"It grows, he knoweth not how."
PREACHED MAR. 11, 1855,
THE EVENING OF THE THIRD SUNDAY IN LENT,
THE BENEVOLENT ASSOCIATION
THE CHURCH OF THE HOLY TRINITY,
HENRY JOHN WHITEHOUSE,
BISHOP OF THE DIOCESE OF ILLINOIS.
REQUESTED FOR PUBLICATION, AND GIVEN
IN CONFIDENCE OF ITS OWN MOTTO,
A HUMBLE OFFERING
OF RESPECTFUL ADMIRATION
OF THE NOBLE GIFT THAT REARED THE EDIFICE,
THE SPIRIT AND WORK OF ITS RECTOR,
AND THE LOVE AND CHARITY OF THE CONGREGATION.
BY THE AUTHOR.
MARK IV. 26.
And he said, So is the kingdom of God, as if a man should cast seed into the ground;
and should sleep and rise night and day, and the seed should spring and grow up,
he knoweth not how.
THIS is one of the illustrations drawn from natural objects, by which our Saviour explains the development and progress of the Gospel Church. The primary idea is, that the growth is silent and steady under the influence of laws and activities which are hidden in the sovereign grace of God, as the laws of the natural world act through His providence. Man, at a certain stage, and that not very advanced as compared with the maturity of the grain, is obliged to leave it to the action of these hidden agencies. He sleeps, and rises for other thoughts and other labors. His thoughts and anxieties cannot help the germing of the seed he has cast; his labor can only partially facilitate the final success of his hopes and plans. So, to a great extent, is the progress of the kingdom of God; whether at large, in the diffusion of religion, and the establishment of His Church in the world, or in the progress of it in the soul; there is a point where we must cast it all with [3/4] faith on the grace and power of God, who will act through laws and counsels for the most part hidden from us, and assembling in beautiful order and dependence the whole system of powers and changes over the universe. Man must cast his seed in faith and hope, for, in every department of the natural or spiritual world, it is "God that worketh to will and to do of His good pleasure."
But there is, at the same time, assumed even in this verse, man's labor and diligence. "It is as if a man should cast his seed into the ground." The product neither comes without seed, nor is the seed conveyed to the ground without human intelligent agency. It is deposited there not rudely and carelessly, but under laws which are peremptory as far as they go—appealing both to his intelligence to understand them, and his diligent and ingenious labor to avail himself of them. There is man's absolute free-will action, the subjection of it all to laws which we have no reason to suppose are ever infringed;—and yet the necessary lodging of the results in the hands of a supernal power, over whose movements we have no control, and of whose purposes we must be for the most part entirely ignorant.
Hence come the two great dispositions of our personal or collective agency in diffusing the Gospel, our "missionary work" as, for explicitness, we may call it.
We must cast our seed—money, labor, influence, prayers, each in our gift and station. We must do this intelligently, prudently, and as acting under rational and common sense calculations for effecting our end: and yet at a certain point, nearer or more advanced according to our circumstances, we must stand and wait; [4/5] satisfied that the issue is in the hands of God, or elaborating by means out of our practical cognizance or control.
And to a very great extent indeed, must this growth—"we know not how"—be trusted in our missionary duty. We must sow the seed; but how little, seemingly, this comprises. We must do our best to give a just proportion of our means, be they large or small, to God's work;—we may pray over our gift, and pray over the work; we may make ourselves acquainted with the mode and amount of our Church Missions, and reflect on the prospective dangers and advance;—and this, in the majority of cases, is all. Few can or will go as far even as they might in this cause, but fewer still can go beyond it, even in the casting the seed. Few have any voice in the details of the business; the appointment of missionaries; the practical economy of the system of expense and labor; and the most advanced who has officially the widest of this control, how soon he stands in the same condition—the seed is cast, but it must grow "he knows not how."
This elementary condition of the growth of the Gospel is worthy of our serious regards, because we are all hindered and stinted in our benevolence by the very circumstance which it assumes as a law. We are asked to give our money—pressed to give liberally—and expected, by a kind of tacit pledge which the congregation has to the Church, and the Church has to her missionaries at home and abroad, to do it periodically, so that as a matter of business resource and honor, it can be relied upon. How obvious the difficulty that on ordinary worldly principles may be made to this. "I like to pay my money where I know how it will be [5/6] expended; to see some definite and palpable good produced by it; to have the control of it so that it may effect the result." How easy it is in the best managed Board of Missions, to suspect or to discover mistake and extravagance, to find an arrangement, and system, and ends, which do not commend themselves to our own judgment and taste as the best; and even in what may be accomplished in supporting clergymen in the new dioceses at home, or sending them to struggle year after year abroad—how very much might be gathered by the selfish heart, and the close sagacity of mere worldly prudence, to discourage from any donation to the effort.
