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advantages of the minister, or to eye that much. The sure way is to look up to God, and to look into thine own heart. An unchanged unsoftened heart, as an evil soil, disappoints the fruit. What though sown by a weak hand, yea, possibly a foul one, yet if received in a clean and honest heart, it will fructify much. There is in the world a needless and prejudicial differencing of men, out of which people will not come for all we can say.
The first bad ground is a highway. Now we have a commentary here whence we may not, nor will not depart, it is authentic and full, they that understand not. Gross brutish spirits, that perceive not what is said, are as if they were not there, sit like blocks, one log of wood upon another, as he said. This is our brutish multitude, what pity is it, to see so many, such as have not so much as a natural apprehension of spiritual truths? The common road of all passengers, of all kind of foolish, brutish thoughts, seeking nothing but how to live, and yet know not to what end, have no design, trivial, highway hearts, all temptations pass at their pleasure, profane as Esau, which some critics draw from a word signifying the threshold, the outer step that every foul foot treads on.
These retain nothing, there is no hazard of that, and yet the enemy of souls, to make all sure, lest peradventure some word might take root unawares, some grain of this seed, he is busy to pick it away; to take them off from all reflexion, all serious thoughts, or the remembrance of any thing spoken to them. And if any common word is remembered, yet it doth no good, for that is trodden down as the rest, though the most is picked up, because it lies on the road. So exprest by St. Mark iv. 4.
The second is stony ground. Hard hearts, not softened and made penetrable, to receive in deeply this ingrafted word with meekness, with humble yielding and submission to it, the rocks. Yet in e Lapis super lapidem in theatro.
d Ver. 19.
these there is often some receiving of it, and a little slender moisture above them, which the warm air may make spring up a little; they receive with joy, have a little present delight in it, are moved and taken with the Sermon, possibly to the shedding of some tears, but the misery is, there is a want of depth of earth, it sinks not.
No wonder if there is some present delight in these, therefore the word of the kingdom, especially if skilfully and sensibly delivered by some more able speaker, pleases. Let it be but a fancy, yet it is a fine pleasant one: such love as the Son of God to die for sinners; such a rich purchase made as a kingdom; such glory and sweetness. Therefore the
l description of the new Jerusalem", suppose it be but a dreain, or one of the visions of the night, yet it is passing fine; it must needs please a mind that heeds what is said of it. There is a natural delight in spiritual things, and thus the word of the prophet, as the Lord tells him, was as a minstrel's voice, a fine song so long as it lasts, but dies out in the air; it may be, the relish and air of it will remain a while in the imagination, but not long, even that wears out, and is forgot. So here it is heard with joy, and some is springing up presently: they commend it, and it may be, repeat some passages, yea, possibly desire to be like it, to have such and such graces as are recommended, and upon that think they have them, are presently good Christians in their own conceit, and to appearance some change is wrought, and it appears to be all that it is. But it is not deep enough, they talk possibly too much, more than those whose hearts receive it more deeply; there it lies hid longer, and little is heard of it. Others
may think it is lost, and possibly themselves do not perceive that it is there, they are exercised and humbled at it, and find no good in their own hearts; yet there it is hid, as David says, Thy word have I hid in my heart. And as seed in a mauner
dies in a silent smothering way, yet it is in order to the fructifying, and to the reviving of it, it will spring up in time, and be fruitful in its season, with patience, as St. Luke hath it of the good ground; not so suddenly, but much more surely and solidly.
But the most are present, mushroom Christians, soon ripe, soon rotten; the seed goes never deep, it springs up indeed, but any thing blasts and withers it. Little root in some, if trials arise, either the heat of persecution without, or a temptation within; this sudden spring-seed can stand before neither.
Oh rocky hearts ! How shallow, shallow, are the impressions of divine things upon you? Religion goes never farther than the upper surface of your hearts, few deep thoughts of God, and of Jesus Christ, and the things of the world to come; all are but slight and transient glances.
