As he was sowing, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it.
John 1:1). This heavenly seed is the gift of God. It has life in itself (John 5:26); it is the germ of life to the world; and, when it is received, it brings forth those "fruits of the Spirit" of which St. Paul speaks. The mode in which that seed is received is a test of character, and this is illustrated in the words before us. The four kinds of soil upon which the sower cast his seed represent four conditions of heart, which we propose to consider.
I. THE HARDENED HEART. Our Lord speaks of some seed falling by the wayside; that is, on the trodden pathway running through the field, which is impervious to anything which falls gently, as seed falls. Finding a lodgment there, either the birds carry it away or else it is crushed by the foot of the wayfarer. Just as the once soft soil becomes hard, so do our moral sensibilities become blunted by the frequent passing over them of ordinary duties, and stilt more of evil words and deeds. We often read in Scripture of the hardening of the heart. Pharaoh is said to have " hardened his heart" because, after being stirred to some thought by the earlier plagues in Egypt, he conquered feeling until he became past feeling. Hence, after the most terrible of the plagues, he pursued God's chosen people to his own destruction. The Israelites, too, hardened their hearts in the wilderness. All the issues of this sin recorded in sacred history give a significant answer to the question of Job, "Who hath hardened himself against God, and prospered?" This process still goes on, not least amongst regular attendants on the means of grace. Address a gathering of outcasts, and though you may hear a mocking laugh, you will more probably see the penitential tear as you speak of the Saviour's death and of the Father's love; but speak of this to those who have often heard the truth, and their calm impassivity will drive you to despair, if it does not drive you to God. He who knows all but feels nothing is represented by the wayside; for the truth preached to him is gone as swiftly from his thoughts as though evil birds had carried it away.
II. THE SUPERFICIAL HEART is also graphically portrayed. The stony ground is not ground besprinkled with stones, but rocky soil covered with a thin layer of earth, such as might often be seen in the rocky abutments which ended the terraces of cultivated soil on a hillside in Palestine. Seed falling there would take root and grow, but would soon strike rock, and then withering would begin. This represents those who "receive the Word with gladness." They are interested, instructed, impressed; but they have no understanding of its spiritual meaning or of Christ's requirements. They have no sense of sin, and no conflict with it. Their knowledge and experience alike are shallow, and they have "no root," because they have no depth of nature. Very significant is the phrase, "They have no root in themselves;" for there is a want of individuality about them. Their faith depends upon surrounding excitement and enthusiasm, and they are wanting in the perseverance which can only arise from personal conviction. Let temptation come to them, and they give up at once their poor shreds of faith; let them go among sceptics, and soon their mockery will be the loudest; let persecution arise, and straightway they stumble to their fall.
III. THE CROWDED HEART. "Some fell among thorns;" that is, in soil in which thorns were springing up. The soil possibly was good, and therefore unlike the last, but it was already full. Soon the thorns springing up choke the seed, crowding it down, and so depriving it of air and sunshine that the withering stalk can produce no fruit. Every one knows the meaning of this who has pondered the words," Ye cannot serve God and mammon," or who understands the warning against "the cares of the world, the deceitfulness of riches," and inordinate desires after other earthly things. Here is such a one. He was once earnest in work for God; he made time for the study of his Word; he was eager for the quiet hour when he could speak to his Father in secret. But this is only a memory to him now. And how came the woeful change? There has been no hour when he has deliberately cut himself adrift from holy influence, nor can he recall any special crisis in his history. But the cares of life, the plans he felt called upon to make, thoughts concerning money and the best way to make it or to keep it, obtruded themselves more and more, even on sacred times, till holy thoughts were fairly crowded out. Thorns have sprung up, and they have choked the seed, so that it has become unfruitful.
IV. THE HONEST HEART. The seed which fell into "good ground" not only sprang up into strong stalk, but brought forth fruit in the golden harvest-time, and over it the sower rejoiced. Our Lord often spoke of the conditions which are essential to the fulfillment of this in the spiritual realm. For example, he said, "He that is of the truth heareth my voice;" and he bade his disciples become as little children, that they might rejoice in him. Nathanael was a beautiful example of what Jesus meant. When the truth is thus received, in the love of it, it guides the thoughts, rules the affections, checks and controls the plans, and sanctifies the whole being of the man. "Christ is formed" in his heart "the hope of glory." Abiding in prayer, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, he experiences a quickening and a refreshment like that which the growing corn has when enriched and blessed by showers and sunshine, and "the fruits of the Spirit" appear in him, to the glory of God the Father. "Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit." - A.R.
