SOWING AND REAPING
A Sermon preached by Rev. A. M. W. Christopher, M.A*
“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.”
Â—Galations 6. 7, 8.
With what fulness and clearness has Paul taught us the doctrine of free forgiveness and acceptance with God, through faith in Christ crucified, that believers are justified freely by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus!
The main purpose of this Epistle to the Galatians was, to counteract the false teaching of those who insisted that the works of the law form the ground of our being accounted righteous before God, and not the merit of Christ. Against these he writes:
“Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.”
But whilst Paul thus humbles proud man by showing him that he cannot save himself, and at the same time preaches the unsearchable riches of Christ, whilst he thus puts the hope of forgiveness into the heart of the conscience-stricken sinner, and bids him look up with the eye of trust to the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world, how careful is the Apostle so to speak as to prevent self-deception, to expose the nominal Christian to himself, to arouse the lukewarm, and to stir up the true believer to greater diligence. He teaches that the life of faith is a life of continually increasing holiness, that he who has truly gone to Christ for pardon, and been justified freely, has, by the Spirit’s power, become a new creature. “They that are Christ’s,” he writes at the end of the fifth chapter, “have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.” If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.” And then with the solemn words of the text he would awaken every one who is slumbering, every one who is resting in a dead, fruitless faith, every one who is trying to serve both God and Mammon: “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to the flesh, shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit, shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.”
The text begins with a warning against self-deception, an entreaty to us to deal faithfully with ourselves. Habits of sin produce a habit of self-deception. The voice of conscience will not suffer a man to enter upon a course of sin without making itself heard. It distresses himÂ—he must quiet it. He reasons with it with false arguments. He drugs his conscience with pretences and excuses. He becomes less distressed, it may be, but this is the quietness of deathÂ—it is a sign that he is dead in trespasses and sins.
Paul knew how prone the ungodly are to be blind to their own state and to the danger of it; he sometimes, therefore, begins a warning directed to them with these words: “Be not deceived.” Then he writes: “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God?” “Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.” And in Eph. 5. 6, after speaking of the same classes of transgressions, he says: “Let no man deceive you with vain words:
for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience.” How is it, then, that any can hope to escape the wrath to come if they continue in sin? Can God be mocked, can the Most High be deceived? Will all His warnings and threatenings go for nought, like the words of one who cannot or will not execute them? Is it possible to do a sinful act, and God not to see it? To speak an idle word which does harm to another, and God not to hear it? To think a wicked thought, and God not to know it? And can He forget our misdeeds, or is He unable to discern our character, to distinguish between the carnally-minded and the spiritually-minded? If safety be possible without Christ, then Christ is dead in vain. If the unrepentant and unbelieving escape, then Christ’s humiliation and sufferings were unnecessary, and His words untrue, for He said: “He that believeth not shall be damned.” O brethren, “be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.”
This is a striking image. A thing which every one knows to be true in nature, is declared to be true with regard to spiritual and eternal things. Who sows the seed of thistles and expects to reap wheat? On the other hand, when the farmer sows corn, he confidently expects to reap corn. And the Apostle declares to us that as certainly as the seed sown in the field produces its own kind, so certainly will the unrepentant sinner reap the wages of sin. And just as certainly he who by the grace of God sows to the Spirit, will of the Spirit reap life everlasting.
Who is there who does not acknowledge that the truth which the text declares is reasonable, entirely in accordance with God’s evident dealings with men? Surely it will press with the weight of Divine truth upon the consciences of every one. May the Holy Spirit fix it in our minds this day, and lead our consciences to recall it. “He that soweth to the flesh, shall of the flesh reap corruption.”
The retribution of sin in this life speaks most impressively of retribution to come. The disgrace and ruin which in prominent cases have followed gross sin, teach a lesson of God’s providential government, which should be a warning both against sin itself, and everything which leads to it. The word of God is fulfilled in our sight, that we may learn how certainly it will be fulfilled in the world unseen. Yet, on the other hand, if a sinner escape adequate punishment here, how plainly does this point to judgment to come hereafter?
But see how the truth that “he that soweth to the flesh, shall of the flesh reap corruption,” is fulfilled in this life.
