"But other fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear." (Matthew 13:8,9)
THERE is nothing that can be more important to the Lord's family, than to be able to trace out the fruits and effects produced in their own souls by the word of God. For, depend upon it, the Lord's word is never spoken in vain; it is either the power of God unto salvation, or the condemnation of the sinner in his unbelief; for the Apostle declares, "We are unto God a sweet savour of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish; to the one we are the savour of death unto death; and to the other the savour of life unto life." Therefore it is most important that we should know, as the Lord is pleased to discover it, what is its effect upon ourselves; for whilst we wish well to Zion, and desire to love all them that love the Lord Jesus Christ in truth and sincerity, this, if it be genuine, must spring from our own personal interest therein; for we cannot love and delight in God's work in others, if we are strangers to it ourselves. Real religion must begin at home: hence the church of old complained, saying, "They made me keeper of the vineyards; but mine own vineyard have I not kept." This, alas! is too often the case; professors frequently appear more concerned about the welfare of others than about their own; they see wherein others come short, but there seems to be very little searching of their own hearts. Our dear Lord pointed out such, when he said, "How canst thou say, Brother, let me pull out the mote that is in thine eye, when thou thyself beholdest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to pull out the mote that is in thy brother's eye." Yet, if rightly understood, it is a blessed privilege of the Lord's people to watch over one another, for when such is the case, we shall watch over ourselves also, and shall then "prove all things, and hold fast that which is good." When God is pleased to bring any of us His children to the verge of Jordan (and I have been there myself many times, according to all human appearances,) and to bring us through Jordan, we shall find that it is our own personal interest, our own hope, which is an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast; what we have proved for ourselves, and what we know for ourselves. I like to think about those things; for although the Lord has been pleased to strengthen me a little, I would not lose sight of my latter end. It cannot be far off. Therefore I do not wish to be turned aside, or drawn back to those things wherein I can find no profit.
But to proceed to our subject.--We are told, "The same day went Jesus out of the house, and sat by the sea side. And great multitudes were gathered together unto Him." And here I think we see an illustration of one of the parables spoken by the Lord in this chapter, comparing the gospel to "a net, that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind." (The sea represents the world, and a troubled sea it is.) "Which, when it was full, they drew to shore;" representing the end of time; "and sat down, and gathered the good into vessels, but cast the bad away." This shows us that there will be a gathering of all sorts by the word preached; and to describe different kinds of hearers, our dear Lord delivered the parable before us. He entered into a ship, and the whole multitude stood on the shore. He taught them out of the ship for convenience, that all might hear what He had to say.
In considering the words of the text, I shall endeavor, as the Lord is pleased to enable me, to treat, First, of the sower; Secondly, of the three descriptions of ground first mentioned; Thirdly, I shall say a little about the good seed; Fourthly, about the good ground; and Fifthly, about the fruit brought forth. Then the whole is enforced in the 9th verse by these words, "Who hath ears to hear, let him hear."
First, then, as regards the sower; I believe we are to understand it of our dear Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ Himself; with whom the gospel originates, and from whom all real and true gospel must flow; for what does not come from Him cannot be of any value. It also intends the ministers of Christ; for as the several effects described in the parable were produced by His own personal ministry, He also continues to speak by His sent servants down to the end of time. He calls them sowers in John 4. When the Saviour had been conversing with the woman at the well of Samaria, the disciples, who had been to the city to buy meat, "prayed Him, saying, Master, eat. But He said unto them, I have meat to eat that ye know not of." "Say not ye, There are yet four months, and then cometh harvest? behold, I say unto you, Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest. And he that reapeth receiveth wages, and gathereth fruit unto life eternal; that both he that soweth and he that repeth may rejoice together. And herein is that saying true, One soweth, and another reapeth. I sent you to reap that whereon ye bestowed no labour: other men laboured, and ye are entered into their labours." Now, the other men who laboured, were the prophets, John the Baptist, and the Saviour Himself; and the disciples were to follow on, preaching the same word, and no other; as Paul saith, If we, or any man "preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed."
