Spiritual Food

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Thoughts for the day from J.C. Ryle:

Mark 4:26-29

And he said, 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. 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 he putteth in the sickle, because the harvest is come.

The parable contained in these verses is short, and only recorded in Mark’s Gospel. But it is one that ought to be deeply interesting to all who have reason to hope that they are true Christians. It sets before us the history of the work of grace in an individual soul. It summons us to an examination of our own experience in divine things.

There are some expressions in the parable which we must not press too far. Such are the “sleeping and rising” of the farmer, and the “night and day.” In this, as in many of our Lord’s parables, we must careful to keep in view the main scope and object of the whole story, and not lay too much stress on lesser points.  In the case before us the main thing taught is the close resemblance between some familiar operations in the culture of grain, and the work of grace in the heart. To this let us rigidly confine our attention.

We are taught, firstly, that, as in the growth of grain, so in the work of grace, there must be a sower.

The earth, as we all know, never brings forth grain of itself. It is a mother of weeds, but not of wheat. The hand of man must plough it, and scatter the seed, or else there would never be a harvest.

The heart of man, in like manner, will never of itself turn to God, repent, believe, and obey. It is utterly barren of grace. It is entirely dead towards God, and unable to give itself spiritual life. The Son of man must break it up by His Spirit, and give it a new nature. He must scatter over it by the hand of his laboring ministers the good seed of the word.

Let us mark this truth well. Grace in the heart of man is an exotic. It is a new principle from outside, sent down from heaven and implanted in his soul. Left to himself, no man living would ever seek God. And yet in communicating grace, God ordinarily works by means. To despise the instrumentality of teachers and preachers, is to expect corn where no seed has been sown.

We are taught, secondly, that, as in the growth of grain, so in the work of grace, there is much that is beyond man’s comprehension and control.

The wisest farmer on earth can never explain all that takes place in a grain of wheat, when he has sown it. He knows the broad fact that unless he puts it into the soil, and covers it up, there will not be an ear of corn in time of harvest. But he cannot command the prosperity of each grain. He cannot explain why some grains come up and others die. He cannot specify the hour or the minute when life shall begin to show itself. He cannot define what that life is. These are matters he must leave alone. He sows his seed, and leaves the growth to God. “God gives the increase.” (1 Cor. 3:7.)

The workings of grace in the heart in like manner, are utterly mysterious and unsearchable. We cannot explain why the word produces effects on one person in a congregation, and not upon another. We cannot explain why, in some cases–with every possible advantage, and in spite of every entreaty–people reject the word, and continue dead in trespasses and sins. We cannot explain why in other cases–with every possible difficulty, and with no encouragement–people are born again, and become decided Christians. We cannot define the manner in which the Spirit of God conveys life to a soul, and the exact process by which a believer receives a new nature. All these are hidden things to us. We see certain results, but we can go no further. “The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound thereof, but can not tell whence it comes, and where it goes–so is every one that is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8.)

Let us mark this truth also, for it is deeply instructive. It is humbling no doubt to ministers, and teachers of others. The highest abilities, the most powerful preaching, the most diligent working, cannot command success. God alone can give spiritual life. But it is a truth at the same time, which supplies an admirable antidote to over-anxiety and despondency. Our principal work is to sow the seed. That done, we may wait with faith and patience for the result. “We may sleep, and rise night and day,” and leave our work with the Lord. He alone can, and, if He thinks fit, He will give success.

We are taught, thirdly, that, as in the growth of grain, so in the work of grace, life manifests itself gradually.

There is a true proverb which says, “Nature does nothing at a bound.” The ripe ear of wheat does not appear at once, as soon as the seed bursts forth into life. The plant goes through many stages, before it arrives at perfection–“first the blade, then the ear, then the full corn in the ear.” But in all these stages one great thing is true about it–even at its weakest, it is a living plant.

The work of grace, in like manner, goes on in the heart by degrees. The children of God are not born perfect in faith, or hope, or knowledge, or experience. Their beginning is generally a “day of small things.” They see in part their own sinfulness, and Christ’s fullness, and the beauty of holiness. But for all that, the weakest child in God’s family is a true child of God. With all his weakness and infirmity he is alive. The seed of grace has really come up in his heart, though at present it be only in the blade. He is “alive from the dead.” And the wise man says, “a living dog is better than a dead lion.” (Eccles. 9:4.)

Let us mark this truth also, for it is full of consolation. Let us not despise grace, because it is weak, or think people are not converted, because they are not yet as strong in the faith as Paul. Let us remember that grace, like everything else, must have a beginning. The mightiest oak was once an acorn. The strongest man was once a babe. Better a thousand times have grace in the blade than no grace at all.

We are taught, lastly, that, as in the growth of grain, so in the work of grace, there is no harvest until the seed is ripe.

