By Obadiah Sedgwick (1605-1658)
For thus saith the LORD to the men of Judah and Jerusalem, Break up your fallow ground, and sow not among thorns.
I have done with the explication of the point. I now address myself to the application of it, first, to all of us, and, second, to you of public employment.
Is the breaking up of sinful hearts the means to prevent the breaking down of a sinful nation? Then let every one of us here search and try the temper and frame of our hearts, whether they are broken or unbroken. Beloved, I beseech you sadly to consider a few things:
1. Brokenness of heart is the work of this day. This is a day of humiliation, but what is a humbling day without a humbled heart? To present yourselves before the great God at such a time with all your sins, and yet without hearts broken for those sins, is not only an irreligious incongruity, but also a high provocation of our God. It is like Zimri’s act when all the congregation were “weeping before the door of the tabernacle” in Numbers 25:6.
Come we not this day with all sorts of guilt upon our souls, and with ropes about our necks, expecting (if the Lord should render unto us our deserts) the sentence of death, and confess as much, and yet dare we play the hypocrite, having hearts utterly unbroken under all this?
2. Brokenness of heart is the hope of this day. I profess seriously unto you that, were you as much in fasting as John’s disciples, and in praying as much as Christ’s disciples, could you by fasting make your knees to faint and your flesh to fail, and resolve your bodies into a very skeleton, yet if your hearts were not broken for your sins, neither your selves, nor your endeavors, nor our own nation, nor the distressed Church of Ireland, nor any other would be the better for it. As one of the fathers said of learning, “All learning is suspected, nay, disrespected by me, wherein is not the mention of Christ.” That I may affirm of all solemn fastings whatsoever: the Lord regards them not if the broken heart is not found in them.
What Joseph said to his brethen, “unless you bring your brother Benjamin with you, you shall not see my face”, or, as Isaac said to his father, “Behold the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” that the Lord says unto us: “Fast as often as you please, and pray too; but unless your hearts are broken for your sins, nothing that you do shall find favor with Me. All the rest is as wood and fire; the lamb, the sacrifice of a contrite heart, which is what I look at and for, is wanting.”
“Get thee behind me,” said Jehu to the several messengers, “what have you to do with peace?” Confessions and prayers are the messengers of our souls to God, but unless the sinful heart is broken, they will never be messengers of peace.
If any of you would angle in a river, would you throw in a naked line only? Would this be to any purpose? Sirs, I know well that if a fast is rightly performed, it has as many promises of blessings and mercies (see Isaiah 58) as any religious duty whatsoever. Nay, and I think that you never read in all the Bible, nor yet find in any experience, of its right performance without some sudden and remarkable testimony of God’s gracious acceptance and answer. But then breaking of hearts ever accompanied those prevailing and victorious fasts, as you may read in Judges, Samuel, the Kings, Ezra, and Nehemiah. And, for my part, I would not scruple the affection of any convenient mercy, nor the diversion of any impending evil, if once, with all our fastings, there was also a breaking up of our fallow grounds. If God could in this command our hearts, we might, then, in some sense, command our God.
3. Have we not, all of us, sufficient cause to break our sinful hearts? Should sins, should calamities abroad, should dangers at home break hearts? All these may then work upon us. Our sins have broken the heart of Christ, and are such as have broken off God from a people, and have broken many churches down. Can you be ignorant of the professed idolatry in this land? of the horrid blasphemies? of the overflowing drunkenness? or the Sabbath’s profanation? And if we look at calamities abroad, why, as Jacob said, Joseph is not, and Simeon is not, so we may say, Bohemia is broken up, and the Palatinate is broken up, and Ireland is breaking up, and yet the hearts of sinful England will not be broken up? Nay, look at the, dangers hovering like a cloud over this land, and dropping already in manifold and sundry divisions, in manifold plots, in manifold and several contradictions, and even ready to break forth (O Lord, let it not break forth) in a bitter internal war among ourselves, where every man’s sword shall be against his brother, and the child may kill the parent or the parent kill his child (bowels sheathed in bowels), no man is scarcely secure in his own family! Our sins are bringing this upon us, and yet our hearts will not break for those sins. The God of all wisdom and mercy break our hearts so that this judgment may not do that which all our foreign enemies could not do, break down our church and nation.
4. And if judgments should break in upon sinners before hearts are broken for sins, good Lord! What, where are they? Dudulius relates a sad story of Bochna, a woman who had but two sons. While she was walking with the one towards the river, she heard the other crying out. Hastening back, she found a knife sticking in him which killed him quickly. Then she returned to her other child thinking to solace herself in her only child, but he, in her absence, had fallen into the river and drowned- both lost at once. Ah, sirs! We have but two children: a soul and a body! What a heavy loss will it be to lose both these at once! To be cut off by an angry enemy and to be cast off by a mighty God! To lose a life and, at the same time, to lose an eternal life! To lose safety and salvation at once! ‘Tis true that if a sinner’s heart is broken by grace, there is no question of mercy; but when an impenitent sinner’s life is broken by judgment, his hopes are gone.
