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these things be ?—by saying, the wind bloweth where it listeth, and no man knows whence it comes, and whither it goes, so is every one that is born of the Spirit a. The evangelist John affirms, that they who become the sons of God, and believe on the name of Christ, are born, not of blood, nor of the will of the
flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. The apostle Paul declares, we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works b, and that he hath saved us by the washing of regeneration, and the renewing of the Holy Ghost : which he shed on us abundantly, through Jesus Christ our Saviour c. tle James assures us, that God of his own will begat us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first-fruits of his creatures d. But these are only a few among many other pass sages of the same import.
Thus have we considered the leading ideas in the parable of the sower—the Seed—the Ground—and the gradual Process of this business, from the first cultivation of the soil, and the casting the seed into it, to the happy issue of the whole in the production of fruit at harvest. And these ideas we have applied to the origin, progress, and effect of religion in the heart and life of a real Christian. So our way is open to the consideration of the several characters our Saviour means to hold up to our view, which will be the subject of the following discourses. In the meantime, let us make a few reflections on what has been said.
1. How honourable, important, and laborious is the employ, ment of ministers !
Our business, my brethren, is with the immortal souls of men, to plough up the fallow ground of the heart, to cast in the seed of truth, and all with a view to their bringing forth the fruits of holiness. Can any service be more interesting, or more painful and pleasant than this? What fervent zeal, what tender pity, what persevering resolution should inspire our breasts! Let us get all the knowledge we can in our profession, let us be expert in all the duties of it, let us have our hearts in it, and put out all our strength in the labours of it. Let us be instant in season, and out of season, watch for the souls of men as those that must give an account, and seize every favourable opportunity that offers of promoting the great objects of God's glory and a John iii. 5, 8. 6 Eph. ii. 10. c Tit. iji. 5, 6. d James i. 18
their salvation. We must expect, like the husbandman, to meet with our disappointments, and many will be our anxieties and
But let us not be unduly cast down: though we sow in tears, we shall ere long reap in joy.
2. What a great blessing is the word of God !
It is more precious far than the seed with which the hus, bandman sows his ground. With this we are begotten by the will of God, that we may be a kind of first-fruits of his creatures. Divine knowledge, entering into our understandings, and mingling with our experience, makes us wise unto salvation, cheers and enlivens our hearts, and disposes us to every good word and work. O how attentively therefore should we read the word of God! how diligently should we endeavour to understand it ! how implicitly submit our judgment and conscience to its authority ! how cordially embrace its sacred truths ! and how regularly and constantly govern our lives by its precepts ! To this good word of God, brethren, we commend you, (persuaded that) it is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them that are sanctified a.
3. What cause have we for deep humiliation before God, when we reflect on the miserable depravity of human nature !
The earth has evident signs of the curse of God upon it. Thorns and thistles it brings forth, and in sorrow and in the sweat of our face we eat of it till we return into the ground b. In like manner the soul of man is wretchedly dishonoured, enervated, and corrupted by sin. The soil that was originally rich, pure, and flourishing, and brought forth fruit spontaneously, has lost its beauty and verdure, is become cold and barren; and till it is manured and cultivated by divine grace, produces little else but bitter herbs and noxious plants. What have we then, in this our apostate state, to boast of? God created man in uprightness, but he hath sought out many inventions c. The gold is become dim, the fine gold is changed. Let us therefore humbly prostrate ourselves before God, and in the language of the patriarch Job say, I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye seeth thee, wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes d.-In a word,
n Acts xx. 32. £ Eccl. vii. 29.
6 Gen. iii. 17-19. d Job xlii, 5, 6.
4. And lastly, How great are our obligations to diviñe grace for the renewing influences of the Holy Spirit !
If the barren soil of our hearts has been cultivated, if the seed of divine truth has been cast into it, if the dews from the everlasting hills have copiously descended on it, if the balmy influence of the blessed Spirit has warmed it, caused the living principles of grace implanted there to dilate, spring up, and bring forth the fruits of holiness; if, I say, God of his mercy has taken such measures as these with us, how devoutly should we acknowledge his goodness! Let not the regard which the sower pays to divine Providence, reproach our inattention and insensibility to the more noble and salutary influences of divine grace. These let us earnestly implore, and in these let us humbly confide. And ere long our shouts of praise to the great Author of all grace, shall far exceed those of the grateful husbandman to the God of nature, when he brings home the precious grain to his garner.
