50. ON THE THORNS IN
In the instructive parable of the sower, our divine Redeemer, who spoke as
never man spoke, has discovered to us the nature of those thorns which choke
and render unfruitful the good seed of the word of God. "The thorny ground
represents those who hear and accept the message, but all too quickly the
message is crowded out by the cares and riches and pleasures of this life.
And so they never grow into maturity." Luke 8:14.
WORLDLY CARES are thorns. If we are anxious and troubled about many
things; anxious about the events of tomorrow, and forecasting evils which
have no existence but in our own minds, we are sowing tares and thorns,
which must of necessity destroy all the vigor and fruitfulness of the Gospel
The work of faith is to perform present duty; and then leave the issue with
God, who works all things after the counsel of his own will. We have no
power over the varied events of life. Circumstances arise which cannot be
foreseen, nor prevented if foreseen. Prudence may lay her plans, but he who
rules on high can thwart them all. "There are many devices in a man's heart;
nevertheless, the counsel of the Lord, that shall stand." It is, then, the
part of Christian wisdom to obey the beautiful precept of Solomon: "Trust in
the Lord with all your heart, and lean not to your own understanding. In all
your ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct your paths."
In such a world as this, which is made up of vicissitude and agitations, how
highly privileged is the man who can say with David,"The Lord is my rock, my
fortress, and my savior; my God is my rock, in whom I find protection. He is
my shield, the strength of my salvation, and my stronghold." Psalm 18:2. How
calm is that soul whose cares are laid upon God! This is the Christian's
privilege: "Casting all your care upon him, for he cares for you." "Cast
your burden upon the Lord, and he will sustain you." Oh my soul, remember
who it is that invites you to this rest. It is Jesus—the friend of sinners.
How affectionate is his invitation: "Come unto me, all you that labor and
are heavy laden, and I will give you rest."
Cares are vexatious to a worldly mind. Afflictions are viewed as so many
suspensions of worldly happiness. Poverty is dreaded as the greatest worldly
evil; and even religion itself is treated as an enemy, because it demands
the separation of the heart from worldly lusts and pleasures. And yet, it is
owing to the absence of true religion, that the varied dispensations of
Providence become crosses. We meet them in an unsubdued frame of spirit. We
murmur and rebel against the correcting hand of our heavenly Father, and
thus render that burden heavy, and that yoke grievous, which would otherwise
be easy and light. While in this unhappy state of mind, we hear the Gospel
with perpetual distraction. The cares of life, like prickling thorns, cover
the ground of our heart, and prevent the good seed from springing up and
bearing fruit to the glory of God.
"Oh blessed Spirit! awaken my soul to a due solicitude about my everlasting
state. Let me not be sowing tares, while your ministers are sowing wheat.
Let not my foolish heart by worldly cares choke the precious seed of holy
truth. Make me watchful and vigilant. Break up the fallow ground of my heart
by deep and abiding convictions, that I may no longer sow among thorns, but
yield abundant fruit to the praise of the glory of your grace."
RICHES are thorns. What can riches, so coveted after by the world, do
for wretched man, simply considered in themselves? They cannot produce
happiness. How many families, overladen with wealth, are made unhappy by the
very wealth which they possess! They cannot insure usefulness. How many
people do we continually see, who, with the most extensive means of
usefulness, are little better than cumberers of the ground! They cannot
promote health. How many are rendered the victims of disease, by the
facility which wealth affords for gratifying their carnal appetites and
luxurious inclinations! They cannot prolong life. How many are cut off in
the midst of their splendor, when they were fondly promising to themselves a
long succession of joyous years!
If riches cannot procure temporal blessings; if they cannot, by their mere
possession, even to their greatest extent, make us happy in ourselves, or
useful to others; if they cannot promote health, or prolong life; how much
less can they procure spiritual or eternal blessings: the pardon of sin;
peace with God; purity of heart; and perpetuity of bliss in heaven!
And yet, wealth is the grand desire of the world. To obtain riches, men are
willing to risk the loss of soul and all the glories of heaven. The
nominally Christian world is bowing down to the golden image which Satan has
set up, while all kinds of music are employed to celebrate its praise. Even
real professors of godliness have need to watch continually against the
seductive influence of the god of this world. He can paint upon the
imagination the shadowy glories of the world, and then whisper to the soul,
"all these will I give you, if you will fall down and worship me."
But Truth lifts up her warning voice to guard her children against the
snares of this father of lies: "Those who will be rich fall into temptation
and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in
destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil;
which, while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced
themselves through with many sorrows."
Our blessed Lord, whose love is infinite, has given us a double caution:
"take heed—and beware—of covetousness; for a man's life consists not in the
abundance of the things which he possesses." And Paul, writing under the
influence of the Spirit of Christ, exhorts us to "let our conversation be
without covetousness, and to be content with such things as we have, since
God has said: I will never leave you nor forsake you."
Riches, when loved and coveted after, become our idols. And even when they
do not captivate the affections, they will soon choke the precious seed of
divine truth, if not carefully guarded against. Hence our Lord calls it "the
deceitfulness of riches." They draw away the heart insensibly from God, and
then they become a curse, and not a blessing. Many who, while in the valley
of humiliation, adorned the Gospel and labored with unwearied diligence to
promote its extension, have become lukewarm when wealth has filled their
These characters present an awful instance of the danger of worldly
prosperity, and should make every professor of the Gospel tremble, lest,
when riches increase, his heart should be lifted up, and he forget the Lord
his God. Worldly prosperity is almost always followed by declension. How
many Christian families, once the ornaments of the church, have, in their
posterity, lost all semblance of piety through the growing prosperity which
attended their secular concerns.
