["In Ordinatione Diaconorum Lectio Epistolae B. Pauli Apost. ad Timoth.: 'Diaconos constitue pudicos.' Sequentia S. Evangelii secundum Johannem, 'Nisi granum frumenti.'" Lectionary of St. Jerome in Pamelius's Liturgy of the Latin Church.]
Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.
THIS verse is not a parable, for it is not expressed in the narrative form; rather it is a parabolic saying, profound in its significance as we might expect it to be from its Author, and proverbial too in its wide range of application. Like much else of our blessed Lord's teaching, which He clothed in metaphorical language, its first and fullest application is to Himself. A corn, or grain of wheat, on being cast into the ground by the husbandman, must lose its outer coatings, and dissolve its germ into the earth, out of which it was originally taken, as the essential condition of a new vegetable life, of the subsequent blade, and of the multiplied grains in the ear of the matured plant. If there be no process of dissolution of its matter, then there is no result. "It abideth alone," and disappears in a brief time from all view and remembrance.
What now was our Lord's original meaning and reference here? Probably His immediate hearers did [3/4] not apprehend it; but our advantage, brethren, is greater than theirs, if we use it right. He was Himself that corn of wheat, Son of God in His Divine Nature, yet by becoming visible, by becoming of our common substance, by falling into the ground, descending upon the ground of our earth, He became the Christ. In His very fall, or assumption of our human nature, He divested Himself of all reputation, taking upon Him the form of a servant, born in poverty, and bred in obscurity. This was the beginning of His self-abnegation, which ended in His dying. Without a murmur, He retired from the wonderful reputation which a few days had sufficed for Him--a boy of twelve years old--in the eyes of the most learned of His time; from all that, I say, He retired to a humble occupation, in a humble home, and in subjection to His humble parents. In His mysterious conflict with the evil one, He was further stripped, or rather voluntarily stripped Himself, of the natural desires of bodily food, of ambition, and of bold and self confident ventures. His ministry was a continual process of parting with what men naturally value-time, strength, convenience, the comforts of life and of a settled home, popularity, good fellowship. From time to time He put into words what His life expressed in actions. "I came not to do Mine own will, but the will of Him that sent Me." "My meat is to do the will of Him that sent Me, and to finish His work." "The Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister." By the end of His ministry all that was of circumstance only, and not personal, was gone; there still remained for Him to dispose of, His body, His soul, and His spirit. For the first, "He gave His back to the smiters, and His cheeks to them that plucked off the hair; He hid not His face from shame and spitting." "He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so He opened not His mouth." He [4/5] was nailed to the cross, and His life taken from the earth. For the second, "He poured out His soul unto death," first by anticipation and mental rehearsal of His sufferings, in the agony in the garden, crying out with tears, "Not My will, but Thine be done;" and then by the actual endurance of desertion, scorn, derision, and the shame and injustice of the whole of those last scenes. For the third, just ere His body gave up the ghost, He made a solemn and final disposal of His spirit to His heavenly Father, to Whom He had offered His body and soul without spot, saying, "Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit." Then He could say, "It is finished." The whole burnt offering is consumed upon the altar; there is nothing left. The corn of wheat, which fell into the ground, is wholly dissolved, even to the very germ, and is dead.
And now, brethren, watch the wonderful and glorious processes of the new and transfigured life; first of the very same Jesus that was dead, and now liveth for evermore, "with flesh, bones, and all things appertaining to man's nature." "Therefore" He had said, "I lay down My life that I may take it again." He was indeed only the first-fruits, but the first-fruits of a glorious harvest of fruit. Having been lifted up from the earth, He had the power of drawing all men unto Himself. The virtue of His death quickened into life the dying and dead souls of men. "He spoiled principalities and powers." "He saw of the travail of His soul, and was satisfied." He had sprinkled many nations." "The branch of the Lord" had become "beautiful and glorious," and blossomed and bare abundant fruit in all lands. In a word, the sufferings and death of the Son of God purchased for Him an universal Church. The end was most glorious; but the condition of obtaining it was the most costly that could be conceived.
The context confirms and illustrates this primary [5/6] interpretation of the text. At the intelligence brought in of some Greeks, or Gentiles, having come on purpose to see Jesus, He is at once carried forward to the grand results of His incarnation, and, in the prospect of them, welcomes the necessary condition of their accomplishment, though the most extreme He could ever suffer. "The hour is come that the Son of Man should be glorified." "Verily, verily, I say unto you, except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit."