THE CHARACTER OF INATTENTIVE HEARERS CONSI
MATT. XII. 4.- And when he sowed, some seeds fell by the way-side, and the fowls of the air came and devoured them up. We have explained at large the leading ideas in this parable, and proceed now to consider the several kinds of Hearers our Lord meant to describe. Their characters are drawn with admirable précision, and will furnish us with many useful lessons of instruction. They inay be all classed under four heads - the INATTENTIVE—the ENTHUSIASTIC-the WORLDLYMINDED-the SINCERE. It is upon the first of these we are now to discourse.
FIRST.-The INATTENTIVE, or those upon whose minds the word has no salutary effect at all.
When the Sower casts abroad his seed, some fall on the path lying through the field, or on that without the enclosure, the way-side, or causey: and so the ground being common, uncultivated, and grown hard by being frequently trod on, it is incapable of receiving the seed into it. Here therefore it lies, and is either bruised and destroyed by the feet of him who next passes that way; or else the fowls of the air, birds of prey, quickly come and devour it. How natural the description ! · Let us now hear our Saviour's exposition of this part of the parable. When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart: this is he who received seed by the way-side.-Here several things are to be observed; as,
1. These persons hear the word. They are not deaf, and so utterly incapable of hearing. Nor are they determined at all events that they will not hear. This is the deplorable character of too many people. They fly from the word of God and the means of religion, as they would, from the pestilence. They refuse him that speaketh, that is, will not so much as give him a hearing. No consideration can prevail on them to enter the places where the gospel is preached. And when God in his providence calls aloud to them, they reply, as did the Jews of whom the prophet Jeremiah speaks, I will not hear : and this is their manner from their youth a. But the persons here meant to be described do hear. So far their conduct is commendable. But then,
2. They are only occasional hearers of the word. They are, in regard of the assemblies where the gospel is preached, what the way-side is to the field where the seed is sown, ground without the enclosure, or whereon the seed falls as it were accidentally, or by chance. They come now and then to the house of God, induced by motives of curiosity and amusement, or others more base and unworthy. But admitting that in compliance with custom, education, or at best, the constraints of conscience, they attend more regularly ; yet,
3. They are not at all prepared for hearing the word. The ground by the way-side is beaten ground; it has received ng cultivation whatever. Keep thy foot,' says the wise man, 'when thou goest to the house of God, and be more ready to hear, than to give the sacrifice of fools a.' We ought to consider before hand what we are about, to look well to our views and motives, and to endeavour to compose our minds to the solemnities of divine service. But to these exercises of the heart the persons we are here speaking of are perfect strangers. They rush into the presence of Almighty God as the horse into the battle, without any awe of that great Being upon their spirits, and without any concern to profit by what they hear. And hence it may be presumed,
a Chap. xxii. 21.
4. That they hear in a heedless, desultory manner. Their at- . tention is not fixed, their thoughts are not collected, they regard not the drift of the discourse, observe not the connexion, nor comprehend the reasoning. And so,
5. They understand it not, that is, they remain grossly ignorant. Not that they are destitute of the powers of perception and reasoning, in a state of absolute idiocy or insanity. No; they have common sense, and it may be, a great deal of natural sprightliness and sagacity. But not using the faculties they are endowed with, not listening to what they hear, and not taking pains to apprehend and retain it; they only affix some general idea to this or that passing sentence: and so are as uninformed as if they did not hear at all. But there are some in the class of hearers our Lord here describes, who
6. Do in a sense understand the word; for the seed is said, in the latter part of the verse, to be sown in their hearts. Now these persons hear with more attention, but, alas ! to no better purpose, than the others : for their attention being the fruit of mere curiosity, all the knowledge they acquire in religion, is merely speculative. And of this they have, perhaps, not a little, insomuch that they think themselves qualified to be teachers of others. But with all their systematical acquaintance with doctrines, all their knowledge of technical terms, all their nice distinctions, and their profound metaphysical reasonings, they are miserably ignorant of what lies at the foundation of religion. They know not their own hearts, they perceive not the evil of sin, they apprehend not the danger to which they are exposed,
a Eccl. v. l.