Mr. Minderhoud is a teacher in Covenant Christian High School and a member of Hope Protestant Reformed Church, Walker, Michigan.
Thy spirit, O Lord, makes life to abound; The earth is renewed, and fruitful the ground;
To God ascribe glory and wisdom and might, Let God in His creatures forever delight.
(Psalter 287, v. 1—Versification of
Warmer days are slowly approaching and with it comes all the joyous expectancy of life renewed, refreshed, and restored. We see new life all around us—not in all its full mid-summer glory— but we see it and anticipate it as the warm, earthy smells greet us once again after the cool crispness of winter. The life of spring has begun and it will continue to grow and flourish and blossom in the months to follow. We see it in buds bursting, water flowing, eaves dripping, greens peeking, animals chattering, farmers sowing, and seeds sprouting. Slowly the earth awakens, as it hears the voice of the Creator calling it again to spring forth and bud and green and be quickened.
We do well to remember that this is the hand of the Sovereign Creator, our Almighty Father, who each spring reminds us of the awesome work that He is doing in and through us—a work that He alone begat in us, and a work that He will bring to its full completion. Though we were dead in our sins, He gives to us that principle, that seed, of new life, so that we are born again in Him. Out of that seed of new life, He makes us to grow spiritually, that we in this life bring forth good spiritual fruit and grow deeper in friendship and fellowship with Him.
So, it is good for us in the midst of our busy lives to pause in the springtime and consider the restoration of life all around us, particularly as it is seen in the sowing of a seed and its subsequent growth and development. Out of something seemingly lifeless comes an abundance of life. Much of the busy work of spring is that of sowing the seed. And what an abundance is ours when through the careful nurturing of that seed, through the means that God provides, those seeds grow and develop and give to us of their bounty both in beauty and in provision. And, when viewed in the light of Scripture, it affords to us a marvelous picture of God’s work in and through us.
The Earthly Picture
Seeds, from a biological perspective, develop as a result of pollination and fertilization. Pollination is the transferring of genetic information from the male sections of the flower to the female sections, whether in the same plant or from one plant to another. We are amazed by the unique means God uses to accomplish this. Wind, tiny insects, and even humans are the tools He uses to transfer pollen from one flower to another. When the flower is pollinated, the male and female cells join, and consequently divide, creating an organized mass of cells, consisting of an embryo, endosperm, and seed coat—the three basic parts generally found in most seeds. When the developing seed matures, it ceases from further growth and development and remains dormant until specific environmental conditions arise that will promote further development, resulting in full plant growth. The environmental conditions necessary to begin germination typically include a specific level of moisture, warmth, oxygen, and light. When sufficient levels of these factors are present, the seed will germinate and begin the process of developing into a full-grown, fruit-producing plant.
Central to each seed is the “embryo”—the actual seed of new life. This embryo contains all the genetic information to make the complete plant. In God’s infinite wisdom, the embryo has everything that the plant will need. In a tiny embryo is contained the complete “life” of the plant, but only in an immature form. Around the embryo grows two parts—the endosperm and the seed coat. The endosperm is the initial “food supply” for the embryo when it begins to develop. During the months in which a plant is making its seeds, some of the carbohydrates formed in the process of photosynthesis will be transferred to the seeds to be stored as the endosperm. Surrounding the embryo and endosperm is a protective coating called the seed coat. These coats vary in thickness and durability depending on the plant. The purpose of the seed coat is to protect the embryo and to inhibit early germination. Moisture and other vital nutrients cannot penetrate a thick seed coat, and thus germination cannot begin.
In the providence of God, there are a number of ways in which this seed coat can be broken at the proper time so that the necessary environmental factors can penetrate to the “embryo” and begin the germinating process. For example, some seeds are cracked by the freeze-thaw cycle of winter in which the seed coat shrinks under cold conditions but expands when warmed. As the weather oscillates between freezing and thawing, the seed coat may several times shrink and expand—causing cracks to develop in the seed coat. Some seed coats are cracked or scratched by the nibbling of animals. And in some cases, such as the strawberry seed, the seed coat is weakened when it passes through the digestive system of an animal. Thus, God provides many ways in which the seed coats are sufficiently weakened so that moisture, heat, oxygen, and light may penetrate to the “embryo” and begin the germination process.