And then, as on some other occasions, He turns His words, into a paradox for general use. "He that loveth his life shall lose it: and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal." The saying, however, is not more strange than true. The analogy of nature, and the course of human experience, are in favour of it, and contribute abundant illustrations of its truth; the proverbs current amongst men embody it. The voluntary loss of the less to gain the greater, the foregoing of present advantage to secure a future treasure, stooping to conquer, the ready sacrifice of ease, time, money, health, for, it may be, honour, knowledge, fresh discoveries in art or science--these are accepted maxims with all earnest men.
Our Saviour calls for a like principle in His followers. He bases it upon His own example, and then says, "If any man serve Me, let him follow Me." The call is made to all Christians; but we must here discriminate what it means. The following of Him who has just likened Himself to a corn of wheat filling into the ground and dying, is not fulfilled by "dying unto sin," and mortifying the corrupt nature, though that is the essential basis of the new creation; nor again does it mean what may be called dying for a principle, or for an opinion, as when people say, they will die rather than yield; that may be firmness, or it may be obstinacy, and it certainly does not form any part of the [6/7] perfect example our Lord here proposes to us to follow on the contrary, our following consists in our readiness to yield, and our actually yielding when circumstances call for it, things that are dear to us, for His sake; and that, on the assurance that the gain of such loss will be great and manifest. The meaning of our Lord is made perfectly clear by other sayings of His to the same effect. "Every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for My Name's sake, shall receive an hundred fold;" and on the other hand, "If a man come to Me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple." His service, He meant, would admit of no rivalry in the affections. The strongest tests of its genuineness would certainly await his disciples, and they must be prepared to abide even the severest of them all, the alternative of life or death. The records of the early church are full of interpretations given by multitudes to these words of the Lord, and of the glorious result. "The blood of the martyrs was the seed of the church."
As might be expected, the ordained apostles of the Lord were addressed by Him especially, and in their turn occupied the foremost place in the law of self sacrifice for the good of others. St. Paul became at last a martyr for the cause of Christ. But I would draw your thoughts, brethren, for a few moments not to that consummation of his career, or the gain to the Church from it; but rather to the varied and abundant illustration his whole life and ministry supplied to the principle inculcated in the text, and the good fruit that followed. That principle was to give up all he possibly could for the advantage of the churches, to sacrifice his scruples, his tastes, his comfort, his reputation as a man and as an apostle, his private plans, without reservation, for the spiritual welfare of others. In this dig light [7/8] read the following passages from those Epistles which especially bring out his personal qualities:--"I thank God I baptized none of you but Crispus and Caius; lest any should say I had baptized in mine own name." "If meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend." "Have we not power to eat and to drink? Have we not power to lead about a sister, a wife? Have we not power to forbear working? Nevertheless we have not used this power." "Unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might earn the Jews," &. "I am rude all things to all men, that I might by all means save some." "I protest I die daily." "Death worketh in us, but life in you." "For all things are for your sakes." "Giving no offence (i.e. ground of scandal) in any thing, that the ministry be not blamed; but in all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God, by honour and dishonour, by evil report and good report as deceivers and yet true; as dying, and behold we live." "Ye are in our hearts to die and live with you." "When I was present with you, and wanted, I was chargeable to no man." "I will not be burdensome to you, for I seek not yours but you." - I will very gladly spend and be spent for you; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved." "We are glad when were weak, and ye are strong."
Now these unreserved manifestations and marks of character, while they illustrate one principle, that which finds its highest exemplification in the blessed Saviour of mankind, do also bring it down, happily, to a practical and as, we may say, irritable issue. And to that, my brethren, it is time we should come in our reflections upon the subject now before us.
Let me put it, then, in this way. It is natural that every right minded minister of Christ should desire success in his ministry; not advancement, not popularity, not success according to the estimate of the [8/9] world--but the conversion, edification, and eternal salvation of the souls committed to his charge, or in the impressive words of the ordination service, "that agreement in the faith and knowledge of God, and that ripeness and perfectness of age in Christ, that there be no place left either for error in religion, or for viciousness in life." Now these objects, whether regarded as antagonistic to the constant influences of the world, the flesh, and the devil, or as beyond all others in magnitude and duration, cannot be attained without corresponding effort and continued devotion. A languid and self-pleasing ministry will have no results, that is, none that will stand the test of time or opposition. They will be sickly, superficial, temporary. The position and the work of one of this class may be respectable, and earn for him the comfortable opinion of men; but he will leave no mark behind him, no fruit in future years to testify to self denying labours. The spirit of self sacrifice is lacking, and without that essential ingredient in the corn of wheat, i. e. the character of the man, nothing that is vigorous and lasting will grow. Such an one is found wanting when tried by the text, by the life and ministry of the Lord Jesus, or by those of St. Paul.
