The Full Corn of Spiritual Life

The term, ‘the full corn’, of course, comes from the phrase that we have been looking at: ‘First the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear’, from Mark 4:28. The phrase describes three phases in the development of the spiritual life of the believer. We must never think of the christian life as simply waiting patiently until the Lord comes back, or takes us to be with Himself at death. The christian life is a life of progress, as vividly described in  the phrase before us.  Before we look at the ‘full corn’  stage, a caution: these three phases vary greatly from one believer to the next, in time, proportions, and in the way they are experienced. Also there is no clear defining line from one phase to the next. There  is always much overlapping,  but always the overwhelmingly important thing is  the very beginning, the blade: no blade, no spiritual life to develop. That person is not RightWithGod, and it is impossible for him or her to develop as a christian. This cannot be over-emphasised.

The stage of the ‘full corn in the ear’, is when the empty cases or shells in the early ‘ear’ have filled out with grain which can then be harvested and prepared in a multitude of ways to give food to man and beast. Thus we see the wonderful goodness of God in the harvest, giving us cause to thank the Lord our God for His goodness to such sinful creatures as we are. The harvest should be a greatly humbling experience, filled with thankfulness and  appreciation.  The goodness of God in the harvest shines forth in Psalm,  65: 9 -13. The last  verse, as it is rendered in the Scottish Psalter is extremely expressive and moving:

“With flocks the pastures clothed be,                                                           The vales with corn are clad;                                                                           And now they shout and  sing to thee,                                                         For thou hast made them glad.”

How much greater will Christ’s joy, yes, and our joy with Him, be when He sees His harvest: those for whom He travailed, gathered before Him, saved, sanctified, and  glorified to be with Him forever!

But, back to the ‘full corn’  of  spiritual life. This is the stage of maturity and ripening for the christian. It is a very important stage, and should never be despised or downgraded, as, sadly, it is in the modern church. It is not a matter of age, although age and experience are big factors in it. The christian who has made good use of  the bible, and of his time in this life, and of all the experiences that God has given him, will come to have, or rather to be, the full corn at a comparatively early age. This christian is now able to pass on to a younger generation, the rich fruits of their christian lives: their biblical knowledge and the deep insights God has given to them. In a word they have amassed a great store of true, God-given, biblically based, wisdom. There are many details which I could list as evidences of the ‘full corn’, but I will restrict myself to just this one thing, which, in a sense includes all: wisdom. Those who have it are the most useful people in the church, and should be appreciated as such, especially by the young. They should continually search them out, and spend as much time as possible in their company.

The importance of true wisdom to the christian is illustrated throughout the bible, but chiefly in one book: the Book of Proverbs. Here is the  book for the young christian. He should be in it every day of his life. This is the ‘fast track’ to true wisdom. All we need to do to confirm this is to read the opening verses of Proverbs: 1: 2 – 4: “To know wisdom, and instruction; to perceive words of understanding; to receive the instruction of wisdom, justice, and judgment, and equity; to give subtilty to the simple, to the young man knowledge and discretion”.

In closing I will say just one more thing. In the Book of Proverbs, we find that ‘wisdom’ is spoken of, or speaks as, a person. Who is that person? When we read Proverbs, chapter 8, verses 22 – 36, there is only one conclusion: ‘Wisdom’ is God the Son, who was from all eternity in the bosom of the Father, but was sent into this world by the Father, in order to save sinners. These  things will have to wait for another day.

 

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The ‘Ear’ of Spiritual Life.

The use  of the word ‘ear’ in the title comes from the phrase we have been discussing from Mark 4:28: “First blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear”. We dealt with the blade last week. It described the, earliest indications that a miracle had taken place: the miracle of the new birth. The seed is dead and lifeless until that delicate blade pushes out from it.  It may take a little time, but it will not be long until the person who has undergone the miracle of the new birth knows that something internal has taken place. Inclinations and affections change; these swing  away from the things of this world to the things of God, especially His word, and His grace towards sinners in providing so wonderfully for them in His  Son, Jesus Christ. By these internal changes the new-born  becomes increasingly convinced that he is RightWithGod.

But then, the christian life is not a live of stasis, but a life of progress and advancement. The ‘ear’ speaks of a stage in that progress. However, let it be clearly understood that this progress cannot cannot even begin until the ‘blade’ of spiritual life has appeared. Any progress in christian things is artificial and  man-made if the blade has not come first. This cannot be over- emphasised. The ‘ear’ simply cannot exist,  in the absence of the ‘blade’. “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. (John 3:3).”

So, what stage of spiritual life does the ‘ear’  stand for? When the blade has grown into a stalk,  the top of the stalk begins to show interesting changes. It is no longer a blade, but a number of small shell-like cases with not much inside them. These are of no use to man or beast at this stage, but the potential is enormous in terms of the eventual harvest. How do we apply this to spiritual experience?

It fits well to apply it to the stage of developing spiritual life, when the young immature christian grows in the  knowledge of God and of His ways and word. This is a tremendously important time in the development of a christian life, but a time which is all but discarded in the modern evangelical church. This is where the root of true happiness in the christian life lies.

Pursuit of knowledge is today down-graded among christians, and the emphasis is shifting away from knowledge to emotional experiences. Many ‘switch off’ their brains when they go to church, and seek to get into some kind of detachment from reality, and simply enjoy the ‘trip’. This is not what the bible teaches, but the very opposite. It encourages effort and application in the life of the believer. Far from ‘switching off’  the intellect when it comes to worship, the bible exhorts the believer to ‘switch on’ his intellect and engage  it  to its highest level  of activity. This is so much in keeping  with high degree of honour, glory and dignity with which man was first created, when he was created in the image of God. Though the fall has damaged that image it has not erased it.

