While a large crowd was gathering and people were coming to Jesus from town after town, He told them this parable:
statements are plain. The deep, unfathomable fact underlying the quotation from Isaiah (vers. 14, 15) is not altogether free from offering some analogy to the subject of the sin against the Holy Ghost (see our homily, supra), "not to be forgiven, in this world nor in the world to come." In the very pleasantest paths of the gospel the inscrutable meets us, and stands right across our way; yet not at all to destroy us, but to order knowledge, faith, and reverence. It is plain, from the express assertion of Christ, that it is to be regarded by us as some of the highest of our privilege, to have authoritative revelation of matters that may be called knowledge in "things present or things to come," which may be nevertheless utterly inscrutable. The absolutely mysterious in the individual facts of our individual life, and for which, nevertheless, the current of that life does not stand still, may stand in some sort of analogy to these greater phenomena and greater pronouncements of Divine knowledge and foreknowledge. The promise is not to be found - it were an impossible promise to find - that the marvels of Heaven's government of earth should be all intelligible to us, or should be all of them oven uttered in revelation. But some are uttered; they are written, and there, deep graven, they lie from age to age, weather beaten enough, yet showing no wear, no attrition, no obliteration of their hieroglyphic inscription - hieroglyphic not for their alphabet, but confessedly for their construction, and the vindicating of it. Note also, in introduction, that the seven parables related in this chapter, a rich cluster, certainly appear from internal evidence (alike the language of the evangelist, ver. 3; that of the disciples in their question, ver. 10; and that of Christ himself, vers. 9, 13) to have been the first formally spoken by Christ. Of the beginning of parables, therefore, as of the beginning of miracles, we are for some reason specifically advised. Notice -
I. THE PERFECT NATURALNESS, FAMILIAR HOMELINESS, EXQUISITE APTNESS, OF THE MATERIAL OUT OF WHICH THE STRUCTURE OF THIS PARABLE IS MADE. Seed and soil; Sower and sowing; and, to throw moving life into the picture, the touch thrown in of the sower "going forth" to sow.
II. THE SPECIFIC SUBJECT OF THIS PARABLE - AN ILLUSTRATION OF THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN, i.e. THE WILL OF GOD "DONE IN EARTH AS IT IS IN HEAVEN." Such an illustration might be given very variously. The view might be taken from many a point of vantage, and as the kingdom should be found growing or grown at many a date. This Christ might have given from all his stores of knowledge, and his true gift, true possession, of foresight. He might have shown it in the early days of martyrs; be might have shown it when Constantine proclaimed it the kingdom of Europe, and something beside; he might have shown it as Christendom projects it now; or he might have shown it even as glimpses - so strange are they that we are frightened to fix our gaze on them - are flashed before our doubting vision in the wonderful Book of the Revelation. But that which Jesus did really choose to give was one of a more present, practical character. It was, as one might suppose from very first glance, an illustration of sowing time. The sowing time of God's truth, God's will, God's love and grace, in the midst of a hard, and unprepared, and shallow, and ill-preoccupied world - with nevertheless some better, some more promising material, in it.
III. THE ILLUSTRATION ITSELF IN DETAIL. It consists of the statement of the ways in which men would act on the "hearing" of the "Word of God." Four leading ways are described.
1. That of the man who is said (in Christ's own interpretation of his parable) "not to understand" the Word spoken; i.e. he has no sympathy with it, he possesses no instinct for it, finds awakened within him no response whatever. This is the man whose receptive state amounts to nothing. As the trodden path (all the more trodden and more hard as it is comparatively narrow) across the ploughed field is approached again and again by the bountifully flinging hand of the sower, as he paces the acres, even it receives of the good seed, but its callous surface finds no entrance for it, offers it no fertilizing or even fertilized resting place, and yet others, who at least better know its value, for whatsoever reason, see it, seize it, and bear it off.
2. That of the man who "anon with joy receives" the Word. But it is a vapid and shallow joy. It does not last, it does not grow; its very root withers. The coating of hardness is not, as in the callous pathway, visible to the eye at first, for it is just concealed and covered over by a slightest layer of earth, just below which the hardness is not simply like that of "rock," but it is rock itself. There is nothing that has such a root wherewith to root itself as the Word of God, and this needs deep earth. Not the birds of the air, not Satan and his evil emissaries, take this seed away, before ever it could show a symptom of its own vital force, at any rate; this has shown its vitality, and has detected, discovered, and laid ruinously bare to sight the unsustaining, because itself unsustained, power to feed life, of that other element, that other essential in the solemn matter.
