DIFFERENCES IN HUMAN RECEPTIVITY.
3Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. 8Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. . . . . . . . 18″Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: 19When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is the seed sown along the path. 20The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. 21But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away. 22The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful. 23But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” (MATTHEW XIII 3-8, 18-23.)
MINDS ARE LIKE SOILS.
The Lord gives freely to all men, but men differ in their willingness to receive the Lord’s gifts. This is the central truth of the parable. Men’s minds are like soils; they are very different in their reception of the seed sown upon them.
THE LORD’S EXPLANATION.
Our Lord has, Himself, given a general explanation of this parable; and yet, in the light of the New-Church, we can clearly see that it can be further unfolded, and its spiritual meaning developed.
When our Lord was on the earth, men were in very external states of mind, and not able to bear the truth in its higher phases, But now, in the Second Coming of the Lord, men are given a rational insight into the spiritual phases of truth.
THE SOWER AND THE SEED.
The Sower is the Lord Himself. The seeds are the truths of the Lord’s Word. Truths are sown in the mind of a man, when he hears or reads the Lord’s Word, or when its teachings are communicated to him, in any way. As in the truth, so in the seed, there is vitality. Plant the seed in good ground, and behold the grand miracle of growth, wonderful in its course. And the truth, sown in the receptive mind, grows through successive stages, till it produces a mental harvest. And every truth, like a seed. contains within it, the ability to propagate new truths, to perpetuate its species; and in this, a seed is an image of the infinite quality of the Lord, always creating, never dying; The seed is the Word of the Lord. And, in a supreme sense, the Lord, Himself, is the Word, the Divine Truth, coming down to men. Thus, in the seed of truth, the Lord is giving us Himself, His own spirit and life, the vitality of the Divine Love.
The Lord, as the Son of Man, the Divine Truth incarnated, “went forth to sow,” when He came down to save men from impending spiritual death. He came, to sow the vital seed of His Word in the field of the human mind.
In a broad sense, the Lord as a Sower, has gone forth, in every age, in every dispensation, and to every man; and in all stages of each man’s spiritual progress.
See the field, before and after the work of the sower. Before the sower came, the field performed no use, though it may have been made ready for use. The plowman may have prepared the soil. So, behold the human mind, before and after the coming of the Lord, as the spiritual Sower. How unfruitful the condition of men’s minds; before the advent of the Lord. And how greatly the work of our Lord, as the Sower changes the conditions of men.
And, as there is plowing before sowing, so John the Baptist came to the world, preparing men for the advent of the Lord, teaching repentance and baptism, for amendment of life. John was “the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord.” With the plowshare of the iron truths of the literal commandments, John sought to break up the hard soil of the minds of the men of his time. And, on the mental ground prepared by John, Jesus sowed the seeds of spiritual truths.
The letter of the Word is a John, preparing the way for the work of Jesus, who comes with the spiritual sense of the Word. The letter or the Word is the husk of the seed, containing and protecting the kernel of the spiritual sense. Both are necessary, like the body and the spirit of a man.
To understand how good principles come to fruit, in men’s minds, and how truths multiply, we must know something of the inflowing of heaven into the human mind. Every man has two departments in his mind, or two minds, the inward, or spiritual, and the outward, or natural. His rational faculty, his ability to see truth as truth, lies between his spiritual mind and his natural mind, and communicates with both of them; and thus keeps them in communication with each other, when the man is open to spiritual things. But, by birth, the man’s natural mind is open; while his spiritual mind is opened by regeneration.
In our inward spirit, our Lord operates for our spiritual good, and in ways unknown to us. But, in our outward mind and life we co-operate with the Lord, in keeping His commandments.
As we open our hearts and our intellects to our Lord, He comes down to meet us, from His secret abode in our inward mind. And, as we freely receive Him, and co-operate with Him, He leads us upward and inward, and opens to us the doors of our own inward mind, and gives us to dwell with Him, in the inward life of a regenerate spirit.
THE RATIONAL FACULTY.
Our rational faculty is the means which our Lord uses to open to us the secret doors of our spirit.
Therefore our Lord’s appeal to our rationality is not an appeal to our intellectual nature, alone; but to our hearts, through our intelligence. It is an appeal to the whole man, through his understanding.
Evil influences appeal to our self-love, with its passions and prejudices; but our Lord appeals 10 our rational intelligence, which guards the doorway to our inward life. And according to our reception of our Lord’s truth, such will be our own spiritual condition.
As we receive the Divine truth, we receive spiritual life, in the measure of the quantity and the quality of our reception. But, as we reject the Lord’s truth, so we close our hearts and understandings to spiritual life, and shut out our Lord from the control of our conscious life.
The parable teaches us that there are several ways in which men receive the seeds of truth, which the Lord, as the great Sower, scatters broadcast upon them.
“ Some seed fell by the wayside, and the fowls came, and devoured them up.”
