Sowing and Reaping:
A Biblical Model for Individual Growth
Member of the Board of Lectureship of The Mother Church,
The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston, Massachusetts
Progress Through Utilization of the Law of Identical Harvest
Several years ago some workers in my dad's office looked out a window after a heavy rain. They noticed that some words were inscribed in the concrete bottom of a small, dry pond in the Japanese landscaping. The bottom of the pond had been completely covered with small white pebbles. The words appeared as the rain washed the pebbles aside. When they went out to investigate, they found there a powerful statement from the book of Malachi in the Bible's Old Testament:
“. . . prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not he room enough to receive it” (Mal. 3:10).
This is God's timeless call to man to utilize God's power for individual growth. When they told my dad about the inscription, he was quite puzzled about it. But when I heard, I wasn't surprised it was there, because I'd written the words in the wet concrete myself years before. Then I carefully covered them. That invitation of God to "prove me now herewith," had been a bulwark of our family's development. My dad's company started with a drawing board in my parents' bedroom. It then moved to our basement. Finally, during construction of a new office to house his expanding engineering firm, I wrote those words gratefully acknowledging God's fulfillment of His promise of good when we respond to His invitation to "prove me now."
God's Support for Individual Progress
Bible's Teaching: Law of Identical Harvest
Let's think deeply about progress in our lives. It's important to realize, as we begin, that our very desire to progress to be free from limitation and oppression is not just a personal desire that we cherish on our own. The desire to progress is God's will working within us. He desires us to express the infinity and goodness that He, Himself, is. We feel this love as the yearning to grow in freedom. This desire to grow and enrich life is fully supported by God's affection for man. Even the early Israelites trusted in God's support of man. They knew, “Yea, he loved the people” (Deut. 33:3). God continues to love the people. When it comes to overcoming limitation, and enriching the affections in our lives, He's always on our side. We're free today to rely on God's covenant with us. “I will take you to me for a people, and I will be to you a God” (Ex. 6:7).
With this support of God and our yearning to progress, what does the Bible instruct us is the means by which our growth takes place? The Bible states a law of identical harvest - our reaping will be as our sowing. The law of identical harvest is found reiterated in various Biblical metaphors but always stating the same invariable law of being. In sowing forth seeds of grain, you broadcast forth only that seed you want to be multiplied in the harvest. The harvest you gather in is the very seed sown, multiplied - the identical qualities of the initial seed.
It's the very same good qualities that you express forth in life, that you'll reap, be governed by. Jesus alerted us to this unchanging truth. He asks, "Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?" (Matt. 7:16)
He emphatically assures us, "A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit" (Matt. 7:18). God's law is of identical harvest. Like produces like.
When I was thinking about this point, I went to a man who seems to be reaping a rich harvest. He's the head and founder of my state's largest firm in his field. My wife worked in this firm and I knew of his efforts to enrich co-workers capacities that they themselves hadn't even yet recognized. I asked him what had he been sowing that his harvest was so rich. His answer was very pointed. He said, "I don't know how God talks to others, but the way I'm learning to rely for direction involves following intuitive ideas that come to me with conviction." His trust for some forty years had been that the seed given to him of God - the right ideas and actions - sowed forth, had within itself, all the power necessary to bring itself to fulfillment.
He told me he hadn't always believed this. He said he'd been a reluctant and rebellious Sunday School pupil and as a young man he was doing blue-collar work on a large machine and finding it difficult. His means of dealing with this frustration was to take frequent cigarette breaks. He wasn't getting anywhere so he finally went to a Christian Scientist to gain a better sense of calm. She pointed out how futile it was to try to use a narcotic or drugs for a spiritual peace. Peace is a quality of God which comes from understanding. To live in peace we sow it forth, express it in our lives.
He told me what she said made some sense to him, but what really impressed him was that when he left her office, he left his smoking habit behind.
Following this, his thinking developed to the point that one evening he resolved to totally conduct his business as an endeavor of Spirit. He saw the business as a place to minister spiritual qualities. After that night he said he felt as if he was in the business world with his collar on backwards.
I asked him for an example of how he solved business problems with spiritual sowing. He told me that his academic background was not strong and when, as his work grew, he entered into complex negotiations with professionally trained business people, he felt he could never hold his own. He said this was particularly true of lawyers. Just as soon as he stepped into the lawyer's office, he felt he was already beaten.