3. That of the man "who hears the Word, but the cares of this world, and the [seductive] deceitfulness of riches, and the [crowding] desires of other things," i.e. other things than the Word, "choke that Word, and it becometh unfruitful," or, if not unfruitful altogether, "it bringeth no fruit to perfection." It is the seed, still the good seed, lost, wasted, mocked of its glorious fruit, because that same liberal, scattering, Sower's hand has not grudged it, to earth, that is all the while attesting its own richness, quality, force, by what is growing out of it, but is untilled, undressed, unweeded - thorns, briers, brambles, and all most precocious growths suffered to tyrannize and usurp its best energies! How often have men moralized, and justly, that the cleverness of the sinner, and his wisdom in his generation, and his dexterity and resources when pushed to the last extremities, would have made the saint, and the eminent saint, had his gifts, instead of being so prostituted, so miserably misdirected, been turned in the right direction, fixed on the right objects! But short far of flagrant vice, true it is that the absorbing things and the seductive things and the crowding competition of desires of things of this world, have, millions of times untold, choked the Word. No room, no time, no care, no energy, has been left for the things of eternal value, immortal wealth, present holiness.
4. That of the man who "heareth, and understandeth, who also beareth fruit;" or again, "who in an honest and good heart, having heard the Word, keeps it, and brings forth fruit with patience." It is the seed, that pricelessly good seed, which now at last has found its appropriate earth. It falls not on the hard pathway; it falls not on the treacherous, deceptive, depthlessness, all radiant with light and sun though it be; it falls not on the soil bearing at the same time incontestable evidence of two things - its own power to grow, and its own doomed state to grow the things "whose end is to be burned." It fails "into the good ground." We are in the presence of the mystery, not of "who made us to differ," but of how and why he who made us to differ, did so. The practical part of the question is plain forevery one who has an eye to see. Every man must give account of himself at the last; and every one must now prepare for that account. What sign of "goodness," what slightest germ of "goodness," what instinct, as it may seem, and power of "goodness," any man's heart, passing thought, life may just suggest - if it be but like a suggestion - must be reckoned with now, improved now, solemnly consecrated now, and the mystery will still for the present be left mystery. But the facts and the results and the blessedness will speak for themselves. And the kingdom of heaven be receiving its fairer and fairest illustration, instead of its darker and darkest illustrations. That kingdom will be the more a "coming" kingdom. - B.
A Sower went out to sow his seed.I. BY THE WAYSIDE.
1. The design intended in God's ordinance of preaching — what is it? We answer, your salvation.
2. The means of becoming interested in this salvation are also here declared. "Lest they should believe," says the parable, "and be saved."
3. A hindrance, with many, occurs at the very outset. No sooner is the Word of life spoken to them than — "then cometh the devil, and taketh away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved."
4. The success or failure of this hindrance will be owing, not to Satan — though his power is fearfully great — but to yourselves.
II. UPON A ROCK. A class of hearers in whom there is some appearance of believing the gospel. Further, their assent is not a cold and involuntary, but a warm and lively, approbation — "They receive the Word with joy."
III. AMONG THORNS. A class of persons whose consciences appear to be touched, and, in a certain sense, permanently touched, by the solemn verities of the gospel. And a change has been wrought upon them, by what they have felt.
IV. ON GOOD GROUND. The superiority of this class consists in —
1. A difference of the soil. Here is "an honest and good heart."
2. difference in the reception given to the seed sown; that is, to the Word of salvation. The honest and good heart, "having heard the Word, keeps it."
3. There is a difference in the growth also, where the seed falls upon an honest and good heart. It germinates, not hastily, as where neither root nor moisture are found; not irregularly, and amidst perpetual resistance, as where thorny cares, deceitful riches, and ensnaring pleasures choke it; but "with patience" — progressively, uniformly.
4. A difference in the fruit produced.
(J. Jowett, M. A.)1. Are you a careless hearer?
2. Are you an unsteadfast bearer?
3. Are you a worldly-minded hearer?
4. Are you a faithful hearer?(1) Faithful hearers present to the sower an honest and good heart.(2) They hear and understand: they go along with the love of the Lord as He instructs them, even if they cannot comprehend all mysteries, or gain all knowledge.(3) They keep the Word: they think of it, meditate upon it.(4) Whoever has been the human sower, they regard the seed as what it is in truth, the Word of God which effectually worketh in him that believeth — they are very jealous for the Lord God of Hosts — watchful that no one speak lightly or jestingly of it — most watchful, in being very reverent towards it themselves.(5) And they are patient also, in the possession of the Word — patient in trials, because they have such a pledge of God's goodwill towards them — patient with others, as taught here in God's exceeding great patience towards them — patient in darkness, knowing and feeling that that Word is still, and will always be, a lantern unto their feet and a light unto their paths.(6) And finally, in this patience they bring forth fruit — each man according to his several ability — "some thirty-fold," etc. They are assured that God asks them, not merely for attention, but for fruit: not only for a deep root, but for much fruit: not for an unworldly heart, alone, but for that glorious fruit of the Spirit which proves that the inner life of their souls has been begun, continued, and ended in God.
