This parable, which (like many of our Saviour’s parables) is borrowed from the husbandman’s calling, is ushered in with a solemn preface demanding attention, He that has ears to hear, let him hear, hear and understand, Isa. 28:23.
I. The parable here is plain enough, that the husbandman applies himself to the business of his calling with a great deal of pains and prudence, secundum artem—according to rule, and, as his judgment directs him, observes a method and order in his work. 1. In his ploughing and sowing: Does the ploughman plough all day to sow? Yes, he does, and he ploughs in hope and sows in hope, 1 Cor. 9:10. Does he open and break the clods? Yes, he does, that the land may be fit to receive the seed. And when he has thus made plain the face thereof does he not sow his seed, seed suitable to the soil? For the husbandman knows what grain is fit for clayey ground and what for sandy ground, and, accordingly, he sows each in its place—wheat in the principal place (so the margin reads it), for it is the principal grain, and was a staple commodity of Canaan (Ezek. 27:17), and barley in the appointed place. The wisdom and goodness of the God of nature are to be observed in this, that, to oblige his creatures with a grateful variety of productions, he has suited to them an agreeable variety of earths. 2. In his threshing, Isa. 28:27, 28. This also he proportions to the grain that is to be threshed out. The fitches and the cummin, being easily got out of their husk or ear, are only threshed with a staff and a rod; but the bread-corn requires more force, and therefore that must be bruised with a threshing instrument, a sledge shod with iron, that was drawn to and fro over it, to beat out the corn; and yet he will not be ever threshing it, nor any longer than is necessary to loosen the corn from the chaff; he will not break it, or crush it, into the ground with the wheel of his cart, nor bruise it to pieces with his horsemen; the grinding of it is reserved for another operation. Observe, by the way, what pains are to be taken, not only for the earning, but for the preparing of our necessary food; and yet, after all, it is meat that perishes. Shall we then grudge to labour much more for the meat which endures to everlasting life? Bread-corn is bruised. Christ was so; it pleased the Lord to bruise him, that he might be the bread of life to us.
II. The interpretation of the parable is not so plain. Most interpreters make it a further answer to those who set the judgments of God at defiance: “Let them know that as the husbandman will not be always ploughing, but will at length sow his seed, so God will not be always threatening, but will at length execute his threatenings and bring upon sinners the judgments they have deserved; but in wisdom, and in proportion to their strength, not that they may be ruined, but that they may be reformed and brought to repentance by them.” But I think we may give this parable a greater latitude in the exposition of it. 1. In general, that God who gives the husbandman this wisdom is, doubtless, himself infinitely wise. It is God that instructs the husbandman to discretion, as his God, Isa. 28:26. Husbandmen have need of discretion wherewith to order their affairs, and ought not undertake that business unless they do in some measure understand it; and they should by observation and experience endeavour to improve themselves in the knowledge of it. Since the king himself is served of the field, the advancing of the art of husbandry is a common service to mankind more than the cultivating of most other arts. The skill of the husbandman is from God, as every good and perfect gift is. This takes off somewhat of the weight and terror of the sentence passed on man for sin, that when God, in execution of it, sent man to till the ground, he taught him how to do it most to his advantage, otherwise, in the greatness of his folly, he might have been for ever tilling the sand of the sea, labouring to no purpose. It is he that gives men capacity for this business, an inclination to it, and a delight in it; and if some were not by Providence cut out for it, and mad to rejoice (as Issachar, that tribe of husbandmen) in their tents, notwithstanding the toil and fatigue of this business, we should soon want the supports of life. If some are more discreet and judicious in managing these or any other affairs than others are, God must be acknowledged in it; and to him husbandmen must seek for direction in their business, for they, above other men, have an immediate dependence upon the divine Providence. As to the other instance of the husbandman’s conduct in threshing his corn, it is said, This also comes forth from the Lord of hosts, Isa. 28:29. Even the plainest dictate of sense and reason must be acknowledged to come forth from the Lord of hosts. And, if it is from him that men do things wisely and discreetly, we must needs acknowledge him to be wise in counsel and excellent in working. God’s working is according to his will; he never acts against his own mind, as men often do, and there is a counsel in his whole will: he is therefore excellent in working, because he is wonderful in counsel. 2. God’s church is his husbandry, 1 Cor. 3:9. If Christ is the true vine, his Father is the husbandman (John 15:1), and he is continually by his word and ordinances cultivating it. Does the ploughman plough all day, and break the clods of his ground, that it may receive the seed, and does not God by his ministers break up the fallow ground? Does not the ploughman, when the ground is fitted for the seed, cast in the seed in its proper soil? He does so, and so the great God sows his word by the hand of his ministers (Matt. 13:19), who are to divide the word of truth and give every one his portion. Whatever the soil of the heart is, there is some seed or other in the word proper for it. And, as the word of God, so the rod of God is thus wisely made use of. Afflictions are God’s threshing-instruments, designed to loosen us from the world, to separate between us and our chaff, and to prepare us for use. And, as to these, God will make use of them as there is occasion; but he will proportion them to our strength; they shall be no heavier than there is need. If the rod and the staff will answer the end, he will not make use of his cart-wheel and his horsemen. And where these are necessary, as for the bruising of the bread-corn (which will not otherwise be got clean from the straw), yet he will not be ever threshing it, will not always chide, but his anger shall endure but for a moment; nor will he crush under his feet the prisoners of the earth. And herein we must acknowledge him wonderful in counsel and excellent in working.
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