“The principal wheat.” — Isaiah 28:25.
THE prophet mentions it as a matter of wisdom on the part of the husbandman, that HE KNOWS WHAT IS THE PRINCIPAL THING TO CULTIVATE, and makes it his principal care.
The text, with the connection, runs thus, — “Does not the husbandman cast in the principal wheat?” He does not go to the granary and take out wheat, and cummin, and barley, and rye, and fling these about right and left, but he estimates the value of each grain, and arranges them in his mind accordingly. He does not think that cummin, and carroway, which he merely grows to give a flavor to his meal, are of half such importance as his bread-corn; and, though rye and barley have their values, yet he does not reckon that even these are equal to what he calls “the principal wheat.”
He is a man of discretion, he arranges things; he places the most important crop in the front rank, and spends upon it the most care.
Here let us learn a lesson. Do keep things distinct in your minds — not huddled and muddled by a careless thoughtlessness. Do not live a confused life, without care and discretions, running all things into one; but sort things out, and divide and distinguish between the precious and the vile.
See what this is worth, and what the other is worth, and set your matters in rank and order, making some of them principal, and others of them inferior. I suggest to you young people especially that, in starting life, you say to yourselves, “What shall we live for? There is a principal thing for which we ought to live, what shall it be?” Have you turned over that question, or have you gone at it hit or miss? What are you living for? What is your principal aim? Is it going to be that of the old gentleman in Horace who said to his boy, “Get money: get it honestly, if you can; but, by all means, get money.” Will you be a money-spinner? Shall coin be your principal corn? Or will you choose a life of pleasure — “a short life and a merry one,” as so many fools have said to their great sorrow? Is it in dissipation that your life is to be spent? Are thistles to be your principal crop? Because there is a pleasure in looking at a Scotch thistle, do you intend to grow acres of pleasurable vice? And will you make your bed upon them when you come to die? Search and see what is worthy of being the principal object in life; and, when you have found it out, then beseech the Holy Spirit to help you to choose that one thing, and to give all your powers and faculties to the cultivation of it. The farmer, who finds that wheat ought to be his principal crop, makes it so, and lays himself out with that end in view: learn from this to have a main object, and to give your whole mind to it.
This farmer was wise, because he counted that to be principal which was the most needful. His family could do without cummin, which was but a flavoring. Perhaps the mistress might complain, or the cook might grumble, but that did not signify so much as it would do if the children cried for bread. They certainly must have wheat, for bread is the staff of life. It is bread that strengtheneth man’s heart, and therefore the farmer must grow wheat if he does not grow anything else. That which is necessary he regarded as the principal thing. Is not this common sense? If we were wisely to sit down and estimate, should we not say, “To be forgiven my sins, to be right with God, to be holy, to be fit to live eternally in heaven, is the greatest, the most needful thing for me, and therefore I will make it the principal object of my pursuit.” A creature cannot be satisfied unless he is answering the end for which he is created; and the end of every intelligent creature is first, to glorify God, and next, to enjoy God. What a bliss it must be to enjoy God himself for ever and ever. Offer things may be desirable, but this thing is needful. A competence of income, a measure of esteem among men, a degree of health — all these are the flavoring of life, but to be saved in the Lord with an everlasting salvation is life itself. Jesus Christ is the bread by which our soul’s best life is sustained. Oh, that we were all wise enough to feel that to be one with Christ is the one thing needful; that to be at peace with God is the principal thing; that to be brought into harmony with the Most High is the true music of our being.
Other herbs may take their place in due order, but grace is the principal wheat, and we must cultivate it.
This farmer was wise, because he made that to be the principal thing which was the most fit to be so. Of course, barley is useful as food, for nations have lived on barley bread, and lived healthily too; and rye has been the nutriment of millions: neither have they starved on oats and other grains. Still, give me a piece of wheaten bread, for it is the best staff for life’s journey. This farmer knew that wheat was the most fitting food for man, and so he did not put the inferior grain, which might act as a substitute, into the prominent place; but he gave his wheat the preference.
He did not say, “the principal barley,” or “the principal rye,” much less “the principal cummin” or “the principal fitches,” but “the principal wheat.”
And what is there, brethren, that is so fit for the heart, the mind, the soul of man, as to know God and his Christ. Other mental foods, such as the fruits of knowledge, and the dainties of science, excellent though they may be — are inferior nutriment and unsuitable to build up the inner manhood. In my God and my Savior, I find my heaven and my all. My soul sits down to a crumb of truth about Jesus, and finds great satisfaction in living upon it.
