Spring-Time in Nature and Grace
“For as the rain; cometh clown, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater: so shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it. For ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace: the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Instead of the thorn shall come up the fir tree, and instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle tree: and it shall be to the LORD for a name, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.”-Isaiah Iv. 10-13.
This is a text for the spring-time. If you road it through tomorrow morning, before the smoke has clouded the heavens, whilst yet the earliest birds are calling up their mates to sing, you will understand its meaning hotter than I can make you comprehend it by any words of mine. The whole four verses seem to describe a scene in nature which is only to he witnessed about this time of the year; vet I am not going to look into the poetical meaning of the text so much as to use it as a description of personal experience. I think, nay. I am sure that there are many of us who have passed through our spiritual winter. We have also had our spring, we are even coming to our summer, and there are some whose ripe and mellow experience has the peacefulness of autumn about it. Our lives are, in miniature, like the years that so quickly follow one another; and every year does but repeat the changes in our lives. I want at this time to speak about spring-time in our spiritual experience; touching, however, upon a more advanced period, as it will be necessary to do; but my first word is to be concerning our spring-tide experience.
Brothers and sisters, by nature we lie in the cold and death of winter; everything is frost-bound, withered, dead. We are nothing, we yield nothing, we can do nothing. The Word of God comes to us as the beams of the sun pour down their warmth from the heavens, and by a mighty and mysterious influence that Word begins to work upon us, and we soon feel that we have entered upon quite another season of life. We are no longer in the cold winter, we have come to a blessed spring-time. That is the theme upon which I am going to speak now.
I. First, notice in the text the descent of the Word, THE DOWN COMING: “As the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven.”
Our spring begins with April showers alternating with rough winds; there is sure to be, at this period of the year, a rainy season, to prepare the earth for bringing forth fruit, to swell the buds on the trees, and to work with sunshine to produce the spring. So is it spiritually; the down-coming of the Word of God is to our hearts like the falling of the rain from heaven.
Concerning this down-coming, I may say, first, that it is usually unpleasant. We are accustomed to speak of rainy weather, and especially of snowy weather, as “bad” weather. We are the wisest people in the world in matters relating to the weather! Having, as some say, no “climate” — only “weather”— we talk a great deal about it, and inform each other what kind of weather it is when one carl see just as -well as the other what it is. Now, when we spiritually begin to live, it is usually rough weather, and we are apt to think it is bad weather. Drip, drip, drip, fall showers of repentance. Snowflake after snowflake falls, and buries all our hopes; our joys are covered, as with a winding-sheet. It is bad weather with us, and we are not slow to complain of it. Oh, dear friends, if we did but know how God is blessing us, if we could but realize that these experiences are working out our lasting good, we should thank God that his Word comes down upon us as the rain and the snow fall from heaven!
The work of grace in our hearts, however, is like a spring shower in another respect. It differs very much in its method, for rain and snow do not always come down in the same wav. Sometimes the rain falls very gently, we can hardly tell whether it is rain or not. Our Scotch friends would call it “a mist.” At another time, the rain, like Jehu the son of Nimshi, drives furiously. Big drops come pouring down, and before we can reach a shelter we are wet through. So is it with the snow; it fails at times as gently as the dropping of tiny feathers, but it may descend thick and fast, a blizzard blowing it into our faces, and almost blinding us. So, there are some to whom God’s Word comes very softly; it does come, but it comes without tempest or storm. There are others to whom it comes very terribly; the Word of the Lord is full of dread to them, it is a tempest, a whirlwind. The rain or the snow comes down to them, and there is no mistaking it; they are shivered through with its cold, they are wet to the skin with its moisture. Hence learn this, you who have been comparing yourselves with others, that, as the rain at one time differs from the rain at another time, and as the snow in one place varies from the snow in another place, and yet the rain is always ram, and the snow is always snow, so the entrance of divine grace into one heart differs from the way it enters into another, yet it is always the same grace.