What harvest does the profligate or the drunkard reap in this world, but ill-health, disease, corruption, disgrace, and ruin? He shortens his life, and embitters it. He sinned for pleasure’s sake, and his sin deprives him of pleasure. His vigour decays, his spirits sink, his mind becomes unfeebled. Surely every one who knows how many are thus destroyed, must acknowledge that he who soweth to his flesh does indeed of the flesh reap corruption in this life. As the voice of Wisdom declares in the first chapter of Proverbs, “They eat the fruit of their own ways; they are filled with their own devices.” And as it is written in the fourth chapter of Job, verse 8, “They that plow iniquity and sow wickedness reap the same. By the blast of God they perish; by the breath of His nostrils are they consumed.”
The man who, without being a profligate, lives for this world only, what does he reap? Money or ease, honour or pleasure, are the objects of his pursuit, and he is so taken up with them that he forgets God. He may render Him an outward service; he may attend His house of prayer; but he will not give Him his heart. His affections are set on things below. He spends money upon himself, but he gives little to God. His time and energies and ambitions are devoted to his own advancement, or to provide for his own ease. He might do good to others around him, by his example, his influence, his active exertions for their temporal and eternal welfare; but no, he lives for himself, he looks not beyond this world, he soweth to his flesh, and what does he reap?
Is not the vanity of human riches proverbial? Do riches bring happiness? Does honour provide enjoyment? Does selfishness yield satisfaction? Does not the worldly man feel, as he draws near to the close of life, that all is vanity and vexation of spirit? How do regrets and self-reproach fix upon his heart! But the worthlessness of all the things for which he has lived is not fully felt till he comes to the bed of death. Then the alluring phantoms he has followed show him their airy nothingness, and his own folly. Then the evil he has done, the good he has left undone, the gospel he has neglected, rise up to reproach him. Everything he has valued proves perishable and vain. The past condemns him, the present tortures him, the future terrifies him. Thus does the man who sows to his flesh, who provides only for his body and his life on earth, reap corruption before he quits this world. But this is not what is meant by the text. It has a deeper and more dreadful meaning. It reaches far beyond the death-bed. To what is corruption opposed in the text? Is it not to eternal life? What, then, does it signify but the “everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord,” with which all will be punished who “know not God, and obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ”?
Then will the full harvest be reaped from the seed which was sown to the flesh in this life. A body decaying with disease, when the nerves are racked with pain, presents some image of a soul given up to its own corruption. The fiery torment of depraved passions is well known in the world. They give a man the aspect of a demon. Conceive a soul left to these, without a remnant of better feeling to soften them! For despair and anguish in the lost, will soon
extinguish the qualities which in a measure relieved their character in life. Think of the soul recognising in its own utter worthlessness, and in each part of its misery, the fruit of its own ways on earth! Then have we some idea of the corruption which he will reap who sows to his flesh, when the gospel called him by a voice which promised free forgiveness in the tones of Redeeming LoveÂ—to walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.
But there is another half of the textÂ—how gladly do we come to this!
“He that soweth to the Spirit, shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.”
Those who labour on as the Spirit leads them by His written word, despite others and their own selves, looking to Jesus for aid, begin also to reap in this life. The Christian is called upon, indeed, at times to go through much ill-report, and to bear up against great discouragement. He relieves the bodily wants of the suffering, and it may be sometimes meets with ingratitude. He tries to lead others to spiritual things, and he sees no fruit. But is this usually the case? Does not he who casts his bread upon the waters, with the prayer of faith, find it after many days, in a harvest of good results? Does not persevering Christian kindness generally produce responses of love in the end? Does not the gaining of one soul for Christ by the blessing of God upon your efforts, outdo with its rejoicing the depression of many disappointments? Then what is the fruit of the Spirit which the believer reaps in his own soul in this life? “Love, joy, and peace.” This is the same kind of fruit which will be gathered in heaven. There the love will be purer and more intense, But the same love of Christ which produced the good works of the believer on earth, which caused him to sow to the Spirit, which soothed him in sorrow and made him smile in death, will supply happiness to the glorified saint. The same consciousness of the love and favour of God which gave him peace here, will fill his soul with perfect peace throughout eternity.
Thus has the man who is enabled by God’s grace to sow to the Spirit, an instalment of heaven advanced to him (if I may so speak) while he is still on earth. It is impossible for him to look upon his good deeds as anything wherewith to purchase heaven. He views the power given him to yield a cheerful obedience, as a most precious giftÂ—nay, as a part of heaven. There is no greater joy to the true Christian than this which springs from obedience to God’s commands. They are a heavy burden, a wearisome, galling yoke to the unconverted man. They are a light burden, an easy yoke to the true Christian. He obeys with the pleasure with which an affectionate son obeys his father. Obedience is his love in action.
