The Principles Of Growth
He shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him” (Isaiah 53:2).
This thing that ought to concern us more than anything else in the Christian life, both for ourselves individually and for our church, is constantly to be seeking to recognize evidences of growth. As we look back upon life, as we trace the milestone of spiritual experiences, to what extent can we see that there has been growth?
Growth in the spiritual sense of the word has little to do with outward success. It has a great deal to do with inward experience. The Apostle Paul was always deeply concerned for his converts that they might grow. He wrote to the church at Colosse and said that his great burden for them was that he might present every man perfect in Christ Jesus. His concern for others came out of an experience of growth in his own life, for that was his longing that he might know Him, and the power of His resurrection, the fellowship of His sufferings, and be made conformable unto His death. Paul’s concern was for his growth. So for every child of God, the words of the same Apostle come to us that we all, beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed from glory to glory, by the Spirit of the Lord.
My concern is that if there be any evidence whatsoever of growth, it can be only if we have understood what are the real principles of growth in the Christian life. They are so completely opposed to every other principle of growth in every other aspect of life. Some of these principles are revealed in this verse and throughout the Word of God.
If I want to know how to grow, I want to ask myself, first of all, how did the Lord Jesus grow? For I can only grow if I follow the principles in which He grew and I am quite sure that you have no difficulty in believing that the language of my text has primarily to do with Him. “He grew up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground.”
This lovely chapter of Isaiah 53 is so full of the Person, and the glory, and the humiliation of our Lord Jesus Christ, but I want to concentrate especially upon this little phrase, “He shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of dry ground” because these are the principles of growth. He grew up before His Father as a tender plant, and how tender He was. He was born in weakness, as an infant in such utter weakness and poverty. His life was only preserved by flight into Egypt, and at any moment of those days and years in the life of that carpenter shop, and wherever He was, it would have seemed so easy for Him to have been destroyed, and there came a day when He hung upon a cross in weakness, crucified in weakness, and it did seem as if all His ministry had come to an end, but it was not long afterwards before all the anointing of the Spirit of God came upon everyone of His disciples, because the Lord Jesus Christ had learned the secret of growth. He grew up before the Father as a tender plant; He grew up as a root out of the dry ground.
I am sure you have often examined in your garden, or in other people’s gardens, something of the beauty of many flowers and plants, but if you had thought about it you would have had no difficulty in accounting for their growth. Think how well they have been looked after, and how lovingly and tenderly they have been tended and watered and brought to maturity, and how much time and attention, and gentleness and care has been paid to them by the expert. Think of the fertility of the soil in which they have been grown. It is no wonder that some plants are lovely and some flowers are beautiful, because look at all the care they have had through all their lifetime.
But maybe sometimes on a country road as you walk, perhaps by a country stream you see the tree which is just luscious in beauty and it is standing on a rock, and its roots seem to be right in the stone, and for a moment you have paused and have wondered how can it ever be that that tree should be so lovely because its roots seem only to be planted in a rock, not a fertile soil. You may therefore marvel at the growth of some plants, but if you knew the secret of the growth of every child of God, you would marvel indeed, because if you understand how Jesus grew you would marvel at His growth. He was as a root out of dry ground. He did not derive life from the surroundings in which He lived; from the soil in which He grew. No, on the contrary, He put life into the soil and His surroundings. He did not owe His maturity, purity, holiness, beauty, and loveliness of character to His surroundings.
Like the vision of Ezekiel of the river which carried its source in the sanctuary at the throne of God, and concerning which the Prophet said he observed that wherever the river flowed everything lived. So wherever the river of the life of the Lord Jesus Christ flowed everything began to live. Wherever, whatever, and whomsoever He touched, there was life. He did not received nor derive strength from anything around Him. He imparted life for He was a root out of the dry ground.
Now let us think of some ways in which the Lord Jesus was truly a root out of dry ground. I want you to recognize that you will only grow as He grew. That He has no other way to mature His children except they walk the path that He walked, and live the principles of life that He lived. Therefore, as I show you how utterly dry was the ground in which He grew, I trust it will bring hope and encouragement to your own personal life because it may be there are some Christians who say, “Circumstances are so utterly against me. My home is so utterly ungodly. Muy friends just do not understand. My husband, or my wife is completely out of fellowship, and the people that matter most in life to me are so utterly unsympathetic to Christian things. How can I ever grow in circumstances like that?”
“Mr. Preacher, if you knew about the job that I work in and the sort of people I have to live with eight hours a day, five days a week, you would marvel that I even ever come to church. It is all so against growth. If you knew all the pains I have to endure day by day, if you knew all the suffering of my poor body and how often I have to be in and out of a hospital bed, and I am tired of the place, and I am so sick and so weak, and often times just absolutely broken in body and in spirit. Everything in my life is contrary to growth.” He grew up before a Father as a tender plant, as a root out of dry ground, and there is nobody who has ever grown in such dry ground as He grew.
