The Corn of Wheat dying to bring forth Fruit
“And Jesus answered them, saying, The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal.”—John 12:23–25.
CERTAIN Greeks desired to see Jesus. These were Gentiles, and it was remarkable that they should, just at this time, have sought an interview with our Lord. I suppose that the words “We would see Jesus” did not merely mean that they would like to look at him, for that they could have done in the public streets; but they would “see” him as we speak of seeing a person with whom we wish to hold a conversation. They desired to be introduced to him, and to have a few words of instruction from him.
These Greeks were the advanced guard of that great multitude that no man can number, of all nations, and people, and tongues, who are yet to come to Christ. The Saviour would naturally feel a measure of joy at the sight of them, but he did not say much about it, for his mind was absorbed just then with thoughts of his great sacrifice and its results; yet he took so much notice of the coming of these Gentiles to him that it gave a colour to the words which are here recorded by his servant John.
I notice that the Saviour here displays his broad humanity, and announces himself as the “Son of man.” He had done so before, but here with new intent. He says, “The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified.” Not as “the Son of David” does he here speak of himself, but as “the Son of man.” No longer does he make prominent the Jewish side of his mission, though as a preacher he was not sent save to the lost sheep of the house of Israel; but as the dying Saviour he speaks of himself as one of the race, not the Son of Abraham, or of David, but “the Son of man”: as much brother to the Gentile as to the Jew.
Let us never forget the broad humanity of the Lord Jesus. In him all kindreds of the earth are joined in one, for he is not ashamed to bear the nature of our universal manhood; black and white, prince and pauper, sage and savage, all see in his veins the one blood by which all men are constituted one family. As the Son of man Jesus is near akin to every man that lives.
Now, too, that the Greeks were come, our Lord speaks somewhat of his glory as approaching. “The hour is come,” saith he, “that the Son of man should be glorified.” He does not say “that the Son of man should be crucified,” though that was true, and the crucifixion must come before the glorification; but the sight of those first-fruits from among the Gentiles makes him dwell upon his glory. Though he remembers his death, he speaks rather of the glory which would grow out of his great sacrifice.
Remember, brethren, that Christ is glorified in the souls that he saves. As a physician wins honour by those he heals, so the Physician of souls gets glory out of those who come to him. When these devout Greeks came, saying, “Sirs, we would see Jesus,” though a mere desire to see him is only as the green blade, yet he rejoiced in it as the pledge of the harvest, and he saw in it the dawn of the glory of his cross.
I think, too, that the coming of these Greeks somewhat led the Saviour to use the metaphor of the buried corn. We are informed that wheat was largely mixed up with Grecian mysteries, but that is of small importance. It is more to the point that our Saviour was then undergoing the process which would burst the Jewish husk in which, if I may use such terms, his human life had been enveloped.
I mean this: aforetime our Lord said that he was not sent save to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, and when the Syrophenician woman pleaded for her daughter he reminded her of the restricted character of his commission as a prophet among men. When he sent out the seventy, he bade them not to go into the cities of the Samaritans, but to seek after the house of Israel only. Now, however, that blessed corn of wheat is breaking through its outer integument. Even before it is put into the ground to die the divine corn of wheat begins to show its living power, and the true Christ is being manifested.
The Christ of God, though assuredly the Son of David, was, on the Father’s side, neither Jew nor Gentile, but simply man; and the great sympathies of his heart were with all mankind. He regarded all whom he had chosen as his own brethren without distinction of sex, or nation, or the period of the world’s history in which they should live; and, at the sight of these Greeks, the true Christ came forth and manifested himself to the world as he had not done before. Hence, perhaps, the peculiar metaphor which we have now to explain.
In our text, dear friends, we have two things upon which I will speak briefly, as I am helped of the Spirit. First, we have profound doctrinal teaching, and, secondly, we have practical moral principle.
First, we have PROFOUND DOCTRINAL TEACHING.
Our Saviour suggested to his thoughtful disciples a number of what might be called doctrinal paradoxes.
