By  D. M. PANTON, B. A.


"The field is the world" (Matt. 13: 38); and our Lord isolates a single man, plowing, as a photograph of every Christian disciple in active service in the whole field of the world.  The world is to be plowed with the furrows of God; every believer starts with his hand on the plow; the furrow is to hold the seed, and to produce the harvest; and the far-off goal of the plowing is the [millennial] Kingdom.   It is a glorious summons to us all to plow.  Our Master is worthy of the very best we can give: the perishing, dying world is calling for our pity and our help*: our uttermost devoted to God brings the fullest joy, and beyond are the 'many cities' of wider service in the coming Kingdom.  The simplest believer of either sex is set to plow somewhere in the field, and can plow the richest furrow.


[* Second Advent truth, cannot bring initial salvation [i.e., 'eternal life'] to the lost.  Eternal salvation is found by faith alone in the Person of Jesus Christ, (John 3: 16; Acts 4: 11, 12; Eph. 2: 8, 9.)]





Exactly what the hand is which is placed on the plow the man's words have already shown.  "I will follow thee, Lord" (Luke 9: 61): it is the direct, personal prayer to Christ of a saved soul; he has believed Jesus to be the Lord; and in that vital prayer he has acknowledged all that the Lord is - the Son of God demanding our discipleship; and he has devoted himself simply to following Jesus Christ.  Instantly he becomes an engaged plowman in the service of God.  A whole world of activity opens before him; his task is to dig open the soil of the human heart to the Sun of Righteousness, the Light of the World, and then to plant it with the Word of God.  A straight, rich furrow imagination can see lying between him and the far horizon: that hand has gripped the highest.




But now some additional words in the man's prayer reveal a sudden danger.  A plowman's double duty is to have his hand on the plow and his gaze fixed on some object ahead by which he can drive a straight furrow.*  "But first suffer me," this man says, "to bid farewell to them that are at my house."   Un-inflamed by the red-hot earnestness of Christ, and the terribly imperative nature, the awful urgency, of the summons to plow for God, he suggests postponing his service; and hopes that Christ will agree.  To "follow Christ", as this man had not only resolved to do, but had told the Lord he would do, is as great in its cost as it is magnificent in its opportunity: it means the severance of old and strong ties; exposure to hatred and possible violence; a lonely walk Therefore the home behind, to which he wishes to bid farewell, is full of danger.  The farewell at home has been, in countless cases, a farewell to Jesus.


[* The concentration required a recent competition shows.  'All the morning these fields were the centre of interest.  Friends and relations gathered on the headland opposite the plowman of their choice.  Every man worked his grim earnest.  He looked at his rean, to his crop, and, satisfied or not, to his initial entry.  One man saw that his furrows were not packed closely enough, another that his gathering widened slightly, and another that his slitting might not work out evenly.  The face of the field changed; pale, dry soil gave place to moist red earth.  The teams moved up and down, brasses flashed in the sunlight, steel hames glittered against the fresh black polish of the collars.  Here eight white hocks were moving in unison, there a pair of white faces showed up across the reddening field.  The rise and fall of the land was emphasised by the curving line of the furrows.']




So the Lord introduces a new feature into the photograph: the plowman's hand is on the plow, but his face is turned back; and the Lord's comment in his interviewer's words is this: "No man, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the Kingdom of God."  Looking back means that the plowman's eyes are off the plow; and therefore either that he is not plowing, or else that he is plowing anyhow - with certain disaster ahead: ground chopped by a blind plow cannot be sown.  Our Lord Himself, in this very chapter, had extraordinarily illustrated His own words.  "When the days were well nigh come that he should be received up, He steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem" (verse 51).  An ancient medal has upon it a plow and an altar; and under it the words, "Ready for either."  A single eye directing the plow, unswerving, un-turning, with face set towards the furrow and the harvest - this attitude is vital for the efficient servant of God.  One look at Christ can be full of joy and heaven, but one look away from Christ can be the first motion to apostasy.




