(Taken from Roots of Reconstruction, p. 374; Chalcedon Position Paper No. 88)
One of the very important and much neglected verses of Scripture is Mark 4:28: “For the earth bringeth forth fruit of herself: first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear.” Our Lord tells us (Mark 4:26–29) that the Kingdom of God, as it develops in history, has a necessary growth and development. No more than we can plant grain and then expect the harvest at once, can we expect quick or immediate results in the growth of God’s Kingdom. If we plant grain, we must cultivate it, often water it, tend to the field, and, only after much labor, reap a harvest. To expect otherwise is stupidity and foolishness, whether in farming or in the work of the Kingdom. In fact, our Lord describes quick growth as false (Matt. 13:5–6, 20–21). The expectations of most people nowadays run contrary to our Lord’s words. They demand immediate results, and then wonder why their harvests never come.
Within the church, this demand for immediate and spectacular results is commonplace. We need to remember that in church history sometimes the most successful preachers over the centuries have been heretics and compromisers. Carl E. Braaten has rightly observed, “Johann Tetzel was surely a popular preacher. He told people what they wanted to hear and sold people what they wanted to get. He was a preacher of indulgences, and lots of peoples swarmed to hear him and bought what he had to offer” (Currents in Theology and Missions, vol. 14, no. 2, April 1987, p.111f.). Today, even the Catholic Encyclopedia speaks of Tetzel’s “unwarranted theological views.”
However, we need not go back to Tetzel. Today preachers of all sorts, and laymen too, believe in and demand of God instant results: sow the seed and stand back while the harvest pops up at once! As a result, such men often do better at growing weeds than grain.
This mentality is common in all circles, modernist and fundamentalist, socialist and conservative. During the 1930s, I recall spending a futile dinner hour trying to persuade a fellow student out of quitting his university training. A passionate and devout leftist, he was convinced that, very shortly, the forces of international fascism would conquer the world. It was therefore necessary to go underground with the party of world revolution and work for world liberation. He was totally convinced that, once the forces of world fascism were broken, peace and plenty would flourish from pole to pole and sea to shining sea. I believe that on that occasion I first made serious use of Mark 4:28, but it was futile.
In the 1960s, great numbers of students all over the world fell victim to the same wild delusion. They believed that, with a little action, the full ear of corn could be reaped at once. One group held that only the reactionaries prevented the immediate dawn of an automated, work-free, and war-free world. When a reporter asked one girl in the group how a work free world could produce food, she answered with haughty contempt, “Food IS!” The student movement commanded superior minds academically, but it lacked any sense of historical development and growth. God can produce instantaneous results; He created all things out of nothing. But the Kingdom of God in history moves, our Lord tells us, in a different way, even as “the earth bringeth forth fruit of herself: first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear” (Mark 4:28).
In the past ten years, I have been involved in many court trials defending the freedom of the church, the Christian school, homeschools and families. It regularly amazes and appalls me that so many Christians, before they have fought a court case or voted (so many still do not vote), are ready to give up hope or to think of extreme measures and flight. (In this, they resemble the students of the 1960s.) Only yesterday I talked with a fine veteran of Viet Nam whose pastor sees no alternative to total obedience to the state except revolution; since he opposes revolution, he insists on total obedience as the Christian duty. He overlooks the vast realm in between, i.e., voting, pressure on legislatures, the education of Bible believers (of whom 50 percent do not vote), and so on.
It is important to recognize that this inability to see the necessity of growth is a modern failing, and also to see its source. The church fathers by and large tended to neglect Mark 4:28; but Calvin noted that the parable has as its purpose to make us diligent and patient “because the fruit of … labour does not immediately appear.”
It was the Enlightenment and Romanticism which produced the new mentality. According to Scripture, man’s problem is himself: he is a sinner. His original sin is his desire for autonomy, to be his own god and law, determining good and evil for himself (Gen. 3:5). However, there is nothing man wants less to face than the fact that, whatever other problems he has, he, his own nature, is his main problem. In fact, man rejects radically and totally the idea that God’s indictment of him is correct. He may approve of the motto, “In God we trust,” but he lives in terms of the premise, “In myself I trust.”
The more man develops in his sin, in his evil will-to-be-god, the more he believes that his own fiat word can make reality. If statist man says, “Let there be prosperity,” there should be prosperity. If he says, “Let poverty, hatred, and oppression be abolished,” these things should disappear.
But the more he pursues this course as god and creator, the more the evils around him increase. As James tells us, “From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members?” (James 4:1). Men create evils and then blame God, their environment, and other men for them.
How many politicians are ready to say, “We, the people, are responsible for the mess we are in. We want something for nothing. We want to eat our cake and have it too. We have despised God’s laws concerning debt, and much, much more, and we deserve the judgment God is bringing upon us.”
Man himself is the primary problem, and man insists that the blame must be laid on someone or something else. As a result, his problem is compounded.
