And some fell on a rock; and as soon as it was sprung up, it withered away, because it lacked moisture.
I. THE KIND OF SOIL. A kind of bad hearers, compared to stones, or stony ground.
1. For the natural hardness, which cannot be broken nor softened.
2. For their coldness: not warmed with the heat of the sun of righteousness, nor the Spirit of God, but abide cold as stones.
3. For their heaviness: a stone will not easily be removed out of his place, his proper centre is the earth.
4. For their unprofitableness, and resistance of the fruits of the earth: for as stoniness of ground by the curse upon man's sin became very noisome to the fruits of the earth, so the stoniness of heart, a part of the curse, more hinders fruits of grace than any stony ground can hinder seed cast into it.
5. As stony ground and common stones are little esteemed, but rejected of men; so this stony ground is as little respected of God. Yet herein our hard hearts are worse than stones: they increase not their hardness; but ours is daily increased by wilfulness and perverseness.
II. Now to the success OF THE SEED in this stony ground: and first, the hopeful and commendable, in the beginning — "it sprung up." Which implies that of Matthew 13:20, "He which heareth the Word, and incontinently with joy receiveth it." Where we have four things considerable.
1. This bad ground receiveth the Word: wherein they go beyond the former hearers, who only heard the Word, but left it as soon as they heard it; let the devil, or any devouring bird eat it and take it from them, they care not.
2. This bad ground receives it "incontinently" (saith Matthew), when God speaks they will hear, and without delays or excuses willingly receive when God proffers.
3. These bad hearers, and stony ground receive it with joy.
4. This stony ground brings up the seed sown.
(1) Is rises to external obedience and reformation of many, perhaps most things.
(2) The seed springeth up to an outward profession, as those that hope to be saved by it, and so to an outward fellowship and communion with the saints in the Word, sacraments, and many other godly exercises, both public and private.
(3) It springeth up in the stony ground to a kind of faith, which hath in it not an enlightening only, but a taste of the heavenly gift and the powers of the world to come, by which they are partakers of the Holy Ghost; that is, something they have so like true sanctification that both themselves and others may think them truly sanctified. Some of the Israelites tasted of the fruits of the land of Canaan, and did thereby perceive what a good land it was and desired part in it, and conceived good hope of enjoying and possessing it, yet never enjoyed it, but perished in the wilderness. Learn hence how far a bad hearer may go in Christianity. A man may hear the Word with diligence, receive it with joy, believe with some assurance, grow up to high place in the profession of religion, bring forth fruits of commendable obedience, and all this while be bad ground and in damnable estate. Having spoken of the success of this seed cast into the stony ground, in the commendable hopes it gave in the beginning; now we proceed to the lamentable and doleful success in the conclusion with the reason of it, both in the words now read unto you.
1. "It withered away."
2. "Because it lacked moisture."First, of the withering of these glorious professors, then of the causes. This withering is a falling away, but not all at once, but by little and little, as a leaf loseth his greenness and flourish, and withers by degrees. For the word implieth the manner of their falling. Neither is it a falling away in part, or for a time, as the disciples and Peter in the time of Christ's passion; but a final falling away from all their graces, from which falls is no return or rising. Here consider four things:
1. How men wither away in grace.
2. The danger of withering.
3. Notes of a man withering.
4. The use and application of all.For answer to the first: Men, even great professors in the Church, wither four ways.
1. In judgment.
2. In affection.
3. In practice.
4. In the use of the means.The second is the danger of such withering: Which we shall clearly see in four particulars.
1. In respect of God they are most hateful, seeing they can find nothing more worthy forsaking than the good way, and esteem everything better worth keeping than God's image and graces.
2. In respect of the Church: They bring scandal to the weak, and the scorn of the wicked upon themselves and all professors.
3. In respect of the sin itself: None more dangerous. For first, relapses, we say, are far more dangerous than first diseases. Secondly, Satan returning, comes with seven more wicked spirits than himself, and so he is for ever held under the power of Satan. Thirdly, this sin is commonly punished with other sins, which is God's most fearful stroke, to which He seldom gives up His own. Fourthly, it is in the degrees of the sin against the Holy Ghost, and easily brings a man into that estate that there may be left no sacrifice for his sin.
4. In respect of the judgment that awaits and overtakes this sin. The judgment is certain. The third general thing proposed is: Notes of a man withering in grace.And these are six.
1. A resting in a common and general hope of a good estate, without desire or endeavour to seek marks of certainty or special assurance in himself, As a foolish tradesman hopes his estate is good enough, and bears his creditors in hand it is so; but he is loath to cast up his books or come to a particular view of it. No surer argument of a man decaying.
2. An opinion of sufficiency, that he hath grace enough, he will seek no more because he pleaseth himself in his present measure; and he that careth not to increase his stock wastes of the principal. And not to go forward is to go backward.
3. A comparing of a man's self with those that are of lower and inferior graces or means.
4. A shunning or slighting of God's ordinances; a willing excommunicating himself from the assemblies when he list. That man's strength is abating who falls from his meals. He must eat that must live. And the plant that would not wither must draw moisture daily. Or, if using public means diligently he neglect private, he is on the withering hand.
5. Secret sins ordinarily committed, not bewailed, not reformed.
6. Hatred of God's children, and the way of just men, whether open or secret.What be the means to keep us from withering?
1. Get sound judgment, to discern the truth from error. If we would not fall we must be grounded on the foundation of the prophets and apostles; by private reading, meditating and conferring of the Scriptures, which notably begets and confirms soundness of judgment; and by prayer, which obtains the spirit who is called the spirit of judgment. The lamp fails without oil.
2. Sound persuasion of the truth thou professest; that thou mayest not please thyself that thou hearest the truth from the mouth of the preacher; or hast it in thy Bible at home; no, nor content thyself that thou hast it in thy mouth or discourse, but that thou hast the experience of it in thine heart.
3. Sound affection and love to the truth upholds from withering in it, when the wise Christian esteems the pearl worth selling all to buy it. Love anything better than grace, thou art gone. Demas loves the world better, and easily forsakes the truth. How many lights in the beginning of their profession have been extinct by the world coming upon them.
4. Sound conscience; to which is required —
(2) tenderness.Now the marks to know a hard heart are these:
1. When God's Word makes no impression or gets not within the heart to renew or reform the man, though sometimes it may scratch the outside and restrain him.
2. Neglect, or light over-passing the works of God's mercy or justice, upon himself or others.
3. Unfeelingness of hardness, and unwillingness to feel it; no mislike of it, no desire to understand the danger of it.
4. For the maintaining their estate, credit, and favour in the world, or their lusts and pleasures, to oppose and dislike such doctrines, courses, and persons as have the word on their sides.
5. Out of resolution of following a man's own present course, whatsoever persuasion or doctrines he hears to the contrary, to fly occasions and companies which might touch or work upon his conscience.
6. Habits and customable sins, which make the heart as a pathway. A soft heart smites itself for once sinning and for small sinning.
(Thomas Taylor, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And some fell upon a rock; and as soon as it was sprung up, it withered away, because it lacked moisture.