Where, too, there are the best of principles and motives, there is some discouragement in the vagueness—in the extension of the whole. "I give at great self-sacrifice one dollar;" might some Dorcas say. "It is thrown in among fifty thousand of annual income of the Board; a large percentage of it pays secretaries and agents, office rent, fuel, postage, and many items of current secular kind. It seems to me lost, swallowed up, and I cannot trace with any realizing, the least obvious benefit that my mite has effected. If I had gone with it to some indigent family in the neighborhood, where they had no food, nor means to buy it, where there was sickness, and perhaps life depended on nourishment which they could not purchase—then and there, I lay out my dollar. I see, I hear, I feel the good it does. It seems indisputable; it lays hold of my affections, and forms a tangible object which, in a certain form, I may follow among my eternal sympathies and relations." There is no denying all this, and we are anxious to give to it its full force, because satisfied that [6/7] covertly or avowedly it must influence, and perhaps depress many minds.
The question is, are we really acting according to truth and wisdom, and our moral obligations, in assuming these views as the regulating or animating principle of our Gospel charities? Or is it, on the contrary, something which we must meet and overmaster in our hearts and judgments by a higher wisdom, a better-founded policy, a larger view of duty, and a more disinterested and confiding spirit? I conceive that undoubtedly this last is the true spirit of the Christian. He must "walk by faith and not by sight," even when he goes forth to sow his seed.
When the little band of the disciples were rejoicing, principally on hearsay testimony, in the glorious and startling fact of the life and bodily presence on earth of their crucified and buried Lord—Thomas said: "Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, I will not believe." He is called "doubting Thomas." But in him spoke out the sagacity and prudence which the world applauds. He asked personal and indubitable evidence. The Saviour, in granting the very evidence required, taken in connection with the evident willingness of Thomas's mind to yield at once, may justify the inference that the spirit he exhibited was not in itself condemned as wrong and unjustifiable. But the remark which the Redeemer adds, as his comment on the whole transaction, opens to us the just view. Thomas might not be criminally wrong in his principle, but there was another, on which he might have acted, higher, nobler, happier. "And Jesus said unto him: Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed; [7/8] blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed." The belief of each might be unequivocal; but there was a blessedness in that which rested itself on trust, to the height and depth of which we have no human measurement to apply.
Now you have only to suppose, what is the fact, that when God put the diffusion of the Gospel into man's hands, He made this an inevitable condition, "It shall grow, you know not how." That God said virtually to man,—"Do what you will, nothing that you can possibly do or contrive, renders your success certain, or gives you the least control over the great laws, and the actual means by which success, if it comes at all, will be produced. Our present action under the law is undoubtedly voluntary. We may do, or not do. Our future responsibility for the choice we make is likewise a fixed and inevitable state. What appears certain is,—that if we do help to promote the kingdom of God in its growth and influence, we shall very soon touch a limit where we are both ignorant and powerless. Everything we do give, or each inward exercise that we may cultivate in relation to this object, must be done also (if we reflect) from the very beginning, under the assurance, "I throw this seed, but am impotent altogether in its fructification and progress." In homely application to our present case, "I give my money, saved with self-denial, anxiously swelled to the largest amount, prayed over for God's acceptance and blessing, but I may never be able to know, on earth at least, what good it did; and I can do no more to give it the impulse of good; it must grow up, I know not how!" Dear brethren! do you like this element of the Gospel kingdom's growth? Do you reluct from [8/9] it as a difficulty, or are you prepared to come up to it with a trustful spirit that finds a deeper blessedness in the inward consciousness, "I sow in faith; all is in the hands of God," and can rejoice in a greater security too, that so soon the case is taken out of your own hands, and carried up among the immediate operations of the throned Saviour? The sooner the better. There is undoubtedly in every way a blessedness in the whole arrangement, though at first sight it may seem unfavorable, "It shall grow, we know not how." It is in direct analogy with the condition of the husbandman from whose labor and compelled trust the resemblance is drawn. Is not the farmer virtually powerless after his seed is cast into the ground? Its fructification and increase must depend on the succession and character of the seasons; the early and latter rain, the dew, all indeed, obeying divine and fixed laws, but which he himself cannot control. He has done what he could; he must let it grow, "he knows not how." The Saviour, then, only asks from us in our labor for His Kingdom, what the laborer of the earth cheerfully accords. The gift of seed intelligently disposed; planted in obedience to spiritual laws; and then left to grow, and bear the increase, as "the kindly fruits of the earth,"—in its place and season.
