Discourse I.
Part II

We have considered the history of the parable before us, enquired into the grounds and reasons of this mode of instruction, mentioned the peculiar inducements our Saviour had to address the people in this manner, and laid down some rules to assist us in the interpretation of the parables. This has led me to observe the importance of carefully guarding against an intemperate use of metaphors, in discourses on moral and religious subjects; an evil which too much prevails in our time. This sort of preaching, and all preaching of a mere declamatory kind, whether allegorical or not, we have described; and shewn the false principles upon which it is adopted, and the very pernicious tendency of it. And we now return to the subject before us—the explanation and improvement of The parable of the Sower. The general outlines of instruction meant to be conveyed by it, appear upon the face of the parable: we are happy, however, in having our Saviour’s own interpretation of it, as we are hereby secured from the danger of mingling our own vain conceits with it. His exposition of it the evangelist has given us (verse 18-
23), which we shall now recite in his own words.

Hear ye the parable of the sower. 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 which received seed by the way-side. But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it: yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended. He also that receiveth seed among the thorns is he that heareth the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful. But he that received seed into the good ground is he that heareth the word, and understandeth it; which also beareth fruit, and bring forth, some an hundred fold, some sixty, some thirty.

His audience, you see, our Saviour ranks under four distinct characters—the INATTENTIVE—the ENTHUSIASTIC—the WORLDLY-MINDED—and the SINCERE; each of which characters he draws with admirable precision and energy. And since most assemblies consist of persons who answer to these descriptions, we propose to consider particularly what our Lord has here said respecting each of them. But in order to open the way to this our grand object, it will be necessary to explain the principal leading ideas in the parable. These are the Sower—the Seed—the Ground—and the Effect of casting seed into it.

I. By the Sower is meant our Saviour himself, and all those whose office it is to instruct men in the truths and duties of religion.

The business of the husbandman is of all others most important and necessary, requires much skill and attention, is painful and laborious, and yet not without pleasure and profit. A man of this profession ought to be well versed in agriculture, to understand the difference of soils, the various methods of cultivating the ground, the seed proper to be sown, the seasons for every kind of work, and in short how to avail himself of all circumstances that arise for the improvement of his farm. He should be patient of fatigue, inured to disappointment, and unwearied in his exertions. Every day will have its proper blessings. Now he will manure his ground, then plough it; now cast the seed into it, then harrow it; incessantly watch and weed it; and after many anxious cares, and, if a man of piety, many prayers to Heaven, he will earnestly expect the approaching harvest. The time come, with a joyful eye he will behold the ears fully ripe bending to the hands of the reapers, put in the sickle, collect the sheaves, and bring home the precious grain to his garner.

Hence we may frame an idea of the character and duty of a Christian minister. He ought to be well-skilled in divine knowledge, to have a competent acquaintance with the world and the human heart, to perceive clearly wherein the true interest of mankind consists, to have just apprehension of the way of salvation, and to be rightly instructed in the various duties he has to inculcate. He should have an aptitude and ability to teach, and his bosom should burn with a flaming zeal for the glory of God, the honour of Christ, and the welfare of immortal souls. He should, in fine, be endued with a humble, meek, patient, and persevering spirit.

Thus qualified for his work, he must study to approve himself, unto God a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth (2 Tim. ii 15). He must consider well the character and condition of those he instructs, adapt himself to their various capacities, seize every favourable opportunity of getting at their hearts, and call in to his aid every possible argument to enforce divine truth. He must give to every one his portion in due season, milk to babes and meat to strong men; and lead them on from one stage of instruction to another as they can bear it, initiating them in the first principles of the doctrine of Christ, and so bringing them forward to perfection. Now it must be his object, by sounding the terrors of the divine law in their ears, to plough up the fallow ground of men’s hearts; and then, by proclaiming the glad tidings of the gospel, to cast in the seeds of every Christian grace and virtue. He must be instant in season and out of season, reprove, rebuke, and exhort with all long-suffering (2 Tim iv. 2); put out his whole strength, be superior to every discouragement, and labour incessantly in his duty.

Pain and pleasure will attend all his exertions and alternately affect his spirits. The different characters he has to deal with, and different impressions the word makes at different tiems; the various circumstances that arise to aid or obstruct his endeavours, and the various frames to which he is himself liable; these will all operate to create sometimes anxious fears, and at others the most pleasing expectations. Now we shall hear him with great sadness of heart complaining, Who hath believed my report, and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed? (Isai. liii. 2) and then, in the animated language of the apostle, thanking God for that he hath caused him to triumph in Christ, made manifest by his labours the favour of his knowledge in every place (2 Cor. ii. 14). Now we see him go forth weeping, bearing precious seed: and then come again rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him (Psal. cxxvi. 6).—Such are the duties and labours, such the anxietites and hopes, such the disappointments and successes of those who preach the gospel, and who answer to the character of the sower in our parable who went forth to sow.

