THE PARABLES of JESUS CHRIST EXPLAINED
BY THE REV. J. CLOWES, M.A.
LATE RECTOR OF ST. JOHN’S COLLEGE, MANCHESTER, AND FELLOW OF TRINITY COLLEGE, CAMBRIDGE.
Whoso readeth let him understand.—Matt. xxiv. 15.
A NEW EDITION.
PRINTED AT D. BATTEN’S OFFICE, CLAPHAM COMMON.
THE PARABLE OF THE MAN WHO CAST SEED INTO THE GROUND
And he said, 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 knows not how. For the earth brings forth fruit of herself; first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear. But when the fruit is brought forth, immediately he puts in the sickle, because the harvest is come. Mark 4:26-29
The Kingdom of God is the government of divine love and wisdom in the minds and lives of angels and of men; for wherever such government prevails, there the Almighty rules as in His own kingdom, and, consequently, there is the Kingdom of God. This kingdom is like a man who casts seed into the ground, because the seed, here spoken of, is the Word of God; and the ground into which the seed is cast is the human understanding ; and when the Word of God is received and exalted in the human understanding, it introduces and establishes, by degrees, in the human mind and life the government of the Divine Love and Wisdom, which, as was said, is the Kingdom of God.
By sleeping and rising, according to a natural idea, is understood natural sleep, and natural awaking out of sleep; but, according to the spiritual idea, which is the idea here intended to be suggested, by sleeping is to be understood a state of natural affection and thought, whilst by rising is to be understood a state of spiritual affection and thought. For natural affection and thought, when compared with spiritual, is like sleep, or the state of a man in sleep, compared with awaking out of sleep, or with the state of a man who is so awakened; and hence, the Apostle, in calling man to a state of repentance and faith, which is a spiritual state of mind, uses this strong and striking figurative language, Awake you that sleep, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light. Jesus Christ, therefore, would teach, by the above expressions, that spiritual sleep is as necessary for the soul, in the progress of its regeneration, till it becomes a Kingdom of God, as natural sleep is for the body; in other words, He would instruct us, that in the progress of regeneration there is a regular alternation of state, which is of such a nature that the regenerating person cannot always remain in a state of spiritual affection and thought, but must descend, at intervals, into natural affection and thought, it being the end of regeneration to unite the internal man with the external, and the external with the internal, mutually, which end cannot be accomplished but by successive sleeping and rising, according to the above idea, until at length the internal man is exalted to dominion above the external, or, what amounts to the same thing, until spiritual affection and thought gains the entire ascendancy and control over natural affection and thought.
The reason why the subject of spiritual sleep is little considered and understood seems to be this, that the generality of Christians separate their religion from the business and duties of common life, until thus separate the spiritual, or internal, man from the natural, or external, man, not aware that it is the design of God, and the end of religion, to join together those two men, by introducing a spiritual, or religious, principle from the internal mind, to govern and direct all the thoughts, word, and works of the external. They suppose, therefore, that before a man can be truly religious, he must quit all his engagements in the world, and devote himself entirely to a life of piety and contemplation. Thus they would be always awake, according to the spiritual idea, and never asleep; in other words, they would be always in a spiritual state, and never in a natural state. But Jesus Christ, in this edifying parable, teaches a contrary lesson by instructing us that spiritual sleep is necessary, as well as spiritual awaking, or, to speak without a figure, that it is necessary for man to descend, at times, from his high contemplations and pious meditations, to attend to the common duties and business of life, that so he may live a life of uses and good offices amongst his fellow-men, as well as a life of piety and devotion to his God, this being the end of all the commandments and dispensations of God, to join spiritual and natural life, and thus heaven and earth, together in man, that so God may rule, and guide, and bless man, in every principle and degree of his life, from first to last, from inmost to outermost. Nature, therefore, is not to be annihilated by grace, I ml, rather to be controlled, amended, and blessed; thus the natural affections, natural thoughts, and natural delights, are not to be destroyed, but to be submitted, so as to be rendered instrumental, in their place and degree, in promoting the greater to the service and happiness of His creatures. This attention, therefore, to spiritual duties on the one hand, and to natural duties on the other, and to the conjunction of both, is what Jesus Christ principally meant to enforce, when He describes the man in the parable as alternately sleeping and rising.
