It is truly with good purpose that Scripture so often speaks of the preaching of the gospel under the figure of farming. Increasingly, in mission work, we see the appropriateness of this figure and learn the lessons it teaches.
Probably the best known use of this figure is in the parable of the sower sowing the seed on the different kinds of soil (Matthew 13:1-9,18-23). In this parable we learn of the various responses which the preaching of the good news receives. These responses are determined by the soil upon which the seed of the Word falls.
Paul uses this same figure in I Corinthians 3:6-7. “I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.”
Another (not so well known) parable which uses this figure is found in Mark 4:26-29.
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. For the earth bringeth forth fruit of herself; first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear. But when the fruit is brought forth, immediately he putteth in the sickle, because the harvest is come.
I believe it fitting to quote the brief expositional remarks John Calvin makes on this passage in his commentary.
Although this parable points in the same direction as the two previous ones (the lowly beginnings of the Gospel—R.V.O.), yet Christ seems particularly to refer to ministers of the Word, lest they should execute their office with less enthusiasm when no fruit of their labours appears immediately. Therefore He tells them to be like farmers who sow seed in the hope of harvesting it and are not worried and anxious but go to bed and get up—in other words they get on with their daily work and are refreshed by a good night’s sleep—until at last in its own time the corn is ripe. Therefore, although the seed of the Word lies choked for a while, Christ bids all godly teachers to be of good cheer and not to let distrust diminish their zeal.
We learn from the hand of the Lord in experience as well as from His holy Word the necessity of patience. Someone has said that the first fruit any garden or field produces is patience in the one who planted and waits for the harvest. How true that is in the mission field. All good things come slowly.
The field on which I report in this article is centered in Birmingham, Alabama. For approximately a year and a half we have set ourselves to the task of scattering the precious and pure seed of the Word of God. This we have done under the watchful care and helpful supervision of South Holland Protestant Reformed Church and of the Mission Committee of the Protestant Reformed Churches.
The sowing of this seed of the Gospel is in the preaching of the Word. Therefore we gather every Lord’s Day for worship services. These are at 10 A.M. and 6 P.M. We meet in an upper room of a local labor union hall. An ad in the religious section of the local newspapers gives public notification of our worship services and welcomes others to worship with us.
The Scripture reading and the sermon from the services are recorded. This is for duplication and distribution on cassette tapes, which is an excellent means of extending our witness. Each family of our group is given a tape for their own use or for distribution to others. As is well known, this is a very good way to develop interest in our preaching, when people can listen to the tapes in the privacy of their homes.
Our radio program is another reason a portion of our worship service is recorded. We have rented an hour time slot on a local 100,000 watt religious FM radio station. There is not a lot of obvious fruit to radio broadcasting. However, in several curious ways we have learned that there are those who listen to our radio broadcast. We do feel that we are able to reach quite an audience through this means. Thus the goal of giving a witness is certainly attained. We pray that He Who sovereignly controls all things will direct others to turn their radio dials to hear us and that He will open their hearts to hear and believe and join us in worship.
To date the field has produced a harvest of four families who have expressed themselves as committed to our cause. Interestingly, these four families are all young. Of the seven children, there is only one over the age of five. We find this an encouraging sign for future labors. We can see several sprouts coming forth from the field.
Within this group the Seed of the Word is also sown. We meet in our homes for our midweek meetings in which we have gone through the Sermon on the Mount and are now taking a 22- week examination of the Book of Revelation. The choice of this book for Bible study was that of the group. They felt strongly the need for the light of Scripture taken as a whole on the subject of the “things which must shortly come to pass.” In the Bible belt there is much talk about the last times, but very little is done with a careful study of the Scriptures. Rather than letting the Scriptures interpret themselves, people allow historical and current events to do the interpreting. Therefore we are finding this study enlightening and enjoyable.
Currently we are advertising Christian Literature distributed by the Protestant Reformed Churches. The last ad elicited five telephone calls requesting some or all of the six pamphlets and two booklets which were listed in the ad. We anticipate also some written requests. This is another excellent way to spread the pure truth. Again, it is very difficult to anticipate the fruit which might be produced. We can only exercise ourselves in patience.
In the last few months we have had contact with a local Christian High School. We have conducted chapel on four occasions. Also we have taught two Bible classes on two occasions. This contact too can only be considered as a very good way to scatter the seed of the Gospel. And again, once we scatter the seed, then all we do is water and wait. But this waiting is upon Jehovah Who alone gives the increase.
There is something to be said about this field of mission labor, in my opinion. It has to do with the location of this field, rather than the labor. We are referring to the fact that Birmingham is located in the southeastern part of the United States. There are a lot of churches in that portion of our country which is sometimes referred to with the designation “Bible-belt.” But in this area there is a dearth of that which is called Reformed. Historically the Presbyterians were Reformed; but we are grieved to say that is, for the most part, no longer true. They either ignore their historical creeds or have changed them so as to remove their Reformed character. The remaining portion of the Bible-belt is so stretched and even broken that it is badly in need of suspenders to help it maintain its former name. The name ”Reformed” is unknown for the most part. So we, from our human viewpoint, see Birmingham, which is centrally located in the southeast, as possibly an excellent center from which we can extend our witness. With that too in mind, we are zealous for the cause of God and pray for His blessing in the way of an increase and fruit. We ask for your prayers as well.