Of these sowers some have been more skilful, laborious, and successful than others. Among them the apostle Paul holds a distinguished rank. By his lips the gospel was published through a great part of the known world, and by his hands churches were planted in most of the cities and provinces of the Roman empire. And, thanks be to God! persons of this character have been raised up in every age, by whose means divine knowledge, with all the blessed fruits of it, has been propagated among mankind. But the most skilful and painful of all sowers was our Lord Jesus Christ. He, the prince of prophets, the most illustrious of all teachers, spake the word with a clearness, affection, and authority that surpassed all who went before him or have ever followed him.—this leads us,

II. To consider the Seed sown, which our Saviour explains of the word of the kingdom, or, as Luke has it (ch. viii. 11), the word of God.

The husbandman will be careful to sow his ground with good seed. He goeth forth, says the psalmist, bearing precious seed—seed of such a nature as will produce, with the favour of divine providence, wholesome fruit—fruit that will nourish and strengthen those who partake of it. In like manner the word of the kingdom is precious seed—seed which will not fail, when sown in the heart and cherished there by a divine influence, to produce wholesome and pleasant fruit.

By the word of the kingdom is meant the gospel, or the glad tidings of salvation by Christ. Our Saviour came to erect a kingdom, infinitely more happy, glorious, and durable than any that had ever flourished in our world. And whether we consider it in reference to personal religion—the church—or a future state, it exhibits to our view a most striking display of the majesty and benignity of God.—Let us apply it

1. to personal religion.

In this sense it is used by our Saviour, when he exhorts his disciples to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness(Matt. vi. 33): and it is this the apostle means when adopting the same figure, he tells us, it is not meat and drink, but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost (Rom. xiv. 17). In the heart of every real Christian a kingdom is established. This kingdom succeeds to one that had been torn to pieces by intestine broils and animosities: for such is the state of the mind while enslaved by sin and sense. But now Christ is the sovereign of it: he sways his scepter over all the powers of the soul. Enlightened by his doctrine, and subdued by his grace, they all submit to his mild and equitable government. Peace, order, and good faith are restored to this little commonwealth. It confides in him the prince of peace, as its redeemer and saviour, enjoys its liberties under his influence and protection, and cordially acquiesces in his authority and laws. What a blessed revolution is this in the breast of every convert to religion! How many and great are the immunities to which such an one is entitled! A kingdom thus rising into existence shall become more and more happy and glorious. And however it may sometimes be shook by the powers of darkness, it shall prevail against all opposition, and by and by attain to the greatest height of splendour and glory in the world above.

Now the seed sown in the hearts of men is the word of this kingdom, or that divine instruction which relates to the foundation, erection, principles, maxims, laws, immunities, government, present happiness, and future glory of this kingdom: all which we have contained in our bibles. It is the doctrine of Christ—a doctrine which comprehends in it the whole system of divine truth, whereby we are taught our guilt, depravity, and misery, the grounds on which we are pardoned, justified and saved, the nature and necessity of faith and repentance, the honours and privileges to which we are entitled as Christians, our duty to God ourselves and one another, the aid and influences of the Holy Spirit, and the glorious prospects of a future happy immortality.—Again, let us apply the idea of a kingdom,

2. To the Christian dispensation, or the whole visible church.

In this sense it is used by John the Baptist, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven, that is, the gospel dispensation, is at hand (Matt. iii. 2). All who profess the doctrine and submit to the institutions of Christ, compose one body of which he is the head, one kingdom of which he is the sovereign—a kingdom which, he himself tells us, is not of this world (John xviii. 36), established not upon the same principles, nor governed and defended after the same manner, as the kingdoms of this world. It is a spiritual kingdom, erected upon the ruins of the fall, and gradually rising to a kind of glory far surpassing that of the greatest empire on earth. Christ, though invisible to the human eye, reigns over it with uncontrolled authority, unerring wisdom, and infinite gentleness and love. And his subjects, who render cheerful allegiance to him, he not only protects and saves, but enriches with the best and noblest blessings.—And by the word of the kingdom, in this idea of it, is intended all the laws which Christ has instituted for the government of his church; and all the instructions he has given us respecting its worship, ordinances, discipline, protection, sufferings, increase, and final glory.—Once more, the term kingdom is to be understood also,

