From Studies in the Scriptures, March 1943, (Vol. XXII, No. 3)
If there is one thing more than another which we seek to keep in mind while preparing articles for these pages it is the need for and importance of preserving the balance of Truth, for we have long been convinced that untold harm has been done to souls through failure at this point. If the preacher gives a disproportionate place in his ministry to the Divine Law, relegating the Gospel to the background, not only are his hearers in danger of forming a one-sided concept of the Divine character but the Christian is deprived of that which is most needed for the establishing and growth of his faith in Christ. On the other hand if the Divine Law be virtually shelved so that its strictness, its breadth and its spirituality are not made known, light thoughts upon sin and superficial views of the holiness of God will be the inevitable result. Both the Law and the Gospel must be expounded and enforced if souls are to be acquainted with God as “light” (1 John 1:5) and as “love,” and if they are to render unto Him that which is His due.
In like manner there needs to be proportionate attention paid to both doctrinal and practical teaching, the one relating to instruction and the other concerning deportment. It is an essential part of the pulpit’s office to open up the foundational truths of the Christian Faith, for only thus will souls be fortified against error. It is ignorance of the Truth which causes so many to fall easy victims to Satan’s lies. Such doctrines as the Divine Inspiration of the Scriptures, the Holy Trinity, the Sovereignty of God, the Fall of man, the Everlasting Covenant, the Person and Office of the Mediator, the design and nature of the Atonement, the Person and Work of the Holy Spirit, the Justification and Sanctification of the believer must be systematically taught if the minister would discharge his duty. Yet he must not confine himself to doctrine: they who feed on rich food and then take little or no exercise become sickly and useless—true alike naturally and spiritually. Faith must produce works if it be worth anything. Well‑nurtured branches of the vine are for fruitfulness and not ornamentation. Christians are to “adorn the doctrine of God” (Titus 2:10) by a daily walk which glorifies Him and is a blessing to their fellows.
Once more—if the balance is to be preserved the preacher must see to it that he is careful to maintain a due proportion between the objective and subjective sides of the Truth. He fails miserably in the discharge of his duty if he neglects to probe the professor and search the conscience of his hearers. He needs to remind them frequently that God requires Truth “in the inward parts” (Psa. 51:6), that His Law must be written “upon the heart” (Heb. 8:10) if it is to exert any effectual power in the life. He is required to call his hearers to “examine yourselves whether ye be in the faith” (2 Cor. 13:5)—yea urge them to pray with David, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my ways” (Psa. 139:23). Multitudes of professing Christians mistake an intellectual assent to the letter of Scripture for a saving faith, and most of what they hear in so‑called evangelical circles is only calculated to bolster them up in a false hope. He who is faithful in dealing with souls will frequently remind his hearers of Christ’s statement, “Not everyone that saith unto Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of Heaven: but he that doeth the will of My Father which is in Heaven” (Matt. 7:21).
But the preacher needs to be much on his guard lest he overdoes what is termed “experimental preaching.” If he virtually confines himself to the lines specified in the preceding paragraph his hearers will become too introspective, too busily engaged in looking within, and instead of their assurance being strengthened, genuine Christians will be filled with doubts and questions about their state. To counteract that tendency the objective side of the Truth must also be emphasized. Christ in all the wondersand glories of His peerless Person, in the perfections of His mediatorial office, in the sufficiency of His atoning work, must be held up to view, so that the hearts of His redeemed may be drawn out to Him in faith, in love, in worship. They must be encouraged to “look unto Jesus” (Heb. 12:2) and “consider the Apostle and High Priest of their profession” (Heb. 3:1), for only thus will they be furnished with both incentives and strength to run the race that is set before them.
What has been pointed out above applies as much to the editor of a magazine as to the occupant of the pulpit. He must beware of being a “hobbyist”—always harping upon a favourite theme. Side by side with pressing the precepts of Scripture he must dwell upon the exceeding great and precious promises of God. Messages of exhortation must be balanced by messages of consolation. Articles which rebuke and lay low need to be followed by subjects which comfort the mourner and lift up the soul in praise to God. If on the one hand we read that the Lamb is to be eaten with “bitter herbs” (Exo. 12:8), right after we are told of the “tree” being cast into the bitter waters of Marah so that they were made sweet (Exo. 15:25). If the Word of God be likened to a “hammer” which breaks in pieces the hard heart (Jer. 23:29) and a sword to pierce even to “the dividing asunder of soul and spirit” (Heb. 4:12)—we also find it being compared with “honey and the honeycomb” (Psa. 19:10). He who is wise will observe these things and seek grace to be regulated accordingly.
