Rev. Dick is pastor of the First Protestant Reformed Church of Lacombe, AB, Canada.
This article was originally the devotional presented at the September, 1995 meeting of Classis West. The author has expanded the devotional somewhat to correspond to this season of the year in which we celebrate, in a special way, Thanksgiving.
In I Corinthians 3:7 we read the conclusion of a farmer: “So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.”
The farmer is Paul. He likens his work to planting. His co-laborer, Apollos, does the watering. They both are spiritual farmers. Paul, in the midst of his “farming,” in the midst of his preaching and shepherding God’s flock, has come to this conclusion: he and other human spiritual farmers are nothing; God is everything. He plants, Apollos waters, and another farmer may fertilize and weed . . . but the farmers are all nothing. God alone gives the increase—all of it.
Such a conclusion must be ours. Farmers of the soil. Farmers of the soul. All must say: God alone gives the increase! In this way only does God receive all the thanks and praise and glory.
A fundamental distinction
When Paul declares that he and Apollos are nothing and that God giveth the increase he is saying that God is everything with regard to the life and health of the harvest of souls.
This is true in the “natural” realm, when farmers plant seed in the soil. God alone gives life to that seed. God alone causes it to germinate, to sprout, to develop, and to be healthy.
So in the spiritual fields, where preachers, elders, teachers, and parents all labor as “farmers” to nurture the Christian life in souls. God alone gives spiritual life. Naturally, we all are dead in sins. This is the judgment of God. And no amount of human labor can make the dead live. God must send His Son to make atonement, annul the condemnation of death, and earn the right to life for His elect. The Spirit of Christ must quicken the hearts of God’s own to make them live. And then only God is the One who can give the increase, the health, the vigor of that life. He works faith. He quickens the spiritual seed of life planted in our hearts in regeneration. He makes the seed and the life of faith stronger. He gives fruit and .health and vigor. He alone is the reason why individuals grow, families grow, churches grow in their spiritual life.
But all this means that man is nothing. Every man is nothing. No man gives life or increases life. The best of men cannot. The best tiller of the soil, the best counselor of the soul, the oldest, wisest, most experienced elder, the smartest, most eloquent and learned preacher, the most patient, loving parent—all are nothing.
Man is nothing when he farms the land. He cannot give life, nor the increase of life. He plans, he plants, he works, he worries—but nothing is of any avail without almighty help. Parents are nothing in raising their covenant seed. They love, they lead, they instruct, they encourage—but God must save the seed. So, too, when pastors and elders “farm” in the church, or on the mission field. We are nothing. We preach, we pray, we teach, we toil—but nothing is of any avail without almighty life-giving help.
That then is the fundamental distinction made in our text: God is everything, and man is nothing. Farmers of every sort must remember this. Those farmers who blur the distinction, who imagine that God is less than He is and man is) more than he is . . . are themselves a blight in the land; they are destructive farmers.
The appropriate response
If truth is really before believing minds there will be a believing response. Truth works good things in God’s elect. There will be sanctification. There will be a holy, living response by a people who know that the Lord, He is God, and not we ourselves. What is that response?
First of all, there will be pondering. In the special season of thanksgiving upon us, and, at all times, we ponder daily and anew what the Almighty can do . . . and what we can not do! What are farmers and plants? What are our sermons, what is our counsel, what are all our efforts without the God who gives the increase? How great is God, how great is His power, how marvelous the mystery especially of the life He gives from the; dead! And how great is the mystery of this: that for there to be such life, such spiritual life, God’s own Son, His eternal Son in the flesh, had to die.
All this is deep. Too deep for finite minds to go. We ponder in humble adoration and delight. Then we pray. Knowing God is everything and we are nothing, we pray. We do this exactly because we know we need, desperately, the blessing of God, if there is to be increase upon our efforts. In prayer we express our dependence on God. Through prayer God showers and shines the life-giving Spirit and grace upon the field of our labor, energizing the crop of His good pleasure.
Ponder. Pray. Then…we put our hand to the plow. Ora et Labora! We pray, then work! God is sovereign indeed! Man is nothing indeed! And yet God uses even men who are nothing! Sinful men, nothing men. A sinful church, a nothing church . . . God uses us, as tools in His hand, to bring the Word of life, to nurture and preserve the life.
Solemn responsibility we do have! Farmers of the soil must do their work, or they may not eat. God’s farmers must work—while it is yet day, before the frost comes, before the killing Antichrist comes. Work we must—at home, and in the field of the world, wherever the Lord sends us. And work we must—together. As co-laborers, helping and not hindering the work of one another. One will plant. Another will water. Let us not trip over one another in the process!
Work, plow, with the Word! This is our plow, our water, the nutrients, the sunshine . . . all that the people of God need! The Word, God’s Spirit and grace working through it, saves, builds up, encourages, defends, rebukes, comforts. That Word is the gospel of our salvation, God in Jesus Christ revealed, our Savior who dies on the cross, who is risen and ascended, who justifies, sanctifies, and glorifies His elect.
Plow—zealously, understanding that God’s usual way is to give the increase of the harvest through the faithful labors of His farmers.
Then praise. Praise Him for the revelation that the harvest is all in His hands. Praise Him for the privilege of being used of Him in such an honored occupation. Praise Him, and Him only! For though we are God’s farmers, still we are nothing. God is everything. Wholehearted thanksgiving to Him let us bring!
Our believing anticipation
Anticipate, then, a blessed increase! Earthly farmers do. When they have good weather, good soil, good machinery, and expertise, what else can they expect? So must we, and for this reason: we have a good God. And He has promised: the harvest is plentiful.
To be sure, the harvest God reaps through us is not plentiful as men count this. There is no scriptural ground for our anticipating the conversion of the majority of the world. We may not expect that sowing the true gospel is going to earn us mega-church status. Plentiful, indeed, is the promised increase. But let us be duly warned about the numbers game. Let us leave the numbers to the God of election.
However many God is pleased to add to the field in which we labor, let us farmers, and all the rest of us, look at it this way: that just one sinner is saved in our midst is a wonder. That one child is nurtured and built up in the faith is a blessed increase indeed. Life from the dead, even one such life, is great enough reason for thanksgiving!
Received such increase lately? Fellow farmers under God, may the increase God gives prompt us to ponder anew, to pray more fervently, to work all the harder, and to praise and thank our God more wholeheartedly.
Has the increase seemed rather “sparse” lately? Have there been disappointments, trials, heartaches, and very little response to and fruit upon your labors? Then remember this: there will be a time when all the work here below will be done, all the rocks cleared out of the field, the weeds killed, the diseases shall be no more, and all the hail—not even a memory of it! Then all our doubts and fears about the fields in which we labor shall be laid to rest. That will be the day of the final harvest, when God will come again to bring in the sheaves.
What a great day! Then the church shall be taken to glory and we who are nothing in ourselves but loved of God in Christ shall have the delight of praising perfectly and forever the God who is all in all. Our Lord of the harvest!