Mark 4:3


The kingdom of God as -

I. A PRINCIPLE OF LIFE. Outwardly insignificant; exposed to the uncertainties of human agency and the vicissitudes of circumstance; yet embodying vital force, and capable under suitable conditions of producing its kind. Ever commencing anew, in germ and vital unit. A result as well as a cause, even as the seed is a fruit in the first instance. Requiring everything external of itself that is necessary to its being deposited in the minds of men to be done for it; yet containing an independent, original power of its own, viz. reproduction.

II. A PROCESS OF GROWTH. Dependent upon:

1. Manner of its reception;

2. Character of the hearer, i.e. whether deep or shallow, thorough or otherwise, like the soil;

3. Place which it holds in human regard - whether considered as the chief or only as a subordinate interest in life;

4. Time, - this in all cases.

III. A CONDITION OF FRUITFULNESS. The soul, just like the ground, if left alone, will be barren or overgrown with weeds. It must be tilled, sown, and tended. Sometimes these duties are divided, sometimes combined, but all are necessary.

1. All true believers are not alike fruitful. This is analogous to material and mental culture.

2. It is enough if each brings forth according to capacity and ability.

3. all cases there is compensating power of increase in the Word, beyond the natural qualities and powers of the believer, although a certain relation is always observed to the proportion of faith and diligence. The blessing of God is especially manifest in the fruits of the Word. - M.







Hearken; behold, there went out a sower to sow.
This parable is both a solemn lesson and warning, and also a description of what is actually taking place in the world. There are calls to lead a holy life perpetually going on; there are either sudden rejections or gradual forgettings of those calls. Such calls may differ in degree, and strength, and strikingness of the impression, but they are all calls; a truth is distinctly embraced by the mind of the person at the time: he sees that something is true which he had not realized to be true before, and had only held in word. That person can never afterwards say he did not know or was not made fully aware of Christian truth; or that it was always brought before him in such a way that he could not recognize it. He has been made to see it, and to recognize it. The point with which this parable deals is the various kinds of treatment accorded by different people to these calls. Let us look at the several classes.

I. THE UNSCRUPULOUS. By a bold, proud, sometimes even sudden and impulsive act of sin, they cast out of their hearts something which incommodes and annoys them, and threatens to interfere with their plan of enjoyment. These are they who have made up their minds to get on in life, and they refuse to let anything interfere with the realization of this desire. Judas. Ananias and Sapphira. I do not say that a man may not recover spiritually after having inflicted such a blow upon himself, but it is a dreadful act, which provokes the righteous justice of God, and that worst of punishments, a hardened heart.

II. THE LIGHT-MINDED AND CARELESS. These could receive the Word, because that merely implies the capacity of being acted upon by solemn and powerful representations of the truth; which they might be, lust as they might be impressed by some striking scene or incident. But, being without energy of their own to take hold of the Word and extract its powers, they soon fall away. To begin a thing, and to go on with it, are two totally different affairs. The commencement is in its own nature something fresh; but to go on with an undertaking is to do things over and over again, when all the freshness has disappeared, and no incentive remains but the sense of duty. This is the true test, and under it how many fail! Upon how many do we count for continuing their profession under different circumstances? Is there not a regular expectation formed in us, when we estimate the manifestations which men make, that they will not last; that they have their time, like the seasons or periods of weather, and that they will end as naturally as they have begun? Can there be a greater contrast to the abiding faithfulness of the gospel pattern?

III. THE WORLDLY. These are not light-minded men altogether; they are serious as regards this world, calculating, exercising forecast, attentive, persevering; but it is solely in relation to this world that they maintain this gravity and seriousness. They do not give a place in their thoughts to another world. What a common mistake with regard to religion this is! Our Lord says, "Ye cannot serve God and mammon;" and yet it would almost appear as if one-half of mankind had determined to prove Him a liar, and to show that that is possible which He declared was not. Each one thinks that in his own particular case there will be a complete agreement in these two great aims and undertakings, the earthly and the spiritual; that others may have missed this union, but that they will fix upon it. They enter upon their course in life with a swing. Feeling no hesitation about themselves, they plunge into the thick of the struggle for the world's possessions, they are carried away with the ardour of the pursuit, and they do not imagine at all that they are injuring or suppressing the religious principle in them. They think that can maintain itself, and therefore they never think of looking after it, to see how it is faring. And so the stream carries them along, being interested in the objects of the world, content with supposition and doing nothing about religion; until that which has thriven by practice has completely driven out the principle which has had no exercise, and the result is a simple man of the world.

