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A Sower ment out to fow his Seed : and as he sowed, Some fell by the way-side, and it was trodden down, and the fowls of ihe air devoured it : And Some fell upon a Rock, and as soon as it was Sprung up, it withered away, because it lacked moisture : And some fell among Thorns, and the Thorns sprung up with it, and choaked it : And other fell on good Ground, and sprang up, and bare fruit an hundred-fold . And when he had said these things,
He that hath Ears to hear, let him Hear.
In which Parable our Blessed Saviour fets forth to us the different Success which his Gospel then did, and would ever after be likely to meet with, according to the different Dispositions of those to whom it was Preached.
It is indeed an uncomfortable Reflection, and, I think I may say one of the greatest Discouragements we Labour under, in the discharge of our Ministry, to consider how very little Benefit, for the molt part, all our Endeavours have upon the Minds of those to whom we declare the Gospel of Christ.
That after all we can do, either by 2 Cor. v. II. the Goodness or Terrors of the Lord to
persuade Men, yer scarce a fourth part brings any Fruit at all to Perfe&tion, and even those too in a very small Measure. Some few perhaps there are, who produce a little Increase ; they hear the Word, and consider their Duty, and return it
Thirty-fold in Piety and Good Works : Mat. xiji. 8.
But for the Sixty and the Hundred-fold,
scarce any there are, that ever arrive at this Pitch, or but give us any great cause to hope that ever they will come up to it. :
Instead of fruitless Complaints in a matter of so great Consequence both to our Ministry, and to your Salvation, I shall make it my Endeavour on this Occasion, both for the happier Prosecution of my own Duty, and, if it may please God, for the greater Benefit of your Souls, plainly to lay before you the Cause of this : By resolving it, as both the Authority of our Saviour, and the natural Reason of the Thing its self require I should, into the general Indisposition of Men to receive the Gospel. We now, as the Sower in the Parable, scatter the same Seed on all the parts of the Field indifferently: We defire that every one should yield a suitable Increase. What can possibly be the Cause of that strange variety we find in the Product, that one part should bring forth a plentiful Crop of Faith and Good Works; another, either none at all, or but a very small one in Comparison, but only this, That the Ground is in fome better prepared to receive the Seed than it is in others, and therefore brings forth the Fruit accordingly?
This is the plain design,both of the Parable beforementioned, and of that Exhortation with which our Saviour here concludes it in the Words of the Text,
He that hath Ears to hear, let him Hear.
In my Discourse upon which Words, that I may pursue the same Metho:l which our Blessed Lord did in his Parable, I will
I. Show you what sort of Hearers they are, to
whom the Word is in vain spoken ; who are not likely to benefit themselves by our Preach
(II. Will offer fome Rules for the difpofing of your
Souls in such a manner, that by the Grace of
God you may be fit to receive Benefit by it. I. I am to show what kind of Hearers they are,
to whom the Word is in vain spoken, who are not likely to benefit themselves by our Preach
ing. In pursuance of which Point, I should be infinite should I insist particularly on all those Indifpofitions that are apt to render a Man an unprofitable Hearer of Divine Truth. I will reduce this first Sort of Auditors to as few Generals as I can, and that with all the freedom and plainness, that both the Nature and End of such an Undertaking require.
1. And the first that I shall mention is, The Careless Hearer.
It is the Misfortune of too many, in 2 Tim. i. 5. the Church of Christ, that in St. Paul's
Character, they have a Form of Godliliness, but are little acquainted with the Power of it. They come to our Assemblies, and hear our Difcourses, and for the Time are very much affected with them : But they go away, and presently they forget what they heard ; their Holy Affections are scattered as a Morning Cloud ; they grow Cold and Indifferent as they were before ; nor much concern themselves with any farther Thoughts of Religion, till the next Sunday comes, and another Sermon again puts them in mind of it. As if the End of all our Preaching were only to make the Service a little the more Solemn; to entertain them an Hour Extraordinary in the Church; and if they did but fit out that with any tolerable Attention, they had then discharged their Duty, they had done all that was required of them.
To such Auditors as these, I would only beg leave to remonstrate how unreasonable such a negligence as this is ; and of what a dangerous Consequence it will most certainly prove to them in the end. Our Discourses in these Places, all of them I. am sure should be, and I believe, for the most part are, either Explications of that Duty which God requires of us, or Exhortations to fulfil it, or else to shew the Danger and Baseness of those Temptations, that most usually draw Men aside from it. Now all these naturally imply an Obligation on the part of those that hear us, to do somewhat in purJuance of these Instructions : Either to fulfil this Duty, or to fly those Sins that are contrary to it; or to watch and arm themselves against those. Temptations, which they are forewarned will otherwise be apt to seduce them from it. And if they neglect to do this, they will be much more inexcusable, than if they had never been instructed by us : What our Saviour once said of the Jews with reference to his Preaching, will be found as true now, with respect to ours: IF I John xv. 22. had not come and spoken unto them, they had not bad Jing but now they have no cloak for their fin.
It is not in Difcourses of this Kind, as in other ordinary Addresses that are sometimes made to us : Which if they do but afford us some agreeable Entertainment for the present, we have our Desire; and though we afterwards never trouble our felves with any farther Thoughts of them, yet we run no great hazard, nor it may be sustain any Loss by our neglect of them.
But when we tell you your Duty, and lay before you the Doctrine by which you are to be Saved, the Case is much otherwise. We speak as the Commisoners of God; and as the Ambasadors of Christ
we beseech you to be reconciled unto Him. The Words which we deliver unto you, they are not our own, but His that fent us : They are the Rules and Measures by which you ought to live, and by your Neglect or Observance whereof, you must preserve or lose your Souls to all Eternity., The light esteem of what we say, do not mistake, it reflects not upon us, but on him whose Ministers we are ; whose Gospel we preach, and whose Goodness we set forth, and who therefore will one Day call you tö a severe Account for that little regard you now fhcw of what we deliver unto you. But
2dly. A second fort of Hearers, who reap but little Benefit by all our Discourses are, The Curious Hearers.
For such there still are in our Days, as well as we read there were heretofore in the Apostles; Who hold Mens Persons in Admiration, and esteem the Gospel of Christ more according to the Preachers
Eloquence, than its own Authority: One I Cor. i. 12. is of Paul, another of Apollos, and a
Third of Cephas ; As if the business of our Preaching were to please their Fancies, not
to inftruet their Minds, and to re---Ib. ver. 17, form their Manners; and that Simpli18, 19. and
city which was once the Glory of the 2 Cor. iv. 13.
Ministers. Hence it is that so many of our Auditors, instead of coming to our Discourses as they ought, to hear their Dury, and confirm their Faith, and increafe their Piery, come rather to observe, and censure : The Application they make, is not to enter into their Closets, and Meditate upon what they have Heard, and consider how they may Benefit their Souls by it; and then to beg the Assistance of God's Gracę to enable them so to do ; Bar to Applaud
Scandal of its minifterete now to be esteemed the