It is manifestly a reduction of our burden of responsibility, that this should be the rule of evangelical increase; "to grow, we know not how." It is manifestly a kindness to take out of our hands and anxieties the active movement of the vast range of powers exercising their salutary or malign influence. It is unquestionable release, that at a certain point, a man may sleep and rise night and day—that is, give himself to [9/10] other thoughts and pursuits, and yet the seed grow better than if he meddled with it; and far better than if it were placed under the impossible condition, that he must control all the elemental movements, make rain and sunshine, and sit by each blade to cherish it with an unceasing personal superintendence.
But in all Gospel claims of duty, may be found by the reflecting mind, a Father's love. A love, which not only kindly apportions tasks and duty, and indulgently forgives sad omissions, and ungrateful resistance,—but which makes obedience the immediate source of pleasurable and elevating moral affections. Along the whole course we may find the more and more blessedness. The temper required of us is ever—in its great harmony with all the struggles and interests of the soul—the best affection for our peace, our real tranquillity, and our upward tendency. So it is in this order—that the seed we plant "shall grow, we know not how." Our mite is at once cast at Jesus' feet, and the soul retires to the delightful repose,—"His grace will do the rest." It enters into a sort of identity with the great master mind; and a sense of honor, as well as success, reaches the heart. We are taken away from the vicissitudes and anxieties of a bare materialism, and the great eagle wing of Faith flaps and sweeps for its sunward flight. The bread may seemingly be cast upon the waters, but foreboding from any unpleasant present appearance, is taken from the heart, for we are assured "we shall find it again after many days."
Christ has said in a philosophy which is strangely at variance with that of the world, "It is more blessed to give than to receive." But while this must be strictly true, as "the Lord hath spoken it," we feel that [10/11] the blessedness meant is something peculiar and distinct—that it never means, that the mere selfish heart could find an increase of selfish enjoyment in gratuity to others—but that what should be and is essentially of the nature of true happiness would be thus advanced. It is the same with the great principle of Gospel increase we are presenting, "it shall grow, we know not how." While we affirm its essential connection with the noble, enduring, and comforting tempers of the soul, we do not affirm that it will satisfy the desires of a mere worldly prudence, gratify the sagacity of self-management, or add to the complacency of a spirit whose dignity is sustained by the inward conviction, 'My strength and my wisdom have gotten me this success.' Such a spirit, instead of aiding, it conflicts with: such independence it does not flatter, such wisdom has to become even as folly rightly to appreciate it. But whenever the soul is in other respects rightly attuned; if it has entered with earnestness on the duties, and embraced with fidelity the promises of the Gospel Kingdom, then will it find in all that may popularly seem an impediment to its charity, only an increased incentive, and an enlarged confidence in the certainty of blessing and success, though the whole operation may be removed after a few steps from our knowledge and control. "And he said, So is the kingdom of God, as if a man should cast seed into the ground, and should sleep and rise night and day, and the seed should spring and grow up, he knoweth not how."
From the illustration then which our Lord offers, legitimate are the inferences:—
That we are called in wisdom and effort to cast the seed. Though the increase and growth may not be [11/12] ours, the Seed is—that, without which, in God's appointment, the other cannot come. The call upon us is according to our ability to give means for the missionary and benevolent efforts for extending the Church —relative to our means, every way, whether great or small, we must cast seed, on the great harvest field of the world.
Sowing thus your seed, in a spiritual faithfulness breathe upon it with prayer. Let it go as far as you can speed your offering, and oh how far this is, with a hearty impulse of prayer, and a devout anxiety that all resources within your control shall be pressed into the service of the kingdom of Christ. But as in a little while your immediate share passes out of sight, and your agency for the time ceases, fall back with comfort on the assurance that it grows, you know not how—that the power and love of God are conducting the whole, and in your place you can "stand and wait" for the development of the results until it please God to manifest them. Though not as palpable and visible, the result on human well-being and the glory of God, are as decided as the immediate acts of temporal beneficence which we may carry through our neighborhood. These last have claims upon us of deep appeal. They must not be left undone. But the kingdom of God—the progress of the Church—the extension of the knowledge of the Saviour for sinners, must ever be dear to our affections, and stand distinct and clear among our active charities—our works of faith. It may grow, we know not how, by hidden laws and agencies, but in the day when its fruit is the fulness of the Gentiles, and the restoration of the scattered tribes of Israel and Judah, and the Saviour comes with ten thousand of His saints, our [12/13] hearts and voices may be among those who can welcome the whole as the cherished accomplishment of our humble efforts and lofty hopes. "Lo, this is our God, we have waited for Him, and He will save us. This is the Lord, we have waited for Him, we will be glad, and rejoice in His salvation."
