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´╗┐Title: Parables of the Christ-life
Author: Trotter, I. Lilias
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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Parables of the Christ-life,
by I. Lilias Trotter


Marshall Brothers, Ltd.
London & Edinburgh.


To F.N.F. B.G.L.N. G.S.T. & A.M.E.
'fellow workers unto the kingdom of God.'



LIFE--the first glance would hardly find it on this African hillside
in the summertime. The hot wind of the desert has passed over it, and
the spring beauty of iris and orchid, asphodel and marigold, has
vanished. Nothing is to be seen but the mellow golden-brown of the
grass, broken by blue-green aloe leaves, and here and there a deep
madder head of dried-up fennel.

Yet life is reigning, not death, all the while; it is there, in
infinitely greater abundance than when the field was green--life
enough to clothe a score of fields next year.

Stoop down and look into that withered grass, and a whole new world
of God's handiwork will come into view in the burnt-up tangle. For of
all the growing things out here, the seed-vessels are among the most
wonderful. Even little insignificant plants that would hardly catch
your eye when in flower, develop forms of quaint beauty as the
capsules ripen. And now that all is finished, they lie stored with
vitality in the midst of the seeming loss around.

Do you see the parable? We will trace it out step by step.

Back we must go, to the days of early spring. The annuals that
clothed the field had each but one life then; a perishing life,
though it looked so strong in its young vigour. Left to itself, it
stood "condemned already."

But the critical moment came, changing its whole destiny, when a new
birth took place: the vitalizing pollen was received by the pistil,
and set up the reign of a fresh undying creation. All that had gone
before in the plant's history was a preparation for this moment: all
that followed was a working out to its fruition.

"Verily, verily I say unto thee, except a man be born again, he
cannot see the Kingdom of God." Every soul carries like the flower a
possible life, other than that of its first birth; more than that, to
every soul within reach of the Gospel there comes probably a moment
when the Life of God draws near and could be received if it were
willing. There is a crisis like that which the flower reaches, when
all things are ready. If that crisis is not seized, nothing lies
before the plant but useless, irrevocable decay; the power to receive
withers and vanishes; and nothing can renew it.

"That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of
the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, ye must be
born again." "Flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God,
neither doth corruption inherit incorruption." Are you letting pass
the moment on which all eternity hangs?

* * * * * *

The hour at which this new birth can take place in the flower is the
hour at which the stigma is able to grasp the pollen that comes to
it, blown by the wind or carried by the bees and butterflies. Up till
then the grains fall off unheeded; but now it develops a surface,
glutinous in some cases, velvety in others, that can clasp and keep
them fast. The pollen grains lay hold at the same moment by their
sculptured points and ridges. They "apprehend" each other, and the
pollen, with its mysterious quickening power, does the rest. As soon
as it is received it sinks down into the innermost depths of the
flower's heart, and starts there the beginning of the new creation.

The most wonderful secrets of the plant world hang round the process
of fertilisation, and the ways in which these springs of the second
birth are guarded and set going, but the flower's simple work is to
open and receive.

"The gift of God is eternal life"--oh, marvellous words!--"through
Jesus Christ our Lord." "As many as received Him, to them gave He
power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His
name." "He that hath the Son hath life, and he that hath not the Son
of God hath not life." "Behold I stand at the door and knock: if any
man hear My voice and open the door, I will come in to him."

It is utterly, unbelievably simple. Receive Jesus with a heart-grasp,
and you will find, like the flower, a spring of eternal life,
entirely distinct from your own, that is perishing, set working deep
down in your inmost being.

And all that is needed, for the fulfilment of God's uttermost purpose
for you, is that this "new man" should be formed and that the old
should pass away.

From the very outset of its new birth we see this double process
going on in the plant. Within a few hours the throb of new life has
spread through the flower, with this first result, that the petals
begin to wither. Fertilisation marks the striking of the death-blow
to all that went before. Look at a clover head; do you know why some
of the spikes are upright and others turned downwards and fading? It
is because these last have received the new tide, and the old is
ebbing out already. The birth-peal and the death-knell rang together.
Fertilisation marks the death of the flower and the death of the
flower the death of the annual, though the carrying out of its doom
comes gradually.

And in like manner the sentence of death passes, in the Cross, on the
old nature in its entirety, as the new comes into being. This is the
one only basis and groundwork for all carrying out in our practical
experience of what that death means. Once for all let this be clear.
Apart from the work done on Calvary, all working out of a death
process in our own souls is only a false and dangerous mysticism... .
"I have been crucified with Christ." (R. V.)--Yes, long before ever I
asked to be--glory be to God! and yet as freshly as if it were
yesterday, for time is nowhere with Him.

And simultaneously, in figure, in the little flower-heart, while
"that which is natural" begins to fade, "that which is spiritual"
dawns. The seed-vessel with its hidden treasure--the ultimate object
of this miracle of quickening--begins immediately to form. It was
within three days of "the heavenly vision" when the once rejected
Jesus was received by St. Paul, that the commission came--"he is a
chosen vessel unto Me, to bear My Name." A chosen vessel unto Him.
The seed-vessel belongs to the seed, only and for ever: it is formed
for itself and has no purpose apart. Separation has nothing austere
and narrow in it when it is unto Him.

Chosen vessels to bear His Name--His personality; with all that is
wrapped up in that Name of fragrance and healing, authority and
power; chosen to go about this weary sinful world with the living
Christ folded in our hearts, ready and able as of old to meet the
need around. Is not this a calling for which it is worth counting, as
St. Paul did, all things but loss?

Chosen vessels--there is the vessel and there is the treasure in it,
for ever distinct, though in wonderful union, like the seed-vessel
and the seed: the one enshrines the other.

