Alfred Place Baptist Church

4:26-29 The Mysterious Growth Of The Kingdom

Mark 4:26-29 “He also said, ‘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. All by itself the soil produces grain – first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.”

These are amongst the opening words of C.H. Spurgeon in a sermon he preached on this text on June 12th, 1861: “It is remarkable that the parable before us is peculiar to Mark. No other evangelist has recorded it, but we don’t think any the less of it on that account. If it had been told to us four times we should have been glad to hear the repetition, and would have given it a fourfold attention; as it is told us but once, we will give the more earnest heed to a voice which speaks once for all. We’re glad that the Holy Spirit led Mark to reserve this pearl out of the many excellent things which our Lord said which have been lost. John tells us that if a record of all the works which Jesus did could have been preserved they’d have made a library so large that scarcely the world itself could have contained all the books. Many of the things that Jesus said floated about, no doubt, for a time, and were gradually forgotten, and we’ve to be thankful to the Spirit of God for perpetuating this choice parable by the hand of his servant Mark.” The purpose of this parable of Jesus is to show us what the kingdom of God is like.

1. THE COMMENCEMENT OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD IS DIVINE.

“A man scatters seed on the ground” (v.26). The Lord Jesus never said the actual words, “I am the Sower” in the way that he actually claimed, “I am the true vine,” or “I am the light of the world,” but as the seed is the word of God then Christ was certainly the greatest of all sowers. Think of it! God the Son, the Creator of the heavens and the earth, leaving his Father’s bosom, descending to our world not only to procure, but to preach salvation. He sent out John the Baptist first of all to plough and break up the soil of the hearts of men – let the iron of conviction enter their lives, let hypocrites be unmasked, let neither kings nor peasants be spared; all of them must repent. Then Jesus the promised Messiah appeared, so filled with love that he himself came with the good news. He who is to procure our liberty will proclaim it to the captive. He who made the earth will stand on it as a preacher of salvation. He humbly waited for thirty years before scattering the seed, experiencing the dead legalistic preaching of the Pharisees in his synagogue each Sabbath. Then he ended the silence for the time had come, and he preached as never any man has preached before him or since that time.

Now ascended to heaven and seated in the midst of the throne of God this same Jesus gives sowers to the church. They don’t volunteer for this work. They have a constraint to spend their lives going in Christ’s name, preaching the words of Christ, all over Christ’s world. Today in every corner of the globe you will find them. “Woe is me if I don’t sow the seed,” they say. My friend Easton Howes arrived from the West Indies in the 1950s and began to work for Westminster City Council. He met another Christian who kept urging him to go with him to a Bible Study on a Friday evening. He was reluctant but finally accompanied him. They walked down Buckingham Gate and the man turned into Westminster Chapel. This was not a Bible Study of ten people. A thousand people were listening to Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones going through Romans, and that became a part of Easton’s Friday nights until they ended.

We meet such men in the shadow of the Empire State Building, or on the Uganda border of Kenya; in magnificent state-of-the-art church buildings or under the shade of a tree, you’ll find those sowers today. Here are men absolutely fascinated with what the Son of God has said, and convinced that it is the most relevant message the world can hear. They will spend their entire lives scattering the seed as Jesus did. But what a difference between us and him! His grace and our rudeness; his power and our weakness; his love and our cold affections; his burning zeal and our smoking flaxes. Yet it is the same message we preach. We keep going back to the Book, checking it out, to be sure that we are saying what the Lord Christ said. We fear being false prophets for theirs is the lowest pit of hell. Then we go on telling it to the world: “A man scatters seed on the ground.”

Grace has also given a general call to all his people to be sowers. Any Christian may sow the seed. If God had called us to be singers, or artists, or nuclear physicists, or brain surgeons most of us would say that it would be impossible. But anyone can thrust his hand into a bag of seed and then scatter it. No high IQ or physical stature is needed. You don’t need a post-graduate degree to sow seed. The shyest person here can sow the seed. The youngest Christian here can scatter seed. Only obedience to God is required. The seed is the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is God-given and God-breathed seed. Paul Freed was the founder of the Trans World Radio, and when he was seventeen years of age he was sailing on the Queen Mary across the Atlantic. He got into conversation one day on the ship with a huge bear of a man. They played table tennis together, and then the man invited him to his cabin. There was a curious ball and chain on the floor and the man told Paul that he was the Olympic champion in hammer throwing. Young Paul was a Christian and felt he had to speak to his man. Very nervously he pulled out his pocket New Testament and said to the Irishman, “Excuse me sir, I just want to read something from this little book. I know you’re a busy man, but these are important words: ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life.” The man looked at him, put his hand on his shoulder and said, “Thank you, son. You’ve no idea how much this means to me. I’m going to remember what you’ve said, and listen, don’t be afraid to do for other people who you just did for me.” “A man scatters seed on the ground.”

