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or a temptation within, this sudden spring-seed can stand before neither.
Oh, rocky hearts! How shallow, shallow, are the impressions of Divine things upon you! Religion goes never further than the upper surface of your hearts. You have but few deep thoughts of God, and of Jesus Christ, and the things of the world to come ; all are but slight and transient glances. ,
The third is, thorny ground. This relates to the cares, and pleasures, and all the interests of this life. See Mark iv. 1. and Luke viii. 5. All these together are the thorns. And these grow in hearts which do more deeply receive the seed, and send it forth, and in which it springs up more hopefully than in either of the other two, and yet they choak it. Oh, the pity !
Many are thus almost at Heaven; there is so much desire of renovation, and some endeavours after it, and yet, the thorns prevail. - Miserable thorns, the base things of a perishing life, drawing away the strength of affections, sucking the sap of the soul! Our other seed and harvest, our corn and hay, our shops and ships, our tradings and bargains, our suits and pretensions for places and employments of gain or credit, husband or wife, and children, and house, and train, our feastings and entertainments, and other pleasures of sense, our civilities and compliments, and a world of those in all the world, are these thorns, and they overspread all: The lust of the eye, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life.
And for how long is all the advantage and delight of these ? Alas! that so poor things should prejudice us against the rich and blessed increase of this Divine seed !
The last is, good ground, a good and honest heart. There is not much fineness here, not many questions and disputes, but honest simplicity, sweet sincerity, that is all; a humble, single desire to eye and to do the will of God, and this from love to Himself. This makes the soul abound in the fruits of holiness, receiving the word as the ground of it. Different degrees there are indeed, some thirly, some sixty, and some an hundred fold; yet, the lowest are aiming at the highest, not
resting satisfied, still growing more fruitful; if thirty last year, desiring to bring forth sixty this.
This is the great point, and we ought to examine it; for much is sown and little brought forth. Our God hath done much for us ; (what more could be done ?) yet, when grapes were expected, wild grapes are produced. What becomes of all ? Who grow to be more spiritual, more humble and meek, more like Christ, more self-denying, fuller of love to God and one to another? Some, but alas ! how few. All the land is sown, and that plentifully, with the good seed; but what comes for the most part ? Cockle, and no grain. Infelix lolium.
We would do all other things to purpose, and not willingly lose our end : we would not trade and gain nothing, buy and sell, and live by the loss; we would not plow and sow, and reap nothing. How sensibly do we feel one ill year! And shall this alone be lost labour, which, well improved, were worth all the rest? Oh ! how much more worth than all ! Shall we do only the greatest business to the least purpose ? Bethink yourselves, what do we here? Why come we here? If we still remain as proud and passionate, as self-willed as before, what will all great bargains, and good years, and full barns, avail within a while ? That word, Thou fool, this night shall they fetch away thy soul, how terrible will it be !
We think we are wise in not losing our labour in other things; why, it is all lost, even where most is gained. What amounts it to, when cast up? Vanity and veration of spirit, is the total sum. And in all our projecting and bustling, what do we but sow the wind, and reap the whirlwind, sow vanity, and reap vexation?
This seed alone, being fruitful, makes rich and happy, springs up to eternal life. Oh! that we were wise, that we would at length learn to hear every sermon as on the utmost edge of time, at the very brink of eternity! For any thing we know for ourselves, of any of us it may be really so. However, it is wise and safe to do as if it were so. Will
Will you be
persuaded of this? It were a happy Sermon, if it could prevail for the more fruitful hearing of all the rest henceforward. We have lost too much of our little time, and thus, with the Apostle, I beseech you, I beseech youy receive not the grace of God in vain.
Now, that you may be fruitful, examine well your own hearts; pluck up, weed out, for there are still thorns. Some will
grow, but he is the happiest man who hath the sharpest eye and the busiest hand, spying them out, and plucking them up. Take heed how you hear ; think it not so easy a matter. Plough up, and sow not among thorns. Jer. iv. 3.