No farmer thinks of cutting his wheat when it is green. He waits until the sun, and rain, and heat, and cold, have done their appointed work, and the golden ears hang down. Then, and not until then, he puts in the sickle, and gathers the wheat into his barn.

God deals with His work of grace exactly in the same way. He never removes His people from this world until they are ripe and ready. He never takes them away until their work is done. They never die at the wrong time, however mysterious their deaths appear sometimes to man. Josiah, and James the brother of John were both cut off in the midst of usefulness. Our own King Edward the Sixth was not allowed to reach mature state. But we shall see in the resurrection morning that there was a needs-be. All was done well about their deaths, as well as about their births. The Great Husbandman never cuts His grain until it is ripe.

Let us leave the parable with this truth on our minds, and take comfort about the death of every believer. Let us rest satisfied, that there is no chance, no accident, no mistake about the decease of any of God’s children. They are all “God’s field,” and God knows best when they are ready for the harvest.

The following is a sober reminder from William Plumer. This and other articles on various topics are available for free online or in print from here.

The Day For Which All Other Days Were Made

William S. Plumer (1802-1880)

GOD has not concealed His intention of bringing every work into judgment with every secret thing, whether it be good or whether it be evil. From the earliest ages, inspired men have spoken freely and clearly of the Day of Judgment. Enoch, who was the seventh from Adam—all of whose life on earth except the last twenty-two years was cotemporaneous(1) with that of Adam—prophesied, saying, “Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of his saints, To execute judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed, and of all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against him” (Jude 14-15). Three thousand years after Enoch, Jude found no fitter words by which to warn daring sinners of their coming doom than those just quoted from the antediluvian(2) prophet. The doctrine of a judgment is a familiar theme among inspired writers of both testaments. It is taught in the Law, in the Prophets, in the Psalms, in the Gospels, and in the Epistles. It was so well understood in the days of Christ and of Paul that they simply call it “that day,” thus designating it as the Day of days, “the day for which all other days were made,” and in comparison of which all other days are as nothing.

The Day of Judgment will be the Great Day—so inspired writers often and properly style it. It will exceed all other days for the brightness of its beginning. Other days had their dim twilight, but this will begin in ineffable effulgence.(3) Their light was from the sun; the light of this shall be from Him Who made all things. Other days dawn with general quiet, but this shall begin with great and unusual noises. “Our God shall come, and shall not keep silence: a fire shall devour before him, and it shall be very tempestuous round about him. He shall call to the heavens from above, and to the earth, that he may judge his people” (Psa 50:3-4). Jesus shall come in like manner as He went up on high: “For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God” (1Th 4:16). On that day, men will see sights and hear sounds unlike all that ever struck their senses before. The brightness of Immanuel’s coming will extinguish the light of the heavenly bodies; and the sounds that shall be heard shall make the earth reel and stagger like a drunken man! This day will be crowded full of wonders. It will be begun, carried on, and closed with such displays of miracles as the world has never seen before. The results accomplished by it will be as wonderful(4) as the progress of its events. Every way of God to man shall then be justified. All wickedness shall be put down. All cavil(5) shall be forever silenced. All judgment shall then be executed…

The Day of Judgment is a day fixed. The time for it is set by God Himself: “He hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained” (Act 17:31). To God that day is known; to us it is unknown. To Him it is certain; to us it is doubtful. “But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only” (Mat 24:36). It will come as a thief in the night, as the flood came on the old world, as the tempest of wrath came on the cities of the plain. Yet it is unchangeably determined by God. Men may not be looking for it, but God sees it afar off. As nothing can hasten it, so that it shall come before God’s purposes respecting the world are accomplished, so nothing can delay it one moment beyond the time fixed in God’s eternal counsels for its coming.

Frequently the Day of Judgment is called “the day of the Lord.” It will be the day when the Lord Christ shall appear in glory, display the wonders of His mediation(6) and the perfection of His government, and will publicly be owned and crowned as Lord of all. There will be no disputes concerning the divinity of Christ, on or after the Day of Judgment, which will be His day…“For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son” (Joh 5:22). That day will be the Day of the Lord Jesus.

