SPIRITUAL HUSBANDRY.

BY SAMUEL COX

I planted, Apollos watered ; but God gave the increase." I Corinthians iii. 6.

The most common form in which one hears these words quoted is, I think, this : " A Paul may plant, and an Apollos water ; but only God can give the increase." Years ago they were often quoted in this form to prove that learning and eloquence are of little value, or even of no value, in the ministry of the Word ; that, though a preacher were learned as Paul and eloquent as Apollos, he would preach to no effect without the Divine blessing : and that as these gifts were of no avail apart from the blessing of God, therefore — O strange " therefore " ! — they were of no use at all. The text is still occasionally quoted, I believe, in order to " humble the pride " of ministers — an intention for which, when it is sincere, ministers cannot be too grateful — in order to remind them that, however erudite they may be, and whatever their natural gifts, neither their gifts nor their erudition will of themselves enable them to command success in the great work to which they have been

378 SPIRITUAL HUSBANDRY. called. But as a rule, I suppose, these words are now used as a humble and sincere confession of the fact that, whatever our capacities and whatever our culture may be, we can none of us, cleric or lay, do anything to purpose in the service of God without his presence, cooperation, and benediction.

In whatever connection they are used, they are true so long as they assert our dependence on God for success in our labours. In whatever connection they are used, they become false the very moment they deny a wise use of the best means to be a main condition of success, or attribute that success to anything arbitrary or capricious in the will of God. If a minister does not owe his success simply to his learning or to his eloquence, still less does he owe it simply to his ignorance or to an unversed and unaccomplished tongue. Whatever helps to make a man a wise teacher, or a good and telling speaker, will also help to make him an effective and successful preacher of the Word. Neither learning nor eloquence will avail him much if he lack higher qualities — a delicate sympathy with truth and righteousness, an intense love for God and man, a single-hearted devotion to spiritual ends. But I have yet to learn that a thoughtful, gifted, and cultivated man, a man who has worked hard and long to make the best of himself, is more likely to be lacking in spiritual gifts and aims than the man who has taken less pains to improve himself. The presumption is that " to him that hath, it shall be given." The presumption is that the wise man will be the first to accept the highest wisdom, and that

SPIRITUAL HUSBANDRY. 379 the man of most gifts will be the first to value the best gifts. The presumption is that the most effective speaker will speak most effectively for God. And, assuredly, those who think the great Lawgiver acts without law, that God grants success to those who are least likely to command success, have no right to quote St. Paul's words in favour of their strange argument. For, first, the Apostle is not here laying down a general principle ; he is simply appealing to an historical

fact ; the fact that at Corinth he and Apollos had both ministered the word of the Gospel, and that God had blessed their ministry to the salvation of many souls. He neither affirms, nor denies, that men less learned ^ than himself, or less eloquent than Apollos, would have done their work just as well as they had done it. All he affirms is that it was they who had done it, and that God had worked together with them. And, again, if we must draw a general inference from the historical fact stated by St. Paul, let us be sure that we draw it fairly, that we really understand his words and the principle which lies behind them. Consider, then, the illustration which he employs, and which gives form to the whole Verse. Obviously, it is that of a farmer or a gardener. " One gardener plants, another waters the plants ; but only God can make their garden grow." Is that true } Assuredly it is true. In this, as ' Of course in applying this epithet to St. Paul, I have in mind mainly his familiarity with all the wisdom of the Hebfeius^ Scriptural and Rabbinical, and leave the disputed question of his Classical erudition untouched.

