The Character of Enthusiastic Hearers Considered
Mark 4:5
And some fell on stony ground, where it had not much earth; and immediately it sprang up, because it had no depth of earth:

I. WITH THE CHARACTER OF THESE HEARERS PREVIOUS TO THEIR HEARING THE WORD. They are compared to stony or rocky ground, which is unfavourable to cultivation; but yet has a little mould or earth cast over it, suited to receive seed, and in which it may lodge awhile, and disseminate itself. So that this ground is partly bad and partly good. And thus are very aptly described, the miserably per. verse and depraved state of the will on the one hand, and the warmth and liveliness of the natural passions on the other. These qualities often meet in one and the same person, and bear a different aspect to religion, the one being un-favourable and the other favourable to it.

1. It is true of these hearers that their will is wretchedly depraved. Stone is a figure used in Scripture to signify the obstinate aversion of the mind to what is holy and good. So Ezekiel speaks of a stony heart in opposition to a heart of flesh; and Paul, of the living epistles of Christ being written, not on tables of stone, but fleshly tables of the heart. And yet, with all this depravity of the will, they have —

2. Warm and lively passions; a circumstance in itself not a little favourable to religion. This is admirably expressed by the earth or mould said to be cast over the rock, which was of a nature so rich and luxuriant, that the seed instantly mingled with it, and expanding, sprung up, and created a beautiful verdure which promised great fruitfulness. Nothing was wanting to produce the desired effect but a sufficient depth of earth. tied the ground at bottom been properly cultivated this fine mould cast upon it would have assisted and forwarded vegetation; but that remaining hard and rocky, this had only a temporary effect, and served little other purpose than to deceive the expectation of the husbandman. Such is truly the case in the matter before us. The heart, like the stony ground, is indisposed to what is good; and the affections, like the earth cast over it, are warm and lively; wherefore, the Word not entering into the former, and yet mingling with the latter, produces no real fruit, but only the gay and splendid appearance of an external profession. And here it is further to be remarked, that however the passions are of excellent use in religion, if the heart be right with God; yet, this not being the case, their influence is rather pernicious than salutary: indeed, the more eager and impetuous the natural temper, the greater evil is in this case to be apprehended from it, both to the man himself, and to those with whom he is connected. As to himself mistaking the warm efforts of mere passion for real religion, he instantly concludes, that he is without doubt a real Christian, and so is essentially injured by the imposition he puts upon himself. But it will be proper, before we pass on, to examine more particularly the character of the enthusiast. He has a lively imagination, but no judgment to correct it; and warm feelings, but neither wisdom nor resolution to control them. Struck with appearances, he instantly admits the reality of things, without allowing him. self time to inquire into their nature, evidence and tendency. And impressions thus received, whether from objects presented to the senses, or representations made to the fancy, produce a mighty and instantaneous effect on his passions. These agitate his whole frame, and precipitate him into action, without any intervening consideration, reflection, or prospect. And his actions, under the impulse of heated imagination, are either right or wrong, useful or pernicious, just as the notions he has thus hastily adopted happen to be conformable to truth or error. So we shall see the countenance of a man of this complexion kindling into rapture and ecstasy at the idea of something new and marvellous; a flood of tears streaming down his cheeks at the representation of some moving scene of distress; his face turning pale, and his limbs trembling, at the apprehension of some impending danger; his whole frame distorted with rage at the hearing of some instance of cruelty; and his eye sparkling with joy in the prospect of some fancied bliss. Nor is it to be wondered, that one who is wholly at the mercy of these passions, without the guidance of a sober understanding, and the control of a well-disposed heart, should, as is often the case, break out into loud and clamorous language, assume the most frantic gestures, and be guilty of the most strange and extravagant actions.