God builds up a shrine within us of His workmanship, from the day in
which Jesus was received. The seed-vessel is its picture. With the
old nature He can have nothing to do except to deliver it to death:
no improving can fit it for His purpose, any more than the leaf or
tendril, however beautiful, can be the receptacle of the seed. There
must be "a new creation" (R.V., margin), "the new man," to be the
temple of the Divine Life.

And as the petals drop off, and the growing seed-vessel comes into
view, we see a fresh individuality developed. Compare in these four
pages some of the seed-vessels of a single family--vetch and clover:
we found over thirty species of it in that one field of the
frontispiece. These will show something of their extraordinary
variety--we have bunches of horns great and small, and bunches of
imitation centipedes, and bunches of mock holly leaves, prickly coils
and velvety balls; mimic concertinas, and bits of quaint embroidery;
imitation snail-shells, croziers, pods with frills at the seams,
spiked caskets with curious indentations, clusters of stars, bladders
like soft paper, and plaited spirals wound into a tiny cocoanut,
that, untwisted, becomes a minature crown of thorns--are they not all
a visible expression of the thoughts that are more than can be
numbered? And the greater part spring from little unnoticeable
flowers, so alike in their yellow or pink that you have to look
closely in order to find out any difference! It is the seed-bearing
that gives them their individual character.

And the same God has manifold plans for our development too, as
vessels for His Christ-life. It is by the Divine indwelling that our
true, eternal personality dawns, and for the expression of the
special manifestation of Himself which is entrusted to each one of
us. The protoplasm that quickens each different seed is one and the
same essence, but in no two does it find the same expression. He
needs the whole Church to manifest His whole character and accomplish
His appointed ministry, and so the individual development must differ
widely in everything but the common vital principle. Life--eternal
life--is the essence of all--life receiving and life-giving. There is
no need to imitate the seed-vessel of a brother vetch!--only to draw
into our own the fulness of grace that we may develop into its full
individuality the mission entrusted to us.

There is nothing arbitrary in these differing shapes of the
seed-vessels. If we look closely, we shall find that they are formed
in union with the seed that each contains--it is this that determines
the form of each, and builds it up. See these few instances: the peas
need their long pod with its daintily-cushioned divisions, to allow
each little globe to round itself to perfection; the crescent-shaped
seeds of this other vetch, each set into its own place again, form
the distinctive character of their different sheath--so do the tiny
rod-shaped ones of the third vetch, which clothe themselves in a
segmented rod in turn. While on the other hand the fine sand-like
grain of this snap-dragon needs storing in a capsule--such a quaint
one it is (whether most like a bird or a mouse sitting on a twig is
hard to say)--but it is a perfectly adapted treasure-bag for the
delicate things, and when they are ripe the two eyes open, and the
wind shakes the seed out by them! Each one lays itself out for the
special trust committed to it. Is it not the same wonderful Fashioner
Who fits us and our ministry together, and forms us through it with
unerring precision, preparing us for the white stone and the new name
which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it, eternity's seal on
the heavenly individuality of each. That eternal future will show how
the Lord had need of each of us in our varying character, and how all
that made up this earthly life fitted us for "bearing about" the
special manifestation of Jesus entrusted to us, in which no other
could take our place. He needs us, every one of us, as if there were
no other besides.

* * * * * *

But we will go back from this glimpse of God's ultimate purpose for
us, to watch the process by which it is reached, so far as we can
trace it in the ripening of the little annuals.

The figure will not give us all the steps by which God gets His way
in the intricacies of a human soul: we shall see no hint in it of the
cleansing and filling that is needed in sinful man before he can
follow the path of the plant. It shows us some of the Divine
principles of the new life rather than a set sequence of experience;
above all, the parable gives a lesson that most of us only begin to
learn after Pentecost has become a reality to us--the lesson of
walking, not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.

The flesh--the life of nature--is all, good and bad alike, that we
had and were before Christ came to us. We see its shadow in the life
of root and stem, leaf and tendril and petal, that made up the plant
before its new birth took place; "for all flesh is grass, and all the
goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field." It is not only
that which is sinful as opposed to that which is holy: it is that
which is human as opposed to that which is Divine.

In the earlier stage of the seed-vessel's growth we see the two
lives, the old and the new, practically going on alongside. And can
we not remember, many of us, in our own history, how the self life
went almost untouched and unrecognised, for years, while all the time
Christ was growing within us, and our ministry was being given?

Let us look at the seed-vessels, well set and forming fast, with
their natural life all unbroken as yet, and learn to be very tender
and patient with the early stages of God's work in those around.

But though the two may exist for a time side by side, they cannot
flourish together. The crisis must come to us as to the annual, when
the old creation begins to go down into the grave, and the new begins
to triumph at its cost.

In the plant life the two are absolutely and for ever separate--there
is no possibility of confounding the perishable existence of leaf and
stalk with the newborn seed-vessel and its hidden riches. In the
heavenly light the distinction stands out as ineffaceably. "That
which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the
Spirit is spirit." But our eyes are too dim at first to distinguish
them in detail: with most of us it is only when the cleansing Blood
has dealt with the question of known sin, and the Spirit's incoming
has cleared our vision, that the two lives, natural and spiritual,
begin to stand out before us, no longer shading into each other, but
in vivid contrast. The word of God in the hand of the Holy Ghost
pierces to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and we see bit by
bit as we can bear it, how we have made provision for the flesh,
given occasion to the flesh, had confidence in the flesh, warred
after the flesh, judged after the flesh, purposed after the flesh,
known each other after the flesh. The carnal nature with its workings
stands out as the hindrance in the way of the Divine, and the time
comes when we see that no more growth is possible to the Christ in us
unless a deliverance comes here.