How is it that all of you have come to this place today? A man scattered the divine seed to you. I was speaking to a Presbyterian friend in Inverness who told me of a rough family of scrap metal dealers who live there, into whose lives an extraordinary change has taken place in the last decade. They were literally the last family in the city you would expect to see converted. How did it happen? This family’s young Roman Catholic priest said to the patriarch of the family as he met him one day, “All our questions find their answers in the Bible.” That’s all. It is virtually a cliche. Yet it was a seed planted in that man’s heart and it put down roots. He bought a Bible and studied it and was saved by the Saviour he met there; now they are attending a Bible-believing church. Today, should you enter his cleaned up office, there on the desk is a Bible, unashamedly lying there (and it is the Authorised Version, he points out to you, “the proper Bible”!).

The seed will have come to you some other way. There is no proper way that the seed comes to us, in nature seeds are carried by the wind or water, by sparrows or elephants. So through your pastor, or parents, or friends, or in a tract you read, or a Gideon Bible – whatever it was – somehow you’ve been brought into touch with the words of Christ. Maybe you want to know more and that is why you are here. The message of the Lord Jesus has affected you. There is nothing else like it. The apostle puts the message like this: “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself.” That is the bedrock of Christianity; that is its message compressed to an irreducible minimum; our entire existence, the core of our theology, the theme of the Bible, the power of our preaching, the heart of the gospel, all hang on one majestic reality – God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. This man lived a blameless life and then laid it down as a substitutionary sacrifice for sin almost two thousand years ago. That is the seed we sow everywhere, and today millions of his followers are found all over the world. That is the power of the seed sown. Two weeks ago we had Jyoti Chakravartty with us. How did the seed enter his life? His father, a high caste Hindu, was walking along a street in Calcutta forty years ago, when he met a man scattering seed on the ground. In other words, that ‘sower’ was a missionary from Leicester standing in front of a shop selling little red-backed copies of Mark’s gospel. Jyoti’s father bought one of these under the impression that it was about Karl Marx. He was cross when he later realised his mistake, but reluctantly he opted to read it not wanting to waste his money entirely. In that gospel he became gripped by the Person he met there and his life was changed. “A man scatters seed on the ground.” Thus his son Jyoti was raised in a word-filled atmosphere.

That is the calling of the church to sow the word. Paul put it like this: “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labour” (I Cor. 3:6-8). Jyoti came to us after visiting a Plymouth Brethren assembly in Leicester from which, many years ago, a member had gone to scatter the seed of the word in India. He was that man who had sold Mark’s gospel to Jyoti’s father. How the assembly welcomes Jyoti on his visits to them as fruit from their sending.

A booklet with a red cover; a black intimidating book; a flimsy tract thrust in your hand; a holiday Bible club worksheet. They don’t look much: they are not coffee table books; they are not gold-leaf volumes, bound in leather, but they are the living word. You can enter an art shop, or a glassware store and see bowls of shining glass pebbles, sapphire, and crimson, and indigo, and violet. You can push your hand right into them and let their cool touch press against your fingers. How beautiful they look. You can buy a bottle of them for a pound. When you pick up a packet of seeds – what a contrast, the packet seems empty. They are brown and flaky, some so insignificant that you must be careful that the wind doesn’t blow them away. They look like nothing. Buy a packet of them too for a pound and then plant everything in two lines. In one line plant the sapphire and crimson and indigo and violet glass beads, and in the other the little wrinkled seeds. Water them as Apollos watered the word Paul had planted. Go back in a month and there is a fine line of green shoots where the seeds were sown, but nothing from the glistening pebbles. Water the fake jewellery more diligently; add some liquid fertiliser. Put glass frames over them and slug pellets all around the line, but still nothing comes up. No signs of life at all, not after six months and not after six years, because as beautiful as they appear those shiny pebbles are dead. But the seeds are sprouting up. They’re alive! Are you spending your efforts on what is dead?