True love is an active principle; it cannot remain idle. It grows and is strengthened by exercise. It cannot be silent, so it speaks in prayer. It cannot be sluggish, so it exerts itself in acts of Christian charity not only to the bodies, but the souls of fellow-creatures. Does not, then, one who sows to the Spirit begin to reap on earth? Be sure of this, my brethren, there is a way of pleasantness and a path of peace for the believer right through affliction itself. He feels
then what he would be without his faith and his hope. He more than ever then rejoices in the Lord Jesus Christ. In the blessed hope of everlasting life in Jesus, in the thought of consolation, in the settled peace in believing, in the gleams of heavenly light, in the passing emotions of gladness, in the calm and fearless trust he then experiences, he reaps a portion of this spiritual harvest from seed which was sown, it may be, amidst the sighs and watered with the tears of a broken and a contrite heart. For as the Psalmist says in the 126th Psalm, “They that sow in tears shall reap in joy. He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.”
Again: Every act of obedience, every feeling of trust, every bending of submission, increases the believer’s humble confidence that God in His great love has chosen him, unworthy as he is, to be one of His Son’s promised seed. He feels so changed from what he was, he feels new and holy desires; and he is convinced that this cannot be his own work, that it is the work of the Holy Spirit, and that “He who has begun a good work” in him “will perform it unto the day of Jesus Christ.” “The work of righteousness shall be peace;
and the effect of righteousness, quietness and assurance for ever” (Isa. 32. 17). This is as true of a purified soul as it is of a righteous nation.
Thus have we glanced at some of the fruits of the Spirit, which he who sows to the Spirit reaps in this life. Yet the text speaks of something much brighter in the life to come, something much more blessed and glorious than this. It says that “he that soweth to the Spirit, shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.”
Let the most spiritual man describe with the highest eloquence the fruit of the Spirit as it is known to him. This may be, this indeed is, a foretaste of the harvest to come; it is of the same kind, it has the same character. But man in his state of sorrowful mortality has never felt the joy which will burst upon him when he rises in his spiritual body to the new life, and surveys the new heaven and the new earth. The light of the gospel seems bright indeed to him in the midst of the darkness of the world; but even this will seem but as the twilight when the night is far spent, compared with the full day of heaven.
It is a sweet thought for us to think now of Jesus being at this moment touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but what will it be to see Him beam upon us His smile of love, and welcome us to the kingdom prepared for us from the foundation of the world! To feel that we are blessed of the Father, that all our sins are cast into the sea of Divine forgetfulness, that there remains not one thought of iniquity to be subdued, one temptation to bear, one danger to alarm, one sorrow to grieve! What must it be to be thus relieved from all self-reproach for the past, which clings to the Christian though he believes his sins forgiven! What a burden will then be removed from the conscience! Forgiveness may remove fear, but it does not altogether take away in this life the sting which sin has left sheathed in the heart. Remember this, young men, and waste not your strength and wither not your manhood by the sins of the flesh;
sow not seeds of self-reproach in this the most important time of your life. Even if brought to Christ hereafter, you cannot receive back youthful health and strength, if you squander it in ruinous sin.
Moreover, the penitent remembers the companions of his youth;
he might have done them good; he might have helped them on the right way. He neglected his opportunities, nay, he did them harm by word and by exampleÂ—harm he can never undo. How greatly, then, will the relief from self-reproach prepare for the joys of heaven. The conscience lightened of every burden, the spirit glad and free, will, in the fulness of the Creator’s favour, enjoy the unutterable riches of happiness which God has provided for His people. The young, in the height of their health and spirits, when their intellects are expanding, and their minds rejoice in the sense of increasing vigour, look abroad on the works of creation, when the cheerful sunshine of summer lightens the earth, do they at such a time feel a thrill of gladness? What then must the soul, endowed with immortal vigour and heavenly intelligence, feel, as its eyes open on the countless beauties of the great Infinities of Creation! Yet we do not find this delight, great as it must be, brought prominently forward as the supreme joy of heaven. No; it is to be for ever with the Lord, to see Him as He is, to hold closer and more endearing communion with Him who redeemed us, to possess more intimate knowledge of His Divine character, to enter into His joy and to be clothed with the beauty of holiness, to feel the eternal peace of the righteous flowing through the soul calm as a deep river, to know the happiness of a perfectly renewed heart,Â—these are the gleams of everlasting life which breathe upon us from Holy Scripture. All this, in a degree which utterly surpasses the imagination of the most spiritual mind, is the harvest which those of us will reap of the Spirit, who now in the day of grace sow to the Spirit.