We are helpless in the matter. There is no system of self-repression
or self-mortification that will do anything but drive the evil below
the surface, there to do a still more subtle work, winding down out
of reach. The roots will only strike deeper and the sap flow stronger
for the few leaves trimmed off here and there. If self sets to work
to slay self it will only end in rising hydra-headed from the
contest. How is the deliverance to come?

The annuals give us the secret. Look back at the vetch seed-vessels.
Why is it that the leaves which used to stand firm and fresh like
those of the flowering clover, have begun to shrivel and turn yellow?
It is because they have acquiesced wholly now in the death sentence
of their new birth, and they are letting the new life live at the
expense of the old. Death is being wrought out by life.

And the same triumphant power of the new life is set free as we come
to accept to its utmost limits the sentence of Calvary, that "our old
man was crucified with Him," in its sum-total, seen and unseen, root
and branch. Christ is our Life now--our only Life--and we begin to
find that He is dealing with the old creation, we hardly know how. We
only know that as we bring the judgment, the motive, the aim that
were ours, not His, into contact with Him, they shrivel and wither
like the dying leaves. The impulses and the shrinkings of the flesh
perish in His Presence alike. The new life wrecks the old. "If ye
through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body ye shall
live"--that is what the withering leaves say. We are "saved by His
life."

The great North African aloe plant shows this very strikingly. It is
like our annuals on a large scale, for it flowers and seeds but once
in its career, though that numbers more years than these can count
weeks.


Up till then its thick hard leaves look as if nothing could exhaust
their vigour. The flower stalk pushes up from a fresh sheaf of
them--up and up twelve or fourteen feet--and expands into a
candelabra of golden blossom, and not a droop comes in the plant
below. But as the seed forms, we see that life is working death,
slowly and surely; the swords lose their stiffness and colour and
begin to hang helplessly, and by the time it is ripe, every vestige
of vitality is drained away from them, and they have gone to limp,
greyish-brown streamers. The seed has possessed itself of everything.

And the meadow plants that we have been watching follow, on their
small pattern, the same law.

All gives way to the ripening seed. In the grasses the very root
perishes by the time the grain is yellow, and comes up whole if you
try to break the stem. They "reign in life" above through the
indwelling seed, while all that is "corruptible" goes down into dust
below. They have let all go to life--the enduring life: they are not
taken up with the dying--that is only a passing incident--everything
is wrapped up into the one aim, that the seed may triumph at any
cost. Death is wrought out almost unconsciously: the seed has done it
all.

Can we not trace the same dealing in our souls as, slowly, tenderly,
all that nourished that which is carnal is withdrawn, giving way to
the forming of the Christ life in its place? His thoughts and desires
and ways begin to dethrone ours as the aloe seed dethrones its leaves
and casts them to the ground. "He must increase, but I must decrease."

And the outward dealings co-operate with the inward. It is just in
the very corner of everyday life where God has put us, that this can
take place, and the surrounding influences can have their share in
bringing down to death the old nature. It is no mystical, imaginary
world that draws out the latent forms of self, but the commonplace,
matter-of-fact world about us.

It is in contact with others, for the most part, that the humbling
discoveries of the workings of the flesh come, on the one hand, and
on the other we find ourselves breaking down in one after another of
our strongest points. And all these things that seem against us are
really doing a blessed work--they are "the Wind of the Lord" coming
"up from the wilderness" to "spoil the treasure" of all that is of
former days. Everything that is "natural," good and bad alike, must
go down into death before its blast, when God takes it in hand--all
that we can lean upon in outward things, all clinging to the visible
and the transitory; and with this result, that our arms clasp closer
and closer round the Eternal Seed, Christ in us the Hope of
Glory--known no longer after the flesh, but by the mighty revelation
of the Holy Ghost.

All this is shadowed forth in the story of these southern plants; one
day's sirocco in May will turn a field, bright with the last flowers,
into a brown wilderness, where the passing look sees nothing but
ruin--yet in that one day the precious seed will have taken a stride
in its ripening that it would have needed a month of ordinary weather
to bring about; it will have drawn infinite life out of the fiery
breath that made havoc with the outward and visible.

"The grass withereth, the flower fadeth, because the Spirit of the
Lord bloweth upon it." But "our light affliction" (and from the
context we see that spiritual trial is included there) "which is but
for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight
of glory--while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the
things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are
temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal." In all the
breaking down on the human side, the hidden treasure is left not only
unhurt but enriched. Everything that wrecks our hopes of ourselves,
and our earthly props, is helping forward infinitely God's work in us.

So "we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward
man is renewed day by day." God's purpose for us is that we should be
seed-vessels; all the rest may go down into nothingness, for it
"profiteth nothing." The plant does not faint in its inner heart.
Little does it matter what happens to the "corruptible": each fading
of the outward only marks a corresponding development of the
"incorruptible" within.

"What things were gain to me" (the words seem echoed from the fading
leaves and the ripening seed), "those I counted loss for Christ. Yea,
doubtless, and I count all things but loss, for the excellency of the
knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss
of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ."

"This one thing I do." "They that are after the flesh do mind the
things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit, the things
of the Spirit." The plant has nothing to "mind" now but the treasure
it bears. Its aim has grown absolutely simple. In old days there was
the complexity of trying to carry on two lives at once, nourishing
root and stem, leaf and flower and tendril, alongside the seed-vessel
and the seed. All that is over. It withdraws itself quietly into the
inner shrine where God is working out that which is eternal. It has
chosen, in figure, that good part which shall not be taken away: it
is pressing towards the mark for the prize of its calling.

