SHALLOW SOIL AND THORNY SOIL

 

By EDWARD GRESWELL, B.D.

 

The hearers of the shallow soil, our Lord says, "receive the word with joy" (Luke 8: 13), as soon as they have heard it; there must be something, therefore, in the external appearance of what they have heard, agreeable to their apprehensions, and calculated to fall in with their likings and expectations. "In time of temptation," that is, of trial, "forthwith they take offence, fall away", they find something in the Word, then, by experience, very different from their first impressions, and very contrary to what they had expected. It might well be said, therefore, that they "are only for a season," and under certain circumstances are liable to fall away; and both, because they have no root in themselves; they have no ground of support, confirmation, or reliance from within, of which the pressure of external circumstances, the threats and intimidation of danger from without, never can deprive them.

 

Believers of this description, we may presume, would be principally they, who should embrace the gospel, on its first publication, with a mistaken idea of the nature and consequences of their Christian vocation; of what the profession of the gospel would require from themselves, and of what they should be exposed to by it, chiefly with reference to their external circumstances - their ease, their comfort, their peace and security, in person or fortune - in the present life. The reception and profession of the Christian religion must have appeared, to such persons, a safe and an easy thing, at least beforehand; if tribulation and persecution for the Wordís sake, coming afterwards to be experienced, and found to be necessary to their continuance in the choice they have made, are so unexpected and startling, so harsh and unpalatable, that rather than submit to them with patience and resignation, they prefer to apostatize from their faith itself, and to give up their interest in a religion hereafter, which is so full of trouble and discomfort, of risk and difficulty, in the present life.

 

The seed which fell on the shallow ground was exposed to the heat and drought, but it did not grow among thorns; and had the nature of its position secured it against the danger of being dried up at last through the former of those causes, it would not have been choked by the latter. It is not impossible that even men, whose hearts would be otherwise wholly devoted to God, and in the ordinary career of their Christian profession, would go on to make their calling and election sure, may yet give way, and endanger their [future] salvation under circumstances of extreme and unusual trial.* The strongest support, if overloaded, will bend or break; the firmest faith, if based on the passive energies of mere human endurance, may be intimidated into weakness by sudden alarms, or forcibly borne down by overpowering violence. Judas fell; Peter was surprised into the denial of his Master, whom he loved in truth and simplicity all the while; Paul considered it possible, that when he had preached to others, he might himself be a castaway; and in various parts of their Epistles, neither he nor Peter think it unnecessary to fortify and secure their converts (of whose faith and sincerity at the time there is not the least reason to doubt), by every argument which can influence the hopes or fears of men, against the possible danger of lapsing, and apostatizing from the faith, which they had once embraced, under the urgency of that antagonist power from without, to which they were either exposed already, or liable at any time to, be so.

 

[* When Pliny the younger was carrying on his inquisition against the Christans in Bithynia, a vast multitude (ingens multitudo) were brought before him, who, it appeared, had once been Christians, some a longer, others a shorter time, previously; but had afterwards renounced their profession: no doubt either in consequence of that persecution, or of some other, like it, before. - Plin. Epp. lib. x. xcvii.]

 

The physical cause of the failure of the seed, in the third instance, was the obstruction to its growth and arrival at maturity, which proceeded from the thorns; an obstruction produced by their overhanging and shading, and at last stifling and suffocating the sprouts and stalks of the plant, as neither able to penetrate through their texture, nor yet to enjoy underneath it the natural aids of the air and the sun.

 

The nature of such an impediment is expressed in general by the following classification of moral motives; "the cares of this world, the deceit of riches, and the desires which concern the rest of things": which last the account of Luke shews to be equivalent to the "pleasures of life" in general. The class of hearers to whom the influence of such motives is applicable may be described, in one word, as the worldly minded of every sort; by whom, however, I understand all who, though they may receive and nominally profess the gospel, do not in practice attend to its great and monopolizing importance, nor wholly give themselves up to its influence - all in whose hearts the seed, or Word of God, is not unable to take root, but to thrive there, and bring forth fruit - as not having the heart to itself, but being entertained in conjunction with other things, in the society of which it cannot subsist and prosper, until it arrives at maturity: its freedom of action is fettered and restrained; its natural health and vigour are gradually impaired and stifled.

