« PreviousContinue »
though it is not in our power, either to procure that seed, or to water it, or to dress the plant; yet ours it is, to have ourselves in readiness for the supernatural work ; if it should please the supernatural Workman to undertake it.' There is indeed another form of improvemeut which suggesteth itself: namely, That we should take heed how we hear the preached word, and how we patiently entertain it in our hearts. But this belongs to a more advanced part of the parable, and is indeed the conclusion of the whole. Wherefore I do the rather choose to reserve what I have to say upon this part of the subject till we arrive at that point, and shall now address myself to explain what are the means which are made effectual by God, unto the production of a soil apt for the spiritual husbandry. This will form the improvement of the first part of the parable; and instruction upon the subject of hearing will form the proper improvement of that which follows. I am therefore, in dependence upon the Divine blessing, to search out, and to set forth in order, that education and discipline of man which God requireth towards the reception and retention and fructification of Divine truth : what is that husbandry of a natural order, and those fruits of a natural kind, which prepare the soul for bearing the fruits of everlasting life; what, in short, is the practical application and improvement of all that hath been set forth in the four former Lectures concerning the high-way, the stony soil, and weedy ground; and of the doctrine taught in this, concerning the good soil of an honest heart.
Now the order of the arrangement of this Sup
plementary Lecture seems naturally to suggest itself, from what hath been set forth above, concerning the preparatory work of the outward Spirit in the conscience of man, and in the laws of all life downwards, from man to the elemental world. For if the soil of “ an honest and good heart” be produced by the right honest intercourse and traffic of human life with the living and existent creatures around us--as I have argued above that it is—then is it clear that the whole of our attention should be directed to open and explain to you the way in which you should occupy yourselves with possessing and enjoying the advantages which are bestowed upon us by the Creator over all the things which are around us, whether they be our fellow-men, who are our companions; or the lower creatures, the fruits of the earth, and the elements, which are our servants, the instruments of our industry and the means of our support. For, as I have said, I believe that the soil of “an honest and good heart” is produced from the wise and temperate use of all these; which I call means unto grace, though not means of grace; that is, means to this very end, and no further, of producing in us a soil proper to receive the seed and bear the fruits of the word of God. And of these means unto grace, which are anterior to, and preparatory for, the work of the Divine Seedsman, I perceive every thing rightly used to be a part; and the whole to consist in a life completely ordered according to the rule of right reason, and honest upright behaviour. So that the field is one of the utmost breadth, requiring both great comprehensiveness, exact order, and due subordi nation in respect of extent. It wére a pleasant pure
field to expatiate in, and most profitable to shew how all the visible creation, with man's body at the head of it, is only the Divine foreshewing of the creation which is to be, and the right use of it according to nature, the preparation for that use of it which we have in the Spirit: to shew also how all instincts of the animal life, with reason as their mistress, being rightly used, do prepare the way for the receiving of the word of life which is in Christ. The great difficulty we feel is to define our bounds, so as to keep the proper subordination of parts to a whole ; but considering how much hath been said upon these various soils, we will take the wider range in the improvement of it; which we think may well observe the following method.
First, To shew the right views which we should hold of the creation, including man, in its present
Secondly, The use which we should make of the inferior creatures ;
Thirdly, The way in which we should carry ourselves to our fellow-men; and,
Fourthly, The duty which we should observe towards God and his ordinances, in order to prepare a soil for receiving the seed of the word when it shall please him to plant it in us by his Holy Spirit.
I. And, first, as all good use of things cometh out of right knowledge, we shall address ourselves to speak of the views which you should entertain of the creatures in their present state, and of yourselves as the head of them. In order fully to profit from the constitution under which the world hath been permitted to exist from the merits of Christ's death, and under which it hath been made to exist, rather than any other, for the purpose of shewing forth the advent of Christ to ransom and redeem us from bondage, we ought to study that bondage which it is under, and to listen to that cry which it lifteth up for deliverance. We ought to sympathize with it, and do what we can to comfort it, forasmuch as we are the only part of creation possessed of the power of knowing and understanding either the certainty, or the time, or the manner of that deliverance which it is yet to have. There ought also to be a pity and regret, that for our sakes, and because of our transgression, the neck of all creation should thus be bowed down; and also a joy and a glory, that by the Son of Man, and for the Son of Man, it shall be lifted up again. This is always the manner of the Holy Spirit, when speaking by the mouth of the Prophets, who continually, in the prospect of sorrow and affliction and judgment and wrath, cast a pitiful eye, and drop tears of sorrow, and words of warning and consolation, over the earth and the beasts of the field, the mountains and the trees of the wood, the sea, and the rivers and the fountains of water. And in no case, known to me, doth it occur, that the blessings of the advent of our Lord are foretold without special congratulations to every inferior creature of God upon the earth, and invocations to sing and to shout aloud, and to rejoice with singing, and to clap their hands for joy. In like manner, every child of the Spirit, and every one, who, not yet regenerate, doth nevertheless desire and wait on till it shall please the Lord to visit him with his salvation, ought to follow the example of the Holy Spirit, and enter feelingly into the bondage, of all nature, animate and inanimate, and make mention in its ear of the great jubilee which is hastening on, when “ the wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad, and the desert shall rejoice and blossom like the rose.”
In all those profane and infidel exaltations of the present condition of the natural world, therefore, we should take no part; for they bespeak the intoxication of the sense, and the idolatry of the mind with the creature. But, while we bless the Lord for the grace which hath alike spared us together in existence, and endowed us with many kindly consolations of our captivity,we ought never for a moment to think or speak of our present case, and the present case of all things, otherwise than as a sore visitation for sin, a state of weakness, and of travail, and of death. There is no worse sign of the times we live in, no clearer proof of the debasement of the soul of man and demonstration of the ignorance of the world to come, than the many poems which are written, and the many songs which are sung, and the many journeys which are performed, in honour of certain lovely scenes and beautiful objects of nature. They will call me a Goth for saying so: but it is a Christian, and a Christian minister, who speaketh so; and one who heretofore drank at this fountain as copious draughts as any of the Nature-worshippers. But how can any one who is at all interested in the primeval state of paradise which he hath lost, or at all believeth in the millenial and the eternal glory of the world of which he is an heir, take delight and shout forth joyfully in contemplating the present misery of the lower world; when he beholdeth