In the large, open fields, there are hard, beaten tracks crossing them, in several directions. And these paths are the” waysides.” When the sower scatters his seed broadcast, some must fall upon these paths, where the soil is so hard that the seed cannot sink into it. Such seed, if not crushed by the feet of men or horses, will soon be gathered by the birds.
In a good sense, a “way ” is a truth, a mental way, by which the mind travels, a principle or life. “I have rejoiced in the way of Thy testimonies.” “Teach me Thy ways, O Lord, that I may walk in Thy truth.”
But, in a bad sense, a way is the way of the wicked, a false way, a falsity, or false principle. “Through Thy precepts I get understanding, therefore I hate every false way.” Every evil mind walks in false ways, which, like hard and beaten tracks, reject the seeds of truth.
The tramp of our selfish passions always wears hard pathways in our minds, confirmed by our disorderly life. On these false ways of thinking, the seeds of truth make no impression, and find no congenial soil.
Those who receive the seed of the Lord’s Word as on a wayside, are those who have no affection for the truth, and hence, no concern about it. As travelers by the “wayside care nothing for the seeds that they tramp upon, so the mind that does not love the truth, has no vital interest in the truth that casually falls upon the thought, The truth takes no hold upon the mind, and does not sink into it. “When anyone heareth the Word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not,” he does not take it in; he does not understand it from the heart.
“And the fowls came, and devoured them up.” “Fowls” represent our thoughts, flying in the mind. In this parable, birds are used in a bad sense, to mean false thoughts, which fly through the mind, and catch up, and destroy the influence of, any truth that may be in the memory.
These false thoughts spring from self-love. The falsity of self-intelligence is “the wicked one,” that catcheth away the truth. Such minds are set in their false way of thinking, and are unwilling to receive any true principle of life. The truths of the Lord’s Word fall upon their minds, as upon hard, resisting, beaten paths; lying in the memory, till some false thought carries them away, by perverting their meaning, or by rejecting them.
It is shown, in the doctrine of the New-Church, that “every man whose soul desires it, is capable of seeing the truths of the Word, in light.” But, when the man has no real interest in the truth, his soul docs not desire it.
THE STONY GROUND.
Those who are as “stony ground,” have a mere historic faith, a belief because of authority, and not because the truth is rationally seen to be true, in its own light. This “stony ground,” or rocky ground, does not mean ground in which there are many small stones; for such ground, if
deep and rich, may yield a good crop. The roots can find their way between the stones. But the text speaks of ground where the seed “had not much earth;” that is, in which there is a thin layer of earth upon a bed of rock affording the seeds very little room for roots. In Luke, these minds are spoken of as “they on the rock.” Lying near the surface, the seeds will soon spring up, and make a show of rapid growth. But they cannot endure, for the scorching sun, and the hot wind, dry them up more rapidly than they can draw sustenance from the superficial soil. And these are persons in whom a superficial intelligence overlies the hard unreceptive character of their real nature.
They may be rapid converts, but superficial; delighted to hear and know new truths, and loud in proclaiming these truths. They may have an emotional, gushing, demonstrative attachment to the truth, or an arguing interest in it. They see the beauty of truth, as they see a lovely flower, or a fine face. They may have some clear thought, and some external softness of heart, covering a spiritual hardness of their inward heart.
Their ideas make a quick growth, but it is soon cut off, because there is no profound depth of spiritual character. They have no depth of good ground. They lack inward earnestness of purpose. Nothing of truth becomes enduringly rooted in their nature.
Often such persons pass for very tender-hearted and loving natures. Their emotions are quick, though superficial. Their tears lie near the surface, and are ready to flow at the slightest notice. But their love of truth is not deep enough to impel them to shun evils, as sins against God.
Sometimes we see these characteristics in the boisterous zeal and gushing piety of “revival” converts, who are moved to ready tears at the thought of the sufferings of Jesus, while yet no depth of principle moves them to make the life of Jesus their actual example, and the principles of Jesus the main-springs of all their loves, their thoughts and their conduct. Their emotional reception of truth may be sincere, as far as they understand their own nature; but it is not thorough. It does not reach the real motor-powers of their life.
“Yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while ; for when tribulation, or persecution, ariseth, because of the Word, by and by he is offended.” Look at the state of society, even among church-members, and see how much superficial piety is linked with false views of social life, and with infidelity towards all that is good, true and useful, all that is pure, clean and healthful in every department of human life; and we comprehend the results of the seed of the Lord’s Word sown upon the superficial soil of rocky ground.
The superficial man will not change the quality of his affections, for the sake of the truth. If the new truth begins to bring the man into trials of mind, or if it persecutes him, by seeking to cut off selfish desires, plans and pleasures, he turns against it. If the new truth seeks to enter his mind’s home, to have its place at his fireside, and to act as a counsellor and a reformer in his mental household, he will soon cast it out. He can give to the truth a sentimental attachment, an emotional advocacy; but when it seeks to compel him to shun evils, as sins against God, and to do good, in the name of the Lord; to be more honourable, forgiving, forbearing, patient, loving, amiable, broad-minded, pureminded, and unsuspicious; then he becomes highly offended.