 

This description will comprise all whose minds, though partially affected by the love of God, are never wholly devoted to Him; though sensible of the value, necessity, and importance of religious duties, are never entirely fixed upon the prospects of another life; but are divided between God and the world, and hang as it were between heaven and earth, neither altogether forgetful of their spiritual interests, nor altogether mindful of them; labouring, perhaps, for a while to reconcile the duties of religion and the concerns of eternity with the business of life and the objects of time and sense; distracted by opposite inclinations and pursuits; combining, or endeavouring to combine, the service of God with the worship of some favourite idol of their own creation: until at last the love of the world, in which they live, gains the ascendant over them, and by the superior force of its attractions, absorbs their affections, engrosses their thoughts, engages their time and attention, and immerses them totally in secular pursuits and employments.

 

Each of the above motives, however, may be considered applicable to a distinct class of persons. The cares of this world apply to the case of men, more particularly who are of an aspiring or ambitious turn of mind; whose ruling passion is the desire of power and influence, of rank and authority, among their contemporaries, who mix eagerly in active life; manage, or aim at managing, the affairs of societies; grasp at honours and distinctions, as the reward of civic merit; lay the foundation of families and titles. The deceit, or deceivable tendencies of wealth, will apply, in an especial manner, to the men of business, and of trading or commercial enterprise; to all whose object or employment it is in any way to amass wealth, to provide for families, to accumulate and leave behind them fortunes. The desires which concern the rest of things, as we may collect from Lukeís exposition of their nature, point sufficiently clearly to another comprehensive division of mankind, the votaries of pleasure; who think of nothing, and live for little, or nothing, but their own gratification and indulgence. Under this description will be comprehended, not only the mere sensualist or man of fashion; but even the men of science and letters; the admirers and cultivators of the elegant arts or accomplishments. For personal pleasure and gratification may be intellectual as well as bodily; and only a more refined species of the love of self and sense in general. The desires which turn upon every object of human attachment and human pursuit, distinct only from wealth as such, and the subject matter of the "cares of the world," must be of a very general description, and will extend to every thing that men can propose or seek after, as the main business, concern, or employment of life, independent of mere and simple utility. And what is this, but some one or other of the manifold shapes and varieties, under which the same common property of apparent good, presents itself in the form of the pleasant? Whatever be the idol of a manís heart, distinct from power or wealth, it is still some favourite creature of his own choice and selection; and in worshipping and devoting himself to it, he is still studying his own pleasure and gratification. If the philosopher, or the scholar - if the patron of science, or the admirer of letters and of the fine arts; if the artist himself, and the candidate for literary or scientific distinction, do not come under the description of such as are influenced by the first or the second class of motives, they find a place among those who are affected by the third: and if these persons too have no other purpose in their favourite study, their exclusive object of pursuit, but what is purely selfish and secular; finding both its beginning and its consummation within the limits of this present life, and going no further than their personal satisfaction, amusement, reputation, or comfort - they too must be classed with the rest in whose hearts the seed has been stifled, or is liable to be stifled, in its progress to maturity, by the pleasures of life, and by the desires that concern the rest of things.

 

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No cross: no crown. "If we suffer with him, we shall also reign with him." "Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life."

 

 

ON A ROYAL MARTYRíS CROWN

 

Earthís crown, thus at my feet, I can disdain

Which heavy is, and at the best, but vain.

But now a crown of thorns I gladly greet;

Sharp is this crown, but not so sharp as sweet.

The crown of glory that I yonder see

Is full of bliss and of eternity.

 

- Sir Isaac Newton.