Sowing the seed, either as it respects the chief Seedsman, the Lord and Saviour, or those whom He is pleased to send, is variously described in Scripture: "Blessed are ye that sow beside all waters, that send forth thither the feet of the ox and the ass." By the sowing beside all waters, is to be understood that the grace of the Spirit attends the preaching of the word wheresoever it is savingly received; for without the water of life there will be no growth in Divine things. God's command under the law was, that they should not plow with an ox and an ass together; the ox under the ceremonial law was considered a clean animal, not so the ass. And the Apostle, speaking of this law, "Thou shalt not muzzle the ox when he treadeth out the corn," inquires, "Doth God take care for oxen, or saith He it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written: that he that ploweth should plow in hope; and that he that thresheth in hope should be partaker of his hope." Here, then, we find the ministers of the Gospel are compared to oxen, on account of their labor and strength; they must be clean, as the oxen were; and are not to be muzzled when treading out the corn. This is an allusion to the ancient way of threshing corn. They used a machine with teeth, which was drawn by oxen over the wheat, and separated the grain from the ear: and as it was forbidden to muzzle the ox, it shows that he was allowed to eat some of it. This sets forth that those who labor in the word and doctrine must feed on, experience, and know what they deliver to others, or else it will never be blessed to their souls. This corn must be threshed out, to show that there must be an earnest seeking and diligent searching into the word of God: "Thy words were found--"and I did eat them, and Thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of my heart."
But another thing with respect to the seedsman. It is written in Ps. 126. "They that sow in tears shall reap in joy." Much of this seed is sown in tears; our dear Lord and Saviour shed many tears when He sowed this seed. "He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him." A man that is a useful minister of the Lord, will have to bear the burdens of the people on his heart: "Bear ye one another's burdens." He will have to bear not only many peculiar and personal trials, but also a part of the trials of the Lord's dear people, in a way of sympathy; he must be exercised as they are, in order that he may speak a word in season to him that is weary.
But I shall now proceed, secondly, to consider the different kinds of ground spoken of in the context, before we come to the good ground. "As he sowed, some fell by the wayside; and the fowls of the air came and devoured it up." Another evangelist says, "It was trodden down, and the fowls devoured it." This is explained as the work of the wicked one, or the devil, who is said to take away the word which is sown in the heart. This at times is very trying to the Lord's dear people. But the way-side, where the seed falls, represents those who hear in a common-place manner. They go to church or chapel because it is appointed; and it is the Lord's day, they must go somewhere; they hear any-where and any-how, just as it may be; contrary to the Lord's injunctions, "Take heed what ye hear;" and "Take heed how ye hear." These way-side hearers, it is said, hear the word, but understand it not; then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in their hearts.
Ah! say you, can the seed be really sown in the heart, and then taken away by the wicked one?--Its being sown in the heart, may signify the delight and satisfaction with which novelty is frequently received. You may imagine persons who have been accustomed to the general preaching of the day, but perhaps never heard the truth of God proclaimed in its simplicity, if, in the providence of God, they should come where it is preached, they find it so new, so different to anything they have ever heard, that it captivates the mind, enlightens the understanding, and opens to them ideas with which they were altogether unacquainted before; and it is astonishing what diligence and earnestness they will manifest for a time; their zeal and warmth of affection are wonderful, but it does not last to the end; there is no searching within, no sight or sense of the evil of sin. The word does not reach them. Yet, in a certain sense, it is sown in their heart, their memory; they receive it for a time, they remember many things they hear; but soon they are thoroughly ashamed of what they once seemed to receive; and though they cannot banish it from their memory, and sometimes not from their conscience, yet they try to put it away: "Then cometh the wicked one," etc. Does this description apply to any of us here? Have we thus received the word of God? Properly speaking, it does not belong to those who have continued under the word for years. It is caught away immediately; it is, as it were, but a spark that is soon extinguished; it is not a lighted candle that burns and gives light. This was the case with many of the Jews that heard the Saviour; for they followed Him, and believed on Him with a natural faith, but they soon went back, and walked no more with Him.