In like manner, brethren, the coming down of the snow and of the rain differs also in time and in quantity. One shower is quickly over, and another lasts all day and all night. The snow may in one season fall heavily for a few hours only; at another time, a week of snow may be experienced. So, the work of divine grace, when it begins in the soul, is not very manifestly the same in different persons. Some of us wore for years subject to the operations of God’s Spirit, and endured much pain and sorrow before we found peace in believing. Others find Christ in a few minutes, and leap out of darkness into light by a single spring. I have known some whose convictions have boon so brief, and have been so completely swallowed up by their almost immediate faith, that it has been a trouble to them to know whether they ever were truly convinced of sin at all. On the other hand, I have known many who have been so long shut up in Giant Despair’s dungeons that they have thought that they wore the mon in the iron cage, that they were given over to destruction, and could never find salvation. Judge nothing, I pray you, after this fashion; but remember that God’s Word, as it conies down like the rain and the snow from heaven, yet has varied methods of reaching different hearts.
One thing more I may say about this down-coming of the Word of God, and that is, it is always a blessing, and never a curse. If the rain should pour down very heavily, and continue to fall until we might be led to think that the very heavens would weep themselves away, yet, brothers, it never can produce a flood that would drown the world, for yonder in the heavens is the bow of the covenant. These rains must mean blessing, they cannot mean destruction; and if the snow should fall never so deep, yet not oven by snow will God destroy the earth any more than by a flood. So, when God’s grace comes streaming into the heart, it may produce deep conviction, it may sweep away the refuges of lies, it may cover up and bury beneath its fall every carnal hope; but it cannot be a flood to destroy you. There shall yet come a change of weather for you, and your soul shall live. Let the grace of God but come, and let that grace come how it may, it is always a benediction to the man who receives it.
Thus have I described to you the first part of our spiritual springtime; when, at last, our long winter begins to yield beneath the sunlight of divine grace, the Word of the Lord comes down upon us like the snow and the rain that fall upon the earth.
II. The second thing to notice in our text is, THE ABIDING. We have had the down-coming; now follows the abiding of the rain or the snow that comes down from heaven: “it returneth not thither, but watereth the earth.” So is it spiritually; when God’s grace falls from heaven, it comes to stay.
My dear hearers, this morning I had to complain of some that they were like the rock upon which the rain falls, but which it never enters. It drops upon the granite, and runs down the side of it, and produces no result; but when God sends his grace from heaven, you may know it by this sign, that it soaks into your soul. Oh, how much of my preaching there is, and how much of other people’s preaching there is, that reaches the ear, and there is an end of it! Oh, for hearers who drink in the Word of the Lord! O rain from heaven, would God that thou didst always find us like ploughed fields ready to drink thee in! This is how grace works; it enters the soul, penetrates the heart, saturates the conscience, abides in the memory, affects the affections, gives understanding to the understanding, and imparts real life to the heart, which is the seat of life. I wish that we always heard the gospel in that fashion; but hearing is often mere child’s play. If it were true hearing, it would be the most serious work under heaven, and it would be done in a reverential manner as a true part of divine worship. Then we should find the Word of God soaking into men’s hearts as the snow and the rain from heaven enter the earth.
It appears from our text that this down-pour, instead of returning to heaven, does this also for the soul into which it soaks, it fertilizes it, it makes the soul bring forth and bud. Yes, but the metaphor of my text cannot set forth the whole truth, for this Word of God, which is the rain, is also the seed; this Word of God, which is the snow, is the living seed itself. What should we think of clouds that rained down the seeds? That would be a new thing beneath the heavens; yet it is the old thing after all. The Word of God is the living and incorruptible seed which liveth and abideth for ever; and whenever that seed is sown, God’s Word comes soaking into the soul, and making the soul to live, and causing the heart to yield its life up to the living seed. I cannot distinguish between the seed and the soil in my metaphor here, for it seems as if the very soil did breed the seed, and take it up into itself, and cause it to grow, causing it to bring forth and bud. O beloved, if the Word of God has been to you like an uncomfortable shower, may it afterwards prove its living power, making you feel a new life that you never felt before, a something within, struggling, striving, a something which of itself was not previously there, but which comes with the heavenly Word, and is indeed the sure evidence of the beginning of the new life within your soul!