First, that, glorious as he was, he was yet to be glorified.
“The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified.” Jesus was always glorious. It was a glorious thing for the human person of the Son of man to be personally one with the Godhead. Our Lord Jesus had also great glory all the while he was on earth in the perfection of his moral character. The gracious end for which he came here was real glory to him: his condescending to be the Saviour of men was a great glorification of his loving character. His way of going about his work—the way in which he consecrated himself to his Father and was always about his Father’s business, the way in which he put aside Satan with his blandishments, and would not be bribed by all the kingdoms of the world—all this was his glory.
I should not speak incorrectly if I were to say that Christ was really as to his moral nature never more glorious than when throughout his life on earth he was obscure, despised, rejected, and yet the faithful servant of God, and the ardent lover of the sons of men. The apostle says, “The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth,” in which he refers not only to the transfiguration, in which there were special glimpses of the divine glory, but to our Lord’s tabernacling among men in the common walks of life. Saintly, spiritual minds beheld the glory of his life, the glory of grace and truth such as never before had been seen in any of the sons of men.
But though he was thus, to all intents and purposes, already glorious, Jesus had yet to be glorified. Something more was to be added to his personal honour. Remember, then, that when you have the clearest conceptions of your Lord, there is still a glory to be added to all that you can see even with the word of God in your hands. Glorious as the living Son of man had been, there was a further glory to come upon him through his death, his resurrection, and his entrance within the veil. He was a glorious Christ, and yet he had to be glorified.
A second paradox is this,—that his glory was to come to him through shame.
He says, “The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified,” and then he speaks of his death. The greatest fulness of our Lord’s glory arises out of his emptying himself, and becoming obedient to death, even the death of the cross. It is his highest reputation that he made himself of no reputation. His crown derives new lustre from his cross; his ever living is rendered more honourable by the fact of his dying unto sin once.
Those blessed cheeks would never have been so fair as they are in the eyes of his chosen if they had not once been spat upon. Those dear eyes had never had so overpowering a glance if they had not once been dimmed in the agonies of death for sinners. His hands are as gold rings set with the beryl, but their brightest adornments are the prints of the cruel nails. As the Son of God his glory was all his own by nature, but as Son of man his present splendour is due to the cross, and to the ignominy which surrounded it when he bore our sins in his own body.
We must never forget this, and if ever we are tempted to merge the crucified Saviour in the coming King we should feel rebuked by the fact that thus we should rob our Lord of his highest honour. Whenever you hear men speak lightly of the atonement stand up for it at once, for out of this comes the main glory of your Lord and Master. They say, “Let him come down from the cross, and we will believe on him.” If he did so what would remain to be believed? It is on the cross, it is from the cross, it is through the cross that Jesus mounts to his throne, and the Son of man has a special honour in heaven to-day because he was slain and has redeemed us to God by his blood.
The next paradox is this,—Jesus must be alone or abide alone.
Notice the text as I read it: “Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die,” and so gets alone, “it abideth alone.” The Son of man must be alone in the grave, or he will be alone in heaven. He must fall into the ground like the corn of wheat, and be there in the loneliness of death, or else he will abide alone.
This is a paradox readily enough explained; our Lord Jesus Christ as the Son of man, unless he had trodden the winepress alone, unless beneath the olives of Gethsemane he had wrestled on the ground, and as it were sunk into the ground until he died, if he had not been there alone, and if on the cross he had not cried, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” so that he felt quite deserted and alone, like the buried corn of wheat,—could not have saved us. If he had not actually died he would as man have been alone forever: not without the eternal Father and the divine Spirit, not without the company of angels; but there had not been another man to keep him company.
Our Lord Jesus cannot bear to be alone. A head without its members is a ghastly sight, crown it as you may. Know ye not that the church is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all. Without his people Jesus would have been a shepherd without sheep; surely it is not a very honourable office to be a shepherd without a flock. He would have been a husband without his spouse; but he loves his bride so well that for this purpose did he leave his Father and become one flesh with her whom he had chosen. He clave to her, and died for her; and had he not done so he would have been a bridegroom without a bride. This could never be.