The more we can know God, and enjoy God, and become like to God, and the more Christ is our daily bread, the more do we perceive the fitness of all this to our new-born natures. O beloved, make that to be your principal object which is the fittest pursuit of an immortal mind. “Religion is the chief concern Of mortals here below; May I its great importance learn, Its sovereign virtue know! “More needful this than glittering wealth, Or aught the world bestows; Not reputation, food, or health, Can give us such repose.” Moreover, this farmer was wise, because he made that the principal thing which was the most profitable. Under certain circumstances, in our own country, wheat is not the most profitable thing which a man can grow; but, ordinarily, it is the best crop that the earth yields, and therefore the text speaks of “the principal wheat.” Our grandfathers used to rely upon the wheat stack to pay their rent. They looked to their corn as the arm of their strength; and though it is not so now, it always was so of old, and perhaps it may yet be so again. Anyhow, the figure holds good with regard to true religion. That is the most profitable thing. I am told that rich men find it very hard to get hold of anything which yields five per cent. nowadays; but this blessed fear of the Lord is an extraordinarily profitable investment, for it does not yield a hundred per cent. or a thousand per cent., but a man begins with nothing and all things become his by faith. Being freely discharged of our sins, we are by overflowing grace greatly enriched, so that we number among our possessions heaven itself, Christ himself, God himself. All things are ours. Oh, what a blessed crop to sow! What a harvest comes of it! Godliness is profitable for the life that now is, and for that which is to come. Godliness is a blessing to a man’s body, it keeps him from drunkenness and vice; and it is a blessing to his soul, it makes him sweet and pure. It is a blessing to him every way. If I had to die like a dog, I would like to live like a Christian. If there were no hereafter, yet still, for comfort and for joy, give me the life of one who strives to live like Christ.
There is a practical everyday truth in the verse — ‘ ‘Tis religion that can give Sweetest pleasures while we live; ‘Tis religion must supply Solid comfort when we die.” Only that religion must not be of the common sort; it must have for its root a hearty faith in Jesus Christ. See ye to it. Our religion must be either everything or nothing, either first or nowhere. Make it “the principal wheat,” and it will richly repay you.
II. Secondly, the husbandman is a lesson to us because HE GIVES THIS PRINCIPAL THING THE PRINCIPAL PLACE. I find that the Hebrew is rendered by some eminent scholars, “He puts the wheat into the principal place.”
That little handful of cummin for the wife to flavor the cakes with he grows in a corner; and the various herbs he places in their proper borders. The barley he sets in its plot, and the rye in its acre; but if there is a good bit of rich soil — the best he has — he appropriates it to the principal wheat. He gives his choicest fields to that which is to be the main means of his living.
Now, here is a lesson for you and for me. Let us give to true godliness our principal powers and abilities. Let us give to the things of God our best and most intense thought. I pray you, do not take religion at second hand from what I tell you, or from what somebody else tells you; but think it over.
Read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the word of God. The thoughtful Christian is the growing Christian. Remember, the service of God deserves our first consideration and endeavor. We are poor things at our prime, but we ought to give the Lord nothing short of our best. God would not have us serve him heedlessly, but he would have us use all the brain and intellect and mind that we have in studying and practicing his word. “Acquaint now thyself with him, and be at peace.” “Meditate upon these things. Give thyself wholly to them.” If your mind is more clear and active at one time than at another, then sow the principal wheat. If you feel more fresh and more inclined to think at one time of the day than at another, let your mind then go towards the best things.
Be sure, also, to yield to this subject your most earnest love. The best field in the little estate of manhood is not the head, but the heart; sow the principal wheat there. Oh, to have true religion in the heart; to love what we know — intensely to love it; to hold it fast as with the grip of life and death — never to let it go! The Lord says, “My son, give me thy heart,” and he will not be contented with anything less than our heart. Oh, when your zeal is most burning, and your love is most fervent, let the warmth and the fervency all go towards the Lord your God, and to the service of him who has redeemed you with his precious blood. Let the principal wheat have the principal part of your nature. Towards God and his Christ also turn your most fervent desires. ‘When you enlarge your desire, desire Christ; when you become ambitious let your ambition be all for God. Let your hunger and your thirst be after righteousness. Let your aspirations and your longings be all towards holiness, and the things that shall make you like to Christ. Give to this principal wheat your principal desires.