Hear the latter once more. "Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier. And if a man also strive for masteries, yet is he not crowned, except he strive lawfully. The husbandman that laboureth must be first partaker of the fruits." It is no spirit of sour asceticism that the Apostle enjoins, no self imposed austerities, no misanthropic separation from our fellow creatures or from human interests, but a voluntary and constant restraint and subordination, for Christ's sake, of all tempers, pursuits, opinions, manner of life, and an entire [9/10] sacrifice of any most cherished thing, even of our own will, as soon as it is found to conflict with the welfare of the flock. An eminent clergyman at the beginning of this century, who was passionately fond of music, when he found it engrossed too much of his time, cut the strings of his instrument, that he might be able, without temptation, to devote that time to his spiritual office.* [* Rev. R. Cecil.] Your wisdom will know, brethren, how to apply such an instance as this. The practical lesson is the observation and correction of that--not sinful, I mean, but allowable--habit of life in ourselves to which our nature is most liable. Some may be given to over much reading of books, or other literature of the time, which is in many cases a refined form of indolence; some to perpetual intercourse, social and secular, which tends to neglect of the duties of the closet, the study, or the church; some again may be keen and eager upon controversies of the day, a temper which indisposes the mind for soberer, and yet fundamental, truths and duties: these are but instances of characteristic tendencies which we are all liable to, and which must be checked, and yielded up in their excess as a willing sacrifice to God. The thought of the text and of Him whom it speaks of, will strengthen us to make the sacrifice.
Thy precious things, whate'er they be
That haunt and vex thee, heart and brain,
Look to the Cross, and thou shalt see
How thou may'st turn them all to gain.
Lovest thou praise? the Cross is shame:
Or ease? the cross is bitter grief.
More pangs than tongue or heart can frame
Were suffered there without relief.+ [+ Christian year. Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity.]
Or, to recur again to the same far-seeing instructor of his fellow-ministers:--
 Who is God's chosen priest?
He, who on Christ stands waiting day and night,
Who trac'd His holy steps, nor ever ceased,
From Jordan banks to Bethphage height.
Who hath learn'd lowliness
From His Lord's cradle, patience from His Cross:
To whom, for Christ, the world is loss;
Who both in agony
Hath seen Him, and in glory; and in both
Own'd Him divine, and yielded, nothing loth,
Body and soul, to live and die
In witness of his Lord,
In humble following of his Saviour dear:
This is the man to wield th' unearthly sword,
Warring unharm'd with sin and fear.* [* Christian Year. St. Matthias' Day.]
These burning words are conceived in the very spirit of the text; and the less extensive their application is, the more intensive it becomes within its own proper limits. The warmth of them should be ever felt around us; but this day, my brethren, it is increased to a threefold degree. A Lenten ordination Sunday has at all times its peculiar interest and instruction for all. How much more then, for us, has it this day.
For, first, our most Reverend Visitor is now laying hands upon one of the Fellows and Tutors of our Missionary College.+ [+ Gavin F. Saxby, B.A., Scholar of Trinity College, Cambridge.] For him our prayers will be, not only that he may be endued with all the graces that belong to the Diaconate of the Church, but that he may have, over and above, such special qualifications as will fit him for the effectual discharge of that office in connexion with this college; that he may be animated with the spirit of this missionary foundation, and with the spirit of a Columba and an Adrian, who in ages long past trained up missionaries for the heathen, and that like them he may reap much joy and fruit from his zealous labours.
 Then, secondly, one of our students has been accepted for employment in a Colonial Diocese where the climate, and the poverty of the inhabitants, are constant and serious additions to the difficulties and hardships of missionary labour.* [* William Pilot, for the Diocese of Newfoundland, by the Bishop of Oxford.] By the desire of his future Bishop, he is presented this day for ordination in England before his departure to the sphere of his Mission, and at his mouth, too, as the preacher on the occasion, he is receiving the counsels of a large experience. If these reflect, as they naturally will, the life and characteristics of that devoted man, they will be counsels of self-denial in the spirit of the text, and for Christ's sake. For the young labourer, let us pray that his bodily powers, his mental energies, and his spiritual graces, may be all adequate to the work which he will have to do, and that he may have many seals to his ministry.