His heart is not of the kind that can enjoy a selfish happiness which is shared by none. If you have read Solomon’s Song, where the heart of the Bridegroom is revealed, you will have seen that he desires the company of his love, his dove, his undefiled. His delights were with the sons of men. Simon Stylites on the top of a pillar is not Jesus Christ; the hermit in his cave may mean well, but he finds no warrant for his solitude in him whose cross he professes to venerate. Jesus was the friend of men, not avoiding them, but seeking the lost. It was truly said of him, “This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them.”
He draws all men unto him, and for this cause he was lifted up from the earth. Yet must this great attractive man have been alone in heaven if he had not been alone in Gethsemane, alone before Pilate, alone when mocked by soldiers, and alone upon the cross. If this precious grain of wheat had not descended into the dread loneliness of death it had remained alone, but since he died he “bringeth forth much fruit.”
This brings us to the fourth paradox,—Christ must die to give life.
“Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit”: Jesus must die to give life to others. Persons who do not think confound dying with nonexistence, and living with existence—very, very different things. “The soul that sinneth it shall die:” it shall never go out of existence, but it shall die by being severed from God who is its life. There are many men who exist, and yet have not true life, and shall not see life, but “the wrath of God abideth on them.”
The grain of wheat when it is put into the ground dies; do we mean that it ceases to be? Not at all. What is death? It is the resolution of anything possessing life into its primary elements. With us it is the body parting from the soul; with a grain of wheat it is the dissolving of the elements which made up the corn. Our divine Lord when put into the earth did not see corruption, but his soul was parted from his body for a while, and thus he died; and unless he had literally and actually died he could not have given life to any of us.
Beloved friends, this teaches us where the vital point of Christianity lies, Christ’s death is the life of his teaching.
See here: if Christ’s preaching had been the essential point, or if his example had been the vital point, he could have brought forth fruit and multiplied Christians by his preaching, and by his example. But he declares that, except he shall die, he shall not bring forth fruit. Am I told that this was because his death would be the completion of his example, and the seal of his preaching? I admit that it was so, but I can conceive that if our Lord had rather continued to live on,—if he had been here constantly going up and down the world preaching and living as he did, and if he had wrought miracles as he did, and put forth that mysterious, attracting power, which was always with him, he might have produced a marvelous number of disciples.
If his teaching and living had been the way in which spiritual life could have been bestowed, without an atonement, why did not the Saviour prolong his life on earth? But the fact is that no man among us can know anything about spiritual life except through the atonement. There is no way by which we can come to a knowledge of God except through the precious blood of Jesus Christ, by which we have access to the Father.
If, as some tell us, the ethical part of Christianity is much more to be thought of than its peculiar doctrines, then, why did Jesus die at all? The ethical might have been brought out better by a long life of holiness. He might have lived on till now if he had chosen, and still have preached, and still have set an example among the sons of men; but he assures us that only by death could he have brought forth fruit.
What, not with all that holy living? No.
What, not by that matchless teaching? No.
Not one among us could have been saved from eternal death except an expiation had been wrought by Jesus’ sacrifice. Not one of us could have been quickened into spiritual life except Christ himself had died and risen from the dead.
Brethren, all the spiritual life that there is in the world is the result of Christ’s death. We live under a dispensation which shadows forth this truth to us. Life first came into the world by a creation: that was lost in the garden. Since then, the father of our race is Noah, and life by Noah came to us by a typical death, burial, and resurrection. Noah went in unto the ark, and was shut in, and so buried. In that ark Noah went among the dead, himself enveloped in the rain and in the ark, and he came out into a new world, rising again, as it were, when the waters were assuaged. That is the way of life today.
