by JOSEPH IRONS
Delivered in Grove Chapel, Camberwell, Lord's day Morning, November 24th, 1850
NONE but the heaven-taught election of grace can discover the beauties of our Lord's parables. To those who are taught of God, brought under spiritual tuition, really the pupils of the Holy Ghost, there is such a variety of instruction and such a beauty contained in them, that we might well spend a whole life in musing upon the parables put forth by our blessed Lord. And while I am naming this, do not forget what I have so repeatedly stated in your hearing, that everything spiritual, everything pertaining to the kingdom of God, is a parable to the men of the world. They cannot understand it. And hence our Lord said to His disciples, when they inquired the reason why He spake in parables, "To you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given." (Matt. 13:11) That is the reason assigned; and I am sure if I were to assign such a reason, and not merely quote it from my beloved Master, I should be accounted the rankest of Antinomians, and my Master was such, according to modern calculations.
But mark, I beseech you, the solemn truth set forth in this parable, and then for a few moments, in our exordium, contrast it with the text. In this parable our Lord sets forth the word as the seed, and describes four descriptions of hearers, only one of whom profited by what they heard. I think if I were to take upon me to divide my congregation, as it usually assembles, into four parts, and roundly assert that only one part out of the four were profited by my preaching, I should be considered very censorious, but I much doubt if I should not come nearer to my blessed Master's calculation than all the false charity which men express in the day in which we live. If this be our Lord's own account, that only one class out of four who hear the word profit by it, does it not, then, at least, become us closely to examine the point, whether our souls have ever been profited by it? You will remark that one class is extremely superficial; mingling what they hear of the Word of God with stones, with the things which pertain to this kingdom, the natural produce of earth. "Some fell among stones." And what is the result? Why, then comes the enemy, the birds of the air, he is compared to, with his various temptations, fluttering about the soul just as he is retiring from the house of God, and takes away what is sown. It may be asked how the seed can be said to be sown? I reply, there is an impression made on the natural habit and disposition, so that it seems something like a reception of it. Some are spoken of as receiving the seed among thorns, and the thorns sprang up and choked them. Another class are by the wayside, and these also are unprofitable and unfruitful. A fourth class is mentioned, which leads to my text. But, mind you, they were all hearers of the word. The fourth class consists of those who receive the seed on good ground; and our Lord says, in His exposition of the parable to His disciples, "He that received seed into the good ground is he that heareth the word, and understandeth it; which also beareth fruit, and bringeth forth, some an hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty." Now if you bring forth fruit at all, it may be but thirtyfold, I confess I would rather have sixtyfold or a hundredfold, both for your experience and mine; but if you bring forth any fruit at all, it is proof that you are alive, and not to be plucked up along with the tares that are dry and unfruitful.
Now the next parable seems frequently to be amalgamated with this, but it is quite another thing. "Another parable put He forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field." Now, without reading the passage through, which you can do in your closets, mark our Lord's exposition of it. A number of verses intervene; but after the multitude had gone away, "His disciples came unto Him, saying, Declare unto us the parable of the tares of the field. He answered and said unto them, He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man; the field is the world: the good seed are the children of the kingdom." We have had the explanation of the sower that went forth to sow, his seed being the word; now "Declare unto us the parables of the tares of the field. He answered and said unto them, He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man; the field is the world: the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one: the enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world." What a concise, what a full, what an explicit exposition of this parable! How directly and decidedly does it come up to the point we are so frequently insisting upon, that the world and the Church are two distinct families. One is here called "the children of the kingdom" the other, "the children of the devil," "the children of the wicked one," "the children of the world." I ask if you ever met with an agriculturalist so absurd in his life as to take a handful of seed that should be part tares and part wheat, and hold them in his hand, he himself knowing the difference, and begin to preach to the tares, and command them to transform themselves into wheat? I ask if you ever met with such a fool among them as to presume, that being sown together they would grow up alike, though from quite a different stock? I ask if you can for a moment imagine, that having formed the blade, and looking so much alike, the agriculturalist would be so deceived as to take them both as one? I cannot find such a thing in my Bible. And yet the fashion of modern Divinity is not only to make the wheat tares, but to command the tares to make themselves into wheat. Really such a monstrous system as Arminianism is too ridiculous for common sense to look at. I cannot understand this parable otherwise than upon the doctrine of discrimination, the distinction between the Church of God and the world. For here my Lord tells me expressly, that "the good seed are the children of the kingdom," appointed to the kingdom belonging to the kingdom, and that can never lose the kingdom, for the Father has given them the kingdom. They are a little flock, and it is their Father's good pleasure to give them the kingdom. It is as emphatically said that the tares are the children of the wicked one, or, as our Lord in still plainer terms told the Pharisees, "Ye are of your father the devil, and the works of your father will ye do." (John 8:44)
I felt it important to point out to you the difference between the two parables, and now turn back to the one which is summed up by the language of the text, inviting your attention immediately to it.