The best form of our Christian benevolence is that which is most practical in its planting, most trustful and widest in the scope of its faith. It is a fault in our charitable efforts, that we sow too much for annual returns. We want seedtime and harvest in the same season, and forget that even in the natural world there is a difference in the time of return, whether we sow a grain of summer wheat, or plant an acorn. Gospel charity has its own laws, and under them the planting must be scientific, even as in the chemistry of agriculture. The growth too must be natural, not artificial. Hence we owe to ourselves the disappointment in many of our schemes of benevolence. Principle, duty, love to God, faith, the humility of stewardship, the waiting for the recompense of reward,—these are sacrificed for the present arguments of excited feelings, exaggerated appeal, quick returns, and immediate results. The satisfaction is not heavenward, "laying up treasure," but the joy of harvest; and as they rejoice who "divide the spoil." Success, measured by our worldly standard,—figured in its arithmetic, and paid for in its coin,—is the main aim, and if this fail, to some marked degree, promptly to spring forth, we are, perhaps, made mistrustful of the whole cause of Christ and His Church. To select objects judiciously, and practical means for executing them; to employ suitable agencies for what we cannot do ourselves; to combine in these the sobriety, [13/14] sound judgment, tact, and diligence, that must concur in the good management of any practical issue—and then, be able to work and wait in faith and hope, satisfied with having judiciously planted, and prayerfully watered, leaving to God the gift of the increase,—these constitute the effective ingredients of our personal, and especially of our associate Charity. They are the aim, and I think, very happily, the present administration of the "BENEVOLENT ASSOCIATION OF THE CHURCH OF THE HOLY TRINITY," whose works you have heard reported, and for the Anniversary of which we are assembled.
Its objects are to sustain Missions, Foreign and Domestic; to maintain Missionary Sunday Schools, City Missionaries, and Churches; to carry on the benevolent operations generally of the Parish whose name it bears. Its detail is eminently practical, and the test of five years' experience has added confirmation to the wisdom of the plan by the large results of judicious labor. It embraces in its purpose all the congregation as contributors, and assigns to every subscriber (irrespective of amount of donation to the funds) a membership, and right to participate in its proceedings. There is no rich or poor, no stated sum, in reality of fatal inequality, but as it leaves the open door for admittance, asks all to come, and share the work and the privilege.
It deals with real wants, earnestly and sagaciously, but can estimate and sympathize with them, whether in the bounds of the city, in the western diocese, or in far-off China. In the scope of its objects, it is a digest of the charitable duty of the Church and the Christian. The poor, the ignorant, the little children, and the scattered without a shepherd, the heathen in his blindness, [14/15] and the struggling Church in the newer States, the body and the soul, are all recognized and cared for.
But with discrimination. Selected points in each, so that specific interest is elicited; and returns can come of success or trial, telling with the voice and heart of friend to friend. Each effort is thus a living representative of its class, a direct object, with personal sympathy, information warm and fruitful from the individuals chosen and loved before they went out to do the work of this applied charity.
Who can wonder that it succeeds and advances with its double blessing—that the efforts of love prosper, and the influence returns to bind in closer fellowship "the household of faith;" to make Pastor and people happier and holier; and open wider, heart and hand for the cause of God and souls? The plan of administration is instinct with true Gospel charity; ordered in detail by practical wisdom; comprehensive in its scope for objects and time; discriminating in the selections of enterprise; affording a treasury for the "mite" of the poorest Christian, and a repository for the permanent endowment of the wealthy; open to the observation of all interested; combining the laity energetically in its administration; and, by the Divine blessing, bringing hitherto, each year, a large present return of gratitude and success.
