The Work of the Plough
J. R. Miller
The figure of ploughing, much used in the Bible, is very suggestive. The initial work in making Christians—is plough work. Human hearts are hard, and the first tool which must go over them, must be a plough, that they may be broken up and softened. In our Lord's parable, some seeds fell on the trodden wayside. The soil was good—it was the same as that which, in another part of the field, yielded a hundredfold—but it was hard. It had been long a roadway across the field and thousands of feet had gone over it, treading it down. There was no use in sowing seed upon it, for the ground would not receive it, and lying upon the hardened surface, the birds in eager quest for food would pick it off. The only way to make anything of this trodden roadside, was to have it broken up by the plough.
The first work of Christ in many lives is ploughing. The lives have not been cultivated. They have been left untilled. Or, like the wayside ground, they have been trodden down into hardness. Many people treat their lives as if they were meant to be open commons, instead of beautiful gardens. They do not fence them in to protect them—and so beasts pasture on them, trampling over them; children play upon them; and men drive their carriages and their heavy wagons across them making roadways as hard as rock. We readily understand this in agriculture, and it is little more difficult to understand it in life culture.
A godly woman said that God wanted her heart to be a garden filled with sweet flowers. A garden needs constant care. Our lives should be watched continually, that the soil shall always be tender, so that all manner of lovely things may grow in them—but there are many lives that are not thus cared for and cultivated. They are unfenced, and all kinds of harsh feet go treading over them. No care is given to the companions who are allowed admittance into the field; soon the gentle things are destroyed, and the tender, mellow soil has become hard. Those who are entrusted with the care of children should never fail to think of their responsibility for the influences which are allowed to touch them.
For the lack of such care, many men and women become hardened, without capacity to receive tender impressions. They have large capacities for rich, beautiful life and for splendid service—but they are permitted to read all kinds of books, and to have all kinds of amusements, and to see all kinds of entertainments, and to see all kinds of evil life—and they grow up without beauty, really useless and without loveliness. They need to be ploughed and ploughed deep, that they may be made fertile.
God himself does a great deal of ploughing. His Word is a plough. It cuts its way into men's lives, crushing the heart, revealing sinfulness, producing penitence. It finds men impenitent—and leaves them broken and contrite, confessing sin and asking for mercy. David tells us, in one of his penitential Psalms, how he tried for a long time to hide his sins—but how his pain became unbearable, until he confessed. God's plough went deep into his heart. Then when at length he confessed his sin, forgiveness came and peace and joy. David became a new man after that. God's Spirit had ploughed up his heart.
A Bible found its way into a home where a Bible had never been before. The man of the house began to read it aloud to his wife in the evenings, and the words entered their hearts. One night, after reading aloud portions of the book, the man said, "Wife, if this book is true—then we are wrong." The book condemned them. They became troubled. The word was ploughing its way in their hearts. Next evening, as they read again, the sense of sin in them became still deeper, and the man said, "Wife, if this book is true—then we are lost." They became very greatly distressed. The words they had read had shown them that they were sinners, guilty, and lost. Next night they read again, and found something of hope—they had read of divine love and mercy, and the man said, "Wife, if this book is true—then we can be saved." The word of God does mighty plough work in men's hearts before they can be made fruitful.
Sorrow ofttimes is God's plough. We dread pain and shrink from it. It seems destructive and ruinous. The plough tears its way, with its keen, sharp blade, through our hearts—and we say we are being destroyed! When the process is completed and we look upon the garden with its sweet flowers growing—we see that only blessing, enrichment, and beauty are the result. We complain of our suffering, but we cannot afford to have suffering taken away.
We cannot afford to lose pain out of the world—or out of our life. It means too much to us. We owe too much, get too many joys and treasures from it—to have it taken out of our lives. We owe to suffering many of the treasures of experience. Without pain we never could know Christ deeply, intimately, experimentally. Two friends may love each other very sincerely, without suffering together—but it is a new friendship into which they enter when they stand side by side in a great sorrow. Grief reveals Christ and draws him closer to us, and we love him better afterwards. To take pain from the world would be to rob life of its divinest joy, it richest blessings. If the plough never cut through the soil—there would be no furrows and no golden harvests.
This plough work is for every one of us. God is making us—and that is the way he has to do it. A little child had a garden, which her father had given her. But nothing would grow in it. The flowers and plants would begin to come up—but in a short time they would wither and die. She had little pleasure from her garden. One day her father brought some workmen with heavy iron tools, and they began to tear up her garden. The removed the soil. They destroyed everything beautiful in it. The child begged that the men would go away. She said they were ruining her garden. But they heeded not her imploring and tears. They broke up the ground and found a great rock just below the surface. This they took away, then smoothed down the soil, and made it beautiful again. After that the flowers and plants grew into beauty. Then the child understood the value of the plough work, which at first seemed so destructive—but in the end left her garden a place of rare beauty.
Christ has, in his love for us—a wonderful vision of what he wants us to become. He would have us share his own glory. "Let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us" is a prayer God loves to answer. He wants us to become radiant in loveliness. He wants love to blossom in our lives into all gentleness, sweetness, purity, and patience, into ideal manliness, heroic nobleness, splendid sacrificial life. But we never can attain this vision in ways of ease. To spare us from the pain, struggle and suffering—is not the way of truest kindness for us. It needs the plough and sharp plough-work, to bring us to our best beauty.
Ploughing is hard work. It is hard for him who follows the plough through the long furrows. There seems to be no reward for him. It is all painful work that he does—cutting and crushing the soil. He sees no growing seed, no golden harvest. It is all weariness, aches and toil for him, with nothing to cheer his heart, nothing to enrich him. The reaper rejoices as he thrusts in his sickle and then threshes out the yellow grain. But the work of the ploughman seems to be destruction for the time. Yet in the end it proves to be glorious work.
It is hard also for the soil, to have the plough of God driven through our hearts and over our lives, breaking them and crushing them. Oh, how heavy God's plough is, as it is dragged over us, its sharp plow-share cutting into the very center of our being. Rough is the plough work. It has no comfort in it. No reward is apparent. The plough cuts remorselessly. But the ploughman may have visions of a rich outcome from all his toil. There will be a harvest by and by, when, in the place where his share now cuts, golden grain will wave, and he will fill his bosom with sheaves. You cry out today because of the pain you suffer as God's plough cuts into your life and seems to be spoiling all its beauty. But look forward. First the plough—then the fields with their glorious grain. Now you know nothing but pain; hereafter you will reap joy from the places now scarred and furrowed.
There is a picture in Revelation which explains it all. There appeared a great company, wearing white robes and carrying palm branches. "Who are these?" was asked. "These are those who have come out of the great tribulation," was the answer. The way to heaven's highest glory—lies through pain. Today the plough is cutting through your life; tomorrow a blessed harvest will wave!