Then let the Lord have the attentive respect of your life. Let the principal wheat be sown in every action. If we are truly Christians we must be as much Christians outside the church as in it. We shall try to make our eating and our drinking, and everything we do, tend to the glory of God. Draw no line between the secular and the religious part of your conduct, but let the secular be made religious by a devout desire to glorify God in the one as much as in the other. Let us worship God in the commonest duties of life, even as they do who stand before his throne. So it ought to be. Let us sow the principal wheat in all the fields of our conversation, in business, in the family, among our friends, and with our children. May we each one feel, “For me to live is Christ. I cannot live without Christ, or for anything but Christ.” Let your whole nature yield itself to Jesus, and to none else.
We should give to this principal wheat our most earnest labors. We should spend ourselves for the spread of the gospel. A Christian man ought to lay himself out to serve Jesus. I hate to see a professing man zealous in politics and lukewarm in devotion; all on fire at a parish vestry, and chill as winter when he comes to a prayer-meeting. Some fly like eagles when they are serving the world, but they have a broken wing in the service of God. This should not be. If anything could rouse us up, and make the lion within us roar in his strength, it should be when we confront the foes of Jesus or fight in his cause. Our Lord’s service is the principal, wheat, let us labor most in connection with it.
This, I think, should also take possession of us so as to lead to our greatest sacrifices. The love of Christ ought to be so strong as to swallow up self, and make sacrifice our daily joy. For Christ’s name’s sake we should be willing to endure poverty, reproach, slander, exile, death. Nothing should be dear to a Christian in comparison with Christ. Now, I will put it to you whether it is so or no. Is the love of Jesus the principal wheat with us? Are we giving our religion the chief place or not? I am afraid some people treat religion as certain gentlemen treat an off-hand farm; they put a bailiff into it, and only give an eye to it now and then. Their minister is the bailiff, and they expect him to see to it for them. These off-hand farms are losing concerns. Look at these half-and-half brethren. They have religion?
Certainly. But they are like the man of whom the child spoke at the Sunday-school. “Is your father a Christian?” said the teacher. “Yes,” said the child, “but he has not worked much at it lately.” I could point out several of this sort, who are sowing their wheat very sparingly, and choosing the most barren patch to sow it in. They profess to be Christians, but religion is a tenth-rate article on their farm. Some have a large acreage for the world, and a poor little plot for Christ. They are growers of worldly pleasure and self-indulgence, and they sow a little religion by the roadside for appearance sake. This will not do. God will not thus be mocked. If we despise him and his truth we shall be lightly esteemed. O come let us give our principal time, talent, thought, effort to that which is the chief concern of immortal spirits. May we imitate the husbandman who gives the principal wheat the principal place in his farm.
III. Let us learn a third lesson. THE HUSBANDMAN SELECTS THE PRINCIPAL SEED- CORN WHEN HE IS SOWING HIS WHEAT. When a farmer is setting aside wheat for sowing, he does not choose the tail corn and the worst of his produce, but if he is a sensible man he likes to sow the best wheat in the world. Many farmers search the country round for a good sample of wheat for sowing, for they do not expect to get a good harvest out of bad seed.
The husbandman is taught of God to put into the ground “the principal wheat.” Let me learn that if I am going to sow to the Lord and to be a Christian, I should sow the best kind of Christianity.
I should try to do this, first, by believing the weightiest doctrines. I would believe not this “ism,” nor that, but the unadulterated truth which Jesus taught; for a holy character will only grow by the Spirit of God out of true doctrine. Falsehood breeds sin: truth begets and fosters holiness. You and I therefore ought to select our seed carefully, and cast out all error. If we are wise we shall think most of the most important truths, for I have known people attach the greatest importance to the smallest things. They fight over the fitches, and leave the wheat to the crows. As for me, those who will may dispute over vials and trumpets, I shall mainly preach the doctrine of the precious blood and the glorious truths of substitution and atonement. These doctrines are the principal wheat, and therefore these shall have my choice.
Next to that, we ought to sow the noblest examples. Many men are dwarfed because they choose a bad model to start with. They imitate dear old Mr. So-and-so till they grow wonderfully like him with the best of him left out. A minister happens to be of a gloomy turn of mind, and he preaches the deep experience of the children of God, and in a consequence a band of good people think it their duty to be melancholy. Why need they fall into a ditch because their leader has splashed himself? We should never copy any man’s infirmities. To be like Paul there is no need to have weak eyes; to be like Thomas there is no necessity to doubt. If you copy any good man, there is a point at which you ought to stop short. If I must have a human model, I would prefer one of the bravest of the saints of God; but oh how much better to follow that perfect pattern which you have in Christ Jesus!
We should sow the best wheat by seeing that we have the purest spirit.