(Canon G. E. Jelft)
I. THOSE REPRESENTED BY THE SEED THAT FELL BY THE WAYSIDE ARE INFIDELS. Having the means and opportunities of knowing and practising Christianity, yet rejecting it wilfully and obstinately.
II. THOSE REPRESENTED BY SEED SCATTERED ON ROCKY SOIL ARE THE INDOLENT AND TIMID.
III. THOSE REPRESENTED BY SEED SPILLED AMONG THORNS ARE THOSE WHO ARE INFLUENCED BY THE STRONG AND ACTIVE PASSIONS.
IV. THOSE REPRESENTED BY SEED SOWN ON GOOD SOIL ARE GOOD CHRISTIANS WHOSE IMPRESSIONS OF RELIGION BECOME DEEPER AND BRIGHTER IN DIFFERENT DEGREES. This class includes all sincere persevering Christians.
1. There must be a good and honest heart.
2. A disposition to hear the Word, to receive it without prejudice, and with a sincere resolution to profit by it.
3. Constancy. Retaining the knowledge acquired, and constantly making additions to it.
4. Bringing forth fruit with patience. Our motives may be good, so also may be our intentions and aims; but to give these their full value they must be carried into action. Actions, followed by habits, complete the character.
5. Fruit in different proportions. Yet the lowest degree — thirtyfold — is not small.
(J. Thomson, D. D.)
1. The first point of comparison is found in the life which they both possess. A seed is a living thing. And in this respect is it not a striking emblem of the Word of God? That Word is a living Word. "The words that I speak unto you," says Jesus, "they are spirit and they are life." It is not truth merely in a spoken or a written form. It is more than knowledge. It is a living power; it does not work mechanically, but vitally. The words of Christ were the concentration and embodiment of His own life, just as truly as the seed is the concentration and embodiment of the life of the plant. It is the highest of all life. And just as in nature it has been proved that dead matter cannot originate life under any circumstances whatever, except by the introduction into it of a living seed, so without the instrumentality of the Word of God there can be no spiritual life. The Spirit takes of the recorded things of Christ, and shows them to us. Without the Word there would be nothing to know, or obey, or love; without the Spirit there would be no saving knowledge, no obedience, no love. The Spirit operating upon the heart apart from the Word would be only to give a vague inclination without an object as its end and purpose. And therefore all religion that does not spring from the seed of God's Word is a dim abstraction of an unreal sentimentality. It is aimless and powerless, the continual ploughing and harrowing of a field without putting any seed into it.
2. Another point of resemblance between the seed and the Word is the twofold nature of both. A seed consists of two parts: the embryo, or germ, which is the essential principle of life, and the materials of nourishment by which, when the seed germinates, the young life may grow. The seed is not all a living principle; its inner essential life reposes in a shrine so small that it can barely be seen. You take away fold after fold of the minute seed, part after part of its structure, and, after all, you have removed only food and clothing. The vital germ has eluded you; and even when you have come to the last microscopic cell, you know not how much of this cell itself is living principle, and how much mere provision for its wants. There is the same dual combination in every spoken and written word of thought and form, of sound and sense. As it was necessary that the Divine should appear in human nature in Christ, so it is necessary that we should have the Divine thought, the Divine life, in the literary form in which it is embodied in Scripture. We could not apprehend it otherwise. The living principle in the seed would not grow without its wrapping of nourishment and clothing; and the mind of God could not affect us unless it were revealed to us in our own human language, in the flowing images of time and sense with which we are familiar. When it is said that we are born again of incorruptible seed, of the Word of God that liveth and endureth for ever, it is not meant to be implied that the Word of God is itself the begetting principle. It is only the mode in which the principle works, the vehicle by which the mysterious power embodied in it operates. It is not the human language or thought, but the Divine life within it, that creates us -new. And when it is further said that this living Word endureth for ever, we are taught thereby that while it is only the vehicle of God's begetting principle, it is no mere transient chaff, or husk, or nourishing material, like the perisperm of the natural seed, which has only a temporary purpose to serve, and then decays and passes away when it has served that purpose. It is " no mere sacramental symbol lost in the using," but it lives by and with the Divine principle which it reveals and employs, and endures for ever. And just as we see in the natural seed, owing to its twofold nature, an unbroken continuity of life, pausing here and unfolding itself there, casting off the chaff and the husks that have served their purpose that it may expand freely, the perisperm dying that the embryo may grow; so we see in the Word of God the same principle of identity running through the successive stages of its development — the same vital truth of redemption passing through various dispensations that have become old and are ready to perish, growing to more and more, casting off effete forms, and unfolding itself more clearly and fully in new forms better suited to the new needs. We see the germ that was planted in the first promise of the seed of the woman growing successively into the patriarchal and legal dispensations, and, when the leafage and fruitage of these dispensations waxed old and perished, taking a grander form in the gospel dispensation, and blossoming and fruiting with a new and Divine life in a new and regenerated world.
