Still other seed fell on good soil, where it sprouted, grew up, and produced a crop--one bearing thirtyfold, another sixtyfold, and another a hundredfold."
John 1:1). This heavenly seed is the gift of God. It has life in itself (John 5:26); it is the germ of life to the world; and, when it is received, it brings forth those "fruits of the Spirit" of which St. Paul speaks. The mode in which that seed is received is a test of character, and this is illustrated in the words before us. The four kinds of soil upon which the sower cast his seed represent four conditions of heart, which we propose to consider.
I. THE HARDENED HEART. Our Lord speaks of some seed falling by the wayside; that is, on the trodden pathway running through the field, which is impervious to anything which falls gently, as seed falls. Finding a lodgment there, either the birds carry it away or else it is crushed by the foot of the wayfarer. Just as the once soft soil becomes hard, so do our moral sensibilities become blunted by the frequent passing over them of ordinary duties, and stilt more of evil words and deeds. We often read in Scripture of the hardening of the heart. Pharaoh is said to have " hardened his heart" because, after being stirred to some thought by the earlier plagues in Egypt, he conquered feeling until he became past feeling. Hence, after the most terrible of the plagues, he pursued God's chosen people to his own destruction. The Israelites, too, hardened their hearts in the wilderness. All the issues of this sin recorded in sacred history give a significant answer to the question of Job, "Who hath hardened himself against God, and prospered?" This process still goes on, not least amongst regular attendants on the means of grace. Address a gathering of outcasts, and though you may hear a mocking laugh, you will more probably see the penitential tear as you speak of the Saviour's death and of the Father's love; but speak of this to those who have often heard the truth, and their calm impassivity will drive you to despair, if it does not drive you to God. He who knows all but feels nothing is represented by the wayside; for the truth preached to him is gone as swiftly from his thoughts as though evil birds had carried it away.
II. THE SUPERFICIAL HEART is also graphically portrayed. The stony ground is not ground besprinkled with stones, but rocky soil covered with a thin layer of earth, such as might often be seen in the rocky abutments which ended the terraces of cultivated soil on a hillside in Palestine. Seed falling there would take root and grow, but would soon strike rock, and then withering would begin. This represents those who "receive the Word with gladness." They are interested, instructed, impressed; but they have no understanding of its spiritual meaning or of Christ's requirements. They have no sense of sin, and no conflict with it. Their knowledge and experience alike are shallow, and they have "no root," because they have no depth of nature. Very significant is the phrase, "They have no root in themselves;" for there is a want of individuality about them. Their faith depends upon surrounding excitement and enthusiasm, and they are wanting in the perseverance which can only arise from personal conviction. Let temptation come to them, and they give up at once their poor shreds of faith; let them go among sceptics, and soon their mockery will be the loudest; let persecution arise, and straightway they stumble to their fall.
III. THE CROWDED HEART. "Some fell among thorns;" that is, in soil in which thorns were springing up. The soil possibly was good, and therefore unlike the last, but it was already full. Soon the thorns springing up choke the seed, crowding it down, and so depriving it of air and sunshine that the withering stalk can produce no fruit. Every one knows the meaning of this who has pondered the words," Ye cannot serve God and mammon," or who understands the warning against "the cares of the world, the deceitfulness of riches," and inordinate desires after other earthly things. Here is such a one. He was once earnest in work for God; he made time for the study of his Word; he was eager for the quiet hour when he could speak to his Father in secret. But this is only a memory to him now. And how came the woeful change? There has been no hour when he has deliberately cut himself adrift from holy influence, nor can he recall any special crisis in his history. But the cares of life, the plans he felt called upon to make, thoughts concerning money and the best way to make it or to keep it, obtruded themselves more and more, even on sacred times, till holy thoughts were fairly crowded out. Thorns have sprung up, and they have choked the seed, so that it has become unfruitful.
