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07. The Parable of the Sower From the Viewpoint of Salvation

 

Chapter 7

The Parable of the Sower From the Salvation Viewpoint

Matthew 13:1-9

Eric H. H. Chang

Montreal, July 23, 1978

 

We continue our exposition in the teaching of the Lord Jesus, by returning to look at the Parable of the Sower again, from a different angle and using a different approach. We find that Matthew first relates the Parable of the Sower, then he speaks about the meaning of parables, and then he returns to an exposition of what the Parable of the Sower means. So, I shall follow the Lord Jesus’ order quite precisely, as it is found here in Matthew.

Part 1: Salvation is God’s free gift to man

Now the Parable of the Sower contains great riches, and one message or even two will not have exhausted it. Being a foundational parable, it sums up most effectively and most beautifully the Lord Jesus’ whole teaching on salvation in a nutshell, and I shall seek to bring forth some of the riches in it by dividing it into two parts. In the first section, I shall expound to you the fact that salvation is God’s gift, and in the second part, we shall see how this gift becomes available to us through faith. That is to say, we shall examine what is faith, and explain what faith means in terms of commitment.

Look at this beautiful parable of the Lord Jesus. Is it not remarkable that the Lord Jesus can say so much in the scope of one parable? Just to expound it is a task that really challenges every preacher who tries to bring out its riches.

The seed is the Word of God — a free gift

The Lord Jesus explains that the seed that is sown is the Word of God. The sower is the preacher, and in the first instance, the Lord Jesus himself, and the soil into which the seed is sown is the heart of man. All this is clear. What more can we learn?

First, we notice that the seed is given freely as a gift. The seed falls upon the soil as a gift to that soil. The ground does not earn the seed nor is it even deserving of the seed. The seed is spoken of as the Word of God, but what is meant by the Word of God? In the first instance, the Word of God means the message. What kind of message? It is the message of salvation. It is the message of the kingdom of God. So God’s salvation is given to us through His Word, the seed, as a free, unmerited gift, just as the soil receives the seed as a gift, not having worked for it.

And notice too, this Word comes to us in the form of parables. The Word is light in the Old Testament. We read that “Your Word is a lamp to my feet, a light to my path.” (Psalm 119:105) The Word is designed to reveal, not to hide, because it is light. Light does not hide anything; it reveals things. This point is made very clear in Mark 4:21-23, immed­iately after the Parable of the Sower. There the Lord Jesus says, the lamp is set on a table. It is not hidden, so that all who come into the house are able to see. The same is found in Luke 8:16-17 again, immediately following the Parable of the Sower, where the Lord Jesus says the light is designed to reveal not to hide. Whatsoever things are hidden, are hidden in order to be revealed. The parables don’t conceal salvation but reveal it.

The seed (the Word of God) is a “mystery”

Now the parables, the Word, the seed, are also spoken of as a secret. You see this in Matthew 13:11,

And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.”

Notice again, the secret is “given.” Then there is the word translated as “secret,” or in the older translations, it is translated as “mystery.” Well, in the Bible, many things are described as “mystery.” For example, the Word of God is described as a mystery in Colossians 1:25-26. The gospel is called a mystery in Ephesians 6:19, “the mystery of the gospel.” Christ is spoken of as a mystery in Colossians 2:2, “the mystery of God which is Christ.”

What is a mystery? In the Bible, a mystery is not something that is hard to understand; it is impossible for the human mind to understand unless it is revealed by God to you. That is why it is called a mystery.

Think back to when you were not a Christian. How easy it is to understand why the gospel is called a mystery. When you listened to the gospel, did it make any sense to you? You could not understand it; it was a mystery to you. It was concealed from you until God revealed its meaning to you, as your heart opened to God. God revealed it to you so that you may understand it, receive it, know it and make it your own.

Christ is a mystery. Can you understand Jesus? Oh, no! That is why he is called “the mystery of God”. Unless God reveals Jesus to you, there is no way you can understand that he is the Christ God sent.

The Word of God is a mystery. Have you tried reading it? You know it is a mystery. You go to a Bible study and you wonder, “What does this Bible study passage mean? I can understand the words in English, I can also understand the words in Chinese, I might even understand the words in Hebrew and Greek, but having read the words, I don’t understand what they mean! It is a mystery.” The Word of God is a mystery. Intelligent people read the Bible, but they cannot understand it. Ask a professor of mathematics, or medicine, or astronomy or whatever discipline to read a parable. He will read it, but he cannot understand it. Why not? Is it because he is stupid? No! It’s because he cannot under­stand it until God reveals it to him. It is the mystery of the Word of God.