Here's a man reaping a sense of inferiority. If he would reap equality, what does he need to sow? God's law is of identical harvest. He should sow forth the very spirit of equality that he wants to reap. As he prayed he realized that he, himself, had begun to feel somewhat superior to some people working around him. The first two words of the Lord's Prayer, "Our Father," told him that each individual was created by the same loving, divine Spirit and intelligence. It's obvious that he couldn't sow forth this sense of personal superiority and expect to live himself in the presence of God-bestowed equality.
He made it his business to sow forth this truth. He began first thing the next day by valuing the man who took care of the garage where he parked his car. He really valued the God-given qualities of the people at his office. This wasn't just a formal spiritual exercise. He really saw he'd been mistaken in undervaluing these people. Operations became more harmonious; he became so involved with the expansion taking place, he didn't even think of this other problem. He was already beginning to reap the multiplied goodness of the truth sown.
Several months later, he told me of awakening one morning with the new realization "I'm not afraid of negotiating with lawyers any more." He knew "Our Father" was the source of justice and intelligence for both parties. He sowed forth the qualities of divine Truth, and he found them multiplied and manifested around him.
The difference that made the difference in the success of his business could be characterized in two ways. First, he realized that his business was the ministering forth of qualities. All good activity – business, family, home, health - is the expression of His being. Second, he then listened for ideas. When he was convinced they came of God, he courageously followed them.
Now, I realize success stories can be hard to listen to. Many fear, for one reason or another, they're not able to sow forth good seed. At times, perhaps, the law of identical harvest is viewed as an obstacle because it demands sowing forth good seed in the first place, in order to take in a good harvest. Jesus saw deeper than this limited sense of individuality. He assured us, “Behold, the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21). He reminded us that man is created in the image of divinity. Even if we feel we haven't yet seen that likeness, nevertheless, this image of goodness is our intrinsic selfhood.
Several years ago I grasped this more clearly. I'd just returned from a university teaching position abroad. I needed to make a career decision. For work to be fulfilling, it comes directly out of what we are and will continue to be.
I spent a good deal of time in a local Christian Science Reading Room. There I had the opportunity, as everyone does, to pray and study the Bible, apart from the press of my work. I started to separate in my thought those things that were only contingent to my selfhood, the temporary human labels about me, from those characteristics which spiritually constituted me. My age didn't characterize my spiritual individuality. Neither did my economic circumstances. Physical appearance would certainly change but my intrinsic, spiritual identity would remain the same.
Going on like this, I felt like I was slowly peeling layers off an onion. Every time I'd peel off a layer I'd find another one. Finally, I got down to those things you could probably call persistent character faults, sins, and errors that I acted out. I wondered, should I include those as part of what I intrinsically am? But I realized to do so would be a mistake. I had already begun to free myself from some of these. In doing so it was obvious that my real selfhood was coming forth as this other was put off. When I finally got down to what I really was, I realized I could have taken a shortcut. What I saw as intrinsic to my character was precisely the activity, as Jesus put it, of loving (expressing) God with all heart, soul, and mind. Further, I recognized that this same goodness constituted my neighbor.
I'd previously thought of Jesus' spiritual insights as an external, high ideal to live up to. What I realized was that my real character deeply desired to express God with heart and soul and mind. I desired to express this good for myself and to see it expressed by my neighbor.
God is not a respecter of persons. Within each of us, every individual throughout the entire world, is a deep desire to love God - to express His good and for that good to be with our neighbors. I'm convinced that neither heredity nor false education, economic cycles, or ignorance can long keep any individual from recognizing what is deeply within.
As we recognize it is good seed we have within we will want to relate to situations in ways that express this spiritual goodness. I saw this point clearly several years ago when I wore a rabbit suit at a children's party. It had a big papier-mache head, tall ears, and a very thick fur that covered right down over my shoes. As long as we were outdoors, everything went well. But when we came indoors, disaster descended. I tangled the ears in light fixtures and bumped them on doorways. Walking by the serving table in this floppy costume caused dishes to fall to the floor. I was a big nuisance. Why? I had a concept of myself too small to fit the facts. I was much bigger than I was used to thinking of myself. I was trying to put myself in physical situations that were inadequate to contain me.