Thirdly, and chiefly, we are ourselves just about to witness and take part in the solemn form of ordination--a ceremony without precedent in this chapel, unrecorded to the best of my knowledge in the chronicles of the ancient abbey,+ [+In the Chronological Tables, prefixed to Thorne's History of the Monastery of St. Augustine, record is made of two Papal Bulls, A.D. 1256, and 1403, giving permission to the Abbot to confer the minor orders on his monks.] and intermitted for too many generations in the adjoining metropolitical cathedral. And the rarity of the occasion is enhanced in interest by the circumstances of it. One of our approved students is to be ordained Deacon by a Bishop,# [# Joshua Jones, by the Bishop of Brisbane.] under whom he will serve, who has come over from his Diocese, on the other side of the world, and is on the very eve of returning to it. Which [12/13] of us will forget the scene to his latest day? Now, to the present congregation, it is unnecessary to explain "the nature and the necessity of the office of a Deacon in the Church of Christ," and the people to whom suitable counsels are wont to be addressed, on these occasions, "how they should esteem those who are set over them in the Lord," are far away. Hence it is that our interest and our address are concentrated in all their meaning and expression, my dear brother, upon you. What shall I say to you? for I am deputed by authority to be the exponent of our common feelings to you. Suffer me, though unworthy, to take upon my lips the words of apostles and prophets, praying that the Holy Ghost may "write them upon the table of your heart." "Thou, therefore my son, be strong in the grace which is in Christ Jesus. Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity. Give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. Meditate upon these things, give thyself wholly to them, that thy profiting may appear unto all. Take heed unto thyself and unto the doctrine; continue in them; continue thou in the things which thon hast learned, and hast been assured of; watch thou in all things; endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist; make full proof of thy ministry. Seekest thou great things for thyself? seek them not. Verily, verily, I say unto you, except a corn of wheat fall into the ground, and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit."* [*See also Imitation of Christ, Book III., c. xlix, 5, 6, 7: and a writer of a very different character, quoted b}' Mr. Moorhouse, Hulsean Lectures, p. 71; "It is only with renunciation that life, properly speaking, can be said to begin, . . . thankfully bear then what yet remains (of afflictions); thou hadst need of them, the self in thee needed to be annihilated." Sartor Resartus, p, 117.]
One of the modern historians and defenders of the [13/14] system of rationalism has been constrained to admit the decline in our age "in the spirit of self sacrifice, and in the appreciation of the more religions aspect of our nature; and that "the history of self sacrifice during the last eighteen hundred years has been mainly the history of the action of Christianity upon the world."* [Footnote see next paragraph] May your life, my brother, be an additional confirmation of this remarkable admission. Learn, as you have been learning, I trust, to practise forbearance and moderation, and even the surrender of your cherished opinions, habits, pursuits, tastes and inclinations; learn to sink yourself in your work; learn to bear disappointments, annoyances, difficulties, contradictions, failure of hopes, misconstructions, misrepresentations of your motives and your conduct: and take all up as your appointed cross, not weakly, but meekly and bravely, after our common Master, the crucified Jesus; and He will turn round and cheer you by His approval. He will say, "follow thou Me." "You have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that you should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain." And thus He will give you souls, who shall be your "crown of rejoicing in the clay of His coming."
[* Footnote: I subjoin the passages, briefly quoted in the Sermon, somewhat more at length.
"With a far higher level of average intelligence than in former times, our age exhibits a marked decline in the spirit of self-sacrifice, in the appreciation of the more poetical or religious aspect of our nature. The history of self-sacrifice, during the last eighteen hundred years, has been mainly the history of the action of Christianity upon the world." Lecky's History of Rationalism, II. p. 405.
"When we look back to the cheerful alacrity with which, in some former ages, men sacrificed all their material and intellectual interests to what they believed to be right, and when we realize the unclouded assurance that was their reward, it is impossible to deny that we have lost something in our progress." Ib. p. 409.]
"Then," to use the words of St. Gregory, "St. Peter will appear with Judaea, converted by him, and following after him: then St. Paul, bringing with him, if I [14/15] may so speak, the converted world: then St. Andrew will bring Greece: St. John, Asia: St. Thomas, the Indies, unto the sight of their Judge." God grant that none of us may appear before the Lord in that day, empty. God grant, that you too, my brother beloved in the Lord, may then share the everlasting welcome, "Well done, good and faithful servant, thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy Lord."
CHIVERS, PRINTER, PALACE STREET, CANTERBURY.