IV. THE HONEST HEART. The seed which fell into "good ground" not only sprang up into strong stalk, but brought forth fruit in the golden harvest-time, and over it the sower rejoiced. Our Lord often spoke of the conditions which are essential to the fulfillment of this in the spiritual realm. For example, he said, "He that is of the truth heareth my voice;" and he bade his disciples become as little children, that they might rejoice in him. Nathanael was a beautiful example of what Jesus meant. When the truth is thus received, in the love of it, it guides the thoughts, rules the affections, checks and controls the plans, and sanctifies the whole being of the man. "Christ is formed" in his heart "the hope of glory." Abiding in prayer, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, he experiences a quickening and a refreshment like that which the growing corn has when enriched and blessed by showers and sunshine, and "the fruits of the Spirit" appear in him, to the glory of God the Father. "Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit." - A.R.
And other fell on good ground, and did yield fruit that sprang up and increased.1. That these hearers have honest and good hearts. The ground must be properly manured and prepared, before the seed can so mingle with it as to produce fruit. In like manner, the powers of the soul must be renewed by Divine grace, before the instructions of God's Word can so incorporate with them as to become fruitful. Their understanding is illuminated, and a new bent is given to their will. So,
2. They hear the Word after a different manner, and to a very different purpose from what others do, and from what they themselves formerly did. They hear it with attention, candour, meekness, and simplicity; and then — to go on with our Saviour's account of these hearers — they,
3. Understand the Word. This is not expressly said, as I remember, of either of the former characters. Their knowledge is, in short, experimental and practical.
4. They keep the Word. The seed once lodged in the heart remains there. It is not caught away by the wicked one, it is not destroyed by the scorching beams of persecution, nor is it choked by the thorns of worldly cares and pleasures. It is laid up in the understanding, memory, and affections; and guarded with attention and care, as the most invaluable treasure. And, indeed, how is it imaginable that the man who has received the truth in the love of it, has ventured his everlasting all on it, and has no other ground of hope whatever, should be willing to part with this good Word of the grace of God! sooner would he renounce his dearest temporal enjoyments, yea, even life itself. Again,
5. They bring forth fruit. The seed springs up, looks green, and promises a fair harvest. They profess the Christian name, and live answerable to it. Their external conduct is sober, useful, and honourable; and their temper is pious, benevolent, and holy. The fruit they bear is of the same nature with the seed whence it springs.
6. They bring forth fruit with patience. It is a considerable time before the seed disseminates, rises into the stalk and the ear, and ripens into fruit (James 5:7).
7. And lastly. They bring forth fruit in different degrees, "some thirty, some sixty, and some an hundred fold." And now, in order to the fully discussing this argument, we shall —
I. SHOW THE NECESSITY OF THE HEART'S BEING MADE HONEST AND GOOD, IN ORDER TO MEN'S DULY RECEIVING THE WORD AND KEEPING IT; THIS WILL CLEARLY APPEAR ON A LITTLE REFLECTION. I suppose it will scarce be denied that the will and affections have a considerable influence on the operations of the understanding and judgment. To a mind, therefore, under the tyranny of pride and pleasure, positions that are hostile to these passions will not easily gain admission. Their first appearance will create prejudice. And if that prejudice does not instantly preclude all consideration, it will yet throw insuperable obstructions in the way of impartial inquiry. If it does not absolutely put out the eye of reason, it will yet raise such dust before it as will effectually prevent its perceiving the object. What men do not care to believe, they will take pains to persuade themselves is not true. When once a new bias is given to the will and affections, and a man, from a proud, becomes a humble man, from a lover of this world, a lover of God, his prejudices against the gospel will instantly subside. The thick vapours exhaled from a sensual heart, which had obscured his understanding, will disperse; and the light of Divine truth shine in upon him with commanding evidence. He will receive the truth in the love of it. How important, then, is regeneration! This leads us —