IV. OPPOSED TO ALL THESE IS THE TREATMENT GIVEN TO THE WORD BY THE HONEST AND GOOD HEART. Not sinning against light; not abandoning what it has undertaken; not captivated by worldly pomp and show: it is faithful to God; it knows the excellence of religion; it is able to count the cost, and make the sacrifice which is necessary for the great end in view. Have we this? We cannot be certain of it until we have continued and persevered to the end. Those who have begun well may boldly cast away the Spirit, or they may fall away from grace because they have no root, or they may be swallowed up by the cares and aims of worldly life. We know not what we are till we have been tried to that extent which God thinks fit. But so far as we have striven, we may feel a comfortable sense that we do possess that heart; and certainly, if we have not striven, we cannot give ourselves any such hope. Let us strive to enter in at the strait gate, and to be found among the faithful.

(J. B. Mozley, D. D.)

The title with which we are familiar is almost a misnomer. It is not the sower who is most prominent, for the seed of the Word is a more important factor; nor yet is the seed, for it is the four kinds of soil into which it shall fall that determines the seed's future. If preachers and teachers are drawing lessons from the parable, then it may be well called the Parable of the Sower; but if the hearers of the Word are getting their lessons from it, they will find the greater part of the parable telling of the soil and the false growths therein that may render the Word unfruitful. Jesus, standing by the seashore, and surveying the motley company before Him, gives us a prophecy of the future of His truth among men. It cannot win an easy triumph. The seed is God's own, but it does not create its own soil. It drops on what is at hand, and is to be scattered broadcast, to meet varied fortunes.

(E. N. Packard.)

I. The FUNCTION of the sower, not destructive but constructive; not to root up or remove, but to plant.

II. The LONELINESS of the sower. A sower. The reaper may work amidst a company, but the sower is always alone. Thousands reap the fruit of what one man sows.

III. The SEASON when he goes forth to sow. No foliage, no verdure, sky cloudy, and air cold.

IV. Sowing is a SORROWFUL PROCESS. He goes forth weeping. He must part with a certain amount of present good, in order to obtain a larger amount of future good.

V. The NATURE OF THE SEED which he sows. The word of truth must be the word of life.

(Hugh Macmillan.)

I. THE SOWER.

1. Unity of purpose. His work was seed sowing, not soil culture.

2. Variety of results.

II. THE SEED.

1. Its origin. Every seed was originated by Christ. But there is a sense in which every man originates his own seed. This he does when he is true to his individuality.

2. Its vitality.

3. Its growth. Man can sow, God alone can quicken.

4. Its identity. The seed is the same in all ages and climes.

III. THE SOIL.

1. Hardness — "Some seeds fell by the wayside," etc

2. Shallowness — "And some fell upon stony places," etc.

3. Preoccupancy — "And some fell among thorns," etc.

4. Richness — "Other fell into good ground," etc.This soil contained all the qualities essential to fruitfulness. Moisture, depth, cleanness, and quality.

(A. G. Churchill.)

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.)

The growth of the seed depends always on the quality of the soil. The stress of the story lies not on the character of the sower, or even on the quality of the seed, but on the nature of the soil. The character of the hearer determines the effect of the Word upon him. We should cultivate the habit of profitable hearing. It is well that our students should be instructed how to preach, but it is equally important that the people should be taught how to hear; for if it be true, as is sometimes cynically said, that good preaching is one of the lost arts, it is to be feared that good hearing also has too largely disappeared; and, wherever the fault may have begun, the two act and re-act on each other. A good hearer makes a lively preacher, just as really as a poor preacher makes a dull hearer; and eloquence is not all in the speaker. To use Mr. Gladstone's illustration, he gets from his bearers in vapour that which he returns to them in flood, and a receptive and responsive audience adds fervour and intensity to his utterance. Eloquent hearing, therefore, is absolutely indispensable to effective preaching; and so it is quite as necessary that listeners should be taught to hear, as it is that preachers should be taught what and how to speak.