At present we are engaged with a particularly searching portion of the Sermon on the Mount, and one design we have in dwelling upon it in such detail is the testing and exposing of formal professors. It is therefore expedient that we should accompany these articles with a message that is intended to help (under God’s blessing) those of the unestablished saints who are liable to draw a false conclusion therefrom. If empty professors are ready to greedily devour that Bread which is the peculiar portion of God’s little ones, it is also true that not a few regenerate souls are prone to appropriate unto themselves that which applies only to hypocrites. If on the one side there are unregenerate people who firmly believe themselves to be real Christians, on the otherside there are genuinely renewed souls who greatly fear they are not Christians at all—they who now conclude the profession of faith made by them, sincerely, in the past, was based on a delusion, and that after all they have been deceiving themselves and others—that they are hypocrites.
It is indeed a fearful thing for a soul to be living in “a fool’s paradise,” persuading one’s self all is well while in reality the wrath of God abides on him. But is it anything less tragic (even though less dangerous) for a child of God to live in “the slough of despond,” passing sentence of Divine condemnation upon himself when in fact God has blotted out his transgressions? Why allow Satan to rob me of all rest of soul when peace and joy are my birthright and legitimate portion? Perhaps, the reader replies, because I cannot help myself, the Enemy is too powerful for me. But my friend, Satan obtains his hold by lies, and his hold is broken as soon as we meet him with the Truth. He succeeds in seducing men into sinful acts by promising them pleasure and profit therefrom; but the child of God meets his evil suggestions by reminding himself that if he sows to the flesh he must of the flesh reap corruption. In the light of what God says are the fearful and certain consequences of sin, the lie of Satan is exposed and rendered powerless. Once you have good and solid reason to believe a work of grace has been wrought within you, pay no attention to the doubts which Satan seeks to cast thereon.
But something much graver and more grievous is involved than an act of folly when a child of God accredits Satan’s lie that he is but a deceived soul and hypocrite: he dishonours and insults the Holy Spirit! A genuine Christian would be horrified at giving place to the delusion that the redemption of Christ is imperfect and inadequate, that His atoning blood is not sufficient to cleanse from sin, that it must be plussed with something from the creature. And ought he not to be equally horrified at calling into question the reality and efficacy of the Spirit’s work in regeneration, supposing it is not to be credited unless it is regularly confirmed by certain feelings ofwhich we are the subjects? Is it any less asin to deny or even doubt the work ofthe Holy Spirit than it is to deny or doubt the sufficiency of the finished work of Christ? Are we as diligent in seeking to guard against the one as much as the other? It is much to be feared that few even among the saints regard these sins as being equally grave. Ah, my reader, it is a vile thing for me to affirm that I am unregenerate if there is clear proof—obtainable by comparing myself with God’s unerring Word—that the blessed Spirit of God has quickened me into newness of life. Plain warning against this enormity has not been sufficiently given by the pulpit.
What is meant, it may be asked, by the “clear proof” which God’s Word presents to the renewed of their regeneration? That is a most important question, for ignorance thereon or a mistaken conception of the nature of that proof has kept many a quickened soul from enjoying that spiritual peace and assurance to which he was justly entitled. Unless I know what are the principal features of a born‑again soul, how can I compare or contrast myself with them? If I form my own idea of what it is which fundamentally and experimentally distinguishes a Christian from a non‑Christian, or if I derive my concept from the ideas and confessions of fellow mortals instead of allowing it to be molded by the teaching of Holy Writ, then I am certain to err. How many, for example, suppose that regeneration consists of a radical change of the old nature, a transforming of the flesh into the beauty of holiness—and then because they discover there is still a sink of iniquity within and sin now rages even more fiercely than it did formerly, draw the conclusion that most certainly no miracle of grace has been wrought within them?
