The Leading Ideas of the Parable Explained
Mark 4:3
Listen; Behold, there went out a sower to sow:

These are — the sower, the seed, the ground, and the effect of casting the seed into it.

I. By THE SOWER is meant our Saviour Himself, and all those whose office it is to instruct men in the truth and duties of religion. The business of the husbandman is, of all others, most important and necessary, requires much skill and attention, is painful and laborious, and yet not without pleasure and profit. A man of this profession ought to be well versed in agriculture, to understand the difference of soils, the various methods of cultivating the ground, the seed proper to be sown, the seasons for every kind of work, and in short how to avail himself of all circumstances that arise for the improvement of his farm. He should be patient of fatigue, inured to disappointment, and unwearied in his exertions. Every day will have its proper business. Now he will manure his ground, then plough it; now cast the seed into it, then harrow it; incessantly watch and weed it; and after many anxious cares, and, if a man of piety, many prayers to heaven, he will earnestly expect the approaching harvest. The time come, with a joyful eye he will behold the ears fully ripe bending to the hands of the reapers, put in the sickle, collect the sheaves, and bring home the precious grain to his garner. Hence we may frame an idea of the character and duty of a Christian minister. He ought to be well-skilled in Divine knowledge, to have a competent acquaintance with the world and the human heart, etc. Of these sowers some have been more skilful, and successful, and laborious than others. Among them the Apostle Paul holds a distinguished rank. But the most skilful and painful of all sowers was our Lord Jesus Christ.

II. THE SEED sown, which our Saviour explains of "the Word of the Kingdom," or as St. Luke has it, "the Word of God." The husbandman will be careful to sow his ground with good seed. He goeth forth bearing precious seed. By "the Word of the Kingdom" is meant the gospel. Let us apply it —

1. To personal religion. In the heart of every real Christian a kingdom is established. Now the seed sown in the hearts of men is the Word of this kingdom, or that Divine instruction which relates to the foundation, erection, principles, maxims, laws, immunities, government, present happiness, and future glory of this kingdom: all which we have contained in our Bibles. It is the doctrine of Christ. Again, let us apply the idea of a kingdom.

2. To the Christian dispensation, or the whole visible church. In this sense it is used by John the Baptist, "Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven," that is, the gospel dispensation, "is at hand." All who profess the doctrine, and submit to the institutions of Christ, compose one body of which He is the head, one kingdom of which He is the sovereign — "a kingdom which," He himself tells us, "is not of this world." Now the gospel is the seed of this kingdom, as it gives us the laws by which it is to be regulated, of worship, ordinances, discipline, protection, increase and final glory. Once more, the term kingdom is to be understood also.

3. Of heaven, and all the happiness and glory to be enjoyed there. The gospel is the Word of this kingdom, as it has assured us upon the most certain grounds of its reality, and given us the amplest description of its glories our present imperfect faculties are capable of receiving.

III. To consider THE GROUND into which the seed is east, by which our Saviour intends the soul of man, that is, the understanding, judgment, memory, will, and affections. The ground, I mean the earth on which we tread, is now in a different state from what it was in the beginning, the curse of God having been denounced upon it. In like manner, the soul of man, in consequence of the apostacy of our first parents, is enervated, polluted, and depraved. It shall suffice at present to observe, that as there is a variety in the soil of different countries, and as the ground in some places is less favourable for cultivation than in others, so it is in regard of the soul. There is a difference in the strength, vigour, and extent of men's natural faculties; nor can it be denied that the moral powers of the soul are corrupted in some, through sinful indulgences, to a greater degree than in others. As to mental abilities, who is not struck with the prodigious disparity observable among mankind in this respect? Here we see one of a clear understanding, a lively imagination, a sound judgment, a retentive memory, and there another, remarkably deficient in each of these excellences, if not wholly destitute of them all. These are gifts distributed among mankind in various portions. But none possess them in that perfection they were enjoyed by our first ancestors in their primeval state. The ground must be first made good, and then it will be fruitful.

IV. Consider the general PROCESS of this business, as it is either expressly described or plainly intimated in the parable. The ground, first manured and made good, is laid open by the plough, the seed is cast into it, the earth is thrown over it, in the bosom of the earth it remains awhile, at length, mingling with it, it gradually expands, shoots up through the clods, rises into the stalk and then the ear, so ripens, and at the appointed time brings forth fruit. Such is the wonderful process of vegetation. Nor can we advert thus generally to these particulars, without taking into view at once the exertions of the husbandman, the mutual operation of the seed and the earth on each other, and the seasonable influence of the sun and the rain, under the direction and benediction of Divine providence. So, in regard of the great business of religion, the hearts of men are first disposed to listen to the instructions of God's Word; these instructions are then, like the seed, received into the understanding, will, and affections; and after a while, having had their due operation there, bring forth, in various degrees, the acceptable fruits of love and obedience. And how natural, in this case, as in the former, while we are considering the rise and progress of religion in the soul, to advert, agreeable to the figure in the parable, to the happy concurrence of a Divine influence, with the great truths of the gospel, dispensed by ministers, and with the reasonings of the mind and heart about them. To shut out all idea here of such influence would be as absurd as to exclude the influence of the atmosphere and sun from any concern in culture and vegetation. Let the husbandman lay what manure he will on barren ground, it can produce no change in the temperature of it, unless it thoroughly penetrates it, and kindly mingles with it; and this it cannot do without the assistance of the falling dew and rain, and the genial heat of the sun. In like manner, all attempts, however proper in themselves, to change the hearts of men, and to dispose them to a cordial reception of Divine truths, will be vain without the concurrence of Almighty grace, Reflections:

1. How honourable, important, and laborious is the employment of ministers.

2. What a great blessing is the Word of God.

3. What cause have we for deep humiliation before God, when we reflect on the miserable depravity of human nature.

4. How great are our obligations to Divine grace for the renewing influences of the Holy Spirit. Let not the regard which the sower pays to Divine providence, reproach out inattention and insensibility to the more noble and salutary influences of Divine grace.

(S. Stennett, D. D.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: Hearken; Behold, there went out a sower to sow:

WEB: "Listen! Behold, the farmer went out to sow,

The Four Kinds of Soil
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