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CHRIST'S PARABLES.—THE GROWING
ST. MARK, iv. 28, 29.
For the earth bringeth forth fruit of herself, first the blade, then
the ear, after that the full corn in the ear. But when the fruit is brought forth, immediately they put in the sickle, because the harvest is come.
The short parable from which these two verses are taken is very remarkable. It is to be found only in St. Mark's Gospel, although his account, generally speaking, is very much confined to the miracles of our Lord, and gives fewer of His parables and discourses. And it is one of those parables which in the general view which they give of human life and character are so peculiar to our Lord. It speaks literally of the kingdom of God, that is, of the state of Christians considered together as a body; but it describes no less truly the state of
individual Christians, and it is in this point of view that I am proposing now to consider it.
It begins, “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.” Now the seed cast into the ground is undoubtedly to be understood of the knowledge of good which may be at any time laid before the mind of another. We have an opportunity, it may be, of doing this; a person is with us for a certain time, and then perhaps is removed from us; we must even leave the seed to itself and go on our way, trusting that God in his good Providence will preserve it, and make it spring up in its season. It does spring up, and the plant begins to grow, very small at first, then larger, then showing signs of coming into ear, then coming into ear, and lastly ripening. We may be impatient for its appearing sooner, but it waits its own time; we may wish to forward its growth, but we can do nothing for it; it comes on and ripens in its season; and when it is ripe, then they put in the sickle, because the harvest is come. Then we are repaid, and much more than repaid, for any labour which we may in the beginning have bestowed on it. Its fruit speaks for itself, and we see and taste its benefits.
Still, however, it may be asked, what is the lesson which we are to learn from this; for it is not
the custom of our Lord merely to state a thing as a matter of fact actually occurring in life, unless there may be something derived from it practically useful. And we cannot suppose that He means to advise us to be careless, to take no pains of our own, but to leave the event wholly to God; to sleep and rise niglit and day without taking any thought for the welfare of those whom we wish to benefit; in the hope that God will be watching for us though we may be asleep, and that He will bring forward and ripen the fruit which we have neglected.
Undoubtedly it does not mean this; for how does our Lord represent Himself?-as the gardener digging about and dressing the barren fig tree, in the hope that it might perhaps at last bring forth fruit. He did not leave it to itself, saying that God would take care of it, and either cure it in His own time or destroy it; but He laboured upon it that its nature might be altered, and that so God might not destroy it. And what Christ teaches us in one parable will never contradict what He teaches us in another.
Yet the two parables teach us different lessons, each making that of the other complete. We should do all that we can do, and then leave the event to God with confidence. To provide for the future by any present act is wise and good; but to be anxious about the future, where no act of ours
can affect it, is a weakness and a want of faith. The parable of the fig tree teaches us the duty of the first, the parable of the growth of the corn while men slept, teaches us the foolishness of the second.
But together with a vain anxiety, the parable also condemns a vain impatience. “ The earth brought forth, first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear.” Each in its own order, but not all at once, and still less the last first. What we should look for in the spring is promise, in the summer and autumn, it is perform
What should disappoint us is to find these wanting; it were a strange folly that should seek in summer for the fresh leaves and delicate flowers of spring, or in spring should require the deep foliage and abundant fruits of summer.
Now why does all this fit particularly the present occasion? Or is it merely the explanation of a part of the Scripture which may be given on one day as well as on another? It does suit the present time, I think, particularly. For unreasonable expectations are sure to be followed by disappointment no less unreasonable. If from confirmation, from this day's communion, from our serious thoughts and earnest prayers, we expect too large or too early a return, we shall surely be disappointed, and apt to think, because we found not the good which we looked for, that therefore the ordinances,
the prayers, and the resolutions were all in vain. Then follows a greater and more desperate carelessness, because we think that care has done no good already. And we may, still retaining our former error, look for the chance of some sudden and almost extraordinary conversion, as if that at least would at once bring the fruit which we desire. For still as before we wish to strike off if possible the season of spring and gradual growth; we would fain see the corn ripen the instant that the seed is thrown into the ground.
A third parable may here be called in to make the whole image yet clearer. We must be patient when the seed is sown; such is the lesson of the text: yet we must not be careless, nor neglect our duty to the ground in which it is to spring up; so teaches the parable of the fig tree: and to learn what that ground may be, and what are the dangers which most threaten the increase of the plant, and against which our care should be most directed, we should attend to the lesson of the parable of the sower.
As a mere delight to the understanding, I know of none greater than thus bringing together the different and scattered jewels of God's word, and arranging them in one perfect group. For whatever is the pleasure of contemplating wisdom absolutely inexhaustible, employed on no abstract matter of science, but on our very own nature,