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waste of a triffing insignificant life, a few worthy actions or a few solitary virtues appear, yet
their affections are not set on things above, their hopes are not centered there, their views do not tend there; their treasure is on earth, and there is their heart also.
These two characters, the hardened unbeliever, and the mere nominal Christian, constitute the first class described by our Saviour in the parable of the sower. These are they which receive the seed by the way-side, where it lies neglected upon the surface, till “ the fowls of the air devour it, or the wicked one catcheth it out of their hearts;" and there is an end at once of all their hopes of salvation, perhaps for ever.
Secondly, There is another sort of soil'mentioned in the parable, which gives the seed at first a more favourable reception. When it falls on stony ground, it finds no great difficulty in gaining admission into a little loose earth scattered upon a rock; it springs up with amazing rapidity; but no sooner “ does the rise upon
it with its scorching heat, than it withers away for want of depth of earth, root, and moisture.”
What a lively representation is this of weak and unstable Christians ! They receive Christianity at first with gladness; they are extremely ready to be made eternally happy, and suppose that they have nothing else to do but to repeat their creed, and take possession of heaven. But when they find that there are certain conditions to be performed on their parts also; that they must give up their favourite interests and restrain their strongest passions, must sometimes even pluck out a right eye or tear off a right arm; that they must take up their cross and follow a crucified Saviour through many difficulties, distresses, and persecutions; their ardour and alacrity are instantly extinguished. They want strength of mind, soundness of principle, and sincerity of faith, to support them. No wonder then that they fall away and depart from their allegiance to their divine Master and Redeemer. This is the second sort of hearers described in the parable, 66 that receive the word at first with joy; but having no root in themselves, when tribulation and persecution arise because of the word, by-and-by they are offended." This refers more im
mediately mediately to the first disciples and first preachers of the Gospel, who were exposed, in the discharge of their high office, to the severest trials, and the cruellest persecutions from their numerous and powerful enemies. Some of them undoubtedly, who had not sufficient root in themselves, gave way to the storms that assailed them, and made shipwreck of their faith, as our Lord here foretels that they would. But others, we know, stood firm and unmoved, amidst the most tremendous dangers,
and underwent, with unparelleled fortitude, the most excruciating torments. The description which the writer to the Hebrews gives of the saints and prophets of old, may, with the strictest truth, be applied to the apostles and their successors in the first ages of the Gospel, under the various persecutions to which they were exposed.
They had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea moreover of bonds and imprisonments. They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword, were destitute, afflicted, tormented *.” All these barbarities they endured with unshaken patience * Heb. xi. 37
and firmness, and thereby bore the strongest possible testimony, not only to their own sincerity, but to the divine and miraculous influence of the religion which they taught. For it is justly and forcibly observed by the excellent Mr. Addison, that the astonishing and unexampled fortitude which was shewn by innumerable multitudes of Martyrs, in those slow and painful torments that were inflicted on them, is nothing less than a standing miracle during the three first centuries. “I cannot, says he, conceive a man placed in the burning iron chair of Lyons, amidst the insults and mockeries of a crowded amphitheatre, and still keeping his seat; or stretched upon a grate of iron over an intense fire, and breathing out his soul amidst the exquisite sufferings of such a tedious execution, rather than renounce his religion, or blaspheme his Saviour, without supposing something supernatural. Such trials seem to me above the strength of human nature, and able to overbear duty, reason, faith, conviction, nay, and the most absolute certainty of a future state. We can easily imagine that a few persons in so good a cause might have laid down their VOL. I.
lives at the gibbet, the stake, or the block but that multitudes of each sex, of every age of different countries and conditions, should, for nearly three hundred years together, expire leisurely amidst the most exquisite tortures, rather than apostatize from the truth, has something in it so far beyond the natural strength and force of mortals, that one cannot but conclude there was some miraculous power to support the sufferers; and if so, here is at once a proof, from history and from fact, of the divine origin of our religion *.”
There is a third portion of the seed, that falls among thorns. This wants neither root nor depth of earth. It grows up; but the misfortune is, that the thorns grow up with it. The fault of the soil is not that of bearing nothing, but of bearing too much; of bearing what it ought not, of exhausting its strength and nutrition on vile and worthless productions, which choke the good seed, and prevent it from coming to perfection. “ These are they, (says our Saviour, in the parallel place of St. Luke,) which, when they have heard, go forth, and are choked with cares, and riches,
* Addison's Evidences, S. 7. '