by A.E. Knoch

SOWING AND REAPING, planting and harvesting, are procedures well-known to most of mankind, so they are a fruitful source of figures to describe the course of spiritual affairs. Most of us use them to illustrate only one point: whatsoever anyone sows, that shall he reap (Gal.6:7). It is a fact that every plant produces that which springs from its seed and nothing else. Not from thorns are grapes culled, nor from star-thistles, figs (Matt.7:16). And you cannot harvest wheat if you plant barley. But there are divine operations which do not accord with natural processes. In resurrection, for instance, it is sown in corruption, in dishonor, infirmity, a soulish body, but it is roused in incorruption, in glory, in power, a spiritual body, God is not limited by the laws of nature.

God has ordained that this natural law should be reversed in His service. Paul, who sowed spiritual seed in his hearers, had a right to expect a harvest of fleshly or material things (1 Cor.9:11). All who sow the spirit have this right, even if they do not use it, and notwithstanding it is contrary to the laws of nature. Those who are announcing the evangel sow no seed for the sustenance of their flesh, nevertheless they may live of the evangel. Paul did not take advantage of this so that he might make the evangel without expense. He was constrained, no doubt, by the grace which pervades the evangel, and imitated God in making it utterly free and undeserved. It may seem strange at first sight, but here we have a harvest entirely different than the seed, and much inferior to it in quality and value.

"Sowing and reaping" is popularly used in the so-called "gospel" in order to frighten sinners into repentance. But to me it seems not only unscriptural but unfortunate. Men are turned inward to themselves, where there is no good news to be found. It is generally insisted that those who do evil will have a bad harvest. But we are surrounded on all sides with men who sow corruption and reap incorruptible gold. This law is by no means enforced at all times in this life in a general sense. The wicked prosper and the saints suffer. The evangel is not concerned with the works of men, but with the attitude of God. It heralds His conciliation, it proclaims that God is not reckoning their offenses to men (2 Cor.5:19). But it gives no guarantee that they will not reap what they have already sown in this life.

It is the saints that the apostle warned that "whatsoever a man may be sowing, that shall he be reaping also" (Gal.6:7). The Galatians were going back to circumcision and the law and the flesh, when they should have been taken up with the spirit. The long and sorrowful history of the chosen nation should have taught them what the law and the flesh can accomplish. The law only condemns. The flesh only corrupts. He gives two lists, one the works of the flesh, the other those of the spirit. The former is a catalogue of crimes; the latter a list of virtues (Gal.5:19-26). This is the context of the popular passage on sowing and reaping. Those who use it in the evangel imply that it is abrogated for such as believe the gospel. On the contrary, this experience only begins after one becomes reconciled to God.

The figure is expanded as follows: he who is sowing for his own flesh, from the flesh shall be reaping corruption, yet he who is sowing for the spirit, from the spirit shall be reaping life eonian (Gal.6:8). Nothing is said of the seed sown. Our attention is concentrated on the soil in which it is planted. The question is, shall we plant our seed in flesh or spirit. It is the quality of the soil on which all depends. We might reason that the harvest of corruption from the flesh must come from corrupt deeds. But that is not the point. The important fact is that the flesh is mortal, corrupting, and can not produce a plant or a harvest. It has no vital elements on which the seed can grow, so it rots in the ground. On the contrary, the spirit is vital with life and energy, and this it imparts to the seed, which, by continual reproduction, lives for the eons.

It is sad to see so much good seed sown into the flesh today. The churches themselves cater more to the flesh than the spirit. With their magnificent buildings and colored windows, their great organs and professional singing, their institutional plant and work, modern churches are sowing their billions of money into the flesh. Their buildings will burn or decay, their singers will die and their catering and calisthenics will perish. And even the seed sown into the spirits of their congregations, how little of it is vitalized by God's spirit! How little remains for life eonian! Alas! this is true, in some degree, of all His saints. The measure depends upon their estimate of the flesh. The end of all this is corruption. But those who sow into the spirit, they shall reap, not much in this life, perhaps, but an abundant harvest in the life to come.