1. Taking, then, first, the things to be guarded against, we find foremost among these the danger of preventing the truth from getting any entrance into the soul at all. The seed that fell upon the pathway lay on the outside of the soil. The ground had been so hardened by the tread of many feet, that the grain could not get into it. The soul may be sermon-hardened as well as sin-hardened. But another thing which makes a foot walk over the soul is evil habit.

2. But a second danger to be avoided is that of shallow impulsiveness. So the man of shallow nature makes a great show at first. He is all enthusiasm. He "never heard such a sermon in all his life." He seems greatly moved, and for a time it looks as if he were really converted; but it does not last. It is but an ague fever, which is succeeded by a freezing chill; and by and by some new excitement follows, to give place in its turn to another alternation into cold neglect. He lacks depth of character, for he has nothing but rock beneath the surface. He seems to have much feeling, indeed, and his religion is all emotional; but, in reality, he has no proper feeling. It is all superficial. That which is only feeling, will not even be feeling long. Now, the fault in all this lies in a lack of thoughtfulness, or a neglecting to "count the cost." The man of depth looks before he leaps. He will not commit himself until he has carefully examined all that is involved; but when he does thus commit himself, he does so irrevocably. He who signs a document without reading it will be very likely to repudiate it when any trouble comes of it; but the man who knew what he was doing when he appended his name to it, if he be a true man, will stand to his bond at all hazards. Now, the merely impulsive, shallow, flippant hearer acts without deliberation, signs his bond without reading it, and is therefore easily discouraged. When he is called to suffer anything unpleasant for his confession, he breaks down. He had not calculated on such a contingency. He enlisted only for the review, and not for the battle; and so, on the first alarm of war, he disappears from the ranks. He did not stop to consider all that his enlistment involved; he was allured only by the uniform, and the gay accessories of military life: but, when it came to fighting, he deserted. The enthusiastic convert is often preferred to the calm and apparently unimpassioned disciple. The growth in the one seems so much more rapid than in the other, that he is put far above him. But when affliction or persecution arises, what a revelation it makes! for then the enthusiasm of the one goes out, and that of the other comes out.

3. But we must look to the kind of thing to be guarded against, which we may call the preoccupation of the heart by other objects than the word heard by the man.

II. THE QUALITIES TO BE CULTIVATED BY GOSPEL HEARERS, AS THESE ARE INDICATED IN THE SAVIOUR'S EXPLANATION OF THE SEED WHICH FELL INTO GOOD SOIL.

1. Attention: they hear.

2. Meditation: they keep.

3. Obedience: they bring forth fruit with patience.

(W. M. Taylor, D. D.)

Our grain fields are level, and covered with the crop from hedge to hedge. But theirs were broken patches, not unlike the little croft you may see before a Highland cottage. It is not fenced; the footpath to the moor, the well, or the village runs through it; the soil is wavy, and dotted with rocky hillocks; bushes of thorn and thistle are in the corner. As the crofter sows his little plot, some seeds fall on the footpath and its hardened margins, some on the rocky knolls, and some among the thorns, as well as on the best soil. Such uneven seed fields stretched then along the Lake of Galilee, sloping suddenly up from the shore. The soil was deep at the water's edge, but grew shallower near the foot of the little hills. Very likely Christ's hearers were then standing upon or within sight of such a field.

(J. Wells.)

Dry and dead as it seems, let a seed be planted with a stone flashing diamond, or burning ruby; and while that in the richest soil remains a stone, this awakes and, bursting its husky shell, rises from the ground to adorn the earth with beauty, perfume the air with fragrance, or enrich men with its fruit. Such life there is in all, but especially in gospel, truth.

(T. Guthrie, D. D.)

Buried in the ground a seed does not remain inert — lie there in a living tomb. It forces its way upward, and with a power quite remarkable in a soft, green, feeble blade, pushes aside the dull clods that cover it. Wafted by winds or dropped by passing bird into the fissure of a crag, from weak beginnings the acorn grows into an oak — growing till, by the forth-putting of a silent but continuous force, it heaves the stony table from its bed, rending the rock in pieces. But 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?

(T. Guthrie, D. D.)

A single grain of corn would, were the produce of each season sown again, so spread from field to field, from country to country, from continent to continent, as in the course of a few years to cover the whole surface of the earth with one wide harvest, employing all the sickles, filling all the barns, and feeding all the mouths in the world.

(T. Guthrie, D. D.)

