Frederick W. Robertson

Sermon 14

The Principle of Spiritual Harvest

Preached December 15, 1849

  Frederick W. Robertson

“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.” – Galatians 6:7,8.

There is a close analogy between the world of nature and the world of spirit. They bear the impress of the same hand; and hence the principles of nature and its laws are the types and shadows of the Invisible. Just as two books, though on different subjects, proceeding from the same pen, manifest indications of the thought of one mind, so the worlds, visible and invisible, are two books written by the same finger, and governed by the same idea. Or rather, they are but one book, separated into two only by the narrow range of our ken. For it is impossible to study the universe at all without perceiving that it is one system. Begin with what science you will, as soon as you get beyond the rudiments, you are constrained to associate it with another.

You can not study agriculture long without finding that it absorbs into itself meteorology and chemistry: sciences run into one another till you get the “connection of the sciences;” and you begin to learn that one Divine idea connects the whole in one system of perfect order.

It was upon this principle that Christ taught. Truths come forth from His lips, not stated simply on authority, but based on the analogy of the universe. His human mind, in perfect harmony with the Divine mind with which it is mixed, discerned the connection of things, and read the Eternal Will in the simplest laws of nature. For instance, if it were a question whether God would give His Spirit to them that asked, it was not replied to by a truth revealed on His authority; the answer was derived from facts lying open to all men’s observation, “Behold the fowls of the air” - “behold the lilies of the field” - learn from them the answer to your question. A principle was there. God supplies the wants which He has created. He feeds the ravens - He clothes the lilies - He will feed with His Spirit the craving spirits of His children.

It was on this principle of analogy that St. Paul taught in this text. He tells us that there is a law in nature according to which success is proportioned to the labor spent upon the work. In kind and in degree, success is attained in kind; for example, he who has sown his field with beechmast does not receive a plantation of oaks; a literary education is not the road to distinction in arms, but to success in letters, years spent on agriculture do not qualify a man to be an orator, but they make him a skillful farmer. Success, again, is proportioned to labor in degree, because, ordinarily, as is the amount of seed sown, so is the harvest: he who studies much will know more than he who studies little. In almost all departments it is “the diligent hand which maketh rich.”

The keen eye of Paul discerned this principle reaching far beyond what is seen, into the spiritual realm which is unseen. As tare-seed comes up tares, and wheat-seed wheat; and as the crop in both cases is in proportion to two conditions, the labor and the quantity committed to the ground - so in things spiritual, too, whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. Not something else, but “that.” The proportion holds in kind - it holds, too, in degree, in spiritual things as in natural. “He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully.” If we could understand and rightly expound that principle, we should be saved from much of the disappointment and surprise which come from extravagant and unreasonable expectations. I shall try first to elucidate the principle which these verses contain, and then examine the two branches of the principle.


I. The principle is this, “God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.”

There are two kinds of good possible to men: one enjoyed by our animal being, the other felt and appreciated by our spirits. Every man understands more or less the difference between these two: between prosperity and well-doing - between indulgence and nobleness - between comfort and inward peace - between pleasure and striving after perfection - between happiness and blessedness. These are two kinds of harvest, and the labor necessary for them respectively is of very different kinds. The labor which procures the harvest of the one has no tendency to secure the other.

We will not depreciate the advantages of this world. It is foolish and unreal to do so. Comfort, affluence, success, freedom from care, rank, station - these are in their real way goods; only the labor bestowed upon them does not produce one single blessing that is spiritual.

On the other band, the seed which is sown for a spiritual harvest has no tendency whatever to procure temporal well-being. Let us see what are the laws of the sowing and reaping in this department. Christ has declared them: Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.” Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled “(with righteousness). “Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.” You observe, the beatific vision of the Almighty - fullness of righteousness - divine comfort. There is nothing earthly here - it is, spiritual results for spiritual labor. It is not said that the pure in heart shall be made rich; nor that they who hunger after goodness shall be filled with bread; nor that they who mourn shall rise in life and obtain distinction. Each department has its own appropriate harvest - reserved exclusively to its own method of sowing.