Oh blessed Lord, give me grace to covet earnestly the best gifts, even the
unsearchable riches of Christ; to labor after the attainment of those riches
whose value can never be fully known in this lower world; but after which,
all, without exception, are graciously invited to seek, that they may obtain
Blessed Jesus! pearl of great price, may you be my treasure.
"Give what you will; without you, I am poor; And with you, rich; take what
you will away."
WORLDLY PLEASURES are thorns. Man has a natural thirst after
happiness; but, being blinded through the fall, and having all his appetites
vitiated, he is continually seeking that from the world which can only be
found in God.
Fallen man, like Cain of old, is a fugitive. He is ever flying from the
presence of his Creator, who is the source and center of true felicity. He
is daily committing two evils: "forsaking the fountain of living waters, and
hewing out to himself broken cisterns which can hold no water."
Hence he is miserable while in quest of happiness. He drinks of the
intoxicating wine of carnal gratification; revels for a time in sensual
pleasure; and if he awakens to sober recollection, feels a thousand stings,
which too often drive him to despair and death.
Consistent professors of godliness readily allow the sinfulness of gross
sensual indulgences, and of such worldly amusements as lead directly to the
violation of chaste feeling, or into the vortex of fashionable dissipation.
There are, however, pleasures of a sober and innocent kind, which, from
their friendly aspect, are unsuspectedly admitted into the heart, and, like
the "little foxes, spoil the vines." Few seem to consider that even lawful
pleasures, when too eagerly pursued, become sources of pain, by secretly
alienating the heart from God.
Hence serious Christians have need to guard against giving too much of their
mind and time to those pursuits which may insensibly draw them off from
private devotion and the daily duties of social life. The acquirements of
music and drawing, as well as the prosecution of literary and philosophical
studies, are lawful and agreeable when pursued in subservience to that great
end of life so plainly enforced by the apostle: "Whether you eat or drink,
or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." Religion does not forbid
the improvement of our intellectual faculties; it only guards against their
Lawful things are not always beneficial; and, if abused or used to excess,
they become injurious. Society is pleasant; yet it becomes a snare, if it
lead us from our secret chamber by its incessant attractions, and thus make
us strangers to God and our own hearts.
We are everywhere surrounded with danger. Each pleasure has its poison, and
each sweet its snare. And yet, how fleeting! Worldly delights resemble the
rose, which droops almost as soon as gathered. Our blessed Lord warns us
against those pleasures which too frequently choke the word, as thorns do
the growing plant. The enemy knows this well; and, therefore, when young
people, especially, begin to feel their consciences awakened under the
faithful preaching of the Gospel, he stirs up their carnal friends to carry
them into the various gayeties of life, that the incipient workings of
divine grace may be destroyed in the very germ.
Oh! then, let us be upon our guard, not only against distracting cares and
deceitful riches, but also against delusive pleasures, which, by their
smiling face and winning form, would steal away our hearts, and rob us of
eternal glory. Worldly pleasures, like Solomon's many wives, entice the soul
to idolatrous attachments and departure from God. There are, however,
pleasures pure and peaceful, holy and heavenly, which never cloy or injure
the believer. Communion with God in Christ—the enjoyment of the divine
favor, through faith in the blood of Jesus—the varied exercises in reading,
meditation, and prayer—the society of experienced Christians—visiting the
sick—instructing the young—relieving the poor and needy—pouring the balm of
consolation into the troubled breast—directing the wanderer to
Jesus—restoring the backslider—reproving the profane—promoting peace—and
supporting by active and financial exertions those noble institutions which
bless our happy land—form so many streams of pleasure, which at once refresh
and fructify the soul.
If to these are added the duties of our secular calling, the endearments of
domestic life, the well-timed relaxations of music, painting, and gardening,
with the higher gratifications of mental study. Where, we may ask, is the
lack of enjoyment to the real Christian? He needs not the vanity of the
ball-room; the irritations of the card table; the pollutions of the theater;
the snares of the race-track; the frivolity of the circus; nor the
debaucheries of the club.
If poor, he seeks not for the noisy mirth of the ale-house, which ends in
rags and misery; he is happy in the bosom of his family, with his Bible and
his God. Oh that my, thirst may daily increase for the holy enjoyment of
pure and undefiled religion!
How insipid are the boasted pleasures of the world, when compared with these
soul-reviving delights, which a God of mercy has provided for the enjoyment
of Christian pilgrims!
Blessed Jesus! fill my soul with your presence, and then I shall never lack
a stream of pure delight, while journeying through this barren wilderness to
the heavenly Canaan. Let no cares disturb my peace, no riches deaden my
affections, no pleasures enchain my heart. Like the wise husbandman, in
mercy eradicate every noxious thorn, and prepare me by your Spirit to
receive and cherish the good word of your grace, that I may bring forth
fruit a hundred-fold, to the glory of your holy name.
Touched by a sense of love divine,
Your goodness, Lord, I feel;
What joy to call the Savior mine!
Of endless joys the seal!
Though round my path a thousand snares
Are laid by Satan's art;
Though often assailed by earth-born cares,
Those traitors of the heart.
Yet still, dear Lord, beneath your smiles,
A heaven of joy appears;
While faith the weary way beguiles,
And hope the prospect cheers.
If, through affliction's darksome vale,
I downward bend my way,
Oh! may your comforts never fail
To shed their cheering ray.
Or, should I mount the dangerous steep,
Where earthly honors shine,
Upheld by you, nor height nor deep,
Shall part my love from thine.
Whatever I be, or rich or poor,
I'll trust your saving name;
To all the seed your word is sure,
To all who love the Lamb.
Oh! let me taste your goodness more,
Each moment as it flies;
Until, landed safe on Canaan's shore,
Where glory never dies,
I see my Savior face to face,
Without a veil between;
And sing loud praises to his grace,
Who saved my soul from sin!