Now this is very important for understanding salvation. I am sure every time you read the Bible, the fact that it is a mystery must dawn upon you, because you don’t understand it, right? Try reading Colossians, or Ephesians. And if you think you are really up to it, try reading Revelation. And then I am sure you will be utterly convinced that the Word of God is a mystery! There is no way you can understand it until God reveals the meaning to you.

I remember reading Revelation many times as a young Christian, and I kept scratching my head because I could not make head or tail of it. Absolutely nothing! I consoled myself that at least I could understand part of the letters written to the churches. I could get that much. But once you get past Chapter 4 of Revelation, you are in deep waters, and then the whole thing is a mystery! But God can open the mystery to you.

I also remember how once, while I was having a time of rest in Switzerland, I opened the Revelation again before God, and I said, “Lord God, teach me, I beg of You. Let Your Spirit reveal what this means to me.” And when I read it again, I was amazed that I began to understand it! The light began to dawn upon me, and the riches begin to come forth. It was so incredible! This means that all the things in the Word of God are mystery, and it is a gift of God to you that you understand it.

Therefore, anyone who boasts in his exceedingly good knowledge of the Bible is not fit to serve God. He has not yet understood that if he understands anything, it is because the Spirit of God has revealed it to him. As people listen to my expositions, some say to me, “We have never heard such expositions.” I say to you, I have nothing whatsoever to be proud about. Nothing! Because if there is anything I have seen, it is because God has revealed it to someone who really is so utterly unworthy. I am not saying a word out of humility but the plain truth. The moment I think that I am clever, the moment I think that I can give an exposition better than someone else, God will say, “I have finished with you. You are of no use to Me anymore because you think you are somebody.” The Word of God is mystery, and it is a gift of God to me that I understand It.

So we read in verse 11, “To you, it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God.” The disciples were not entitled to know the secrets of God, nor could they say to God, “Look at me, I am so good! And now it’s time for You to tell me Your secrets.” Oh no! None of us becomes good enough to be told the secrets of God. It is utterly of grace, and grace means that you did not earn it, you did not deserve it; it is God’s gift to you. Now anyone who has walked with God knows grace, and I preach utterly of grace.

The seed (the Word of God) brings life

Notice how beautifully the Lord Jesus speaks of the Word of God as a seed. Why? Because seed has life in it, doesn’t it? A stone has no life, but a seed has life. The only thing you can say about a seed is that it has life in it, and once that seed is implanted into the ground, it brings life to that piece of ground. And that ground is going to become fruitful because the seed is in it. I would like you to observe that this Word of God conveys life to us.

The ground has no life. I have no life in my soul. I am dead without the grace of God. It is so beautiful that the ground should be compared to the heart. The ground is mud. What is mud? It is dirt, filth, as we regard it. That is my heart. Our hearts are often so dirty, aren’t they? But God plants His seed into my heart, and this dirt, this unrighteousness, this filth, is amazingly transformed into something productive by His power. That is the transforming power of grace.

Now this is all concerning salvation, for salvation is about life. When the Word of God comes into your life, it brings God’s life into your soul, so that you become a new person, a new creature. The unrighteousness of your heart is transformed into fruitful ground for the production of God’s Word to bless others. We read that in 1 Peter 1:23, “We are born again not of corruptible seed but of the incorruptible seed, namely, God’s Word.” So the Word of God is compared to the seed, because it has God’s life and transforming power in it, causing you to be born again. And it brings salvation to your soul as God’s free gift to you; that is, assuming you are willing and ready to accept it.

Let us summarize on this first point and remember that the seed is the Word of God; the seed is gift; the seed is mystery; the seed is life.

The seed characterizes the Lord Jesus

Now when you ponder upon it for a moment, you suddenly realize that all these terms are also used to describe the Lord Jesus himself. He is called “the mystery”, as we have seen already in Colossians 2:2. Then Jesus is “the life” in John 14:6—“I am the way, the truth and the life.” Then the Lord Jesus is God’s gift to us, as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 9:15, “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift.” Or in John 3:16, “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son”—Jesus is the gift. In Galatians 3:16, Jesus, the Christ is called “the seed” in the Authorized Version, New American Standard Version, and New International Version, because the word “seed” is in the Greek. It is speaking of a human seed, that is why the Revised Standard Version translates it as “offspring” meaning descendant. And this reminds us of Genesis 3:15, “the seed of the woman shall crush the head of the serpent.” In this parable, it is the seed of a plant, but both are spoken of as “seed”.