Among the four classes of hearers at which we have just glanced, there is one sort of whom it is said, "He that received seed unto the good ground is he that heareth the word, and understandeth it." Now there are three things which I want to press upon your attention, praying the Holy Ghost to write them on your hearts, from this verse. The first is the approved seed, because of all along our Lord is insisting upon that. Secondly, the soil that receives it; for the good seed, if it is really sown pure, is rejected by most of the soils that pass for religions in our day. It is "he that heareth the word, and understandeth it," that receives the seed into the good ground. Then let us glance at the fact presenting itself to our view, that they are known by their fruits, not by their quantity, but by their quality, whether it be a hundredfold, or sixtyfold, or thirtyfold, providing it be his own fruit; as it is written, God giveth to every one his own fruit, his own seed, his own nature, his own character. Then we shall have cause to rejoice in being thus shown to have received the good seed into our hearts.
I. First of all, let us say a little about the seed. We need to no further than the parable itself to learn that it is the word. He that heareth the word of the kingdom, he that heareth the word of God. But the evangelist Luke, in reciting this same parable, says, in positive terms, "The seed is the word of God." We gather thus much from the parable before us, but the explicit statement of Luke is still more positive. What, then, are we to say of this word which is to be sown? I came forth this morning with the humble hope that I should have power enough granted me to scatter a little seed, and I took more than usual pains yesterday morning to turn over my seed-basket, and I think I have scraped it, kernel by kernel, and feel convinced that I shall not be permitted to sow a single kernel of tares this morning among you. God Almighty prevent it! There is a threefold view of the seed, which I should like to set before you.
The first is the word of fixed decree. This is presented before our view in a great variety of places in the Word of God. In Psalms chapter 2, Jehovah says of His Son, "I have set my King upon my holy hill of Zion; I will declare the decree." Moreover, we find a multitude of events spoken of by the prophet Daniel, summing up with the statement, "This matter is by the decree of the watchers, and the word by the appointment of the Holy One." (Dan. 4:17) We come at once to this important point, that everything pertaining to the Church and to the world, to friends, and to foes, and to future events, is settled and fixed by the word of Jehovah's immutable decree, "He spake, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast." It is true "the Lord bringeth the counsel of the heathen to nought, and maketh the devices of the people of none effect;" but it is equally true, as it is immediately added, "The counsel of the Lord standeth for ever." (Ps. 33:11) That is the word that is the decree in the eternal council of the Divine mind, "and the thoughts of His heart unto all generations."
If I view this decree as it regards the friends of Jesus, the followers of the Lamb, His faithful disciples, their names are in the Book of Life, according to the word of that decree, their moment of birth into the world noted and dated there, the hour of their second birth recorded there, the incidents, the places, the circumstances, all are settled as the very throne of God. And I rejoice in beginning on this firm foundation, because we have such sure footing, such solid ground, such an immoveable rock to rest everything upon. When I look at all that pertains to the success of my ministry, to the conversion of sinners, to the feeding of saints, to the sacred joy, and peace, and delight which shall be experienced among the followers of the Lamb, and mark the whole settled down in fixed decree by the word, and oath, and covenant engagement of our God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, my soul rejoices that, though heaven and earth shall pass away, not one jot nor tittle of that word shall by any possibility fail till all be fulfilled. And yet some people would forbid me to sow this word. They tell me that this sort of seed is too rank, and too full, and too heavy. It is all very well to study it in private, but to sow it is too vulgar for these days of modern refinement. God helping me, I will have a handful of it in my basket every time I go forth to sow, because I find there habitations are bounded, times fixed, and seasons appointed, everything fixed irrevocably, even the temptations that are to assail me, all circumscribed and held fast. He has given the very sea its bounds, that it shall not pass; and the sea of trial, the sea of temptations, the sea of affliction, all have their bounds, that they cannot pass; and therefore Jehovah, keeping up to His word, if I may so speak, says, "Hitherto shall thou come, but no further." (Job 38:11) If He opens the windows of heaven, to pour me out a blessing, it is according to His word, His ancient settlements of love. If He withhold the rain, and I feel a consequent sterility in my personal experience, it is He that causeth it to rain on one piece of ground, and not on another; and I look to Him, that the showers may descend, and cry to Him, as Elijah did, after three years' withholding of rain, that it may come forth at His word, and I get it, too, in answer to prayer, as he did.
