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III. The manner in which the fruitfulness is produced; "As the earth bringeth forth her bud, and as the garden causeth the things that are sown in it to spring forth; so the Lord God shall cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations."

The stress of the comparison is evidently here. What we observed upon the seed, was gathered surely indeed, but still only by implication. What we stated concerning the extent of the ground to be brought under cultivation, was deduced also from the closing words of the text, but chiefly rested on a series of arguments collected from other parts of Scripture. But the manner in which the fruitfulness shall be produced, is the main object of the text, and is largely and minutely described. The diffusion of the gospel shall resemble the process of vegetation in the natural world. What the Almighty does by his providence continually in the one, shall be in due time accomplished by his grace in the other. The manner shall be alike. The same kind of mysterious process which goes on when the seed is sown, in order to the production of natural fruitfulness, shall cause the seed of the heavenly doctrine to take root and bear fruit to life eternal.

1. For, the spiritual and natural process of vegetation are both preceded by the same impossibility of being produced on the part of man; and by the same improbability indeed, abstractedly considered, of the event. The very description of the recurring resurrection of nature fills the mind at once with the conviction of man's inability-"The winter is past, the rain is over and gone; the flowers appear on the earth, the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land; the figtree putteth forth her green figs, and the wine with her tender grapes giveth a good smell." What power of men can produce this delightful change? What

could, abstractedly speaking, be so improbable as such a birth of the world? And yet, knowing the power and goodness of God, men argue against appearances, and fully expect, during the storms and frosts of winter, the bursting revival of spring. And if any philosophers so named, should venture to speculate on the impossibility of the verdure and fruitfulness of nature returning, or should presume to declare that such an event would not take place, or should discourage the preparatory winter labors of the husbandman, he would be justly charged with folly and inhumanity. And are the folly and inhumanity of that man less, who, allowing the truth of Scripture, and not disputing the arguments we have advanced concerning the extent of ground to be hereafter spiritually cultivated, yet denies the possibility of the conversion of the heathen, and discountenances the prudent and patient winter labors of the missionary, which are to prepare for the coming spring?

2. The uniformity of the divine operations in nature, and the experience men have of them each succeeding year, inspires hope as to the natural world, and should equally do it as to the spiritual. No principle seems more deeply fixed in the human mind than reliance on the uniformity of the divine proceedings in the sequences of natural causes and effects. What we call the laws of nature, are only the result of this uniformity in particular instances. The whole of human life proceeds on this regularity in the succession of "seed-time and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night." The experience of each past revolving period confirms man's expectation for the future.

And what has not God done already in respect of the spiritual vegetation? What is he not doing now constantly in his Church? Is not every individual heart that is softened by the heavenly grace, a specimen of his power? Does not the regularity of his

operations in the moral world correspond with that in the spiritual, so far as the cases are parallel; that is, so far as the will of God in the gospel corresponds with his pleasure in daily providence. And, supposing we have argued justly as to the import of the prophetical word, what is there to forbid our anticipations being as warm with regard to the fruitfulness of the spiritual world in its appointed season, as to that in the natural ?

3. But the mysterious and gradual nature of the spiritual, as well as natural process, is another branch of the illustration. We know not how it is that "the earth pusheth forth her tender shoot," when the spring returns. It defies all the powers of man to trace the mode in which "the garden," the enclosed and cherished spot (for such will be the world when cultivated and impregnated with the heavenly seed) "causeth the things sown in it to spring forth." Equally mysterious is the spiritual diffusion of the gospel. "As if a man should cast seed into the ground, and should sleep, and rise night and day; and the seed should spring up he knoweth not how." Hidden is the process of truth in each human heart, as well as in a collected population-secret, gradual, unperceived in its particular advances. The rapidity of the growth in some cases, the slow process in others, where the seed seems to lie buried and inactive for years, confounds all the curiosity of man. Both in individual cases and in the propagation of the gospel, "the wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh nor whither it goeth; so is every one that is born of the spirit." The mysteriousness in the one process is therefore no argument against the certainty of the event itself, any more than in the other. 4. And yet mysterious as all this is confessed to

1 Bishop Lowth so renders the first clause of the text.

be, there is in both a constant connection between the means used, and the desired result. In the natural vegetation, we know that the seed must be sown, and sown by the toil of the laborer; and that he must "have long patience with it, till he receive the former and the latter rain.” He must also previously prepare his land and "break up his fallow ground," so as not to sow amongst thorns, before he "casts in the principal wheat and the appointed barley and rye in their places, even as his God doth instruct him in discretion, and doth teach him.” "It

It is thus also in the spiritual vegetation. is the revealed will of God which the divine Spirit, who revealed that will, honors and blesses to the enlightening and salvation of the souls of men. And the usual course of his dealing therein with men, is to proportion the blessing to the means used. His influences are most abundant, where the truth is opened and enforced with the greatest plainness, wisdom, faithfulness, affection, simplicity, and reliance on his promised power; and these influences are, on the contrary, restrained in proportion as the means of making it known fail of this plenitude."

5. But a main point of illustration in each is, that the fruitfulness is distinctly known to be, after all, the effect of divine power, and of divine power only. If the husbandman were to ascribe to his seed, or labor, or skill the produce he gathers, the impiety would shock every Christian mind. He perfectly knows that the means he uses are but means, as his lost harvests from time to time demonstrate. The fruitful ground, the earth covered with corn, the rice fields singing, as it were, with joy, the garden springing forth with life, are God's work, and his only. So in the spiritual process, the seed must be the good seed of the evangelical doctrine; the best

1 Rev. J. Pratt.

care must be employed in casting it into a prepared spot; the utmost vigilance afterwards must be exercised lest the birds carry it away, or the sun burn it up, or the thorns choke it; but the whole good effect must at last be ascribed to a divine power. It must be acknowledged to be the creative work of God.

And it is observable, that this thought is provided for in the turn of the passage before us. For it is not said, “as the earth puts forth her bud, and as the garden causeth the things that are sown in it to spring forth, so 'the Church' will bring forth righteousness and praise before all the nations," which would most directly correspond to the terms "the earth and garden," in the former clauses; but, "so the LORD GOD will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth;" that is, the Church shall bring forth righte ousness and praise, the Lord God causing it to do so.

Probably one reason of the delay of the divine promises now, is to demonstrate in the face of the whole Church the weakness of man, the weakness of instruments, the weakness of societies, the weakness of human expectations and conjectures. Probably the apparatus of means is allowed to remain comparatively fruitless for a time, in order that God only may be glorified, and not man, on the ultimate success.

6. That blessing is, however, in each vegetation, sure and undoubted, according to the mind and will of God which he hath been pleased to make known as to both. It is before our eyes fully and adequately as to the one, it is also before our eyes, as a specimen and in an incipient measure, as to the other. Nothing is more sure and certain than the natural produce in vegetation. Every year witnesses the renewed fruitfulness of the earth. The promise of God fails not. The covenant of providence stands. The bow in the cloud is the pledge of the divine mercy. And it is the main design of the text to inspire us with faith as to a similar certainty as to the

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