3. A third point of resemblance between the Word of God and a seed may be found in the small compass within which the living principle is enshrined in both. Nothing, as I have said, holds so much in so little bulk as a seed. It is the little ark that swims above a drowned world, with all the life of the world hidden within it. It is a miniature orb, embracing the whole mystery of animated nature. An atom, often not so large as a grain of sand, contains within it all the concentrated vitality of the largest forest trees. It is a most remarkable example of nature's packing; for a seed consists- of a single or a double leaf, folded in such a way as to take up the smallest possible room. And in this respect the Word of God may be compared to a seed. It is truth in its seed-form. We have in the Scriptures the most concentrated form of heavenly teaching. Nothing is omitted; nothing is superfluous. It contains all that is necessary for the salvation of man. Nothing can be added to it or taken away from it. It is rounded and finished off — full-orbed and complete, as every seed must be. All is contained within the smallest compass, so as to be easiest of comprehension, easiest of being carried in the memory, and easiest of being reduced to practice. And the Word of God is so compacted in the seed-form, because it needs to be unfolded in the teaching and life of man. The soil was made for the revelation of the seed; and the seed was made to be revealed by the soil. As the seed cannot disclose what is in it unless it fall into appropriate soil, and be stimulated to growth by suitable conditions, so the Word of God cannot disclose all that it contains unless it grow in an understanding mind and in a loving heart; unless by meditation and prayer it can expand from the seed-form to the blade, and the ear, and the full corn in the ear. As wonderful as the unfolding of a beautiful flower from an almost invisible seed is the unfolding of the depth and fulness of meaning that is in the smallest precept of Scripture. For every new generation, the Word of God has new revelations and adaptations. The seed in the new soil and circumstances reveals new aspects of truth. The Word of God, like the great word of nature which is the illustration of it, holds in reserve for every succeeding age some new perception, some new disclosure of the Divine order and economy, revealing to no man, however studious and zealous, more than a part, and ever opening new vistas to reverent love and intelligence.
4. A fourth point of resemblance between the Word of God and a seed is the variety and beauty that may be recognized in both. Have you ever examined a seed under a magnifying glass? It is often seen to be very curiously formed, even by the naked eye; but the microscope reveals new beauties and marvels of construction in it. The other day, in my garden, I took up the withered head of a poppy, and poured out into the palm of my hand the contents of its curious seed-vessel. There was a little heap of very small round seeds that would take a long time to count. I looked at the handful with the aid of my pocket lens, and I saw, to my delight, that each was beautifully chased and embossed on the outside.. For the shapes of beauty often displayed by seeds language has no terms. A whole volume might be filled with an account of them. Some have curious wing-like appendages, on which they float away in the air in search of a suitable growing-place; some are covered with silky down, and some with lace-like tunics, while many kinds have hard enamelled or embroidered surfaces; and their colouring is as varied and beautiful as their forms. In this, the minutest of God's works, this smallest and inmost shrine of life, His attention is acuminated, and His skill, as it were, concentrated; so that, above all others, these little things assure us that we are not living in a world left to itself, but in one that reveals at every step the "besetting God." And in this respect of beauty and variety, does not the Word of God compare with the seed? How wonderfully is the Bible constructed! It is fashioned in human imagery. Every kind of literary style is found in it. The same truth is conveyed in many forms, and always in the most appropriate dress. Proverb and allegory and parable, history, psalm and prophecy, song and incident, everything that can charm the imagination and quicken the intellect and satisfy the heart, is employed to make its doctrines and precepts interesting and impressive.