Moreover, if I look at His word, with regard to foes as well as friends, I see not only everything pertaining to His family settled, arranged, and determined by it, but also everything pertaining to the foes and enemies of the family; what assaults they shall make, and how far they shall succeed; how they shall vent their rage and wrath, and how far He shall make it to praise Him and then restrain the remainder of it according to His own word. My hearer, if you and I were living up to our privileges on this great point, I ask, what under heaven could ruffle us? What could at all discompose us on our way to eternal felicity? It is, as I told you on the 5th of November, it is a meagre, half-way, half-popish divinity in the present day that makes way for all our mischiefs, and all their inroads. Only let the mind be kept to God's word, and the pure seed, the incorruptible seed, which liveth and abideth for ever, be scattered far and wide, for I like the method of broadcast sowing, even better than drilling, whatever agriculturalists may say, I know it is best in divinity, at any rate. We may then say, with regard to all our enemies, let it be Satan himself with his temptations, "God shall bruise him under your feet" shortly. God has said it, He cannot go from His word. We may say, in providential difficulties, trials, and cares, the flood shall not come nigh thee, neither shall the waters overflow thee, for God has said it. So again, with respect to the persecution which I apprehend will, ere long, burst upon us, how far it will go is not for me to decide; however, it does seem quite inevitable; and there are not a few, who pass for Protestants, who seem absolutely to court it. I do not, but pray God to preserve me from it. I would have every neutralist in the world consider what Jesus Christ has said, "He that is not with me is against me;" and he who bears the name of Protestant, and is not with Christ in throwing forth, in the present crisis, all his energies to endeavour to stem the torrent, is against Christ, and an opposer of Christ, according to His own word. But let His enemies fight, His purpose must go on. The decree is gone forth, and it must be accomplished, and the overturning, and overturning, and overturning must be performed, till He shall come whose right it is. But Zion is safe, the children of God are secure in the strong pavilion; they run to their strong tower, and God will take care of them; and if some of them are hurried home a little before their expected time, what does it matter? Why they will get home the sooner, and cry with them before the altar, "How long, O God, holy and true; wilt thou not avenge our cause?"
Pass on just to mark, that all future events are under the fixed decree of our God. This is the word that we must sow, and I must insist upon it, that things past, present, and future, are known to Him. "Known unto Him are all His works from the beginning of the creation, and that which He spake in the council of peace, His own predestinating enactments, has been carried on in the world from age to age, and must be carried on till every declaration of the infinite mind of God is fulfilled, and all the election of grace called by His grace, and brought home to glory. I used to join most cordially whenever I was able to go to the mouth of the grace and hear that service read, I joined most heartily in the words "We beseech thee, Lord, that thou wouldest shortly accomplish the number of thine elect, and hasten thy kingdom." For when the number of God's elect is accomplished, and all meet in glory there will be an end of time. I rejoice in the fact, that it will be brought to the minutest event in life, the very fact of the planting of churches, their prosperity, their waxing and waning, their coming to the zenith of glory, and their declension, as we read with respect to the Seven Churches in Asia, all under His Divine superintendence. Our position, standing as we do, blessed be God, isolated. I rejoice in that from my inmost soul, and believe I shall to the end of my days. We have no interference from foreign powers, we are not ordered what government to adopt, or what doctrine to preach. I cannot help here stating to you a conversation which I had but a few days ago, with one who is almost as far gone as any of the Puseylites; and I put this challenge before him (the man was well read), "Can you find me a solitary instance for the first three hundred years after Christ ascended to glory, in which there was a church upon earth otherwise constituted than Grove Chapel?" and I silenced him utterly. I put the question a little further "Can you find me an instance in the first three centuries, in which any one minister of Christianity was allowed to exercise and usurp authority over another?" I had a very reluctant grumbling, "No, there is not." "Then why do you demand that authority now?" That is the course of the world. I care not whether they are conclaves or cardinals, or councils at Rome, or synods, or boards, wherever authority is exercised by one professing minister over another, it is absolute Popery, and we shall never get rid of Popery till we can get rid of that. Let the churches of Jesus Christ stand in their own independence, make choice of their own officers, abide by the truth of God according to their own consciences; and not as a servant of the devil, calling himself a Protestant, told us last week, that men have no right to read the Bible for themselves, nor to put a meaning upon it. Only let the servants of the living God stand on the ground that I have been referring to, and Popery will die a natural death. But alas! both the form and doctrines of the Church of God are sadly degenerated.