I have had some experience along this line. I planted a hillside with the best of seed, but the soil was of such a nature that hardly anything came up. The seed rotted rather than sprouted. Other seed I sowed on soil washed down from a nearby canyon, which made a vigorous growth in a few weeks. All soils are not the same. Not many are rich in all the minerals and vital elements needed by the human body, hence they cannot impart these to the plants and fruits and seeds on which we depend for sustenance and life. When these are further processed and prepared and packaged for the public, many more of the vital elements are destroyed. Hence, even if we overeat, we may not be properly nourished. This is one of the curses of our way of life. No one would plant a crop in soil like the law, in which the seeds would rot in the ground. Yet, in religious spheres, the flesh and the law are the favorite fields for cultivation, even though they yield nothing but corruption.

We should remember that sowing and reaping are not the ideal for life on the earth. The animals do not need to perform this labor. Adam, in Eden, did not sow or reap, so far as we are told. I have, no doubt that, when the eons are past, this will no longer be necessary. In the spiritual sphere we should be beyond it already. Even our Lord's disciples were encouraged to look to their heavenly Father, and not to worry about such things. This, of course, looked forward to the kingdom, when the weather will be regulated for their benefit. Today governments have an elaborate system which seeks to foretell climatic conditions, but can do nothing about it. They, however, will have a government which can control the weather, which is so important a part in producing a crop. Today there is no help of this kind. The saint has no guarantee that he will get any crop at all, though it be from the best of soil, but he has the higher assurance that even such an evil is cooperating for his welfare.

Other aspects of sowing and reaping are also used as contrasts with the spiritual sphere. Usually the one who sows, reaps also. But our Lord pointed out that His disciples were to reap the toil of others. The prophets sowed and did not reap. John the Baptist saw little fruit from his ministry. Our Lord sowed, but looked to the conclusion of the eon for the harvest (Matt.13:39). Yet there was a harvest already ripe, and our Lord commissioned His disciples to reap it (John 4:37,38). In keeping with the two accounts, Matthew's harvest will be national, that in John's account was individual.

How thankful we should be that God is not bound by natural laws! Otherwise, what would our harvest be? Have we not sown mostly in the flesh? What measure of life can come from a dying, decaying, degenerating organism? All we can logically expect is corruption and death. What a mercy it would be if we were rejuvenated with the life and health that some men enjoy in their prime! It would be far beyond our deserts to be restored to the adamic condition in Eden. But, being under grace, not under law, the only measure of the height of our exaltation is the depth of our degradation. In resurrection we reap incorruption from corruption, glory from dishonor, power from infirmity, a spiritual from a soulish body. That is the best crop that was ever raised! Spirit can vivify the worst of soils!

In bringing the evangel, let us point the sinner away from himself and his deeds to God and what He has done in Christ. There is no good news to be told about man in the flesh. It is all bad. There is no power in such a message. But an exultant presentation of God's love as displayed in the gift of His beloved Son, and His sacrifice for sin on Golgotha, so that He is now on friendly terms with every man, no matter what kind of a crop he has sown, or what evil he may be reaping on account of it, that message has power and will be used by God for His own glory and the blessing of men.

One of the main defects in the evangelical preaching of today is the contradictory presentation of an angry God vs. a loving Saviour. Evangelists have nothing clear to say about God's attitude toward men while still in unbelief. It is as if God will not make the first move, but expects the sinner to do this. He holds over him the rod of His wrath in order to frighten him into faith. It is a miracle that anyone responds. Unless God changes His attitude as a result of the sinner's "repentance," He would still be on the point of casting him into hell fire.

The idea that God changes His attitude toward the sinner when he believes has led to many unscriptural and harmful practices. Earnest prayer is made to God to change, instead of beseeching the sinner to be conciliated, this places the Deity into an entirely false position, and is a hindrance to the evangel rather than a help. It entirely denies the very essence of the good news, which is that God has been conciliated by the death of His Son. His attitude does not need to be altered by the petition of the sinner or his friends.

The "gospel" is not concerned with reaping what we have sown. It is the power of God, so that we reap what we have not sown. It is only in the walk of the saints that the figure has any application today, and the question is principally one of the soil, whether we sow in the flesh or spirit, the flesh in the believer is no better than in the unbeliever. It cannot impart life to anything. All it can do is contaminate and corrupt and discourage those whose spirit is wanting to do well. But we should not be despondent in ideal doing, for in due season we shall be reaping, if we do not faint (Gal.6:9). Let us look forward to that day when those who have sown with weeping will reap with jubilation (Psa.126:5).

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