Of course, the seed and its potential growth are nothing without soil. Soil provides the seed with the nutrients necessary to continue the growing and developing process. Everyone understands that a seed may begin germination on the kitchen counter, in a cup of water; but, without soil, that developing seed will not turn into the desired plant. In modern greenhouses certain plants do grow without physical soil, but the plants are bathed in solutions that are rich in nutrients. In one way or another, however, the plant must have a nutritional diet in order to grow. And that diet is found, for all practical purposes, in soil. So it is with all plants—a good nutritional basis is key for the germinating plant to grow and mature.
Soil contains nutrients vital to growth. As we learned earlier in this rubric, nitrogen is a key nutrient that God places in the soil through amazing processes. But other nutrients, such as potassium, phosphorus, and magnesium, are also necessary elements found in the soil. Potassium is an important element in the plant because it is used in the process of osmosis—which maintains proper water levels within the cells of the plant. Phosphorus helps in the making of various enzymes that the plant will need, and magnesium is the main element in the chlorophyll molecule (the molecule that takes the sunlight energy and uses it to form glucose molecules, which in turn are used by the plant and other organisms as their fuel for cellular processes). Besides these main elements, there are many other important nutrients in the soil that are important for the plant’s growth and development.
The Spiritual Reality
Seeds, and their organic growth and development, are used often throughout the Scriptures, to illustrate and to help us better understand certain revealed truths of our God. For example, Scripture teaches us to be careful and diligent because we reap what we sow (Hos. 8:7; Gal. 6:7-9). The seed is also used to describe the growth and development of the church in the kingdom of God from a simple seed to a full-grown plant (Luke 13:19). In stark contrast to this, the works of sin are also pictured as beginning in seed form and developing over time into massive, destructive plants (James 1:15). God teaches us about our victory over death, with the hope of a new heavenly life, by the picture of a seed dying in the ground and sprouting forth as a new beautiful plant (I Cor. 15:35-38). God uses the plant world for numerous spiritual pictures, which we have not the time to discuss.¹ But we will take a few moments to consider the seed as a picture of the spiritual seed of regeneration as that first work of God in our hearts apart from any means, and then also as a picture of the mediate work of our God in conversion and in our daily walk of sanctification as seen in the growth and development of the earthly seed.
In an earthly seed, the embryo is alive. Even though it does not grow, apart from the aid of soil or environmental conditions, it is alive. The living, physical seed that is planted in the earth is used as a picture for us of God’s planting in us the incorruptible seed of spiritual life (I Pet. 1:23). We, who were dead in sins, have been given a new life in Christ—regeneration. Regeneration “is the act of God, whereby He implants the seed of the new life into the heart of the sinner … not in the consciousness of the sinner as such, but in the very depth of his heart.”² All of the blessings and glory of that new life are present at that time of regeneration, howbeit only in seed form (I John 3:9). Just as the seed embryo is truly alive and, in principle, is the plant because it contains all of the life that that plant will have, so too, the regenerated child of God has everything of the new life of Christ in him, but only in seed form.
This amazing and humbling truth is solely the sovereign and particular work of God. We are born of God—from death into life. “Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:13).Ezekiel 11:19 and 36:26 teaches that God takes away our stony hearts and gives to us a new heart of flesh. “Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever” (I Pet. 1:23). This, apart from any means (preaching, etc.), is our new life. God speaks, efficaciously and powerfully, and we live, apart from our conscious knowledge (Ezek. 16:6). But then, with eyes to see and ears to hear, we come to this knowledge by the Word, which by the gospel is preached unto us (Rom. 10:17).