Alas! how soon do spirits become soiled by self or pride, or despondency or sloth, or some earthly taint. But what a grand thing it is to live in the spirit of Christ. May, we be humble, lowly, bold, self-sacrificing, pure, chaste, and holy.
And, then, there is one more mode of sowing selected seed. We should endeavor to live in the closest communion with God. A dear brother prayed just now that we might have as much grace as we were capable of receiving, and that God would bring us into such a state that we might not hinder hint in anything which he willed to do by us. This is a good prayer.
It should be our desire to rise to the highest form of spiritual life. If you sow this principal wheat, get the best sort of it. There is a spirit and a spirit; and there are doctrines and doctrines; the best is the best for you. O young men, if you mean to have piety, go in for it thoroughly. Do not sneak through the world as if you were ashamed of your Lord. If you are Christ’s show your colors. Rally to his banner, gather to his trumpet call, and then stand up, stand up for Jesus. If there is any manhood in you, this great cause calls for it all; exhibit it, and may the Spirit of God help you so to do.
IV. Fourthly, THE HUSBANDMAN GROWS THE PRINCIPAL WHEAT WITH THE PRINCIPAL CARE. Some critics say that the proper translation is that the husbandman plants his wheat in rows. It is said that the large crops in Palestine in olden time were due to the fact that they planted the wheat.
They set it in lines, so that it was not checked or suffocated by its being too thick in one place, neither was there any fear of its being too thin in another. The wheat was planted, and then streams of water were turned by the foot to each particular plant. No wonder, therefore, that the land brought forth abundantly.
We should give our principal care to the principal thing. Our godliness should be carried out with discretion and care. Brethren, are we careful enough as to our religious walk? Have, you ever searched to the bottom of your profession? Why do you happen to be members of a certain church?
Your mother was so. Well, there is some good in that reason, but not enough to justify you in the sight of God. I pray you judge your standing.
If any Christian minister is afraid to urge you to this duty I stared in doubt of him I am not at all afraid. I beg you to examine all that I teach you, for I would not like to be responsible for another man’s creed. Like the Bereans, search and see whether these things be according to Scripture or not. One of the greatest blessings that could come upon the church would be a searching spirit which would refer everything to the Holy Scriptures. If they speak not according to this word it is because there is no light in them.
Do your service to God as carefully as the eastern farmer planted his wheat, when he set it in rows with great orderliness and exactness. You serve a precise God, therefore serve him precisely. He is a jealous God, therefore be jealous of the least taint of error or will-worship.
Take care, also, that you water every part of your religion, as the farmer watered each plant. Pray for grace from on high that you may never be parched and dried up. Perform to your faith, to your hope, to your love, and to all the plants that are in your soul every other service which the husbandman renders to his wheat. Give grace your principal care, for it deserves it.
V. With this I close. Do this, because FROM THIS YOU MAY EXPECT YOUR PRINCIPAL CROP. If religion be the principal thing, you may look to religion for your principal reward. The harvest will come to you in various ways.
You will make the greatest success in this life if you wholly live to the glory of God. Success or failure must much depend upon the fitness of our object. It is of no use my attempting to sing, for I shall never be able to conduct a choir. I could not succeed in that, but if I preach, I may succeed, for that is my work. Now you, Christian, man, if you try to live to the world you will not prosper, for you are not fitted for it. Grace has spoiled you for sin. If you live to God with all your heart you will succeed in it, for God has made you on purpose for it. As he made the fish for the water, and the birds for the air, so he made the believer for holiness, and for the service of God; and you will be out of your element, a fish out of water, or a bird in the stream, if you leave the service of God. The Eastern farmer’s prosperity hinges on his wheat, and yours upon your devotion to God. It is to Godliness that you must look for your joy. Is there any bliss like the bliss of knowing that you are in Christ, and are the beloved of the Lord? It is to your religion that you must look for comfort on a sick and dying bed, and you may be there very soon.
In the worm to come what a crop, what a harvest will come of serving the Lord! What will come out of all else? What but mere smoke? A man has made a million of money, and he is dead. What has he got by his wealth? A man’s fame rings throughout the earth as a great and successful warrior, and he is dead. What has he as the result of all his honors? To live to the world is like playing with boys in the street for halfpence, or with babes for bits of platter and oyster shells. Life for God is real and substantial, but all else is waste. Let us think so, and gird up our loins to serve the Lord. May the divine Spirit help us to sow “the principal wheat,” and to live in joyful expectation of reaping a happy harvest according to the promise, “They that sow in tears shall reap in joy.”