5. A fifth point of resemblance between the Word of God and a seed may be seen in the wonderful effects which they both produce. There is something almost creative in a seed. You take a seed to a desert, sow it there, and you change the barren sand, by its growth, into a fruitful field. That seed alters the whole character of a place, makes the climate more genial and the soil more fertile, and the very heavens more accommodating. The flow of streams, the nature of the winds, the sunshine, the dew, and the rainfall, the verdure of forest and field, all depend upon the effects which a little seed produces. Man himself has his well-being affected by the growth of a seed. The sowing of seed must ever be the first process towards a higher state of things. Man's natural life hangs upon the sowing of corn. His whole civilization springs from it. His capacity of improvement and capability of receiving spiritual instruction, and consequently all the revelations and experiences of the kingdom of heaven, are connected with the sowing of the seed of the meat that perisheth. And in all these respects, do not the effects produced by the Word of God resemble those of the natural seed? The Word of God is quick and powerful. It awakens an instinctive reverence which no other word inspires. When it enters the soul, it stirs up feelings that are peculiar to itself. It does not lie dormant in the intellect, but quickens the conscience. It does not affect our opinions or speculations merely, it affects our heart and life. We regulate our conduct and thought by scientific or literary truth, but such truth does not lord it supreme over our being: it is subordinate to us — it is our servant, and we use it for our own purposes. But the Word of God dominates our whole nature, and we must submit to it for its own sake. We cannot use or subordinate it to ourselves; we feel that it must use us, and that we must obey it. It has the power of transmutation in it. It has a spiritual quickening energy. It is the source of saving life to souls dead in trespasses and sins. It has taken its place in the heart of human culture. Nothing else has wrought such a mighty revolution in human ideas. It is a Divine seed which came from heaven, and has brought the kingdom of heaven down to men — made the desert to rejoice and blossom as the rose. The harvest which has sprung from it is everywhere visible in the Church and the world. It is increasing in beauty and fruitfulness every day. We are sent into the world to sow, and not to destroy — to sow the seed of heaven, and thus raise in it a heavenly produce foreign to it, impart to it a principle of spiritual life which, by its growth, will choke out old evils, and make all things new. And let us remember that we must give our own life in the sowing, as the plant gives its life in the seed.
(H. Macmillan, D. D.)
I. CHRIST CAME TO REVEAL GOD. I understand revelation to be contrasted with —
1. Speculation. The human mind is limited in its range of knowledge, and yet has an unlimited sphere opened to it.
2. Argument or reasoning. Here we need to discriminate. The Word of God is to be believed, because He affirms it; and He will hold His children responsible to recognize His voice. It only remains now to state, in regard to the nature of the gospel as a revelation, that it is a —
3. Direct unveiling of truth — it is called a mystery hidden from ages.
II. THE SON OF GOD CAME TO REVEAL GOD IN CHRIST. It is a revelation of God; but of God in Christ. It contains, then, as the instrument of redemption, or as the word of the kingdom —
1. The ground, extent, and consequences of man's controversy with God. The Scriptures contain, also —
2. The ground and terms of reconciliation.
3. The motives to reconciliation.
(E. N. Kirk, D. D.)1. On the hard field the seed can take no root. There are hearts like that hard field here to-day. They have been trampled hard by sin. The seed cannot grow there. I have heard of a man who had attended the Church for years, and who, when he was dying, told the clergyman that he had never heard one of his sermons. As soon as the sermon began, this man was accustomed to begin thinking of the result of his last week's trade, and planning for the week to come. So the good seed fell unheeded on the hard, trampled field, and the birds of the air carried it away.
2. The seed which fell on the shallow field took root, and grew up very fast. But there was no depth of soil, the seed was not well rooted, and so it quickly withered away, and brought no fruit. How many of these shallow fields we have amongst us I The people represented by them are ready enough to come to church, and to take an interest in religious matters. But their religion is like an ague, a hot fit succeeded by a cold one. There is a special danger for such people in the wild, excitable forms of so-called religion, so common in these days. They forsake the old paths and the sober truths of the gospel for some scene of hysterical excitement, where men would force the seed to grow rapidly in a hot atmosphere of passion; and they mistake feelings for religion, and noisy display for real conviction.
3. Some seed fell on the thorny field, where the weeds grew thickly and choked it. Ah! my brothers and sisters, how many Epistles and Gospels, how many lessons and sermons have been lost to you because your life is choked with weeds!
4. And last of all, there is the good field, where the seed grows and bears abundant fruit. We cannot all bring forth the same fruit, or an equal amount. As one star differeth from another star in glory, so it is with God's people. There is the saint of high and holy life, whose word and teaching sway the multitude. And there is the simple old cottager, who spells out her Bible with dim eyes and painful labour, and finds her treasure there. But both alike are God's good fields, where the seed brings forth fruits.
(H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, M. A.)I. THE SEED ITSELF. The seed is the Word of God — the word of prophecy; the word of promise; the word of sound doctrine; the word of strong exhortation, and solemn warning, and high encouragement, which is given by inspiration of God.
