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In all commotions, the kingdom of Christ shall be spreading and growing, and the close of all shall be full victory on his side: and that is sufficient for the believer.
Of this a singular example is in Job, who was not daunted with so many ill-hearings, but stood as an unmoved rock amidst the winds and waves.
In this condition there is so much sweetness, that if known, a man might suspect himself to be rather selfishly taken with it, than to be purely loving God. Such joy in believing, or at least such peace, such a serene calmness, is in no other thing in this world. Nothing either without or within a man is to be named with this trusting on his goodness, who is God; and on his faithfulness, who, giving his promise for thy warrant, commands thee to rely on him. The holy soul still trusts under the darkest apprehensions. If it is suggested that thou art a reprobate, yet will the soul say, I will see the utmost, and hang by the hold I have, till I feel myself really cast off; and will not willingly fall off. If I must be separated from him, he shall do it himself; he shall shake me off while I would cleave to him. Yea, to the utmost, I will look for mercy, and will hope better: though I found him shaking me off, yet would I think he will not do it. It is good to seek after all possible assurance, but not to fret at the want of it; for even without those assurances which some Christians hang too much upon, there is in simple trust and reliance on God; and in a desire to walk in his ways, such a fortress of peace, as all the assaults in the world are not able to make a breach in. And to this add that unspeakable delight in walking in his fear, joined with this trust. The noble ambition of pleasing him makes one careless of pleasing or displeasing all the world. Besides, the delight in his commandments, in so pure, so just a law, holiness, victory over lusts, and temperance, hath a sweetness in it that presently pays itself, because it is agreeable to his will.
It is the godly man alone, who, by this fixed consideration in God, looks the grim visage of death in the face with an unappalled mind, which damps all the joys, and defeats all the hopes of the most prosperous, proudest, and wisest worldlings. As Archimedes said, when shot,
"Thou hast called me away from an excellent demonstration," so, it spoils all their figures and fine devices. But to the righteous, there is hope in his death. He goes through it without fear. Though riches, honors, and all the glories of this world, are with a man, yet he fears; yea, he fears the more for these, because here they must end. But the good man looks death out of countenance, in the words of David, Though I walk through the valley and shadow of death, yet will I fear no evil, for thou art with
The Parable of the Sower.
And he spake many things unto them in parables, saying, Behold a sower went forth to sow.
THE rich bounty of God hath furnished our natural life, not barely for strict necessity, but with great abundance. Many kinds of beasts, and fowls, and fishes, and herbs, and fruits, has he provided for the use of man. Thus our spiritual life likewise is supported with a variety, The word, the food of it, hath not only all necessary truths once simply set down, but a great variety of doctrine for our more abundant instruction and consolation. Amongst the rest, this way of similitudes hath a notable commixture of profit and delight.
Parables not unfolded and understood, are a veil, as here, to the multitude, and in that view, they are a great judgment; but when cleared and made transparent, then they are a glass to behold divine things in more commodiously and suitably to our way. All things are big with such resemblances, but they require the dexterous hand of an active spirit to bring them forth. This way, besides other advantages, is much graced and commended by our Saviour's frequent use of it.
That which is given here is fitted to the occasion : multitudes were coming to hear him, and many were not a whit the better for it. He instructs us in this point, the great difference between the different hearts of men, so that the same word hath very different success in them. In this parable, we shall consider these three things; I. the nature of the word in itself; II. the sameness and commonness of the dispensation; III. the difference of the operation and production.
The word, the seed, hath in it a productive virtue to bring forth fruit according to its kind, that is, the fruit of a new life; not only a new habitude and fashion of life without, but a new nature, a new kind of life within, new thoughts, a new estimate of things, new delights and actions. When the word reveals God, his greatness and holiness, then it begets pious fear and reverence, and study of conformity to him. When it reveals his goodness and mercy, it works love and confidence. When it holds up to our view Christ crucified, it crucifies the soul to the world and the world to it. When it represents those rich things which are laid up for us, that blessed inheritance of the saints, then it makes all the lustre of this world vanish, shows how poor it is, weans and calls off the heart from them, raising it to those higher hopes; and sets it on the project of a crown. And so it is a seed of noble thoughts and of a suitable behaviour in a Christian, as, in the exposition of this parable, it is called the word of the kingdom; seed, an incorruptible seed, as St. Peter calls it, springing up to no less than eternal life.
This teaches us, 1, highly to esteem the great goodness of God to those places and times which have been most blessed with it. He sheweth his word unto Jacob, his statutes and his judgments unto Israel. He hath not dealt so with any nation; and as for his judgments, they have not known them, Psal. cxlvii, 19.
2. That the same dispensation is to be preached indifferently to all where it comes, as far as the sound can reach. And thus it was very much extended in the first promulgating of the gospel; their sound went out through all the earth; as the apostle allusively applies this saying of the psalmist; Rom. x, 18; Psal. xix, 4.
3. This teaches also ministers liberally to sow this seed at all times; In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thine hand, Eccl. xi, 6; praying earnestly to him who is the Lord, not only of the harvest, but of the seed-time, and of this seed, to make it fruitful. This is his peculiar work. So the apostle acknowledges, I have planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the in
4. Hence we also learn the success to be very different. This is most evident in men: while one is cast into the mould and fashion of the word, and so moulded and fashioned by it, another is no whit changed; while one heart is melting before it, another is still hardened under it.
So then this is not all, to have the word and to hear it, as if that would serve our turn and save us, as we commonly fancy, The temple of the Lord, The temple of the Lord are we. Multitudes under the continual sound of the word yet remain lifeless and fruitless, and die in their sins. Therefore we must inquire and examine strictly what becomes of it, how it works, what it brings forth; and for this very end, this parable declares so many are fruitless. We need not press them; they are three to one here; yea, that were too narrow, the odds is far greater, for these are but the kinds of unfruitful grounds, and under each of these are comprised huge multitudes of individuals, so that there may be a hundred to one, and it is to be feared, that in many congregations, it is more than so.
Whence is then the difference? Not from the seed; that is the same to all. Not from the sower neither, for though these be divers and of different abilities, yet it hangs little or nothing on that. Indeed he is the fittest to preach, who is himself most like his message, and comes forth not only with a handful of this seed in his hand, but with store of it in his heart, the word dwelling richly in him; yet howsoever the seed he sows, being the word of life, depends not on his qualifications in any kind, either of common gifts or special grace. People mistake this much, and it is a carnal conceit to hang on the 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, like an evil soil, disappoints the fruit. What though sown by a weak hand, yea, possibly a foul one, yet if received into a clean and honest heart, it will fructify much. There is in the world a needless and prejudicial distinguishing 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 and will not depart it is authentic and full. It is those who hear the word and understand it not. Gross brutish spirits who perceive not what is said, are as if they were not there, sit like blocks, one log of wood upon another. 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! Their hearts are the common road of all passengers, of all kinds of foolish brutish thoughts; seeking nothing but how to live and yet they know not to what end, have no design; trivial highway hearts, which all temptations pass through 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, is busy to pick it away; to take them off from all reflection, 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 like the rest; though the most is picked up, because it lies on the road. So it is expressed, 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 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 it with joy, have a little present delight in it, are moved and taken with the sermon, possibly even to the