By J.R. Miller
Jesus loved nature. He saw in it the tokens and expressions of His Father's love and care. It made Him think of His Father. What could be more exquisite, for example, than the thoughts a tiny little flower started in His mind--as we find them expressed in the Sermon on the Mount? He was urging people not to worry, never to be anxious. He wanted to make them fully understand that they were always in God's thought, in His care. Just then His eye fell on a lily growing in its marvelous beauty by the wayside, and he used it to teach a lesson about the care of God. He cares even for the smallest flower, and His hand weaves for it--its exquisite clothing. "And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire--will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?" (Matthew 6:28-30).
Our Lord thus saw in every flower, something His Father had made and beautified, something He cared for with all gentleness. And of whatever other use the flowers are, He at least wants us to learn from them this truth of confidence and trust, so that we shall never be anxious. The flowers never worry.
Many of our Lord's words show us His love for nature, His familiarity with it, and with its laws and processes. Our present passage is one that only Mark records for us. Jesus speaks here of the way a seed grows. We have the familiar picture of a sower going forth to sow. In our modern agriculture, with its wonderful machinery, we are losing much of the picturesqueness of the farmer's life, as it was in our Lord's Day, and even as it was in the days of our fathers. Men do not go forth now with a seed-bag swung over their shoulder. Now they ride out on the great grain drill and, as they drive over the field, plant the seeds deep in the earth.
Still the lesson of the seed is the same, in whatever way it may be planted. A seed is a very little thing--but Jesus sees in it and in its mode of growing--a picture of something very great, very wonderful, a picture of the kingdom of God. The same laws prevail in the things natural and things spiritual. "This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground." We are all sowers, casting seeds all our days. We may not be farmers or gardeners, yet everywhere we go we are sowing seeds.
We talk to a friend an hour, and then go our way, perhaps never giving thought again to what we said; but years afterward something will grow up in the friend's life and character, from the seeds we dropped so unconsciously or without intention or purpose that day. We lend a friend a book, and he takes it home and reads it. We never think of the book again; perhaps our friend never speaks of it, telling us whether he liked it or not. But many years later, there is a life moving about among other lives and leaving upon them its impress, which was received from the book we lent--something which influenced the course and career of the life.
We think we have but little influence in the world, that what we are our what we say or what we do, as we go about, matters little, leaves little impression on any other lives. Yet there is not an hour when seeds are not dropping from our hands--which will stay in lives and grow!
Seeds are wonderful things. There is mystery in the secret of life which they carry in their hearts. Diamonds or pearls have no such secret of life in them. Men do not plant them. They never grow. We do not know what marvelous results will come from some slightest word of ours spoken any day. It may not always be good--it may be evil; all depends upon the seed.
The farmer sowed good seed, expecting a rich and beautiful harvest. An enemy came one night, while the farmer was sleeping, and sowed tares. And the tare seeds grew and spoiled the harvest. We need to watch what we are sowing these days--lest a trail of evil and ugliness shall follow us. We need to watch what we say in our little talks with the people we meet through the days, lest we leave stain or hurt behind us.
Every time the first king of the ten tribes of Israel is mentioned in the history, it is in this terrible way, "the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin." Surely it would have been better never to have been born--than to be born and then have such a biography as that!
But it is of the growth of the seed that our Lord speaks here. "A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how." He does not stay in the fields and watch his seed growing. He only casts it into the ground and lets it grow as it will. He does not dig it up every day and see how it is growing. When the seed is once in the soil--it is out of the sower's hand forever. Good or bad--it is gone now beyond his reach.
Just so, you may write a letter full of bitter words. You were angry when you wrote it. Your conscience told you that you ought not to send it, for it would only cause bitterness. You went out to mail it. All along the way as you went toward the post box, the voice within kept saying, "Don't mail it!" You came to the box and hesitated, for still there was a clamorous voice beseeching you, "Do not send it!" But the anger was yet flaming, and you put the letter in the box. Then you began to wish you had not done it. It was too late now, however, for the cruel letter was forever beyond your reach. No energy in the world could get it back. The evil was irremediable.