5. We shall assuredly be broken off if we are not broken up. Beloved, there are two vile malignities in an unbroken heart:
First, it is one of the greatest spiritual judgments. Said a reverend man once, “If I must be put to my option, I would rather be in hell with a sensible heart than live on earth with a reprobate mind.” So I say, a hardened and unbroken heart is, in some respects, a judgment worse than hell, forasmuch as one of the greatest sins is far greater in evil than any of the greatest punishments.
Second, it is the immediate and unavoidable forerunner of the greatest of temporal judgments. “He that hardens his heart shall be destroyed suddenly and that without remedy,” Proverbs 29:1. Observe that place: there is no less than destruction, which is not a particular and imperfect damage; but it is a complete ruin, and this destruction is certain. Note that it is “shall,” not “may perhaps” be destroyed. But when? Suddenly! Aye, but will not the sinner shift it off and withstand it? No, but he shall be destroyed without remedy. His destructions shall not be prevented. You may read all this in the old world, and in Pharoah, and in the Jews before the Babylonian captivity, and afterwards in the Roman devastation which lasted these 1600 years.
6. But now where are our broken hearts? I know not what to say. My heart breaks within me. Oh, that it could be broken because hearts are generally unbroken. Sinners are secure; consciences are seared; wickedness is bold; sins are a delight and a pastime. God is neither seen nor feared in His judgments, in His warnings, in His dealings. Reformation is abhorred. Most do not know what humiliation for sin is; and, if they do know, they find it distasteful. Serious thoughts of our sinful ways-who takes them up? Sufficient time for self-examination-who takes it for himself? Every man runs on in his course, loves as he did before and lives as he did before, and never knew a trouble in his soul, nor a tear in his eye either for his own sin or for the sins of others all his days. And what will the end of all this be?
O that God would pity us this day, and break our hearts for us, though it is so irksome and contrary to our flesh and blood. It is better, said one of the Fathers, to die one death than to live and fear all deaths. It is better to suffer the heart to be broken than to expose ourselves to all sorts of judicial and eternal breakings. “O Lord,” said dying Fulgen, “make me a penitent sinner, and then let me find an indulgent Father.”
Never look for great mercies, for long mercies, for any mercies with unbroken hearts. We are no good; we can do no good; we can expect no good till our sinful hearts are broken. Oh, Christians, be persuaded this day to get broken hearts! God can do it for you, and will do it for you, if you will but use the means and seek Him. Take spare time to study the law, to study conscience, to study the gospel, to study mercies, to study judgments, to study Christ, to study all, that after all our hearts may be broken for our sins, that God may not break away from us, but continue to be our God, and that judgments, which look so black upon us may be broken off, and plots contrived against us may break asunder, and all spiritual and earthly mercies may break down in mercy upon
And thus much is spoken with respect unto every one who hears me this day.
I have besides all this a particular errand from God to you who are public persons and have summoned me this day unto this public work. I think that the Lord speaks to you in some respect what He once spoke to the prophet Jeremiah in chapter 1:10: “See, I have this day set you over the nations, and over the kingdoms, to root out, and to pull down, and to destroy, and to throw down,”
And blessed be the Lord, and blessed be your souls, and blessed be your endeavors, that notwithstanding the infinite difficulty of the work and the malignant contrariety you meet with, yet your hearts are undaunted and resolved to finish the work, as honorable as Parliament ever undertook, and as profitable to Church and State as ever Christians enterprised. Your armies shall be made strong by the blessing of the everlasting God of Jacob, let popish and malevolent and ignorant persons say or do what they can.
Give me leave, first, to represent unto you some public plots of fallow ground which you, blessed be God, have begun to break. Nevertheless, they need yet a more full breaking up. And, second, to present in all humble fidelity unto you some few intimations and directions.
The public plots of fallow ground which need breaking up are especially four:
1. The first lies directly in the Valley of Hinnom, and, it is idolatry-a piece of ground which lies too much in every shire of this land. What county is there where much popery is not? Sirs! You must break this ground up or it will break our land up. There is not such a God-provoking sin, a God-removing sin, a Church-dissolving sin, a kingdom-breaking down sin as idolatry. The soul of God abhors it. Down with it! Down with it even to the ground!
2. The second lies near to Beth-Aven, and it is superstition, which is but a bawd to gross idolatry. A rise in practice, even now, notwithstanding all that you have said and done, as if a Parliament had never opened a mouth against it. If a due and careful inquiry were made, I do not doubt but you shall find in too many churches and public places as many altars, and as many crucifixes hanging over them, and as many tapers on altars, and as much bowing towards the east and the altar almost as much as when you began this Parliament.