And, again, the Word of God, when it comes into the soul, and abides there, works in the man whatsoever God pleases, all his divine purposes: “it shall accomplish that which I please, and prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.” It is a very wonderful thing to get the Word of God thoroughly into your soul, to get soaked and saturated with it. We have none of us any idea what that Word may yet do for us. Who among us knows the infinite reaches of the divine purpose? Who shall cast the lead, and fathom all the divine intentions concerning man? Verily, “it doth not yet appear what we shall be;” but when the Word of God is truly in us, it will work whatever the divine purpose is, and carry it out to the full without fail, for the Word of God is living and powerful to effect the designs and purposes of the Most High.
My beloved hearers, open your hearts to this Word; drink it in, do not stay its course, do not try to hinder its divine operations. Pray to be completely under its influence, for you do not know how holy, how strong, how happy, how heavenly, you may yet be. This, then, is how our spiritual spring-tide comes to us; first, showers under which we tremble and are troubled; but, afterwards, a divine abiding, which produces marvellous effects in our hearts and lives.
III. So, in the third place, I will briefly speak to you about THE RESULTS of the down-coming and the abiding. The rain has come, and the rain remains; now, what happens?
First, we are told, it makes the earth to bring forth and bud. I love the time of buds. There is nothing more beautiful than the rosebud; it is more charming by far than the full – blown rose; and the buds of all manner of flowers have a singular charm about them. But when the grace of God has come into a young man’s heart, we very soon see his buds, he has gracious purposes, he has holy resolves, he has the beginnings of prayer, he has the makings of a man of God about him. Childhood in grace is a sweet budding time, with many rare beauties and delights. Some of you, perhaps, are complaining of yourselves that you have not come to the perfection of flowering yet; do not murmur on that account, but be thankful if you have only a bud. A little prayer, a faint desire after holiness, a hungering and thirsting after righteousness, — these are buddings; be grateful for them. There are sumo birds that like to eat the buds of trees, and they do much mischief to the garden; and there are some old who, I think, are rather too fond of nipping buds, and so doing damage to young beginners. May God keep these destructive birds away from you who as yet are but feeble!
Beloved, if you are what the Lord would have you to be, you will not long be content with buds. If you serve the Lord, and the Lord continues to visit you with showers of blessing, you will soon bring forth seed for the sower. You yourself will become useful to others; your experience, your knowledge, your service, will become the seed of good for other people. The devil can never destroy the Church of God, or banish it altogether from the lace of the earth, because, if there were only one Christian left in the world, he would be seed for other Christians; and I cannot tell you how many might spring from him. If all of us should die, and there were only one of the dear children left who have lately joined this church, vet the Church of God would spring up and flourish again from that one child. That grace which first comes to you, and lulls you with conviction of sin, afterwards comes to you to make you to be the seed-corn for others.
Grace also makes us produce bread for the eater. I was thinking to-day that, next Tuesday (May 3rd, 1 887), it will be just thirty-seven years since I was baptized into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Tip to that day, I had never opened my mouth for Christ; I had not oven engaged in prayer at a prayer-meeting, for I was very diffident, and I was afraid to speak of spiritual things. I was not very old, so perhaps my timidity might be excused; but, thirty-seven years ago, when I gave myself to Christ, I could not even have imagined that I should stand hero to-night, to preach the Word to these thousands of people. The “bud” of that day has been “seed to the sower”; and, blessed be God, it is still “bread to the eater.” Oh, young man, you do not know what God can make of you! Young women, if you consecrate yourselves to Christ, and come under the saturating influence of the divine Word, you do not know how many your lips may feed, nor how many your word may even convert to Christ. You, too, shall furnish seed to the sower, and broad to the cater. You may, perhaps, at first pass through a painful experience, in which you will be made to see your own worthlessness; but you will, in due time, come out into a joyful experience, in which God shall bless you, and increase your usefulness, and make you to be a blessing to those who are round about you.