What a strange phenomenon to celebrate, and yet this is what the glittering world sings:

“They can beg and they can plead, but they can’t see the light, that’s right.
‘Cause the boy with the cold hard cash is always Mister Right
‘Cause we are living in a material world, and I’m a material girl.”

That is a typical celebration of all that glitters, but it has no life of God at all. Men and women are dead in sin, every single person without God is lifeless, and everything you take from this world and introduce into their lives is just as lacking in the life of God. The seed that comes from God alone is different. God designed it. God created it. God has put himself in it. Then let me learn about that seed! I must know about the seed of God. What can you tell me about it?

i] There is life in the seed. Bury the Queen’s coronation crown with its hundreds of diamonds; nothing will grow there because it is dead, but in a humble acorn there is life which will burst through its frail walls and reach for the sky. A plant will perfume the world with fragrance, and enrich men with its fruits. That is the life of the seed of ‘Gospel truth’. I remember children using that phrase when one was accusing the other of telling a lie: “No!” one would protest, “It’s gospel truth!” It will live when we are dead. The old martyr was chained to the stake, and he turned to his tormentors and said, “Me you may kill; the truth you can’t!” That is incorruptible and immortal seed. You can sing it to guitars, and polish it with illustrations, and attempt to act it out in a sketch, thinking that like the feathers on the end of an arrow such devices are going to assist the flight of the word. No, it is to the plain gospel truth, blessed by God’s Spirit, that sinners owe their salvation, and Christians all their comfort. When a man asks a girl to marry him it is plain humble words he will use. He won’t act out his proposal. He will confess his love and ask for her hand in marriage in plain words. That is red hot communication. When a person will try to express words of comfort to a widow it will be plain words he will use. They will be the most helpful and suitable. When a witness is standing in a witness box and speaking of what they see and hear then it is plain words they must use; they are light and power. So it is with the gospel. A patient is healed by the medicine not the gold spoon on which it enters his mouth. It is in the word of God that life is found.

ii] There is force in the seed. The silver hoard hidden and buried in Roman times and detected today by a metal detector has remained inert. The coins have lain in a living tomb for 1800 years and there is no increase at all. How different the seed of the word of God, once it enters a person it begins to grow. Think of the power of the creation’s seeds, how they can drive up a shoot that can pierce concrete, and split a rock, and lift up a granite tomb. That is creation’s seed. Then how much mightier is the God-breathed seed of the Creator himself – his own powerful Word. It breaks the hardest heart – think of Saul of Tarsus. Did he and Stephen attend the same synagogue in Jerusalem? It is a distinct possibility, viewing one another across the assembly, very different personalities. Stephen was soon captivated by the living Jesus whom the apostles preached, while Saul hated everything about that Jesus. When Stephen sowed the seed in his final speech before being stoned to death what force it released in Saul’s heart. It does so today, bending stubborn wills and bringing life into dead families, and refreshment and fruitfulness to whole nations and continents. It makes a wilderness blossom like an oasis. “He that has my word,” says God, “let him speak my word faithfully. What is the chaff to the wheat? says the Lord. Is not my word like a fire, and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces?” We can remember today Christian words which were spoken to us forty years ago; they are still forceful in our lives.

iii] There is a power of propagation in the word. A farmer may keep a bottle of seeds on his mantelpiece and look at them once in a while. They are not reproducing there. He can take the bottle down and turn it over in his hands for as long as he’s inclined, and wish they would all multiply as he desires, but until the seed enters the soil they’ll be sterile. They abide alone. So it is with the Bible on the shelf. It brings no good luck to your house. It certainly brings no life from heaven. Once its words are within our lives then the great change begins to takes place. Think of Peter on the day of Pentecost, or Philip in Samaria, or consider Daniel Rowland speaking in Llangeitho – what a change was wrought in Wales by that one man scattering that seed on the ground. “There shall be a handful of corn in the earth on the top of the mountains; its fruit shall shake like Lebanon.”

It is in the seed, which is God’s living and powerful word, that the kingdom of God commences in sinners’ lives. They are dead, lacking any life, until this forceful word enters their lives.

