The Soils of the Soul

Recent chapel talk at our Theological Seminary.

Albert P. Shirkey, Minister, Mount Vernon Methodist Church, Washington, D.C. 

It is always a pleasure for me to have the opportunity to come and share with you some of the truths so deeply important to all of our lives. My congratulations on this new university, and may God richly bless it and bring it to its highest and finest fulfillment.

Today I want to talk about the program of the greatest Teacher of all time. As you well know, of all the teachers that have ever come to the world, Jesus was the best. He is without a peer. He had that rare ability to take the simplest things of our everyday experience and to weave around them great eternal lessons. One day the Master sat in a boat on the lake and looked across to where He saw the sower sowing the seed in a field. "And the sower went forth to sow," He began. He found there different kinds of soil—the stony ground, the places without much earth, the earth choked with thorns, the good soil. The emphasis of the story is not on the sower. One can be a good sower. One can have good seed, and yet a har­vest will not be brought forth simply because of the poor soils.

In this parable our blessed Lord helps us to understand that as good sowers and as we sow the seed of the eternal kingdom, we must find good soil in which to sow the seed to bring forth the harvest. It is our job to break up hard soil, to deepen thin soil, to keep soil from becoming thorny.

I was secretary of a Crusade for Christ in the Methodist Church. We set out to raise $2 mil­lion and raised $27 million. It was a quest to try to do something for the rural church, and we came to the definite understanding that if we were ever able to do anything for the rural church we would have to do something for the soil on which people made a living. There was no use to talk about stewardship or the young people's going to college. It was better to do something for the people on the soil. We needed to study the nature of the soils. We went down into the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. There we found an immigrant farmer who was mak­ing $100,000 a year as a truck farmer. He was a wonderful man. What did he do? Contour farming, rotation of crops so that he planted the crop that put back into the soil that which the crop before had taken out. He studied the use of the best fertilizers. He told us, "This land is better than when I found it." Within a stone's throw was a Mexican farmer who was not even eking out a living. What made the dif­ference? Soil. Not thin, hard, or crowded soil, but soil that was good.

Types of Soils

Your business and mine is that we do some­thing with the soils of the soul. We must take the hard soil and break it up. I have come to the very definite conclusion that there is one thing that makes life terribly hard. We have to watch it every moment we live as ministers of Christ and as teachers, as Christian workers. That is that we do not let people lose sight of the fact that they are to be doers of the Word of the Lord Jesus Christ as well as to be hearers. We live in the most dangerous age I know. Do not let anybody get the idea that I am an old fogy and do not like things that are modern. I live in a modern world and like to draw the very best out of it. I think we ought to do that. But it is still terribly dangerous. I will tell you where it is dangerous. We sit down before the television or listen to the radio and are moved emotionally, but those mediums do not ask you to do anything about it. You may just cry, feel yourself to be a hearer but never a doer. The danger in reading great books is that people read, they are moved to tears, but the moving of great emotions by a book does not require them to do a thing about it. Or you may go to a movie and sit there and see what many people call a five-handkerchief movie. Emotions are stirred, but people do not have to do anything about it.

The danger, my dear friends, is that they can sit under the preaching of the Lord Jesus Christ and feel and be stirred, yet this influence of a modern world carries over into their under­standing so that they do not do a thing about it. When you feel and do not act, you pack the soil of the soul until it becomes hard. To be stirred in the deepest emotions of the soul without corresponding action is a dangerous thing. People are either made better or worse when they worship. The danger is that we shall leave people right where they are. Our work is to teach people and lead them so that when the Word of God is preached they will have cor­responding actions for every feeling.

Some seed fell on soil that was thin. Without knowledge of the Book the lives of the people will become thin. This is one of the hardest things you will have to put up with in your work. You are people who are training in the knowledge of the Bible and spiritual things, but you are going to preach to people that do not even know the message that you speak. Some of the allusions we make to the Scriptures they do not know; they do not have any education in that direction at all. We are going to have to teach people the Bible, teach them to read it and to live it so that they will have freedom of soul. That is the only way in which they can put down spiritual roots.