THE SUN ARISING.
The “sun” represents our love. In the evil man the ruling-love is self-love. This sun arises, when our self-love is aroused to activity, by the opposition of the new truth. The new truth, like seed, may quickly spring up, in the external .emotions of the superficial man ; and he may rejoice in the truth. But, as soon as his self-love recognizes the heavenly mission of the truth, and its opposition to all selfish and evil passions, false thoughts, and selfish acts, he is aroused to intense opposition to the truth. His self-love sends out its hot rays, and scorches, and burns up the truth that grows but superficially in his natural mind, and then ” from him that hath not, shall be taken away, even that which he seemeth to have:” for, indeed, he does not really have it, at all.
It was so, in the time of Jesus’ ministry on the earth : for some, even of His disciples, were offended at His sayings, and they” went back, and walked no more with Him.” And ]esus said, “ Blessed is he whosoever shall not be offended in Me.”
Truths are sown in man’s memory, from infancy, by the Lord, from the Word, through parents, teachers and others. But when the man begins to think for himself the passions of his self-love arise, and their lusts and falses come out and these may adulterate, falsify and pervert, all that is good and true, in the mind.
These perish, because he has no deep soil for their roots, in his heart. Even if he believes a truth, he will give it some false application, which will favor his evils, and which will destroy the heavenly quality of the truth, in his mind. Notice, for instance, how men pervert the idea of what constitutes a brave man, by regarding duelling as manly, when, in fact, its spirit is a brutal assertion of a self-love, which, spiritually understood, is cowardly.
See, too, how boys think it to be manly to declare their freedom from parental restraint, when, in fact, such self-assertion is directly opposed to the whole spirit and life of an angel: and an angel is the noblest example of a finite man. And an angel becomes more angelic, the more he loves to be led by his heavenly Father, rather than to declare his independence. Those who declare their independence of the Lord are in the hells.
When a new truth, admitted into the thought, begins to expose the quality of our affections, thoughts and conduct, then tribulation and persecution arise, in our minds; and we are brought into temptations, in which the new truth and the old character struggle for the mastery of our minds and lives. If the truth has taken a merely superficial hold upon us, and there is not sufficient depth of goodness in which to root itself, because our real nature is as a hard, unreceptive rock, then the temptations will carry out the truth; and destroy its influence.
There are persons who learn the doctrines of the New-Church, and think they heartily love these doctrines. But they love to know them, not to practise them. They inwardly love themselves; and they use the clear truths of the New-Church as weapons of warfare, in argument. Then they rejoice in these doctrines, because such doctrines help them to rejoice in their own intelligence. But when these doctrines are used against their own evils, they are offended at the truth.
Trials and persecutions are tests of character. Spiritually, it is, with the Christian, as it was physically, with the Israelites, the things which may abide the fire must be made to go through the fire. In the fire, the pure metal is separated from the dross.
The Word “tribulation” is suggestive. The tribulum is the roller used in threshing grain. And it represents discipline, by which the Lord separates the good from the evil, in men’s minds, as grain is separated from the chaff. It is by trials that we are cleansed. We never know what a principle is worth to us, until we are tried for it. In our untried conditions, very often, “half of our virtues arise from our being out of the way of temptation.” But the trial compels us to define our position. If we truly and deeply love good and true principles, we shall cling to them, as to life, and be willing to part with anything that opposes them. But, if we love our own selfishness, more than we love good principles, then the more those principles show their opposition to our evils and falsities, the more promptly and decidedly we shall give up the good principles, to save our selfishness. ” All that a man hath will he give for his life.” And his inward life is the life of his loves and of his thoughts.
Good men bear trials, and, in them, lose their natural weaknesses.
“The good are better made by ill.
As odors, crushed, are sweeter still.”
But the evil, by trials, lose even what superficial love of good and truth they previously had, but which formed no part of their inward character.
The good man hath root in himself. The root lies below the surface, and out of sight. So, the good man’s profound grasp upon spiritual principles is not a thing always seen by a casual observer. But, in the inner life of the Christian, there are depths of root, which the Lord sees and knows, though the world sees them not. According to our depth of earnestness in principle, will be our ability to stand steadfast amid the trials of daily life. “Every branch in Me that beareth fruit, He purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.”
By experience, we learn to know men, not by their mere professions, be these ever so abundant; nor by their enthusiastic emotions, however profuse; but by their enduring quality ; by their ability and willingness to “stand like an anvil,” while the world hammers upon them; by their steadfast adherence to their cherished principles, amid all the storms of temptation; their strong roots striking deep into the good, rich soil of their loving hearts, and drawing an inward strength, which enables them to bear all the withering influences that come upon them.
Our best and highest life comes to us only after our greatest sorrows. The courageous struggle develops our noblest strength. “As thy day, so shall thy strength be.” “Blessed are they that are persecuted for righteousness sake; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “
” And some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up and choked them.” He, also, which received seed among the thorns, is he that heareth the Word ; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the Word and he becometh unfruitful.”
