TWO SOWINGS AND TWO HARVESTS.
Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.
Galatians vi. 7, 8.
Trinity College Chapel, 24th Sunday after Trinity, 1871.
IT may be a matter of question, what moral defect in the Galatian Church was prominent in S. Paul's mind, when he wrote these words, and what therefore is the exact link of thought which connects them with the context. Are they aimed at the niggardliness of those, who refused to provide proper support for their spiritual teachers, or to extend their alms to a distant Church suffering from the effects of famine? Or are they rather directed against others, who vaunting themselves as spiritual, and professing to subordinate the letter, the ritual, the law of ordinances to a higher principle, yet nevertheless through carelessness and self-indulgence were sinking into lower depths of license than those whom they branded as 'carnal?' Whatever may have been the immediate motive, it is clear that the words have a wider application, and cannot be confined to any one development of the fleshly mind.
This then is the great principle, which the text enunciates. It extends the law of cause and effect, which in the physical world is a matter of common observation, to the domain of the moral and theological, from which men, whether professedly worldly or professedly religious, from diverse motives and by manifold subterfuges attempt to exclude it. It declares that certain courses of action, certain modes of life, entail certain inevitable consequences. It pronounces this to be true in the region of human life, as in the region of external nature, that 'while the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest shall not cease;' true that men do not 'gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles;' true that, where tares only have been sown, ears of wheat will not be gathered into the garner.
I need hardly remind you with what persistency and in how many various forms our Lord and His Apostles enforce this lesson; that God takes men, if we may so say, at their word, deals with them according to their aims, matches His gifts to their ambitions, bestows on them what they crave and withholds from them what they despise, and thus through and in themselves works out His great purpose of equal retribution. I might point in illustration of this to S. Paul's picture of the Gentile world in the opening of the Epistle to the Romans— the earliest and most truthful sketch of the philosophy of religious history—where the degradation and decay of the heathen is traced to the wilful perversion of their aims and darkening of their hearts, which refused to listen to the oracle of conscience speaking within them, and to the voices of nature responding to it from without, till at length 'God gave them over'—the expression is thrice repeated, as if to designate three successive stages in this relinquishment, three successive plunges in their downward course—'gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to uncleanness,' 'gave them over to shameful affections,' 'gave them over' (last of all) 'to a reprobate mind,' when the light of the moral sense had been utterly quenched, and they revelled in their sin and shame, and the corruption was hopeless, irretrievable, final. This in S. Paul's judgment was the outcome of that 'healthy sensuality' of the Greek, which a modern writer has recommended to our favourable consideration as an improvement on the morals of the Gospel. Judge for yourselves; I will add no word to prejudice the verdict. Is this health, is it culture, is it light, is it life; or is it, as S. Paul teaches, vileness and corruption, darkness and death?
Or I might turn again for an illustration to the parable of Lazarus and Dives. Consider the answer to the rich man, when the retribution came and the plea for mercy was urged too late. 'Thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things.' This is the pivot, on which the moral of the parable turns. They were his good things; the things which were to him the realization of the ends and aims of life, the things on which he had set his heart and for which he had spent his energies. They might not be 'good things' in themselves. Some of them might be positively bad, vicious in their processes and dangerous in their results; though for the most part they would have a neutral character, as instruments, advantages, enjoyments, capable of use and capable also of abuse. But to him they represented the ideal of life. He saw nothing beyond, desired nothing beyond. And he had his desire. God granted to him 'his good things.' He enjoyed them—enjoyed them to surfeiting. Whether they answered his expectations, whether they did not pall on his palate, did not leave a loathing, a dissatisfied feeling behind, is another matter. The point of the parable is this; that, what he sought for, that he attained; that the seed, which he had sown, had borne its proper fruit in its due season, and that therefore no ground of complaint was left. He had sown to the flesh; and of the flesh he had reaped, in the present, indolence, luxury, magnificence, self-indulgence in its highest and its lowest forms; but in the present and in the future alike spiritual corruption and spiritual death.