In the next place, our dear Lord and Saviour says that "some fell upon stony places." Luke has it, "And some fell upon a rock." The stony-ground hearers were something like the others, and yet they differed from them; for the expression, "not much deepness of earth," shows that there was a little earth, signifying the natural affections and feelings, which in some are so strong that they will even weep under the word, though they cannot tell why--not from a sense of sin, not over a crucified Saviour, not from any desires after Him, nor from any hungering or thirsting after righteousness,--they are strangers to such experience as this, they have never had a broken heart nor a contrite spirit; but it is their fleshly feelings that are worked upon, and moved for a time; this does not last long, and these professors soon wither away. But they differ from the wayside hearers; the seed did not spring up in them; for it was no sooner sown, than it was caught away. But in these it sprang up for a time. "And when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away;" which our Lord explains thus: "When tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended." God has been pleased at different periods to try the church sorely by outward persecution; and if the seed is sown where there is not much deepness of earth, such persons cannot bear the contempt and ridicule of their acquaintances; they have no root, and there is not much deepness of earth.
What, say you, is meant by the root?--There can be no growing nor bringing forth fruit without a root. The root, according to Scripture, is love: "Being rooted and grounded in love." Those hearers who are without love, use religion as an entertainment, when they cannot find anything in their amusements that will please them better. They may frequently be known, by the very easy way in which they lay aside their profession, and resume it again when there is nothing else to employ them. They can read a good book or hear a spiritual discourse when they have nothing else to do; but as for suffering contempt, scorn, and ridicule on account of religion, they have no notion of this, there being no love in their hearts; but there is a certain something else, the love of self, and particularly the love of money, which is the root of all evil; and as religion is expensive, it will cost them something, and they want a religion that will cost as little as possible. My dear brethren, when people calculate thus about these things, just as they would calculate about temporal things, depend upon it, there is no love; for where there is love in the heart, no price is considered too great. Where there is the root of love, a man will give up not only his natural religion, ease, prosperity, and worldly advantages, but he will give up self--sinful self and righteous self; for, blessed be God! this is comparatively easy, when something more precious than self is discovered and enjoyed. The Saviour says, "My yoke is easy and my burden is light." It is not such hard work as men may think. Such is the very nature of the love of Jesus: He loved His dear people, and laid down His life for them, and it is the same love that He puts into their hearts, which constrains them to give themselves to Him. This is more precious to them than pleasing themselves. When the soul is favored with a taste of this love, the sacrificing or giving up of self becomes easy. "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself." When the love of Christ is enjoyed in the heart, there will be no long account standing of sins unconfessed, or of follies unacknowledged; but when the Lord is pleased to bring back His people to Himself after a season of backsliding, their sins are felt to be more sinful than before they received forgiveness. But where there is not something like this sense of the evil of sin, what is sown or received, however pleasant it may be for a time, will soon wither away, persecution and tribulation arises by reason of the word, and by and by such professors are offended.
I have been exercised lately in my own mind: thinking about the Saviour's precious and wonderful love, I had such a view of my own baseness and ingratitude, I seemed overwhelmed with it; but there was no sense of the wrath of God attending it. Thus I was led to think of His faithfulness, His truth, and His goodness towards me; how He had guided me and kept me all these years; and to remember the time when He brought me to seek Him, and to feel my need of Him; and when He showed me that this was His own work. What was particularly laid on my mind was my forgetfulness of Him, notwithstanding all His goodness; yet the Saviour spoke these words to my heart, "I will never forget thee." If I have ever known anything of real brokenness of heart and contrition of soul, I experienced it under this discovery; and I think Peter felt the same, when the Saviour turned and looked upon him. I cannot say, as in Peter's case, that I had any outward sin charged on my conscience. Do not suppose that I am going to represent myself as clear of sin; God knows it is not so; still it was not this that was brought on my mind; it was simply my unmindfulness of Him. I was never before led into such a discovery of the folly of this, as dishonoring to Him, and unprofitable to me: for when I get into darkness, groping I know not whither, thinking what will be the end of my various burdens, crosses, anxieties, and fears, I find that all this trouble arises from losing sight of Him who is my precious Saviour. O, if I could but remember Him, and always look to Him! The enemy often suggests, You have done so much to provoke Him, He is tired of it, and He will have no more to do with you.--But this will not do; for having loved His own which were in the world, He loved them unto the end. Poor David got into a sad state through sin, but what did the Lord say to him? "The Lord hath put away thy sin, thou shalt not die." I am vexed, when I hear people say that they could not have thought that any of the Lord's people could do such a thing, or act in such a way. Poor foolish creatures! I think if they did but know one half as much about human nature as I know of the evil of my heart, they would talk very differently; they do not know the evil of their own hearts; if they did, they would not be surprised at these things. I am weary of hearing men urging others to legal labors and strivings, knowing it to be fruitless; for they never get any wages for it, except the wages of sin, which is death. What I want, is the Lord's continual presence, for Him to put forth His almighty power, and to make me what He would have me to be; I want to be continually remembering the Lord, His tender love, pity, and compassion, and what He has done for us, how He has kept us all these years, known our souls in adversity, and never left us. He remembered us in our low estate; and we want to remember Him and His great goodness, and never to forget Him. Such experience as this will break and melt the stony heart. When the Saviour's goodness and our vileness meet together, it breaks the heart indeed. The preaching of Moses and the law will never produce meekness and compunction of spirit.