Pressing, but in perfect rest. "They toil not, neither do they spin,"
these plants, in their seed-bearing any more than in their flowering.
And when we have learnt something of their surrender, we are ready
for their secret of waiting on God's inworking. How long we are in
grasping that we are His workmanship, even as they--in discovering
the simple fact that it is exactly as impossible by our own striving
to develop the Christ-life in our hearts as to form the seed in the
pod! We have not to produce out of our higher nature a lowliness and
a patience and a purity of our own, but simply to let the pure,
patient, lowly life of Jesus have its way in us by yieldingness to it
and by faith in its indwelling might. "All that God wants from man is
opportunity." The whole of our relationship to His power, whether for
sanctification or for service, is summed up in those words.

Surrender--stillness--a ready welcoming of all stripping, all loss,
all that brings us low, low into the Lord's path of humility--a
cherishing of every whisper of the Spirit's voice, every touch of the
prompting that comes to quicken the hidden life within: that is the
way God's human seed-vessels ripen, and Christ becomes "magnified"
even through the things that seem against us.

"Mine but to be still:
Thine the glorious power,
Thine the mighty will."

And it is not only the siroccos that help forward His purpose for us!
The "clear heat" and the midnight dews all minister together: "the
sun to rule the day" when His light and sweetness flood our
souls;--the darkness--the cloudless darkness--of a walk by faith when
"the moon and the stars" of the promises alone are visible: "His
mercy endureth for ever" through all alike and He uses them to their
utmost that Christ may be formed in us.

For the spirit of abandonment has to be carried into our spiritual
life, as well as into the things that only touch the natural. The
seed-vessel has to go down into death as well as the leaf. Look at it
as it begins to pass into the valley of that shadow and its strength
begins to ebb away. It is only getting ready by its weakening, for
the service to which it has been called.

Long ago we imagined, it may be, an enduement of power from on high
in which we should have a conscious supply of the heavenly
energising--a conscious equipment for every service--a reservoir of
Divine might that could be drawn on at will. But watch the
seed-vessel as the hour comes near in which its ministry can be
fulfilled; there is only weakness greater than ever before. "It is
sown in weakness"; only in the raising does the power come into play.

"I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. And my
speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom,
but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: that your faith
should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God." "The
weak things of the world hath God chosen." "We are weak with Him"
(margin)--oh! words of wonderful grace and sweetness. There is
nothing but rest in being brought low "with Him."

And not only must our service feel this weakening touch: it must go
deeper yet. Our experiences, the blessed hours of opened heavens,
must be held with a loose hand. We saw the life withdrawn before from
the leaves of the old creation into the seed-vessel of the new. Now
it is withdrawn further still, as ripeness comes, from the
seed-vessel into the seed. In the early stages of Christian path we
are apt to be much taken up, and rightly, with the spiritual
processes by which God is working in us. But in the "ripeness of
maturity" (the real sense of "perfect" in Col. i. 28, and elsewhere)
He has something better for us. "I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth
in me." He wants to bring us from clinging to the emotional on one
hand, and on the other from morbid introspection: for perhaps one of
the chief dangers besetting those who are following hard after Him,
lies in getting taken up with these inner experiences (it is awfully
possible for the devil to rivet the chains of self back on a soul
even in the very act of watching the death process going on within
it, getting it absorbed even with its own dying!). Let us come as
fast as we can to letting the seed-vessel go as well as the leaves,
God wants to bring us to a life of childlike simplicity, taken up
with His Christ; always lower and lower at His feet in the
consciousness of shortcoming and unworthiness as His Glory shines,
but with our spiritual selves and all their intricacies fading out of
sight before Him. As we go on, we learn to draw the supply of every
need for spirit and soul and body from the simplest, barest, most
direct contact with Him. All the intervening tissues in the
seed-vessel melt away. "You have learnt the death of self when there
is nothing between your bare heart and Jesus."

Yes; when the seed is ripe it fills up the whole of the husk--there
is no room left for anything else: the walls shrivel to a mere shell.
This is the calling of the Bride--to have no room for anything but
Jesus. Blessed are they who hear it and respond.

Look at the parable. The life of leaf and tendril has shrunk away,
but there is nothing sad about the dying of the seed-vessel. What
lovely things they are, these little burnt offerings! Their bright
golden browns look far happier than the greens of spring.

And they have come now to a point of beautiful heedless freedom about
the future. When once the last shade of green that marks a clinging
to the old days has vanished, all carefulness for the earthly side of
things vanishes too. No matter how soon now the last strand of
earthly support and supply gives way: its loss is not felt. The life
is "hid" with such a hiding that nothing from around can touch it.
The fiercest summer glow only causes the little germ to wrap itself
close together in happy recklessness, the careless feet that tread it
down can only hasten the burial that is its next stage onward, the
autumn storms can bring it nothing but fresh draughts of quickening.

Yes, our life is hid with Christ in God, in actual truth as well in
God's purpose, if it has come to this that it is "no longer" we that
live but Christ that liveth in us. Oh! the simplicity of that "no
longer"--as the seed-vessel pictures it now, taken up with the seed
it bears, and heedless of itself and whatever may come. And yet, in
the absolute simplicity, there is a depth of mystery that the former
days never knew. It is like a soul that has come into the Holiest,
where it has God alone.

* * * * * *

And now we turn to the other side, to watch what God can do, in the
world around, with the Christ-life that He creates in us. We have
seen its in-flowing: we will follow its outflow. To be to Jesus all
for which He has called us--letting Him have His way utterly with us,
possessed by Him, taken up with Him--that is the first purpose for
our souls. But the Father's plan for us reaches wider than that,
though it can reach no deeper. "The first Adam was made a living
soul; the last Adam was made a quickening Spirit." His ultimate aim
is to set free for His own use that which He has wrought in us in
secret, and to give us the power of communicating that Divine life of
which we have been made partakers. We are to be "good stewards of the
manifold grace of God," entrusted with "the true riches" to minister
for Him--His for His spending. The promise to Abraham: "I will bless
thee ... and thou shalt be a blessing," gives the double purpose for
His people--"grace" for our own souls, and "apostleship" for those
around.