“Thorns” are the lusts of evil, including the anxieties of our selfishness. When such lusts and anxieties occupy the mind, they destroy and suffocate all the Divine truths taught to the man. They make the man worldly, instead of spiritual. The life is kept in the love of self and the world, and the man is unfruitful as to good. Worldly anxieties assign to the sensuous and external life, a fictitious value. Our natural and worldly lusts, like the thorns, easily catch fire, and rapidly burn. Those who are like thorns, have, perhaps, a desire to know truths, and to be intelligent, but they do not seek knowledge to apply it to their own regeneration.
Such persons may be very religiously inclined in outward emotion, in piety, and in professions. And they may regard themselves as religious persons.
Such men, loving the world and the praise of men more than they love heaven and the praise of God, will not admit into their will, any truth that will draw them away from worldly lusts. They may be delighted with sermons, if these are supposed to be eloquent. But such minds are interested in the sensuous eloquence, not in the truth, as truth. And, in such minds, the seeds of truth fall among the thorns of worldly lusts.
Where there is earth enough to grow thorns, there is enough for wheat. But the trouble is in trying to grow both the wheat and the thorns, together. If the thorns have possession of the soil, there will not be room enough for the wheat. The thorns will oppose the wheat, in two ways; they will draw out the sustenance of the soil, and they will overshadow and tangle, and choke, the wheat. The thorns have the advantage, in being native to the sad; they are at home in it. And so, in our natural minds, the lusts of the world find a congenial home, and flourish. And, spiritually, our evils and lusts of worldliness draw out
the strength of our affections, as the thorns suck the sustenance from the soil, And, as the thorns choke the wheat, so the rapid growth of our worldly lusts will choke the good influences of the heavens, and leave the seed of truth unfruitful. Heaven flows into the open mind, with its warmth of love, and its light of truth. But if the mind is filled with a rank growth of sensuous and worldly lusts, these will pervert the heavenly influences, and destroy their quality, in the mind. The truth that then lies in the memory, can not receive the vivifying influences of the heavens ; and thus, cut off from the source of life, the seed becomes unfruitful.
This choking by thorns is the result of “the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches ;” i. e., the worldly spirit in which we engage in our occupations and pleasures. Proper care for what we do, and what we have, is wise and useful. Cares and riches are useful to us, if properly used. Their bad influence is in the abuse, and in their deceitfulness, when abused. It is right to have worldly occupation, and to engage in it with energy, ability and industry. It is right to acquire wealth, honestly and usefully, for the sake of performing uses. But avarice is infernal.
Worldly cares may absorb too much of our attention, and of our affection. Martha was told that she was too much cumbered with serving, too much taken up with the externals of life, and neglecting the “one thing needful,” spirituality. “No man can serve two masters.” Therefore, spiritual things should be the masters, in the minds, and worldly cares the servants.
When men give themselves up to worldly cares, the external things of the sensuous life, they are apt to depend upon their own supposed prudence, and to forget the Divine Providence. It was this self-trust, and this sensuous life, which drove men out of the condition of life symbolized by the garden of Eden.
The Lord can truly bless men, only in so far as they trust in Him, and follow His teachings. We often find men who say they intend to become religious, as soon as they get their worldly affairs in good shape. But our Lord teaches us to adopt the very opposite plan: “Seek ye, first, the kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these [external] things shall be added unto you,” according to your spiritual and natural needs. No man can put his worldly affairs in good spiritual order, except by regeneration.
The condition of mind represented by the thorny ground is not one of outward opposition to the truth, as in the case of the wayside. When a man comes to attack our belief, by arguments, our interest in the truth impels us to resist the opposer’s arguments. But our own self-trust is a far more dangerous enemy to our spiritual life than all the arguments of all the infidels. There is a subtle, insidious power in our own indifference to spiritual things. And this indifference grows, as we become too much interested in the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches; i. e., as the sensuous life attracts and absorbs our affection and attention. Then our mental thorns grow rapidly, and choke whatever of spiritual wheat the Lord may have sown in our minds. How weak the virtue of the mind which seeks to cultivate both the wheat and the thorns, together. “Ye cannot serve both God and Mammon.”
The deceitful riches are not merely material wealth, but also all possessions, physical and mental, which we love for our own sake, and selfishly, rather than for their wise use. Knowledge, intellectual ability, personal appearance, social position, fame, official position, or anything else that we think we possess, and that make us feel that we are better than others, is a dangerous kind of riches, which may become deceitful to our souls, and destructive to our spiritual life; choking up all the seeds of good and true principles, which our Lord of Love has carefully sown in our unappreciating minds.
For, in our heart, and in our intellect, these things, when loved selfishly, occupy our affections and our thoughts, and usurp the places which should be given to the Lord’s good and true principles of spiritual life.