It seems to me a small effort to give money to the holy work of the Church, if reasonably assured that its application is wise, direct, and God-loving. The difficulty lies in our mistrust of this. It is a privilege which every conscientious soul will value at no mean estimate, to be able to lay an offering, which in itself might be valueless, or if bestowed, sink away like a [15/16] drop of water on the dusty thoroughfare—to lay that offering where it is a drop of the copious shower, swelling the brook, and making wider the river, and flowing on in rich strength under spiritual laws, to fulfil its appointed issues of fertility and gladness. Such is this "Benevolent Association" in its conception, and what is of greater consequence, for after all, the plan is of secondary moment, at present in its operation. Its works all prosper. Without expenditure for agencies, discount from its receipts—the gift of Christian duty goes forth expended by Christian economy, and results follow which must commend themselves to the conscience, and joy the heart of all who, in honest prayerful duty, vest their gift or their sympathy in its cause.
In this way it becomes cumulative in its course, and means are elicited—good is done far beyond the early expectation.
Last year your Report said, "If the members of the congregation who are not subscribers, would add their subscriptions to the savings from certain diminished expenses, we might soon have some faithful missionary in the Western field, deepening our interest in it by his letters, and gladdening our hearts with the hope that we too are doing something towards gathering its harvest." It has already been all fulfilled, as I have cause gratefully to acknowledge. The first response was that a member of the Association tendered one quarter in pledge for such a salary. Entirely irrespective of the purpose or the gift, in an incidental interview, I suggested work in the Diocese of Illinois to a candidate for orders, anticipating admission to the Diaconate with others of the graduating class at the General Seminary. At the same time, in the beautiful town of Aurora, [16/17] there stood a brick edifice, designed for a church, with walls built up to the top of the windows, and there, roofless, it had stopped. I had, long months before, tried to stimulate the dispirited few, who were Episcopalians, and offered such pecuniary aid as I could command, but without effect; and the vestry, to redeem in part what had been invested, and save it for some humbler future effort, determined to sell the whole to the only purchasers offering, and it would have become a Roman Catholic Chapel. The purchaser, before paying the money, was killed, I understand, in the railroad accident at the fatal bridge of Norwalk.
To this point, situate in the midst of a cluster of villages on the Fox River or adjacent, I pressed the attention of the young man. It gradually won his interest; was sanctioned by the approval of his spiritual pastor and friends; means were provided for a missionary stipend, and he was prepared to go forth your Western Missionary.
But this was small to the benevolence it drew forth. Six hundred dollars were raised, the Church is out of debt, tastefully finished and consecrated, the Sunday School full, furnished well with books and library, and now I am pressed to send an assistant laborer into the field, already too large, and rapid in extension, for one man to cover. The means for this assistant will be provided in large degree by the parishes themselves. Aurora, Geneva, Batavia, Naperville, St. Charles, all now seem to be aroused, and the promise is that in three of them at least there will be places of worship begun, if not completed, within this year. One has already made this provision by the [17/18] purchase of a neat but deserted church of the Norwegians. The detail of the labor and success of your zealous beneficiary is known to most of you. I allude to it now, not only as calling out the expression of my own gratitude for the generous assistance, but as illustrating how a single move in a right direction swells, expands, and ramifies into so many new spots of fertility and blessing. Your expressed hope, "that during the coming year, the funds of the Association will allow them to sustain a missionary at the West," has, in twelve months, created that missionary, raised and completed a hopeless church, established several Sunday Schools, carried the ministrations effectively to four adjacent places, been the secondary cause of the purchase of a church in St. Charles, and awakened a gratifying response of religious feeling and action. As one evidence of this, I may remark that I have twice visited Aurora since July, and should have done so the third time last month had not the severity of the snowstorms rendered it impracticable. A number then awaited, for the second time of its administration in little more than a quarter of a year, the rite of confirmation—large at that time, but a still growing gift for my spring visitation—the second offering of the earnest-hearted missionary.
And how, beloved, in view of all; your ordered Association; your sober, dutiful, and practical spirit in it; the comprehensive and discriminative field you occupy; the enduring monuments—no, that is not the word, monuments mark places of the dead, yours are places of the living—the enduring Homes you have formed for the life, the sustenance and happy shelter of souls—in view of these means and blessings, in view [18/19] of "wants to be relieved and good to be done," shall there be this year a member of the congregation who will not directly aid, give money, as God permits, give interest and God-speed, and the remembrance in the hour of prayer, so that "Onward" and "Higher" shall be the fulfilling watchword of your "Benevolent Association?"
"It springs and grows up, he knoweth not how."