What we come to realize is, the seed is the Word of God, “the word of the kingdom” (Mt. 13:19), so God’s salvation is given to us through His Word, the seed. Likewise, this message of salvation is in the seed, Christ. That is why the apostle Paul says, “We preach Christ crucified” (1 Cor. 1:23). How does a seed bring forth life? By dying. How does Jesus bring forth life? By being crucified. It is very easy to understand why he is called the seed. In fact, the Lord Jesus speaks of himself as the seed in John 12:24, “Except the seed falls to the ground and dies, it abides alone. But if it dies, it brings forth much fruit.” Isn’t that wonderful!

The Lord Jesus is the seed, God’s gift to us, the mystery of God; and through him, we receive God’s life. I say to you again, the only reason I am a Christian is because I have experienced Yahweh God’s unbounded love for me in Jesus Christ. I am not interested in churches, in church dogmas. In fact, if anything, the church tends to make one exhausted. As someone said to me, “Christians are not only not extraordinary, they are not even ordinary!” They are supposed to be the light of the world, and what do we see? Most of the time we see only darkness, not light. Despite the problems of the church, despite my own weakness, despite my shame of having to recognize these people who call themselves “Christians,” and being disgusted with myself for not being sufficiently devoted to God, so as to give more to Him, what still keeps me going as a Christian? Nothing but the glory and the beauty of God, that He loves me, that He has given to me not some blessings, but He has given to me His Son in order to forgive me and to reconcile me to Himself!

Have you ever thought about giving your son to somebody? Or what do you think if somebody said, “I love you so much, I entrust my son to you”? That person must really love you with unlimited love. God comes to someone as unworthy as I am and says to me, “Here is My Son, I give him to you.” And the Spirit of God opened my eyes to see the self-giving beauty of Jesus, the glory of God shining in his face (2Corinthians 4:6). Remember, he is a mystery, so you cannot understand him in your own wisdom. If God had not opened my eyes to see something of his glory, I could never have seen it.

How then am I to preach Christ? How am I to share his glory? Only the eyes that have seen that glory understands it, like the apostle Paul, who saw it on the road to Damascus. How do you describe Jesus? I can speak of him as God’s mystery, as the life of God given to me, but I cannot say, “Here is life. Look at it.” You cannot see life, you cannot smell it, you cannot hear it, you cannot touch it, and you cannot taste it. There are people who say they don’t believe in anything that they cannot see. Well, you can see manifestations of life, but you cannot see life itself. If I give you a seed and say, “Inside here is life,” and you take a knife, cut the seed and say, “I’m going to look at life,” would you see life? Life cannot be seen, but you can experience it. That is what you and I can do. I cannot experience life for you. I can only tell you how to experience it. You have to let the Spirit of God reveal Christ to you, then the fire begins to burn in your heart. There is nothing that so kindles the fire in a person’s heart as the vision of Yahweh God’s holy love manifested by His gift of Jesus Christ, His slain Lamb. It is beyond my power to give you the vision of “the glory of God in the face of Christ”, to let the fire of devotion burn in your heart. I can only tell you by what path you arrive at it. And when you have arrived, when you begin to see the glory of God in Christ, you will not want to talk about cost, you will not want to talk about sacrifice, because there is nothing you can offer to God that is even worth talking about. But I have constantly wrestled with the question, how to bring people to a vision of that glory? Jesus is God’s indescribable gift to us. To you it has been given. Have you received it?

Part 2: Salvation becomes available to us through commitment of faith

This takes me to the second part. God has given His seed freely to everyone. Salvation in Christ is God’s free gift to man. And remember, salvation is found only in Christ; there is no salvation outside of Christ. God doesn’t give you something called “life”. He doesn’t give you something called “salvation”. All God’s gifts are found only in Christ. The life is only in the seed. Salvation is only in Christ (2 Tim. 2:10). Nowhere else can you find it. But now, seeing that God has freely given salvation, that God so loved the whole world, why then is the world not saved? Well, John 3:19 tells us, “they loved darkness rather than light.” The problem here is that God’s gift is free, but not every heart is willing to take it. And anybody who desires salvation without Christ, or to have Christ only as a means of getting to salvation, doesn’t even know what salvation is.