Soon the earthly seed in the ground will germinate and, under the influences of the warmth of the sun and nutrients of the soil, grow and develop into a beautiful fruit-bearing plant. This earthly growth is a picture of our spiritual growth—our daily conversion and sanctification. Once the new life of Christ is placed in us, we grow spiritually, like a tree by the riverside. But God uses means for this growth. A plant embryo is alive, but it must be subjected to moisture, warmth, and oxygen in order for it to begin its growth and development. So, too, the child of God is spiritually alive because of the seed of regeneration placed within him. By the will of God, this new life will grow and develop and bear fruit, that the blessedness of our God may be seen. What farmer, desiring fruit, places a seed in the ground and then does not care for it? How much less our God and Father! He implants the seed of the new life and then, through means, causes us to grow spiritually and bring forth good fruit.
God accomplishes this growth through a variety of means. He uses the preaching of the gospel centrally to cause this spiritual growth. Thanks be to God for faithful preaching! Thanks be to God for faithful ministers! May God be gracious to us and continue to provide us with faithful laborers! But God uses other means that find their basis and strength in the preaching. Thanks be to God for Christian discipline, for faithful parental instruction in the home, for families that sing the songs of Zion, for Bible studies, for personal devotions, for godly, distinctively Reformed, Christian day schools, for Christian homes that are a haven in the midst of the spiritually-killing influences of the world. The spiritually rich environment in which we live is that rich soil of the seed. Our spiritual growth depends upon these means that God provides, and that through the gift of faith we receive. We ought not to neglect these good means! For if we do, we can be assured that we will shrivel and wither spiritually, just as a plant void of good nutritious soil will wither and die. May God give us the grace to see and use the means He gives—faithfully attending the worship services, studying His Word in both family and personal devotions, and ridding ourselves of the poisonous influences of the world that try to choke and overrun our spiritual lives. And by that same grace may we obey the command to “put off the old man with his deeds; and [put] on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him” (Col. 3:9-10).
God’s Bountiful Provision
God, in His infinite wisdom, provides us with all we need for body and soul. For truly we marvel when we consider all the things that must occur between development of the seed and its subsequent growth into a new plant. It is our Father in heaven who directs those many and varied processes that we, and all creatures, might be fed and nourished physically. What a mighty and loving Father is ours! May we give that serious consideration each day, especially in the spring as we watch the farmer sowing the seed.
But consider how much more we ought to marvel at how our Father provides us with what we need spiritually! He does so graciously provide—and in abundance! We ought never to doubt that, but be encouraged, by the resurgence of life we see all around us, that God graciously supplies our every spiritual need. As we examine the work of God in our hearts, may we see a sovereign, covenant God, who brought us from death into life and continues day by day to nourish and care for our spiritual growth and development that we may grow deeper and closer in friendship with Him as our Father.
On this earth we will not grow into perfection. Our new life is but in principle, and the full realization of this new life comes only in the way of our dying and our final resurrection. This is true from two perspectives. We have in us the new man, that seed of new life that is growing and flourishing, but in this life we still have that old man of sin that clings to us and perverts even our very best works (Rom. 7:22-23). Only in the way of death are we ultimately freed from that sinful nature. And, secondly, we still have our physical, earthy bodies that must be changed into heavenly, spiritual bodies in order for us to experience our new heavenly life to the fullest (I Cor. 15:35-37). This too, comes only after death and the final resurrection, as we are taught in John 14:24. “Verily, verily I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.” We long for the return of Christ and the day in which we shall be completely changed, raised in power and glory (I Cor. 15:51-52). Knowing the victory is ours in Christ, may we be steadfast in our walk here below. And may the sowing of the seed and the renewal of life all around us be an encouragement to us that we may be “confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6).
1.Rev. Homer Hoeksema notes other important pictures in Scripture that the plant world provides. The interested reader can read of these in Unfolding Covenant History, Volume 1 (pp. 44-50), available from the RFPA—see www.rfpa.org.
2.Hoeksema, Herman. Reformed Dogmatics. RFPA: Grand Rapids, MI, 1966, p 460.