We have seen in parable, in the seed's growing and ripening, the work
of the Spirit within us, forming the life of Jesus, and bringing down
the flesh into the grave. In its scattering we see shadowed forth the
Spirit upon us in His power of reaching other souls. There is no
needs be with us that this double work should be consecutive as in
the plants--it may go on simultaneously. There is never a moment,
from the first receiving of Christ as Saviour, when the full
outpouring of the Holy Ghost may not take place--never a moment when,
in figure, the seed may not be set free. There are some few who leap
down, as soon as they are saved, to the simple, bare, lowly faith
which liberates God's power, and He can use them mightily all along,
but they are very few. Practically in most cases there is time
involved, because we take so long to unlearn our own sufficiency and
our own resources, and even after we have received the promise of the
Spirit through faith, we are puzzled, it may be, by a want of
continuity in His outflow.

It is because, before God can get us to the place where He can send
Him through us in a steady tide, we have to go lower than we dreamed
of at first: and He may have to stop using us for a time, that He may
deepen this work within, and bring us to utter brokenness.

Look at the last stage in the plant, before the inwrought life is
free for use. There is a breaking-up and a breaking-down such as it
never had before. Such brittleness comes as the seed ripens that it
is almost impossible to pick some of the stems without cracking them
in two or three places. The ripened seed-vessels share the same
brittleness: you can hardly touch them without the whole crown
falling to pieces in your hand.

Conscious weakness, as a preparation for service, is one thing:
brokenness is another. We may know that we are but earthen pitchers,
like Gideon's, with nothing of our own but the light within, and yet
we may not have passed through the shattering that sheds the light
forth.

This does not mean something vague or imaginary, but intensely
practical. Read the description that Paul gives of the life of
ministry--the apostolic life--and see what it is to be a shattered
seed-vessel; it is no dreamy experience in the clouds!

"Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and
stewards of the mysteries of God... . We are made a spectacle to the
world, and to angels, and to men. We are fools for Christ's sake, but
ye are wise in Christ; we are weak, but ye are strong; ye are
honourable, but we are despised. Even unto this present hour we both
hunger and thirst and are naked and have no certain dwelling-place.
And labour, working with our own hands: being reviled, we bless;
being persecuted, we suffer it, being defamed, we intreat; we are
made as the filth of the world, and are the offscouring of all things
unto this day."

"Seeing we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we faint
not... . But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the
excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us. We are troubled
on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in
despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed;
always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that
the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. For we
which live are alway delivered unto death for Jesus' sake, that the
life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh."

"In all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God, in much
patience, in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses, in stripes,
in imprisonments, in tumults, in labours, in watchings, in fastings.
... By honour and dishonour, by evil report and good report: as
deceivers and yet true; as unknown and yet well known; as dying, and
behold we live; as chastened and not killed; as sorrowful, yet alway
rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet
possessing all things."

"Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in
labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more
frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty
stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned,
thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the
deep; in journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of
robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen,
in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the
sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and painfulness, in
watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and
nakedness. Besides those things that are without, that which cometh
upon me daily, the care of all the churches... . I take pleasure in
infirmities, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for
Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong."

Do you notice that in each passage these are given as the marks of
"ministry"? Such were what Paul found to be the conditions of
spiritual power. Their absence among us may account for its absence
too! Oh! how little we know of them in the midst of the spirit of
luxury that is around us in the world and of the easy-going
Christianity of the Church! We cannot all be honoured by our service
finding the same outward expression as his, in its bodily stress and
suffering, but is there among us even a seeking after its spirit?

"This is sacrifice, 'death in us, life in you.'--In us, emptiness,
weakness, suffering, pressure, perplexity. In you life--life--life!
As if Paul would say, 'the more I am pressed above measure, the more
the life of Jesus is abundant in its outflow, and in its quickening
of other lives.' This is the apostolic life. Through the Eternal
Spirit, Christ offered Himself to God. Through the same Spirit shall
we be enabled to walk in His steps, and to rejoice in ... sufferings ...
and fill up ... that which is lacking of the afflictions of
Christ in my flesh for His body's sake, which is the Church.'"
[footnote*:"The Message of the Cross"--Mrs. Penn-Lewis.]

Yes, it is a broken spirit that we need--a spirit keeping no rights
before God or man, longing to go down, down, anywhere, if other souls
may be blessed. It is an indefinable thing, this brokenness, and yet
it is as unmistakable when it has been wrought, as that of the
seed-vessel in the field.

God has His promise for those "who sow in tears": those to whom to be
a channel of Divine communication to the world means soul burden and
travail. It is they who are bound to "reap in joy."

And as we look at these broken-up seed-vessels, we can read a warning
as to our dealings with others, as well as the lesson to ourselves.
If such brokenness as this is the condition of God's power upon us,
what of the danger of making much of the instruments that He uses? If
we do so even in thought, it will unconsciously show itself in manner
and tone, and the subtle influence may reach them and be used of the
devil to build again in a moment that which God had been long
breaking down, and so stay the tide He had at last with infinite
pains set free. "Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers
by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man? I have
planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither
is he that planteth anything, neither he that watereth; but God that
giveth the increase."

* * * * * *

And now we can turn at last to see in our picture-book the result of
all this fading and stripping and breaking: no outcome as yet that
will catch the eye of sense, yet full of eternal possibilities.

