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for He tells them that if they watch it thus closely, they will see the seed, which once seemed dead in the earth, spring and grow up they know not how, for the earth bringeth forth fruit of herself; that is to say, by the natural unrolling of God's will, and without any further intervention of the sower: but not all at once; no man is to expect to see the full fruit of his own work. "Show Thy servants Thy work, and their children Thy glory." Sufficient for the servant of GOD if he see the tender blade; the first weak promise of his sowing: all do not see so much as that. The rain, the dew, the sun, and the air, that is to say, direct grace from Heaven, altogether independent of the human sower, must have its free operation, and that operation is and must be gradual: it must be, "first the blade, then the ear, and after that the full corn in the ear."
"But"—there is meaning in that one word: it is as if He said, do not be discouraged because the fruit you sow to-day is not ripe to-morrow; for when it is ripe the end of the world is come; "when the fruit is brought forth, immediately he putteth in the sickle because the harvest is come.
We say confidently that this is our LORD's meaning; for we look at once for explanation to the 14th chap. of the Revelation, which evidently alludes to this passage, and as evidently describes the end of the world. "And I looked, and behold, a white cloud, and upon the cloud sat one like to the Son of Man, having on His head a
1 S. Thomas Aquinas, who follows Theophylact in his interpretation of this parable, and quotes him, reconciles this discrepancy very beautifully. "CHRIST says he knoweth not,' that He may show the free will of those who receive the word, for He commits a work to our will, and does not the whole work Himself alone, lest the good should seem involuntary."
golden crown, and in His hand a sharp sickle. And another angel came out of the temple, saying unto Him that sat on the cloud, Thrust in Thy sickle and reap, for the time is come for Thee to reap, for the harvest of the earth is ripe. And He that sat on the cloud thrust in His sickle on the earth, and the earth was reaped."
This therefore, is the sense in which this parable was given originally by the LORD, and received by His disciples. It was prophetical, and though to a great degree the prophecy has been fulfilled, and has passed into the province of history, it has not yet received its entire fulfilment, nor will it till the grain shall be fully ripe, and the sickle put forth upon the earth.
But has it not a practical and personal lesson also? We may be sure it has, because GOD makes this distinction between His chosen people of old, and His chosen people now. With them He dealt collectively; just as they were, collectively and as a nation, baptized in the Red Sea in the beginning of their national life. Whilst without ceasing to regard us collectively; "for we being many are one bread and one body," He regards us also individually, even as He now commands His Baptism to be individual, and His Eucharist to be received by each.
We therefore perform a double part in His scheme of man's salvation; as individuals responsible for our own sins, and as spiritual stones, composing together the heavenly Jerusalem. If therefore, our LORD regards us in two characters, we need not be surprised that His revelations admit a double application. The kingdom of GOD is His Church: this is the collective sense; but He also tells us that the kingdom of GOD is within us.
In this sense therefore, the parable is capable of a personal and individual application. Let the sower now be the Great First Sower, the LORD Himself, Who by
the grace of the HOLY GHOST has sown in the heart of each individual baptized member of His Church, the seeds of good. See now the different ground they have fallen upon; the yielding, the stubborn, the light and heedless tempers; worse than all, the hard and worldworn tempers, with patches of good and kindly soil intermixed, as if we had preserved some few poor fragments of the image that was once divine. But all the seed, whatever soil has received it, is for awhile hidden. The child returns from Baptism much the same to human eyes as it went to the holy Font. Men sleep,-but if they rise night and day, that is, if they watch the development of hidden grace, they see the natural clay, bearing as "of itself," (sometimes even without what seems adequate culture,) "first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear."
a good intention already rests in But he 'rises
But let us take the words of Gregory, who many centuries ago, explained this heavenly growth of good desires in the heart of a Christian man. He says, "Man' casts seed into the ground' when he places in his heart, and he 'sleeps' when he the hope which attends on a good work. night and day,' because he advances amid prosperity and adversity, though he knows it not,' for he is unable to measure his increase, and yet virtue once conceived goes on increasing. When therefore we conceive good desires, we put good seed into the ground;' when we begin to work rightly we are the blade;' when we increase to the perfection of good works we arrive at 'the ear;' when we are firmly fixed in the perfection of the same working we already put forth the full corn in the ear.'
