Agonizomai: Seed Lying Dormant Until the Time is Full

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Seed Lying Dormant Until the Time is Full
Isaiah 55: 10-11 “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it."

I've mentioned before (but only in passing) that when I went to Grammar School we still had corporal punishment. We wore uniforms, carried books in satchels, and got detention for not wearing our caps, or for non-regulation clothing. And we still had that grand institution called "morning assembly".

Every morning, before classes began, the whole school came together for the hearing of the announcements, to witness punishments, if any, and for the singing of a number of hymns. On special occasions the English teacher, whom we nicknamed "Biff" Bennett, would read some romantic ode in deep and honeyed tones that belied his rather odd and disheveled appearance. He was an eccentric. Lots of our teachers (we called them "masters") had nicknames; "Nobby" Kinder taught French, "Tilly" Thompson Drama, "Dickey" Douce Physics. And the headmaster, by virtue of his position, was called simply "The Beak". Don't ask me why. It was all still a bit Dickensian.

I bring these things up because of the hymns. Most days we sang at least three of these from actual hymn books. There was nothing particularly religious or spiritual about any of it. There was no sermon - not even a few words of wisdom - just blind tradition dictating that this was what happened in English Grammar Schools to get the day started.

But because they were, for the most part, hymns that repeated the word of God, that held God up as the sovereign of all things and that spoke of a Person called Jesus and of His life and death - because of these things, despite the preponderant godlessness of the hearts of we the participants, the Word was nevertheless sown into young hearts and minds, of which mine was one.

At Harvest Festival time, for example, (that would be roughly the same as Thanksgiving here) we always sang the old hymn "We Plow the Fields" (Matthias Claudius 1782) the first verse and chorus of which I render below:

We plow the fields, and scatter the good seed on the land,
But it is fed and watered by God’s almighty hand;
He sends the snow in winter, the warmth to swell the grain,
The breezes and the sunshine, and soft refreshing rain.


All good gifts around us
Are sent from heaven above,
Then thank the Lord, O thank the Lord
For all His love.

Like I said, most of us sang these songs in complete spiritual darkness and with utter indifference but, for me, the dormant seed sown into fallow ground by these daily ministrations would ultimately burst forth in my soul like light when I was spiritually reborn years later.

Without my having read much of the Bible I was full of the Word and of lessons from the scripture which exploded in vibrant color in my soul, and which took on wonderful new dimensions of understanding for me. It was so powerful, in fact, that it was quite frightening at the time.

I'm not sure what I'm trying to say by all of this. Maybe it's a plea for a return to the scripturality of the old songs that lifted up God and left man as dependent and needy creature, and that actually put to verse the great truths of the Word of God. I know there are some good new songs, but so much of the new stuff falls short because it lacks the depth that only scripture can give it.

Maybe I'm just marveling at how God can use even lifeless rituals to sow the living seed into dead hearts, to be awakened at the moment of His choosing. It is, after all, the Living Word under the auspices of the Holy Spirit that makes the difference, and not the flawed instruments through which He condescends to work.

I can't help wondering if the same powerful seed is contained in much of the newer church music that I have witnessed over that last couple of decades. I admit it - I long for the old, old story told in the old hymns, written by men and women who were tried and tested in the fires of adversity and tribulation. Maybe it's largely nostalgia, but I frankly doubt it.


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