We are dead with Christ, we are buried with Christ, we are risen with Christ; and there is no real spiritual life in this world except that which has come to us by the process of death, burial, and resurrection with Christ. Do you know anything about this, dear friends?—for if you do not, you know not the life of God. You know the theory, but do you know the experimental power of this within your own spirit?
Whenever we hear the doctrine of the atonement attacked, let us stand up for it. Let us tell the world that while we value the life of Christ even more than they do, we know that it is not the example of Christ that saves anybody, but his death for our sakes. If the blessed Christ had lived here all these nineteen hundred years, without sin, teaching all his marvelous precepts with his own sublime and simple eloquence, yet he had not produced one single atom of spiritual life among all the sons of men. Without dying he brings forth no fruit.
If you want life, my dear hearer, you will not get it as an unregenerate man by attempting to imitate the example of Christ. You may get good of a certain sort that way, but you will never obtain spiritual life and eternal salvation by that method. You must believe on Jesus as dying for you. You have to understand that the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s dear Son, cleanses us from all sin. When you have learned that truth, you shall study his life with advantage; but unless you recognize that the grain of wheat is cast into the ground, and made to die, you will never realize any fruit from it in your own soul, or see fruit in the souls of others.
One other blessed lesson of deep divinity is to be learnt from our text: it is this,—since Jesus Christ did really fall into the ground and die, we may expect much as the result of it.
“If it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.” Some have a little Christ, and they expect to see little things come of him. I have met with good people who appear to think that Jesus Christ died for the sound people who worship at Zoar Chapel, and, perhaps, for a few more who go to Ebenezer in a neighbouring town, and they hope that one day a chosen few—a scanty company indeed they are, and they do their best by mutual quarreling to make them fewer—will glorify God for the salvation of a very small remnant.
I will not blame these dear brethren, but I do wish that their hearts were enlarged. We do not yet know all the fruit that is to come out of our Lord Jesus. May there not come a day when the millions of London shall worship God with one consent? I look for a day when the knowledge of the glory of God shall cover the earth as the waters cover the sea, when kings shall fall down before the Son of God, and all nations shall call him blessed.
“It is too much to expect,” says one; “missions make very slow progress.” I know all that, missions are not the seed: all that we look for is to come out of that corn of wheat which fell into the ground and died: this is to bring forth much fruit. When I think of my Master’s blessed person as perfect Son of God and Son of man; when I think of the infinite glory which he laid aside, and of the unutterable pangs he bore, I ask whether angels can compute the value of the sacrifice he offered? God only knows the love of God that was manifested in the death of his Son, and do you think that there will be all this planning and working and sacrifice of infinite love, and then an insignificant result? It is not like God that it should be so.
The travail of the Son of God shall not bring forth a scanty good. The result shall be commensurate with the means, and the effect shall be parallel with the cause. The Lord shall reign forever and ever. Hallelujah! Ay, as the groanings of the cross must have astounded angels, so shall the results of the cross amaze the seraphim, and make them admire the excess of glory which has arisen from the shameful death of their Lord. O beloved, great things are to come out of our Jesus yet. Courage, you that are dispirited. Be brave, you soldiers of the cross. Victory awaits your banner. Wait patiently, work hopefully, suffer joyfully, for the kingdom is the Lord’s, and he is the governor among the nations.
Thus have I spoken upon profound divinity.
I close with a few words upon PRACTICAL INSTRUCTION.
Learn now that what is true of Christ is in measure true of every child of God: “Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.” This is so far applicable to us, as the next verse indicates,—“He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal.”
First, we must die if we are to live.
There is no spiritual life for you, for me, for any man, except by dying into it. Have you a fine-spun righteousness of your own? It must die. Have you any faith in yourself? It must die. The sentence of death must be in yourself, and then you shall enter into life. The withering power of the Spirit of God must be experienced before his quickening influence can be known: “The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: because the spirit of the Lord bloweth upon it.” You must be slain by the sword of the Spirit before you can be made alive by the breath of the Spirit.
Next, we must surrender everything to keep it.
