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THE SEED AND ITS LESSONS
‘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.’
2 Corinthians 9:10 (R. V.)
It is remarkable that the metaphor of sowing and reaping, so familiar to us in its widest moral and spiritual application in the gospels, is in the epistles employed almost exclusively in reference to contributions and alms. In the passage before us, the Apostle is immediately concerned with the Christian duty of cheerful liberality, and according to his wont, he is illustrating this duty from the laws which govern production in the world of nature. The same God Who presides over physical increase is pledged to bring about spiritual increase. As certainly as He supplies man with seed to sow, and therefore with power to multiply and perpetuate the gift of His daily bread, so certainly will He take care that the seed of charitable and merciful deeds shall not fail.
I. The fact set forth in the text.—‘God,’ says St. Paul, ‘supplieth seed to the sower, and bread for food.’ It has been thoughtfully said that if the annual growth of seed is not in itself a perpetual miracle, it is the perpetual evidence of a miracle that has been once wrought. It is a thing which tells clearly and unquestionably of a Divine provision for the life of man, and, indeed, it comes to him year after year as the direct gift of God; for it is incapable of imitation or reproduction by all the thought and ingenuity which men can bring to bear. The continuance of the race is actually staked upon that redundance of increase which leaves seed for the sower after supplying bread to the eater.
II. The capacity of germination and growth, which belongs to the seed, requires certain influences to bring it into action—influences external to it. The potential life inherent in it cannot become actual until it is in a medium which develops it. In the passage from Isaiah which St. Paul has in his eye, the rain and the snow from heaven stand for the sum of those developing forces without which, in Christ’s words, the seed abideth alone. They represent the fertilising influences of earth and air and light, as well as the moisture, the most obvious and powerful of all.
III. Having contemplated God’s part, let us look at man’s.—Man sows and eats. God has assigned to man just that amount and degree of co-operation with Himself which dignifies and yet humbles. Man must plant and then God gives the increase. His provision, bounteous and complete as it is, will not feed man unless man exerts himself. And this human foresight and labour, which God has made a sine qua non of our existence here, is no flaw or defect: it is the very perfection of His plan. ‘Seed for the sower and bread for food.’ Sowing and eating are closely related in the economy of our life.
IV. Observe what a counterpart this whole scheme of provision for our physical life finds in the spiritual sphere.—There also God’s gifts and man’s labour must combine. It is God Who gives the seed. God has ordained that if one generation does not sow, the next must suffer famine. No man may live to himself in the family of God. He has a duty to those who shall follow him. It is a distinct and solemn charge to every age of the Church and to every member of the Church, not only to use the seed for its or his own nourishment, but to plant it for those who shall come after.
V. Man must not only sow this Divine seed, but he must eat of it.—When the Word of God ceases to be used as a sustenance to the soul, it soon ceases to be sown for the good of others. Let us ask ourselves what we are doing with His unspeakable gift.
Rev. Canon Duckworth.
‘We are told that within the dark recesses of Egyptian tombs, wrapped in the cerements of the dead, wheat has been found, the produce of harvests gathered in thousands of years ago, which, when committed to the soil, has sprouted and sprung up, and reproduced itself a thousand-fold. You and I, as English Christians, inherit a system which has had just such a history. The Word of God, which is our own priceless heritage, lay hidden for long ages where no light could penetrate and no fertilising virtue reach. Embalmed in a strange tongue and guarded with an ignorant devotion, its heavenly light was arrested and held in suspense, but it was neither destroyed nor impaired, and when the great upheaval of the Reformation rent its tomb, our fathers discovered it with the joy of one who findeth great spoils, and started it on a new career of blessing as seed for the sower and bread for the eater.’
THE UNSPEAKABLE GIFT
‘Thanks be to God for His unspeakable gift.’
2 Corinthians 9:15
What was in the mind of St. Paul when he gave vent to this burst of gratitude? Some say that it was the love of God in Christ that St. Paul was thinking of; others that it was the gift of God the Holy Spirit; others, again, that it was the free offer of pardon through the sacrifice of the Cross. But all these views run up ultimately into one.
I. The one great gift.—We may well doubt whether the Apostle was careful to analyse the emotion of gratitude which possessed him, but it is certain that, for him, all other blessings, all minor gifts of every kind were summed up in the one great gift, the thought of which haunted him and filled his heart with the sense of an infinite obligation. He found in that gift the proof that love rules the world, the pledge of a never-failing Providence, which supplied every conceivable need of man. ‘He Who spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not, with Him, freely give us all things?’