To such feelings as these the stony-ground hearers are strangers. Their hearts were never softened, nor humbled; they know not what a broken heart and a contrite spirit means. Sorrow, affliction, and trouble may produce much that seems like brokenness of heart; but the difference is here; a stone may be broken into a number of fragments by force, but into however many pieces it may be shattered, it is stone after all. But God's promise is, "A new heart will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you; and I will take the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh." Thus God manifests His great goodness, and goes beyond our vileness: His love overcomes all our unworthiness; so that our heart becomes contrite. The stony heart can never be poured out before God,--strong, violent expressions may be made use of, which may seem to be prayer, but this is not the pouring out of the heart like water; that is soft and gentle, it is the bringing out of one supplication after another in a quiet way before the Lord, just as Hannah poured out her prayer; her voice was not heard, though her lips moved; and the Lord heard her prayer. A heart producing such fruits as these, is the direct opposite to a stony heart.
"Some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprung up and choked them." These brought no fruit to perfection. The Lord tells us that these are such as hear the word, and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and they become unfruitful. The thorns grow up with the good seed; the profession of religion and the love of the world keep pace one with the other; a desire to seek after God in the ordinances of His house, and also to seek after riches and honor, go on together; a wish for the approbation of God and also for that of man may exist at the same time. The thorns grow the fastest, for it is said they choke the word. We all have these thorns, more or less; but mind what the prophet says: "Break up your fallow ground, and sow not among thorns." We cannot get rid of the thorns: but God uses various methods for keeping them under. Where they grow up, they choke that which is sown, so that no fruit is brought to perfection. These thorny-ground hearers will give up neither their religion nor the world; though they cannot give up their profession, they still retain the love of self; it is this mixture or religion and self in the same individual, that has produced the race of mongrel professors in the present day.
What method does the Lord use to cure this? He is pleased to show the professor the deceitfulness of his own heart. It seems all very fair when he is engaged in public worship; his natural feelings are often excited when reading or hearing; but there is no searching of heart. God has never discovered to him the root of iniquity, which lies deep within; he cannot see how his heart, soul and affections are set on self, the world, riches, and the esteem of men; but when God ploughs up the ground, many evil roots are brought to light. These professors are like a bad gardener, who cuts down all the weeds and makes a clear surface, and then expects his flowers and plants to grow; but when things are done properly, the roots of the weeds are turned up; showing that the search must go farther than the outward conduct; it must go deep into the heart, where the evil really lies.
Thorns and briars continue to be an annoyance to God's dear people, and sometimes they scarcely know which grows most, or which will predominate, grace or sin, the love of Christ or the secret cleaving to the world. But grace always obtains the victory; for when they are weighed in the balances of the sanctuary, and their religion comes to be tried, they will find in every affliction, temptation, and exercise, that the work is genuine, that it is God's work. Every time this is manifested to them, their love to the Saviour receives additional strength, and there is a closer cleaving to Him; Christ reigns in their affections and desires. Were I to tell you that all thorns and briars were gone, it would be proclaiming perfection in the flesh. But they still remain, though withered and dried up; they afford us no pleasure nor satisfaction, and we want to get rid of them.--Oh, what a burden to me, says one, is my poor sinful self; my thoughts, my vain imaginations, my fleshly desires, my speculations, my contrivances, and my arrangements; I am continually occupied about things in which there is no profit.--Yet there is a secret desire to turn away from all this, and the cry goes forth from the heart, "Turn Thou me, and I shall be turned, for Thou art the Lord my God." (Jer. 31:18)
The way-side hearers are said to receive the word and not to understand it; they cannot tell what it means, it is all mystery to them; the others are said to receive it anon with joy; but it is not mixed with faith, therefore no fruit is brought to perfection; they are withered and dried up, and soon fall away, and frequently give up their profession altogether.