1. He receives the Word. Receiving is a figurative term, and may here be explained of what is the consequence of admitting any doctrine to be true, that is, the professing it. It is used in Scripture to signify faith itself (John 1:12). Now, as faith has the promise of salvation, and some believe who yet are not saved, a distinction becomes necessary; and the common one of historical and Divine faith is easy and natural. Or if the faith is genuine, yet his notion of the gospel has a great deal of error mingled with it. And then he receives it not upon the Divine testimony, or a clear perception of the internal and external evidence of it; but upon the confident assertions of others, whose eagerness and zeal, expressed by their loud voice and violent gesture, have a mighty effect upon that credulity we spoke of under the former head. Further, his faith is not cordial; it has not the hearty approbation of his judgment and will. Nor does it produce the kindly and acceptable fruits of love and obedience. Yet it is not without its effects, for being of that enthusiastic turn of mind before described, his imagination and passions have a great influence on his profession. Whence those strong appearances of sincerity, earnestness, and zeal, whereby he imposes upon himself and others. Now he loudly affirms he believes, scarcely admitting that man to be a Christian who at all hesitates. Then he treats cool reasoning, and calm reflection, as inimical to religion.

2. He receives the Word immediately. The seed is said in the text to spring up forthwith, and so the idea may respect the quickness of the vegetation. It is true both of the reception and operation of the Word. He receives it not circuitously, but directly. It is no sooner spoken than admitted to be true. He is not embarrassed with doubt, and does not hesitate, reflect, or compare what he has heard with the Scriptures. So without either his judgment being informed, or his will renewed, he is impetuously carried away with a mere sound.

3. His receiving the Word with joy. Joy is a pleasing elevation of the spirits, excited by the possession of some present, or the expectation of some future, good. Now, the gospel is good news, and so adapted to give pleasure to the mind. He therefore who receives it with joy, receives it as it ought to be received. But the man our Saviour here describes is not a real Christian, his icy therefore must have something in it, or in the circumstances accompanying it, distinguishable from that of a genuine believer. Of Herod it is said that "he heard John gladly:" and from the story it clearly appears Herod remained, notwithstanding, the same profligate man he was before.How, then, is the joy of the one to be distinguished from that of the other?

1. Let us consider what precedes it. The real Christian, previous to his enjoying solid peace, is usually much depressed and cast down. Nor is his dejection the effect of bodily disorder, or an ill-temperature of the animal spirits, or of something he can give no rational account of. It is an anxiety occasioned by a sense of sin. But it stands to reason that the joy the heart feels must bear some proportion to the anxiety it has suffered.

2. Let us inquire what it is that excites this joy. The causes of that elevation of the spirits which we commonly call joy are various. In some instances it is the Word itself, the mere sound, without any idea affixed to it, that creates joy. The effect is instantly and mechanically produced by the tone and cadence of the voice, accompanied by an appearance, attitude, and gesture, that happen to please. In other instances, it is not the sound only, but the sense, that affects. We may easily conceive how a pleasing kind of sensation, excited in the breast by a pathetic description of misery, particularly the sufferings of Christ, may be mistaken for religion. We are next to consider(3) what are the effects of it? The joy a real Christian feels, is sober, rational, well-grounded, and will admit of the most pleasing reflections. He possesses himself; he can calmly reason upon the state of his mind. and those great truths and objects, the contemplation of which makes him happy; and he can recollect the pleasures he has enjoyed on some special occasions with composure and satisfaction. It humbles him. The higher he ascends the mount of communion with God, the less he appears in his own eyes. Those beams of the sun of righteousness which gladden his heart, throw a light upon his follies and sins. With Job, "he abhors himself, and repents in dust and ashes." And, as the apostle expresses it, "thinks soberly of himself as he ought to think." His joy inspires him with meekness, candour, and benevolence. It allays, if not entirely extinguishes, the rage of violent passion, fans the flame of fervent charity, and puts the soul into a temper, to unite cordially with all good men, to pity the bad, and to forgive its bitterest enemies. His joy, in a word, makes him watchful and holy. He rejoices with trembling, is upon his guard against everything that may disturb the tranquillity of his mind, holds sin at a distance as his greatest enemy, and aspires with growing ardour to the likeness of the ever-blessed God. On the contrary, who that contemplates the character of the credulous, self-deceived enthusiast, but must see what has been said of the real Christian awfully reversed in his temper and conduct? Is he sober, prudent and self-collected? Ah! no. He is little better than a madman, or one drunk with wine wherein is excess. His heaven is a fool's paradise, and his account of it as unintelligible as the frantic talk of one in a delirium. Is he humble? Far from it. The pride of religious frenzy swells him into importance. Imagining himself a favourite of heaven, he looks down upon his fellow mortals with an air of indifference, if not contempt — "Stand at a distance, I am holier than thou." Is he meek, candid, and benevolent? So much the reverse, that the very names of these virtues sound harshly in his ear, and stand for little else, in his opinion, than pusillanimity, formality, and hypocrisy. Is he conscientious and circumspect in his deportment? No. Boasting of his freedom, he can take liberties that border on immorality, and treat the scruples of a weak believer as indicating a legal spirit.