The night and day, spoken of in this parable, are to be understood, according to a spiritual idea, as relating to the soul, or spirit, of man, and not to his body; and in agreement with this idea, by night is to be understood the natural life of man, before he becomes spiritual, and also every state of darkness through which he has to pass in the process of regeneration, until the natural life is entirely submitted to the spiritual. By day, again, according to the same idea, is to be understood the first dawning of spiritual life in man, or the first manifestation of the divine love and wisdom in his inner man, for light and consolation. For, as the natural day is an effect of the rising and appearing of the natural sun, to give the blessings of natural light and warmth to the creation of God, in like manner the spiritual day is a result of the rising and manifestation of the spiritual sun, or the Sun of Righteousness, to impart spiritual light and heat, which is the light of wisdom, and the consolation of love, to all those happy beings who open their eyes and their hearts to the reception of those blessed and eternal principles. Night and day, therefore, as here applied in the parable, are again expressive of the same alternations of state which were before signified by sleeping and rising.
By the seed, as was said above, is meant the Word of God, or, what amounts to the same thing the Eternal Truth, and by this seed springing is to be understood, its reception and operation in the understanding of man; and by its growing up is to be further understood, its reception and operation in the will of man. By both expressions united, then, is intended to be described the reception and operation of the Eternal Truth in every principle of the mind and life of man, since will and understanding properly constitute the whole of man, insomuch that, if the Eternal Truth is admitted into both those principles, and suffered to operate there, it never fails to take possession of every other faculty, until it renders man a blessed form and image of its own purity and power in all his affections, thoughts, words, and works. It is not enough, therefore, that the Divine Seed of the Word of God should spring up in the understanding of man, and make itself manifest there under the form of heavenly knowledge or science; but it must also grow up in the will, and there manifest itself in the spirit and power of heavenly love and charity, otherwise it takes but a partial possession of the human faculties, and can never form man entirely after its own image and likeness. This, therefore, was the reason why the two distinct expressions of springing and growing up are here applied by the Divine Speaker.
The words which immediately follow, he knows not how, teach us that it is impossible for man to comprehend the several particular steps and stages in the process of his regeneration, or in the growth and fruitfulness of the Divine Seed of eternal life in his own bosom, since there is reason to believe, that they are like the hairs of his head, which cannot be numbered. Jesus Christ teaches the same lesson in another place, where, speaking of the Divine Operation, He says, The wind blows where it lists, and you hearest the sound thereof, but can not tell whence it comes, and whither it goes: so is every one that is born of the Spirit (John 3:8). It is enough, therefore, for man to know, that if he admits the Eternal Truth into his understanding, and cherishes it in his will, or love, by rejecting from his heart and life the things which are in opposition to it, the Divine Seed will then, assuredly, spring and grow up, and, notwithstanding his ignorance of the particulars of its growth, will finally become that Tree of Life, of which it is written, To him that overcomes will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God (Rev. 2:7).
By the earth is meant the Church, or men of the Church, who receive the seed of the Eternal Truth, and bring forth its fruits, as the earth receives the seeds of plants and vegetables, and brings forth their fruits. And by the earth bringing forth fruit is to be understood, that the members of the Church cherish the seed of eternal life in their understandings, until it operates upon their wills, and there produces the blessed fruit of love and charity, of love towards God, and charity towards man, from which are further derived the fruits of use and good service, manifested in the faithful discharge of the several duties, offices, and employments, to which every member of the Church is called for the general good. And by the earth bringing forth fruit of herself is further to be understood, not that she does it independently of Divine Aid, or by any power properly her own, for the members of the Church, who are here signified by the earth, are continually aware of the truth of what Jesus Christ taught them, when He said, Without Me you can do nothing; but that, under the full acknowledgement of her perpetual dependence on her Divine Lord for His merciful grace and assistance, she still sees the necessity of exerting herself, as of herself, to give saving effect to that grace and assistance. Thus she sees the necessity of searching out and combating her natural evils, as of herself, but still under the conviction, that she can only do so successfully whilst she looks up to her Redeeming Lord. In like manner she offers up her daily supplications, as of herself, and performs her daily works of charity, as of herself, yet, in everything confessing from her heart, that it is God who works in her both to will and to do of His commandments. The members of the Church, therefore, do not hang down their hands in the vain expectation that God will move them by His immediate, irresistible operation, to subdue evil, and to do good, for they are well aware that in such case they would be mere machines, and not those free and voluntary agents which God intended to make them. But they exert themselves, as if the power of exertion was entirely their own, and by this means they attain, finally, to perfect freedom, and, at the same time, to the most absolute dependence, whilst they think everything, and do everything, as if left to themselves, and yet are deeply sensible that all their power of thinking and acting is from God, and nothing at all from themselves.