These are the riches, with which it is hard for a man to enter into the kingdom of heaven; because, loving such riches, we trust in them, rather than in character and regeneration. In heaven, i. e., in a heavenly quality of character, riches of all kinds must be loved as uses, as means to good ends, and not as ends, themselves.
See, for instance, even in this country, and still more so in the monarchical countries of Europe, many men of mean and low character, and of very limited intelligence, who hold themselves above their fellows, merely because their remote ancestors were men of respectable abilities, or tyrants of world-wide fame, or robbers of unusual atrocity and success; priding themselves, often, in the greatness of their family, in its descent from ancestors possessing unusually complete qualifications for the infernal regions. Such pride is a very foolish thing.
Spiritually, in the fields of human society, as in the wheat fields, it is the empty head that holds itself highest above its fellows. Men may be highly intellectual, and yet spiritually empty. And Jesus, Himself, though Divinely intelligent, was meek and lowly. And the higher the angels are, in character, the more humility they have, and the less self-assertion.
See, too; how the world regards position, rather than character. In politics, see how men of very inferior abilities, and great only in the enormous quantity of their self-assertion, clamor and intrigue, and corruptly bargain, for official positions, for which they must know themselves to be utterly unqualified; hoping to exalt their own littleness by the dignity of the coveted office. And when they attain their ends, what are such riches to them, but thorns, choking whatever of good and true life they might have enjoyed, had they been satisfied with an humble life of quiet usefulness.
And especially is the danger increased, when this lust for mental and material riches is linked with too great anxiety about the cares of this world. Not without serious concern, can the thoughtful observer look upon the high pressure life of strain and worry, that now prevails in America, especially in the West, The physical development of the country is progressing so rapidly, that both the attention and the affections of the majority of men seem to be absorbed in material things, to the exclusion of any profound interest in spiritual culture.
In the. mad race for supremacy, society is being honey-combed with moral decay. The greed of gain, and ambition for fame, take form in all kinds of fraud, personal and official. Trickery and deception abound, in all departments of life. Extravagance and dissipation are rampant. Is it any wonder that these thorns of the senses choke out the richer life of the spirit?
A QUESTION ANSWERED.
In these circumstances, what shall the young man do, who finds himself, with fine sensibilities and ardent hopes, yet filled with a spirit of ambition? Let him clearly put it to his own rational intelligence, that entire absorption in the world’s life and pleasures, means the closing of his soul to the grandest and noblest phases of human life, as found in the culture of the spirit. Let him” Seek, first, the kingdom of God, and His righteousness,” for, only as he becomes spiritual-minded can he, innocently and usefully, and under Divine guidance, engage in the duties and pleasures of the world.
If he does not hold fast to the truths of the Lord’s Word, his material and mental riches, and his worldly cares, will be as dangerous thorns, growing with amazing rapidity, until his mind is full of them; and then they will choke all the good seeds of heavenly truths that his loving Lord, through the loving ministrations of his parents and teachers, and of the angels, may have sown in his youthful mind.” If thine eye offend thee, pluck it out.” As long as we regard any material or selfish mental possessions as real riches, we shall he like the rich young ruler, who went to Jesus, inquiring,” What shall I do, that I may inherit eternal life,” and who, when he learned that he must give up what he had regarded as his best possessions, felt sorrowful, and went his way, unwilling to follow the Lord, in a life of humble usefulness; unwilling to secure heaven, at the cost of denying himself.
THE GROWTH OF THORNS.
Painfully, and yet frequently, are we called to see the degeneration of character consequent upon the growth of these mental thorns in the minds of the young, of both sexes. Beginning with indulgence of the temper, and of the sensuous taste for things of the world, to the forgetfulness of spiritual principles, the character degenerates into a condition of general unfaithfulness to moral and spiritual obligations. And it slides clown the descending scale, until heartless unfaithfulness to the marriage-relation fills the measure of iniquity, and sounds the death-knell of all the decent, peaceful and heavenly virtues which belong to “the measure of a man, that is, of an angel.”
Have you not, dear reader, often felt discouraged, at the slow growth of spirituality in your mind? If you have, and if you have diligently searched for the cause of delay, you have found it in some evil feeling, or false thought, or sinful habit, which you have allowed to choke your wheat. Some infirmity of temper, or unkindness of feeling, or censoriousness of thought, or unguarded habit of the tongue, has been your hindrance to spiritual growth. And if you have afterwards attained any better growth, it has been by a resolute self-denial, in the very line of your discovered weakness.
Success lies before us all; but we must work in the right way. “Break up your fallow ground, and sow not among thorns.” Then” there shall be no longer, to the house of Israel, a pricking brier nor a grieving thorn.”
The trials and disciplines of our life are permitted, in the Divine Providence, as a means of keeping down the growth of our thorns. For, in many cases, all easy prosperity would be a most dangerous circumstance helping our thorns rather than our wheat. And yet how hard we generally struggle against the very discipline which is Divinely permitted for our greatest good, and which we might make the means of great spiritual progress.