There is one other thing that must be noticed under this head. The result of divine grace upon the heart is very singular, so that I can hardly bring it under the metaphor of rain and snow, for it works a transformation. When rain falls on a plot of ground, if it is covered with weeds, it makes the weeds grow; but in the spiritual realm, the rain that comes down from heaven itself sows the ground with good seed. What is more singular, where it falls, it transforms the ground, and the plants that come under its influence change their nature: “Instead of the thorn shall come up the fir tree.” If you were in Australia, you might see leagues of land covered with huge thistles and thorns. Down comes this shower of grace upon man’s nature, thus covered with thorns; and, instead of thorns, come up fir trees, useful, delightful objects in the landscape; not gnarled and twisted thorns, but fair and comely fir trees. “And instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle tree.” When the grace of God begins to work, a change is made in those who are like briers, and they become like myrtles. Out at Mentone, there are large tracts of land covered with myrtles, rosemary, and other odoriferous plants. Often have I thrown myself down upon them as upon a spring bed; for they grow close together, and, as you rest upon them, a delightful perfume is round about you everywhere. Now, when the grace of God comes into the soul, it takes the obnoxious things in us, and transmutes them into blessings. Here is a man who is naturally of an obstinate disposition. You know him. When the grace of God comes into his heart, he becomes firm in his attachment to the truth. A fine character can be made out of an obstinate man, he is the one of whom you can make a martyr if need be; he would be willing to burn for Christ’s sake, you would never find him flinching. Here is another person who is full of levity and trifling. The grace of God comes, and transforms that lightness into cheerfulness and amiability; he is the light of the house, you are glad to know such a person. “Instead of the thorn shall come up the fir tree, and instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle tree.” This is wonderful grace, is it not? I hope that some of us are now undergoing its transforming power in our hearts. This spring-time of grace is charming, far beyond that of nature, for nature in her developments continues still to bring forth the primaeval thorn and thistle which our father Adam, by his disobedience, brought to us; but the grace of God changes these evil things, and makes the soul to bring forth that which is good, pleasing, sweet, and profitable, both to God and man.
IV. Now I have come to my last point. We have considered the down-coming, the abiding, and the result of the rain; now let us notice THE REJOICING.
This is a time of joy; the music of the year is full in spring-time. Birds get silent towards the end of autumn. That is the Sabbath of the year; God’s bounty, then, has become so manifold that nature seems is to feel that she cannot express her gratitude, and even the birds as a rule are silent then; but now they are bursting into song as trees are bursting into leaves, and plants are bursting into flowers. I want that to be your experience in this spring-time. I saw, the other day, outside a certain place of worship (!), the notice of “a free and easy.” I wonder what kind of worship that is. However, though I do not know and cannot imagine, yet I should like you who are the Lord’s to feel wonderfully “free and easy” in the highest sense. Now that the winter is past, the rain is over and gone, the flowers appear on the earth, and the time of the singing of birds is come, let every child of God enjoy himself, for our text says, “Ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace: the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.” Why should we be so happy? Why should everything about us be so happy? Let us run the parallel between spring-time in nature and in grace.
In spring-time, one cause of happiness is new life. Things have boon dead, but they are springing into life now. The blood runs more quickly within our veins, our whole being seems now warm with the now life that courses through our nature. It is so spiritually. We have come into a new life, the Holy Ghost has breathed upon us, and we live; and, blessed be God, that life never gets old! After knowing the Lord these thirty-seven years, as I have told you, I feel his love to be as sure as ever, and the power of his grace as powerful as ever. There is a constant novelty about the life of faith; the mercies of God are now every morning, and fresh every evening. W ell, then, since you have a life of which you knew nothing before, since you can see all around you the tokens of a life which you never perceived before, be glad. Sing, to-night, ye songsters of the Lord! break out into sweetest music because of the new life within you, that new life which can never die, but which shall in due season be enlarged and perfected into life for ever before the throne of God above.