The bible encourages study, meditation, deep thought, gathering information, growing in wisdom, and increase in the knowledge of God, and of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is what Paul speaks of in 1 Thessalonians 1:3 when he says with appreciation to the Thessalonians, “Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father”. It is in this labour that we put down deep roots, and build strong foundations for our christian lives. Not only so, but we are building for usefulness in the work of the gospel, when all our toil will be used to the glory of God alone, and when we will look forward to a truly meaningful and effective christian life and witness.

 

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The “Blade” of Spiritual Life (Mark 4:26-28).

It is the desire of every true believer to learn as much as he can about the new birth. Being born again is a once for all miracle which is irreversible. The person who has received Christ as Saviour and Lord, may not have much understanding of what has taken place in him; but if he has truly closed in with with Christ, it will not be long until he knows that there has been an inner change in him. His affections, and inclinations are different from what they were. Speaking very generally, these are now leaning away from the affairs of the world, and towards the affairs of the Kingdom of God. This is what is indicted by the “blade” in Mark 4:28.

There we read about seed being cast into the ground. This is exactly how seed was sown in the village where I was brought up. The commonest seed sown was oats, and the sowing was best done on a day with a fresh breeze. The seed was cast from the sower’s hand, and was then caught by the wind before it reached the ground and carried a short distance before it landed on the already prepared ground. This helped the even distribution of the seed. On the whole the process seemed very random and haphazard, but it worked. This is very like the preaching of the gospel. The seed is spread far and wide, ensuring that as many as possible hear the general call of the gospel. The preacher then has to wait and see if God has done a work in any particular soul. This is the point of what we read in verses 26,27. We cannot bring about the miracle of regeneration, or the new birth, any more than the sower can bring about the germination of a seed. We can only sow the seed, as widely as we can and then, wait.

What does the sower look for? He looks for the blade: that sure sign that the miracle of germination has taken place. In the same way, the preacher is looking for the blade which indicates that the miracle of the new birth has taken place. He is pleased, of course, when he hears people making professions of faith; but he knows that having the right words, no matter how convincing, does not mean that the new birth has taken place. So, what exactly is the blade that is evidence of spiritual life? There is no one sure and infallible test, but one thing is sure: if life goes on exactly as before, we can be sure that no miracle has taken place. If, on the other hand, there is a progressive change in lifestyle indicating new affections and inclinations, then the indications are that the miracle of the new birth has taken place. There will be a change of company, of entertainments, of ambitions, etc. There will be an enjoyment in reading the bible, and a strong desire to be among the people of God wherever they are gathered,  because there the christian feels nearer to Christ. There will be a walking in “the footsteps of the flock ( Song of Solomon 1:8)”.

There will also be a progress going on from there in the christian life, which is always a life of progress. This is illustrated by the words in words verse 28, “First the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear”. But there can be no doubt that the most important of these is the first, the unmistakable “blade” of spiritual life.

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When God withdraws the Sense of His Presence

(Back from the ‘far country’. It turned out that internet connection was impossible.)

When a person first gets RightWithGod through faith in the Person and finished work of Jesus Christ, he or she experiences a wonderful  awareness that God is near. That awareness is an unspeakable enjoyment and delight. Not only so, but the christian in his spiritual infancy is convinced that this is going to be his experience forever more. I have only met one person in my life who had never lost that early joy.  He is now getting near the end of his days, and still clearly filled with the joy of the Lord. This intrigued me, and I  thought that the best person to confirm it would be his wife. I was able to do this as I knew them both over many years. I was amazed, and overjoyed, that she was honestly able to say that in all the many years she knew him, he had never lost it! However, this is unusual, because the Lord does sometimes remove the sense of His presence from His own beloved children for periods of time. The christian must not be too discouraged by this. Even the David complains in the psalms of God hiding his face from him. For example, in Psalm 13 verse 1, he says, “How long will you forget me, O Lord? For ever? How long will you hide your face from me?”

We find in the Song of Solomon, chapter 2, beginning at verse 2 , a wonderful  example of  the way God  uses the  withdrawal of the sense of  His presence in order  to cause the believer to long for Him more than ever. Here we find the believer in a state of spiritual twilight,  “I sleep, but my heart is awake” . She is  suffering from what often overcomes ourselves:  spiritual sloth,  or spiritual laziness. The Lord, her Beloved, draws near and knocks at the door, inviting her to open to Him, that they might enjoy some time together. This knocking and invitation, come through the scriptures, in  reading, or meditation, preaching or fellowship. Sadly, she is too lazy, too comfortable and does not want to be disturbed. Verse 3, “I have put off my coat; how shall I  put it on”.  This is of course a poetic illustration of spiritual sloth.

The Lord makes His presence even more felt, illustrated by,  verse 4, “My beloved put  in His hand at the hole of the door” . At last, her heart is moved with a desire to be with Him, “My bowels were moved for Him”. So she springs into action, with exaggerated demonstrations  of her desire for Him, verse 5, “I rose to open to my Beloved, and  my  hands dripped with myrrh, and my fingers with sweet smelling myrrh, upon the handles of the lock”. Verse 6, She opens the door, and is filled with dismay  when she finds that He is gone! “My Beloved had withdrawn Himself, and was gone”.

She  sought Him, called for Him, but no answer. She is filled with self-reproach for her laziness, but there is a change.  Spiritual sloth is gone, and something else has taken its place: intense, powerful longings for His presence. This is illustrated by the intense, driven search for Him throughout the  city streets, even being punished by the watchmen for being out so late, but she doesn’t care. Nothing is going to stop here search

What does all this add up to? It illustrates one of the strange ways that God uses  to increase our longing for Him: withdrawing the sense of His presence. He loves when  we long for Him, when we pursue Him, even scramble for Him.

 

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