2. THE CONTINUANCE OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD IS DIVINE.

“Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain – first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head” (vv. 27&28). So the seed must first enter the heart of man and it brings with it all the promise of eternal life, like all the message of the oak tree is compressed into the acorn. Let me give you an instance of this from the current London City Mission magazine called ‘Span.’ It tells of a new urban evangelist named Neil Toomey who comes from Sunderland. He had left home on his 18th birthday and taken the bus 300 miles south to London. There his life spiralled downwards into night-clubs, alcohol and drugs. He became the boy with the cold hard cash who is Mister Right, but it all went horribly wrong, ending in attempted suicide and hospital. He drifted for a few years while he tried philosophy and religions. Then one day he says, “I was in a New Age book shop in Covent Garden when I saw a Bible and out of curiosity began to flick through the pages. Before I knew it I had bought it, full of excitement. Why hadn’t I read it before? From that moment wherever I went, my Bible went. I swiftly fell in love with Jesus. If it was true and Jesus was who He said He was, then I had to change completely.” Within a few months he had become a Christian. He says, “My greatest desire now is to seek God’s will, and to show people the reality of Christ.”

The word of life had entered Neil’s life and new fruit began to appear. The old selfishness went. He was no longer a material boy living in a material world. He was living in his Father’s world surrounded by people dead in sin. He says, “I was drawn to London where there are so many lost, lonely and needy people, just like I had been.” He is now working in the London City Mission’s centres in Waterloo and Bermondsey, and married to a girl called Esther. See the long process that brought him there? Total disillusion with the world. An awareness that there was more to life than materialism. But how did this life of God transform him inwardly then? We have no idea. No one can explain that metamorphosis. We can’t open up the heart and brain and see it taking place. Millions read the Bible but there is no change in their lives.

“I know not how the Spirit moves,
Convicting men of sin;
Revealing Jesus through the word,
Creating faith in Him.” (D.M. Whittle 1840-1901)

How God creates a new heart and a right spirit, how we are begotten again unto a living hope, how we are born from above no one knows. How God the Holy Spirit comes into our lives in the greatest of all changes we cannot tell. There is no voice. We don’t see a light. We don’t feel a touch. Some people are not aware of even what year it happened in their lives, and yet a resurrection and a new creation was taking place. As to God’s mode of working in a sinner this is a secret thing that belongs to God only. It is a miracle of love, and he does not tell us how he performs it. We know that we are quite unable to do it. In that honour none shall share. We know that it happens to favoured sinners, and that is why Neil Toomey had a new interest in the Bible, and why the life of Christ began to be evident in him. “Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how” (v.27). After the seed of God entered his life his tastes changed, his desires and ambitions changed. He was no longer drawn to the pub and night-club scenes. He had been there and that had almost destroyed him. There is now this spiritual growth, a hunger and thirst for reality and truth and holiness. Faith in Christ has done this, we know not how.

“I know not how this saving faith
To me He did impart;
Or how believing in His word
Wrought peace within my heart.” (D. M. Whittle 1840-1901)

Neil Toomey’s mother had been saved in an evangelistic meeting ten years earlier, and had spoken to him of Jesus a number of times and prayed for him, but the new birth hadn’t happened at that time. Why now? We don’t know. Salvation is of the Lord. He decrees new life to begin by the word of God as and when it pleases him. Shouldn’t we then cry mightily to God that he give that life to us? Life! The life of heaven! That life in us! Give it to me merciful God! Let us cry to him for it until he hear and answer. None can cry in vain.

We do know that after regeneration there needs to be growth and there will be growth. One day in the spring I can see the buds appear on our apple tree. What happens the following week? Will the tree be loaded with apples? Of course not. “Maybe . . . sometimes . . . in bumper ‘apple-revival’ years?” No. Never! First the flowers must appear and then they must be fertilised, and then, after germination, tiny fruit are formed and they begin to grow. Their growth is imperceptible from week to week. So it is with the Christian. There is never immediate Christlikeness. The order is spelled out by the Lord in our text, “first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head” (v.28). Our Lord is teaching what we call ‘progressive sanctification.’ That’s the buzz phrase. The apostle John was one of those listening to our Lord and he never forgot this threefold analysis of the Christian life. When he wrote to a congregation he applied it to the church, addressing first the “little children” and then of the “young men” and finally of the “fathers” (I John 2:12-14). A Devon Puritan called Ralph Venning wrote a book which has recently been reprinted by the Banner of Truth, called “Learning in Christ’s School” which explains the characteristics of those groups, and he even adds a prior category of ‘babes’.

