Twice this message was sent to God’s people - first by Jeremiah to the men of Judah, and then again by Hosea to the Northern Kingdom - and the repetition must be designed to impress us with its special importance. In each case the people were in a deplorable condition, the cultivation of the land had been neglected, and in this dis-spirited state the national life was in danger of breaking up. They needed to be awakened to the fact that if they were to have sufficient food they must break up the fallow ground-they dare not let the land lie idle. If the derelict acres are ploughed and sown, blessing and plenty will follow-as we are assured by another statement, also given us twice - “He that tilleth his land shall have plenty of bread” (Prov. 12. 11; 28. 19, R.V.) Indeed the same wise man tells us that “much food is in the tillage of the poor” (13. 23)-he may not have a big acreage but there are great possibilities.
As always with Israel, there was a definite connection between spiritual conditions and temporal well-being. Their spiritual life was at a low ebb, and both Jeremiah and Hosea draw attention to their failures and point out that if they want God’s blessing and help they must also cultivate their soul’s health. It needed the same attention which their fields and gardens demanded - the soil of their hearts had to be broken up and sown with the Word of God.
This is not without a voice to us. The necessity for the cultivation of idle acres was realized by us as a nation at the beginning of the World War. Previous to these critical days the farmer played but a small part in the economic life of the nation, because food supplies could be imported cheaply from the flooded markets of world plenty. Consequently our fields had been allowed to lie comparatively idle, and large areas of indifferent pasture were a common feature of our countryside. But, suddenly, the scene changed. When it became absolutely imperative to grow for ourselves, every famer was called upon to Cultivate Every Available Acre.
A tremendous effort was made and, with God’s indispensable blessing, sufficient food was grown to tide us over the crisis. The war is over but the need of effort on the part of those on the land still continues for, although enemy action no longer threatens our food supplies, economic conditions are driving us more and more to our own resources.
If on the material plane our text is so applicable to our present position, surely the spiritual lesson is no less opportune. We are living in days of spiritual poverty, with indifference and apathy surrounding us, but we do well to inquire whether the lack of fruit may not be due to our having allowed our hearts to lie fallow. Does each of us contribute his share to the provision of spiritual food for the needs of the church and for those who are perishing. Is our acre cultivated, or do we tolerate barrenness? An examination of the Reasons for the Unproductive Acres in our land, and the difficulties of reclamation may suggest at least part of the explanation for the spiritual dearth.
Any who were farming in the early thirties can vouch for the fact that the reason for the land going out of cultivation was simply that Ploughing did not Pay. Naturally enough, the husbandman was not inclined to spend money, time and labour on a task which he did not believe would yield a profit. Is this why many Christians do not pay heed to the cultivation of their spiritual lives? Can it be that they feel that spiritual exercise is not worth while? The farmer could not be blamed for his outlook in the face of stubborn fact, but the Christian has no such excuse, for godliness is never unprofitable - it has always paid, and paid handsomely, both now and in the life to come.
When the sudden need presented the farmer with the challenge of a critical situation^ farms became hives of activity and the face of the country was speedily transformed. Above and beyond the financial incentive which the Government felt it necessary to provide, the loyal farmer had the genuine satisfaction of feeling that he was making a vital contribution to his country’s welfare. Ask any farmer if the effort was worth while! The productive fields with their abundant harvests and the feeling that he really mattered, brought a new sense of satisfaction which had to be experienced to be understood. With the Christian it ought never to have been otherwise. Our * Government ’ has always provided abundant incentive, for cultivation of the spiritual life yields a gratifying harvest now, both in personal blessing and in being made a blessing, to say nothing of the long view stretching into eternity. Even if the profit could not be proved, loyalty to Christ and the desire to please Him, should be an adequate incentive. There will be no question about this when we meet our Master face to face - there should be no question now. May we be delivered from the deception of false values before it is too late.
But though the farmer was keen to meet the challenge, he had to face formidable difficulties, One was the Lack of Labour, Men were not plentiful and the task was great - made all the greater by years of neglect. Farmers are not usually lazy men (if they were, they would not be farmers very long!) but the task that faced them was enough to challenge the stoutest heart. However, the work was done- the seemingly impossible was often achieved by determined and united efforts when every one on the farm did all he, or she, possibly could. Similarly it will involve effort if we are to break up the fallow ground of our hearts - and all the more so if years of spiritual neglect have formed habits of indolence. If we are too fond of our comfort we shall never be able to play our part in the colossal task which confronts the Church. A bed hides a light as effectively as does a bushel, and unwillingness to relinquish comfort has rendered as many lives unfruitful as has absorption in the business of this life. Paul’s exhortation to awake out of sleep and arise from among the dead suggests that believers may fall into such a sleepy condition spiritually as to be in association with and indistinguishable from the easy-going worldling, and thus be of no use, in the service of God. Ease and comfort make a strong appeal to most, but the fanner with many acres to cultivate and a scant supply of labour had little use for a featherbed! Dare we as servants of Christ allow our love of ease to lead to barrenness. of heart? Only a little sleep, a little slumber and a folding of the arms, and poverty will come with the sure and steady approach of one who travels towards us and who, when he arrives, is found to be an armed man who cannot easily be shaken off (Prov. 24. 34). The observant Solomon passed by the field of the slothful man and what a pathetic picture he paints for us, but not nearly so sorry a sight as the heart of a believer which has been allowed to go to waste. Give up ploughing and cultivation, allow land to re-seed itself, and the farm is soon derelict! Neglect prayer, the Word of God, and Christian fellowship, and our lives will soon be unfruitful fields producing only harmful weeds. There is no escape.