Every thing in this world has its price, and the price buys that, not something else. Every harvest demands its own preparation, and that preparation will not produce another sort of harvest. Thus, for example, you can not have at once the soldier’s renown and the quiet of a recluse’s life. The soldier pays his price for his glory - sows and reaps. His price is risk of life and limb, nights spent on the hard ground, a weather-beaten constitution. If you will not pay that price, you cannot have what he has - military reputation. You can not enjoy the statesman’s influence together with freedom from public notoriety. If you sensitively shrink from that, you must give up influence; or else pay his price - the price of a thorny pillow, unrest, the chance of being to-day a nation’s idol, to-morrow the people’s execration. You can not have the store of information possessed by the student, and enjoy robust health: pay his price, and you have his reward. His price is an emaciated frame, a debilitated constitution, a transparent hand, and the rose taken out of the sunken cheek. To expect these opposite things: a soldier’s glory and quiet, a statesman’s renown and peace, the student’s prize and rude health, would be to mock God, to reap what has not been sowed.

Now the mistakes men make, and the extravagant expectations in which they indulge, are these: they sow for earth, and expect to win spiritual blessings, or they sow to the Spirit, and then wonder that they have not a harvest of the good things of earth. In each case they complain, What have I done to be treated so?

The unreasonableness of all this appears the moment we have understood the conditions contained in this principle, “Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.”

It is a common thing to hear sentimental wonderings about the unfairness of the distribution of things here. The unprincipled get on in life, the saints are kept back. The riches and rewards of life fall to the lot of the undeserving. The rich man has his good things, and Lazarus his evil things. Whereupon it is taken for granted that there must be a future life to make this fair: that if there were none, the constitution of this world would be unjust. That is, that because a man who has sown to the Spirit does not reap to the flesh here, he will hereafter; that the meed of well-doing must be somewhere in the universe the same kind of recompense which the rewards of the unprincipled were here comfort, abundance, physical enjoyment - or else all is wrong.

But if you look into it, the balance is perfectly adjusted even here. God has made his world much better than you and I could make it. Every thing reaps its own harvest, every act has its own reward. And before you covet the enjoyment which another possesses, you must first calculate the cost at which it was procured.

For instance, the religious tradesman complains that his honesty is a hindrance to his success: that the tide of custom pours into the doors of his less scrupulous neighbors in the same street, while he himself waits for hours idle. My brother, do you think that God is going to reward honor, integrity, high-mindedness, with this world’s coin? Do you fancy that He will pay spiritual excellence with plenty of custom? Now, consider the price that man has paid for his success. Perhaps mental degradation and inward dishonor. His advertisements are all deceptive; his treatment of his workmen tyrannical; his cheap prices made possible by inferior articles. Sow that man’s seed, and you will reap that man’s harvest. Cheat, lie, advertise, be unscrupulous in your assertions, custom will come to you. But if the price is too dear, let him have his harvest, and take yours; yours is a clear conscience, a pure mind, rectitude within and without. Will you part with that for his? Then why do you complain? He has paid his price, you do not choose to pay it.

Again, it is not an uncommon thing to see a man rise from insignificance to sudden wealth by speculation. Within the last ten or twenty years England has gazed on many such a phenomenon. In this case, as in spiritual things, the law seems to hold: He that hath, to him shall be given. Tens of thousands soon increase and multiply to hundreds of thousands. His doors are besieged by the rich and great. Royalty banquets at his table, and nobles court his alliance. Whereupon some simple Christian is inclined to complain: “How strange that so much prosperity should be the lot of mere cleverness!”

Well, are these really God’s chief blessings? Is it for such as these you serve Him? And would these indeed satisfy your soul? Would you have God reward his saintliest with these gauds and gewgaws - all this trash - rank, and wealth, and equipages, and plate, and courtship from the needy great? Call you that the heaven of the holy? Compute now what was paid for that? The price that merchant-prince paid, perhaps with the blood of his own soul, was shame and guilt. The price he is paying now is perpetual dread of detection; or worse still, the hardness which can laugh at detection; or one deep lower yet, the low and grovelling soul which can be satisfied with these things as a paradise, and ask no higher. He has reaped enjoyment - yes, and he has sown, too, the seed of infamy.