Pass on just to mark, that we have another view to take of the word, the seed sown. Thus far I have confined myself to fixed decrees, as settled by our covenant God; but there is a holy revelation of His will, and though we are told in mock Protestant Churches, that the laity must not attempt to understand it for themselves, I mean to say, a more rank expression of blasphemy never could be put forth, because our Lord says to every disciple of His, to every elect child of God, "Search the Scriptures, for in them ye think ye have eternal life, and they are they which testify of me." (John 5:39) Then I come to the precious open revelation of the Word of God, and there I find more presenting itself to my view in the character of seed, than I can possibly muster time or strength to set forth. I will just name a few particulars. In this precious book of God, I have the origin of everything, God Himself, the grand first cause; I have offices exclusive, and it is blasphemy to assume any others, and count them Christianity; I have objects specified, and these are the purposes of God; and I have obligations urged and demanded, which it is at the peril of every Christian to reject, or despise, or disregard. I suppose you will say that I was right when I said I had been scratching over my seed-basket to see what every kernel is made of, and I hope by the help of God to drop not one single kernel but what is His own.
And therefore I will insist that the original of all things is settled here. Jehovah Himself the first clause. And though in sundry times and divers manners He spake in times past to the fathers by the prophets, yet in after days He spake to us by His own Son. (Heb. 1:1,2) His Son was sent forth by the Father upon His glorious message. So also when His sent servants go forth to preach His word, they are thus directed "To the law and to the testimony, if they speak not according to this world" (there must come the origin) "it is because there is no light in them." (Isa. 8:20) But how are our hearers to know whether we speak according to this word or not, unless they can read that word, and be taught by the Holy Ghost, and have a spiritual knowledge of it for themselves? I wish you all to bring every sentence I utter to the law and to the testimony, the precious Word of God; and if there be a sentence dropped from my lips that is not in accordance with the precious word of God, I pray you to reject it, only let me know what for, and I shall have an opportunity of explaining to you in private, as my Master did.
So also as to office. I find that each of the persons of the Trinity have assumed an office. Jehovah says, "I will be a Father to you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters." Our precious Christ was given as a Mediator between the Church and the Father of mercies; and in that character He sustained those offices, as Prophet, Priest, and King, Physician, Husband, Bridegroom, Advocate, and the like. His precious offices are all named in the book of God; and whoever shall attempt to assume any of the offices of Christ, is Antichrist, and a direct objector to and an opposer of Christ Himself, and a traitor to the King of kings. Moreover, when Christ Himself appointed offices among mortals, He gave some apostles, and some prophets, and some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, all official characters appointed by Himself. But when, I ask, did our Lord ever appoint such an office as the priesthood? The devil appointed that, for the purpose of supplanting Christ priesthood, and deceiving millions of souls, and driving them down to perdition. The offices that Christ has appointed we love, and we will sow the seeds of them too; we will publish and proclaim them as long as we live.
Moreover, the object of the writing of the Bible, the object of sending Christ, the object of a revelation from God at all, is nothing more nor less than this, the entire and eternal salvation of the election of grace, the whole Church of the living God; "For as many as were ordained to eternal life believed." (Acts 13:48) "All that the Father giveth to Christ shall come to Him, and Him that cometh to Him He will in nowise cast out." (John 6:37) So that the final exaltation of the Head and members, and the Church and her glorious Lord together, is the great object of the inspiration of the precious word, the giving of all the means of grace, as well as the revelation of God Himself, that God in all things may be glorified. I confess that the subject so seems to spread "broadcast." Mostly you know, a man that sows seed broadcast can see the furthermost kernels that he casts, but I cannot see mine; the subject seems so to overwhelm my mind and my powers, that it seems to demand the bursting of natural faculties, that I might have immensity to throw abroad the seed of God's word relative to he objects of His love and the glorifying of His name.