1. A quickening seed. It brings the dead in sin to spiritual life. It is also productive of much consolation to those who are quickened thereby.
2. A holy seed.
3. An incorruptible seed.
4. A seed of fruitfulness in every good word and work to do God's will.
5. An abiding seed.
II. THE DIFFERENT RECEPTIONS OF THIS SEED, AND THE CONSEQUENT DIFFERENT RESULTS.
III. PRACTICAL OBSERVATIONS.
1. An important caution to all hearers to take heed how they hear, and to remember their awful responsibility.
2. Much matter of humiliation to the whole Church. There never has been, and never can or will be, any profitable hearing of the Word, unless the Holy Spirit change the heart and prepare the soil for the reception of the Divine seed.
3. Much matter of encouragement to every weak believer. If the work of the Holy Spirit is begun on the heart, the Word of truth may be heard with profit; and it has been heard with profit by all who are separated from the world, and transformed by the renewing of their mind.
4. Finally, the parable sets forth matter of important instruction to the individuals on the way to Zion, relative to the subject-matter of preaching that shall be profitable for them to hear.
(W. Borrows, M. A.)
1. The indifferent. A very numerous class. Word sown upon, not in, heart; and therefore is given up to any one who will take it away. To such persons life is a walk, not a journey. Unimportant to them whether they arrive at a definite goal; they only ask for the invigorating air on the way, to delight themselves with the sight of the beauties around them, and in cheerful conversation with those about them. The enjoyment of life is their watchword; they do not desire to live, that is to say, to work, but to enjoy.
2. The frivolous. , The Divine Word does not take root in these. It takes root only in the heart softened and moistened with the tears of daffy humiliation.
3. The impure. These have gone the way of humiliation; but have not quite given place to the Saviour. They have reserved this and that sinful joy and pleasure, this and that so-called favourite sin and weakness. Their spiritual life is gradually choked in them, and at last is entirely quenched.
4. The pure. These have had their hearts purified and made beautiful and good, by faithfully laying hold of the beauty and goodness of the Saviour. In this state of preparation they hear and receive the Word, and bring forth fruit. They do not release themselves from this obligation, but follow it earnestly and strictly, yet without self-righteousness. They bring forth the fruit of love, the only ripe fruit. They bring forth patience in humble and constant endurance, amid inward and outward afflictions; also in patience with the often scanty fruit, and especially in a mind which quietly and joyfully submits itself to God in all things. They bring forth fruit in different ways, partly because their soil is of different degrees of goodness, partly because their industry and faithfulness in preparing their soil are different. But none among them assumes superiority over the others; they all love each other like brethren. These alone are the hearts which really belong to Christ.
(R. Rothe, D. D.)I. THE HEEDLESS. Bearing without attending. All a matter of form.
II. THE HEARTLESS. Interest easily enlisted; feelings quickly touched. Feelings so soon stirred are not likely to be deep, and principles quickly influenced are no safe guides. "Ruined by adversity" is the epitaph of the heartless. They may be good for a time, but they cannot be good long.
III. THE BREATHLESS. This is the prevailing phase of modern worldliness. It is an age of hurry. Many persons would be excellent Christians if only they were not so many other things besides; if they were not so engrossed in business, or absorbed in pleasures, or preoccupied by cares. This will not do. If religion is to thrive at all, it must carry on simultaneously two processes; it must strike root downward and bear fruit upward. These are precisely the two things which the worldly man's religion can never do.
IV. THE GUILELESS. Of these, if we may say it with reverence, it must have been a real pleasure to our Lord to speak. Not, indeed, that the good are all perfect, or all alike good. No sameness in grace, any more than in nature. We expect differences, even among guileless hearts. It is characteristic of the guileless that they make no show for a long time; they develop surely, but very slowly. "Saved by patience" shall be written over them.
(T. E. Marshall, M. A.)
I. THE SOWER
II. THE SEED.
1. There is life in seed. Gospel truth is the incorruptible and immortal seed; and though ornaments, polish, illustrations, eloquence in sermons, may help the end in view, as feathers do the arrow's flight, or their wings the thistle-downs, as they float, sailing through the air, to distant fields, it is to the truth of God's Word, blessed by God's Spirit, that sinners owe their conversion, and saints their quickening and comfort in the house of God.
2. There is force in seed. What so worthy to be called the power as well as the wisdom of God as that Word which, lodged in the mind, and accompanied by the Divine blessing, fed by showers from heaven, rends hearts, harder than the rocks, in pieces? (Jeremiah 23:29).