Think for a moment of our Lord’s natural descent. They tell us today that a man’s heredity has a great deal to do with his Christian character; that can be such an immense influence to him. The Lord Jesus was of the Tribe of Judah, but when He was born into that tribe it had lost all of its honor and all of its glory. It was reduced to utter dishonor and utter shame. He owed nothing to His natural descent. If He had been born among Caesar’s household or of some great personage of His day, then we might not so marvel at the way in which He grew, but He came out of obscurity.
He did not owe anything to His natural birth; He owed nothing to the fact that He was a Jew for the Jewish nation at the time was in utter darkness and decadence; had disobeyed God and turned their back upon God and were living in utter rebellion.
He did not come into a home where there was material wealth. He was born in utter poverty and complete degradation—none so poor as He. He came out of the background of poverty, born of a virgin, and that virgin mother offered as her offering, according to the tradition of the Jewish religion, the offering of the poor, the offering accepted only from those who were utterly and completely poor. It was against that background that Jesus was born.
So, my friend, if you have a home like that which is so poor that you find it desperately hard to make ends meet, where you have nothing of tradition in your background or heritage, nothing of which to be proud, only perhaps that of which only to be ashamed, the Lord Jesus came into the world in a home just like that.
He owed nothing to those who became His disciples. He did not owe anything to His followers. Have you ever thought about it? I do not know that we really have because we have always thought to ourselves that this day in which we live is the enlightened day. This great generation, this twentieth century, the day of such vision and such standing and plan and wisdom. I am not so sure that it was anything more clever or intellectual than it was at the time when Jesus was born.
He could easily have chosen some of His disciples to be some of the great master minds of His day, some of the followers, for instance, of Socrates or Plato, some of these great men, these great teachers. He could have got hold of them and had them converted to the Christian faith, but He did not. Instead He went alongside a lakeshore and He found a few fishermen who had no training, who were described as unlearned and ignorant people, and these people were mere nobodies.
He bypassed the powers of His day, the ecclesiastical authorities, the great names, the big people until He could find just a few nonentities. He did not owe anything to His disciples. This faith of Christianity that was going to shatter the world and going to win millions and millions of people to the Lord Jesus Christ was to be propagated by humble, ordinary folk like this who had no training and no background, education or personal ability whatsoever.
Of course, they became mighty men, but what they became, He made them. As far as all His followers were concerned it was a root out of dry ground. He received no help from them, but rather received discouragement and disappointment for time and time again they denied Him and failed Him. As the Lord Jesus grew through those years and matured through the ministry, there was not one of those men upon whom He could depend or upon whom He could rely to pray with Him. He got no real heart fellowship with any of them. There was not one to whom He could turn in a crisis and know perfectly well that one would stand by Him through thick and through thin. He was a root out of dry ground.
My friend, can it be that your life is exposed to a loneliness like that? I find it hard to believe. Is there not even one friend to whom you can turn in prayer and know that you can rely upon that person to pray for you? Jesus had none. He owed nothing to His friends and nothing to His disciples and followers. It may be that you are saying, “Circumstances of growth are all against me. My friends failed me from time to time and I have been let down so bad. I have trusted people and they have failed me completely. I have not anybody upon whom I can trust. I thought so and so would be reliable, but they have not been and I have nobody to whom I can turn in a crisis. I am alone and it is all against growth—a root out of dry ground.” Jesus grew just like that.
He was a root out of dry ground, not only because His followers completely failed Him, but I want you to observe carefully the means that He used to spread His message and the truth. Have you ever thought how the Lord Jesus Christ simply turned His back upon all human means—propaganda of spreading the message? He refused to resort to any carnal experience to make His message known. He refused all military power. There was once one disciple who drew his sword in His defense and Jesus said, “Put up your sword in your sheath. Those who use the sword shall perish with the sword.” He refused to come to power, to come to authority. He refused to reach maturity by the use of any human means whatsoever. His was a message of ruthless discipline.
Never did He seek to draw the crowd by His own magnetism. Time and time again in the Gospels He was almost repelling them and driving them back and saying, “Whosoever doth not bear his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” There was never a suggestion (pardon the phrase) of entertainment value in order to attract people to His ministry—never once.
There was no resort to carnal means. If people came it was to respond to the sheer ruthless challenge of being a follower and a disciple of a crucified Nazarene. He was a root out of dry ground and as He grew and preached and taught all the time, it was in utter complete dependence upon His God and a rejection of every worldly method and worldly idea in order to attract people to Himself. For the Christian faith was never to be a religion of show; never to be a religion of ceremony, of entertainment or amusement. It was to be a religion of a cross, of blood, sacrifice, crucifixion, glory and resurrection and the anointing of the Spirit of God upon the lives of those disciples—just a little handful of nobodies—a root out of dry ground.