“He that loveth his life shall lose it.” Brother, you can never have spiritual life, hope, joy, peace, heaven, except by giving everything up into God’s hands. You shall have everything in Christ when you are willing to have nothing of your own. You must ground your weapons of rebellion, you must drop the plumes of your pride, you must give up into God’s hand all that you are and all that you have; and if you do not thus lose everything in will, you shall lose everything in fact; indeed, you have lost it already.
A full surrender of everything to God is the only way to keep it. Some of God’s people find this literally true. I have known a mother keep back her child from God, and the child has died. Wealthy people have worshipped their wealth, and as they were God’s people, he has broken their idols into shivers. You must lose your all if you would keep it, and renounce your most precious thing if you would have it preserved to you.
Next, we must lose self in order to find self.
“He that hateth his life shall keep it unto life eternal.” You must entirely give up living for yourself, and then you yourself shall live. The man who lives for himself does not live; he loses the essence, the pleasure, the crown of existence; but if you live for others and for God you will find the life of life. “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.” There is no way of finding yourself in personal joy like losing yourself in the joy of others.
Once more: if you wish to be the means of life to others, you must in your measure die yourself.
“Oh,” say you, “will it actually come to death?” Well, it may not, but you should be prepared for it if it should. Who have most largely blessed the present age? I will tell you. I believe we owe our gospel liberties mainly to the poor men and women who died at the stake for the faith. Call them Lollards, Anabaptists, or what you will, the men who died for it gave life to the holy cause. Some of all ranks did this, from bishops downward to poor boys. Many of them could not preach from the pulpit, but they preached grander sermons from the faggots than all the reformers could thunder from their rostrums. They fell into the ground and died, and the “much fruit” abides to this day. The self-sacrificing death of her saints was the life and increase of the church.
If we wish to achieve a great purpose, establish a great truth, and raise up a great agency for good, it must be by the surrender of ourselves, yea, of our very lives to the one all-absorbing purpose. Not else can we succeed. There is no giving out to others, without taking so much out of yourself. He who serves God and finds that it is easy work will find it hard work to give in his account at the last.
A sermon that costs nothing is worth nothing; if it did not come from the heart it will not go to the heart. Take it as a rule that wear and tear must go on, even to exhaustion, if we are to be largely useful. Death precedes growth. The Saviour of others cannot save himself. We must not, therefore, grudge the lives of those who die under the evil climate of Africa, if they die for Christ; nor must we murmur if here and there God’s best servants are cut down by brain exhaustion: it is the law of divine husbandry that by death cometh increase.
And you, dear friend, must not say, “Oh, I cannot longer teach in the Sunday-school: I work so hard all the week that I—I—I”—shall I finish the sentence for you? You work so hard for yourself all the week that you cannot work for God one day in the week. Is that it?
“No, not quite so, but I am so tired.” Very true, but think of your Lord. He knew what weariness was for you, and yet he wearied not in well doing. You will never come to sweat of blood as he did.
Come, dear friend, will you be a corn of wheat laid up on the shelf alone? Will you be like that wheat in the mummy’s hand, unfruitful and forgotten, or would you grow? I hear you say, “Sow me somewhere.” I will try to do so. Let me drop you into the Sunday-school field, or into the Tract-lending acre, or into the Street-preaching parcel of land.
“But if I make any great exertion it will half kill me.” Yes; and if it shall quite kill, you will then prove the text, “If it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.” Those who have killed themselves of late in our Lord’s service are not so numerous that we need be distressed by the fear that an enormous sacrifice of life is likely to occur. Little cause is there just now to repress fanaticism, but far more reason to denounce to self-seeking.
O, my brethren, let us rise to a condition of consecration more worthy of our Lord and of his glorious cause, and henceforth may we be eager to be as the buried, hidden, dying, yet fruit-bearing wheat for the glory of our Lord. Thus have I merely glanced at the text; another day may it be our privilege to dive into its depths.
C. H. Spurgeon, Farm Sermons, (New York: Passmore and Alabaster, 1882), 67–82.