Now in the parable of the Sower, the first recorded one of Christ’s, we find what should be of great comfort to the fearing and trembling ones of the flock, for if they will carefully compare themselves with the different characters which are depicted in that parable, they ought to be able to perceive which of them portrays their own case and describes their own condition, and thus ascertaining which company they really belong. But in order to this there must be a genuine and frank looking of facts in the face. On the one hand, there must be no undue eagerness to believe the best of themselves, refusing to recognize their own features if the mirror of the Word reflects them as ugly ones. And on the other hand there must be no stubborn determination to go on believing the worst of themselves, declining to identify their picture even when it is drawn by the heavenly Artist, simply because it depicts their countenance as made comely by the operations of Divine grace. Mock humility and feigned modesty are as much a sin as pride and presumption. David was not boasting when he said, “How love I Thy Law,” nor was Paul when he said, “I have fought a good fight.” Each spoke the truth, but gave God the glory for his experience.
In the parable of the Sower our Lord sets before us the reception which the preaching of God’s Word meets with. He likens the world to a field, which He divides into four parts according to the different kinds of its ground or soil.In His interpretation of the parable Christ explained those different soils as representing various classes of those who hear the Word. They may be termed the hard‑hearted, the hollow‑hearted, the half‑hearted, and the honest‑hearted. The importance of this particular parable appears in the fact that it is recorded by Matthew, Mark and Luke, and all three narratives should be carefully compared in order to obtain the complete pictures set forth. In this parable Christ is speaking not from the standpoint of theDivine counsels, for there can be no failure there—but from that of human accountability. What we have here is the Word of the Kingdom addressed to man’s responsibility, the effect it has on him, his response thereto, and the reasons why the outcome is unfruitfulness or fruitfulness.
The first class are the wayside hearers. In eastern countries the public highway often runs right through the centre of a field, and because of the traffic constantly passing over it is beaten down, packed, and becomes hard and unyielding. Such is the heart of all those who are given up to the commerce, the pleasures and fashions of this world. They may from various motives attend the house of prayer, but the preaching of the Word has no effect upon them: they are unresponsive thereto. They do not go there seeking a blessing and their souls are unaffected by what they hear. They do not cry unto God, “that which I see not teach Thou me” (Job 34:32), for they are not concerned for His glory or their own eternal welfare. They have no real personal interest in spiritual things and are quite unimpressed by the most solemn representations and unmoved by the most winsome appeals. Their bodies are in the pews but their minds are elsewhere, their thoughts are upon the things that perish, their affections set on things below. They are not there to worship God and are glad when the service is over.
Now let us notice the two things which are said of this class. First, “when anyone heareth the Word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not” (Matt. 13:19). How could the message have any effect upon him when he failed to grasp its purport? And how could he expect to enter into its meaning when his attention was not concentrated thereon, when his interest was elsewhere? He has none but himself to blame. If he prays not for light, whose fault is it that he remains in darkness!? Second, “then cometh the Wicked One and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart.” Where there has been no meditation upon the Word heard or read, no understanding thereof, and so, no impression made upon the heart, it is an easy matter for the great Enemy of God and man to catch away the good Seed or crowd out of the mind that which obtained a superficial entrance, so that there will not even be serious reflection thereon. Now my reader, are you prepared to solemnly and definitely affirm that you have no understanding of the Word of God, that it isentirely to you as if written in an unknown tongue, that Satan has so caught it away it has no place in your thoughts?
The second‑class are the stony‑ground hearers. The type of ground referred to here is that where the bed or base is of rock yet with a thin layer of earth over it. Into this shallow soil the seed is received but the result is most superficial and evanescent. It cannot be otherwise, for as our Lord points out, “they had no deepness of earth, and when the sun was up they were scorched, and because they had no root they withered away.” Those who belong to this class are what may be termed the emotional type. They are very impressionable, easily moved, quickly stirred. Yet it is all on the surface. They make good resolutions and quickly break them. They hear the Gospel and are carried away by the eloquence of the preacher and leap into Christ as it were in a moment, and profess an instantaneous faith in Him. Their faces are radiant and their joy is exuberant. They are the ones who come “forward” at Revival meetings and rush into church membership, but their future history is most disappointing.