In the text two great principles are set the one against the other—flesh and Spirit, darkness and light, life and death. And each man is required to make his election between the two. On whichever alternative his choice may fall, he accepts the disadvantages, as well as the advantages, of that alternative. It would be foolish, as it would be futile, to understate the disadvantages of the nobler choice. In the end it will be found true that the yoke is easy and that the burden is light; but a yoke and a burden it is and will inevitably be. And the assumption of this yoke, the shouldering of this burden, must vex and gall, and may even agonize with its unwonted pressure. Yet, if the child that has been indulged in its every whim, that has submitted to no restraints, has learnt no lesson of self-denial in infancy, may even, as a child, have been less happy, because more selfish, than other children, and when it grows out of infancy into boyhood and gets its first rude lessons of the trials of life, may find its position intolerable; if the young man, who wastes his energies and squanders his means and indulges his passions in the vigour and freshness of youth, and thus gambles away all the splendid possibilities of his maturer age, is not a whit more happy even in his present dissipation than his more sober equals, and finds when it is too late that his future is irretrievably ruined—the means which might have started him fairly in life spent, the intellectual endowments which would have more than compensated the lack of material resources stunted and withered by disuse, the whole fibre of his character, his capacity of endurance, his faculty of concentration, his power of self-restraint, wasted in premature decay; then by analogy—as we look forward, no longer from infancy to boyhood, no longer from early manhood to mature age, but from time to eternity, from the life here to the life beyond, from the brief transitory elements of our existence to the abiding and permanent, or in Apostolic language from the flesh to the Spirit— it is only reasonable, only accordant with the lessons of common experience, that he who has staked his all on the earlier phase of existence, has lived in it and for it alone without one thought of the more serious destiny beyond, should, when this destiny overtakes him, be plunged into the agony and despair of those who find themselves suddenly confronted with a new life, for which they have undergone no discipline, with which they have cultivated no sympathies, to which they have made no sacrifices, which is utterly alien to their tastes and their habits. This analogy will lead us to suspect, that he who is wise for the future is not (in any true sense of the word) unwise for the present; that in S. Paul's language 'godliness has promise of the life that now is, as well as of the life to come:' but, whether it does this or not, it certainly tends to vindicate as inevitable the law which is laid down in the text; that in God's moral world the harvest reaped shall be as the seed sown, and that every tree shall yield fruit after his kind. Any schemes of salvation, any views of grace, election, assurance, which fail to take into account this essential element, must be wrong. They are futile attempts to set aside the dispensation of Divine Providence. They are a mockery of God.
'He that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption.' What is meant, and what is not meant, by sowing to the flesh, it is important for us to discriminate. It does not mean paying proper attention to the bodily health, for the health of the body is a valuable instrument in performing the functions of our spiritual life. It does not mean giving suitable recreation to the faculties of the mind; for only by such recreation can those faculties be kept sound and vigorous, and fulfil their part as ministers to our spiritual nature. It does not mean attending to our profession or employment, and thus providing adequate means for our support in life; for without such means independence is lost, temptations are multiplied, and the free exercise of the spiritual faculty is shackled in a thousand ways. It does not mean checking and stunting the natural affections; for without the affections duly fostered and guided aright the spiritual life must wither and die for want of proper nutrition. These things it is not. But to live for the sake of amusement only, to live that you may gratify pleasures of the sense, to live that you may indulge your ambition, or your love of popularity, or your love of display, or your love of ease, or even your love of knowledge—regarded as a selfish instinct, without one thought of using it for the benefit of others and to the glory of God— to live for any or all of these is to live for this life alone, whatever form your ideal of this life may take. This is sowing to the flesh; this will rear and will reap a harvest of corruption.
The Apostle draws a sharp contrast. He speaks only of the two extremes, the two antagonist elements —flesh and Spirit. But there are whole regions lying between and occupying neutral ground—regions which may be annexed to the one or the other as either becomes more powerful. Let us then interpolate between the two.
'He that soweth to the intellect, shall of the intellect reap'—first of all, intellectual triumphs. Of this he may be assured. But whether the end shall be corruption, or whether it shall be life eternal, this still remains undetermined. These intellectual acquisitions are our business here. They are our justification, as a Collegiate body. If we fail in these, we have not answered our end; we have pronounced our doom. The salt has lost its savour, and it is henceforth good for nothing but to be cast out and to be trodden under foot of men. But, if so, it is only the more incumbent upon us, to ask, whether in this province we are sowing to the flesh or sowing to the Spirit?
For it is not difficult to see, how intellectual gifts and intellectual activity may minister to the flesh, may sow the seeds of corruption; and when this is the case, the corruption will be all the more deadly, inasmuch as the faculties thus degraded are the nobler. 'The light of the body is the eye.' 'If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!'
For instance, a man may enter upon some intellectual investigation from a corrupt motive. There are some departments of Natural Science which are most noble in themselves, which offer to the physician the largest opportunities for practical usefulness, which open out to the student the widest fields of scientific research. But this man's motive is neither philanthropy nor science. A worse than idle curiosity prompts him. He approaches the subject with a sullied touch; and it rots and crumbles in his hands. Here then he has sown to the flesh; and according to the sowing will be the harvest. In the bitter retrospect, when the curse has descended upon him and he is driven from the garden of his happy innocence, he will confess in sorrow and shame the intense moral significance of the earliest pages of that oldest book—at once the oldest and the freshest of all books—where the simple test of obedience is the abstaining from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and yet this one prohibition is too stringent for the sinful curiosity which pronounces it 'pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise.'