It is all fair. Count the cost. “He that saveth his life shall lose it.” Save your life if you like, but do not complain if you lose your nobler life - yourself: win the whole world, but remember you do it by losing your own soul. Every sin must be paid for; every sensual indulgence is a harvest, the price for which is so much ruin for the soul. “God is not mocked.”

Once more, religious men in every profession are surprised to find that many of its avenues are closed to them. The conscientious churchman complains that his delicate scruples or his bold truthfulness stand in the way of his preferment; while another man, who conquers his scruples or softens the eye of truth, rises, and sits down a mitred peer in Parliament. The honorable lawyer feels that his practice is limited, while the unprincipled practitioner receives all he loses; and the Christian physician feels sore and sad at perceiving that charlatanism succeeds in winning employment; or, if not charlatanism, at least that affability and courtly manners take the place that is due to superior knowledge.

Let such men take comfort, and judge fairly. Popularity is one of the things of an earthly harvest for which quite earthly qualifications are required. I say not always dishonorable qualifications, but a certain flexibility of disposition; a certain courtly willingness to sink obnoxious truths, and adapt ourselves to the prejudices of the minds of others; a certain adroitness at catching the tone of those with whom we are. Without some of these things no man can be popular in any profession.

But you have resolved to be a liver - a doer - a champion of the truth. Your ambition is to be pure in the last recesses of the mind. You have your reward: a soul upright and manly - a fearless bearing, that dreads to look no man in the face - a willingness to let men search you through and through, and defy them to see any difference between what you seem and what you are. Now, your price: your price is dislike. The price of being true is the Cross. The warrior of the truth must not expect success. What have you to do, with popularity? Sow for it, and you will have it. But if you wish for it, or wish for peace, you have mistaken your calling; you must not be a teacher of the truth; you must not cut prejudice against the grain: you must leave medical, legal, theological truth, to harder and nobler men, who are willing to take the martyr’s cross, and win the martyr’s crown.

This is the mistake men make. They expect both harvests, paying only one price. They would be blessed with goodness and prosperity at once. They would have that on which they bestowed no labor. They take sinful pleasure, and think it very hard that they must pay for it in agony, and worse than agony, souls deteriorated. They would monopolize heaven in their souls, and the world’s prizes at the same time. This is to expect to come back, like Joseph’s brethren from the land of plenty, with the corn in their sacks, and the money returned, too, in their sacks’ mouths. No, no; it will not do. “Be not deceived; God is not mocked.” Reap what you have sown. If you sow the wind, do not complain if your harvest is the whirlwind. If you sow to the Spirit, be content with a spiritual reward: invisible - within: “more life and higher life.”


II. Next, the two branches of the application of this principle.

First: He that soweth to the flesh, shall of the flesh reap corruption. There are two kinds of life: one of the flesh, another of the spirit. Amidst the animal and selfish desires of our nature there is a voice which clearly speaks of duty, right, perfection. This is the Spirit of Deity in man; it is the life of God in the soul. This is the evidence of our divine parentage.

But there is a double temptation to live the other life instead of this. First, the desires of our animal nature are keener than those of our spiritual. The cry of Passion is louder than the calm voice of Duty. Next, the reward in the case of our sensitive nature is given sooner. It takes less time to amass a fortune than to become heavenly-minded. It costs less to indulge an appetite than it does to gain the peace of lulled passion. And hence, when men feel that for the spiritual blessing, the bread must be cast upon the waters which shall not be found until after many days (skepticism whispers “never !”), it is quite intelligible why they choose the visible and palpable, instead of the invisible advantage, and plan for an immediate harvest rather than a distant One.

