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Or perhaps he has preoccupied your mind with prejudices, and hardened it against the word, so that you are not disposed to listen to what is said, or compare it with the word of God. Your eye, or ear, or imagination is caught with some object, that "insensibly carries you out into a train of thought different from and opposite to the things which are spoken, and so you pursue and follow out in your mind schemes and employments of another character."
Our Lord notices that the hateful design of Satan is to prevent our salvation-lest they should believe and be saved. Faith coming by hearing, and salvation being inseparably connected with faith, if you reject the word of God, you remain in your natural unbelief and are in danger of perishing for ever. O dreadful malice of Satan! O inexpressible folly of man! he throws himself into the temptations and snares of his chief foe, and willingly casts away his only remedy.
But it may be useful to expose more fully the devices of this enemy. If you heard attentively, and were mindful of the solemn truths delivered to you; if you thought of them duly, and weighed them deliberately; this is the ordinary course in which God imparts the gift of faith to man. Your doubts would be removed, your prejudices dispelled, and your judgment convinced. Your hearts would receive the impressions of the good Spirit, and be led to embrace the great salvation provided in the Gospel. You would learn your sinfulness, and your danger, and would be brought to rely simply on the Lord Christ for salvation, and so be filled with joy and with peace in believing here, and your precious and immortal soul would be eternally saved. This salvation is a blessing above all price, including pardon, righteousness, sanctification, and eternal life. It is a translation
from sin to holiness, from misery to happiness, from the sentence of a justly-merited and eternal vengeance, to the free title and full hope of everlasting felicity.
Now the cruel and envious design of Satan is to rob our souls of all this happiness. He who was a murderer from the beginning, would shut up our souls in unbelief, that we may perish in eternal ruin, that we may be for ever tormented with him in the dread abode of eternal Guard then against his devices. Remember, that the Gospel is the last, and the only remedy of ruined If you reject it, there remains no more sacrifice for sin, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation. Satan, filled as he is with malevolence, doubtless rejoices in your anticipated misery. O gratify not that malignant fiend ! O grieve not the good Spirit! O be not accessary to your own perdition! Shut not your own eyes, close not your own ears, to the way of salvation, and Satan cannot prevail against you. Be careless no longer. Be attentive to hear. Be diligent to pray. Meditate on what you hear, and you shall be saved: for the form of expression, lest they should believe, shews that while hearing there is a hope that you may be saved. Satan would not be so active if he saw no danger of losing his prey. Cry then mightily for help, and though your heart be as the way-side, it shall be ploughed up, and prepared for the good seed. You shall believe and be saved.
SECT. II.-The Stony Ground.
This description points out to us the the heart of the temporary hearer. He goes farther than the careless hearer, but still stops short of salvation. The effect of the word on him indeed at first is wonderful. The
seed is hardly sown before it springs up, and appears flourishing, and prosperous; but nothing really valuable is produced.
The figure is very expressive; the ground is hard and stony, covered with a slight soil, and having no depth of earth. Such is the corrupt and hardened heart of man by nature such is his natural perverseness and obstinacy. He has what Ezekiel calls the heart of stone, or what St. Paul calls the carnal mind which is enmity against God. There is some earth in which the seed may be sown, but there is no depth of it. This seems to point out those warm natural feelings which form a temper that we often see not unfavourable to the first reception of new and striking truths and doctrines. There is a warmth of heart and feeling which gives many advantages for a ready attention to the truth, but, alas! there is no stability. You see, sometimes, a lively imagination, but no judgment to correct it. There is often a deep sensibility, so that many tears flow at a moving statement, and yet there is nothing permanent. Such a one receives the word. He does not carelessly disregard and neglect it, but he gladly welcomes it. Indeed, in St. Luke it is said he for a while believes. There is an instantaneous assent of the mind to the truth. He counts not the cost and difficulty; but at once entertains a favourable opinion of it, and professes it before others; and this immediately. There is a certain eagerness and earnestness about such a mind that allows not of patient waiting and reflection. Forthwith they spring up. It is not the most speedy appearance of religion that is always the most genuine. He does not compare the doctrines which he hears with the word of God, to take them upon a divine testimony, or to prove all things, and to hold fast that which is
good; but he takes his sentiments from human authority, and is mainly influenced by the person he bears, and the manner, and address of the preacher. His feelings are soon wrought upon, and he manifests a flaming zeal, and seems far to outstrip the humble, meek, and lowly Christian. He has, with this, much joy. He seems to enter at once into a new world. Without previous contrition and humiliation, and without the Christian graces which mark the believer, he takes up the groundless notion that he is a child of God, and thence vainly imagines that all the promises belong to him. The conceit men have of their own religion, is often a real impediment in the way of salvation. Hence the publicans and harlots enter into the kingdom of God before the Pharisees, Matt. xxi, 31. Indeed, self-deceiving in spiritual things, is the ruin of vast multitudes in every age. The doctrines of the Gospel, so truly blessed, and a blessing to the contrite heart, fill the temporary hearer with an intoxicating sort of joy, without any previous deep conviction of sin, or any just idea of its real evil and dreadful malignity. He may, alas! delight himself in the thoughts of the love of God, and never have any real share in that love.
But lest any sincere Christian should be discouraged, it may be observed, that the character which we have noticed may be distinguished from the real Christian in various ways. The Christian, it is true, receives the word and is filled with joy; but his joy is preceded by a sense of his guilt and by mourning for sin, and repentance, and is followed by the fruits of righteousness. The result, however, most strongly shews the difference between the two. The temporary hearer soon fails and withers. The seed does not continue growing, and rise to the fall size, and bear the ear and the fruit.
The reason is, they have no root in themselves. Among the first operations in nature towards growth, the seed sown opens its prolific bosom, in order to the procession of the root. The root catching hold of the surrounding earth, strikes deeper and deeper, and becomes more and more firmly united to it, and spreads far and wide on every side, drawing up moisture for the sap, and nourishment for the whole plant. But it is not so on the stony ground; the root cannot shoot, or spread, and so the plant withers and dies. Such hearers may be compared to a beautiful flower cut from the plant, which when put in water will flourish for a few days, and appear as gay and beautiful as if still growing in the garden united to the original plant, whose root was deeply seated in the earth; but bye and bye all is lost. So it is here; there is no root. There is no real piety within, no new heart; no considering and digesting what is heard; there is no renewed spirit; no subdued will; no rightly-enlightened judgment, and therefore nothing that can stand the assault of temptation.
Then comes the scorching sun of temptation. A pro-fession of religion before the world, and an undeviating course of uprightness exposes the real Christian to persecution. All the disciples of Christ endure this in the way to heaven. No one can faithfully profess the Gospel without experiencing opposition and difficulty. If there be real religion, these things, through the power of the Spirit, will only make it thrive the more. They will rapidly bring on and advance the work of grace; but if there be no real piety, all mere animal feelings are soon chilled. The strength of the natural man ever fails in the spiritual conflict. It vanishes like chaff before the wind. They are offended; they cannot bear the cross. They like the joys of religion, but shrink