving to make opportunities – “We are labourers together with God.”
Yes, it all centres round that question of quietness. “Opportunity” is given to every seed in its turn, as they lie in their layers in the capsule, or side by side in the pod. Not one forces its way forward, or gets in the way of another. Look at the exquisite fitting in any seed-vessel that you pull to pieces: the seeds are as close as they will go, but fenced off from crowding on each other and hindering each other’s growth. He who packed them can be trusted, surely, with the arranging of our lives, that nothing may jostle in them, and nothing be wasted, for we are “of more value” to Him than these. If our days are a constant rush and hurry, week in and week out, there is grave reason to doubt if it is all God-given seed that we are scattering. He will give us no more to do than can be done with our spirits kept quiet and ready and free before Him.
Quiet and ready and free – that is another lesson that the seeds teach us. Off they go at a touch, at the moment when the inward preparedness and the outward opportunity coalesce. See the tiny corkscrews of the pink geranium in our meadow (a miniature of its blue brother the cranesbill). Look at the poise of them – and then at the sheaf of spears of this bit of grass, holding themselves freer still, and the downy head alongside, equally ready either to hold together or to fly with a breath … and then look at our lives and see whether that is their attitude towards the Holy Ghost. Is there a soul poise that corresponds?
Oh! the pains that God has to take to bring us to this happy, childlike “abandon,” equally ready for silence, or for saying or doing unhesitatingly the next thing He calls for, unfettered by surroundings or consequences. How much reserve and self-consciousness have to give way with some of us, before the absolute control passes into His Hands, and the responsibility with it! Then only can we know the “liberty,” the “boldness,” the “utterance” of Pentecost. “Whithersoever the Spirit was to go they went, thither was their spirit to go:” that is “the perfect law of liberty.”
Yes, and that brings us a step further in the teachings of the seed-shedding. Off they go now, “every one straight forward” – off and onward to the place appointed. Look at the golden plough of the wild oat, with every spike and hair so set that it slips forwards and will not be pushed backwards. Look at the hooks and the barbs that cling to anything and everything that passes by if only they can carry their seed away and away. Look at the balls and the wheels that roll before the wind, and the parachutes and baby shuttlecocks that sail upon it: they all have a passion for getting far off, and they only show us a few of the numberless devices by which the same end is reached in plants of all lands.
Do you know why they want to scatter? It is because God planned the rotation of crops, long before it ever entered a farmer’s brain! Around the parent stem the sod is exhausted of the chemical elements that were used in building it up, and if the seeds all fell straight down there, they could not reach their full development; so they have all these devices for travelling far away, where in supplying the needs of the barren places, their own are met. It was even so with Jesus, God’s “Corn of Wheat”: did He not need this needy world to bring out His love and power? Are not our empty hearts now “the riches of His inheritance”?
And the Christ-life in us, developed and set free, will go by its very nature reaching out and spending itself wherever there is want, in love and longing for the bare places and the far-off. The Spirit will carry our hearts and sympathies and prayers away and beyond the tiny circle around us, of our personal interests and our own work, into fellowship with the Father about the world He loves – fellowship with the Son over the Church for which He gave Himself: “not seeking our own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved!” Perhaps He will carry us away our very selves, to some waste corner!
“He that soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly, and he that soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully. Let each man do according as he had purposed in his heart; not grudgingly, or of necessity, for God loveth a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound unto you; that ye, having always all sufficiency in everything, may abound unto every good work: as it is written, He hath scattered abroad, He hath given to the poor; His righteousness abideth for ever. And He that supplieth seed to the sower and bread for food, shall supply and multiply your seed for sowing, and increase the fruits of your righteousness: ye being enriched in everything unto all liberality, which worketh through us thanksgiving to God” (R.V).
And as part of the enriching in everything unto all liberality, God can give us all the ingenuity of love in scattering broad-cast Spirit-filled, Spirit-sent seed that He has figured in the seed-vessels – the heaven-given inspiration as to how to lay out His treasures to their uttermost – how to secure to Him the highest return out of our lives, as they do.
Yes, the “return” is to Him, as again we see in parable with the plants. They show us a love that seeketh not her own: no one knows whence the seeds come when they reach their journey’s end: no glory can possibly gather round the plants that surrendered their lives to form and shed them. They just give and give, with no aim but to be bare footstalks when all is done. Everything is loosened and spent without a shade of calculation or self-interest.
“Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto Thy name give glory,” they are all saying in spirit: they teach us absolute indifference as to whether our service is appreciated or even recognised, so long as the work is done and the Lord is glorified. The plant itself asks for nothing to keep, nothing to show, nothing to glory in from its whole life toil.
Nothing to glory in – God cannot get His whole glory while man gets any. That seems a truism, but do we realise the fact? “Herein is My Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit.” If that is our one aim, as it was in the soul of Jesus, it is bound to be realised. Let Him work this in us too – this simple, absolute, absorbing passion of His years on earth.
And then we shall have, as He had, that independence of visible results that we have just seen in the plants. He left the world – this one world out of His mighty universe in which God had come to dwell – with no more to be seen from His travail than a few hundred brethren, every one of whom had forsaken Him only six weeks before, and of whom but a hundred and twenty had enough purpose of heart to follow on to Pentecost. And still He could say, “Yet surely My judgment is with the Lord, and My work with My God.” And though Israel was “not gathered,” He was “glorious in the eyes of the Lord” and “made His salvation to the ends of the earth.” For it was life that had been sown.