Let us take note of the three things said of this class. First, “the same is he which heareth the Word and anon (instantly) with joy receiveth it.” The emotions have been stirred, but the conscience has not been searched. There was no awe of soul in realizing Who it is with whom we have to do, no heart-rending horrors of the sinfulness of sin, no alarm at the wrath to come—nothing but a sudden, yet transient, joy. Second, “yet hath he no root in himself.” It was only a surface effect, a mere passing sentiment. There has been no plowing up of the soul, no Law‑work producing deep and lasting convictions. Third, “but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the Word, by and by he is offended” (Matt. 13:20, 21). Their “goodness is as a morning cloud and as the early dew that goeth away” (Hosea 6:4) The scoffs of the ungodly, the cold shoulder from old friends prove too much for them, and the churches know them no more. Now my reader, test yourself at this point: has your experience stood the test of time or have you abandoned your profession and returned to your wallowing in the mire?
The third class are the thorny-ground hearers. The type of ground here referred to is where the soil seems to be more fertile and favourable, for it is neither so beaten down as to have an impenetrable surface nor so shallow that there is no room for root. But it is inimical to a desirable crop, for weeds and thistles, thorns and briars choke and crowd out the good seed so that an harvest is prevented. This is admittedly the most difficult class to diagnose. The seed has taken root and a shoot springs up and promises well, but it is surrounded by hostile weeds. However, it survives and puts forth an ear, but it is so festooned with briars that the sunshine cannot reach it—its life is choked, and it comes to nothing. They who belong to this class attempt to serve two masters. They are very pious on the Lord’s Day, but thoroughly impious on the other days. They sing the songs of Zion, are members of a church, but make no serious attempt to regulate their daily lives by the precepts of Holy Writ.
Let us take note of Christ’s interpretation of the thorns. In Matthew 13:22 they are defined as “the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches.” The one who has made a Christian profession is young. He has a growing family, his position in this world is not yet secured and therefore he cannot be expected to be out and out for the Lord. Once he “makes good in life” he will have more leisure for spiritual things and more to give to the cause of Christ. Meanwhile temporal anxieties weigh him down. Suppose he “makes good”—does the Lord now have the first place in his affections and thoughts? Far from it—riches are deceitful and cumber their possessor. He feels he must live in accord with his improved position, do more entertaining, send his children to college. Mark 4:19 adds “the lust of other things entering in”—perhaps he aspires to civic office or membership in Parliament, and how can he spirituality thrive in politics! Luke 8‑ 14 gives “the pleasures of this life.” These are the thorns which choke so many, and they “bring no fruit to perfection” or completion. Would you say, my readers, that the “thorns” have so choked the Word of God in you that you have brought no fruit to completion?
The fourth class are the good‑ground hearers. This is soil which not only receives the seed and has depth to give it root, but where it springs up, bears fruit and actually brings forth a goodly yield, so that the husbandman is well-rewarded for his labours. Let us take careful note then of what is here predicated of the good‑ground hearer. First, it is, “he that heareth the Word and understandeth it.”He has taken pains so to do. He has “searched the Scriptures daily” (Acts 17:11) to ascertain whether or not the things to which he has listened are really according to the Divine Oracles, for he feels there is far too much at stake to take any man’s say‑so for it. Mark 4:20 adds, “and receive it.” He has prayerfully pondered what he has heard and personally appropriates it as God’s message to his own soul. However unpalatable to the flesh, however searching and humbling, he refuses it not. Luke 8:15 adds “and keep it and bring forth fruit with patience.”He holds fast the Word because it is treasured up in his heart as his most cherished possession, and though he is much discouraged by the slowness of his growth he perseveres in crying to God for the increase.
But there is one word said concerning this fourth class which we wish to particularly observe: they are the ones who receive the Word “In an honest and good heart.” This is the only time in the parable that our Lord defines the kind of heart which received the Word. It is here we have disclosed the decisive factor, that which fundamentally distinguishes those belonging to the fourth class from all the others. Thus it is of prime importance we should seek to ascertain exactly what is connoted by “an honest and good heart” (Luke 8:15), and diligently search ourselves whether or not we possess such. Clearly the terms used here by Christ are in designed contrast from Jeremiah 17:9—“the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked,” which describes that which every descendant of Adam is born with. “An honest and good heart” then is not the natural heart, but one which Divine grace has imparted.—A. W. P.