The third is thorny ground. This relates to the cares and pleasures, and all the interests of this life. All these together are the thorns, and these grow in hearts that do more deeply receive the seed, and send it forth, and spring up more hopefully than either of the other two, and yet choak it. Oh! the pity:
Many are thus almost at heaven, so much desire of renovation, and some endeavours after it, and yet the thorns prevail. Miserable thorns! the base things of a perishing life drawing away the strength of affections, sucking the sap of the soul. Our other seed and barvest, our corn and hay, our shops and ships, our tradings and bargains, our suits and pretensions for places and employments of gain or credit, husband, and wife, and children, and house, and train, our feastings and entertainments, and other pleasures of sense, our civilities and compliments, and a world of those in all the world are these thorns, and they overspread all. The lust of the eye, the lust of the flesh and the pride of life. And for how long is all the advantage and delight of these? Alas! that so poor things should prejudice us against the rich and blessed increace of this divine seed.
8 See St. Mark iv. 1. and St. Luke viii. 5.
The last is good ground, a good and honest heart; not much fineness here, not many questions and disputes, but honest simplicity, sweet sincerity, that is all, a humble single desire to eye, and to do the will of God, and this from love to himself. This makes the soul abound in the fruits of holiness, receiving the word as the ground of it; different degrees there are indeed, some thirty, some si rty, and some an hundred fold, yet the lowest aiming at the highest, not resting satisfied; yet growing more fruitful, if thirty last year, desiring to bring forth sixty this.
This is the great point, we ought to examine it, for much is sown and little brought forth. Our God hath done much for us, (what more could be done?) yet when grapes were expected, wild grapes are produced. What becomes of all? Who grow to be more spiritual, more humble and meek, more like Christ, more self-denying, fuller of love to God, and one to another? Some, but alas ! few. All the land is sown, and that plentifully, with the good seed: But what comes for the most part? Cockle, and no grain; Infelix lolium.
We would do all other things to purpose, and not willingly lose our end; not trade and gain nothing; buy and sell, and live by the loss; not plow and sow, and reap nothing; how sensibly do we feel one ill year? And shall this alone be lost labour, ---that, well improved, were worth all the rest? Oh! how much more worth than all? Shall we only do the greatest business to the least purpose? Bethink yourselves, what do we here? Why come we here? If we still remain as proud and passionate, as self-willed as before, what will all great bargains, and good years, and full barns, avail within a while? That word, Thou fool, this night shall they fetch away thy soul, how terrible will it be?
We think we are wise in not losing our labour in other things? why, it is all lost, even were most gained. What amounts it to, cast up? Vanity and veration of spirit is the total sum. And in all our projecting and busling, what do we but sow the wind, and reap the whirlwind ? sow vanity, and reap veration.
This seed alone being fruitful, makes rich and happy, springs up to eternal life. Oh! that we were wise, and that we would at length learn to hear every Sermon as on the utmost edge of time, at the very brink of eternity. For any thing we know for ourselves, of any of us it may be really so; however, it is wise and safe to do as if it were so. Will you be persuaded of this? It were a happy Sermon if it could prevail, for the more fruitful hearing of all the rest henceforward. We have lost too much of our little time; and thus, with the Apostle, I beseech you, I beseech you, receive not the grace of God in vain, Now that you may be fruitful, examine well
your own hearts, pluck up, weed out, for there are still thorns. Some will grow, but he is the happiest man that hath the sharpest eye, and the busiest hand, spying them out, and plucking them up. Take heed how you hear, think it not so easy a matter. •Plow up, and sow not among thorns".
And above all pray, pray before, after, and in hearing. Dart up desires to God, he is the Lord of the harvest, whose influence doth all. The ditference of the soil makes indeed the difference of success, but the Lord hath the privilege of bettering the soil.
He that frained the heart changes it when and how he will. There is a curse on all grounds naturally, that fell on the earth for man's sake, but fell more on the ground of man's own heart within him: Thorns and briars shalt thou bring forth. Now it is he that denounceth that curse, that alone hath power to remove it; he is both the sovereign owner of the seed, and changer
h Jer. iv.