Now, take a big rabbit jump back to the spiritual point. We're much bigger than we humanly think of ourselves. We've been created by God spiritually and intellectually. This spiritual identity is our self-hood, our intelligence, and it cannot be forced into flimsy, limited, or trite forms of life. It's like trying to put our foot in a shoe that's too small. The result can never be satisfying to us. Sowing the good seed involves expanding the ways we relate to work, home, and social activities so that we minister forth what we really have within, the kingdom.
Now I realized the idea that you need to sow good seed in order to have a good harvest is fairly obvious. The next point that I want to make about sowing requires a more spiritual view of life. Suppose I asked you, "Where are you going to sow that good seed?" You might say, "In my life, right here." What governs us here? What is the realm and kingdom that we're living in? If you pick up most daily papers they mirror the human view that we're buffeted by uncaring laws of health, economic cycles, psychology, and changing social conditions. Many people resign themselves to trying to sow their good seed in this realm which they believe to be governed by matter. If we proceed under this mistake, we're not going to find the harvest we desire. To reap richly, you must know the nature of the field, the realm at hand that you're working in.
Jesus Christ, addressing people who believed they were facing a world every bit as indifferent as the one we face, assured them, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt.3:2). The kingdom of heaven is even now within our grasp. The best scholars I read tell me that the significance of the phrase, kingdom of heaven, as Jesus used it, means that place where God is reigning. To state that God's kingdom is at hand is to assure us God rules now, right here. God is at hand to govern our thought, our homes, our economic circumstances, and our bodies.
Let me tell you how this idea first touched my life. As an infant and young child, I awakened nearly every night fiercely crying often for hours. My mother was fearful and would come to comfort me. I really shouted; I kept the people in the next house awake. She had been reaching out to God to help her child, but from the standpoint that God should come down and somehow change him. Recently she had begun the study of Christian Science. One night I awakened my mother with an especially troubled cry. On her way to comfort her child a verse from a hymn bearing the idea that the child is a beam of gentle, living Love came to her. This new, spiritual realization, calmly placing the child in the context of God's kingdom, quieted me immediately. From that time the disturbances ceased completely.
What happened here? Her prayers were no longer based on the assumption that physical laws and matter constitute and govern identity. She began to understand man in the context of God's government, His reign - man, with the kingdom of heaven within, and within the kingdom of heaven. It wasn't just that my mother changed her view to something she wanted and called it reality. She had actually been in error about her child's identity, and this realization replaced her error with the growing awareness of the present reality of man living harmoniously under God's reign.
Many people have won their way to the spiritual realization:
1. Yes, Jesus declared the kingdom of God is at hand and within. And this is still true for us right now.
2. Yes, Jesus did heal the sick and advance mankind, proving God's kingdom is powerful and at hand.
3. And yes, he taught his disciples to heal, and all Christians have the authority to exercise this power.
But they also fear, "If I step out of this hall today, and I go down the street and I treat this city like it was the kingdom of God, I'll get absolutely nowhere."
It's this demoralized "yes, but” that undermines much of the practice of Christianity today. Yet, how to understand God's kingdom governing us now was set forth for any willing inquirer by an extraordinary religious thinker in the last century, Mary Baker Eddy, the Founder of the Church of Christ, Scientist. Beginning from the basis that God's kingdom is everywhere and supreme, she radically reasoned, therefore, the belief that material conditions govern us must be mistaken - an erroneous sense about life rather than the truth itself.
Mrs. Eddy reasoned from the presence of God's kingdom to conclusions about what the present state of man must, therefore, be. When it was clear that these convictions differed from the material evidence, she distrusted the validity of the material evidence, rather than the presence of God's kingdom. One of her biographers called this "feminine logic with a vengeance." (Robert Peel, Mary Baker Eddy: The Years of Trial, (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, New York, 1971), p. 33.
Rejecting as false that which is in conflict with the reality of God's kingdom isn't as unwise as it at first may seem. Mrs. Eddy realized that, for Jesus, what we unthinkingly take to be objective material limitation, was not a limit on spiritual power. He demonstrated to human thought that God's good was always present and powerful in healing sickness and destroying sin.
What is a demonstration? Have you thought about the difference between an experiment and a demonstration in a science class? An experiment is a form of inquiry carried out from the standpoint of uncertainty about what will result. A demonstration, on the other hand, is a specific illustration of law in operation. It's based on known truth. From the standpoint of confident acceptance of universal law, the results are confidently awaited. Jesus' consistent and compassionate healings were not experiments with uncertain outcomes, they were demonstrations of the presence of wholeness right where limitation was feared.
