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Successful germination

November 2021 | by Roger Fay

Last month we saw that God’s Word (the ‘seed’) bears lasting fruit when it encounters hearers with hearts prepared by the Holy Spirit to receive the word of the kingdom (‘good soil’). This month we explore this harvesting metaphor further and import some other biblical ideas into the picture.

As well as the soil, there must be moisture present if the seed is to germinate. Water in Scripture speaks of the Holy Spirit’s activity (Isaiah 44:3-4; John 4:14). He must be at work if the gospel is to bear fruit. Just as the preacher’s spiritual fervour alone can never save his hearers, so truth without the Spirit’s regenerating activity is never enough to save, however faithful the preacher. No preacher could have been more full of grace and truth than the Lord Jesus Christ, yet his sermons were rejected by swathes of hearers because their hearts were devoid of the Spirit.

We can greatly underestimate how much can be achieved when the Spirit of God is active upon the Word. Frank H. White, pastor of the Talbot Tabernacle, Kensington, London, said of the ministry of Reginald Radcliffe during the 1859 Revival: ‘One Lord’s Day afternoon I heard him address a large number of young businessmen in the Marlborough Rooms.

‘He began by saying, “I will speak for five minutes, and then converse with any in soul-anxiety.” He did speak, literally, for five minutes. When he finished the hall was a very Bochim, full of men with many tears seeking the way of salvation.

‘I have been with him at the same place at early “before-breakfast” meetings for young men, when the floor of the room would be literally covered with broken-hearted inquirers, and one had to step among them with holy carefulness, like a surgeon on the battlefield.’

All that from five minutes of the Word under the powerful blessing of the Spirit!

In addition, the gospel – like the seeds of hot desert species requiring drenching rainstorms for successful germination – can lie dormant in the human heart for decades.

The story of Luke Short is worth repeating. He ‘was a farmer in New England who attained his hundredth year in exceptional vigour though without having sought peace with God. One day as he sat in his fields reflecting upon his long life, he recalled a sermon he had heard in Dartmouth as a boy before he sailed to America. The horror of dying under the curse of God was impressed upon him as he meditated on the words he had heard so long ago and he was converted to Christ – eighty-five years after hearing John Flavel preach’ (Publisher’s introduction: John Flavel, The Mystery of Providence, Banner of Truth).

We must remember too that the fruit, biologically speaking, is important for successful germination. If you recall your school science lessons (!), the ‘fruit’ disperses the seeds. For example, the fleshy part of the apple, tomato, or plum attracts animals to eat it and thereby help disperse the pips or stone.

Fruit speaks of Christian character. We are to ‘adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things’ (Titus 2:10). We are to be Christ-like (Galatians 5:18-24); sweet rather than sour; flavoured with God’s grace rather than the stale values of this world; eating-apples rather than crab-apples.

Stephen’s Christ-like behaviour at his martyrdom must have drilled his sermon into the heart of the young Saul of Tarsus in a way nothing else could have done: ‘And the witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul. And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, Lord, do not charge them with this sin’ (Acts 7:58-60).

Scripture places as much emphasis upon our being as upon our doing when it comes to sowing God’s Word.

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