It may seem singular that the danger is said to come to us from the two extremes, cares of the world, and the riches which are supposed to free us from cares. But the worldly anxiety of care, and the bad use of riches, both spring from the same principle of selfishness, which, in one case, struggles to procure the means of indulgence, and, in the other, grows indolent and sensuous, by indulgence.
How sadly appropriate it was, that the evil nation which crucified their Saviour-God, should, with intended mockery have crowned Him with thorns, substituting their own evils for His crown of spiritual life. And it is even so with ourselves, that the less we shun evils as sins, and the more we fall into indulgence of our evils, the more we “put good for evil, and evil for good,’; confusing our own minds, darkening our own spiritual intelligence, and choking our mental wheat with the thorns of sin. The days of our purest life are also the states of our clearest intelligence.
WHERE THE FAULT LIES.
In all the three cases of failure of the seed, (on the wayside, in the stony ground, and among thorns,) the fault was not with the seed, but with the soil. The Sower sows good seed only; and He sows broadcast. And so, in all circumstances, the seed of the Lord’s truth is sown upon our minds.
Perhaps our self-love would like to assign our spiritual failures to our sickness, or our poverty, or our business-cares, or bad luck, or the wrong-doings of others. But these are never causes of our failures. The cause lies always in our own hearts, and in our own lives.
It is not enough to see that good seed is sown in our minds, but also that the soil of our minds is in condition to do its part. In the three failures mentioned in the parable, the first was because the soil was not in condition to receive the seed; the second was in poor condition; and the third soil, though good enough, was too full of other things. In the first case, the seed did not spring up, at all; in the second, the plant withered and was scorched, before its maturity; and in the third, the plants were choked by thorns, before maturity. In each case, the mind of the man is at fault; it either rejects, or perverts, or suffocates, the truths of the Lord’s Word. When truths are taught us from the Lord, or good suggested, our rational faculty must be turned upward and inward, to receive the light of heaven, and to bring that light down in its application to the things of our life on earth. Our rational faculty must submit itself to the Lord, and be regenerated. Then our minds will come into the condition of good ground.
THE GOOD GROUND.
“But other seed fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit, some a hundred-fold, some sixty-fold, some thirty-fold…. He that received seed into the good ground is he that heareth the Word, and understandeth it; which also beareth fruit, and bringeth forth;” or, as it is expressed inLuke, “But that on the good ground are they who, in an honest and good heart, having heard the Word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience.”
To hear the Word is to hear the truth; not merely to hear the statement of doctrine, but also intelligently to hear the teachings of the Word, as principles of life. And to understand the Word is not only to have an intellectual comprehension of its meaning, but also to take it into the understanding, as a principle of life; it is to understand from the heart, and in the love of truth.
Our Lord said, “Take heed how ye hear.” Those who always hear the truth with doubts, and who oppose it with natural reasonings, imagine themselves to be intelligent. But the fact is precisely the contrary. Genuine spiritual intelligence is the result of a receptive state of the will, which induces an openness of the understanding towards the light
of spiritual truth. Properly to receive spiritual truth, we need to have” an honest and good heart.” We must be disposed to believe. A well-disposed heart, and simplicity of character, will use the truth, to live upon.
Thomas, the apostle, would not believe in the resurrection of Jesus, until he had been given proof, by demonstration to his senses. But Jesus said, “Thomas, because thou hast seen Me thou hast believed ; blessed are they who have not seen and yet have believed.” Jesus plainly taught Thomas that an interior openness to truth is better than an external demonstration of truth. “He that is of God, heareth God’s words.” He who feels no especial need of the truth, and no pressing desire forr it, is generally in a state of doubt about the truth; but those who are longing for the truth, for the purpose of amending their lives, are well-disposed towards the truth. They hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts; and when the truth comes to them, they are inwardly in condition to recognize it to be truth. They see that it is what they want, and what they can practically use, in the growth of their spiritual character. They are as good ground. They have a rational and affectionate understanding of the truth. They give their profound attention to it.
The truth does not do permanent good to anyone, unless he has good ground in his will, his heart, which impels him to take the truth, not as a matter of notions, or of speculation, but for use in shunning evils because they are sins, and in doing good.
We can easily see what great advantage a man has, whose will is well-disposed towards the truth. Otherwise, his mind is as hard ground; and then the man is not in an affirmative state towards the truth. And all the bad mental birds, all the false thoughts of his natural and sensuous reasonings, will come and peck at the truth, until there is nothing left of it, in his mind. In that condition a man never really gets hold of the truth. His mind remains in a negative state. Hence, there is great need to keep our natural reasonings under control of our rational thought, and to refuse to allow our senses to pass judgment upon things that are beyond their comprehension.
QUALITY OF GOOD GROUND.
The characteristics of good ground are softness of soil, depth, richness, and freedom from obstructions, So, in the mind, good ground must be soft, ready to receive the seed of truth, not hardened by the indulgence of evils and falses. And it must be deep, profound in its capacity to receive and hold the truth.
