And he began again to teach by the sea side: and there was gathered to him a great multitude, so that he entered into a ship…
Word in the parable stands for truth in general. It is the Greek logos, which contains everything relating to ideas and the reception of them.
I. THE RELATION OF TRUTH TO THE SOUL. It is mysterious, because in it the secret of life lies. We know certain things about the seed; we know certain things about the soil; we know that their contact is necessary that germination and growth may take place. Sight, experience, teach us this. But the relation itself is unseen and defies the grasp of thought. Well may the poet say of the "flower in the crannied wall" that he has plucked and holds in his hand, could he know its mystery, he should know "man and God and all things." Piety lacks root without reverence; and reverence is begotten of mystery, i.e. of the sense that God is present in every fact of life, in every act of thought.
II. THE RECEPTION OF TRUTH IN THE SOUL. The parable clearly teaches that the whole intelligence and will are closely concerned in this.
1. There must be attention. The frivolous listener lets the sound of instruction "go in at one ear and out at the other." Pictures of life and duty, which need to be seized and fixed in conduct so soon as they arise in the inner chambers of imagery, melt away like dissolving views.
2. There must be retention. Memory depends on attention: "Therefore we ought to give earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest at any time they should slip by us." Memory is a talent of which some have more, some less; but in every case it may be increased. Truth does not strike all minds in the same way; the important thing is to seize the truth which does strike us, and which we know to be truth by the way in which it strikes us. If conscious of the frailty of our memory, let a few things be constantly brought before our thoughts. Non multa, sod multum.
3. There must be simplicity of choice. Truth is jealous, and admits no rival. We must be true to her, for she alone gives freedom. Passions, cares, excitements of the imagination - these cannot be avoided in our active life in the world. For a time they may overcloud our ideal, cause us to lose sight of our goal. But the cloud will lift again, and directness of purpose will dispel these mists and cause the weight of the μέριμναι βιωτικαί (see 'Ecce Homo!' p. 221) to fall. Christ sympathizes with our life-difficulties, but implies that we may overcome them.
III. THE PROGRESS OF TRUTH IN THE SOUL.
1. It follows the analogy of plant-growth. We can hardly think of spiritual growth under any other image. Herein the need of some knowledge of natural science to the theologian. There lie some of his best instructions and illustrations. It is the Divine counterpart in nature of the ideal truth of spirit.
2. There is diversity in spiritual as in natural growth. Here the corn only is used as an analogy. But we may generalize. The differences in kind as well as degree of produce are not less numerous than in the immense plant-world. The world of souls is as varied as a garden - as a tropical forest. 'Tis a universe of variety. God spiritually unfolding himself in endless forms of beauty and of strength, delicacy and vigor. "He that hath ears to hear, let him hear." For the parable is in fact a sketch-picture of the ideal world - of God's kingdom of the invisible and eternal. We are in this world to be acted upon by him, that we may react upon him in all the devout activities of a fruitful life. - J.
Parallel VersesKJV: And he began again to teach by the sea side: and there was gathered unto him a great multitude, so that he entered into a ship, and sat in the sea; and the whole multitude was by the sea on the land.