II. To consider THE LAMENTABLE APOSTASY OF THESE DELUDED MEN. The seed that fell upon stony places, and forthwith sprung up, in a little time "withered away."

1. The term of his profession is short. Enthusiastic zeal, like inflammable air, quickly evaporates. The sources of that pleasure which gives existence to a spurious religion, and an equivocal devotion, are soon exhausted. The imagination tires, the senses are palled, and the passions, for want of novelty and variety to keep them alive, sink away into a languid, unfeeling, torpid state.

2. In what manner does he renounce his profession? He either silently quits it, or publicly disavows it. He is offended, stumbles, falls, falls away.

III. THE CAUSE OF THESE MEN'S APOSTASY. This our Saviour explains with admirable precision, by teaching us that it is partly owing to the want of something within, essentially important to religion, and partly to a concurrence of circumstances from without unfavourable to the profession of it.

1. Something is wanting within. The parable says: "The seed forthwith sprung up, because it had no deepness of earth;" "and it withered away because it had no root," as Mark has it; "and lacked moisture," as is expressed in Luke. For want of a sufficient quantity of earth the seed did not sink deep enough into the ground, and through the luxuriance of the mould it too quickly disseminated and sprung up. So that having taken root, there was no source whence the tender glass might be supplied with nourishment; and of consequence it must necessarily in a little time wither and die. Agreeably therefore to the figure, our Lord, in His explanation of the parable, speaks of these hearers as "having no root in themselves." And such precisely is the case of the sort of professors we are discoursing of. They have no principle of religion in their hearts. Their notions are not properly digested, they do not disseminate themselves in the mind, take fast hold on the conscience, and incorporate, if I may so express myself, with the practical powers of the soul. "The Word preached does not profit them, not being mixed with faith;" or, as perhaps it might be rendered, because they are not united by faith to the word.

2. To a concurrence of circumstances from without unfavourable to the profession of religion. These, in the parable, are all comprehended under the idea of the sun's scorching the springing grass; and, in our Saviour's exposition of it, are described by the terms tribulation, persecution, affliction, and temptation, all which arise because of the word, or are occasioned by it.Religion, however, is not to be blamed for these evils, of which it is no way the cause, though it may be the occasion; they are to be set down to the account of a fatal, but too frequent combination of a depraved heart, with an impetuous natural temper.

1. What a striking picture has our Saviour here given us of human nature.

2. Of what importance is it to study ourselves, and to keep a guard upon our passions!

3. We see what kind of preaching is to be coveted, and what avoided.

4. Our Lord, by the instruction given us in our text, has enabled us to reply to an objection often urged against the doctrine of the saints' final perseverance. We are frequently reminded of persons whose profession for a time was fair and splendid, but who in the end renounced it. And no doubt this has been the fact in too many sad instances. Yet what does it prove? No more than that these men were either designing hypocrites, or else hastily took upon them a profession of what, they did not rightly understand, truly believe, and cordially approve.

5. And lastly, let not the mournful subject we have been considering create any discouragement in the breast of the truly humble but weak Christian.

(S. Stennett, D. D.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: And some fell on stony ground, where it had not much earth; and immediately it sprang up, because it had no depth of earth:

WEB: Others fell on the rocky ground, where it had little soil, and immediately it sprang up, because it had no depth of soil.

Religion Genuine in Bad Times
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