Some fell by the wayside, and the fowls of the air came and devoured it up.1. These persons hear the Word. They are not deaf, and so utterly incapable of hearing. Nor are they determined that they will not hear (Jeremiah 22:21).
2. They are only occasional hearers of the Word. They are, in regard of the assemblies where the gospel is preached, what the wayside is to the field where the seed is sown, ground without the inclosure, Or whereon the seed falls as it were accidentally or by chance. They come by constraint of conscience, or from curiosity.
3. They are not at all prepared for hearing the Word. The ground is beaten, and has received no cultivation.
4. That they hear in a heedless, desultory manner.
5. They remain grossly ignorant.
6. But some in this class do in a sense understand the Word, for the seed is said to be sown in their hearts. They understand speculatively.
7. It makes no abiding impression on the heart.
8. Our Lord's account of the manner in which these impressions are effaced — "the fowls of the air came," etc.
I. WHO IS THIS WICKED ONE AND WHY HE IS SO CALLED. From this short scriptural account of Satan it appears with what propriety he is here, and in many other passages, styled emphatically "the wicked one." He is wicked himself in the highest degree, for as be exceeds all others in subtilty and power, so also in impiety and sin; a spirit the most proud, false, envious, turbulent, and malignant among all the various orders of fallen spirits. He, too, is the author of all wickedness, the contriver and promoter of every species of iniquity. Whence, the infinitely numerous evils that prevail in our world are called "the works of the devil." Such is the character of this first apostate arch-angel, the grand, avowed enemy of God and man. And thus are we led to our second inquiry —
II. WHAT IS MEANT BY HIS "CATCHING AWAY THE SEED," AND HOW IS THIS DONE? For no more is meant by the influence which Satan is supposed in certain cases to exert over the mind, than what is similar to the influence which wicked men are acknowledged to have over others, to allure them by persuasions to sin, and to dissuade them by menaces from their duty. It cannot force them into sin against the consent of their will; or, in other words, so operate on their minds as to deprive them of that freedom which is necessary to constitute them accountable creatures. This mighty adversary watches his opportunity to prevent the salutary effect of the Word upon those that hear it. And considering what is the character of the sort of hearers we are here speaking of, it is not to be wondered at that he is permitted to catch away the seed sown in their hearts, or that he succeeds in the attempt. For if their motives in attending upon Divine service are base and unworthy, if they address themselves to the duties of religion without any previous preparation, how righteous is it in God to permit Satan to use every possible artifice to defeat the great and good ends to which religious instructions are directed!
1. Satan uses his utmost endeavours to divert men's attention from the Word while they are hearing it.
2. Satan uses every art to excite and inflame men's prejudices against the Word they hear.
3. Another artifice Satan uses to counteract the influence of God's Word on men's hearts is to prevent their recollecting is after they have heard it.
(S. Stennett, D. D.)
(C. J. Vaughan, D. D.)
1. By keeping them from hearing it; stirring up occasions of worldly business or some other impediments on the Lord's day to keep them away from church.
2. By keeping them from attending to it when they do hear it.
3. By blinding their minds that they may not understand it.
4. By labouring to hold them in infidelity that they may not believe and apply the Word to themselves.
5. By using means to thrust the Word heard out of their minds that they may not remember it.
6. By keeping them from yielding obedience to the Word. See from this what need we have to be watchful over ourselves and against Satan and his practices when we are to hear the Word. How needful to watch before we hear, that he may not lay blocks in our way to hinder us from hearing. How needful in time of hearing to watch against Satan, that he hinder not our attention by suggesting to us roving thoughts. How needful to pray to God not to suffer him to blind our minds or harden our hearts in unbelief, that we may not understand or believe the Word. How needful also to watch against Satan after we have heard, that he do not quickly thrust the Word out of our minds and memories. Look to these things therefore everyone that would profit by hearing. The more malicious and politic Satan is to hinder us from profiting, the more wise must we be and careful to disappoint him of his purpose.
(M. F. Sadler.)
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