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or like a parable, in the doctrine of our Saviour, will always remain so, unless he by his Holy Spirit clear it to us; he must anoint our eyes with his eye-salve, if we would see ; he must touch our ears, and say Epphatha, i, e. be opened, if we would hear and live. May his parable have that effect upon us, that we may daily enquire of him the true meaning, and so be taught of God and be wise in his sight, that he may say to us, “ Blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear,” what kings and righteous men and prophets have desired to see and have not seen; even the days of the Son of man and his salvation clearly, that you see ; and what they wished to hear of the plain and pure gospel of his free grace and redemption, but did not hear, that ye hear. Nor may any helpful to us, or what concerns our eternal happiness, be sealed up or hid from us; rather may we have ears to hear, and a heart to understand, that we may be converted and be saved, and escape every evil in time and eternity!
I come now to speak of the parable itself, with the meaning of it, as our Saviour has been pleased. to explain it to his disciples.
He saith, “ A sower went out to sow his seed, and some fell by the way-side,” that is, upon the road, upon the path whereon people go, and which is hard and unbroken, and this was partly trodden down and destroyed by such as went that way, and the rest the fowls of the air, that in such cases sit watching upon the neighbouring trees and hedges, devoured as soon as the sower was gone. A second parcel of seed fell upon stony ground, or as St. Luke describes it, upon a rock, where it had not much deepness of earth, nor moisture; and this, though it sprung up, when the sun arose and shone hot upon it, because it had no depth for its root,
nor moisture, withered away. A third part fell among thorns, that is, in the hedges and among the weeds and briars; and this either rotted and came to nothing, or else what sprung up was soon choaked with the thorns that came up with it, that it bore no fruit. The fourth part fell upon the good ground, namely, upon the land tilled and ploughed for that purpose; here no travellers' feet trod it down, it was soon harrowed in by the husbandman, so that the fowls could not devour it; the hardness and stony nature was removed, the ground manured and made good, so that it could take deep root downward and bear fruit upward, and not easily be blown up with high winds, nor scorched with the sun; there were no thorns nor weeds to choak it, “ but it brought forth some thirty, some sixty, and some an hundred fold.”
I reverence always and adore our Saviour, whenever I read or hear his parables ; for though he was the God of wisdom, and knew all the sciences and arts from everlasting, yet in his preaching a peasant can understand and comprehend as well as the most learned philosopher. When he would liken the kingdom of God, or compare it to earthly things, his likenesses are plain and easy, suited to the meanest capacity; and though the learned and understanding part of mankind have formerly done it, and may yet dare to dispise his manner of preaching, his parables, and mean comparisons, yet shall it appear the wisdom of God, in that day, when he shall shew “ how he has chosen the weak things, and base, and things that are despised, to bring to naught the pride of man and the haughtiness of the world, and reveal to babes and foolish what is hid even from the wise and prudent.”
How many of you that hear me have read this scripture, as well as others of the like nature, and
thought no farther about it? How have you had ears, but would not hear what the Lord would hereby say to you? Now I pray you to give attention, and O may God so open the ears of all your hearts that you may henceforth hear and live!
The sower is properly the Son of Man; he is the chief Minister, the first and principal Labourer and Husbandman in all God's vineyard; but in some respects every minister of Jesus Christ is a sower, and so strews the good seed out of the treasure of his heart, in all places wheresoever he
« The seed is the word of God,” which Jesus himself first gave and preached in the world, and with which now his ministers are commissioned, who are sowers of the seed of eternal life.
“ The ground is the heart," whereon the seed is SOWD.
“ Those who receive the seed by the way-side," are the careless and light-minded, who hear the gospel, and are as unconcerned as if they heard some idle tale : Their ears open to every merry story, to all curious accounts, to every foolish song, but deaf to the words of the Saviour, “ as the deaf adder, which refuseth to bear the voice of the charmer, charm he never so wisely." These are they whose hearts were never broken, or concerned about eternal life, and least the preaching of the gospel, the love of Christ, or the promises in his word should have any effect upon them, the devils watch, like the fowls of the air, least if in reading the scripture, or under some discourse, they should appear at all affected, to steal away the very remembrance of it, and get perhaps some pleasant company to divert or laugh away their devout thoughts; some play, or dress, or romance must amuse them ; some diversion or pleasure must raise
their spirits, or drinking or feasting overcharge their hearts, and drown all the least stirrings of grace, and so the preacher sows and preaches in vaiu, and they receive it by the way-side in vain. O think to yourselves, Am not I the man? Have not I so heard and received the seed all my life time? And has not the devil always found means to make all the gospel to me nothing, and blinded and hardened my heart to all the loving intreaties of the Lamb of God, and hid, as it were, his blood and gospel from me? O pray our Saviour to drive away the fowls, and command the nest of every unclean and hateful bird to keep off, that you may once hear in faith the words of God, and be saved.
But no doubt there are many here who will not reckon themselves among this sort: You, perhaps, have had a respect for the Bible, have been educated religiously, and gone strictly to church or meeting, done a great deal of good, &c. and after all may have been of that sort who receive the seed upon a rock, and upon stony ground. Those that fall under this blame are such as hear the word with joy; they may be so affected that they may
think « spake like this Man;" they may go and call others, be very industrious to bring many to hear the gospel, and would not miss the hearing the word of God upon any account. They are such as frequent all religious places and company, read all pious books, receive the sacrament, and be diligent in many good works, but have still a heart of adamant, a heart like the nether mill-stone: They have never known what it was to melt before the blood and dying of Jesus, nor to be like wax before the fire of his burnt-offering. Our Saviour saith, the word in such springs up directly, but when the sun is up, in a time of heat, they wither away, because they have no depth, nor moisture ; by this he means, they have no root in themselves, they have no inward experience of the love of God, nor have any more than a superficial joy, a flame like the foolish virgins' lamps, that soon goes out for lack of oil, and when affliction, or tenptation, or persecution arises, because of the word, by and by they are offended : They like the doctrine of Christ, and seem to begin well, but by and by one of their old companions mocks them, or their masters, benefactors, and parents threaten them, people of fashion are ashamed of them, and ten thouband things war with them on account of their being disposed for eternal life, and so they by little and little are offended; and since their hearts have never been softened and made tender by the blood and sufferings of Christ, at last all their good desires larguish and wither, and in a short time they are again in the world as deceived as ever. O! hear this, my dear brethren, and call an assize in your own breast, judge yourselves in this weighty matter, and ask your own heart, Am I not one of these? People who are hereby meant are in many dangers; first, from a hard heart; secondly, from being ashamed of our Saviour; and, thirdly, from a fear of man.
By a hard heart I mean what is described in Ezekiel, as a heart of stone. A man may be found in all the doctrines of the scripture in his head; he may have been very strict in what men call duty; he may have a glorious name in the world, and be looked upon as half a saint, be a great disputant for religion, and after all have a heart like a flint-stone, and like a rock, so that all the preaching of the cross, all the love of our Saviour, has to this day had no effect upon it: They have hitherto patched up a religion of their own making, and are really and truly dead as a stone to the merits of Jesus Christ, quite cold to his loving heart, and without the least inward acquaintance with him. Should you feel