Another source of joy in spring-time is to be found in our happy surroundings. It is beginning to be warm; we hope soon to be able to sit out of doors in the sunshine. We trust that the dull and heavy clouds will not return, and that the winds which pierced us to our very marrow will now be withheld from us. So we feel happy in the advent of spring; and is it not so with us spiritually? We are no longer in bondage, and no longer in fear. “Being justified by faith, we have peace with God.” Reconciled through the blood of Jesus Christ our Lord, we joy in God. Let us be happy together; and, coming to this table, whereon are spread the memorials of our Lord’s great love to us, let us not come with dull and heavy hearts, as though we were assembled at a funeral, but let us meet in joyful anticipation of the day when we shall sit down at the marriage supper of the Lamb in glory. New life and happy surroundings should make us clap our hands, and rejoice before the Lord.
Spring-time, I think, is peculiarly pleasant because of its large promise. We are thinking of the hay harvest and of the fruit of the field. We are reckoning upon luscious grapes, and upon the various fruits which faith sees to be hidden within the blossoms. Ay! but, may not our hopes be disappointed if we reckon upon earthly fruits? But you and I have come, by grace, into a land of hope most sure and steadfast. We have hopes grounded on God’s Word, and they shall never be disappointed. Let us be happy, then; since we shall certainly one day be in heaven, let us begin the music of heaven down here. Since our Lord is on his way back to us, and may arrive before this assembly breaks up, let us anticipate the joy of his glorious appearing. May God the Holy Spirit help us to think of all these choice mercies, that we may be glad in the Lord!
In spring-time, once more, there always seems to me to be a peculiar sense of divine power and divine presence throughout all nature. It is as if nature had swooned awhile, and lay in her cold fit through the winter; but now she has been awakened, her Lord has looked her in the face, and charmed her back to life again. I trust that you and I feel this peculiar presence of God in the highest sense. Some say that there is no God. All, me! Ah, me! Blind men say that there is no sun, perhaps; but they must be very blind if they think so. We know that there is a God; not only by the argument from design, which is a very strong one; but by better evidence than that. We have had dealings with God, personal dealings with him, as when the sun, though it he ninety-five millions of miles away, has commerce with the earth, and the bulbs that sleep beneath the black mould begin to swell and upheave, and by-and-by the yellow cup is held up to be filled with the light of the sun. There must be a sun, we know, because of all its warmth and genial glow, and the lifeforce with which it charms the earth into the revival of spring; and, though we have not seen God at any time, neither can conceive of him in all his glory, for he is essentially inconceivable, yet have we felt his power charming into life our hope, our faith, our love. Sometimes, as the sun may be for a while hidden from us, a cloud obscures our God. Ah, me! what darkness then returns to us, how do all the young shoots seem to droop in the blackness! But when that cloud is gone, and the light comes streaming out again, O Lord, how we rejoice, how strong, how bright, how happy we are! If we have not wings, yet do we learn to fly without wings; we soon mount aloft when God himself draws us towards himself.
If you do not know God, my dear hearer, conclude that there is a life which you have not yet discovered. As Columbus found a new world when his prows steered across the Atlantic, so may you yet discover a new world, which you have not seen as yet. May God himself steer your ship, and bring you there! But do not tell us that there is no God, and no such new world. You cannot prove a negative; but we can prove a positive, namely, that we have entered into a new life, we have been into the new world. Suppose that I were to try to teach a horse astronomy. I could not make him understand me; but if I possessed the power to put an immortal soul into that horse, how easily would his eye look through the telescope, and how speedily would he begin to rejoice in sun and moon and stars! You, my dear hearer, who are without God, are nothing but a soul-ish man at present, almost a brute man in some respects. There is a higher spirit that you need; oh, that you had it! God the Holy Spirit can breathe it into you. That is what we moan by regeneration. When he imparts a now and higher nature, and when you have received that nature, then you will be able to say, “There is a God, for I perceive him. I also have entered a new world. Things are the same as they used to be, and yet they are wonderfully different. I see nothing as I used to see it. Before, I saw it as a brutish man, but now I see it as a man twice-born, who has become so exalted as to be near akin to God himself.” Then, dear friends, when you reach that state, “Ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace: the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.” God give you saving faith, and this new life of which I have been speaking, through Jesus Christ his Son! Amen.