"But other fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit." The ground signifies the heart; and it is a very proper emblem. It is here called "good ground." When God made the earth, He made all good, very good, but sin spoiled the whole; for the Lord said to Adam, "Cursed is the ground for thy sake, thorns and thistles shall it bring forth to thee." Thus through man's sin all was marred: and so with the whole human race; for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. The curse is removed by the sufferings and death of Christ; for He has "redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us." For the sake of His own dear people He has removed the curse; the ground is no longer under the curse as it respects His covenant family. The thorns and thistles still remain; they must be destroyed by labor, much must be done to keep the ground clean. In a spiritual sense, the heart is made good by being delivered from the curse of the law, through the sacrifice of our dear Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ; and to show that He bore the curse, the very badges of it were formed into a crown and placed in derision on His sacred head. He came forth wearing the crown of thorns, showing that the curse in all its reality fell on His glorious person, that He was supreme in misery, and that He bore the wrath of God which was due to us on account of sin: He was made sin for us, who knew no sin. The law said, "Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things that are written in the book of the law to do them:" and the Saviour answered for all His covenant people; He stood in their place as their Surety, bearing their guilt without contracting any Himself; and He laid down His life for His sheep, and the curse was eternally removed from them.
May the Lord command His blessing on what hath been spoken, and His name shall have the praise. Amen.
I told you this morning, my dear friends, that this parable was spoken by our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ to describe the different kinds of hearers, and the several effects produced in them by the preaching of the word, under the figure of the sowing of seed in various sorts of ground. I began to speak a little of those who are represented by the good ground in the text. By the ground we are to understand the heart; for as it is from the ground that God makes everything to grow, so all real religion must spring from the heart. Whatever men may possess in their heads, in their judgment, or in their understanding, will be of no profit to them, if there is no root in the heart. The Apostle John says, "My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue, but in deed and in truth." It is astonishing how fluently some men can speak of the things of God, while they make it manifest that they have no experience of them. Say you, How is it made manifest?--They can speak of sin without mourning, and they can speak of a Saviour without rejoicing; they can speak of His love without loving, they can speak of faith without really believing, they can speak of the temptations and trials of God's covenant family without trembling, and they can speak of God's most holy word without reverence. Where these things are known and experienced, they produce corresponding effects; they cannot be spoken of with lightness, in an unconcerned way, or in a loose and careless manner; they are weighty. Unless we have felt the word of God to be weighty, we have never known its true power and spiritual meaning.
The good ground, in the first sense, signifies those from whom the curse of a broken law has been removed by the sacrifice and death of a crucified Saviour. How wonderful it is, that poor sinners meriting nothing but Divine wrath should ever be saved from it. But some people think nothing of this, because they say they believe in God's eternal purpose, that God was never angry with His people; therefore this is all a mere nothing, they want no experience of it. Then they want no sacrifice for sin; for if God's people were not sinners, there needed no sacrifice; and if God was not angry, there needed no atonement. That there is such a thing as Divine wrath is plain; and where should this wrath fall, but on those who have sinned against God? Though in God's eternal purpose this was done away from everlasting, and the Lord said, "I will not be wroth with thee nor rebuke thee:" yet this wrath must find a victim somewhere; and here everlasting love and infinite wisdom provided, and in the fullness of time sent, the Saviour, who sustained all that wrath which was due to us, and in our nature put away our sin by the sacrifice of Himself. Although this is done effectually, yet we cannot enjoy the benefit without an experience of it; for all who are secured from the wrath of God in His eternal purpose and decree, must be brought into a personal realization of it: hence He saith, "For a small moment have I forsaken thee; but with great mercies will I gather thee. In a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment, but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee, saith the Lord thy Redeemer." (Isa. 54:7,8) Yet people will dare to say, God never expressed His displeasure against the objects of His everlasting love. Such charge the Holy Ghost with falsehood, for He dictated this to the prophet Isaiah; all Scripture being given by His inspiration. Therefore it is no imagination and fancy of a poor tried soul, when he feels God's anger against sin. Men may try to escape the force of this and other similar passages, but they cannot. The prophet says, "For a small moment have I forsaken thee," etc. And Zion says, "O Lord, I will praise Thee; though Thou wast angry with me, Thine anger is turned away, and Thou comfortedst me." Then, they say, if this wrath has been endured by the Saviour, how can there be any experience of it by His covenant family?--I answer, it is only by faith, which faith is the gift of God, that we enter into Christ, our hiding-place, our refuge from the storm, and covert from the tempest; for all God's people are by nature the children of wrath, even as others. I do not attempt to explain these mysteries in a philosophical manner, to make them intelligible to your understanding, any more than I attempt to explain the glorious mystery of the Trinity of Persons in the Unity of One God. I only know that it is so, because God hath said it; and I know it is so, because I have had experience of it; therefore "let God be true and every man a liar;" let God's truth be exalted, and man's reason be trampled in the dust.