3. There is a power of propagation in seed. There is not a shore which shall not be sown with this seed; not a land but shall yield harvests of glory to God and of souls for heaven.
III. THE SOIL.
1. Hearers represented by the wayside. Some who carefully cultivate their fields, or their gardens, or their business, or their minds, take no pains whatever to cultivate their hearts.
2. Hearers represented by the stony ground. What have we here? the Word listened to with attention; with more, much more than attention; with such feelings as a man under sentence of death hears the news of his pardon, or men on a wreck, lashed to the mast, hanging on the shrouds, hear the cry, the joyful cry, "A boat! a lifeboat!" Let us remember that convictions may be mistaken for conversion; admiration of the servant for attachment to his Master; an appreciation of the moral beauties of the gospel for an appreciation of its holiness; the pleasures of emotion, or such gratification as taste enjoys in a beautiful discourse, for the pleasures of piety.
3. Those represented by the ground with thorns. Dr. Johnson put the point well, when, on Garrick showing him his beautiful mansion and grounds, the great moralist and good man laid his hand kindly on the player's shoulder, and said, "All! David, David, these are the things which make a death-bed terrible!" The equally dangerous and deadly influence of great poverty I may illustrate by a scene which I have not forgotten, nor can forget. Alone, in the garret of a dilapidated house, within a wretched room, stretched on a pallet of straw, covered only by some scanty, filthy rags, with no fire in the empty chimney, and the winter wind blowing in cold and fitful gusts through the broken, battered window, an old woman lay, feeble, wasted, grey. She had passed the eleventh hour; the hand was creeping on to the twelfth. Had she been called? It was important to turn to the best account the few remaining sands of life; so I spoke to her of her soul, told her of a Saviour — urging her to prepare for that other world on whose awful border her spirit was hovering. She looked; she stared; and raising herself on her elbow, with chattering teeth, and ravenous look, muttered "I am cold and hungry." Promising help, I at the same time warned her that there was something worse than cold and hunger. Whereupon, stretching out a naked and skinny arm, with an answer which if it did not satisfy the reason touched the feelings, she said, "If you were as cold and as hungry as I am, you could think of nothing else." The cares of the world were choking the Word.
4. Those represented by the good ground.(1) They receive the Word. In their case it does not, so to speak, go in at the one ear and come out at the other. It does not fall on their minds to run off like water from a stone; it falls, but it is as seed into a furrow, to lodge itself in their hearts. They do not reject, but receive it.(2) They understand it — appreciate its value; feel its power; and "comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height of the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge."(3) They keep the Word: as — in contradistinction to soils that, puffed up by winter frosts, throw out, or others that starve their plants — good ground keeps the corn. With hearts where the tenderness of flesh is associated with the tenaciousness of stone, as granite keeps the letters of its inscription, so they "keep the Word."(4) They bring forth fruit. In the form of good works, of unselfish, gentle, and heavenly dispositions, of useful, noble, holy, and Christian lives, they bring forth fruit — some much; some little; but all some.
(Thomas Guthrie, D. D.)I. AN HONOURABLE OCCUPATION.
1. The work of the husbandman too often regarded with contempt.
2. The husbandman a type of Christ.
3. Christ the type of many true teachers, inasmuch as their life's morning is promising, and their evening dispiriting.
II. AN HONOURABLE OCCUPATION MAY HAVE DISASTROUS RESULTS. l. Unsuccessful results do not lessen the value of the seed.
2. Unsuccessful efforts should not be taken as the measure of the sower's capacity and faithfulness.
3. Unsuccessful efforts must then be studied in relation to the sphere of operations.
4. The best seed will do no good on some lands.
5. The most skilful workman cannot turn a rock into a fruitful garden.
III. AN HONOURABLE OCCUPATION MUST HAVE BLESSED RESULTS, There will be patches of good ground in every farm. There are honest and good hearts in every community. No true teacher will have entire failure.
(W. Burrows, B. A.)
1. The seed is all of one kind — not a mixture, but the same throughout; many grains, but one, and only one quality.
2. It is absolutely and perfectly good; not only the same quality throughout, but that quality perfect, and so each and every grain complete in itself in all that constitutes the perfection of seed.
I. THE SEED. Seed is a living reality; seed is the germ or origin from which the plant in its strength and beauty springs. Yet withal seed, living as it is, quick with life which should propagate itself to a thousand generations, is dependent for its germination and its fruitfulness on the soil which receives it when sowed. Now our Lord teaches us that seed, possessing, as we know it does, these qualities, is an apt emblem of the Word of God.