Let's think of progress in our lives as demonstration - demonstration that it's under God's ruling love that we dwell. God's invitation and challenge is "prove me now herewith" - prove, demonstrate, that My goodness is what is within you and is the realm within which you live. We harmonize with this challenge from God by sowing forth that good seed, within, of spiritual action and thought, and we do this in the full acknowledgment of dwelling in His field - His realm of presence. Real prayer is this penetration right through the material sense of life to the realization of life in God.
Often this realization comes gently in our experience. But, as we sow forth His goodness, we often immediately see the good harvest. Let me give you an example. The kingdom of God unites mankind in brotherhood. Early in my public involvement with Christian healing, I was in my office reading The Christian Science Monitor. The Monitor, an international newspaper, was founded by Mary Baker Eddy to present the daily problems and progress of humanity clearly.
I was praying specifically about the human problems it was alerting me to. That is, rather than merely accepting or reacting to the problems, I was searching to understand God's present reality that answered and healed each of these needs.
The lead article was on the Israeli-Egyptian war and I was praying for peace. I soon realized I was holding less than a godly view of the Egyptians. In my reading of the Old Testament, I found often that the Egyptians were presented as the spiritual opposition to God's people, the Israelites. But I suddenly saw that this identification of the Egyptian was not the present, true identity of anyone. Personally, I hadn't even known any Egyptians. But when I saw my misconception, I firmly routed it out of my thinking and began, in my heart, to sow forth - manifest from the Father - brotherly love. So I was now open to reap the harvest of universal brotherhood, and this is a spiritual reaping.
Just two days later, I heard my outer office door open, and literally into my office, right off a plane from Cairo, ran a woman from Egypt, desiring spiritual healing.
Our real growth is our growing awareness of the reality of God's goodness. This begins with sowing forth that goodness. What is reaping? It is our increased awareness of the encompassing presence of His goodness as the substance of all we dwell in.
Even as ancient as this law of identical harvest is, it's still often misunderstood. Unthinkingly, people suppose it to be saying, "If I just act nice then people will be nice to me and good will happen to me." An individual living in accord with God is usually seen by his neighbor as "a good person." But the basis and motive of that life - its depth of thought and actions - differ basically from the mortal idea of just being a good person, and so do the rewards.
Spiritual living brings forth spiritual life. The only coherent level of being, the only true relation between cause and effect, is spiritual. Reality is created of God, divine Spirit. As reality is spiritual, then the Science of reality can only be characterized in terms that are themselves completely spiritual - spiritual qualities and laws. Spiritual living governs our actions, our families, our work. There are no human guidelines or gimmicks that will substitute for deep prayer, day by day, from each of us. Godliness embraces human life, putting it in a clear, new context but spirituality can't be defined by even the noblest human patterns.
A second mistake about the law of identical harvest is not often spoken, but it's sometimes found in our thought. It would tell us that God is promising, if we read the Bible and join the church, we'll reap lots of money, a bigger house - good material things. God's law is of identical harvest. What's reaped is identical with what's sown. The harvest is a multiplication of the identical seed. The sowing is spiritual. The harvest also is spiritual and it's actually this spirituality we desire. Satisfaction, contentment, peace, abundance, confidence - the richness of life can only be characterized spiritually.
Let's be clear on what actually took place in our examples. What was sown by the businessman wasn't just good human qualities, but it was life, in some degree, in accord with the present reign of God. What was reaped by him was equally spiritual. It was so much more than the prestige of a large corporation, it was a realization of God's presence, and the harmony, love, and expansiveness that is this presence.
What was reaped by my mother as she prayed was so much more than a healing of her child. It was greater spiritual peace, perception, and trust. It was a new spirit and context to live in, the spirit and context of His kingdom.
Real progress in our lives takes place as we act in response to God's challenge "prove me now herewith." This Biblical promise begins with understanding that in God's truth we're right in the midst of the harvest. The harvest is realizing the bountiful presence of His qualities.
Mary Baker Eddy clarifies this point in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, the textbook of Christian Science. It begins with the acknowledgment of what true being in His kingdom is. She writes:
“Being is holiness, harmony, immortality. It is already proved that a knowledge of this, even in small degree, will uplift the physical and moral standard of mortals, will increase longevity, will purify and elevate character. Thus progress will finally destroy all error, and bring immortality to light” (S&H, p. 492).