3. Of heaven and all the happiness and glory to be enjoyed there.

So it is used by our Saviour, in his sermon on the mount, where he assures those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, that theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Matt. v. 10): and in another place, Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom (Luke xii. 32). The splendor of this kingdom exceeds all description and imagination. Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him (I Cor. ii. 9). In heaven the blessed and only Potentate, the King of Kings, and Lord of Lords, means ere long to collect together all his faithful subjects from the most remote parts of his empire; to make one grand exhibition to their astonished sight of the riches of his glorious kingdom, and the honour of his excellent majesty; to unveil his infinite excellencies to their view, after a manner the present state will not admit of; and to entertain them with joys the most refined, satisfying, and eternal.—Well, and the gospel is the word of this kingdom, and it has assured us upon the most certain grounds of its reality, and given us the amplest description of its glories our present imperfect faculties are capable of receiving. Life and immortality are brought to light by the gospel (2 Tim. i. 10). And God, of his abundant mercy, hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away (I Pet i. 3, 4).—Thus we have the sum of that doctrine which the ministers of Christ are instructed to publish to the world, and which is the Seed the sower went forth to sow.—Hence we proceed,

III. To consider the Ground into which the seed is cast, by which our Saviour intends the Soul of man, that is, the understanding, judgment, memory, will, and affections.

The ground, I mean the earth on which we tread, is now in a different state from what it was in the beginning, the curse of God having been denounced upon it (Gen. iii. 17). In like manner the soul of man, in consequence of the apostasy of our first parents, is enervated, polluted, and depraved. This is true of every individual of the human race. It is a fact sufficiently attested by experience, and plainly asserted in scripture. God made man upright: but they have sought out many inventions (Eccles. Vii. 29) By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin: and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned (Rom. v. 12). Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? Not one (Job xiv. 4). There is none righteous, no not one: they are all gone out of the way (Rom. iii. 10, 12). The scripture hath concluded all under sin (Gal. iii. 29). Of the nature, extent, and dreadful effects of this miserable depravity we shall have frequent occasion to speak hereafter. It shall suffice at present to observe, that as there is a variety in the soil of different countries, and as the ground in some places is less favourable for cultivation than in others; so it is in regard of the soul. There is a difference in the strength, vigour, and extent of men’s natural faculties: nor can it be denied that the moral powers of the soul are corrupted in some through sinful indulgences, to a greater degree than in others.

As to mental abilities, who is not struck with the prodigious disparity observable among mankind in this respect? Here we see one of a clear understanding, a lively imagination, a sound judgment, a retentive memory: and there another remarkably deficient in each of these excellencies, if not wholly destitute of them all. These are gifts distributed among mankind in various portions. But none possess them in that perfection they were enjoyed by our first ancestors in their primeval state. On the contrary, they are reduced, even in the most shining characters, to a very humiliating degree beneath the original standard. So that it is true of all mankind, that they are at best weak and fallible, especially in regard of the great concerns of religion.

But it is with the moral powers of the soul we are here chiefly concerned. There is in every man, previous to his being renewed by the grace of God, a prevailing aversion to what is holy and good; and a strong propensity to what is sinful and pernicious. The carnal mind, as the apostle tells us (Rom. viii. 7), is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. But then this depravity, which is universal, is capable of being heightened and increased. This is too often the case. Repeated acts of sin confirm vicious habits, and render them unconquerable: and men, having a long while boldly resisted the dictates of natural conscience and the persuasions of religion, are at length given up to blindness of eyes and hardness of heart. In such cases they answer to that striking description of the apostle (Heb. vi. 8) where he speaks of them as ground which, bearing thorns and briers, is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing, whose end is to be burned. But there are some who, though partakers with others of the general depravity, are yet of a nature more tender, and flexible: and though they have the seeds of all sin in their hearts, yet their growth having been checked by early instructions and the restraints of divine grace, the soil may be said to be more favourable for cultivation than that just described.

This view of the matter receives confirmation from the different account our Saviour gives of the several kinds of ground in which the good seed was sown. That which was stony, by reason of the thin mould cast over it, was more favourable for the reception of the seed than the beaten path by the way-side; and that in the hedges than the stony places. Yet neither of these soils, though somewhat different from each other, could bring forth fruit to perfection without cultivation. Nor do we mean to say, whatever difference there may be in the natural tempers of persons, or however they may be assisted and improved by education and the ordinary restraints of Providence, that they will any of them bring forth good fruit without the effectual influence of renewing grace. The ground must be first made good, and then it will be fruitful. So our Saviour says (Matt. xii. 33), either make the tree good, and his fruit good; or else make the tree corrupt, and his fruit corrupt: for the tree is known by his fruit. But of this we shall have occasion to speak more particularly hereafter.—It remains that we now,

IV. Consider the general Process of this business, as it is either expressly described or plainly intimated in the parable.

