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unstable believers ; thirdly, the fruitless believers; and fourthly, the fruitful believers of the word.—Meanwhile, my dearly beloved brethren of this church and congregation, and all ye men and brethren who have come hither this night seeking instruction, be taught that the word now spoken to you will be assailed by these three-fold forms of trial : Satan tempting you to reject it as a cunningly devised fable ; persecutions subtle and insidious leading you to forego the hold which you have gladly taken of it; thorny cares of this world choking its growth unto maturity, and hindering it from issuing in good fruit, to the glory of God, the honour of the church and the profit of your own souls. Wherefore, my dearly beloved, be warned, and on your guard against these your enemies; and seek this night, and even now, the Divine blessing, without which Paul may plant and Apollos may water in vain. And be on your guard to-morrow, against oppressive and delusive cares of this world; going forth into the world as armed men to battle, with wary steps; and circumspect, as men who have to do with ambushlaying enemies : having always the banner of your salvation displayed, and following the footsteps of your brave and merciful Commander, who sendeth no one a warfare on his own charge; “ praying always, with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all diligence, and prayer for all saints; and for me, that to me may be given with openness of mouth, in boldness, to make known the mystery of the Gospel.”
THE SEED THAT FELL BY THE WAY-SIDE, WHICH THE
BIRDS OF THE AIR SNATCHED AWAY,
A sower went out to sow his seed: and as he sowed, some
fell by the way-side ; and it was trodden down, and the fowls of the air devoured it.-Those by the way-side, are they that hear; then cometh the devil, and taketh away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved.
FROM this parable it is manifest that our Lord did not expect the preaching of the Gospel was to be attended with the fruit of universal conversion, as many of his disciples and ministers in these our times conceive: for, of all the seed which the sower sowed, three parts brought forth no fruit, through the prevailing power of evil; that part only ripening which was sown upon the good soil of an honest and a good heart. Whence I think it is not to be doubted, that our Lord anticipated that poor and unprofitable reception which his word has received from the sons of men, and instructed his preachers to expect more frequently to be baffled than to prevail. And, even among that which doth take root and grow up, we are taught in another parable that the enemy soweth tares, which can by no means be separated, until he who is the Judge shall come with his fan in his hand thoroughly to purge his floor. To this also agree the words of the Scriptures, that “many are called, but few are chosen ;” that it is a “little flock” to whom it hath pleased the Father to give the kingdom; that “ strait is the gate and narrow is the way which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it."
Now, forasmuch as the preaching of the word is all the means of converting men which under this present dispensation we do hold in our hand, and the Word himself doth here declare that it was to be effectual only to a very partial conversion of men, I judge it to be manifest that we are not yet furnished with the means for the universal conversion of the world; and that we have reason to expect, before that great event promised in all the prophecies can take effect, some other instrument, more efficacious than any which we at present possess: and that, though the ministry of the Gospel be universal in respect to the bounds over which it is commissioned, it is not universal in respect to the end which it hath to accomplish; but only partial, as was the ministry of the Law and the Prophets, which raised up a race of prophets and witnesses in one nation, whereas it is our higher province to raise up a race of prophets and witnesses for God over all nations.
This is a most important conclusion; which the preacher of the Gospel must ever bear in mind, otherwise he will wholly frustrate and pervert the intention of the great Prophet of our calling. If he take up the notion that the Gospel is for universal conversion, he will be like to a man rushing into the battle with armour which he believes to be enchanted against the dint of hostile weapons, whereas the enchantment is only in his own Quixotic fancy, as he will prove at the first onset : and, finding that he doth not succeed, according to his fond expectation and false hope, in bearing down all opposition, he will next begin to imagine that this poor success ariseth from his own unskilfulness; which he beginneth forthwith to amend by various sleights of tongue and cunningartifices, gracious accommodations and pious frauds, in order to bring about that universal triumph over wickedness, which was never intended to be the trophy of preaching under its present form. I have no doubt, though I cannot in this place spare time to demonstrate at length, that the greater part of the corruptions of preaching have sprung from this very error, of expecting the conversion of the whole world from the faculties with which Christ hath endowed the ministers of the word, instead of expecting merely the raising up of a race of witnesses, by whose patient testimony to condemn the world, and justify that great act of visible judgment with which this present dispensation is to be consummated, and the universal dispensation is to be ushered in, at the second coming of the Lord. This remark is not less important to you, hearers, than to us, preachers, of the word. For, while it delivers us from false expectations, and wicked endeavours to insinuate a corrupt and disguised Gospel into the world, it teacheth you that the very word which is unto salvation may fail to convert you—nay, will fail, and by God is designed to fail-except on your parts you bestir yourselves to activity, and watch against the enemies of the word, who contend against it so successfully, and who shall surely defeat its efficacy, unless you be fellow-workers with the Spirit of God and the ministers of his holy word. Hear me, therefore, with the more serious attention, while I now point out to you the first form in which the enemy seeks to prevent the quickening of the word of God in your souls.
“ Those by the way-side are they who hear; then cometh the devil, and taketh away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved.”—In the conclusion of my former discourse, when sketching out the four varieties of persons in the parable, I made this class to consist of the unbelievers of the word altogether, or the rejectors of its kernel and substance, which only is seed procreative of the fruits of the kingdom; but the more diligent attention which I have given to the subject during the last week hath convinced me that this is too narrow a definition of the class, before us, which must include all who from any cause retain not the seed of the word sown in their hearts. Matthew hath it, “who hear the word of the kingdom and understand it not:" from which you will not infer that there is any class of the people who are of too dull an intellect, or too narrow a capacity, to understand so much of the word as is necessary unto salvation; for it is well written, that “.the law is exceeding broad,” and the word so written that “ he who runneth may read,” and “ the way-faring man, though a fool, shall not err therein.” The word of God is eyes to the blind, understanding to the simple, and very nigh unto us all. The truth of God is plain unto children, and his fear is the beginning of wisdom, and his praise is ordained even out of the mouths of babes and of sucklings. And there be many mothers now hearing me who can testify how easy access the lessons of early piety findeth to the slender capacities of childhood; and the missionaries, who