The product of the Eternal Truth, or Word of God, in the mind and life of the devout receiver, is figuratively described by the product of a grain of corn, which consists principally of these three distinct parts, the blade, the ear, and the full corn in the ear. By the blade, therefore, is to be understood, the first manifestation of the Divine Truth in man’s memory, where it appears under the form of science, or knowledge, and is stored up for future use, or for the production of the ear, which cannot otherwise be produced. According to the same spiritual view, by the ear is to be understood the reception of the same divine truth in the understanding of man, and its operation there, which effect has place whenever man begins from his heart to love and delight in the truth, so as to exalt it above all other things, and to suffer it to control all his affections, thoughts, words, and works. And by the full corn in the ear, agreeably to the same idea, is to be understood, the birth and manifestation of heavenly love and charity in the will, which is love towards God, and love towards our neighbour, together with the operation of that love. Thus, these three natural terms, the blade, the ear, and the full corn in the ear, in their spiritual signification, involve all the states of man’s regeneration, from the first insemination of the Eternal Truth in his memory and understanding, to its last product in the will, or love, until it changes its name and nature, and manifests itself in the blessed power and full operation of angelic love and charity, thus of angelic life and blessedness. In this last state it is called the full corn in the ear, because it is now filled with the Life of God, that is to say, with His Divine Love and Wisdom, thus with all fullness.
It is lastly added, that when the fruit is brought forth, he puts in the sickle, because the harvest is come. We have already seen, what is spiritually meant by the fruit being brought forth, or (as perhaps it might be better rendered), being ripe.
By the sickle, according to the spiritual idea, is to be understood, the power of Divine Truth in its operation of exploring and separating all things in the Church, and in the members of the Church. For when this Divine Truth has been inseminated, and has brought forth its proper fruits, whether in the Church in general, or in the members of the Church in particular, it then assumes another office, signified here by the sickle, of exploration mid separation of all things and principles which are contrary to its own nature. Thus, in the Church in general, the evil are separated from the good, whilst the good are raised into Heaven, and the evil cast down into hell; and so also in the members of the Church in particular, an eternal separation takes place between the principles of good, and the principles of evil, the former being exalted to everlasting conjunction with God, whilst the latter are removed and eternally associated with their like in the kingdom of darkness.
The concluding words of the parable, because the harvest is come, refer to the separation above referred to, and signified by the sickle, which separation always takes place whenever the Church in general, or a member of the Church in particular, attains to a full state of heavenly good, or to a full state of love and charity, signified by the full corn in the ear, because, whenever this state takes place, then the blessed powers of good and truth gain the ascendancy, so as to overcome and separate eternally from themselves the contrary infernal powers of what is evil and false. In the representative Church, therefore, this state was ordained to be kept holy, which solemnity was called the feast of harvest, consisting in the offering up of devout thanksgiving to the Almighty for His unspeakable mercies in accomplishing such a state. This spiritual harvest is also frequently spoken of by Jesus Christ, as where He says, The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few; pray you therefore the Lord of the harvest, that He will send forth labourers into His harvest (Matt. 9:37, 38); and in another place, Say you not there are yet four months, and then comes harvest? Behold, I say to you, Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest (John 4:35).
From this parable we learn, in the first place, that the Kingdom of God is only to be opened and formed in man by the insemination of the Eternal Truth of God’s Most Holy Word. We learn, further, that this truth cannot spring up and bear its fruits, but through a variety of alternate states on the part of man, according to which alternations he is sometimes in a natural state of life, and sometimes in a spiritual state, thus sometimes is sleeping, and sometimes is rising, or waking, while sometimes it is night, and sometimes day. We learn, also, that in all these states there is a growth of the heavenly seed, though man is entirely ignorant both of the manner and measure of its growth. We learn, again, that this growth is effected whilst man co-operates with it, and that in this co-operation he must act freely as of himself, yet in a full dependence on Divine Aid and Strength. Thus he must reject evil, and do good, and perform all his spiritual and natural duties in perfect freedom, as if left to himself, but yet under the full acknowledgement that all his power to reject evil, and to do good, is from God, and not at all from himself. Lastly, we learn, that the productions of the heavenly seed in the human mind are threefold; first, in the memory, where it appears in the form of science; secondly, in the understanding, where it is exalted as a heavenly power to guide and control the affections, the thoughts, the words, and works; and, lastly, in the will, where it operates in producing unfeigned love towards God, and charity towards man. When the eternal truth has attained to this state of growth, it then operates further, through the heavenly spirit of love in the will, in effecting an eternal separation between the principles of good and evil, so that the former are elevated into Heaven, and the latter are cast down into the deep. Let us resolve, therefore, through the Divine Grace, so to cherish in our minds and lives the Divine Seed of God’s Most Holy Word, that it may attain in us its highest state of growth and fruitfulness, and, rescuing us from all evil, may finally fill us with all heavenly graces and virtues, and thus open in us its own heavenly kingdom, in which we may ever sing the angelic song, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good-will towards men. Amen.