The ground, first manured and made good, is laid open by the plough, the seed is cast into it, the earth is thrown over it, in the bosom of the earth it remains a while, at length, mingling with it, it gradually expands, shoots up through the clods, rises into the stalk and then the ear, so ripens, and at the appointed time brings forth fruit. Such is the wonderful process of vegetation. Nor can we advert thus generally to these particulars, without taking into view at once the exertions of the husbandman, the mutual operation of the seed and the earth on each other, and the seasonable influence of the sun and the rain, under the direction and benediction of divine providence.

So in regard of the great business of religion: the hearts of men are first disposed to listen to the instructions of God’s word; these instructions are then, like the seed, received into the understanding, will, and affections; and after a while, having had their due operation there, bring forth in various degrees the acceptable fruits of love and obedience. And how natural in this case, as in the former, while we are considering the rise and progress of religion in the soul, to advert, agreeable to the figure in the parable, to the happy concurrence of a divine influence with the great truths of the gospel dispensed by ministers, and with the reasonings of the mind and heart about them. To shut out all idea here of such influence would be as absurd, as to exclude the influence of the atmosphere and sun from any concern in culture and vegetation. Let the husbandman lay what manure he will on barren ground, it can produce no change in the temperature of it, unless it thoroughly penetrates it, and kindly mingles with it; and this it cannot do without the assistance of the falling dew and rain, and the genial heat of the sun. In like manner all attempts, however proper in themselves, to change the hearts of men, and to dispose them to a cordial reception of divine truths; will be vain without the concurrence of almighty grace. Of Lydia it is said, the Lord opened her heart, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul (Acts xvi. 14). And it is God, the apostle tells us, that worketh in us both to will and to do of his good pleasure (Philip. ii. 13). Nor can the seed, though cast into the most favourable soil, expand, shoot up, and ripen into fruit, without a concurrence of the same influence which rendered cultivation in the first instance effectual. Suppose the sun no more to rise, and the dews no more to fall; there would be a total end to vegetation, the seed would perish in the clods, and the earth cease to bring forth her fruits. And so it would be in the religious world, were the influences of divine grace totally suspended.

And now, upon this view of the matter, how great the absurdity as well as impiety of excluding the operations of the Holy Spirit from all concern in the renovation of the heart! If we may reason by analogy form the works of nature to those of grace, this reflection must strike u sin the most forcible manner. It is true our Saviour does not, in his explanation of the parable, say any thing expressly of the influences of the Spirit. But the doctrine itself, which he elsewhere asserts in the clearest terms, is founded in the principle of the parable; and so interwoven with its very frame and contexture, that to deny the former is in effect to destroy the latter. What man in his senses can suppose, that in the account our Lord here gives of sowing, he meant to affirm that the sun and the weather have no concern in the success of this business? How absurd then to imagine that in a discourse, wherein he represents by this figure of husbandry the effect of his gospel on the minds of his hearers, he had no regard at all to the exertion of a divine influence in order to render it effectual! Could he who every where taught that all nature is full of God, and that there is not a spire of grass that does not owe its vegetation to an almighty energy; could he, I say, be indifferent to so sublime and reasonable a doctrine as that of the sovereign control and influence of the deity on the hearts of men?

To object the difficulty of conceiving how this influence is exerted to the existence of the fact itself, is to plunge ourselves into greater and still more inextricable difficulty; I mean that of shutting out God both from the natural and moral world, and placing blind chance and the will of a mere creature on the throne of supreme omnipotence. But the scriptures every where assert in plain words what our Saviour in this parable takes for granted. He himself tells us, that except a man is born of the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven: and at the same time replies to Nicodemus’s objection, How can 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 (John iii. 5, 8). 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 (John i. 12, 13). The apostle declares, we are God’s workmanship created in Christ Jesus unto good works (Eph ii 10): and that he hath saved us by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost: which he shed on us abundantly, through Jesus Christ our Saviour (Tit. iii. 5, 6). And the apostle 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 (James i. 18). But these are only a few among many other passages 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 mean time let us make a few reflections on what has been said.

1. How honourable, important, and laborious is the employment 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 their salvation. We must expect, like the husbandman, to meet with our disappointments, and many will be our anxieties and sorrows. 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 husbandman 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 (Acts xx. 32).

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 unto the ground (Gen iii. 17, 18, 19). 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 (Eccles vii. 29). 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 (Job xlii 5, 6) 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.—In a word,

4. And lastly, How great are our obligations to divine 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.