One word more upon this point. The obligations which follow from this is part of the word. Some people say, we do not like this word; but they know they tell lies when they say so. We know that where Jehovah thus reveals Himself, where official decrees are seen and enjoyed, where the official character of Christ and of the Holy Ghost are strenuously maintained and upheld, and where the obligations lying upon Christians are deeply felt and extensively practiced, there it will be found that Jehovah has a peculiar people zealous of good works; so that it will be found that they are not their own, but are bought with a price, and are consequently bound to glorify God with their bodies and with their spirits, which are God's. Oh! if this pure and incorruptible seed were sown more generally, what a harvest of precious souls might we not look for!
But I hasten to say a word or two about the seed which the apostle Peter speaks of when he says to the Church, "Ye are begotten again by the word of truth." That is the seed then, the regenerating power that goes forth with the word, the regenerating influence which the Holy Ghost puts forth with it. And here I must detain you for a minute or two, to remind you as I ought to do in every sermon, what regeneration is. It is clearly not the legerdemain published and insisted upon by Papists, and their Puseylites fraternity. It is not material water, it is not literal transactions; it is not the influence, or authority, or power of a priest whom God never appointed and never sent: for He never set a priest in the gospel dispensation but Christ. What is it then? It is a requisite for the possession of the kingdom of God. I take it from Jesus' own lips. Addressing Nicodemus he says, "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." How can a man be born without being generated? How can a man be born again without being regenerated? are questions that may be fairly asked. We insist therefore, that it is by the power which the Holy Ghost puts forth with the word preached, and sometimes with the word read. It is by the word of God, it is by that power put forth with the word, that the remedy, the only remedy for the ruin of man is rendered effectual. The only remedy for man's ruin is regeneration. The devil knows that, and therefore does all in his power to subvert it. Regeneration renders man capable of enjoying God, having holy thoughts and spiritual emotions. And this is by the Holy Ghost in the word; as it is said, "They are born not of the will of the flesh, nor the will of man, nor of blood, but of God.
II. But I must hasten to the second particular; the soil that receives the seed sown. It was that which fastened on my mind while meditating on the text "They that received the seed into good ground." What can we say some would urge about good ground? Is it not altogether corrupt? Did not God curse it for man's sake? And are not all the posterity of Adam, as well as the ground they tread on, under the curse? Decidedly. I am not of the opinion of those who imagine that there is some dignity left of the greatness of the human soul, that can be nicely manufactured into a Christian. I would not believe a word of it, if I heard the most eloquent of orators preach it. But on the other hand, I must insist that man is altogether lost and corrupt; that he is like a beast in the wilderness, does not even see when good comes; that he is a desolate ground, that brings forth briers and thorns: and never was there an instance known in which he could perform a good work, or think a good thought that God could approve, while in an unregenerate state. "They have altogether become abominable," as the Psalmist says, "there is none that doeth good, no not one."
Now I should like to ask some plain, honest old farmer, if I could get into company with one, to illustrate my text for me. I should just say to him, "Well, my good neighbour, if you were taking in a piece of land that never brought forth an ear of corn yet, nor anything else for man's use, and if you really determined about making it good, and sowing it, and getting a harvest, what plan should you adopt?" I think I hear him saying, in his plain, honest, country way, "Why, Sir, I'd turn it upside down with my plough first, and if I found many thorns and thistles, I'd set fire to them, and burn them in heaps; then I'd put plenty of manure to it." What! all this to make the ground good? I tell you, beloved, that if you would ever bring forth fruit, you must be turned upside down, and then it will be seen that there are plenty of thorns, and briers, and thistles, and nettles, and all manner of hurtful things growing from poor human nature, and then Jehovah will set fire to them with His fiery law, and you will feel the consequences. "Is not my word as a fire?" (Jer. 23:29) He says. And when He has burnt up all your rubbish, and turned you upside down by the plough of His truth, there will be something like cultivation going on by-and-bye. Then come trials, sorrows, disappointments, and probably persecution, and the sinner's heart shall at last be ready to receive the seed as into good ground.