The other life is that of the flesh. The “flesh” includes all the desires of our unrenewed nature - the harmless as well as sinful. Any labor, therefore, which is bounded by present well-being is sowing to the flesh - whether it be the gratification of an immediate impulse, or the long-contrived plan reaching forward over many years. Sowing to the flesh includes, therefore,

1. Those who live in open riot. He sows to the flesh who pampers its unruly animal appetites. Do not think that I speak contemptuously of our animal nature, as if it were not human and sacred. The lowest feelings of our nature become sublime by being made the instruments of our nobler emotions. Love, self-command, will elevate them all; and to ennoble and purify, not to crush them, is the long, slow work of Christian life. Christ, says St. Paul, is the Saviour of the body. But if instead of subduing these to the life of the Spirit, a man gives to them the rein and even the spur, the result is not difficult to foresee. There are men who do this. They “make provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof.” They whet the appetites by indulgence. They whip the jaded senses to their work. Whatever the constitutional bias may be, anger, intemperance, epicurism, indolence, desires, there are societies, conversations, scenes, which supply fuel for the flame, as well as opposite ones which out off the nutriment. To indulge in these, knowing the result, is to foster the desire which brings forth the sin which ends in death. This is “sowing to the flesh.”

If there be one to whom these words which I have used, veiled in the proprieties due to delicate reserve, are not without meaning, from this sentence of God’s word let him learn his doom. He is looking forward to a harvest wherein he may reap the fruit of his present anticipations. And he shall reap it. He shall have his indulgence, he shall enjoy his guilty rapture, he shall have his unhallowed triumph; and the boon companions of his pleasures shall award him the meed of their applause. He has sown the seed, and in fair requital he shall have his harvest. It is all fair. He shall enjoy. But tarry a while: the law hath yet another hold upon him. This deep law of the whole universe goes farther. He has sown to the flesh, and of the flesh he has reaped pleasure; be has sown to the flesh, and of the flesh he shall reap corruption. That is, in his case, the ruin of the soul. It is an awful thing to see a soul in ruins: like a temple which once was fair and noble, but now lies overthrown, matted with ivy, weeds, and tangled briers, among which things noisome crawl and live. He shall reap the harvest of disappointment - the harvest of bitter, useless remorse. The crime of sense is avenged by sense, which wears by time. He shall have the worm that gnaws, and the fire that is not quenched. He shall reap the fruit of long-indulged desires, which have become tyrannous at last, and constitute him his own tormentor. His harvest is a soul in flames, and the tongue that no drop can cool. Passions that burn, and appetites that crave, when the power of enjoyment is gone. He has sowed to the flesh. “God is not mocked.” The man reaps.

2. There is a less gross way of sowing to the flesh. There are men of sagacity and judgment in the affairs of this life whose penetration is almost intuitive in all things where the step in question involves success or failure here. They are those who are called in the parable the children of this world, wise in their generation. They moralize and speculate about eternity, but do not plan for it. There is no seed sown for an invisible harvest. If they think they have sown for such a harvest, they might test themselves by the question, What would they lose if there were to be no eternity? For the children of God, so far as earth is concerned, “If in this life only they have hope in Christ, then are they of all men most miserable.” But they - these sagacious, prudent men of this world - they have their reward. What have they ventured, given up, sacrificed, which is all lost forever, if this world be all? What have they buried like seed in the ground, lost forever, if there be no eternity?

Now we do not say these men are absolutely wicked. We distinguish between their sowing to the flesh, and the sowing of those profligates last spoken of. All we say is, there is “corruption “ written on their harvest. It was for earth, and with earth it perishes. It may be the labor of the statesman, planning, like the Roman of old, the government and order of the kingdoms of the earth; or that of the astronomer, weighing, suns, prescribing rules of return to comets, and dealing with things above earth in space, but unspiritual still; or that of the son of a humbler laboriousness, whose work is merely to provide for a family: or, lastly the narrower range of the man of pleasure, whose chief care is where he shall spend the next season, in what metropolis, or which watering-place, or how best enjoy the next entertainment.

All these are objects more or less harmless. But they end. The pyramid crumbles into dust at last. The mighty empire of the eternal city breaks into fragments which disappear. The sowers for earth have their harvest here: Success in their schemes - quiet intellectual enjoyment - exemption from pain and loss - the fruits of worldly-wise sagacity. And that is all. “When the breath goeth forth, they return to their dust, and all their thoughts perish.” The grave is not to them the gate of paradise, but simply the impressive mockery which the hand of death writes upon that body for which they lived, and with which all is gone. They reap corruption, for all they have toiled for decays!