And, I sometimes think of the age in which Jesus lived. That was dry ground, indeed, it was an age of luxury in Rome, and the Roman Empire and the whole world under the subjection of Caesar. The whole civilized world under one materialistic, ruthless government of the power of Rome all held in subjection. There was nothing in that world and in that generation which was calculated to help the Gospel, and perhaps deepest of all, it was a root out of dry ground in terms of human nature. He never found an ally in any individual person; never found someone who was always ready to turn to Him for every man that came to Him has always been, first of all, antagonistic to Him.
The whole principle of His message was crucify the flesh. There is no place here for a personality—crucify it. Believe—there is no place here for simply intellectual knowledge. Believe—tramping down all human pride and human wisdom, for it pleased God that men should never know Him by wisdom and intellect. He was a root out of dry ground, always growing up before the Father as a tender plant. Yet in every aspect of His life the Lord Jesus was growing constantly but always a root out of dry ground.
May I turn this to your life as a child of God and to mine? When the Lord Jesus came into your heart to save you, what sort of soil did He find there? Was it fertile soil? Indeed it was not. It was hard and it was resisting and unyielding. As a matter of fact, did it not need a mighty blow from the hammer of God’s Word to break your heart? I wonder what crushing experience God had to bring in your life and in mine in order that your heart might be broken and fit to be the indwelling place of His Spirit? I wonder if someone is saying, I cannot grow because of this, because of that, the hardness and the trouble through which I have been passing, and all the time these are the things which God is using—the hammer blows of His Word and of your experiences to break that heart of yours to make it humble, and to make it available to Him.
When He came in to save you, that heart of yours was resisting and it was hard. It was not natural for you to believe in Him and to repent of your sin was not something that you did, it was all the planting of the seed of the Word of God in your life, and so far from helping Jesus in you, in your life there has been antagonism to Him and against Him, and if it is now that we can honestly say that we are glad that He is our Saviour and our Lord, it is simply because He has overcome us by His power and by His grace.
What about all the years through your Christian life, has the grace of God in you and in me found anything there that has been “I”? Have I honestly helped the Lord Jesus Christ to grow in me and all things else recede? Has it not been true that time and time again in our Christian experience He has met with our rebellion and our resistance? Is it not true that if it was not for His grace and for His constant mercy, these Christian lives of ours would have collapsed long ago?
That life of His in us has grown most of all when we have been weak. The life of Christ within has matured when we have been at the end of our tether. The grace of God has been most magnified in us when we have been completely helpless and insufficient of ourselves. For by His own strength and by His own power and His own might He has maintained His life in you and in me till this very day in spite of ourselves and in spite of our resistance—it is a root out of dry ground.
If I know anything about the experience of Christian life, and if it is yours, too, I am sure there is an echo in your heart when I say how often the fact of barrenness of spirit and the dryness of the soil in our hearts has been a cause of shame and utter humiliation. Indeed how often we have said we feel so dry and so barren that we cannot live for Christ or grow for Him. The only thing that keeps a man from growing spiritually is when he has any sense of sufficiency or fertility of soil.
Too often we have allowed barrenness and the dryness of the ground to keep us away instead of going to Him and saying, “Lord Jesus, here is the little bit of my heart. It is so dry and so barren. It does not want to pray or read the Bible. It does not want to serve you, and I am so ashamed of it but Lord, I bring to you this dry bit of ground. Lord, make it fertile; grow in it; make it lovely and make it beautiful and glorious for Thee.”
The only thing that should ever keep a Christian from service, from prayer and communion is a sense of his own fitness and his own ability, and if I speak to some poor life only conscious of barrenness and deadness of soul and the utter lack of fertility of the soil of your heart, and after years of Christian experience you are so utterly ashamed of it, beloved, that is a wonderful thing for He has not come into your life to make this nature of yours better or to improve it, but He has come to impart that root of eternal life that root of His grace, that plant of His loveliness that in the dry ground of your heart He might grow in you before God as a tender plant.
To you who are perturbed about growth in the church and in your life, I want to say that all the fulness dwells in Christ and He asks no fertility whatever from the soil of your heart. You have nothing to give Him, but my wonderful Lord Jesus loves and delights to come to empty hearts and to fill them with His love and grace. He loves to come to dry, barren ground and to make it fruitful and no matter how able or how gifted, or polished or eloquent you may be, none of us has anything to offer to help the Lord except for one thing, and that is the absolute surrender of our hearts to His Sovereignty.