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MATT. xiii. 3.
And he spake many things unto them in parables, saying, Behold a sower went forth to sow.
THE rich bounty of God hath furnished our natural life, not barely for strict necessity, but with great abundance: many kinds of beasts, and fowls, and fishes, and herbs, and fruits, has He provided for the use of man. Thus, our spiritual life likewise is supported with a variety: the word, the
food of it, hath not only all down, but a great variety of instruction and consolation. of similitudes hath a notable light.
necessary truths once simply set doctrine for our more abundant Amongst the rest, this way commixture of profit and de
Parables not unfolded and understood, are a veil (as here) to the multitude, and in that view, they are a great judgment; (as Isaiah vi. 9, cited here ;) but when cleared and made transparent, then they are a glass to behold Divine things in more commodiously and suitably to our way. All things are big with such resemblances, but they require the dexterous hand of an active spirit to bring them forth. This way, besides other advantages, is much graced and commended by our Saviour's frequent use of it,
That which is given here, is fitted to the occasion: multitudes were coming to hear him, and many were not a whit the better for it. He instructs us in this point, the great difference between the different hearts of men, so that the same word hath very different success in them.
In this parable, we shall consider these three things: 1. The nature of the word in itself. 2. The sameness and commonness of the dispensation. 3. The difference of the operation and production.
The word, the seed, hath in it a productive virtue to bring
forth fruit according to its kind, that is, the fruit of a new life; not only a new habitude and fashion of life without, but a new nature, a new kind of life within, new thoughts, a new estimate of things, new delights and actions. When the word reveals God, His greatness and holiness, then it begets pious fear and reverence, and study of conformity to Him. When it reveals His goodness and mercy, it works love and confidence. When it holds up to our view Christ crucified, it crucifies the soul to the world, and the world to it. When it represents those rich things which are laid up for us, that blessed inheritance of the saints, then it makes all the lustre of this world vanish, shews how poor it is, weans and calls off the heart from them, raising it to those higher hopes, and sets it on the project of a crown. And so it is a seed of noble thoughts and of a suitable behaviour in a Christian, as, in the exposition of this parable, it is called the word of the kingdom; seed, an immortal seed, as St. Peter calls it, 1 Pet. i. 23, springing up to no less than eternal life.
This teaches us, 1. Highly to esteem the great goodness of God to those places and times which have been most blessed with it. He sheweth his word unto Jacob, his statutes and his judgments unto Israel. He hath not dealt so with any nation; and as for his judgments, they have not known them. Psal. cxlvii. 19.
2. That the same dispensation is to be preached indifferently to all where it comes, as far as the sound can reach. And thus it was very much extended in the first promulgating of the gospel; their sound went out through all the earth, as the Apostle allusively applies that of the Psalmist. Rom. x. xviii-Psal. xix. 4.
3. This teaches also ministers liberally to sow this seed at all times, according to that, In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thine hand, &c. (Eccl. xi. 6.) praying earnestly to Him who is the Lord, not only of the harvest, but of the seed time, and of this seed, to make it fruitful. This is His peculiar work. So the Apostle acknow
ledges, I have planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. 1 Cor. iii. 6.
4. Hence we also learn the success to be very different. This is most evident in men: while one is cast into the mould and fashion of the word, and so moulded and fashioned by it, another is no whit changed; while one heart is melting before it, another is still hardened under it.
So then, this is not all, to have the word and to hear it, as if that would serve our turn and save us, as we commonly fancy, The temple of the Lord, The temple of the Lord are we. Multitudes under the continual sound of the word, yet remain lifeless and fruitless, and die in their sins. Therefore, we must inquire and examine strictly, what becomes of it, how it works, what it brings forth; and for this very end, this parable declares so many are fruitless. We need not press them, they are three to one here; yea, that were too narrow, the odds is far greater, for these are but the kinds of unfruitful grounds, and under each of these are comprised huge multitudes of individuals, so that there may be a hundred to one, and it is to be feared, that in many congregations, it is more than so.
