Spiritual Meaning of
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THE SERVANT PLOUGHING OR FEEDING CATTLE.
But which of you, having a servant ploughing or feeding cattle, will say to him by and by, when he is come from the field, Go and sit down to eat? and will not rather say to him. Make ready with what I may dine, and gird yourself, and serve me, till I have eaten and drunken; and afterward you shall eat and drink? Does he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I trust not. So likewise you, when you shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants; we haw done that which was our duty to do.
The two kinds of servants here distinguished by Jesus Christ include all the members of His church, who are, according to the spiritual idea, either ploughmen or shepherds; since the term ploughmen involves in it all those who are preparing themselves for the reception and growth of the seed of the Word of God, which is the eternal truth; whilst the term shepherds involves in it all those who cherish the good which this seed produces, that so it may come to its full maturity. A spiritual ploughman, therefore, is one who is more concerned about the cultivation of his understanding and its improvement in heavenly knowledge; whilst the spiritual shepherd is one who is more concerned about the cultivation of his will, and its consequent improvement in the graces of heavenly love and charity. Jesus Christ, therefore, distinguishes between these two characters, because it is of importance, and of the first importance, that they should be distinguished, to the intent that the members of His church may examine themselves accordingly, and may thus be enabled to discover their several characters, and in what state they stand in regard both to the insemination and fruitfulness of the eternal truth in their own minds and lives.
The servant is described as coming from the field. By the field, here spoken of, is to be understood both the will and the understanding of man, because these two faculties were created to receive and to cherish the good and truth of the Word of God, and to be formed accordingly; and to come from this field is an expression to denote the cessation of spiritual labour, whether it relate to the will or the understanding, and thus to denote a state of entrance into that rest, to which all spiritual labour is intended to conduct, which rest is no other than the termination of all spiritual conflict, and an admission to that blessed peace which is always the result of spiritual victory, and of conjunction thus acquired with the supreme good and supreme truth.
It is intimated in the parable, that this servant, when coming from the field, should not immediately go and sit down to eat, but should rather make ready with what his master may dine, and gird himself, and serve his master till he has eaten and drunken, and afterward he might eat and drink.
This intimation is grounded in the greatest depths of the divine wisdom, which is continually inculcating the edifying lesson, that before man spiritually sits down to eat; in other words, before he can appropriate to himself heavenly good and truth, and thus enter into the rest of everlasting peace and bliss, he must first prepare himself for the communication and enjoyment of all these blessings; which preparation consists in doing what is here expressed in the parable, where it is said, Make ready with what I may dine, and gird yourself, and serve me, till I have eaten and drunken.
The first injunction, Make ready with what I may dine, has reference spiritually to the implantation of truths, or the knowledges of heavenly things in the human mind, on which things the Lord is said to dine, agreeably to His own declaration in the Revelations, where He says, Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to him and will eat with him, and he with me (Rev. 3:20). For such is the nature of man's conjunction with the Lord, that it cannot be effected without the knowledges of truth, nor can it be effected by those knowledges alone, without the love and life of truth, which love and life is from the Lord. Thus man's conjunction with the Lord is the result of the conjunction of the love and life of truth with the truth itself; in which case the Lord is said to dine with man, and man with the Lord, because the Lord's love joins itself with the knowledges of truth in man's understanding, whilst the knowledges of truth in man's understanding reciprocally join themselves with the Lord's love and life, and thus is effected at heavenly marriage, together with its feast, in which the Lord delights Himself with entering into His own in man; and man, in his turn, delights himself with entering mutually, by means of the knowledges of truth, into an everlasting conjunction with, and enjoyment of, all the good things of the Lord's love and life. The first preparation, therefore, for man's entrance into the rest of eternal blessedness, is to make ready with what the Lord may dine; in other words, to store up in his understanding the knowledges of heavenly truth from the Holy Word, with a view to their final conjunction with the Lord's love and life.
As the first injunction relates to the insemination of truth in the human understanding, so the second injunction, Gird yourself, relates to the effect of that insemination on the human will. For the girding, here spoken of, has respect to the love and its affections, being expressive of their separation from mere worldly, selfish, and sensual ends of life, and of their being gathered up and directed towards an eternal end, which end is nothing else but conjunction with the Supreme good and Supreme truth. Frequent mention is accordingly made of girdles and of girding in the Sacred Scriptures, both as applied to the Lord himself and to His children. Thus it is written of the Lord himself, that justice shall be the girdle of his loins, and faithfulness the girdle of his reins (Isaiah 11:5), to denote that His love and affections, as to His humanity, were always directed upwards, and under the influence of the Divine good, as His thoughts were always directed towards, and under the influence of, the Divine truth. And thus his children are enjoined by Him to have their loins girded about (Luke 12:35); or, as it is expressed by the Apostle, to have their loins girt about with truth (Ephes. 6:14), to denote that their love and affections should also be directed upwards, and gathered out of all folly and transgression to an eternal conjunction with the Divine Father and Fountain of all life and peace.