We hear a lot about faith—we are saved by faith. Now I deliberately avoid using this word “faith” because it is so over-worked, that nobody actually knows what it means. Certainly, “we are justified by faith”, but whatever does faith mean? And I have heard all kinds of definitions being given. The most frequently quoted is Hebrews 11:1, “Now faith is the assurance of things not seen, the confidence of things hoped for.” What does that tell you? I fear it has told you nothing. “Faith is the assurance of things not seen,” but faith itself is not something seen either. So what is not seen is the assurance of what is not seen. What does that say? If you try to analyze this logically, you will find it to be a meaningless statement. It is simply going to end up meaning that you believe what you happen to believe. To a person who has not got faith, that is not a definition. It tells him absolutely nothing.

Hebrews 11:1 is simply telling you what is the effect of faith on you. It is not a definition of faith in its essence. The person who has faith understands what it means because he already has faith. He knows that because he has faith, he has assurance of the things not seen. Because I have faith, I have confidence in the things that are hoped for.

Illustration of saving faith: Staking your life on a strong man

What then is faith? Well, faith is often illustrated by preachers. Charles Spurgeon, the English Baptist preacher, for example, illustrates it in this way as many preachers do. There is a child who is standing at a window, and the house is on fire. The only course left for the child is to jump from the window. Below the window there is a strong man with outstretched arms who says, “Jump and I will catch you.” So the child, seeing the flames coming from behind, takes his life into his own hands, takes the courage to jump, and leaps into the arms of the strong man below, who catches him. This is an illustration of faith. Well, where does faith come into all this? What does the illustration tell me? It is telling me that faith is the attitude of this child who trusts the strong man, and therefore jumps out of the window into his arms. Well, what does it mean by trust here? You might say this trust is driven somewhat by the fear of the flames behind him, but the trust is in the strong man, and the strong man here is meant to represent the Lord Jesus.

Now the reason why I use the word “commitment” rather than the word “trust” is because “trust” is far too weak; it doesn’t express a total attitude of commitment. The child is doing much more than trusting the strong man, if it is going to be a genuine act of Biblical faith. For if the strong man fails to catch him, the child would be dead or crippled. Biblical faith is a trust that stakes one’s life on it. You don’t stake anything if you believe that Jesus, the Lamb of God died for you. What have you staked? That is why I am concerned about the misuse of the word “faith”.

Whitelaw wrote the widely-used tract called, “The Reason Why”, but to my mind, he uses an utterly distasteful argument, because it is what Bonhoeffer has called in The Cost of Discipleship, “an offer of cheap grace.” His argument is like this: If you believe that Jesus died for you and you are wrong, you lose nothing; but if you are right, you gain eter­nal life. You cannot lose either way since you stake absolutely nothing, right?

Suppose somebody gives you a free Lotto Canada or Lotto Quebec ticket. Now if your ticket happens to be drawn, you would win a million dollars. If the draw comes out and you won nothing, you would not lose anything either, because the ticket was given to you as a free present, right? So, it doesn’t matter if you got nothing, because you staked nothing. If you win, you gain everything, but if you lose, you have lost nothing. So either way, you have nothing to lose. Is receiving a free Lotto Canada ticket called faith? Whitelaw says faith costs you absolutely nothing. You have something to gain, and nothing to lose. But where is the faith? How does this picture of receiving a free Lotto ticket compare with that of a child jumping out of the window?

And yet I hear evangelists preaching on salvation like this: “Jesus is God’s gift to you.” Receiving Jesus in response to this kind of preaching of the gospel is not faith. If you accept Jesus, and if he turns out to be false, you don’t lose anything, do you? So it’s a good bet! But if he turns out to be true, you’ve hit the jackpot, my friend! You’ve got eternal life! That is better than winning a million dollars in Lotto Canada, for you can’t buy eternal life with a million dollars! Is receiving Jesus in the way you receive a free Lotto Canada ticket called “faith”? That is not faith. That is just taking a chance. In fact, it is not even taking a chance, because it costs you absolutely nothing one way or the other. If you had to pay for the ticket, at least you stand to lose the cost of the ticket.