38o SPIRITUAL HUSBANDRY. in every, province of human activity, men, even when they have done their best, are dependent on the action and blessing of God. But is there anything capricious or arbitrary in his action ? Is his benediction governed by no law ? With whom does He generally act ? whom does He commonly bless ? Is it not the wise and skilful gardener, not the unwise and unskilled ? It is quite true that even the most learned and practised gardener cannot thrive and prosper in his work without God, But would you expect many flowers or much fruit from a garden that was neither planted nor watered ? And from which would you expect the choicest flowers and

the finest fruit — from the garden of the man who had read much and thought much and had long practised himself in the art of the florist, or from that of the man who had read little, thought little, observed little, and " trusted to the inspiration of the moment " ? You see, the very instant you bring your common sense to bear on St. Paul's words, all the old arbitrary interpretations of them, which detach effects from their natural causes, and substitute for them some unknown and capricious cause on which we cannot reckon, fall away from the words, and you are compelled to confess that the more able and accomplished the workman, the more likely is God to bless him in his work, whatever that work may be. All analogy, then, conducts us to the conclusion, and all experience confirms the conclusion, that learning, intelligence, natural ability, an eloquent tongue, so far from being hindrances to the successful preaching of the

SPIRITUAL HUSBANDRY. 381

Word, are aids to it, and aids of the most valuable kind. Were the twelve men whom Jesus chose to be always with Him the least able and intelligent, think you, or the most intelligent and capable of the Disciples who companied with Him from the beginning ? And, in the early history of the Church, who were the men who rendered the most effectual service ? Which of the Disciples came to the front and led the Christian enterprise — the least gifted or the most gifted ? Stephen, James, Peter, John, Paul, Barnabas, Apollos, Luke, Titus, Timothy — were not these men at once the most conspicuous, and the most capable, learned, and eloquent of the heroic band which, under the blessing of God, put a new heart

into the world and a new face upon it ? Did not God then choose for special honour in his service the men who could speak and write with most force and therefore with most authority ? Must not the wise God love wise men, just as the good God loves good men ? It may be doubted whether the world has ever seen a natural orator superior to St. Peter, or a logician superior to St. Paul, or a rhetorician superior to St. Apollos. As we might have expected, God chose the best instruments for the best work. And if He used these men and their gifts tJieyi, why should He not use, and even prefer, men of similar gifts noiv ? Learning and eloquence are great aids to the Preacher, then. God values and uses them in his service ; and, therefore, we should prize them, and wish that all who teach and preach were possessed of them. Learning enables a man to speak with confidence and authority :

382 SPIRITUAL HUSBANDRY. for who will not listen to the man who knows ? Eloquence enables a man to speak with force and persuasiveness ; we cannot help listening to a man who, by his mastery of the arts of speech, plays upon our heartstrings and makes them yield what music he will. And these, too, are gifts of God. The natural aptitudes which make a man a scholar, or an orator, come from Him ; as do also the opportunities of culture and training by which his natural gifts are nourished and developed. To depreciate these gifts is to insult Him who gave them. But it would be a grave mistake were we to look on these as the only, or the highest, gifts required for the work of the ministry. Much reading — albeit St. Paul bade Timothy give himself to reading as well as to exhortation and teaching — will not of itself make a

good minister, any more than by itself it will make a good gardener. A ready flow of eloquent words, the mere gift of rhetoric, will no more make a good preacher than it will make a wise statesman or even a good orator. The gift of speech, indeed, is a hindrance, rather than a help, to a man unless he has something to say, and something worth hearing ; for mere glibness inspires distrust, not confidence or respect. And even when a man, by reading and reflection, has mastered a subject, he has done but little unless he feels the vast importance of his theme, and passionately yearns to win men to the love and obedience of the truths which he has discovered or verified. The first and chief gift of any minister of the Word is an intense faith in the

SPIRITUAL HUSBANDRY. 383

truths revealed by that Word, a profound conviction of their power and supreme importance, and a desire equally intense to press them on the acceptance of his brethren. Thou must be true thyself, If thou the truth would'st teach ; Thy soul must overflow, if thou Another's soul would reach. Unless a gardener loved his work and was faithful to your interests, you would hardly care to put him in charge of your garden, however learned and skilful he might be. And, in like manner, you should not put your souls in the charge of any minister, however learned and eloquent, unless you are persuaded that he

loves the truth, and heartily desires to see you walking in the ways of truth and righteousness. The man who plants and waters in any domain, physical or spiritual, must not only know what to plant and when to water ; he must be resolutely bent on getting from it the best and largest yield he can. But if he is possessed by this stedfast purpose and devotion, all his other gifts will be useful and welcome ; and the more he has the better both for him and for his work. Again : Even when a gardener is devoted to his work, as well as learned and skilful in it, there are seasons when he will labour well-nigh in vain. Even in the worst times, indeed, he will make his garden do better and yield more than the man who has neither his knowledge nor his skill. But, still, there are times when even the best and wisest of men will fail. The rain, the wind,