Amongst the most famous of John Newton’s letters are three he writes to a young Christian explaining to him the progress of grace in the believer’s life. They’ve been called, Grace in the Blade, Grace in the Ear, and the Full Corn in the Ear based on our text:

Stage One: “Grace in the Blade:” it is spring time for the soul; and if we had to choose one word to describe the new Christian at this period is his life it would be ‘desire.’ “He is in bloom, and by the grace and blessing of the heavenly husbandman, will bear fruit in old age. His faith is weak, but his heart is warm. He will seldom venture to think himself a believer; but he sees and feels and does those things which no one could, unless the Lord was with him,” says John Newton. There is a new pattern to Sundays. There is a flush on the cheek. There is a sentence or two describing new activity in an E-mail letter. There is a Bible at the side of the bed and regular reading. There is a new walk as you hope to bump into a certain person. There are slight suggestions of quite new ways of thinking and looking at life. Grace in the blade.

Stage Two: “Grace in the Ear:” the chief characteristic of him at his stage would be ‘conflict.’ “He is learning to be more distrustful of his own heart. The Lord appoints occasions and turns in his life which test his spirit. ‘Do you trust me now, when these trials come into your life?’ God is saying to him. Temptations are matched to his own personality and situations. He is being weaned from spiritual pride,” says John Newton. Grace in the ear.

Stage Three: “Full Corn in the Ear:” the abiding characteristic of him at this period of his life is ‘contemplation.’ He looks back nostalgically to his early fervency and warmth, even though much, he recognises, was mixed with immaturity and his understanding of the gospel hadn’t been so clear. Now his assurance is more stable and more simple. There is more humility and spirituality. There is more willingness to say, “Thy will be done.” He is aware that his struggles and pains will soon be over and he’ll be with his Saviour. He thinks of the glory before him. That is what John Newton says. That is the progress every Christian displays – “first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head” (v.28). There is no short cut to the full kernel, as physically we grow by inches so too it is spiritually.

Let me turn this reality of progressive sanctification in two ways:

i] Some preachers want to see the result of the gospel directly or they will give up and distrust the word of God. Their words have been preached and people have heard them, but they give people no time to think, to count the cost, to consider those sins that will have to go if they choose the Lord Jesus. Where they live they’ve got a garden, and every seed they’ve ever planted in their gardens takes time to grow, but they want the seed of their words to grow like magic in their meetings or they think that nothing has been done. They are so eager to see the full kernel there and then that they pressurise people to get out of their seats, kneeling a t the front, repeating a prayer, or speaking with tongues, or falling backwards, or laughing like hyenas, and they are writing to the world that so many were converted and had been baptized with the Holy Ghost. They are roasting the seed of the word on the fires of fanaticism, and the word can’t live in those flames. The Holy Dove is grieved and flies away. They prevent men from being saved by giving them the assurance that they’ve already been converted. They tell them that they’ve been baptized with the Holy Ghost when they haven’t even been convicted of their sin. If these preachers had been taught that salvation was of the Lord, and if they’d been taught to wait on the Lord then they could have become pastors and not the butchers and magicians and frauds they are. “First the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head” (v.28). Or let me turn it like this:

ii] Some Christians want to see new believers perfect from the first. They itch to interrogate them and ask profound questions. How many mistakes have been made in such an activity? The old Christian shakes his head as he talks to the young Christian and he knits his brow. What is he doing? In effect, he is going into the cornfield where the corn was sown last month and to his dismay there are no ears of corn to be seen. “Tut tut!” he says, “it didn’t used to be like that in the old days.” No! That is not the case. It was never like that. If he had looked for blades of grass he’d have found some and been encouraged, but he wanted full growth at once. For my part I am glad to see a new desire, a feeble longing, a degree of uneasiness with the life of the gang, a measure of weariness for sin, the weakest evidences of grace. Won’t you allow a true Christian to begin at the beginning, and be satisfied with being a little Christian at first? Don’t despise the day of small things. If you examine him about his understanding of doctrine then he doesn’t yet grasp justification by faith – though he is justified. You will worry him by talking about the purpose and design of the atonement, but speak to him about the Saviour dying for us, and you will water him and he will grow. If you crush the stalk how will the head grow, and if you crush the head there can be no full kernel. There may not be much that looks like fruit in him yet, but by-and-by you’ll say, “That’s it!” Expect credible marks of grace in those who say they are Christians, but don’t look for glory in them yet. It’s enough to see heaven begun, not heaven completed. How kind is the heavenly Sower; he doesn’t break the bruised reed.