It is most significant that this man, though looking back, still has his hand on the plow: it is a disciple still in the active service of Christ, and to all appearances a devoted servant of God.  What does the backward look mean experimentally?  Have we not all felt moments when every fibre of our being called us back?  The furrow we are driving is so narrow; the Christless philosophies of the world are so comforting and wide - aye, and so remunerative; the ground we plow is so hard and stony; the Christian service is so solemn, and the refusing of fleshly and worldly desires so stern.  But there can be no martyr's crown without martyrdom: we can never win the 'well done' unless we unremittingly do well.  "If he" - my 'righteous one,' a truly saved soul - "shrink back, my soul hath no pleasure in him" (Hebrews 10: 38).  "Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, - this man had said, 'I will follow thee, Lord' - "shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he that doeth the will" - the flawless furrow - "of my father which is in heaven" (Matt. 7: 21).




One little word which the man uses is charged with infinite meaning; an ominous, treacherous word, that can undermine the best resolves and ruin the fairest prospects.  "I will follow thee, Lord; but".  I will follow thee, Lord; but - not yet.  I will follow thee, Lord; but - my employment will be endangered.  I will follow thee, Lord; but - Christians expect me to be too strict.  I will follow thee, Lord; but - I cannot accept the whole Christian creed.  I will follow thee, Lord; but - I cannot obey all thy commands.  The dangers lurking in the backward look Bishop J. C. Ryle has stated in tragic words; "I can certainly testify, after sixteen years' ministry, that by far the most hopeless deathbeds I have attended have been those of backsliders.  I have seen such persons go out of the world without hope, on whom every truth and doctrine and argument appeared alike thrown away.  They seem to have lost the power of feeling, and could only lie still, and despair."  God will flash upon a soul its magnificent duty, a privilege that angels must envy: a sermon will pass like a spasm of thunder over a soul: that soul goes home, it sees the frowns, it hears the sobs, it listens to the entreaties - and then it turns its back upon the golden furrow to the Kingdom.  For merely looking back God's lightning’s turned Lot's wife to stone.




Our Lord finally states the consequence of the backward look for the Christian disciple.  "No man, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, IS FIT FOR THE KINGDOM OF GOD."  The Kingdom of God on our Lord's lips, and in all literal passages, has but one meaning - the coming ten golden centuries of God's reign on earth; and no king can rule wisely and well without a fitness for royalty produced by character and experience.  There is no 'fitness' for eternal life; but without [personal] fitness we shall never be (as Paul prays for the Thessalonian disciples) "counted worthy of the Kingdom of God, for which ye also suffer" (2 Thess. 1: 5).  For "the field is the world"; and only if we have plowed it effectively can we rule it efficiently.  This disciple, a sample of countless thousands, the King Himself already pronounces to be unfit: on the other hand the disciple who, in handling the plow, never looks back, but plows a deep, rich furrow to the end, is 'fit' - that is, ripened, prepared, competent - 'for the Kingdom of God'.  "Because thou hast been faithful in a very little, have thou authority over ten cities" (Luke 19: 17).  Thus the object ahead by keeping his eyes on which (our Lord reveals) the plowman achieves a straight furrow is the prize of the Kingdom.




It is of the richest significance that the Gospel urgently so far exceeds any urgency under the Law that our Lord forbids the very thing Elijah allows.  "Let me, I pray thee, kiss my father and my mother and then I will follow thee.  And he said unto him, Go" (1Kings 19: 20).  Ours is rather the golden resolve of Paul.  "One thing I do, forgetting the things which are behind" - with not one backward look - "and stretching forward to the things which are before, I press on toward the goal unto THE PRIZE of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 3: 13).  Bishop Hannington died a martyr's death, and all martyr's will be in the Kingdom (Rev. 20: 4).  "How I dread my ordination!" he wrote, in his early years.  "I would willingly draw back; but when I am tempted to do so, I hear ringing in my ears - 'No man, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God'."  And what a furrow he plowed!  With his dying breath he said: "Go, tell my brethren that I have bought the road to Uganda with my blood."