« PreviousContinue »
nance of every kind, from the domestic to the national. And I make no doubt in my own mind that there is an intimate connection at this day between the theology called Evangelical, in contradistinction to the orthodox theology of the Reformers, and which resteth all upon the act of conversion, and will not look a hair's-breadth in advance of it; and the politics called Liberal, in contradistinction with the religious politics of the Reformation, and which make all government to rest solely upon the principles of the common conveniency and common interest, and to be conducted only by rules of expediency bearing thereupon.
While I maintain this principle, therefore, of the inseparable unity of the three kingdoms of creation, providence, and grace, under one King, even Christ, to whom all power is given in heaven and earth, as a great principle both in theology, in education, in national polity,and all the inferior economy of social life, I am, at the same time, aware of the danger to which the principle is continually liable, of being perverted to signify and support the inference, that there is, therefore, a natural transition, without any supernatural agency from the two former kingdoms, of creation and providence, into the latter kingdom of grace, which is an inference of the most fatal tendency, completely subverting the Christian religion to its very basis, and substituting in its stead a system of rationalism or natural religion. But I would even grant the inference, and maintain it as the perfection of all Christian doctrine, if it were so that Christ were naturally recognized in the kingdoms of creation and providence, instead of nature being utterly blind thereto; so that it is as much the work of the
Spirit to establish Christ therein as in that region of grace
which is thought properly to pertain to him. But in my view of it, the Spirit hath done little for us until he hath taught us to discern Christ ruling over all; yea, and shewn us that in the time of our darkness we were objects of his solicitude and grace and mercy, no less than in the days of our light. And therefore, so far from destroying or curtailing the domain of spiritual religion, this doctrine, being rightly apprehended, doth only extend it over all things. Again : if, as I believe is not unfrequently the case, the soul hath received the doctrine of Christ's government in providence and grace, and grown up from its baptism under the idea and belief that all is grace, and all equally grace, then I maintain, that this is the true growth of the Spirit which the Lord desireth, and that in such an one the word hath the fastest root and the best fruit: and that conversion in one who hath been introduced into the church by baptism, however frequent, is not to be regarded as the thing which God intendeth or desireth, but the consequence of our prodigality in squandering away the knowledge, omitting the occasions, and neglecting the admonitions which we ought to have improved; or if not to be referred to any such marring of the sweet design on our part, then on the part of our parents or instructors, or of the church of Christ in which we were reared; but, wherever the blame resteth, certainly it is to be reckoned a marring of the good purpose of God, which is, that every child of his, as he groweth in years should grow in wisdom and in favour with God and man.
This part of the parable doth not require me to enter further into so very difficult and deep a question as that of the soil which in the souls of men is prepared by a Christian education, Christian morals, Christian laws and government, and, in general, by whatever is comprehended under the providence of God, apart from his grace and Spirit, for the reception of the word when it shall please the Great Sower to plant it there by the Spirit, and for its nourishment, increase, and fruitfulness when it springeth up. The remainder of this most deep, yet most important and necessary subject, we shall take up when we come to the fourth part of the parable, whereof it forms the characteristic peculiarity, describing those in whom the seed bringeth forth, as being of the “good soil of an honest heart." Till which requesting you to consider in your own minds this subject of the secondary influences which prepared the way for the Gospel in the souls of men, that you may be ripe for the examination of so deep and important a matter; and conceiving that enough hath been said to justify the doctrine, that there is an aptness and inaptness in the soil, and to clear it from the Pelagian and Arminian abuses; we would now endeavour, in the strength of God, to shew out the evil of the thin soil as it existeth, and apply the subject to the various classes who are labouring under the evil, and thereafter point out the method of its cure.
II. THE APPLICATION. Which office rightly to discharge, it will be necessary that we examine this part of the parable a little more closely. It is in Matthew thus expressed : “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.” In Luke it is, “Those on the rock are they who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, which for a while believe, and in time of temptation fall away.” In Mark it is, “And these are they likewise, which are sown on stony ground; who when they have heard the word, immediately receive it with gladness; and have no root in themselves, and so endure but for a time:” (or more literally, “ but are for a season :”) “afterward when affliction or persecution ariseth for the word's sake, immediately they are offended.” There are in these words very sufficient materials for understanding and delineating the class of people referred to: out of which materials I select, as the distinguishing characteristics of the class, these two: first,
They have no root in themselves ;” secondly, “They receive the word with joy.”.
First, “ They have no root in themselves :" by which I understand they have no ground or soil for any thing to take root in; or, as they say, men without solidity or stayedness, of a thin soil, superficial, having no depth of mind or strength of character. It is a distinct class or character of people, whom all of you must at once recognise in yourselves or some of your fellows or acquaintances; men of quick feelings, but not permanent; fond of novelty and change, caught with every hook in the stream, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, for ever learning and never coming to the knowledge of the truth. “Having no root in themselves;” that is, anchored and fixed upon no principles of faith, but tossed about like the waves of the sea, which cannot rest, or like the vessel without anchor and rudder, which the troubled waves carry about at their pleasure. These are men of words and of opinions; now with truth, and now without it; now for God, and now against him, as they may happen to be impressed, for guidance from within themselves have they none. Not indeed the servants of Satan the proud adversary, who inherit the outfield of the hearers of the Gospel ; or rather, are not in the field, but upon the enemy's border, and only come over the line into our quarters to spy out and hear what is going on; but the servants of Belial, the spirit of vanity and ostentation, who love the showy and attractive forms of things, haunt assemblies, are seen on parades, speak to make an impression upon him whom they address, and listen in order to flatter and please and gain the good opinion of him who addresseth them : they are of a good, easy, and flexible nature; but, bending always, you have no purchase with them or over them, even when you have obtained a hold of them. It is a form of the spirit, not of the intellect; for you shall find it associated with intellects of every degree, and with learning of every depth. Its inclination is to be shallow and specious; yet, for the sake of attracting more notice and celebrity, it will go great lengths, and often make great discoveries, insomuch that the rarest and most remarkable specimens of this type I have found amongst our most distinguished philosophers : and it hath been the ruling character of the French school for a century, and is so still. So that the matter lies deeper than the degree of knowledge or the strength of intellect: being in the spirit, which makes every thing veer round with it. Observe now how it is.