But the demand for the breaking up of land which had long lain fallow presented other problems. One was that Fences had been Neglected, field ran into field and cattle had been allowed to roam at will. What point would there have been in ploughing fields in ‘the absence of fences to protect the crops from destruction? Fences had to be erected - and often at great expense. Nor will our hearts ever produce fruit for God unless they are fenced against unwholesome influences. If the allurements of the world break down our defences and invade our hearts, fruitfulness will be destroyed. Even things legitimate in themselves must be kept in their proper places, lest they gain too strong a hold upon us. Hedges are necessary and it is still true that if we break a hedge a serpent will bite us - fail to maintain the path of separation, and the devil will take instant advantage. Many a Christian life has been spoiled, its fruitfulness impaired and its testimony marred, because either the cares or the pleasures of the world have monopolized the efforts and the affections.
But the ploughman’s difficulties were not over when the fences had been re-erected. Years of neglect had favoured the Growth of Weeds; brambles, briars and other useless growths had established themselves. Jeremiah knew that breaking up the ground’ was not enough - he warned the people of the uselessness of sowing in ground infested with thorns. These weeds grew without any encouragement, but their irradication was another matter, calling for thorough and determined measures. Merely to lop off the superficial growth, leaving the roots in the soil would simply be inviting trouble later on; the good seed strangled with the reviving weeds, would make waste labour of tilling and a mockery of the harvest. The noxious plants had to be rooted up completely, and the task was often formidable to a degree. In some cases the wild growth was of such proportions as to necessitate the employment at considerable expense of special equipment, but it had to be done. Compromise would have been fatal.
What thorns and briars the natural heart produces so easily - how rapidly they can develop in the character of a careless Christian. There can be nothing really worth while for God while they flourish - out they must come! Compromise must not be tolerated, a superficial lopping off will not suffice. A temporary awakening may lead to a mending of one’s ways but if the work goes no deeper, and the roots remain, the benefit will be illusionary. The task may well prove more formidable than that which faced the farmer. Modem science put powerful machinery at his disposal, but no ready-made means will suffice in the soul. Yet, granted real repentance, the power of the Spirit of God, working ungrieved in the pardoned heart, will root out these spiritual weeds and prepare the soil of the soul to receive the productive Word of God. It may not be a pleasant process and some compromise may prove a temptation, but not a few harvest-fields disfigured with full-grown weeds choking the corn have supplied a sad but eloquent commentary on the folly of compromise.
That kind of thing was not tolerated in the critical days of the war - it was “Get On, or Get Out.” The man who would not, or could not, cultivate the land to the best advantage was dispossessed of it and he had the humiliating experience of seeing it entrusted to others more conscientious or more capable. It is not unlikely that some who were not aroused by the promise of gain, or even by the call of duty, were spurred on by the fear of loss. It might have seemed hard, but the days were critical and half measures were useless. We cannot be too thankful for God’s patience with us but we would be foolish to overlook the seriousness of wasting our opportunity. God deals gently with us, and all who sow in righteousness will reap in mercy, but one wonders whether distorted views of grace sometimes blind the eye to solemn realities. In the parable of the Householder’s Vineyard (Matt. 21. 33-41) the Lord warned Israel that privileges abused would be taken away and given to others. The man whose zeal put the Lord’s pound to good account was rewarded in an amazing fashion, but the sluggard was deprived of the pound entrusted to him and it was handed to the other, whilst he was called a wicked servant. Had he loved his noble master he would have cherished the privilege of using the opportunity aright. Perhaps we do well to fear lest we lose our opportunities and not only miss the privilege of co-operating with the Lord of the Harvest now, but also suffer loss in the day of rewards.
May our love for Christ encourage us to be like the earth, which drinks in the rain and brings forth herbs meet for those by whom it is dressed - this is the way to receive blessing from God. How gracious of the Lord to follow the solemn warning with regard to bearing thorns with such words as “we are persuaded better things of you” and “God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love.”
Although some were dispossessed, the great majority of the farmers rose to the occasion and a faithful God blessed their efforts, as year by year abundant harvests gave fresh cause for thankfulness. Yet it is well to remember that God would not have given abundant harvests without abundant sowing, for it is true in the natural and the spiritual spheres that he which soweth sparingly will reap sparingly.
Our meditation will not have been in vain if it encourages us to rise to the present need, and cultivate our souls more carefully, and labour more intensely for Him, whose service is a privilege and whose reward is sure.