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1. What a striking picture has our Saviour here given us of human nature !
The character of enthusiastic hearers is drawn in our text to the life, with the greatest simplicity, and free from all art or colouring; and it has been realized, as was just observed, in instances without number. Every age and country where the gospel has been preached, have furnished examples persons who have treated it in the manner here described. And how natural to conclude from hence, that Jesus of Nazareth was a teacher that came from God! He taught with authority, not as the Scribes. He had an exact and comprehensive knowledge of all men and of all things. He needed not that any should testify of man: for he knew what was in man a. How devoutly should we revere his infinite wisdom and penetration ! How diligently listen to his instructionis ! And how implicitly confide in his word and promises ! And since he has thus exactly foretold what treatment his gospel would meet with in the world, how should this consideration fortify the minds of bis faithful ministers, amidst all the discouragements they meet with from this quarter ! Be it so, that enthusiasm, as well as infidelity, erects its standard against the gospel wherever it comes, our divine Master has told us that so it would be: we have therefore no reason to be unduly cast down at an appearánce so sad and unpleasing.
2. Of what importance is it to study ourselves, and to keep a guard upon our passions !
Men differ, as we have seen, from one another in regard of their animal frame, as well as their moral disposition; and the former has no small influence, though not in so great a degree as the latter, on their speculations and feelings about matters of religion. To know therefore what is our natural cast, what the temperature of our animal spirits, how we are apt to be affected with exterpal objects, whether we are lively or phlegmatic, gay or gloomy, cheerful or severe; to know this, I say, is a matter of great consequence. For hereby we shall be secured from mistaking our own proper character, and pronouncing too hastily either for or against ourselves. Some truly pious Christians have been apt to conclude from those painful feelings, which are
a John ii. 25.
the mere effect of natural constitution, that they are utter strangers to the grace of God: while others, on the mcre ground of their lively and elevated feelings, have as confidently insisted that they are Christians, and Christians too of a superior rank. In the former case, the mistake is not a little prejudicial to a man's present comfort; in the latter, it is essentially dangerous to his everlasting interest.
Let us therefore study ourselves. It is manly to wish to know what our real character is. Self-knowledge will have an important influence on our general conduct. It will prevent many solecisms in our daily deportment, both as men and Christians. It will put us upon our guard against the arts of designing infidels, and the miserable delusions of enthusiasm. And it will assist us in our attention to those duties which are wisely and graciously appointed for our furtherance in the divine life.
3. We see what kind of preaching is to be coveted, and what avoided.
Improvement in substantial knowledge and real holiness will be the grand object with every wise man; to this he will readily sacrifice imagination and passion. These, indeed, are not to be treated with neglect. A dull, heavy, lifeless discourse, whatever useful instruction it may contain, will have little effect. A man who wishes to persuade ought no doubt to feel his subject; and religious subjects are of all others the most sublime and animating. But if all the preacher's aim is to amuse the fancy of his audience, without informing their judgment, and to rouse their passions, without getting at their hearts, little good is to be expected from his most ingenious essays, or his most strenuous exertions.
Religion is a serious thing, and so miserably ignorant and perverse are the generality of hearers, that they need be closely reasoned, and faithfully dealt with upon this most important matter. What prospect is there then of a sinner's being converted to God by rhetorical flourishes, well-turned periods, or an artful laboured display of splendid abilities ! And how much less prospect of his becoming either wise or good by the violent impulse of loud vociferation, unmeaning tones, and frantic gestures ! Will the exciting an ignorant hearer's wonder by a few empty jejune criticisms, convince him of the evil of sin and his
danger of suffering the wrath of Almighty God? Will the playing upon his imagination with a plenty of ill-managed tropes and figures, and a succession of idle trifling stories, persuade him to break off his vices, and become a sound substantial Christian? Will the grimace of a distorted countenance, the thunder of an unnaturally elevated voice, or the terror of uplifted hands, compel him to rank among the followers of the Lamb ? Ab! no. Effects, indeed, and very important ones, have been produced by these expedients : but alas ! they are such as have rather injured, than served the real interests of mankind. This has sufficiently appeared from the preceding dis
· Let us, therefore, if we would rightly understand the word of the kingdom, and be savingly benefited by it, choose those for our instructors who clearly state it, ably defend it, and with all the seriousness, affection, and earnestness which its infinite importance demands, address our hearts and consciences upon it. It is not wild enthusiasm, but a divine faith, that must bring us to heaven.
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
e 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, But 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. And will any one say that the event of such a profession is at all to be wondered at ? or that it does in the least clash with the assurances our Saviour has given us of his attention to the final interests of his faithful people? It might naturally be expected that the man who received the word in the manner the text describes, should by and by be offended. No real change had ever passed on his heart, no living principle of religion was ever implanted in his breast, and no promise was ever given him of such support and assistance, as should secure him from apostacy in the hour of temptation and danger.
But where the understanding has been duly enlightened, and the heart really impregnated with a principle of religion, as it is not likely that what is in a manner interwoven with a man's nature should be easily parted with; so likewise the Scriptures assure us, that divine grace will watch over it, defend, cherish, and bring it to perfection. The former idea is authorised by our Lord's commendation of the water of life, in his discourse with the woman of Samaria ; it shall be, says he, in him to whom I give it, a well of water springing up into everlasting life a. And the latter idea, I mean the attention which the blessed God pays to this vital principle of religion in the hearts of his people, is strikingly expressed by our Saviour in those remarkable words :- I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand—and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand b.' Once more,
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. Methinks I hear him, in the sadness of his heart say, “I have received the word, and, as I thought, with joy. But what if my joy should prove a mere illusion of the fancy? And what if my profession should issue in apostacy?” This be assured, Christian, and I think I speak upon the authority of Scripture, will not be the case. Recollect what has been said respecting the temper of your mind previous to the comfort you enjoyed, the considerations that 'excited it, and the effects it produced. You was in earnest about the salvation of
for a John iv. 14.
b John X. 28, 29.
mortifying your lusts, and resisting temptation; and though you have not yet attained, nor are yet perfect, it is however your daily concern to avoid sin, and to please God.
And now, I ask, is there not a clear distinction between your character and the characters of the self-deceiving hypocrite, and the wild enthusiast? Why then should you be thus cast down? Put your trust in God. Go on, diligently hearing the word of the kingdom, comforting yourself with its many gracious promises, cherishing in your breast its divine temper, and practising its sacred precepts. So you may rest assured the event will be to your infinite joy. God is faithful who has promised.
THE CHARACTER OF WORLDLY-MINDED HEARERS CON
MATT. XIII. 7.-And some fell among thorns : and the thorns
sprung up and choked them. The
He characters of the two first classes of hearers having been considered, we proceed now to that of the
THIRD,—The WORLDLY-MINDED. These are described in our text-Some seeds fell among thorns : and the thorns sprung up and choked them.
The soil in the hedge or enclosure round about the field, is usually richer and deeper, and so more favourable for cultivation than the ground on the way-side, or in stony places. Wherefore the seed which accidentally falls here will be likely, after à time, to take root: nor is it liable to be trod on, or instantly scorched with heat. But then unhappily the thorns which, through the luxuriance of the soil, grow here in abundance, spring up with it, and crowding about it, keep off the sun and the air : so its growth is checked, and of consequence, it brings no fruit to perfection; but in a course of time it is choked and destroyed.