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with success, is thus described; "he that received seed in the good ground, is he that heareth the word, and understandeth it, which also beareth fruit;" or as it is expressed in another account of the same parable, "they which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience."
I wish I could persuade every one of you always to hear with this impression on your minds, that your hearts chiefly are to be addressed. How very different an effect would our discourses, in most cases, produce! What a serious and solemn feeling would prevail, while every one, instead of passing his judgment on the merits or defects of the sermon, or coldly acknowledging the truth of the observations, and the force of the argument which it contained, would be questioning his own heart on the various subjects proposed, would be sifting the testimony of his conscience, and examining into the state of his affections, and the bent of his inclinations! This is the way to render sermons useful and efficacious; the work rests with the hearers more than they are in general willing to allow, more than many of them perhaps actually think. How can any success be expected, while the hearers suppose they have nothing more to do than merely to comprehend what is said, and to assent to it?
And though this may be the deliberate persuasion of very few, or even of none, yet I do verily believe, that, in real fact, this way of hearing is that which prevails with the greater number. I mean to say that they are too easily satisfied with hearing, perceiving, and acknowledging the truth and justice of what they hear; they enter into the preacher's views; they confess that he has exhibited his subject in a striking light; they see that what he advances is according to scripture, and sound reason; they allow that he has made evident the truth of a certain doctrine, or the necessity of a certain duty, or the excellence of a certain disposition-and this is all; this is all that they think of; this is mere head-work; What is the use of it, if it proceeds no further? In this manner you may carry away notions of religion, but not principles or feelings, nothing that will influence your lives or promote your salvation, until it descends lower, and sinks into your hearts. It is "with the heart that man believeth unto righteousness;" though you derstand all mysteries and all knowledge, and have not charity, you are nothing." It is equally true, if you have not the love of God, if you have not humility, if you have not purity, if you are not spiritually minded, if you are wanting in any
essential christian grace, the possession of knowledge will not make up for such a deficiency.
You are in the habit, perhaps, of thinking, that what you hear from the pulpit is intended for your information; now really this is very seldom the case, there are very few things which we preach about, that you are not well acquainted with already, as mere matters of knowledge; what we aim at therefore, is your reformation, we wish to remind you from time to time "though ye once knew this," what you should feel, how you should act, what you should be, both in heart and life; it is your spiritual improvement, your practical guidance, that we have in view. You ought not to be content with saying, know and perceive," for that is but a small thing, and your knowledge may be very unfruitful and ineffectual-but you should say, "this I ought to feel, to desire, to attain, this ought to excite my hopes, this my fears, this my love, this my sorrow. God grant that I may imbibe these sentiments, that I may cherish that disposition, that I may adopt that practice, that I may subdue those evil inclinations, which the preacher is speaking of." One sentence admitted into the heart, and impressed upon the feelings, is worth more than a thousand of the most excellent sermons coldly
approved of by the understanding, and only carried in the head.
Suppose now it is proved to your perfect satisfaction, that you are in a state of sin, and condemnation; suppose it is made as clear as possible to you from the Scriptures, and your own experience, and reason fully concur in the truth of that representation; what is gained if you rest in that acknowledgment? how are you the better for your information, unless the consequence of it is, that you say and feel, “therefore I must humble myself before God, and pray mercy as an unworthy but penitent sinner?" The discourse from which you learn your sinfulness, without repenting of your sins, has done you no good. Or suppose it is plainly demonstrated to you from the Scriptures, that there is no hope of salvation, but through Christ alone; and you do not doubt the truth of the doctrine: what advantage do you derive from this instruction, unless you consider "therefore I must put my whole trust in him, receive him as my Saviour, love him, give him thanks, obey his laws, and follow his steps?" In vain have you found a Saviour, if you do not embrace him, and adhere to him. Or suppose the discourse is about spiritual aid, and the great necessity of it is made manifest to you, and God's promise to bestow it
is set forth; how are you in the least degree benefitted by having these things made known to you, unless you earnestly pray for that blessed influence, and desire to be always directed by it? To no purpose have you heard that there is a Holy Ghost, and you have read of Him, if you are not actually supported by his power, and sanctified by his grace. Or again, if the subject of the sermon should be, the vanity of earthly happiness, and it should be shewn to you through conviction, how trifling and insecure, and short lived, and unsatisfactory, all worldly enjoyments are; What profit is it, unless you resolve that you will "not love the world, neither the things that are in the world," but by God's help, you will set your heart and affection, on heavenly and eternal joys? It is useless knowledge to have discovered the insignificance of temporal things, if you value and pursue them, as the highest objects of desire. And so in every other case, remember that your hearts are principally addressed, and that, however much you may learn and carry away in your heads, unless they are affected and influenced, you heard in vain; my advice therefore on this subject, with my most earnest entreaty (since I know that otherwise the word preached will not profit you,) is, that you would always refer every thing