Our Lord, in His explanation of the parable, tells us that "they that receive the seed into good ground are those that hear the word." The way-side hearers, the stony and thorny ground hearers heard it, but not with circumcised ears. When is the word heard savingly?--When spiritual life is communicated. When the Lord said to Lazarus, "Come forth," he heard the word, life was communicated by it: and whenever life is given to a dead sinner, it is by the same power; and by the same means life is increased, for the more a poor sinner is favored to hear the Saviour's voice, the more abundantly will this life be manifested in the soul. In seasons of darkness, coldness, and insensibility, when there has been nothing received from the Saviour for a long time, it does not follow that such persons have neglected to read the word, but they do not hear the Saviour's voice in it. They are not dead; for those once quickened into life shall live for ever: but they feel as if there were so; whereas this very feeling proves that they are not dead, for the dead have no feeling. When the word is as seed sown in good ground, it is thus heard and received; it is attended with the Divine power of the Holy Spirit, who alone can bring the word home to the heart. Though a multitude may receive the word, yet each one must receive it singly and alone. There lies the great secret of that peculiar and personal religion which distinguishes those who are really taught of the Lord. They find it not in common with the multitude, but it lies between God and their own souls; this leads them to love retirement, to love secret communion and fellowship with God; they acknowledge Him in all their ways, and they seek after the inward influences of His Spirit.
Say you, Preach in this way, and there will be no union among the Lord's people.--This is a great mistake; for much that is called union in our day is mere rubbish; it sounds well, but it does not last; hence the continual divisions that are taking place. You may see a people working together in the closest union for a time, but before long they come to nothing, because they have not this secret in their hearts; for what God joins together, no man can ever put asunder; it is God's work, and stand it must. I believe that the only firm and secure foundation of union among God's dear children is union to Christ: for union to the Head secures union among the members. Overlooking union in Christ, many talk much about union, and are continually pleading for it, but those who talk most about it are generally the greatest scatterers, biting and devouring one another. How can this be union? It does not flow from union to the living Head, for the Apostle says, "By one Spirit are we all baptized into one body."
They who receive seed into the good ground are those who not only hear the word, but understand it--they have an unction from the Holy One. They do not always understand it, strictly speaking, as it regards their natural faculties: hence they are often at a loss to explain it in words; and it is not so much by the words they make use of, that they convey one to another what they have received, or what they know about these things, as by that secret power of God which works in them. A few words spoken, and attended with this almighty power, have a more uniting influence than the clearest or plainest discourse that can possibly be delivered. It has some such effect as in the instance of Jonathan and David: "The soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David." This is independent of all outward circumstances and distinctions, of all worldly interests and concerns; it is of the Lord, it is the Lord's own work; they receive the word, and the truth contained in it; they experience what is set forth therein, and compare spiritual things with spiritual. One of their greatest trials often is, that they hear and see so much in the word that they cannot discover in themselves. The enemy frequently takes advantage of this: so that, though, in hearing a discourse, or reading a chapter, there may be much that seems to comfort and encourage, yet if Satan and unbelief can find out one particular point that they cannot understand, they are ready to cast away the whole of it, or to call it all in question. It is by little and little that the Lord leads and guides His people into the truth; for "when He, the Spirit of truth, is come, He will guide you into all truth." These know the doctrines of God's most holy word, not in theory only, but in experience; they taste and see that the Lord is good.