Ye that lead the life of respectable worldliness, let these considerations arrest your indifference to the Gospel. You have sown for earth. Well. And then - what? Hear the Gospel, which tells of a Saviour whose sacrifice is the world’s life - whose death is the law of life; from whose resurrection streams a Spirit which can change carnal into spiritual men whose whole existence, reflecting God, was the utterance of the Divine truth and rule of heavenly life, the blessedness of giving. To live so, and to believe so, is to sow to the Spirit.

Lastly, sowing to the Spirit. “He that soweth to the Spirit, shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.”

What is meant by sowing to the Spirit here is plain. “Let us not be weary in well-doing,” says the apostle directly after: “for in due season we shall reap if we faint not.” Well-doing: not faith, but works of goodness, were the sowing that he spoke of.

There is proclaimed here the rewardableness of works. So in many other passages: “Abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.” “Laying up a good foundation for the time to come,” was the reason alleged for charging rich men to be willing to give; and so all through. There is an irreversible principle. The amount of harvest is proportioned to the seed sown exactly. There are degrees of glory. The man who gives out of his abundance has one blessing. She who gives the mite all she had even all her living, has another, quite different. The rectitude of this principle, and what it is, will be plainer from the following considerations:

1. The harvest is life eternal. But eternal life here does not simply mean a life that lasts forever. That is the destiny of the soul - all souls, bad as well as good. But the bad do not enter into this “eternal life.” It is not simply the duration, but the quality of the life which constitutes its character of eternal. A spirit may live forever, yet not enter into this. And a man may live but for five minutes the life of Divine benevolence, or desire for perfectness: in those five minutes be has entered into the life which is eternal - never fluctuates, but is the same unalterably, forever in the life of God. This is the reward.

2. The reward is not arbitrary, but natural. God’s rewards and God’s punishments are all natural. Distinguish between arbitrary and natural. Death is an arbitrary punishment for forgery: it might be changed for transportation. It is not naturally connected. It depends upon the will of the law-maker. But trembling nerves are the direct and natural results of intemperance. They are, in the order of nature, the results of wrong-doing. The man reaps what he has sown. Similarly in rewards. If God gave riches in return for humbleness, that would be an arbitrary connection. He did give such a reward to Solomon. But when He gives life eternal, meaning by life eternal not duration of existence but heavenly quality of existence, as explained already, it is all natural. The seed sown in the ground contains in itself the future harvest. The harvest is but the development of the germ of life in the seed. A holy act strengthens the inward holiness. It is a seed of life growing into more life. “Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he reap.” He that sows much, thereby becomes more conformed to God than be was before - in heart and spirit. That is his reward and harvest. And just as among the apostles there was one whose spirit, attuned to love, made him emphatically the disciple whom Jesus loved, so shall there be some who, by previous discipline of the Holy Ghost, shall have more of His mind, and understand more of His love, and drink deeper of His joy than others - they that have sowed bountifully.

Every act done in Christ receives its exact and appropriate reward. They that are meek shall inherit the earth. They that are pure shall see God. They that suffer shall reign with Him. They that turn many to righteousness shall shine as the stars forever. They that receive a righteous man in the name of a righteous man - that is, because he is a righteous man - shall receive a righteous man’s reward. Even the cup of cold water, given in the name of Christ, shall not lose its reward.

It will be therefore seen at once, reward is not the result of merit. It is, in the order of grace, the natural consequence of well-doing. It is life becoming more life. It is the soul developing itself. It is the Holy Spirit of God in man making itself more felt, and mingling more and more with his soul, felt more consciously with an ever-increasing heaven. You reap what you sow - not something else, but that. An act of love makes the soul more loving. A deed of humbleness deepens humbleness. The thing reaped is the very thing sown, multiplied a hundred-fold. You have sown a seed life, you reap life everlasting.