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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 induced the Son of God to die for sinners; such a rich purchase made as a kingdom; such glory and sweetness. Therefore the description of the new Jerusalem, Rev. xxi, suppose it to be but a dream 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 lasted, but which dies out in the air. It may be, the relish and air of it will remain awhile in the imagination, but not long; even that wears out and is forgotten. So here, it is heard with joy and some seed 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 manner dies in a silent smothering way, yet it is in order to the fructifying and the reviving of it, so 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 never goes deep: it springs up indeed, but any thing blasts and withers it. There is 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.
O rocky hearts! How shallow, shallow, are the impressions of divine things upon you! Religion goes never further than the upper surface of your hearts. You have but 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; Mark iv, 1; Luke viii, 5. All these together are the thorns. And these grow in hearts which do more deeply receive the seed and send it forth, and in which it springs up more hopefully, than in either of the other two; and yet they choak it. O the pity!
Many are thus almost at heaven; there is 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 harvest, 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 or 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 such poor things should prejudice us against the rich and blessed increase of this divine seed!
The last is good ground, a good and honest heart. There is not much fineness here, not many questions and disputes, but honest simplicity, sweet sincerity; that is all; an 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 sixty, and some a hundred-fold; yet, the lowest are aiming at the highest, not resting satisfied,
still growing more fruitful; if thirty last year, desiring to bring forth sixty this.
This is the great point, and 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, how few! All the land is sown, and that plentifully, with the good seed; but what comes for the most part? Cockle, and no grain.
We would do all other things to purpose, and not willingly lose our end: we would not trade and gain nothing, buy and sell, and live by the loss; we would not plow and sow, and reap nothing. How sensibly do we feel one ill year! And shall this alone be lost labor, which, well improved, were worth all the rest? O how much more worth than all! Shall we do only 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 labor in other things; why it is all lost, even where most is gained. What amounts it to, when cast up? Vanity and vexation of spirit is the total sum. And in all our projecting and bustling, what do we but sow the wind and reap the whirlwind, sow vanity, and reap vexation?
This seed alone, being fruitful, makes rich and happy, springs up to eternal life. O that we were wise, 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, with some 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 who 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. Plough up, and sow not among thorns ; Jer. iv, 3.
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 difference of the soil makes indeed the difference of success; but the Lord hath the privilege of bettering the soil. He who framed the heart, changes it when and how he will. There is a curse on
all grounds naturally, which fell on the earth for man's sake, but fell more on the ground of man's own heart within him; Thorns and briers shalt thou bring forth. Now it is he who denounceth that curse, who alone hath power to remove it. He is both the sovereign owner of the seed, and the changer of the soil. He turns a wilderness into Carmel by his Spirit! and no ground, no heart, can be good, till he change it.
And being changed, much care must be had still in manuring; for still that is in it, which will bring forth many weeds, is a mother to them, and but a step-mother to this seed. Therefore consider it, if you think this concerns you. He that hath an ear to hear, as our Saviour closes, let him hear. The Lord apply your hearts to this work; and though discouragements should arise without or within, and little present fruit appear, but corruption is rather stronger and greater, yet watch and pray. Wait on; it shall be better. This fruit is to be brought forth with patience, as St. Luke hath it. And this seed, this word, the Lord calls by that very name, the very word of his patience. Keep it, hide it in thy heart, and in due time it shall spring up. And this patience shall be put to it but for a little while. The day of harvest is at hand, when all who have been in any measure fruitful in grace, shall be gathered into glory.
The Promises an Encouragement to Holiness.
2 COR. vii, 1.
Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.
IT is a thing both of unspeakable sweetness and usefulness, for a Christian often to consider the excellency of that estate to which he is called. It cannot fail to put him upon very high resolutions; and carry him on in the divine ambition of behaving daily more suitably to his high calling and hopes. Therefore, these are often set before christians in the scriptures, and are pressed here by the apostle upon a particular occasion, the avoidance of near combinements with unbelievers. He mentions some choice promises which God makes to his own people, and speaks of their near relation to, and communion with, himself; and upon these, he enlarges and raises the exhortation to the universal endeavour of all holiness, and that as aiming at the very top and highest degree of it.
In the words are, I. the thing to which he would persuade; II. the motive.
I. The thing is holiness in its full extension and intention; Cleansing ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, and perfecting holiness in the fear of God.
The purging out of filthiness, and the perfecting of holiness, express those two parts of renewing grace, mortification and vivification, as usually they are distinguished. But I conceive they are not so truly different parts, as a different notion of the same thing, the decrease of sin and the increase of grace being truly one thing, as are the dispelling of darkness and the augmenting of light. So here, the one is rendered as the necessary result, yea, as the equivalent of the other, as the same thing indeed; cleansing from filthiness, and, in so doing, perfecting holiness; perfecting holiness, and, in so