Now having just given you an outline of this, as God's method of preparing good ground with His own hand, though He uses a number of instruments, let me just remind you of the language of the text about the receiving. "He that receiveth the good seed into the heart, is he that heareth the word, and understandeth it." Now all you have heard the word with the outward ear, but what about the understanding it? Nay, there is a hearing of the word which is not a hearing. Turn to the 14th verse, "In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive: for this people's heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them." And this is strikingly contrasted with the next verse, "Blessed are your eyes, for they see; and your ears, for they hear." Do mark, beloved, how the Lord Jesus Christ continually keeps up discrimination in all His preaching. He describes, in His quotation from the prophet Esaias, the characters of the world, their grossness, their stubbornness, their blindness; but says He to His disciples, "Blessed are your eyes, for they see; and your ears, for they hear." Has God blessed you with spiritual discernment? Are you merely content to hear of this incorruptible seed, the subject of fixed decrees and open revelation, in all its fullness, but do you understand it? Now "the natural man understandeth not the things of the Spirit of God, neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned." (1 Cor. 2:14) You will remember the account of our Lord's meeting with His disciples on their journey to Emmaus. They seemed as stupid, and as dull, and as blind as bats, as if they had never seen Him before, nor seen any of His miracles, nor heard one of His blessed sermons, nor even read the Scriptures concerning Himself. They were all amazement and wonder, and seemed full in inquiry what these things should mean. It is added, "Then opened He their understanding, that they might understand the Scriptures." (Luke 24:45) Now you may tell me about men's understandings, and the powers of their faculties, and the vast capacities of their nature, but, according to my Lord's account, from everything spiritual they are all shut and locked up, and are never opened till He turns the key, till He does for them as He did to His disciples. "Then opened He their understandings." And though modern Popery, in a Protestant name, would tell us that the understandings must not be opened, but must remain stupid and blind, led on by blind guides till they both fall into the ditch, (Matt. 15:14) yet I must insist that it is Jesus' prerogative to open the understanding to understand the Scriptures. It is a supernatural understanding that He gives, and therefore the Psalmist prayed concerning it, "Give me understanding, and I shall live." (Ps. 119:144) What, David! had not you got any understanding? What! were you wise enough, and skilful and valiant enough, to kill a lion and to kill Goliath, to manage a kingdom, as well as vanquish armies, and yet tell us that you have no understanding? But he cries out, "Give me understanding." He wanted a spiritual understanding, a right understanding, a spiritual discernment, the enlightening of the Holy Ghost.
Well, now, the persons who receive the word, who receive the truth in the love of it, as the apostle has it, are those who are favoured from on high not only with the cultivation I have glanced at, but with a spiritual discernment and understanding. Look to it that you are not measuring your Christianity with natural intellect. I am quite aware that the pride of intellect has done much towards ruining our nation. "What!" say you, "speak against the pride of intellect?" Yes, against the pride of it, but not against the cultivation of it. But some have gone so far as to imagine that man wants no Holy Ghost, no Divine Teacher, no supernatural life; he has got enough of the old ruins left that are really valuable, and that he can reform, and remodel, and make a good Christianity of. That is the mistake that has gone abroad, and opened the door widely for all sorts of Popish error to come in. Now we insist that the truth of God never finds the way in the rebel's heart, so as to obtain a cordial reception, until the Lord Himself opens the understanding, and gives him a new understanding that he may live.
Just advance further for a moment. "They that receive the seed." Why all will tell us, who know anything of agriculture, that the seed must go below the surface, or else, as we read in the former part of the parable, the wicked one will take it away, and the fowls of the air will devour it. It must go below the surface, and then it will not be injured by stones. No stone does the seed injury, provided it goes a little lower and strikes the root. It must go below the surface, or else the thorns and briers will choke it. Now suppose you take a blade of wheat and a thorn, you will find that the root-hold of wheat is far deeper than the root-hold of the thorn. I bring forward this simile to mark, that the word received, in order to become fruitful, must go below the depth of nature, below the surface, below head-knowledge, below the cultivation of intellect, and giving religious turn to intellect; it must sink deep into the heart, penetrate the soul, find its way into the inmost recesses; there it must go down by the power of the Holy Ghost so as to be digested, make itself part of the existence of the poor sinner that receives it, and then it will be found to have been sown in good ground, and can never be eradicated.
III. I am obliged to hurry on here, because we have taken up so much time with the former part of the subject, to the third particular. Our text says, as our Lord says elsewhere, "By their fruits ye shall know them." This fruitfulness is various in extent, some a hundredfold, some sixtyfold, and some thirtyfold. God Almighty give us some of these strong blades of wheat amongst us (I long to see them) with their hundredfold crops. "Some," "thirtyfold." The account does not go any lower, as if the others were hardly to be called fruitful.