II. We are conscious when we come back to the Incarnation, the central verity of our faith, how inadequate human language is to deal with it. St. Paul only echoes the feeling in all our hearts when he calls it ‘unspeakable,’ for, indeed, when we look steadily into that transaction on which we are taught to rest all our hopes, we find ourselves face to face with mysteries which not only defy expression in words, but which pass man’s understanding. Can it be otherwise when God’s unspeakable gift is revealed as involving what in His case the finite intellect cannot possibly comprehend—a sacrifice, an act of surrender, to which nothing less than His perfect love for us could have moved Him? Was this sacrifice the only possible means of our rescue from the bondage of sin and death? We cannot tell. We only know that it was the means which He chose. We can only be sure that there was some awful necessity that He should make a sacrifice on behalf of his sinful creatures, and should give up for them the best of all beings, the sinless One, to live and die on earth for them. When He would afford us the nearest conception we are capable of receiving of His feeling towards us He takes the sacred emotion of parental love to reveal it. He bids us realise in all its intensity the pang which the human parent would suffer who should give up an only child to a life of unrequited toil and a death of shame and agony, and He tells us that this is the image of His sacrifice, this the nearest approach our minds can make to understanding the cost at which He resolved to bring us back to Himself. You know how fathers and mothers, if they are good, love their children, nay, how often, when they are far from good, they can think for them, work for them, give good gifts to them, make costly sacrifices for them. Raise to its highest power this strongest and purest of human affections, and then you have some inkling of the manner of love which has been bestowed upon us, you know something of what has wrought in the heart of the great Father of all.
III. This unspeakable gift is a universal gift.—The first announcement of it told of the boundless range of its bestowal, and told it in terms so clear that we may well wonder that any should have dared to question or to narrow them. The tidings of great joy heralded by the angelic messengers at Bethlehem are for ‘all people.’ Language cannot proclaim more distinctly the universality of God’s love to man. To a Jew of nineteen centuries ago, the thought that God’s message of love was meant, not for a tribe, not for a favoured people, but for the whole race of man, must have been startling indeed. But there the glorious truth stands blazoned on the forefront of the Gospel, never to pass away, never to be explained away by our fears or limited by our exclusiveness. If we want to find words restricting the redeeming love of God, we may find plenty of them in human documents; but if we look for the largest and freest offer of mercy, for the widest statements of the reach of Divine love and pity, we must turn to the page of inspiration, we must listen for the direct utterance of God Himself addressed to us there. Yes, the gift is for all. As ‘all have sinned and come short of the glory of God,’ so He Who came among us and took upon Him our flesh, lived and died for all, for all of every land and every time. His mercy is as wide, His offer is as free, as Infinite love can make it. Blessed Gospel of Jesus Christ, still the unexhausted hope of the world, still, in spite of man’s unbelief and sin, shedding its perennial benediction over all, the sacred bond which knits heaven and earth in one, the source and the strength of all true fellowship between man and man.
Rev. Canon Duckworth.
‘In one of his magnificent discourses, in which St. Augustine strains language to its utmost limit in the effort to set forth the greatness of God, he suddenly stops short and says: “Consider all that I have said, and it is as nothing. But in order that humble creatures might be able to say something about Him, He humbled Himself in the form of a servant. He came down in the form of a servant, and, according to the Gospel, He grew by degrees in knowledge and wisdom. Under the form of a servant He was patient and fought valiantly. He died, and conquered death. Under this form He returned to Heaven, He Who had never left Heaven.” ’
THE GIFT OF THE SAVIOUR
The ‘unspeakable gift’ was the gift of the Saviour.
I. It was a Divine Gift.—The Giver was Divine. The Gift is Divine. This One Gift includes all other gifts ( Romans 8:32): pardon for all sin, grace for all need, comfort for all sorrow, blessings past imagining, and ‘when this passing world is done’ a home with Christ, ‘which is very far better.’
II. It was a costly Gift.—When St. Paul says God did not spare His Own Son ( Romans 8:32), he used the same word as is used in the Greek Bible and translated in ours, ‘Because thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son” ( Genesis 22:16). The point is, that the estate of God was insufficient, the wealth of the universe was not enough, and that therefore God gave His Son that by His Agony and bloody sweat, and by His Cross and Passion He might gather together in one His children that were scattered abroad. Did not Jesus say, ‘Thus it must be’? Here we see the very Heart of God—we hear the throbbings of the Divine Pity.
III. It was a free Gift.—‘For the wages of sin is death; but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord’ ( Romans 6:23, R. V.).
—Rev. F. Harper.
(1) ‘A lady once asked Sir James Young Simpson, the great Edinburgh physician, the discoverer of chloroform, what was the greatest discovery he had ever made. The great doctor looked at his questioner and said, “Madam, the greatest discovery I ever made was the discovery that Christ was my Saviour.” ’
(2) ‘In the month of April, 1877, a colliery at Cymmer, in the Rhondda Valley, was flooded, and fourteen miners found themselves in a prison of darkness and terror, waiting helplessly for death. The whole nation seemed to turn its thought towards that coal-pit, and every day made the suspense more painful. The rescue-party toiled manfully day and night; and when seven days had passed without any reward to their labour, the last hope was almost given up. But on the eighth day nine of those imprisoned were found: and they were alive, though exhausted to the verge of death. Without air, without food, despair would have driven them mad were it not for the hymn which they sang over and over again with a feeling of terrible reality. “The waves and mighty waters” were there; so was their Saviour, their Beloved. And they sang “for one look of Him”! The hymn they sang was this:—
In the wild and surging waters
No one will support my head,
But my Saviour, my Belovèd,
Who was stricken in my stead:
In the cold and mortal river
He will hold my head above;
I shall through the waves go singing
For one look of Him I love!
And ever since the hymn has been called The Miners’ Hymn.’
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Nisbet, James. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 9". Church Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24