They receive the word and understand it, and they are also said to keep it; it abides in them: "He that hath my commandments and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me." People generally understand the keeping of the commandments of the Lord in a legal sense, just as they would understand the keeping of the law of Moses, and think they must be doing something. But legal performances are not the keeping of the commandments of the Saviour: "This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you." This is a secret love in the heart, showing itself whenever opportunity calls it forth; but our hearts must be circumcised to love God. As the law was in the Saviour's heart--"Thy law is within my heart"--so every Divine and spiritual law contained in God's most holy word is put into the hearts of His covenant people; therefore the Apostle could say, "I delight in the law of God after the inward man." There is scarcely a precept contained in the word, but may be performed without this love in the heart; hence it is that there is so much outward show of religion, where there is no reality. Paul says, "Though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing." Where the word is received in an honest heart, it is kept and treasured up, not merely in the memory, but in the heart and affections. I have known what it is to forget the words spoken; but the power, the experience, the enjoyment, and the sweet communion is never forgotten, and a repetition of it is earnestly desired. Wherever the seed of the word is thus received, it is good ground; that is, an honest and good heart.
Ah! say you, you often say there is no such thing in the world as a good heart.--No one has it naturally; but God gives us a good heart: "A new heart will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you, and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh." God never gave a bad heart. It is called an honest heart. What is an honest heart? It implies an honest conscience, a conscience that cannot be bribed; Satan and human reason will strive to do this; but a sinner, knowing that he is a sinner, feeling the guilt of his sins, and his lost, ruined, and undone state, can never, never be persuaded that he is a saint, unless he is favored in some measure to know the forgiveness of his sins. He must have this; the knowledge that there is an atonement will not suffice; he must have it applied to himself. An honest heart cannot be satisfied without a fresh application of the atonement, the blood of sprinkling, which speaketh better things that that of Abel. Some persons appear to be satisfied with what they experienced twenty or thirty years ago; they say their sins were then pardoned, and they seem to live upon the past. This would not do for David; he knew what it was to have his sins forgiven, but he could not be satisfied with that; he must have it repeated again and again: "Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin."
Now this is what I have never found in any mere professors of religion, for they cannot possibly enter into it; namely, the forgiveness of all trespasses, past, present, and to come, accompanied with a deep sight and sense of the continual need of forgiveness. They think it a contradiction; and so it is to human reason; but it is one of those riddles or enigmas which God's covenant people understand. Here is an honest heart, a heart what cannot be bribed, a heart purged from an evil conscience: "How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?" The Saviour calls it a pure heart: "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." God purifies the heart by faith; not the grace of faith, but the Object of faith. Faith is the instrument which brings in the atonement, and this purges away the guilt of sin; such a heart is honest, dreading deceit and dissimulation; the eye and the purpose are single. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves; and if those to whom God has given a good and honest heart are left to dissimulate, they will smart for it, and will seek pardon and forgiveness. Here is the difference: those that know nothing experimentally about these things, though they profess them, may live in sin; but God's covenant family cannot live in it; they cannot talk about comfort, consolation, and enjoyment, when they have sin on the conscience. Sin does not necessarily mean outward offences, but it is oftener the evil imagination or thought of the heart. An honest and good heart produces singleness of eye, and if the eye be single, the whole body is full of light. When anything becomes a temptation, the honest heart objects it, and desires to be delivered from it; and if it besets the poor sinner as a continual temptation, he is brought low, and is constrained to cry to the Lord to be saved from it: "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil." "Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation." None of us can go on long without finding some evil, to grieve, distress, and afflict us; the Saviour alone could say, "The prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me." A poor soul that is thus brought to walk before God, and knows these things experimentally, is represented by good ground.
I shall say no more about the ground, but drop a few words about the seed, and the fruit produced. "A sower went forth to sow." The seed that is sown is the word of God, and a very beautiful emblem it is. Wherever this seed is sown in good ground, it is sure to bring forth fruit; the germ or principle of life is not wanting in the seed, the barrenness is in the ground; but if the seed is received into good ground, fruit will be brought forth. When God created all things, He made the tree yielding fruit, and the herb yielding seed after its kind. The fruit brought forth corresponds with the seed sown. If a man sows wheat, he will reap wheat. The seed has life in it; but if the ground is barren, if it is the stony ground, the thorny ground, or the way-side, it will never bring forth fruit to perfection; but when it falls into good ground, it brings forth fruit.