A mere intellectual readiness to take ideas may cover a hardened condition of the heart; it may be merely a thin layer of earth, over a bed of rock. The mind, too, like the good ground, must be kept in clean condition, free from thorns and weeds. The cares of the world, and the pleasures of the senses, must be kept under control of the spirit. Many of the conditions of the ground can be controlled by the farmer. The ground can be kept in good condition, by proper plowing, weeding and general care. So the man must do his part of the work, before the Lord can produce the harvest. A man must learn truth, from the doctrine of the Word, as taught in the Church. He must know who the Lord is, and what He is, and who the neighbor is, and what love is, what is good and true and useful, and what is evil and false and sinful. He must learn about his own spiritual life,” and its possibilities.
When we love to know these things for use, we are in the love of truth. Then our minds are in the condition of a field prepared and ready for the seed. And the Lord, as the Sower, scatters His truth broadcast over our minds. The seed, the fun and the rain, are given to all kinds of ground. But the results are different. So,” the Lord is good to all, and His tender mercies are over all His works;” “He maketh His sun to shine on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just, and on the unjust.” But the results are according to the quality and quantity of the soil.
ON, OR IN, THE GROUND.
In the case of the good ground, the seed fell not only upon the ground, but also into it. The mind opened itself to the truth, and gave it an interior reception. The seed penetrated into the richness of the soil, into the depths of the will, as well as into the understanding. In this condition, the mind keeps the Word. “Give me understanding, that I may keep Thy law; yea, I shall observe it with my whole heart.”
Yet there are some, who seem to think that all that is necessary is for the truth to pass through the mind, in the memory, leaving its impression, and passing out, again, making room for something else. But no truth becomes a living reality to a man, until he keeps it; until it abides with him, as one of his mental family, ” If ye abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.” Truth is of use, only as it becomes an abiding principle of a man’s life, embodied in his deeds.
VARIETIES OF GOOD.
It may be asked, Why is the mental ground called good, when yet it has need to be made good? But the early good of the mind is natural, not spiritual. It is not like the ground bearing a full harvest, but like the ground ready for the seed. It is well-disposed.
The mind is always under preparation by the Divine Providence. From our infancy, the Lord implants in our minds, states of good affection and of true thought, which, in the New-Church phraseology, we call” remains,” remnants, things of an interior life, laid up in our interiors, by the Lord, to bring us into good condition. These” remains” are means of preparing our minds for the reception of the seed of Divine Truth.
If we love these inward things of life, and seek to cultivate them, they enable the Lord to pour His heavenly influences upon our minds, and into them. But, if we despise and resist the promptings of these “remains,” we harden our minds against all other truth and good. As we see our tendencies towards evils, if we resist them, we shall grow-to be averse to evils. But, if we love, cherish and practise these evils, we shall choke up the better things, the “remains” in our inward minds, And then our minds will grow hard, beaten down by the constant tread of our selfish passions, and affording no openness to the seeds of the Lord’s Word. Thus, often we are responsible for the hardness of our minds, because that hardness is a result of our own evil life. We may, in that condition, have abundance of knowledge, but no disposition to use it, in regeneration. But the good ground of an “honest heart” brings forth abundant fruit. Where the seed of living truth finds any good soil, it soon shows its vitality, in its growth. The “honest heart” receives truth with genuine and devout affection, for the government of the life.
The ground represents the love, the affection. And the differences in those who receive the seed are differences in their ground, that is, in the quantity and the quality of their affections.
Intelligence, alone, does not bear fruit in regeneration, as light, in winter, does not produce vegetation. But intelligence must be united to affection for the truth, as the light of the sun must be united with the heat of the sun, as in summer, to produce the harvest.
The heart that is good ground, goes on to bear fruit: to do the things which truth teaches; to cease doing evil, and to do good. Love to the Lord, and charity towards the neighbor, are ultimated or embodied, in a life of usefulness. The proof of the goodness of the ground is in its productiveness. So is it in regeneration: the evidence of our regeneration is the increase of our practical goodness and usefulness. “By their fruits ye shall know them.” Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?” Our increase of goodness may be only thirty-fold, but it must be actual increase. That which does not increase, comes to no spirituality.
The parable refers not only to different classes of minds, but also to different states and degrees or regeneration, in each individual mind. We notice, in the parable, that the individual ground becomes better, in each succeeding condition. The seeds enter more deeply into the soil, they grow better, and they endure longer. So, in the regeneration, very regenerating mind goes through these conditions, in its progressive growth; it meets these dangers, and conquers them, under the Lord’s providence.
See the force of the parable, as it refers to the Church. What constitutes the Church? Not doctrine, alone, but life according to doctrine, the fruit of truth. All who have doctrine are not truly in the Church. In the parable, all receive the truth, at first, into the memory. But only the good ground holds the truth until it bears fruit. So, in the Church, it is not doctrine, alone, but a life of love and usefulness, which makes a man a Christian. No truth can save a man until he lives by it.