Then, whenever that time may be, the harvest is ripe. Death may put in his sickle; for death is to the indi
vidual Christian what the Last Great Day is to the collective Church. But death to such a man will be an angel of peace, and the full grain that is so reaped will be laid up for ever in the Presence of God.
NOTE. S. GREGORY OF ROME.-There are few of the ancient Fathers whose names are better known in England than that of S. Gregory of Rome. This indeed is but natural, since it is to him that the present English Church owes its foundation. That there had once been, not an English but a British Church, under the rule of the Roman Empire, is most true; but it is equally true that this Church had been long since extirpated by the heathen Saxons wherever they held sway; that is to say throughout the whole of England, with the exception only of Wales, Cornwall (including Devonshire) and possibly the mountainous country of the north.
The story of S. Gregory being struck with the beauty of the English children exposed in the slave market is well known; but, as it is generally depicted, it involves an absurd anachronism. He is usually represented as attended by Bishops and Priests, and all the magnificence of Roman Pontiffs of the present day, (though by the way, even when he was Pope, he was always remarkable for the plainness of his apparel and general simplicity,) but the fact is, that he was at that time a layman and prefect of Rome, to which post he had been appointed by the Emperor Justin; and though he might have desired that a mission should be sent, had then no means of sending one. He however bore it in mind.
Gregory belonged to one of the most distinguished of the Roman families, and possessed immense riches, the greater part of which he dedicated to GOD's service in the foundation of monasteries mostly in Sicily, to which Church he seems to have had through life an especial attachment. It was at this time, probably about his thirty-fifth year, that he took orders and was sent by Pelagius, then Bishop of Rome, on an embassy to Constantinople, at which place he distinguished himself by his refutation of the doctrines held by that school of divines, who considered Origen as their founder, but who held doctrines that Origen never dreamed of, and among others that the body after the resurrection is impalpable.
Three years after this, on the death of Pelagius, Gregory was himself elected Bishop of Rome. On his accession, he wrote a circular
to the other Patriarchs, declaring his determination to abide by the decrees of the Ecumenical Councils. In the earlier part of his episcopate, he devoted himself entirely to the reformation of morals and discipline among the clergy, which seems to have been not a little needed.
A very remarkable point in his life is his controversy with John Patriarch of Constantinople, on his assuming the title of "Universal Bishop," which had been awarded to him by a council held about that time. A judgment pronounced by the Patriarch of Constantinople, upon an heretical priest, in which that title was assumed, had been transmitted to Rome, and Gregory immediately sent a nuncio to protest against it, directing him even to withdraw from communion with the Patriarch in case he should still maintain it. He wrote several letters on the subject to his nuncio, to the Emperor, and at last to the Patriarch himself, protesting against this assumption of superiority as unscriptural, urging that even the Apostles were only heads over particular congregations; that even they were members of the Church under One Head, and none of them were called "universal:" would the Patriarch assume an authority superior to that of the Apostles? "It is very hard," he said, "after we have parted with our silver, our gold, our slaves, and even our garments for the public welfare, (and none had more right to say this than Gregory,) we should be called upon to part with our faith also; for to agree to that impious title is parting from our faith."
All this however, was without effect. The Patriarch contended that he had a right to any title the council pleased to give him, and the Emperor naturally enough considered that the title of "Universal Bishop" suited very well the Bishop of the Imperial city.
In the meanwhile, Gregory had not forgotten his early impression in favour of the English, and in the sixth year of his episcopate, 596, fitted out a mission, consisting of forty monks, with Augustine at their head. These leaving Rome in the summer of that year, proceeded as far as Aix, where, alarmed at the character they had heard of the Saxons, they despatched Augustine back to Rome, to ask permission to recede from their engagements. Gregory telling them that no one who had put his hand to the plough and looking back, was fit for the kingdom of Heaven, insisted on their accomplishing their mission, the success of which is due quite as much to his firmness as to the zeal and tact of Augustine himself.
Shortly after the setting out of this mission, John died, and was