What a marvel it is, this seed "endynamited" for its ministry! Just
an atom of whiteness, folded up in its smooth brown shell. Opposite
p. 35 you see the two tiny specks in the splitting pod; does it not
seem incredible that anything can come out of them? Could we imagine
anything more insignificant? And yet they are brimful of a vitality
that will last (given the necessary conditions) "while the earth
remaineth," through harvest after harvest in ever-widening circles.

Equally unimportant from the point of view of "the natural man" is
the heavenly seed that God gives His people to scatter. "The things
of the Spirit of God ... are foolishness unto him." "The kingdom of
God cometh not with observation." His beginnings are always very
feeble things.

It is out of the hour of its greatest apparent extremity, moreover,
that the seed launches out to its ministry. There was a time, a few
weeks earlier, when you could, if you examined it, trace the future
plant in embryo; the two seed-leaves and the rootlet were all visible
in shades of exquisite green; but all this dries up when maturity
comes, till there is not a sign of life left in it. Everything that
is brilliant and beautiful is withdrawn and shrouded in the "bare
grain" when we strip off the sheath and hold it in our hand:
everything has gone down in defiant faith to the last ebb. Nothing is
left to it, as far as we can discern, but the invisible,
miracle-working power of God. Shall we not learn of the dried-up
seed, to rejoice when in our seed-sowing we are shut up to God
alone--when every shade of hope and promise to the eyes of sense,
have faded like the baby seed-leaves in the germ? "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."

To sow heavenly seed means to give way to Him in the promptings that
are sure to come as soon as He finds us broken enough for Him to be
able to send them. It is a direct passing on of that which comes to
us from God, stripped of all self-effort: the message spoken "not in
the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost
teacheth": the work done "striving according to His working which
worketh in us mightily": the prayer that knows not what it should
pray for as it ought, and yields itself to His "intercession for us
with groanings that cannot be uttered." These are the things which,
small as they are in this world's count, have the very pulse of
eternity beating through them. Nothing but that which He inspires can
carry quickening power: no experience--no spirituality even, can set
the spark alight. It is not the seed-vessel that can do the work, any
more than a bit of leaf-stalk or flower petal, but simply and only
the seed. "It is the Spirit that quickeneth." "I believe in the Holy
Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life." Hallelujah!

Let us watch the seed-shedding, and see what it can teach us about
sowing to the Spirit.

* * * * * *

There is a definite moment at which the seed is ripe for being
liberated--that is the first thing we notice: and at that moment it
is absolutely ready for its work. The storing of the nourishment for
the young plant began on the very day when the new life entered the
flower long ago, and it is finished now. All prepared too are the
hooks, or spikes, or gummy secretions, needed to anchor it to the
ground, and so to give a purchase to the embryo shoot when the time
comes for it to heave its tombstone and come out to the light. Even
its centre of gravity is so adjusted that, in falling from the
sheath, the germ is in the very best position for its future growth.
If it is torn out of the husk a day too soon, all this marvellous
preparation will be wasted and come to nothing.

Can we not read our parable? How often we have had an impulse or a
plan which we knew to be of God, with a flash of intuition, or with a
gathering certainty: and the temptation has come to carry it straight
off by ourselves, without waiting His time--the very temptation that
beset the Master in the wilderness.

Oh! let us learn of Him the lesson of letting God's seed-purposes
ripen!--they can bear no fruit till they have come to their maturity:
we shall but waste all He was preparing if we drag it out before its
time. And only in a path in which we are learning to do nothing of
ourselves but what we see the Father do, can we know when His hour is
come. How accurately Jesus knew it! "I go not up yet unto this feast,
for My time is not yet full come," He said to His brethren--and yet
in a day or two He was there. "Mine hour is not yet come," He said to
His mother, when it was only a question of minutes. And by what
marvellous insight He recognised the dawning of that final "hour"
when He was asked for by those nameless Greeks--a hint of the
ingathering of the travail of His soul! God can give us the same
Divine instinct, when He has weaned us from our natural energy and
impatience. And when His hour has struck, the whole powers of the
world to come will be set free in the tiny helpless seed. "One day is
with the Lord as a thousand years." He is a God worth waiting for!

And there is another thing closely linked with this patience in the
seed-shedding. As we watch it going on in nature, we see how it is
all done in cooperation with the forces at work outside itself. The
wind knocks off and tosses away the dainty shutde-cocks of the
scabious as they ripen one by one, and the pods wait for the hot
touch of the sun to split them with the sudden contracting twist that
sends the grains flying, like stones from a sling.

More wonderfully still we see this "working together" in the seeding
of the cranesbill. The seeds stand together as they ripen, like
arrows in a quiver, with their points downwards, and their feathered
shafts straight up. When the time for action comes, the sun-heat
peels them off, from below and above, so quickly that you can see
them cue under your eyes, and turn into a spiral by their continued
contractions. They fall, spike downward, by the weight of the seed,
and the sun finishes the work he began. Closer still the gimlet
winds, and as it does so it bores down into the hardest soil: and
such is their strange power of penetration, as they are driven in,
spite of all their weakness, that they bury themselves up to the very
hilt, leaving only the last long curve flat on the surface. Then this
snaps off, and leaves the head deep hidden. The spear-like grass you
see opposite p. 40 follows the same rule: it is so sensitive to the
heat that even the warmth of one's hand will set it twisting and
thrusting its barb in. Cannot we trust the God Who planned them, to
give us arrows that will be sharp in the hearts of His enemies, and
to drive them home? At each fresh adaptation of the plants to their
aim, we hear an echo of the words of Jesus, "Shall He not much more
clothe you, O ye of little faith?"