Or, again, take a different instance. Past and contemporary literature will furnish only too many examples, where, through the faculty of imagination, the seed has been sown to the flesh, and the inevitable harvest of corruption reaped therefrom. Better— a thousand times better—never to have risen above the dead-level of mediocrity, never to have left any trace on the literature of your country, better to have lived obscure and died forgotten, than once to have prostituted this, the divinest of all intellectual gifts, to minister to the passions of man, and to plant the seeds of corruption in generations yet unborn. Of all possibilities this is the future which we should most deprecate for any man here—worse than the worst reverses of fortune, worse even than the utter degradation of his own personal character, for then at least the evil may perchance die with him, the whole harvest of woe may be reaped by the sower alone.
Cultivate then, as you are bound to do, your choicest intellectual endowments; but so cultivate them, that they may become also your best spiritual instruments; so cultivate them, that you may lay them down a less unworthy offering at the footstool of the Eternal Throne. He, and he only, that soweth to the Spirit, shall of the Spirit reap life eternal.
This spiritual capacity is the crown and glory of human life. To it all other graces, faculties, endowments, lead up. It is their anointed sovereign, their divinely-ordained consummation. Without it the character is mutilated in its most essential part. With unfeigned pity you will have looked on some poor idiot, in whom the light of the intellect has been quenched, whose rude physical health seems a mockery of his mental state, who retains the features and exhibits the gestures of a man, while yet the vacant stare and the inarticulate muttering and the loose gait tell only too plainly that the nobler part of man is not there. With some such sentiment of compassion we may imagine that a higher being will look down on one of us, rich though he may be in all intellectual gifts, lavishly endowed with the powers of reason and the graces of imagination, in whom nevertheless the divinest faculty of all—the spiritual nature —is a dreary hopeless blank, crushed out by worldliness, or wasted away by disuse. His great intellectual capacities seem only to point the contrast, and to flaunt and to mock at the vacancy of this higher part.
But this spiritual faculty, in proportion as it is the most precious, is also the most delicate part of our nature. It demands the most careful tending. It will stand no rude treatment. It soon withers away with neglect. Without self-discipline and without prayer its life cannot be sustained.
Not without self-discipline. I have heard it advanced in conversation and I have seen it stated in sermons, as an axiom which is not open to question, but must at once command belief, that self-denial, if imposed for some immediate beneficent purpose, as for instance to enable us to minister to the wants of others, is an excellent and praiseworthy thing; but that when there is no such end in view, it is morbid, worthless, delusive. But is this so? Does reason or analogy or experience lend any countenance to this statement? Can the habit of self-denial be formed in any other way than by repeated acts of self-denial? The Apostle is wont to compare the training of the moral and spiritual character to the gymnastic training of the body. Is not the comparison eminently just? It does not do to put off the exercise of self-denial, till there is a distinct demand for selfdenial. You can no more deny yourself at pleasure, unless you have undergone a preliminary discipline, than you can put forth the muscular strength and skill requisite for some athletic feat, without the proper physical training. And therefore I say, if you would live the higher life, if you would sow to the Spirit, exercise a stern discipline over yourselves now. Use the rules and the restraints of this place—the fixed hours and the appointed studies—as the instruments of this discipline. It is only by your willing surrender to them that they will be made truly effectual. This do, and conquer sloth, conquer listlessness, conquer indulgence, conquer self.
Not without self-discipline; but also not without prayer. Prayer—the communion of the human spirit with the Divine—is the proper food of the spiritual life. How far this is the daily habit of any member of this congregation, is known to himself alone. But if we turn to our public services, is it hopeful, that, when morning and evening opportunities of common worship are offered to all, so few are found to attend regularly, and so many think it irksome if they are required to attend even now and then? Is it hopeful, that when Sunday after Sunday the Lord's Table is spread and you are invited to participate in this supreme act of Christian worship—the last command of the dying Saviour, the truest bond of our universal brotherhood, the most intimate communion between the finite and the infinite—so few respond to the call? And yet, if this College is ever to rise to a sense of its highest mission, it must shake off this spiritual lethargy, and throw itself earnestly into this divine life.
It is impossible to watch the tide of vigorous youthful life, as it streams through our antechapel on Sunday evenings, without feeling what untold possibilities of good have been enclosed within the four walls of this building. Here is a vast capacity, an undeveloped spiritual power, which, duly fostered and concentrated, might change the face of society, might revive a Church or regenerate a nation. And yet— it is a painful thought—in a year or two all these elements will be dispersed. This generation too will go forth, as in the parable, on their several ways, 'one to his farm, another to his merchandise.' The call will be neglected; the good will remain undone; one more glorious possibility will have passed away. Shall this continue, until the College shall cease to be? Shall generation succeed generation and nothing be done? 'And He said unto me, Son of man, can these bones live? And I answered, O Lord God, Thou knowesL' 'Lord, how long?'