Now, beloved, look at the matter of faith that all who bring forth fruit must have root-hold. The apostle has it, "being rooted, and grounded, and settled in the things of God." Again, our Lord tells us in the parable, that some, having no root in themselves, endure only for a little while. I believe this to be the case with those who turn out apostates, they never had any root. They receive the word, and were much delighted with the preacher's discourse, and perhaps as much offended, no matter which, but they went away, and, perhaps in some instances, they said it was very clever, or very eloquent, or I know not what. All this is very pretty, but it does not prove that the man has got any root, that there is any melting going on, any contrition poured forth, any heartfelt anguish experienced, any heartfelt desires put forth, and then any heartfelt enjoyments poured in and realized in the soul. And this marks the difference between the various receptions which the seed meets with. "He that received the seed," not upon, but "into the good ground." I want my hearers to be of this cast and character, that every sentence God gives me to utter may penetrate into their souls, and sink deep into their hearts, and then we may expect some fruit to arise.
I meant to have noticed a little more of the progress of cultivation, but you are perhaps more familiar with it than I am. I have seen instances in which rough tearing harrows have been dragged over a field of corn, and persons not at all acquainted with the matter might say, that the horses and men would tread down and destroy the seed, and pull it up by the roots. But this is very essential. I am not much of a farmer, but I have seen this, ay, and cattle have been turned in to bite off the blade when it has appeared. And I have seen this in God's children, many a solid weighty stem of wheat that has brought forth fruit a hundredfold. They have been harrowed and almost torn to pieces, by reverses, losses, temptations, corruptions, conflicts, till they have been almost tired of their existenceay, and sometimes I have seen such a biting off by enemies and even by friends, for sometimes the righteous do good in their sharp rebukes and keen reproaches, to those that are growing rank and half wild in the Church of God. It is necessary that this should be bitten off, it will not hurt the root. And what is the result? We are told, there will sometimes shoot out five or six blades from one. Oh, my hearers, if this rough cultivation is going on with you, I shall look for a hundredfold from the first seed that was cast into your heart.
Still further, animation is expected after dying. I borrow this from my beloved Lord, who says, "Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone, but if it die it bringeth forth fruit." (John 12:24) The very thing we want is decomposition. There must be a dying. If you were to take up a grain of wheat after it has become decomposed, it would be worth nothing either to make bread or to sow again. It would die. But God giveth to every seed its own body. Look at the spiritual truth we learn from this, that the Lord's family when He first takes them in hand must be killed in order to be made alive; they must die to the world, to the law, to themselves, to the love of sin, to creature aid, to proud free-will, to everything but Christ, and if you are by Almighty grace brought to this state of death, I may expect some hundredfold of fruit from you. Animation becomes manifest. "First the blade, then the ear, then the full corn in the ear." But I must not enlarge.
Just a word upon the idea or increase. Not only an increase to thirtyfold, though that we bless God for. If I cast one corn of wheat into the ground, and found thirty kernels from one ear, I should say this proves animation. If I found among the followers of the Lamb anything like the fruits of the Spirit, love, joy, peace, meekness, temperance, faith, though it be in a wild manner, I should say that there was life, animation, and that increase was going on. But how my soul longs that that increase should be doubled, yea, reach even a hundredfold. I see in the Christian Church some that are alive, and can discover something like the fruits of righteousness about them, I can see those who are far more lovely, and attractive, and more useful in the kingdom of God, but I want to see among those who love the Lord Jesus Christ the whole hundredfold, all the powers of the soul, all the faculties of the mind, all the graces of the Spirit put forth in their fullness to glorify God with their bodies and their spirits, which are the Lord's.
I must suddenly break off. I have said too much for my time and strength, I hope to improve a little in the evening, when our subject must go on, and can only close by reminding you that that which brought forth fruit is of God, but that which bringeth forth briers and thorns is nigh unto cursing, and its end is to be burned. So saith our Lord in the parable before us. He will command His angels, the reapers, at the end of the world, to gather the tares that never brought forth a grain of wheat, a single fruit of righteousness, and bind them in bundles to burn them. O my God, let not any of my hearers, I pray thee, be given up to be burned in everlasting burning, but gather the wheat, Lord, thou hast said, a grain shall not fall to the ground, then deign to gather in every hearer, if it be consistent with thy purpose, into thy barn, for ever to be stored up for the praise, and glory, and honour of thy name. Amen.