We not only have to deepen the soil, but we have to see that the soil does not become crowded. The most dangerous thing in the world is to go through what we are going through now. We are enjoying the greatest age of comfort that the world has ever known. But we have to teach the people the great mes­sage that life does not consist in the abundance of what they possess. I stood in Union Station near the statue of Baker—I have a sermon on the Pioneer Woman based on that statue. She has a lovely face, and is holding a little child by the hand. On her arm is a little bandanna hand­kerchief holding all that they possess. Was there ever anyone so rich as our pioneer mother?

I remember my home very well when we had vast possessions. We had a great Virginia estate. Dad was one of the richest men of the time. But he lost it all. I know what it is to go to bed hungry. I wore my mother's shoes to school. They were all I had. Let me pa) the greatest compliment to my father. I never noticed the slightest difference in my father when he had everything and when he had nothing. He could stand before the lacy loveliness of the trees, and say, "Poems are made by fools like me, but only God can make a tree." He made God so intimate that we could take the blinds clear apart and "put a finger on God's heart." One day mother was in the hospital—she just couldn't take it. He took a little bit of corn meal, baked it, and held it out in front of us. "Father, we thank Thee for this corn meal." I saw it in his hands that day, and I saw my Lord. One lesson we must teach is that life does not consist in the abundance of the things that we possess. Do not let your people get doubtful and critical. Preach this thing of stewardship. Give to them the best that Jesus Christ has given you the ability to give.

Improving the Soil

Your job and mine as good sowers is to break up the soil that has become hard, deepen the thin soil, and plant the seed in the good soil so that people see that which should be seen. I want to tell you the story of a will. It was written by a tramp to a little girl, and it was put on probate here in Washington. It read, "To you I leave the stars at night. To you I leave the lacy loveliness of old trees. To you I leave the stream bubbling over the rocks making music as it goes. To you I leave the world of God." He did not have a single thing; he had everything.

Jesus Christ never had a place to lay His head. Somebody gave Him a place to sleep when He came down from the cross. He never had a thing of His own, and yet He stands in the middle of the world holding it up. There was never such a rich soul as Jesus. Dear friends, I do not know how this agrees with your teaching, but I want to share with you some of mine. I am very definitely of the opinion that our blessed Lord in planning for His kingdom did not mean that the victory would belong to Jesus Christ alone. I believe He meant the victory to be our victory. I think He meant the victory would be ours together, Saviour and workers—a Lord who lived, died, and rose again, and a world for those of us who live there to serve in cooperation with Him in sav­ing men and women. It is to be our victory as we stand together.

During the world war a piece of wasteland was given to old Pat, an Irishman, to cultivate. He went to work and made a beautiful garden out of this piece of land. A Quaker superin­tendent said to him, "Pat, the Lord has done a great work here."

"You have spoken a true word, sir, but you should have seen this piece of land when only the Lord had it."

We are not concerned with Pat's theology, but the point is important. God works through men. So, dear friends, the world in so many places remains a wilderness until God finds a man. Then when He finds the man, and God and man are working together, He makes a garden. We are told that He walked in the Garden after He made Adam.

We must give the best we have so that He may be able to work through us to help the people for whom we minister. We must build up the thin soil, break up the hard soil, and remove the thorns so that the seed may fall on the good soil and bring forth a harvest of sixty-, eighty-, and one hundredfold. God bless you in your ministry. Since I began my ministry in my first church thirty years have passed. My only regret is that I did not start sooner. You are in the greatest thing that God ever gave men or women to do. Now be good sowers, sowing good seed on good soil.

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Albert P. Shirkey, Minister, Mount Vernon Methodist Church, Washington, D.C. 

September 1958

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