And the restfulness of waiting God's hour for seed-shedding deepens
as we learn to recognise the outward dealings of the Spirit as well
as the inward, and watch the marked way in which He co-operates with
the setting free of every seed as it ripens--how He brings across our
path the soul who needs the very lesson He has just been teaching
us--how the chance comes with perfect naturalness of reaching another
over whom we have been longing. If our eyes are up, and our hands are
off--if we learn to "wait on our ministering" like the seeds, in
utter dependence on Him, we shall be able constantly to trace the
Lord's working with us, and we shall have done with all the old
restless striving to make opportunities--"We are labourers together
with God."

Yes, it all centres round that question of quietness. "Opportunity"
is given to every seed in its turn, as they lie in their layers in
the capsule, or side by side in the pod. Not one forces its way
forward, or gets in the way of another. Look at the exquisite fitting
in any seed-vessel that you pull to pieces: the seeds are as close as
they will go, but fenced off from crowding on each other and
hindering each other's growth. He who packed them can be trusted,
surely, with the arranging of our lives, that nothing may jostle in
them, and nothing be wasted, for we are "of more value" to Him than
these. If our days are a constant rush and hurry, week in and week
out, there is grave reason to doubt if it is all God-given seed that
we are scattering. He will give us no more to do than can be done
with our spirits kept quiet and ready and free before Him.

Quiet and ready and free--that is another lesson that the seeds teach
us. Off they go at a touch, at the moment when the inward
preparedness and the outward opportunity coalesce. See the tiny
corkscrews of the pink geranium in our meadow (a miniature of its
blue brother the cranesbill). Look at the poise of them--and then at
the sheaf of spears of this bit of grass, holding themselves freer
still, and the downy head alongside, equally ready either to hold
together or to fly with a breath ... and then look at our lives and
see whether that is their attitude towards the Holy Ghost. Is there a
soul poise that corresponds?

Oh! the pains that God has to take to bring us to this happy,
childlike "abandon," equally ready for silence, or for saying or
doing unhesitatingly the next thing He calls for, unfettered by
surroundings or consequences. How much reserve and self-consciousness
have to give way with some of us, before the absolute control passes
into His Hands, and the responsibility with it! Then only can we know
the "liberty," the "boldness," the "utterance" of Pentecost.
"Whithersoever the Spirit was to go they went, thither was their
spirit to go:" that is "the perfect law of liberty."

Yes, and that brings us a step further in the teachings of the
seed-shedding. Off they go now, "every one straight forward"--off and
onward to the place appointed. Look at the golden plough of the wild
oat, with every spike and hair so set that it slips forwards and will
not be pushed backwards. Look at the hooks and the barbs that cling
to anything and everything that passes by if only they can carry
their seed away and away. Look at the balls and the wheels that roll
before the wind, and the parachutes and baby shuttlecocks that sail
upon it: they all have a passion for getting far off, and they only
show us a few of the numberless devices by which the same end is
reached in plants of all lands.

Do you know why they want to scatter? It is because God planned the
rotation of crops, long before it ever entered a farmer's brain!
Around the parent stem the soil is exhausted of the chemical elements
that were used in building it up, and if the seeds all fell straight
down there, they could not reach their full development; so they have
all these devices for travelling far away, where in supplying the
needs of the barren places, their own are met It was even so with
Jesus, God's "Corn of Wheat": did He not need this needy world to
bring out His love and power? are not our empty hearts now "the
riches of His inheritance"?

And the Christ-life in us, developed and set free, will go by its
very nature reaching out and spending itself wherever there is want,
in love and longing for the bare places and the far-off. The Spirit
will carry our hearts and sympathies and prayers away and beyond the
tiny circle around us, of our personal interests and our own work,
into fellowship with the Father about the world He loves--fellowship
with the Son over the Church for which He gave Himself: "not seeking
our own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved."
Perhaps He will carry us away our very selves, to some waste corner!

"He that soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he that
soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully. Let each man do
according as he had purposed in his heart; not grudgingly, or of
necessity, for God loveth a cheerful giver. And God is able to make
all grace abound unto you; that ye, having always all sufficiency in
everything, may abound unto every good work: as it is written, He
hath scattered abroad, He hath given to the poor; His righteousness
abideth for ever. And 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: ye being enriched in
everything unto all liberality, which worketh through us thanksgiving
to God" (R.V.).

And as part of the enriching in everything unto all liberality, God
can give us all the ingenuity of love in scattering broadcast
Spirit-filled, Spirit-sent seed that He has figured in the
seed-vessels--the heaven-given inspiration as to how to lay out His
treasures to their uttermost--how to secure to Him the highest return
out of our lives, as they do.

Yes, the "return" is to Him, as again we see in parable with the
plants. They show us a love that seeketh not her own: no one knows
whence the seeds come when they reach their journey's end: no glory
can possibly gather round the plants that surrendered their lives to
form and shed them. They just give and give, with no aim but to be
bare footstalks when all is done. Everything is loosened and spent
without a shade of calculation or self-interest.

"Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto Thy name give glory,"
they are all saying in spirit: they teach us absolute indifference as
to whether our service is appreciated or even recognised, so long as
the work is done and the Lord is glorified. The plant itself asks for
nothing to keep, nothing to show, nothing to glory in from its whole
life toil.

Nothing to glory in--God cannot get His whole glory while man gets
any. That seems a truism, but do we realise the fact? "Herein is My
Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit." If that is our one aim,
as it was in the soul of Jesus, it is bound to be realised. Let Him
work this in us too--this simple, absolute, absorbing passion of His
years on earth.

And then we shall have, as He had, that independence of visible
results that we have just seen in the plants. He left the world--this
one world out of His mighty universe in which God had come to
dwell--with no more to be seen from His travail than a few hundred
brethren, every one of whom had forsaken Him only six weeks before,
and of whom but a hundred and twenty had enough purpose of heart to
follow on to Pentecost. And still He could say, "Yet surely My
judgment is with the Lord, and My work with My God." And though
Israel was "not gathered," He was "glorious in the eyes of the Lord"
and "made His salvation to the ends of the earth." For it was life
that had been sown.