II. THE SOWER. Jesus Christ Himself. As men do not always scatter their seed literally with their own hands, but use machinery, and yet it is in truth not the machine, but the man who sows it, by whom the seed is sowed, so, whenever His seed is sowed, He is the Sower, using the hands and mouths of men as His instruments, not giving up His office and work to them to discharge for Him, but Himself discharging His office and work by and through them. It is only a partial account of the ministry of His Church to say that He works upon men's souls by means of it; it is He in it who thus works, and works effectually. He it is, then, who went out as the Sower; He went out, and He has never turned back; He has never ceased of His sowing. But when did He go out? It has been well written "He is said to go out by the act of taking flesh, clothed wherewith He went forth as a husbandman, putting on a garment suitable for rain, sun, and cold, albeit He was a King." And yet we cannot limit His going out to sow to the actual period of the world's history at which it pleased Him to put on that garment visibly before the eyes of men; for as it was His purpose from eternity to become Incarnate, so the power and virtue of His Incarnation reaches back as well as forward.
III. SEED AND SOWER ARE ONE. Christ is the Sower, Christ is also the Seed; for He is the Word of God. He sows Himself. And He is the Life; He hath life in Himself; He quickeneth whom He will.
(C. S. Turner, M. A.)
(Robert Wilson, M. D.)I. THE SOWER IS CHRIST HIMSELF. He that sows the good seed is the Son of man. Are not ministers sowers?
1. Christ sows His own field, which He hath dearly purchased with His precious blood: they sow not their own fields, but His, not being "lords of the heritage of God" (1 Peter 5:3).
2. He sows His own seed: so in the text. The sower sowed His seed. They have no seed of their own, but fetched out of His garner.
3. They differ in the manner of sowing. He was the most skilful Sower that ever was. He knew exactly what grain every ground was fitted for. With Him were treasures of wisdom. We that have but drops from His fulness, are unskilful in comparison. He could speak to men's private and personal sins, as the woman at the well. He could answer to men's thoughts and reasonings; we not so.
4. We differ in efficacy. We may sow and plant, and this is all. Suppose it be Paul, or Apollos himself, we can give no increase, nor make anything to grow. But He can sow, and give increase at His pleasure. He can warm it with the beams of grace, streaming from His own brightness (Malachi 4:2). He is the Sun of Righteousness. He can blow upon His field with the prosperous winds of His gracious and quickening spirit (Isaiah 3:8; Song of Solomon 4:16).
II. THE ACTION. This Sower goeth forth. Christ goeth forth to sow three ways.
1. In spirit, by inward inspirations and heavenly motions. And thus He sowed in the hearts of Adam, Noah, Abraham, and the prophets; who were, with other holy men, immediately inspired and acted by the Holy Ghost (1 Peter 1:21). So with the penmen of Scripture, and the apostles.
2. In person, according to His humanity He cometh out from the bosom of His Father, and comes into the field of the world by His happy Incarnation.
3. In the ministry of His servants He goeth forth, both the prophets and teachers before Him.
III. THE INTENTION IS, TO SOW HIS SEED.
1. As seed is a small and contemptible thing, altogether unlikely to bring such a return and increase; so the Word preached seems a weak and contemptible thing (1 Corinthians 1:23).
2. As the seed in the barn or garner fructifies not, unless it be cast into the earth; so the Word, unless cast into the ears and hearts of men, is fruitless, regenerateth not, produceth no fruits of faith.
3. As the sower pricks not in his seed, nor sets it, but casts it all abroad, and knows not which of his seed will come up to increase, and which will rot and die under the clods; so the minister (God's seedsman) speaks not to one or two, but casts his seed abroad to all in general; neither knows he which and where the Word shall thrive to increase, and where not, but, where it doth increase, it riseth with great beauty and glory, as the grain of mustard seed becomes a tree in which the birds of heaven may build their nests.
4. As seed hath a natural heat, life, and virtue in it, by which it increaseth and begetteth more seeds like unto itself; so the Word cast into the good ground hath a supernatural heat in it, being as fire (Jeremiah 5:14), and a lively power to frame men like itself, to make them, of fleshly, spiritual; of blind, quick-sighted; of dead in sin, alive in grace. And as one grain quickened, brings sundry tillows, and many grains in each; so one Christian converted, and receiving this power in himself, gaineth many unto God, desiring that every one were as he is, except his bonds and sins.
5. As seed cast into the ground lives not, unless it die first; so the Word preached brings no fruit or life, unless it kill first and work mortification; yea, and by continual sense of frailty and acquaintance with the cross, it keeps under such natural pride and corrupt as resist the work of
(Thomas Taylor, D. D.)
(W. O. Lilley.)
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