The Day of Judgment will be above all others a day of convocation.(7) The heavens and the earth shall furnish the assembly. The chariots of God, which are twenty thousand, shall roll down the skies, bearing in them ten thousand times ten thousand, an innumerable company of angels. Fallen angels too shall be there, and them that sleep in Jesus shall God bring with Him. All that died in their sins shall be there. All that are alive on the earth shall stand before God. Not one of all God’s rational creatures shall be missing. Prophets, apostles, martyrs, confessors, saints, sinners, liars, hypocrites, infidels, blasphemers, haters of God shall all be present. The assizes(8) of the universe shall then be held. Millions on millions shall crowd this greatest of all congregations. “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ” (2Co 5:10). This will be the first and the last gathering of all the denizens(9) of the universe…

The Day of Judgment will also be a day of great surprise, both to saints and sinners. So Christ expressly informs us: “Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?” (Mat 25:37-39). In like manner also shall the wicked say unto Him, “Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?” (Mat 25:44). If the sentences of the just and unjust were reversed at the Day of Judgment, the surprise would not be half so great. Jesus said, “Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity” (Mat 7:22-23). Many will be saved, and many will be lost, contrary to the judgments formed of them by their neighbors. But more will be saved, and more will be lost contrary to the opinions they had of themselves…Many doubts, mysteries, and perplexities will be removed fully and forever in that great day. Things, which in this life were full of grievous darkness, will then be satisfactorily cleared up. God’s providence, which is now accompanied by a thousand inexplicable things, will then be made plain. Now the wicked are exalted; then they shall be brought down to hell. Now the righteous are forsaken, afflicted, tormented; then the Lord will bring forth their righteousness as the light and their judgment as the noonday. That Day will wipe off all aspersions(10) from the innocent and fix guilt where it belongs, though never suspected before. God’s truth, wisdom, holiness, justice, and mercy will shine brighter than the sun on that day. The slandered, injured, and abused will then be vindicated. The oppressed will rise up and clank the chains with which tyrants had bound them to the eternal confusion of wrongdoers. Many a righteous man, judicially murdered, will then face his corrupt judge with the suborned(11) witnesses and perjured(12) jurors who were at his trial. There will be a wonderful clearing up on that day.

It will also be a day of exposure. “Some men’s sins are open beforehand, going before to judgment; and some men they follow after” (1Ti 5:24). The fraud, cunning, hypocrisy, and deceit of wicked men will then appear. All those dark designs and plots, which meditated ruin to individuals, distress to families, perplexity to nations, or dishonor to God, shall be held up to reprobation.(13) The light of that day will shine through and through the thickest web of iniquity and show all its foul intricacies…

The Day of Judgment will also be a day of separations. Here, saints and sinners are strangely mixed together; there, it will be very different. Christ says, “Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn” (Mat 13:30). “When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left” (Mat 25:31-33). This separation shall be final. The righteous and the wicked shall that day part to meet no more.

To Christ, His saints, and angels, the Day of Judgment will be a day of triumph. The Lord will then make a show of His enemies openly. They that would not kiss the Son shall be dashed in pieces like a potter’s vessel. In His triumph, all His saints and angels shall share and glory!

To the wicked, the same day will be full of despair. They will cry to the rocks and to the mountains, “Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?” (Rev 6:16-17). Was more dreadful despair ever portrayed?…

Reader, are you prepared for your last account? Have you made peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ? Is all your hope in the precious blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ? Nothing of your own can save you in that day. It will burn as an oven. It will try your works and your hopes as by fire. If you have built on Christ and on Him only, then hold fast your confidence, which hath great recompense of reward.

But if you are yet in your sins, then be persuaded to flee for refuge to the hope set before you in the Gospel (Heb 6:18). “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him” (Joh 3:36). Nor can you be in too much haste or too much in earnest in this weighty matter. It is your life. “Behold, the judge standeth before the door” (Jam 5:9); and He says, “And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be” (Rev 22:12)…

To some minds, the greatest wonder of the Last Day will be the composure and calmness with which that day will be met by the righteous. John says, “Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment” (1Jo 4:17). I never should have thought of boldness at such a time, but there I find it in God’s Word. It is attained by love to Him, Who on that day will be our Advocate, the Lord our righteousness (1Jo 2:1).

 

1 cotemporaneous – living at the same time.
2 antediluvian – before the Biblical flood.
3 ineffable effulgence – indescribable brightness.
4 wonderful – astonishing.
5 cavil – petty or trifling objections.
6 mediation – Christ’s work as a go-between to reconcile God and man. “It pleased God in His eternal purpose, to choose and ordain the Lord Jesus, His only begotten Son according to the Covenant made between them both, to be the Mediator between God and Man; the Prophet, Priest and King; Head and Savior of His Church, the heir of all things, and judge of the world: Unto whom He did from all eternity give a people to be His seed, and to be by Him in time redeemed, called, justified, sanctified, and glorified.” (Second London Baptist Confession, 8.1; available from Chapel Library)
7 convocation – a large, formal assembly of people.
8 assizes – sessions of the court.
9 denizens – inhabitants; citizens.
10 aspersions – damaging, abusive speech regarding someone’s character.
11 suborned – bribed to give false evidence.
12 perjured – having willfully told untruths when giving evidence in a court.
13 reprobation – condemnation.