“He’ll never quench the smoking flax, but raise it to a flame;
The bruised reed He never breaks, nor scorns the meanest name.” Isaac Watts (1674-1748)

So the conception and the continuance of the kingdom of God is divine.

3. THE CONSUMMATION OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD IS DIVINE.

“As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come” (v.29). There is a reason to life. God has a plan for his creation and for our own individual lives. A goal lies before us and that is God’s harvest. The life of the church is not one of constant sowing and watering. There is going to be a harvest. There is that powerful scene in Revelation 14:14, where John says, “I looked, and there before me was a white cloud, and seated on the cloud was one ‘like a son of man’ with a crown of gold on his head and a sharp sickle in his hand. Then another angel came out of the temple and called in a loud voice to him who was sitting on the cloud, ‘Take your sickle and reap, because the time to reap has come, for the harvest of the earth is ripe. So he who was seated on the cloud swung his sickle over the earth, and the earth was harvested.” Think of the two comings of Christ. The first was such a disappointment to the Jews. It didn’t look like the sort of kingdom-of-God-movement they were expecting. It was in fact the seed time for God’s long-promised and long-awaited harvest. They were expecting angels and a baptism of fire and judgment, and the Romans driven out of the land, and the messianic king sitting on David’s throne. What they got was Jesus of Nazareth teaching them that if the Roman militia compelled them to carry their goods for one mile you were to volunteer to carry them a second mile. They were to pray for their enemies and do good to those who despitefully used you. Jesus spent most of his time speaking to people, and training his twelve apostles.

No one imagined that from a carpenter’s son in Nazareth a movement would fill the earth, that his followers would do greater things than he had done, seeing millions born from above from every nation and tribe. “Don’t look down on small beginnings,” this parable and the whole earthly ministry of Christ is saying to us.

“Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust him for his grace.
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face” (William Cowper, 1731-1800).

Don’t demean small initiatives. Hywel Harris began by speaking to his neighbours and reading extracts from sermon to them, and the harvest was an awakened Wales. Martin Luther nailed a public discussion on the door of a church and the harvest was the mighty Reformation which summoned the church back to the Scriptures. Jonathan Edwards began to preach in his grandfather’s church in Northampton and the harvest was a surprising work of God which brought in many people from all of New England in the 18th century. We could multiply such instances. They all begin with men scattering the seed on the ground and then it sprouts and grows, and the sowers themselves are the ones most surprised at the harvest.

We can apply this individually to the life of every Christian. God is waiting for the grain to be ripe in each one of us, and then he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come. For David Brainerd and Robert Murray M’Cheyne and Henry Martyn the time of their harvest came when they were not yet thirty. That is how our loved ones die. It is not that death is an unpredictable loose cannon crashing into our homes. Death is appointed by God, and for the Christian it is the great harvest day because the grain is ripe, all the growth was to this end. The stalk, the head and the full kernel were not for their own ends, but for God and his harvest.

There was the unforgettable martyrdom of John Brown the Scottish covenanter who was finally captured by Claverhouse, the merciless captain of the dragoons. John and Isabel prayed together and then John said to her, “Now, Isabel, the day is come that I told you would come when I spoke to you first of marrying me.” “Indeed, John, I can willingly part with you.” “That is all I desire. I have no more to do but to die. I’ve been in the happy estate to meet with death for many years.” He then kissed his children and coveted gospel blessings on them. Then Claverhouse ordered his soldier to shoot the young man, but they couldn’t, they had been overcome by the scene. So Claverhouse himself took his pistol and blew John Brown’s brains out. Then he turned on Isabel Brown and said to her, “What do you think of your fine husband now?” She said, “I ever thought much good of him and more than ever now.” Why did John Brown die? It was because he had come to full fruitfulness and the day of his harvest had arrived.

What lies before every Christian is the day of our harvest, when God shall take us home. It is coming nearer and nearer:

“For the Lord our God shall come
And shall take His harvest home;
From His field shall in that day
All offences purge away;
Give his angels charge at last
In the fire the tares to cast;
But the fruitful ears to store
In His garner evermore.
Come with all Thine angels, come,
Raise the glorious harvest home!” (Henry Alford, 1810-71).

11th May 2003 GEOFF THOMAS