Now think again of Spurgeon’s illustration of the child who jumps, staking his life upon the person who catches him. Now that is faith. That faith is a total commitment, because you have staked your life on it. Now do you stake something when accepting Jesus as your Savior God has sent? If Jesus is not true, what do you lose? I think for the majority of you, you would have lost nothing. You have gone to church every Sunday, and it was a very good experience. Singing songs has a calming effect on you. You meet lots of nice people in church even if they are all “deluded people.” What do you lose? Nothing. You’ve still got your job. Your income is not reduced because you are a Christian. In fact, in many cases, because you are a Christian, the management knows you are trustworthy, so you get more promotions and better income. Being a Christian brings every advantage to you. Even if the gospel turns out to be untrue, and you were a Christian all your life, what would you lose? Nothing. You still have your house, you still have your car, you still have your job, you have much better friends than worldly friends—friends who will stand by you when you are in trouble. I ask you, what have you staked on being a Christian? Nothing.

Then can you define faith for me? What is faith? When the child jumps from a high building into the arms of a strong man, and if that man fails to catch, the child stands to become a cripple, or even to lose its life. If Jesus is not true, what do you stand to lose? The answer for most people is, nothing. Therefore, where is the faith? We are justified by faith, so I want you to ask this question, do you have faith? What have you staked on Jesus? To believe a thing to be true or not true, doesn’t stake anything at all. To believe whether or not this Lotto Canada ticket that I give you is going to win doesn’t matter, because you lose nothing if you don’t win. So where is your faith?

Another illustration: Staking your life on a plank

Let me use another illustration which is often used by preachers. I am sure that you will find this illustration familiar. A missionary preaching about faith describes his experience in India. He was going to a particular place, and had to cross over a deep gorge on a plank. He looked down and saw a little river far below. Now this plank was just tied with some ropes, and was swaying with the wind. So he says, “Oh, no! I’m not going across!” But the natives assure him that the plank is quite trustworthy, and they go back and forth on the plank completely at ease. But he argues, “I am a six-foot tall Westerner. I am taller than you. What is more, I’m heavier than any of you. The fact that you can go across is no evidence that I can go across, because the plank may take your weight, but it may not take my weight.” And so he refuses to go across the plank. Then the natives say, “Okay, we will cross two together on the plank because two of us together will surely be heavier than you.” So two of them crossed together on the bridge to demonstrate. Left without an excuse, this missionary has to pluck up his courage and go across on the plank with fear and trembling. He inches his way across the plank and gets to the other side.

He puts his faith in the plank. This is an illustration of faith! That is to say, at first, he did not trust the plank. But after he had a multitude of witnesses—as in Hebrews 12:1, “Seeing that you have so great a cloud of witnesses about you”—he plucked up courage and took the step of faith to cross the plank.

Now does it not illustrate the same point as the child who stakes his life to jump into the arms of the strong man? If the plank cannot hold his weight, he stands to lose his life! He loses everything if his faith is wrong. This means that faith is not faith in the Biblical sense unless you stake everything, even your life, on it. If the plank doesn’t hold his weight, he is going to go right down to utter destruction. Now that is a definition of faith. But a faith that is preached by an evangelist that does not speak about totally committing oneself, about staking one’s life, is not faith in the Biblical sense. By the same token, a faith that is like receiving a Lotto Canada ticket as a present—that you either win something, or if you don’t win, you don’t lose anything—is not Biblical faith. I would like you to get this very clear.

The Biblical definition of faith is: Total commitment

To dare to preach the gospel in the way that Whitelaw presents it in the tract—“Believe that Jesus is God’s gift to you, and you will have eternal life. But if he is wrong, you don’t lose anything”—is a travesty of Biblical teaching. It is a disgrace! I am ashamed of it! But what is worse, it is a lie! If you have not been totally committed to Christ, you seek in vain the gift of salvation, for the gift of salvation is given to faith. You are justified by faith, which is understood as a total commitment, as we have seen in the illustrations used by Spurgeon and the missionaries. That is the Biblical understanding.

When you look at Hebrews 11, you will see no faith of the “Lotto Canada” type that I’ve just mentioned. Every example of faith is an example of total commitment. Abraham staked everything upon God’s Word. He went, not knowing where God wanted him to go. He staked his life, his family, his career, everything upon it. When God said, “Go!” he went. That is total commitment.

By faith Moses counted the riches of Egypt as nothing. He turned his back upon Egypt, and he went out to be identified with the people of God. He lost everything. He staked his life.

The list of examples of faith in Hebrews 11 ends with these words in verse 33:

who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, received promises, stopped the mouths of lions.

Now if the faith did not work, the lions will get you, not you get the lions. If you did not have faith, it is not you who will subdue the kingdoms, the kingdoms will subdue you. Why do we read Hebrews 11 with eyes closed and think that salvation is, “I believe God sent Jesus to die for me. It costs me nothing, and if it is wrong, I lose nothing anyway”? Your under­standing of faith is wrong!