The Enlightenment and Romanticism deny the Biblical answer. According to the Enlightenment, man’s reason is the solution to the problem, whereas Romanticism locates the answer in man’s will. In either case, man is the answer, not the problem.
Such thinking placed the modern age (in Europe, after c.1660 especially) in radical disagreement with orthodox Christianity. The modern era exalts man and his needs, and it is at total war against the faith that declares man to be a sinner. The epitome of a God-centered faith is the Westminster Shorter Catechism’s opening statement, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.”
The logic of such man-centered thinking in the Enlightenment and Romanticism led to revolution. John Locke, after Aristotle, insisted that man’s mind and being is a moral blank, neutral to good and evil. The premise of modern education is Locke’s assumption: education then becomes the conditioning of the morally blank child.
But what about adults who are no longer morally blank but have been conditioned into an evil outlook by Christianity, family, and capitalism? (This, for modern thinkers, is the great trinity of evil, Christianity, the family, and capitalism.) How are these peoples and cultures who have been conditioned by evil going to be changed? How can they be dealt with?
Revolution is held to provide the answer. Revolution is seen as personal and cultural shock therapy. We should not be surprised that psychiatrists turned for a time to electroshock therapy: it is a form of psychological revolution. All old patterns are supposedly destroyed in order to clear the mind of past beliefs and habits; then the new, revolutionary changes can be instilled. Such a “therapy” has proven to be a dramatic failure; the moral nature of the man remains. It is not that which comes from outside which pollutes and warps a man but that which comes from within.
Political revolutions rest on the simple-minded belief in shock therapy. The French and Russian revolutions, and the Spanish and other revolutions, have all believed that destruction will free man from the chains of bondage, but all these revolutions have only enslaved man all the more. The more modern the revolution, the more destructive and vicious it becomes. The Russian Revolution murdered priests wholesale, worked to destroy the family, and confiscated property. The murder of priests became even more savage and intense in the Spanish Revolution.
The belief has been that the murder of man’s past is his liberation into a glorious future. The results have been hell on earth, but the revolutionists never blame themselves for it. It is rather the lingering mentality of the past which is to blame. Gorbachev, to “reform” the Soviet Union, has intensified the war against Christianity.
Modern man refuses to be earth-bound. The proud American boast after the first space flight showed an astronaut as a newly born baby, and his umbilical cord tying him to earth being cut. Man now was supposedly transcending the earth to enter into a “space age” of freedom. With this new, god-like status, man, some held, would guide his own evolution, clone himself, and overcome space, time, and death.
Is it any wonder that evil churchmen have neglected Mark 4:28? Our Lord is very clear: the pattern of the Kingdom of God is like that of the earth which bringeth forth fruit of itself. There is an order and a progression from the seed, to the first green shoot to emerge, to the cultivated growth, and finally the harvest. Both time and work are essential.
I still recall my pity and revulsion for a prominent American pastor who, after World War II, wanted people to spend their time praying for a speedy second coming of Christ. He was arrogantly contemptuous of all Kingdom building as wasteful of time and money. He agreed with another prominent preacher who dismissed all efforts at Christian Kingdom action as “polishing brass on a sinking ship.” Such men do not preach on Mark 4:28.
I recall also, sadly, a very fine man, a very wealthy man, who called me to see him not too long before his death. His family and the firm’s director were now fully in charge of all his wealth. About seven years earlier, I had suggested to him that, if he had as his intention turning America around to a better direction, starting Christian schools across the country would do it. He rejected my answer sharply. Now, near death, he called me in to say that if he had spent the millions he did seeking a “quick victory” on Christian schools instead, the country would indeed be different.
That man was the antithesis of everything revolutionary. He had funded generously a number of anti-Communist causes. He loved deeply the more simple America he had known in his youth. He loved the one-room schoolhouse of his Midwestern youth, and the country church with its kindly, neighborly believers in the old-time religion. He was a simple, honest, hard-working, old-fashioned American Christian.
At the same time, although he did not know it, and would have been outraged at the suggestion, he was a revolutionist. However much old fashioned, he had something in common with all revolutionaries, namely, the hunger for and the belief in a “quick victory.”
Millions of American conservatives demonstrated, shortly after Reagan’s election in 1980, that they too were believers in the myth of victory by revolution. They acted as though the millennium had arrived with Reagan’s victory! Conservative political action groups saw an alarming decline in monetary contributions. Reagan was elected, the war was over, the troops were leaving to resume life as usual in their now peaceable kingdom.
The mentality of instant results is all around us. It is the mentality of the modern age, and of revolution. It is the belief that the problem is not ourselves but something outside of us which an election, revolution, money, education, or some other like measure can alter tomorrow. Meanwhile, we ourselves see no need for change where we are concerned! We can maintain our modern lifestyle and make God happy with a few dollars tossed into an offering plate.
But God says to us, as His prophet Nathan said to King David, a better man than all of us, “Thou art the man” (2 Samuel l2:7). The turnaround begins with us. Then, we work in terms of God’s order on earth for His Kingdom: “First the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear.”