Even with good men, there are degrees of reception of truth, both in quantity and in quality; “Some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.” These three degrees of fruitfulness are the three discrete degrees of regenerate life, the celestial, the spiritual, and the natural.
All these numbers are mutiples of ten. The number, ten, denotes “remains,” the states of life implanted in the interiors of the growing spirit. If these “remains” are developed into the conscious life of the man, to the natural degree, only, this result will be accomplished by simple obedience to the commandments, as external laws, In this state there are three tens, or thirty. Three denotes fulness, as regards truth.
If the man can be led to the next higher, or more interior, step of spiritual growth, he will come into the spiritual degree, the state of intelligent love of truth, as a known principle. Then he brings forth fruit sixty-fold.
Six denotes a state of mental combat, as in the six days of creation, or regeneration, and the six days of labor, before the seventh day, or complete state. One hundred, as a round number, represents a full state, as to goodness, a full state of progress. Those who bear fruit one hundred-fold, are those who come to the full state of complete regeneration, the celestial state, or degree of full and supreme love to good, and to the Lord. In this state, the” remains” are fully developed into the man’s conscious life.
Thus, the three kinds of productiveness in the soil represent the three conditions, or discrete degrees, of regenerate life, as seen in the three heavens. And, on the other hand the three conditions of failure to produce fruit, represent the states of perverted life, in the three hells. Here are represented complete conditions, confirmations in both good and evil.
But the celestial state will not seem the most attractive, except to those who are, spiritually, in condition to appreciate it. There are sentimental persons, to whom the moonlight is more beautiful than the sunlight, the blossom more attractive than the ripened fruit, and the youthful maiden more lovely than the mature matron. Such taste belongs to the early states of Faith, rather than to the harvest of profound and interior Love.
In more advanced states, the maturer things are recognized as the most beautiful, as a principle embodied in useful action is more lovely than an unproven sentiment; and a celestial angel is most fully in the “measure of a man.”
READERS OF THE NEW-CHURCH WRITINGS.
Swedenborg, speaking of the state of the world, says, “There are five classes of those who read my writings: the first reject them, altogether, being confirmed in other doctrines, or in no truth at all. The second receive them as matters of curiosity. The third receive them intellectually, and are in some degree pleased with them ; but when they require a motive to govern their lives, they remain where they were before. The fourth receive them persuasively, and are in some degree led to renounce evils as sins, and to do good. The fifth receive them with delight, and confirm them in their lives.” Such are the conditions of men’s. minds as to the reception of the New-Dispensation.
The more fully the truth takes possession of the mind, the greater will be the spiritual yield, in the harvest. The Lord always works for the greatest harvest. But, in each case, He can bring forth only what the state of the man will allow; He cannot “gather grapes of thorns, or figs
of thistles.” “Herein is My Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit.” And, indeed, this will be a motive for the good man, in trying to do the best work, that it most displays the goodness and greatness of the Lord. The more we truly and spiritually glorify our Lord, the more and the better will be our spiritual fruit; and the more we glorify ourselves, the less will be our good fruit. The seeds that fall upon the wayside, the stony ground, and the rocky ground, do not injure the ground. And so, spiritually, one reason why our Lord taught in parables was that men might, if prepared, hear and understand the truth; and if unprepared, they might escape injury by truth that would pass over them, without making any impression upon them, which they would profane.
Nearly everyone supposes he is Interested in the truth, and in search of it. But he does not always heed the quality of his interest in the truth, whether he is superficially or profoundly interested. If we find our minds hardened against the truth, we must plow up the wayside. If our hearts are as rock, we must have them softened and broken up by love to our Lord, that the soil may be deepened. “Is not My Word like a fire, saith the Lord: and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces?” If we find thorns in our wheat-fields, we must cut down the thorns. “Break up your fallow ground, and sow not among thorns.” Seek regeneration; and then “he that goeth forth weeping, bearing precious seed, doubtless shall return again, after many days, with rejoicing, bearing his sheaves with him.”
In the Lord’s temple men seek the truth. And do they fully recognize the important fact that two things are necessary to the teaching of truth, good preaching and good hearing? There must be not only good seed, but also good ground. No amount of work in the pulpit, will sow the seeds of truth in unheeding pews. But good hearing, in the congregation, is apt to induce good preaching. “Take heed how ye hear?” Hear heartily, with open hearts, seeking the truth, for use in regeneration. Our Lord gives very few directions about preaching, but He says much about hearing. Hearers should always remember that it is their duty, as well as the preacher’s, to go to church prepared, by shutting out the sensuous world of business, politics and pleasures of the flesh. And if both the hearers and the preacher always keep in mind the fact that the Lord is the only real Sower of the Divine truth, and that they are only His humble helpers, both the hearing and the preaching will be better and more useful. “Who hath ears, to hear, let him hear.”
Author: Edward Craig Mitchell 1887