As the two first injunctions relate, one to the insemination of truth, and the other to its operation on the love and affections, so the third, Serve me till I have eaten and drunken, relates to its operation on the conduct or conversation of man in his exchange with his fellow-creatures, or in the discharge of relative duties, and in the fulfillment of those uses and good services to which he is called of the Divine Providence in that station of life in which he is placed. For this is the end both of the insemination of truth, and of its effect on the love, that man should be brought into a state of entire submission to the Divine will and Providence, so as to become a willing subject or servant for the accomplishment of divine purposes, and more especially for the fixation of the principles of thought and affection in useful works, agreeably to those other words of Jesus Christ, where He says to His disciples, You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained [or arranged] you, that you should bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain (John 15:16). For by bringing forth fruit, is here signified the production of heavenly love and charity in the human will; and by this fruit remaining, is further denoted the descent of those heavenly principles into the actions or operations of the external man, where they become fixed and permanent, and acquire a body, in the useful and profitable works of a well-regulated life. It is added, Till I have eaten and drunken, to denote that, when the principles of love and charity, in the internal man, are fixed and rendered permanent by good works in the external, the Lord, in such case, takes entire possession of the whole man, and partakes in all the joys derived from the perception of his own love and wisdom manifested and operative in the human will and understanding.
It is added, and then you may eat and drink. These words are intended to instruct us, that man is not allowed to enter into the enjoyment of any celestial good, or into the delight of any spiritual truth, only so far as he first acknowledges, in heart and life, that every such good and truth is derived solely from the Lord, and is the gift of His bountiful and unmerited mercy, and in proportion as, by humility and submission, he allows the Divine Giver to enter first into the enjoyment and delight of all His gifts. For until this is the case man must of necessity separate those gifts from their Divine fountain, and, in so doing, must of course separate himself from that fountain, and, consequently, from all heavenly enjoyment, peace, and blessedness, which can only be tasted in their fullness, so far as man is wise to connect himself with his Maker, and with all the good things of His mercy and love.
In the application of this parable, the Lord proposes the following interesting question, Does he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? to which he gives the following answer, I trust not; and then delivers the following precept, So likewise you, when you have done all that is commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do,
We learn from the above question and answer, and from the annexed precept, that no action of ours has any merit in it, only so far as it is done under the divine influence of our Heavenly Father, and thus under the humble, grateful acknowledgement, that He is the real doer of it, whilst all that we can do is to co-operate with His divine grace and mercy. We learn, further, that we ought always to consider ourselves merely as co-operators with our God and Saviour, in all our thoughts, words, and works, agreeably to His own declaration, where He says, Without me you can do nothing. Thus we ought to refer all our talents, with their operation, to the Divine bounty which bestows them, and tremble at the idea of ascribing any glory to ourselves when it is due solely to the Lord our Redeemer.
This parable teaches us to regard ourselves as called to the infinite honour and happiness of being servants of the Most High, and that in this character we have to act in the double capacity of a ploughman and a shepherd; in other words, as we are gifted both with an understanding and a will, and that our understanding was given us for the insemination and cultivation of all heavenly truth, as our will was given us for the reception and fruit-fullness of all the heavenly good of love and charity. In the next place, we are taught, that in the fulfillment of these important duties, we are bound, first, to regard the divine will and pleasure of our Heavenly Father, by preparing in ourselves a suitable habitation for His Holy Spirit of love and wisdom, that so He may take delight in the abode of His own preparing, and in the heavenly principles with which He furnishes that abode. We are instructed, yet further, that it is the will of our Heavenly Father, that we ourselves may then enter into the full enjoyment of those principles, and of all the happiness to which they give birth, whenever we are wise, humbly, and gratefully to acknowledge them to be His gifts for our bliss and salvation. Lastly, we learn, that under every advancement in the reception of goodness and of truth from above, and in all their operation, we ought to ascribe all the praise and glory to Him to whom it properly belongs, and still account ourselves unprofitable servants, because we can never rise to any higher honour than to become a fellow-worker, or co-operator, with the Omnipotent in the important concerns of our salvation and bliss. Let us resolve, therefore, from now on to endeavour to discharge all our duties, whether those of a spiritual ploughman, or of a spiritual shepherd, with the greatest zeal and alacrity, as if everything depended on ourselves, but after all to acknowledge, in humility, that of ourselves we can do nothing, and that we owe everything, whether it relate to the knowledge of truth in the understanding, to the reception of good in the will, or to the operation of both in our words and works, to the free grace and mercy of the Divine Parent and Fountain of all truth, of all good, of all peace, and of all salvation, to whom be the kingdom, the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.