384 SPIRITUAL HUSBANDRY. the frost, the electrical conditions of the atmosphere — any one of them, or all of them combined, may defeat his best endeavours. And if these occasional defeats remind him that, after all, he is dependent on a Wisdom and a Power higher than his own, they are of the gravest moral value to him ; for even a gardener is apt, I suppose, to slip into the persuasion that he owes more to his art and skill than to the beneficent and growth-giving will of God, and is all the better for being reminded, by the element of uncertainty which enters into his calculations, that he owes far more to God than to any wisdom of his own. He will be slow to believe, however, that his defeats and disappointments are the result of a Divine caprice. He is sure that he owes what success he gains to his knowledge of natural laws and his skill in availing himself of them. And he will, therefore, be disposed to think that, if he knew more of those laws and was more prompt and skilful in adapting himself to

them, he would escape the defeats he suffers. That is to say, he knows that he owes his general success to God, who works with him through the laws of nature ; and hence, when he fails, he does not at once or readily conclude that God is against him, that the Divine Will is bent on his ruin or discomfiture ; he, rather, concludes that the Will of God is always a good and beneficent Will, but that as yet he knows too little of it to get all the benefit from it he might. Now if we carry that up into the spiritual region, St. Paul's illustration will read us a valuable lesson. As even the Apostles, so also the best and wisest of their

SPIRITUAL HUSBANDRY. 385 successors do not always succeed. They plant and water as well as they know how ; but God does not always give the increase. And if these occasional failures teach them that there is a mystery in spiritual, as well as in natural, growth which they have not yet mastered ; if they teach them that even in the best work they do they are dependent on the will and grace of God, then, surely, these occasional defeats are of the gravest value to them, and should make them more humble, more prayerful, more devout. But should they therefore conclude that God is capricious, that his grace is what is called " sovereign grace " in the sense of being lawless, arbitrary, not dependent on the use, or the wise use, of means .'' On the contrary, like the gardener of whom I have just spoken, they should conclude that the will of God is always a good and kindly Will, a Will set for the salvation of men ; but that as yet they are not wise enough to grasp all the laws which determine its action, or not prompt and skilful enough in availing themselves of these laws. It is not less learning they want, but more; it is not less eloquence, but an eloquence more wisely toned and devoted to higher ends.

What the will of God is in a garden or a farm, we may doubt, though I see no reason to doubt his will to be that every garden and every farm should be made to yield the most for the service of man that can be got out of it. But in the Church we cannot doubt what his will is ; for He Himself has told us that his will is the salvation of men, their salvation from all the evils that injure and debase them, into the peace of righteousness 26

386 SPIRITUAL HUSBANDRY. and love. And, therefore, when we fail to save men from their bondage to lust, passion, selfishness, worldliness, or, in one word, from sin, we may be sure that that is not because He is not willing to save them, or because his will is fluctuating and capricious, but because, with all our learning, we have not learned how best to work together with Him, how best to avail ourselves of the laws and forces of his kingdom. What the text really means, then, is not that when Paul plants, and Apollos waters, God will not give the increase, although He would have given it if some one less learned than Paul had planted, and some one less eloquent than Apollos had watered. It means, rather, that whoever plants, and whoever waters, God is always seeking to multiply the seed they sow and tend ; and that when a Paul plants, and an Apollos waters, God is more able to give the increase than when Pie has to work through men less able and less devoted than they. It does not mean that He is inobservant of the law which binds together cause and effect and produces the larger effects from the more efficient causes. It means, rather, that He is always observant of that law ; that his best blessing goes, and must go, with the best men ;

and that, when we know more of his will and are drawn into a more perfect harmony with it, we shall none of us labour in vain or spend our strength for nought. And now, in conclusion, if any man say : " We are not ministers and preachers of the Word. What is all this to us } " I reply, first of all ; But you are ministers of the Word, and that in two senses. Every man who