Whence is then the difference? Not from the seed; that is the same to all. Not from the sower neither, for though these be divers, and of different abilities, yet, it hangs little or nothing on that. Indeed, he is the fittest to preach, who is himself most like his message, and comes forth not only with a handful of this seed in his hand, but with store of it in his heart, the word dwelling richly in him; yet, howsoever, the seed he sows, being this word of life, depends not on his qualifications in any kind, either of common gifts, or special grace. People mistake this much, and it is a carnal conceit to hang on the advantages of the minister, or to eye that much. The sure way is, to look up to God, and to look into thine own heart. An unchanged, unsoftened heart, like an evil soil, disappoints the fruit. What though sown by a weak hand, yea, possibly a foul one, yet, if received into a clean and
honest heart, it will fructify much. There is in the world a needless and prejudicial distinguishing of men, out of which people will not come for all we can say.
The first bad ground is a highway. Now we have a commentary here, whence we may not, and will not depart: it is authentic and full. It is those who hear the word and understand it not. Ver. 19. Gross, brutish spirits who perceive not what is said, are as if they were not there, sit like blocks, one log of wood upon another; as he said Lapis super lapidem in theatro. This is our brutish multitude. What pity is it to see so many, such as have not so much as a natural apprehension of spiritual truths! Their hearts are the common road of all passengers, of all kinds of foolish, brutish thoughts; seeking nothing but how to live, and yet they know not to what end, have no design; trivial, highway hearts, which all temptations pass through at their pleasure; profane as Esau, which some critics draw from a word signifying the threshold, the outer step that every foul foot treads on.
These retain nothing; there is no hazard of that; and yet, the Enemy of souls, to make all sure, lest peradventure some word might take root unawares, some grain of this seed, is busy to pick it away; to take them off from all reflection, all serious thoughts, or the remembrance of any thing spoken to them. And if any common word is remembered, yet, it doth no good, for that is trodden down like the rest; though the most is picked up, because it lies on the road. So it is expressed, Mark iv. 4.
The second is stony ground; hard hearts, not softened and made penetrable to receive in deeply this ingrafted word with meekness, with humble yielding and submission to it; the rocks. Yet, in these, there is often some receiving of it, and a little slender moisture above them, which the warm air may make spring up a little: they receive with joy, have a little present delight in it, are moved and taken with the sermon, possibly even to the shedding of some tears; but the misery is, there is a want of depth of earth, it sinks not.
No wonder if there is some present delight in these. Therefore, the word of the kingdom, especially if skilfully and sensibly delivered by some more able speaker, pleases. Let it be but a fancy, yet it is a fine pleasant one; such love as induced the Son of God to die for sinners; such a rich purchase made as a kingdom; such glory and sweetness. Therefore the description of the new Jerusalem, Rev. xxi., suppose it to be but a dream, or one of the visions of the night, yet, it is passing fine; it must needs please a mind that heeds what is said of it. There is a natural delight in spiritual things, and thus the word of the Prophet, as the Lord tells him, (Ezek. xxxiii. 32,) was as a minstrel's voice, a fine song so long as it lasted, but which dies out in the air. It may be, the relish and air of it will remain awhile in the imagination, but not long; even that wears out and is forgotten. So here, it is heard with joy, and some is springing up presently: they commend it, and, it may be, repeat some passages, yea, possibly desire to be like it, to have such and such graces as are recommended, and upon that think they have them, are presently good Christians in their own conceit. And to appearance, some change is wrought, and it appears to be all that it is; but it is not deep enough. They talk, possibly, too much, more than those whose hearts receive it more deeply: there it lies hid longer, and little is heard of it; others may think it is lost, and, possibly, themselves do not perceive that it is there; they are exercised and humbled at it, and find no good in their own hearts; yet, there it is hid: as David says, Thy word have I hid in my heart. And as seed in a manner dies in a silent, smothering way, yet, it is in order to the fructifying and the reviving of it, so, it will spring up in time, and be fruitful in its seasonwith patience, as St. Luke hath it of the good ground; not so suddenly, but much more surely and solidly.
But the most are present, mushroom Christians, soon ripe, soon rotten. The seed goes never deep: it springs up indeed, but any thing blasts and withers it. There is little root in some. If trials arise, either the heat of persecution without,