II. TO DESCRIBE THE KIND OF FRUIT WHICH SUCH PERSONS WILL BEAR. It is good fruit — fruit of the same nature with the seed whence it grows, and the soil with which it is incorporated: of the same nature with the gospel itself which is received in faith, and with those holy principles which are infused by the blessed Spirit. Here let us dwell a little more particularly on the nature and tendency of the gospel. "God is in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them." O how inflexible the justice, how venerable the holiness, and how boundless the goodness of God! And if this be the gospel, who can hesitate a moment upon the question respecting its natural and proper tendency? How can piety languish and die amidst this scene of wonders? How can the heart, occupied with these sentiments, remain unsusceptible to the feelings of justice, truth, humanity, and benevolence? How can a man believe himself to be that guilty, depraved, helpless wretch which this gospel supposes him to be, and not be humble? How can he behold the Creator of the world expiring in agonies on the cross, and follow Him thence a pale, breathless corpse to the tomb, and not feel a sovereign contempt for the pomps and vanities of this transitory state? But to bring the matter more fully home to the point before us, what kind of a man is the real Christian? Let us contemplate his character, and consider what is the general course of his life. Instructed in this Divine doctrine, and having his heart made honest and good, he will be a man of piety, integrity, and purity. "The grace of God, which bringeth salvation, will teach him to deny ungodliness, and worldly lusts, and to live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world" (Titus 2:11, 12). As to piety. A due regard to the authority of the blessed God will have a commanding influence upon his temper and practice. As to social duties. His conduct will be governed by the rule his Divine Master has laid down, of doing to others as he would have them do to him. As to personal duties. He will use the comforts of life, which he enjoys as the fruits of Divine benevolence, with temperance and moderation. Such are the fruits which they bring forth, who hear the Word in the manner our Saviour describes, and who keep it in good and honest hearts (Ephesians 4:1; Philippians 1:27; Galatians 5:22, 23). But it is not meant by this description of the Christian to raise him above the rank of humanity, or to give a colouring to the picture which it will not bear. He is still a man, not an angel. To fix the standard of real religion at a mark to which none can arrive, is to do an injury to religion itself, as well as to discourage the hearts of its best friends. But though perfection, in the strict sense of the term, is not to be admitted, yet the fruit which every real Christian bears is good fruit.
1. How gracious is that influence which the blessed God exerts, to make the heart honest and good, and so dispose it to receive the Word, and profit by it!
2. From the nature and tendency of the gospel, which has been just delineated, we derive a strong presumptive evidence of its truth.
3. Of what importance is it that we converse intimately with the gospel, in order to our bringing forth the fruits of holiness!
4. And lastly, How vain a thing is mere speculation in religion! We have discoursed on the two first heads, and proceed now —
III. TO CONSIDER THE GREAT VARIETY THERE IS AMONG CHRISTIANS IN REGARD OF DEGREES OF FRUITFULNESS AND THE REASONS OF IT. First, as to the fact that there are degrees of fruitfulness, a little observation will sufficiently prove it. Fruitfulness may be considered in regard both of the devout affections of the heart, and the external actions of the life; in each of which views it will admit of degrees. The variety is prodigious. What multitudes live harmless, sober, and regular lives. Their obedience is rather negative than positive. They bring no dishonour on their profession, nor yet are they very ornamental and exemplary. Others are strictly conscientious and circumspect in their walk, far removed from all appearance of gaiety and dissipation, and remarkably serious and constant in their attendance upon religious duties; but, for want of sweetness of temper, or of that sprightliness and freedom which a lively faith inspires, the fruit they bear is but slender, and of an unpleasant flavour. There are those, further, in whom seriousness and cheerfulness are happily united, and whose conduct is amiable in the view of all around them; but then, moving in a narrow sphere, and possessing no great zeal or resolution, their lives are distinguished by few remarkable exertions for the glory of God, and the good of others. And