Parable of the Sower: Only the totally committed are saved

Let us look at the Parable of the Sower again. There are two groups of three categories each—three categories of the unsaved and three categories of the saved. The three categories of the saved were those that brought forth thirty-fold, sixty-fold, and one hundred-fold.

The three categories of the unsaved were firstly, the seed that fell on the hard ground, on the path. Secondly, that which fell upon the rocky ground—they had believed and accepted the Word of God but they had no root. And thirdly, that which also received the Word of God but allowed the thorns (the world) to choke it. Out of the three categories of the unsaved, two groups are believers, one group is unbelievers! But we are used to classifying the unsaved as unbelievers. The Lord Jesus classi­fies among the unsaved only one group of unbelievers, but two groups of believers. Amazing! His thinking is not our thinking. Both categories of believers received the Word of God: one received it with joy but had no root and fell away; the other received the Word of God but was choked by the cares of the world.

Now there are three things we can say about total commitment on the basis of this parable.

1. Total commitment implies openness to God’s Word

The first point is that commitment implies openness. The soil must be open to receive the seed. It has been ploughed up, it is open. But that which fell upon the path is not open, it is closed. The seed cannot even penetrate it, and the birds take the seed away. The other two groups were open, and so they received the Word. This shows that commitment or faith is an openness to the Word of God; it is an openness to God.

Let me ask you the first question: Is your heart open to God’s Word? I have confidence that your hearts are open to God’s Word, because if you were not open to God’s Word, I don’t see why you would be in church. So I have confidence that at least, you have the first stage: your hearts are open to God’s Word. This is essential but not enough.

2. Total commitment is: God’s Word totally possesses your heart

What is the second step? The second step is that having entered into the soil, the seed must have total possession of the soil. It is very important that the Word of God must have total possession of your heart. That is where the two categories of people in the “unsaved group” (the soil with rock underneath and the soil among thorns), who received the Word of God failed and perished.

Does the Word of God have total possession of your heart? Or is there some rock underneath, a certain hardness of heart that limits God and says to Him, “You’ve come far enough in my life and no further. I am willing to be religiously respectable, I’m willing to go that far, but I don’t want to be a religious fanatic like the people in the church workers’ full-time training. They studied mathematics, or chemistry, or computer science, or whatever, and then they throw everything away. These are nuts! They are fanatics! As for me, I draw the line here. I am wise. I take the “中道”, the mean. I have the right balance—not too far to one side and not too far to the other.” If you draw the line my friend, you will end up with nothing! If you tell the Lord God, “You are Lord of my life but don’t come any further,” then He is not your Lord at all. He is either Lord of all or He is not Lord at all. You must understand this. Have you drawn a line in your life?

Or you have not drawn any line in your life, but you allow the cares of this world to dominate your life. You are still so preoccupied with the world. You say, “Lord, you are truly Lord. But I am concerned with many interests in this world,” then you will end up being like the seed that fell in the soil among the thorns and got choked by them. The reason both categories of the saved fail, is because although the commitment is there, it is not total. What the Lord Jesus is saying is that, unless the seed has total possession of the soil with no line being drawn, and with no other concerns and preoccupation with worldly interests, you cannot survive. So firstly, we need openness which you all have. But secondly, ask yourself if you are able to say, “Lord, You have all of my life, all of my heart, there is nowhere in my life that you are not Lord.” I wonder how many of you would be able to say that honestly. I wonder how many preachers would be able to say that honestly.

F.B. Meyer, as you may know, was a great preacher at the beginning of this century, and towards the end of the last century (1847-1929). He wrote many, many exceedingly good books of great value. The books of F.B. Meyer are always well worth reading. He confides how he was pastor of a church, and he tried to minister, but all that happened was that the church just died on his hands. There was no life. And he went before God and he said, “Lord, what’s wrong with me?” The Lord said, “What’s wrong with you is that you’ve got rocks in there. You have drawn a line. I am not totally Lord of your life.” And he suddenly realized this, “That’s true. I belong to this category of people that have this top soil which is good but there are rocks underneath! I don’t let God go any further than this in my life. I have stopped Him at this point.” And God said to F.B. Meyer, “I can’t use you because you have closed part of your life to Me.” So he knelt down before God and said, “God, here is all my life. Here are the keys to every room in my house. There is no room closed to You. In fact, I beg of You, just take down the whole door, so that you don’t even have to use the keys anymore.” And he said that was what God did. God took down the door and put a window in its place, through which His light shone into every room of his life. From that time on, God used F.B. Meyer mightily.

