By John Percival
"A sower went out to sow his seed."--ST. LUKE viii. 5.
It is significant that the first of the Saviour's parables is the parable of the sower, that the first thing to which He likens His own work is that of the sower of seed, the first lesson He has to impress upon us by any kind of comparison is that the word of God is a seed sown in our hearts, a something which contains in it the germ of a new life.
It is no less significant that He returns so often to this same kind of comparison for the purpose of impressing us always with the primary fact, that our relationship to God, the Father of Spirits, in other words our spiritual condition at the present moment, our hope for the time to come, does not depend upon some body of doctrine, but on our having received into the secret places of the heart the seeds of a new life.
This is suggestive of a great many considerations which touch our life very closely; but I will not turn aside to them at this moment, as my desire is to fix your thoughts for the present on this one fundamental thing, that the principle of moral and spiritual life in you is a seed, and as such it is endowed with a power of independent separate growth; it was intended to grow in you.
The sower casts his seed upon the earth and goes his way, and, once sown, it springs up and grows, as Jesus said in another parable, "he knoweth not how." This, then, is the truth which He is impressing on our attention, when He speaks of His revelation as a seed, a seed to be sown by hands which have no control over it except to sow it. The soul of each and every one of us is a seed-field, and the seeds of new life and purpose should be growing in it.
As we recall the other parable of the seed growing secretly, recorded in St. Mark's Gospel, we feel even more strongly how the essence of all our life is in seeds of influence. "So is the Kingdom of Heaven as if a man should cast seed upon the earth, and the seed should spring up and grow, he knoweth not how." It grows in us mysteriously we know not how.
And I am not sure that we all, indeed I think it likely that we do not all, take it home to our thoughts with sufficient seriousness that this mysterious growth in the thing sown implies a mysterious vital power or force which is inherent in it.
I call it a mysterious vital power, because all life is a mystery to us. The very thought of life lands us in mystery, in mystery which defies analysis. We know that all the life in us and around us follows certain laws, as we call them, the life of plants, the life of animals, the life of man, each following its own laws after its kind, and that is all we know about it. We can observe its action, its uniformities, its sequences, and variations, but beyond this we cannot penetrate its secret. It grows mysteriously, we know not how.
But this much we know, that no life is spontaneously generated. The science of our day has demonstrated it, as we believe, beyond dispute, that you cannot create life out of dead matter. All life comes from some antecedent life. Wherever you see life of any kind, you know that there must have been before it some form of life which was its parent.
Yet again, the scientific investigator points out another suggestive fact, that the lower creature does not of its own lower nature expand into the higher, but that life is lifted up and grows by the infusion of something higher than itself. So, too, we believe that the Spirit of God touches with its mysterious power the dead souls of men; it transforms them, it uplifts them, they are born again. They are roused and stirred to new capacity by the touch and inspiration of this Divine life. This is what is meant when it is said that if any man be in Christ he is a new creature. He has received into his nature this mysterious gift, or rather this seed of the new life.
Such is the Christian doctrine of the new birth, or of the life-giving breath of the Spirit, or of the sowing the seed of Divine life in us. You may describe it how you please, if only you take due note of this, that in proportion as you realise or accept this truth as in any way intimately connected with your own personal life and conduct, all the common things around you acquire a new importance, and I might even say some touch of sacredness, because they are felt to be strewn with these seeds of influence which God is sowing around us, with a hand that never rests, through all our years, in uncounted ways.
This seed of new life which is to save you from the power of sin and the flesh and give you new aspirations, purer tastes, stronger purposes, need I remind you how it is sown, in what manifold and various ways? It must be within the personal experience of some of you to testify how your meetings in this chapel every morning may sow it. One day it falls on your heart in some word of some hymn or prayer, or in some thought or feeling which flashes through you, or some pricking of conscience for no other knows what sin or fault, or in some new resolve.
Sometimes it is found that a passing word of a preacher sows it (it is in this hope I preach to you), or again it is sown in the common ways of daily life, by the reading of some book, or by the word or example of a friend, or by some casual sight or experience. We remember how the seed of an unresting and beneficent life, a life devoted to the good of the poor and the suffering, was sown in Lord Shaftesbury by the shocking sight of a pauper funeral when he was a boy at Harrow. So it may be sown in your hearts you know not beforehand when or where, to grow up and bear fruit an hundred fold.
The wind bloweth where it listeth--so is every one that is born of the Spirit. You never know what Divine seed it may deposit in your heart at any moment; but this you do know, that if the word of Christ be true, whenever this gift of life comes to you it is a new birth.
And there is all the more mystery and sacredness about our common life just because we never know how or when these seeds may fall upon our life to bless it, and because men are often altogether unconscious of the beginnings of their growth in them. Some seed of good influence falls into the soil of their heart, and seems to lie there buried in the winter of neglect or waste.
Thus some men may carry the seeds long and far, not knowing the power or the potency of the life that is in them; but some day they strike root and grow and bear fruit in new convictions, or in new desires and purposes; and this may be the case with any one amongst us, and hence it is natural that we should press the question on ourselves and on each other--What are you making of those seeds of higher life which have been sown in you by your mother's love, by your father's words, by all the lessons and influences of such a place as this, seeds which are falling around you continually, and may possibly be trodden down or overlaid?
As we look at these parables of the Lord telling of this sowing and this growth of seeds, they bring it home to us very forcibly that the only true test of life in Christ is growth in Christian graces. And this brings us to a consideration of grave practical importance. It bids us be very careful to distinguish between seeds of life taking root in the heart and springing up into new activities, and mere waves of impression. The seed springs up and grows in you, the wave merely flows over you, lifting and moving you for a moment, and then leaving you as before. Thus, and it is a warning which is not unneeded in our day, a day of much emotional religion, there is all the difference in the world between a religion of moods and a religion of growth. The one is the plaything of the winds, the other is rooted in Christ.
Thus I am brought to two reflections, one on the function and aim of the preacher, the other the duty of the hearer of God's word. The preacher--and the same might be said of every master in such a society as this--the preacher has to think of himself primarily and chiefly as a servant of Christ charged with the duty of sowing the seeds of spiritual life in your hearts. And the thought that the Saviour has revealed to us seeds of life which have this regenerating power in them, and that in Him we see what possibilities of growth there are in these seeds--this is our constant encouragement.
The sower's hand may be feeble, and his sowing may be awkward, or halting, or uncertain, but there is a Divine force or possibility in all seeds of truth, or purity, or right feeling which he scatters among you, independent of his sowing, and he never knows in what soul some seed may lodge and germinate and grow up and bear fruit here and hereafter, even to the endless life.
So we believe that every work of good influence, whether of man or boy, will prosper, because we remember it as a part of God's providential law, that His seed if sown grows of itself, mysteriously. And we need not wonder at the mystery, for it is the Spirit of God which is in the seed; and it is ready to swell and grow and bear new fruits as it lodges in your heart.
Through and in that seed of good influence it is God Himself who is working in you.
Such, as we learn from the word of Christ, such, as we see it exemplified in His person, is the mystery of the Divine life in the hearts of men--not in some other lives, but in your life and mine.
But this only leads us to another vital question--a question which I leave with you for the present, and to which we may return another day--What is your share of active duty in regard to these seeds of good influence and good purpose that are sown in you; what are you doing, and what are you intending to do, to secure that they shall be bearing some fruit in your own daily life?