again, there are a number whose bosoms, glowing with flaming zeal and ardent love, are rich in good works, never weary in well-doing, and full of the fruits of righteousness, to the praise and the glory of God. In the garden of God there are trees of different growth. Some newly planted, of slender stature and feeble make, which yet bring forth good, though but little, fruit. And here and there you see one that out-tops all the rest, whose roots spread far and wide, and whose boughs are laden in autumn with rich and large fruit. Such variety is there among Christians. And variety there is; too, in the different species of good works. Some are eminent in this virtue, and some in that; while perhaps a few abound in every good word and work. Whoever consults the history of religion in the Bible will see all that has been said exemplified in the characters and lives of a long scroll of pious men. Not to speak here of the particular excellences that distinguished these men of God from each other, it is enough to observe that some vastly outshone others. The proportions of a hundred, sixty, and thirty fold might be applied to patriarchs, prophets, judges, kings, apostles, and the Christians of the primitive church. Between, for instance, an Abraham that offered up his only son, and a righteous Lot, that lingered at the call of an angel. Secondly, inquire into the grounds and reasons of this disparity among Christians respecting the fruits of holiness. These are of very different consideration. Many of them will be found to have no connection at all with the inward temper of the mind; a reflection, therefore, upon them will give energy to what has been said in regard of the charity we ought to exercise in judging of others. Let us begin, then —
1. With men's worldly circumstances. The affluent Christian you will see pouring his bounty on all around him. But the poor Christian can render few, if any, of these services to his fellow creatures.
2. Opportunity is another ground of distinction among Christians in regard of fruitfulness. By opportunity I mean occasions of usefulness, which arise under the particular and immediate direction of Divine Providence. A Daniel shall have such easy access to the presence of a mighty tyrant as shall enable him to whisper the most beneficial counsels in his ear; and an apostle, by being brought in chains before a no less powerful prince, shall have an opportunity of defending the cause of his Divine Master in the most essential manner.
3. Mental abilities have a considerable influence in this matter. What shining talents do some good men possess! They have extensive learning, great knowledge of mankind, much sagacity and penetration, singular fortitude, a happy manner of address, flowing language, and a remarkable sweetness of temper.
4. The different means of religion that good men enjoy are another occasion of their different degrees of fruitfulness.
5. That the comparative different state of religion in one Christian and another is the more immediate and direct cause of their different fruitfulness. But this plain general truth we may affirm, leaving everyone to apply it to himself, that, in proportion as religion is on the advance or decline in a man's heart, so will his external conduct be more or less exemplary.
6. And lastly, the greater or less effusion of Divine influences.
IV. THE BLESSEDNESS OF THOSE WHO, HEARING THE WORD, AND KEEPING IT IN HONEST AND GOOD HEARTS, BRING FORTH THE FRUITS OF HOLINESS.
1. As to the pleasure that accompanies ingenuous obedience. "Great peace have they," says David, "who love Thy law, and nothing shall offend them" (Psalm 119:165).
2. Fruitfulness affords a noble proof of a man's uprightness, and so tends indirectly, as well as directly, to promote his happiness.
3. The esteem, too, in which he is held among his fellow Christians must contribute not a little to his comfort.
4. How glorious will be the rewards which the fruitful Christian will receive at the hands of the Great Husbandman on the day of harvest! That day is approaching. "Mark the perfect man; behold the upright; for the end of that man is peace." Going down to death like a shock of corn fully ripe, the precious grain shall lie secure in the bosom of the earth; angels shall keep their vigils about it: while the immortal spirit, acquiring its highest degree of perfection, shall join the company of the blessed above.
(S. Stennett, D. D.)
(M. F. Sadler.)
Eastern Proverb., Buffon.Patience is power. With time and patience the mulberry leaf becomes satin.
(Eastern Proverb.)Never think that God's delays are God's denials. Hold on; hold fast; hold out: Patience is genius.
(F. W. Robertson.)
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