What is your life like? How many doors of your life are closed to God?

3. Total commitment is: triumph in testing, tribulation, persecution

Now the third thing so essential to commitment, is what is so essential to the seed—the sun. You all know that without light, nothing can grow. I pointed out to you that three different Greek words are used to speak about sufferings: trials, tribulations and persecution. And these are compared to the sun—the sunshine that promotes the growth of the seed.

Total commitment is determined by how you react to trials

I am often asked this question, “How do I know that I am totally committed? Do I know I am totally committed because I go into full-time service? Is that the only way I know?” My answer is, “Not in the least.” I’ve just mentioned to you that there are pastors who are not totally committed, as F.B. Meyer, this great preacher himself shared with us. Here is a pastor who went through Bible College, seminary, and he was not totally committed. I would like to know how many people in a Bible college are totally committed to God? When I was at Prairie Bible Institute, I spoke to the students there and I challenged every one of them. I wanted to know how much God was Lord in their lives. Don’t think that by becoming a preacher, you are totally committed to God. Not necessarily so.

How do you know? The answer is this: it depends on how you react to the sun. That is the test! You’ll notice in the case of this parable that the sun destroys the plant that has no root in it, but the others grow exceedingly well in the sunlight. Have you noticed how the flower turns towards the sun? It opens up as the sun comes out. And when the sun disappears, it closes again. It shows forth its entire beauty as the sun rises. So does the true Christian. But the seed that has no root—where commitment is weak or inadequate or non-existent—will be wiped out. So the same sunshine not only brings life, prosperity and spiritual growth to the one, but it also brings destruction to the other. Isn’t that remarkable? And so we read in this beautiful parable of the Lord Jesus, that when the sun rose, the plants in the shallow ground withered and died. But those in the good soil grew abundantly—thirty-fold, sixty-fold, and one hundred-fold. The sun brings forth the life. When difficulty arises, when the person is being persecuted, that is the time when we will see whether he is a true Christian or a false Christian. Whenever a trial comes to you, you will know whether you are a totally committed Christian or not.

I always think back to the time we were preaching the gospel in Wales in the ‘60s. There the seed of God’s Word was scattered in 1904, and brought forth tremendous fruits—the mighty Welsh Revival. So mighty was the moving of God’s Spirit that there was a transformation of the whole place. Whether in the buses or on the streets, everyone was singing hymns to God. Imagine walking down St-Catherine in Montreal, and everybody would be singing praises to God! That is what happened during the Welsh Revival. Today, it is dead. One incident very deeply impressed on my mind is the time we went from door to door to witness for God and Christ. One dear brother knocked on a certain door, and had it soundly slammed in his face, when he explained to the owner what he had come to do But when he came back to us, his face was beaming with joy. So I thought he had had a great time of witnessing. I asked, “What happened to you?” He said “Hallelujah! I just had the door slammed in my face.”

That struck me because all the others only rejoiced when the person was listening with great attention and great courtesy, and when they even offered them a biscuit or a cup of tea. But here was somebody who rejoiced because the door was slammed in his face! He counted it such joy to suffer something for God. I said to myself, here is somebody that God is going to use, because he radiates when the sun shines upon him. When persecution comes, he shines with joy, and he said, “Do you know what I said to the lady when she slammed the door in my face? I shouted through the door, ‘Dear lady, I love you so much! I will be praying for you.’” Wow! I think that witness was more powerful than all the others who went around waving their Bibles. Imagine slamming the door in somebody’s face and he says, “I love you”! Now, that is the kind of Christian who has commitment!

Charles Wesley, that great servant of God who lived two hundred years ago, wrote detailed journals which we can read today. As he went around preaching, he was often beaten, his clothes torn, his hair pulled, his face punched. But all we read in his journals is a sense of love and warmth. There is not the slightest bitterness against those who perse­cuted and tormented him, only love. He thanked God for the privilege that he could suffer. That is a man of God!

During the Cultural Revolution in China, how many times did our brothers and sisters stretch forth their hands to be taken away by the police and said, “I am not worthy of such a privilege. Thank you.” They must have thought bemusedly, “You are thanking me for putting handcuffs on your hands? What are you doing?” They rejoiced as the sun shines upon them. Thanks be to God!