Real progress begins as we put off material delusion for the spiritual reality.
Lenin, the Russian revolutionary and founder of much of the structure of the present Soviet state, was in exile in Zurich, Switzerland, during the first World War. It's reported that he went into a public library and checked out a copy of this textbook of Christian Science. After reading it, he's reported to have made the remark to his comrades that its basis of thought is precisely the opposite of his own materialism and atheism. (See Robert Peel, Mary Baker Eddy, The Years of Trial, (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, New York, 1971), p. 352. Now, that's where I agree with Lenin! And it's an important point.
Most people try to make sense of life by basing it on a material conception of substance with the presence of Spirit around somewhere. Lenin understood if there is a science to life, it must have one basis. He reasoned from the standpoint that that basis is matter. Today, we can see the fruits of that error. Mrs. Eddy realized that the one basis of being, our being right now, is Spirit. In her textbook and the Bible the means of anyone demonstrating this for themselves is clearly set forth.
The mental position of much thought today is like the man who has one foot on the boat and one foot on the dock and the boat is leaving. It's becoming more difficult to sustain the delusion that matter and Spirit coordinate to form life. As God is divine, the only coherent means of comprehending His creation is through spirituality and Christ.
I'm impressed how gentle could be Mrs. Eddy's invitation to turn to Christ. For example, in her work as an author she employed an editor named Wiggin. He was a man of some literary skill, and he was a Bible student, but he was immersed in the intellectual fashions of his day.
At one point Mr. Wiggin was ill for some days. Mrs. Eddy sent her carriage over to take him on a ride through the suburbs to make his convalescence more pleasant. She included a little note as well, a gentle hint sharing her sense of where healing abided. She wrote:
“Remember the City lieth four square and every side is safe, harmonious. This city is the kingdom of Heaven already within your grasp. Open your spiritual gaze to see this and you are well in a moment.” (See Robert Peel, Mary Baker Eddy, The Years of Trial, (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, New York, 1971), p. 357.
She was inviting him to regenerate his life spiritually. This "City" - right here - "is the kingdom of Heaven already within your grasp." As anyone sows forth qualities of Spirit in truth, the harvest will be rich.
Every individual who desires a reliable basis of health and wholeness has a stake in the endeavor to discern what Jesus understood and accomplished. Christian Scientists value the practice of Jesus' means of healing. The endeavor is, whether you accept spiritual healing yourself or not, a most significant expression in the spiritual life of mankind.
It's not only practicing Christian Scientists who realize this. The still highly regarded Harvard psychologist, William James, who lived during Mrs. Eddy's time, made this same point about spiritual healing. He said that he himself didn't grasp the teaching behind it. But in a statement including Christian Scientists he said:
“. . .their facts are patent and startling; and anything that interferes with the multiplication of such facts, and with our freest opportunity of observing and studying them, will, I believe, be a public calamity.” (Robert Peel, Mary Baker Eddy, The Years of Authority, (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, New York, 1977), p. 99.
The understanding of how to progress in health and life and prosperity is older than the Old Testament itself. It's the law of God, a law of identical harvest. The statement in Malachi I wrote in the wet cement gives us the spiritual steps. It begins:
“Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house” (Mal. 3:10). As we've gained a more spiritual understanding of ourselves, we see that the coins of our tithing are our actions and thoughts ruled by the laws of God's kingdom. Our sowing is an investment of reflecting His love ruling our lives. We respond to the perpetual challenge and invitation from God's eternal law, the only law, the only cause of goodness in our lives: “Prove me now herewith” (Mal. 3:10).
God's law is established. It's understandable. God's kingdom is permanent, uninterrupted, and good. God's kingdom is without slack or fallow season. In God's eyes you and I are held right now in that perfection. God's kingdom is abundance, not accumulation; it's expression, not hoarding. As we open our spiritual gaze and see this, we see He has opened for us "the windows of heaven." God's blessing is put so beautifully:
“. . . if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it” (Mal. 3:10).
For each of us, real progress is related directly and only to the degree our lives sow spiritual goodness. This is done in the awakening realization of God's omnipotence and the power of spiritual causation. The sowing and reaping of His kingdom is the multiplying of good manifesting good. If you want a simple way to remember God's law of identical harvest, just remember. "What you seed, is what you get." What we sow forth is renewed and multiplied in proportion to the breadth and depth of the multi-faceted infinity of God.