Some Lessons on Spiritual Growth

by J. R. Miller, 1912

Jesus loved nature. He saw in it—the tokens and expressions of his Father's love and care. What could be more exquisite, for example, than the thoughts of a little flower—as we find them expressed in the Sermon on the Mount? He was urging people never to be anxious. 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. God cares even for the smallest flower—and his hand weaves for it, its exquisite raiment. "And why are you anxious concerning raiment?" Thus our Lord saw in every flower which blooms, something which 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 trust, so that we shall never be anxious. The flowers never worry.

One of the most suggestive of our Lord's parables of growth, is given by Mark. "This is what the kingdom of God is like. 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." Mark 4:26-27. In our modern agriculture we are losing much of the picturesqueness of the farmer's life—as it was in our Lord's day. Still the lesson of the seed is the same whatever way it may be planted. It is a very little thing—but Jesus notes in it, and in its mode of growing, a picture of something very wonderful, a picture of the kingdom of God. The same laws prevail in things natural and things spiritual.

We are all sowers. 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, 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 purpose, that day. We lend a friend a book and he reads it. We never think of the book again; our friend never tells 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 inspired by the book we lent, something in it which influenced the course and career of the life.

Seeds are astonishing things. There is mystery in the secret of life which they carry in them. Diamonds or pearls have no such secret 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, lest a trail of evil and unbeauty shall follow us. We need to watch what we say in our little talks with the people we meet through the days, or in our influence over them, lest we leave stain or hurt behind.

But it is of the growth of the seed that our Lord speaks in his parable. "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 out in the fields and watch his seed growing. He only casts it into the ground—and lets it grow as it will. 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.

You may write a letter full of bitter words. You were angry when you wrote it. Your conscience told you 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 mailbox, the voice within you 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 so. You began to think of the unlovingness in the bitter words. It was too late, now, however, for the cruel letter was beyond your reach.

So it is—when one drops a seed into the ground, whether it be 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 thing 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 swift 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, or 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. And no power in the universe can arrest it—or get it back. You may pray—but prayer cannot get back the regretted word or deed.

There is something startling in this thought—of how what we have once done passes then 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 check evil things, to keep them from forever growing into more and more baleful evil—is before we cast the seed into the ground. We need to think seriously of this truth—that there is a line beyond which our power over our words and deeds and influences ceases forever.

There is a 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. Its life can be brought out, and it can grow—only through being cast into the ground. The planting is all we have to do—it is all we can do. "The soil produces a crop by itself." We cannot help the soil take care of the seed—and we do not have to help God take care of the good words we speak to others. The seed is divine, and the influences which 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.

Great is the mysterious power in the earth which touches the seed, enfolds it, 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, 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!