And look at the apostle Paul. He actually says, “We rejoice in tribulation” (Romans 5:3). Do you see why he is totally committed? He has staked everything on God and Christ; he is ready to lose all. That is faith!

How do you know whether you have total commitment? Next time everything goes wrong for you, next time your parents turn against you, next time your friends turn against you, next time you lose your job because as a Christian, you did not want to cheat at taxes, for example, then see whether you are totally committed, whether you rejoice saying, “Hallelujah! What a privilege to live for God!” Or will you say, “Do you see what is happening? Being a Christian has cost me my job! That is the trouble with being a Christian!”

The sun that shines will test your commitment. It will test my commitment. How many times I have been penniless in serving God. And I thought to myself, “Hallelujah! I now know what it feels like to be a disciple of Christ Jesus, who did not have anywhere to lay his head, and who did not have even a coin in his pocket.” When somebody asked him, “Should we pay taxes?” he had to ask someone else for a coin to reply, “Whose inscription is this on the coin?” If he had had a coin in his own pocket, he could have just pulled it out. Oh, it is good for me to be Jesus’ disciple, to imitate him serving and living for Yahweh God!

I stake my life on God. When I went to England to be trained in God’s work, I had no money. I was not allowed to work, and I did not intend to break the law by working. Therefore I would just commit my cause to God. If my God is not alive, I would have literally starved in the gutter. But my God proved Himself. Only the person who stakes his life on God will experience His power. No other person will experience His power.

God’s gift of justification is given to us freely, but in receiving that gift, in receiving that seed into my life, I stake my life upon this gift of God. And if God is not real—God forbid!—it will cost me everything! But I know whom I have believed, that is why I stake my life on Him. And because I stake my life on Him, I know whom I have believed. So the cycle goes on. When you stake your life on God, you’ll see His power manifest, therefore you trust Him even more. And because you trust Him even more, you’ll stake even more on Him.

The quality of total commitment determines the yield in fruit

One last point: In the rich parable that we have before us, there are some who brought forth thirty-fold, some sixty-fold, and some one hundred-fold. Now if all of us are totally committed, why is there a difference in the yield? This question deserves an answer.

Every person can be totally committed, but the quality of that com­mitment is not the same. It may be equally total but not equal in quality. Let us take again the illustration of faith—crossing a deep gorge on a plank. Any person who walks on this plank is totally committed, because if that plank breaks, he loses his life. But the quality of that commitment can be different. The missionary totally committed himself to the plank but was there a joy in that commitment? No, although he was totally committed, there was hesitation and fear and trembling. The quality of that commitment was not the same as the others who are also com­mitted. They went across joyfully with ease, perhaps even with singing. Both totally staked their lives upon that plank to hold them up, but the quality of that commitment was not the same.

A child may fling itself from the top floor with great hesitation, crying, fearing and trembling, or it may just jump down with utter confidence, with no fear or trembling. Both have done the same thing, but their attitude is different.

I have seen the quality difference between those who are totally committed. I have seen people who have given up everything to follow Christ, but they go through life groaning, “I have given up everything for God, and look at what I have to endure!” You cannot deny that they have committed everything to God, but what quality is left in their lives? Why bother at all if they moan about it? There are others who totally commit to God with a small measure of joy, and still others who do it with radiance! The quality is different.

Now think again of the illustration of the plank. If I walk on the plank shivering all the way across, would it encourage others to cross the plank too? They will be very hesitant. But if you see somebody striding across with great confidence, you would say, “Oh, that’s okay. I’ll cross over.” Can you see that your witness is vastly different because of the quality of your commitment?

Can you see the quality of Paul’s commitment as he staked everything? He rejoiced in tribulation. Others who see his witness will say, “Paul’s God is wonderful! The cost is as nothing to him.” But there is another person who is forever muttering about the cost. He is trembling on the plank thinking: “I have done it, but at what cost to me!” No wonder others will think, “Well, if that is the case, I don’t think I am going to cross.”

Do you see the difference? The person who crosses the plank with confidence will cause many others to cross the plank with confidence. But the one who crosses with hesitation may either prevent others from crossing, or cause others to cross with hesitation too. Therefore when we transpose this illustration to the difference of yield in fruit, we can see that when the quality of the witness is different, the yield is different. So, may we not only have totally committed faith, but may we have a totally committed faith of such quality, of such radiance, of such power, that others can see the glory of God in us!

 

(c) 2012 Christian Disciples Church