I shall point out, as the Lord is pleased to enable me, a few fruits, which are the evidence that the seed has been received into good ground. In the first place, there is a principle of life in the seed, or else it can never grow; when the word of life is received, it produces comfort and joy in the heart; hence you may trace the likeness between the seed and the crop produced by it, as saith the Apostle, "Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting." The living word sown in the heart produces life; hence James saith, "Of His own will begat He us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures;" and Peter, "Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever." The living principle, or this life, is in every word of God that is brought home with Divine power to a poor sinner's heart, and so every fruit of the Spirit which results and springs therefrom has life in it; hence when these are bought forth, it will be as Paul expresses it, "I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me." Christ Himself tells us, speaking of His own body, "Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit;" for "there shall be an handful of corn in the earth upon the top of the mountains; the fruit thereof shall shake like Lebanon." The sowing of corn represents the preaching of Christ, and attended with Divine power in the heart, brings forth Christ, if I may so express it: "Christ in you the hope of glory." This is manifested in the several fruits or graces brought forth.
In the first place, there is faith. Paul tells us that "faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." God puts it into the heart by His own almighty power. The Apostle rejoiced that God had opened to the Gentiles the door of faith. Faith is a principal feature of the new man; and when it grows and increases, it is by the word that it is nourished, and stands not in the wisdom of man, but in the power of God. Where the word is preached in its simplicity and in godly sincerity, and the Holy Spirit attends it with Divine power, the conversation of those who receive it savors of the things they have heard; the seed is sown, and the fruit brought forth, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold.
Another thing that is sown, according to the Scriptures is light: "Light is sown for the righteous, and gladness for the upright in heart." "God who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." This light is sown in the heart of a poor sinner; and he can give the best description of the Saviour; he does not borrow his account from others; it is not merely a relation of what is contained in the Bible, though it agrees in all respects with it; but it is the light of life within. Such hearers speak of the Saviour in simple, suitable, and becoming language; they are not mistaken; they do not put one thing for another, call light darkness, and darkness light, but have an understanding to know Him that is true: the heart rejoices in the discovery of this precious Saviour; and of a personal interest in Him. Thus light is sown for the righteous.
Again: James says, "The fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace." It was our dear Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ who made peace for us by the blood of His cross, and the fruit of His righteousness is reconciliation and friendship with the Most High. Peace is proclaimed in the conscience as well as pardon and justification; these are sown in the heart and retained there, and bring forth fruit. There are also ambassadors of peace, who publish peace from the enjoyment of it in their own souls, having peace with God through Jesus Christ. And this sweet peace experienced in the heart and soul tends to bring peace among the brethren; it does away with differences, evil surmisings, evil imaginations, and evil speaking one of another. If peace is in the heart, it will reign in the conversation. Thus the fruit of righteousness, that is, the effect of it, is sown in peace of them that make peace. Where this is the case, fruit is brought forth; some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, and some thirtyfold.
Ah! say you, I thought you would have spoken of the moral duties of life, how we ought to act one to the other.--My dear brethren, these necessarily spring from the seed, when sown in good ground; but they may to a very great extent be performed by those who know not God, and obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Now, I insist upon it, that this good seed can never grow up to perfection anywhere but in good ground; therefore if we are favored with mercy, faith, and the love of God in our hearts, the tithe of mint, rue, and all manner of herbs will not be omitted. The children of God are constrained to turn at His reproof; they know the truth, love the truth, and hold fast the truth, and would not give it up for ten thousand worlds. Here is the seed bringing forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold.
Different degrees of fruitfulness are spoken of in the text, expressive of the greater or lesser measure of grace openly displayed among the Lord's dear children; although it differs in measure and degree, it does not differ in kind. "I laboured," says Paul, "more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me." Some of the children of God are enabled to enter into this experience more fully, blessedly, and sweetly than others; yet in all it springs from the same life, and they speak the same language: "Some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear." Amen.