How wonderful that, when we know all this, there should be any of us sowing to the flesh. Yet, alas! the broad road to destruction is still crowded with those who are living in habitual sin, and those who, being filled with the love of the world, have not the love of the Father in them. There may be many unrenewed hearts reading this. Do not hold back from self-examination. Apply the text to yourselves. For what are you sowing, for what are you living? Are you sowing for this world? Is there some secret sin which you will not give up? Be warned while there is time. Let not performance of religious duties pacify your conscience, and allow you to think that you may indulge this sin in safety. It is a seed sown to the flesh; it will bear you bitter fruit. You will be compelled, if you repent not and forsake it, to reap from it corruption.
You who are simply living in a state of self-satisfied lukewarmness, what will you reap? You perhaps have given up something, you perhaps condemn others for worldliness. Now look within and see whether you are sowing to the Spirit. There are only two kinds of sowing spoken of in the text, and many may be sowing to the flesh who in the even tenor of their noiseless lives little think it. It is possible for those who live at home to be worldly, as well as
those who flutter in the gay world. You may in your quiet home be living altogether for yourself, and not for Him who died for you and rose again. Then, what are you sowing? Are you sowing seed which will bear its fruit in eternity? Are you, as one who is already justified freely by God’s grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, laying up treasure in heaven, by denying yourself money and ease and various kinds of self-indulgence for Christ’s sake on earth, devoting what you might have spent upon yourselves to the service of your Lord. If you desire to sow plenteously and to reap plenteously,Â—to become a cheerful giver, whom we are told the Lord loveth,Â—I would suggest to you the plan which I believe to be a good one. Consecrate a certain portion of your yearly income to God, to be devoted in various ways to His service. You will then have savings to give cheerfully to the Lord whenever He requires them. Let me turn the point of this text against ourselves, so that it may find us out if we are only professing Christians. Ignorance is a dangerous state, the hardness of habitual sin is a dangerous state, but so is the slumber of him who, acknowledging the truth of the gospel, remains uninfluenced by its power, an especially dangerous state. Are we giving to the Lord that which costs us nothing? Can He believe that our love is sincere, when we spend much upon our own gratification, and only a little upon His service? “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.”
But be not content with giving money. Give some of your time, some of your strength. Overcome your timidity; try and do something, though you feel yourself unequal to it, and unfit for the task presented to you. You will be surprised to find how much your way will be smoothed. Overcome your shrinking from speaking plainly to others on subjects of eternal interest. Try and give a
profitable tone to conversation in which you bear a part. Do this in love and humility, and you will find it easier than you think. Oh, how many opportunities are daily presented to us of sowing to the Spirit, if we would but give ourselves heartily to watch for and embrace them! Every cup of cold water given to a disciple of Christ, every help vouchsafed to the poor and needy out of love to the Saviour, every word spoken in season and out of season, testifying for Jesus, every effort of love, are seeds sown to the Spirit. Every fervent prayer, every meditation upon God’s Word, every struggle with self, every victory over temptation, every triumph of faith over doubts and fears, are seeds sown to the Spirit. The words immediately following the text show us what sowing to the Spirit is. And the text teaches us how we may set about this holy work. “He that soweth to the Spirit.” Who can teach us to sow to the Spirit but the Spirit Himself? He can open our eyes to our opportunities, give us the will, and show us the way to use them. Let us not doubt the willingness of our Father to give us a faith which worketh by love, which will make the sowing to the Spirit the delightful offering of a grateful heart. “Let us not be weary in well-doing; for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.”
Remember that the Redeemer ever liveth to make intercession for us. Will He be deaf to our prayers? Will He quench the smoking flax,Â—the spark of faith, the desire for better things in your hearts? Have confidence in His love. Ask of Him, and you will receive by the Spirit, you will be enabled to sow to the Spirit, and then, as surely as God is true, you will reap of the Spirit life everlasting.
*Sometime Rector of St. Aldates, Oxford.