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to special offices of piety and charity; such as instructing the ignorant, reproving the profane, guiding the doubtful, reclaiming the vicious, edifying the weak, and comforting the distressed. But these opportunities of usefulness occur more frequently in some situations than others, and of consequence the fruitfulness of some Christians is greater than that of others.
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. These and other amiable qualities of a natural kind, uniting with a deep sense of religion, and a warm zeal for the glory of God, give them the advantage in point of general usefulness in society above most around them. They can detect error and defend the truth, frown upon vice, and allure men to virtue, assert the cause of religion and repel the calumnies of infidels, after a manner not to be attempted by others, who yet possess the game piety and zeal with themselves. Their singular talents open a large field of usefulness to them, draw the attention of the public, give them a commanding authority over popular prejudices, and, with the blessing of God, secure to them no smal} success in the arduous business of reforming mankind.
The apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, endowed with the gifts of knowledge and utterance, went abroad inte all the earth, and brought forth fruit an hundred-fold: while private Christians whom they exhorted to covet earnestly better gifts than these, could do litle more, destitute of popular talents, than recommend the holy religion they professed by their unblameable lives. And since their time, there have been men possessed of extraordinary gifts who have laboured with uncommon success in the vineyard: while their brethren of inferior abilities, but equal piety, have complained, in the language of the prophet, Who hath believed our report, and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed a? To some the great Householder gives ten talents, and to others five: nor does he expect the like returns from the latter as from the former. He is not a hard master, whatever the slothful servant might pretend, reaping where he has not sowed, and gathering where he has not strawed a.
a Isa. liii. l.
4. The different means of religion that good men enjoy, are another occasion of their different degrees of fruitfulness.
If the gospel is adapted, as we have shewn it is, to promote holiness and animate men to generous and noble actions, it follows that the more clearly it is dispensed, the greater abundance of these good effects of it is to be expected. Upon this principle, Christians have the advantage of those who flourished under the Patriarchal and Jewish dispensations, the present being far preferable in point of light and glory to the former. But it is the difference among Christians themselves we have here chiefly in view. And the difference is considerable, for though the gospel is every where one and the same thing, yet the manner in which it is administered is various. Some seasons and climates, and some modes of cultivation, are more favourable to the fruits of the earth than others. So it is here. God bestows different gifts on different ministers; it seems natural, therefore, to expect in the ordinary course of things, that they who sit under a singularly edifying and animating ministry, should be more exemplary and ornamental in their lives than others. They have the truths of religion set in a more clear and convincing light, and the motives to obedience urged on them in a more lively and forcible manner than some others; and therefore ought to excel in the fruits of holiness.
The like also may be observed of peculiarly striking events of Providence, which happen to some Christians. These with the blessing of God become the happy means of their growth in grace. What a rapid progress do they make in the divine life, amidst these extraordinary cultivations ! How do they abound in love and good works! While their fellow-Christians who go on in a smooth path, seldom or never tried in the furnace of affliction, or emptied from vessel to vessel, give few distinguishing proofs of flaming zeal for the glory of God, and disinterested benevolence towards mankind. Hence our Lord says, speaking of himself as the vine, and of his Father as the husbandman, Every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit b : plainly intimating that as Matt. xxv. 16.
b John xv. 2.
there are degrees of fruitfulness among Christians, so the increase, remarkable in some instances, is owing to the extraordinary measures
divine Providence is pleased to take with them.From hence we are led to observe,
5. That the comparative different state of religion in one Christian and another, is the more immediate and direct cause of their different fruitfulness.
It is not our province, as I said before, to enter into men's bearts, to examine what passes there, and comparing their supposed inward tempers and feelings, to pronounce upon their respective characters. But this plain general truth we may affirm, leaving every one 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. If faith, love, and joy are in lively exercise, there will be correspondent expressions of these tempers in his life. Deeply impressed with the reality of future and eternal things, warmed at his very heart with the love of God in Christ, and sweetly refreshed with a sense of the divine favour, he will be strictly conscientious in all his intercourses with others, temperate in the use of worldly enjoyments, patient under his afflictions, ready to distribute to the wants of others, and vigorous in his endeavours to advance the glory of God, and promote the best interests of mankind.