So no matter, if we never see the full up-springing on earth of the
Spirit-seed scattered. It is all the more likely that God may trust
us with a great multiplying if our faith does not need to witness it.
He can grant us spiritual harvests out of sight, of which He only
gains the glory. In "the things which Christ hath ... wrought by us ...
by the power of the Spirit of God" there is a multiplying energy
that can reach, not single souls only, but other souls through them:
a Holy Ghost touch that can fire trains, so to speak, far reaching
beyond the sphere of what we see or know.

Such is the power of multiplication in the earthly seeds that it
needs a constant battle, and the survival of the fittest, to keep us
from being overrun with one and another. The henbane, for instance
(by no means the most prolific) would, they say, if every seed had
its way every year for five years, produce from a single plant ten
thousand billions--enough to cover the whole area of the dry land of
the world, allowing seventy-three plants to the square metre.[footnote*:
"Natural History of Plants"--Kerner and Oliver] Perhaps God permits the
seeming waste of such an overwhelming proportion of the seed formed,
to show us the Fountain of Life that there is in Him; and to teach
us that there is no straitening in the Spirit of the Lord. "There is
no limit" (as someone has said) "to what God can do with a man, provided
he will not touch the glory."

And God's possibilities for these germs of Spirit-life are not bound
by time. Jesus is drawing so near that already our thoughts and hopes
begin to step over the shrinking foreground of "the present age," and
to rest in the ever-opening horizon beyond. Who can tell what harvest
after harvest may be waiting in the eternal years, after the summer
of earth has faded into the far past?

Yes, we have to do with One Who "inhabiteth" eternity and works in
its infinite leisure. Some years ago, when a new railway cutting was
made in East Norfolk, you could trace it through the next summer,
winding like a blood-red river through the green fields. Poppy seeds
that must have lain buried for generations had suddenly been upturned
and had germinated by the thousand. The same thing happened a while
back in the Canadian woods. A fir-forest was cut down, and the next
spring the ground was covered with seedling oaks, though not an
oak-tree was in sight. Unnumbered years before there must have been a
struggle between the two trees, in which the firs gained the day, but
the acorns had kept safe their latent spark of life underground, and
it broke out at the first chance.

And if we refuse to stay our faith upon results that we can see and
measure, and fasten it on God, He may be able to keep wonderful
surprises wrapt away in what looks now only waste and loss. What an
up-springing there will be when heavenly light and air come to the
world at last, in the setting up of Christ's kingdom! The waste
places may see "a nation born in a day."

All that matters is that our part should be done. We are responsible
for sowing to the Spirit--responsible, with an awful responsibility,
that power should be set free in our lives, power that shall prevail
with God and with men--responsible like the seed-vessel, for
fulfilling our ministry to the last and uttermost. Let the cry be on
our hearts, as it was on the heart of Jesus, to "finish the work"
that the Father has given us. "My meat is to do the will of Him that
sent Me, and to finish His work." On He went with it, though it cost
Him the strong crying and tears of Gethsemane to fight through to the
end--to live on to the "It is finished" of Calvary.

Is it our souls' hunger and thirst that, before He comes, we may have
given every message He had for us to deliver--prevailed in every
intercession to which He summoned us--"distributed" for His kingdom
and "the necessity of saints" every shilling He wanted--shared with
Him every call to "the fellowship of His sufferings" for
others--pouted out His love and sympathy and help as He poured them
out on earth? Are we longing that He should find when He comes no
unspent treasure, no talent laid up in a napkin, like the unshed seed
in its shelly fold? Are we acting as if it were our longing? "By Him
actions" (not longings) "are weighed!"

Take one more look at our meadow. The summer days are cooling down,
and the storms have begun to come. The ground is bare and blackened,
the stalks and leaves are battered to shreds: but seeds are
everywhere. The earth is strewn with the husks. Whence they come none
can tell, and they are broken down into nothingness. All is
death--death reigning. The first showers are only bringing in a fresh
stage of it where all seemed dead before, beating them, bleached and
weather-worn and split, into the softened mould. Everything is quiet,
for the seeds have gone down into the resting stage through which
they all have to pass, whether it is during the frost in England, or
the burning African summer. Do we not know the counterpart in the
inner world, when Spirit-seed has been shed, and a strange
waiting-time comes in which nothing happens--a silence on God's part
in which death has to be allowed to reign before it is swallowed up
in victory?

But all is on the very verge of a flood-tide of life, for the
seed-vessel has reached its highest ministry now. The last wrappings
are torn, and from every rent and breach the bare grain is shed forth
and brought into direct contact with the soil: and suddenly, as if by
miracle, the quickening comes, and the emerald shoot is to be seen.

Can we read our last lesson? Here, in service, we see the same goal
being reached as in the soul's inner history. Both end in absolute
simplicity, in Christ alone. For the highest aim of ministry is to
bring His immediate presence into contact with others--so to bring
Him and them face to face that He can act on them directly, while we
stand aside, like John the Baptist, rejoicing greatly.

We used to look at our inner life as separate from our service: but
as we go on they merge into one--Christ--the same Christ; whether
folded to our hearts in His secret temple, like the seed in its husk,
or set free in contact with those around to carry on His quickening
work--all and only Christ.

"Christ the beginning, and the end is Christ." We saw how the soul's
first step is to let Him in as its life: the last step in a sense can
go no further. It is only that the apprehension of Him has increased,
and the hindrances and limitings have been swept away.

Christ--Christ--Christ--filling all the horizon. Everything in us:
everything to us: everything through us. "To live is Christ."--Amen.





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