SPIRITUAL HUSBANDRY. 387 has found righteousness, hope, peace, through faith in Christ, is bound to speak for Him by lip and life. There are at least some souls to whom it is his clear duty to teach the faith to which he owes all that he values most. And, again, every one of you is a public, as well as a private teacher of the Gospel ; for at this very moment you are either lending weight to my words, or taking from them, by your attention or your inattention, by the interest you shew that you feel or that you do not feel in what I am saying. It is the whole Congregation which preaches even when it is only one man that speaks ; for his words come with redoubled force when they are clothed with the sympathy and winged with the prayers of his audience. There is a sense, then, in which you are all ministers of the Word ; for you preach with and through me. The oftener you are here, and the more attentive and devout you are when you are here, the more constantly and effectively do you proclaim the Word of Life. But there is also a sense in which you are not ministers, but only hearers of the Word. And, as hearers, it is very important you should be persuaded that, in the highest and most interior domain of the spirit, God acts by law, not by caprice ; that He works most efficiently by the most efficient instruments, does his best work by the best men, produces his larger effects from the larger

causes, gets his ablest and most successful preachers out of his most thoughtful, able, and acccomplished servants. Nothing would do more to extend and deepen that unhappy and unreasonable divorce between Science and

388 SPIRITUAL HUSBANDRY. Religion which is already too common than that, while Science steadily affirms the constant reign of law, the Church should assert in her domain the incalculable play and interruption of Divine caprice. It is no small gain for us, therefore, when we can rescue and recover any text which has long been abused, by being made to assert that God's choicest spiritual gifts are bestowed without reason, without any discernible law ; when we can shew that, instead of withholding the increase when Paul plants and Apollos waters, it is precisely then that He is most sure, because most able, to give it. And, finally, it is a very great gain when we can assure ourselves that, so far from being fickle, incalculable, capricious, God's will is always bent on our salvation ; and that this saving Will is most likely to take effect upon us when we listen earnestly to the most earnest, laborious, and accomplished expositors of that Will. Many a man has lost heart, some of you, I doubt not, have lost heart, on hearing that your salvation depended on " the sovereign decree " of God, that you could do nothing until He called you. True as that doctrine is in itself, it turns into a lie on many lips. For while it is quite true that we can do nothing to purpose until God calls us and unless He help us, it is equally true that He is ahvays calling us, always seeking to help us. While it is quite true that nothing short of his sovereign and stedfast Will can lift our weak and fluctuating wills clean out of the evil habits and tendencies into which they have sunk, it is equally true that his Will is for our salvation and not against it, and

SPIRITUAL HUSBANDRY. 389 that the very moment we will permit it to take effect, it will and must take effect upon us. There is no one of you, therefore, who need despair ; none who need say, " I listen and wait in vain. God does not come to me. He does not care to save me. I will listen no more." God does care to save you. He will save you now, if you will let Him. And, as He acts by law and uses appropriate means, you are never so likely to feel the irresistible touch of his redeeming love as when, prepared and elevated by solemn acts of worship, you are listening, with a devout and longing heart, to thoughtful and earnest expositions of his Will concerning you. Once more, then, I repeat that God's will is a good, a loving, a law-abiding Will. He longs to save you, to save you by the power of his Spirit acting through his Word. And even now, if you will but turn to Him, and act on the better impulses which are stirring within you, He will come down, and take up his abode with you, and draw your will into a pure and happy concent with his own. 1. 68 FREE BOOKS http://www.scribd.com/doc/21800308/Free-Christian-Books 2. ALL WRITINGS http://www.scribd.com/glennpease/documents?page=1000

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