So it is when one drops a seed into the ground, whether it is good or evil. The die is cast. The seed is in the ground. There is no use to watch it. So it is, when one has dropped an evil influence into a life. Until the word was spoken, or the deed was done--it was in your own power, and you could have withheld it. Until then, you could have kept the word unspoken or the deed undone. But now it is out of your power! No swiftest messenger can pursue it and take it back. The seed is sown--and you can only let it stay and grow. A man goes on with his work, busy in a thousand ways, and the seed he dropped is growing continually, he knows not how, into what form. The word he spoke, the thing he did--is in people's hearts and lives, and its influence is at work--he knows not how.
There is something startling in this thought of how what we have once done--has then passed forever out of our hand, beyond recall; and how it goes on in its growth and influence in the silence, while we wake and while we sleep. The time to change evil things, to keep them from forever growing into more and more baleful evil--is before we cast the see into the ground!
There is a strange and marvelous power, too, in the earth, which, when it receives the seed, begins to deal with it so as to bring out its mystery of life. If the seed is not cast into the ground--it will not grow. Planting it seems to be spoiling it; but really it is saving it, making it grow. Jesus said, "Except a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies--it abides alone; but if it dies--it brings forth much fruit" (John 12:24). This was a little parable. Jesus meant that His life could not accomplish its blessed work--but by His dying. The same is true of our lives. We can keep them from suffering and sacrifice; we can choose to live selfishly, keep ourselves from hardship and from self-denial, but that will be keeping a seed out of the ground. Then it will never be anything but a seed. Its life can be brought out, and it can grow only through being cast into the ground--and dying to itself.
Here again we see how the planting is all we have to do, all we can do. "All by itself--the soil produces grain." We cannot help the soil take care of the seed. Then, in the spiritual meaning of the Master's words, we do not have to help God take care of the good words we speak to others. The seed is divine, and the influences that act upon it are divine. So all we have to do is to get the truth into the hearts of those we would save and build up; God will do the rest. We are not responsible for the growth of the seed, for the work of grace in a human heart. This does not mean that we do not have God in our lives; it means rather that God and we cooperate in all our good work. God made the seed, and God by His Spirit broods over it in the life where it finds lodgment, and so "All by itself--the soil produces grain."
Great is the mysterious power in the earth which touches the seed and enfolds it, and quickens it, and causes it to grow. But this only illustrates the power that works in human hearts and lives, the power of the Divine Spirit. This holy life receives the heavenly truth that is put into the heart, enfolds and quickens it, and brings out its blessed possibilities, until we see a new life like unto God's own life, a Christ-life, blessing the world with its beauty and its love.
The growth is natural and progressive: "First the blade, then the ear, after that the full kernel in the ear." The farmer does not expect golden grain to come first; it can come only in its time. We should not expect ripeness of experience in the child Christian.
Again He said, "What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds of the air can perch in its shade." Mark 4:30-32
The parable of the mustard seed needs little explanation. Probably only the smallness of the seed was in the Lord's mind, and the largeness of the tree or bush into which the plant grows. The Church of Christ had a very small beginning, and it has grown until now its branches spread over nearly all lands. It is because the seed has life in it--that produces such wonderful power of growth. It is the secret of heavenly life in the Words of God that makes them so marvelous in the results that follow their scattering. Such results do not come from the wisdom or the philosophies of men. The Bible is the Book of God. It was given by inspiration of God. This is the secret of its growth.
The story of the English Bible is a most wonderful illustration of the mustard-seed parable. It is three hundred years since our English Bible was given to the people, and who can estimate the influence of the Book during these years? Think of what it has done in the building up of the character of the English-speaking people of the world. Think what it has done through the institutions of Christianity which have been nourished by it. Think of all the fruits of the Scriptures in personal lives, in education and culture. The kingdom of God as it has extended in the influence of the English Bible, especially in these three centuries, is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown upon the earth, has grown up, becoming greater than all herbs, and putting out great branches, so that the birds of the heavens lodge under the shadow thereof!