The wayside hearers do not take in the seed at all; the rocky ground hearers take in the seed, but do not let it sink deep enough; the thorny ground hearers take it in, but take in bad seeds also; the good-ground hearers take the seed into their deepest heart, and take in nothing else. In these four sorts of soil you see the beginning and end of spring, summer, and autumn. In the first, the seed does not spring; in the second, it springs, but does not grow up; in the third, it grows up, but does not ripen; in the fourth, it ripens perfectly.

(J. Wells.)

A pastor or preacher is a workman hired and sent out to sow the field of God; that is, to instruct souls in the truths of the gospel. This workman sins —

1. When, instead of going to the field, he absents himself from it; nothing being more agreeable to nature and Divine law than for a servant to obey his master, for a seedsman to be in the field for which he is hired, and whither he is sent to sow.

2. When he stays in the field, but does not sow.

3. When he changes his master's seed, and sows bad instead of good.

4. When he affects to cast it on the highway, i.e., loves to preach only before people of fashion and influence.

5. When he fixes on stony ground, from whence there is little hope of receiving any fruit. If interest, inclination, the spirit of amusement, or self-satisfaction determine a pastor to attend chiefly on such souls who seek not God, and whose virtue has no depth, he has but little regard to his Master's profit. He must not, indeed, neglect any, but he ought not to base his preference on worldly motives.

6. When he is not careful to pick out the stones, and to pluck up the thorns. The sower Complains of the barrenness of the field; and perhaps the field will complain, at the tribunal of God, of the negligence of the sower, in not preparing and cultivating it as he ought.

7. When he does not endeavour to make the seed in the good ground yield fruit in proportion to its goodness.

(Quesnel.)In framing this parable, our Lord classified the hearers of the Word according to His own experience as a preacher, basing His classification not so much upon generalities as upon well-remembered illustrations. It would not be difficult to exemplify this, by specimens drawn from the records of His dealings with men (Bruce, e.g. has found examples of each kind of hearer in St. Luke 12:11, 13; Luke 9:57, 61, 62, and in the case of Barnabas). It will suffice at present, however, to give point to His descriptions, by recalling the divers effects produced by His claims to the Messiahship.

1. There were men hardened by Jewish prejudice, and seared with worldliness, who looked only for material advancement by the establishment of a new kingdom, and yet flocked to hear His words, meek and lowly as He was. They might possibly have been impressed, had not the Pharisaic enemies of the Cross, the emissaries of Satan, stepped in with their specious arguments, and caught away the seed before ever it found any lodgment in their hearts.

2. There were others of an emotional temperament, who were carried away in the excitement aroused by His sudden popularity, who, when they witnessed the wonderful works that He did, would have taken Him by force and made Him a king; and yet, staggered by the first check their enthusiasm received, within twenty-four hours "went away backward, and walked no more with Him."

3. There was another class, more limited, no doubt, who saw in Him the beauty they desired, and recognized His goodness; men, too, whom He loved in return for all that was best in their lives; but who failed at last because their heart was not whole. Underneath all this there was "a root of bitterness" — love of riches, or pleasure, or even distracting cares of home; and though for a time these blemishes showed no vitality, not springing up simultaneously with the crop of new desires, yet by the vapidity and rankness of their growth they just spoiled the life when it was on the eve of bearing fruit.

4. The last class was composed of those whose hearts the Baptist had prepared, and the Lord had opened, who were "waiting for the consolation of Israel:" men like Andrew, John, Nathanael, or women like the devout band who "ministered to Him of their substance," and in varying degrees of productiveness bore fruit in their lives.

(H. M. Luckock, D. D.)

God's Word has all the hidden life of a seed. Take up a grain of wheat in your hand, and ask yourself where its life lies. Not, surely, upon the surface; not in its inner compartments as a distinct thing. Chemistry will give you every material element it contains, and you will be as far as ever from knowing or seeing the very thing that makes it a seed — that mysterious something we call its life. Within that little mass of matter there lies a force which sun, rain, and soil shall call forth with voices it will hear and obey. God hath given it a body, and to every seed his own body. The hidden life and unwearied force of the wheat grain furnish analogies to the Word of God. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but the Word of Christ shall not pass away. This is not because of any arbitrary fiat of Omnipotence, any mechanically conferred sanctity, but because it is an eternal seed, to which God has given eternal form. But this vitality is not lodged where we can see it.

(E. N. Packard.)

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