So no matter, if we never see the full up-springing on earth of the Spirit-seed scattered. It is all the more likely that God may trust us with a great multiplying if our faith does not need to witness it. He can grant us spiritual harvests out of sight, of which He only gains the glory. In “the things which Christ hath… wrought by us… by the power of the Spirit of God” there is a multiplying energy that can reach, not single souls only, but other souls through them: a Holy Ghost touch that can fire trains, so to speak, far reaching beyond the sphere of what we see or know.
Such is the power of multiplication in the earthly seeds that it needs a constant battle, and the survival of the fittest, to keep us from being overrun with one and another. The henbane, for instance (by no means the most prolific) would, they say, if every seed had its way every year for five years, produce from a single plant ten thousand billions – enough to cover the whole area of the dry land of the world, allowing seventy-three plants to the square metre. (Natural History of Plants” – Kerner and Oliver.) Perhaps God permits the seeming waste of such an overwhelming proportion of the seed formed, to show us the Fountain of Life that there is in Him; and to teach us that there is no straitening in the Spirit of the Lord. “There is no limit” (as someone has said) “to what God can do with a man, provided he will not touch the glory.”
And God’s possibilities for these germs of Spirit-life are not bound by time. Jesus is drawing so near that already our thoughts and hopes begin to step over the shrinking foreground of “the present age,” and to rest in the ever-opening horizon beyond. Who can tell what harvest after harvest may be waiting in the eternal years, after the summer of earth has faded into the far past?
Yes, we have to do with One Who “inhabiteth” eternity and works in its infinite leisure. Some years ago, when a new railway cutting was made in East Norfolk, you could trace it through the next summer, winding like a blood-red river through the green fields. Poppy seeds that must have lain buried for generations had suddenly been upturned and had germinated by the thousand. The same thing happened a while back in the Canadian woods. A fir-forest was cut down, and the next spring the ground was covered with seedling oaks, though not an oak-tree was in sight. Unnumbered years before there must have been a struggle between the two trees, in which the firs gained the day, but the acorns had kept safe their latent spark of fife underground, and it broke out at the first chance.
And if we refuse to stay our faith upon results that we can see and measure, and fasten it on God, He may be able to keep wonderful surprises wrapt away in what looks now only waste and loss. What an up-springing there will be when heavenly light and air come to the world at last, in the setting up of Christ’s kingdom! The waste places may see “a nation born in a day.”
All that matters is that our part should be done. We are responsible for sowing to the Spirit – responsible, with an awful responsibility, that power should be set free in our lives, power that shall prevail with God and with men – responsible like the seed-vessel, for fulfilling our ministry to the last and uttermost. Let the cry be on our hearts, as it was on the heart of Jesus, to “finish the work” that the Father has given us. “My meat is to do the will of Him that sent Me, and to finish His work.” On He went with it, though it cost Him the strong crying and tears of Gethsemane to fight through to the end – to live on to the “It is finished” of Calvary.
Is it our souls’ hunger and thirst that, before He comes, we may have given every message He had for us to deliver – prevailed in every intercession to which He summoned us – “distributed” for His kingdom and “the necessity of saints” every shilling He wanted – shared with Him every call to “the fellowship of His sufferings” for others – poured out His love and sympathy and help as He poured them out on earth? Are we longing that He should find when He comes no unspent treasure, no talent laid up in a napkin, like the unshed seed in its shelly fold? Are we acting as if it were our longing? “By Him actions” (not longings) “are weighed!”
Take one more look at our meadow. The summer days are cooling down, and the storms have begun to come. The ground is bare and blackened, the stalks and leaves are battered to shreds: but seeds are everywhere. The earth is strewn with the husks. Whence they come none can tell, and they are broken down into nothingness. All is death – death reigning. The first showers are only bringing in a fresh stage of it where all seemed dead before, beating them, bleached and weather-worn and split, into the softened mould. Everything is quiet, for the seeds have gone down into the resting stage through which they all have to pass, whether it is during the frost in England, or the burning African summer. Do we not know the counterpart in the inner world, when Spirit-seed has been shed, and a strange waiting-time comes in which nothing happens – a silence on God’s part in which death has to be allowed to reign before it is swallowed up in victory?
But all is on the very verge of a flood-tide of life, for the seed-vessel has reached its highest ministry now. The last wrappings are torn, and from every rent and breach the bare grain is shed forth and brought into direct contact with the soil: and suddenly, as if by miracle, the quickening comes, and the emerald shoot is to be seen.
Can we read our last lesson? Here, in service, we see the same goal being reached as in the soul’s inner history. Both end in absolute simplicity, in Christ alone. For the highest aim of ministry is to bring His immediate presence into contact with others – so to bring Him and them face to face that He can act on them directly, while we stand aside, like John the Baptist, rejoicing greatly.
We used to look at our inner life as separate from our service: but as we go on they merge into one – Christ – the same Christ; whether folded to our hearts in His secret temple, like the seed in its husk, or set free in contact with those around to carry on His quickening work – all and only Christ.
“Christ the beginning, and the end is Christ.”
We saw how the soul’s first step is to let Him in as its life: the last step in a sense can go no further. It is only that the apprehension of Him has increased, and the hindrances and limitings have been swept away.
Christ – Christ – Christ – filling all the horizon. Everything in us: everything to us: everything through us. “To live is Christ.” – Amen.
Excerpt from “Parables of the Christ-Life” by I. Lilias Trotter. The complete booklet can be read here: Parables of the Christ-life.