3. The third lies just upon the coasts of Egypt, that land of darkness, and it is ignorance. This is a very large circuit of ground. There are many, many places of this land which lie fallow to this day; never any husbandman nor plow have entered in to break up those grounds. What a lamentable thing that, since Jesus Christ came into the world, and since the gospel came to this land, after several scores of years, how many parishes in Wales, and in the North, and in other counties there are which scarcely have enjoyed this much mercy as to hear one solid soul-working sermon concerning Christ and salvation by Him! O sirs! Let your hearts bleed in pity to these poor souls. Liberties, I confess, are precious, and so are our estates, and so are our bodies and lives. Oh, then, what are souls? What are precious souls which cost the most precious blood of the Lord Jesus Christ?
4. The fourth ill plot of ground lies on Mizpah, or, if you please, on Mount Tabor, “for there the priests were a net and a snare,” Hosea 5:1. And this is an idle and evil ministry. Sirs! Mistake me not. I speak not of our ministers indefinitely. I know that we have as godly, as learned, as painful, and as profitable ministers as any in all the Christian world, but I speak only of such whose special gifts consist in one or two things: either quietly to read out of a book, and to discreetly gather up their tithes, or malevolently to discountenance all godliness and rail against the Parliament.
Ah, worthy sirs! It would amaze any ingenious man to travel such a country as England, and, passing through many parishes, discover that this, after all, is his diurnal; the patron is popish; the minister is an idle dunce, or else a drunkard, or a swearer, or else a scoffer, preaching all holiness out of his pulpit, out of his church, out of his family, out of his parish. And his people are like him and love to have it so.
And thus what? Between the idle minister and the evil minister, the poor people never come to knowledge, or, without which knowledge never come to anything, they never come to the love and practice of any saving good. These are the principle fallow grounds in this land which need our cares and pains.
Now follow the intimations and directions which I humbly present unto you.
1. Break them up. If ever you will quit your own souls, and the trust reposed in you, and the whole land of judgments spiritual and corporeal, if you ever desire to gain ground in your public intentions for good, for the Lord’s sake break up these fallow grounds.
But then, in the next place, go very deep with your plow or else you will never break up these grounds-the deeper the better. As all good is most strengthened, so all evil is most crushed in its causes. Take heed of shallow work and surface plowing. God’s eyes are upon you, and so are the eyes of judicious men who can distinguish between scraping and breaking. Our misery will be but finely laid to sleep awhile if your plow does not go deep.
Does a little cringing move you? Oh, then, let gross idolatry beat and burn your souls! Does boldness in a questioned minister displease you? Oh, then, let his gross wickedness stir you utterly to disburden poor people’s souls of him. Oh, let sad complaints have quick and full redress!
And go over the fallow grounds which you have broken; go over them again. Yea, and again! Fallow grounds must often be broken up with the plow. Even the actions of the most judicious receive more ripeness by review. By often doing we grow into a better acquaintance with what is to be done. Our first doings are rather trials and enterprises; the second doings ever prove the work.
Besides that, our affections also are oftentimes too quick for our eyes. The desires of doing some good may outrun the due search of much evil. Add yet further that ingrained diseases are not easily stirred, much less destroyed by one potion. Evils long in gathering, and much baked into and settled in a state or church, are not so suddenly cured as vulgar people in their haste imagine. Shall I speak one more thing? There is as much art almost as sin, as much guilt as guiltiness. The laws are ingenuous, but offenders are fraudulent and subtle. Sirs! You deal with bold offenders, and with cunning offenders too, which, if you look not the better to it, will quite delude and frustrate all your religious and pious intentions.
Shall I tell you what I know, and what the country sighs and sheds tears at, that notwithstanding your religious pity to their souls, yet their souls are as much abused as ever. They have complained of some ill ministers. You hearken unto them, but in the meantime the minister exchanges his living with another, perhaps, afar off, unknown to the people, against whom there can be, for the present, no legal exception. And thus they perish still for lack of bread.
Therefore, worthy sirs, out with your plow again. You are by all these after-works much more directed how to manage and carry on your work.
Last, be as earnest and active as you possibly can to send laborers into the field, to plant all the land with a heart-breaking ministry. All will come to nothing unless this is done. Pluralities are voted down, but what good will that be when all comes to this? Before that order, one bad man had two good livings, and now two bad men have each of them one too good for them both. I will say no more unto you, but be serious and courageous in this work in settling a good ministry, with which join also an answerable magistrate. To do this is your duty; this is your honor; this will be our safety and happiness; this will be your great reward in heaven.
Go on thus in this breaking work and prosper. There is no man ever did anything for God and lost by it, or to His Church but who gained by it. If you will go on with a humble and unwearied zeal, it shall shortly be said of this Parliament, “These were Scotland’s umpire, Ireland’s guard and revenge, England’s preservation, the Church’s safety, and religion’s glory.”
And so I pass from the plow to the seed, from the plowing up of fallow grounds to the sowing of them being broken up, expressed with its caution in the text: “And so not among thorns.”
I know thy works: behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it: for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name.