But if these divine principles are in a weak, sickly, declining state, the torpor that has seized on his mind, will affect his external conduct; he will be listless, slothful, and neutral, and though he does not absolutely cease to bring forth fruit, yet the fruit he does bear will be inconsiderable in quantity, and of no very pleasing flavour. This matter is so clear that I need take no further pains either to explain or prove it. But while we apply this reasoning with all wholesome severity to ourselves, I must again caution you against the great evil of too hastily judging of others from external appearances. The good works of some Christians are concealed by an impenetrable veil from our view. But supposing they really are few, yet if their fewness may be imputed to either of the causes before-mentioned, let us not be fond of setting it down to this cause, the most unfavourable of all, namely, an essential defect in the spirit and
power of religion. To what has been said I have only to add one other reason of this variety among Christians; and that is,
6. And lastly,—The greater or less effusion of divine influences.
In regard of husbandry, how much the largeness of the crop depends upon the favourableness of the season, we have had occasion to shew: indeed without the aid of the sun and dew, and the blessing of God, though the ground were ever so well manured and sown, there would be no crop at all. The Lord blessed Isaac; and so having sowed in the land of the Philistines, he received in the same year an hundred-fold a. In like manner, clear as it is that every Christian ought to bring forth fruit, it is also evident that his endeavours will be vain without the divire assistance and blessing. But where more than ordinary fruits are brought forth, as in the instances of some eminent men that might be mentioned; it would be strange if we did not acknowledge, that a more than ordinary measure of the Holy Spirit is poured upon such persons. The noble exploits of an illustrious army of confessors and martyrs, who have contended with principalities and powers, and gained a complete victory over them, are only to be accounted for on this prineiple. And if their good works are more numerous and brilliant than those of the common class of Christians; if they have brought forth fruit a hundred-fold, and these only sixty; the former gratefully ascribe their superiority to the grace of God, while both the one and the other humbly acknowledge they have not improved their talents to the degree that might be expected.
Thus have we stated the fact respecting the different degrees of fruitfulness remarkable among Christians, and considered the true grounds and reasons of it.-It now remains that we represent,
IV. The blessedness of those who, hearing the word, and keeping it in honest and good hearts, bring forth the fruits of holiness. This, as we have observed, is implied, though not expressed, in the parable. And if we consider the pleasure that accompanies ingenuous obedience-the evidence which thence arises to the uprightness of the heart—the respect in which a man of this character is held among his fellow-Christians-and the rewards he shall hereafter receive at the hands of the Lord Jesus Christ, we shall readily pronounce him a happy man. :)
a Gen. xxvi. 12.
1. As to the pleasure that accompanies ingenuous obedience.
Great peace have they, says David, who love thy law, and nothing shall offend them a. And Solomon assures us, that the ways of wisdom, that is, of holiness, are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace b. Much might be said here of the pleasures of inward religion, the comforts which arise from communion with God, a sense of his favour, and the hope of eternal life. But I have my eye at present not so much on the contemplative and devotional, as the practical part of religion. And can any one doubt that a regular attention to duty upon right principles is accompanied with pleasure? Multitudes indeed shrink back from it. They account time spent in the worship of God long and tedious; acts of compassion and benevolence, if not of justice, a severe tax upon pleasure and proper, ty; and all restraints laid upon their exorbitant passions and appetites, a most intolerable burden. But if they had a taste for communion with the greatest and best of Beings, if they had hearts susceptible of human and generous feelings, and if they knew the value of temperance and moderation; how would they love the habitation of God's house, and the place where his honour dwelleth ! how would they rejoice in doing good to the souls and bodies of their fellow-creatures ! and with what satisfaction and cheerfulness would they daily partake of the bounties of Providence !
Such is the character of the real Christian: how happy a man therefore must he be! I mean when he acts in character: for it must not be denied, that his heart is sometimes out of tune for devotional exercises, that he is not always alike disposed to benevolent exertions, and that his appetites and passions too often rebel against his prevailing inclinations, though they gain not the absolute mastery over them. And hence all that pain he feels at his heart, and all that sadness which appears on his countenance. It is not his bringing forth fruit that makes him unhappy, but his bringing forth no more fruit, and, in his own modest apprehension, scarce any at all. Holiness and happiness are intimately connected: were that perfect and unmixed, this a Psal. cxix. 165.
6 Prov. ii. 17.