And above all, pray, pray before, after, and in hearing. Dart up desires to God. He is the Lord of the harvest, whose influence doth all. The difference of the soil makes indeed the difference of success : but the Lord hath the privilege of bettering the soil. He who framed the heart, changes it when and how he will. There is a curse on all grounds naturally, which fell on the earth for man's sake, but fell more on the ground of man's own heart within him: Thorns and briers shalt thou bring forth. Now it is He that denounceth that curse, who alone hath power to remove it. He is both the sovereign owner of the seed, and the changer of the soil; He turns a wilderness into Carmel by His Spirit; and no ground no heart, can be good, till He change it.
And being changed, much care must be had still in manuring; for still that is in it, which will bring forth many weeds, is a mother to them, and but a step-mother to this seed. Therefore,
Consider it, if you think this concerns you. He that hath an ear to hear, as our Saviour closes, let him hear. The Lord apply your hearts to this work; and though discouragements should arise without, or within, and little present fruit appear, but corruption is rather stronger and greater, yet, watch and pray. Wait on; it shall be better. This fruit is to be brought forth with patience, as St. Luke hath it And this seed, this word, the Lord calls by that very name, the very word of His patience. Keep it, hide it in thy heart, and in due time it shall spring up. And this patience shall be put to it, but for a little while. The day of harvest is at hand, when all who have been in any measure fruitful in grace, shall be gathered into glory.
2 Cor. vi. 1.
Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves
from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.
It is a thing both of unspeakable sweetness and usefulness, for a Christian often to consider the excellency of that estate to which he is called. It cannot fail to put him upon very high resolutions, and carry him on in the Divine ambition of behaving daily more suitably to his high calling and hopes. Therefore, these are often set before Christians in the Scriptures, and are pressed here by the Apostle upon a particular occasion, the avoidance of near combinements with unbelievers. He mentions some choice promises which God makes to His own people, and speaks of their near relation to, and communion with, Himself; and upon these, he enlarges and raises the exhortation to the universal endeavour of all holiness, and that as aiming at the very top and highest degree of it.
In the words are, 1. The thing to which he would persuade. II. The motive.
I. The thing is, holiness in its full extension and intention. Purging ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, and perfecting holiness in the fear of God.
The purging out of filthiness, and the perfecting of holi
ness, express those two parts of renewing grace, mortification and vivification, as usually they are distinguished. But I conceive they are not so truly different parts, as a different notion of the same thing, the decrease of sin and the increase
grace, being truly one thing, as are the dispelling of darkness and the augmenting of light. So here, the one is rendered as the necessary result, yea, as the equivalent of the other, as the same thing indeed : purging from filthiness, and, in so doing, perfecting holiness ; perfecting holiness, and, in so doing, purging from filthiness. By perfection is meant a growing, progressive advance towards perfection.
The words, without straining, give us as it were the several dimensions of holiness. The breadth-cleansing from all filthiness ; the length, parallel to man's composition, running all along through his soul and body,-- from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit; the height-perfecting holiness ; the depth, that which is the bottom whence it rises up,-a deep impress of the fear of God, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.
Let us cleanse ourselves.] It is the Lord who is the sanctifier of His people; He purges away their dross and tin, He pours clean water, according to His promises ; yet, doth He call to us to cleanse ourselves. Even, having such promises, let us cleanse ourselves. He puts a new life into us, and causes us to act, and excites us to excite it and call it
into act in the progress of sanctification. Men are strangely inclined to a perverse construction of things. Tell them that we are to act and work, and to give all diligence, then they would fancy a doing in their own strength, and be their own saviours. Again, tell them that God works all our works in us, and for us, then they would take the ease of doing nothing : if they cannot have the praise of doing all, they will sit still with folded hands, and use no diligence at all. But this is the corrupt logic of the flesh, its base sophistry. The Apostle reasons just contrary, Phil. ï. 12. It is God that worketh in us, both to will and do ;-therefore, would a carnal heart say, we need not work, or at least, may work Vol. III.