Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the seedlings, and they yielded no crop.
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.
And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it.1. The treatment the Word meets with from these persons. They hear and receive it.
2. How this salutary operation on his heart is obstructed and defeated.
3. What is the event? These thorns choke the Word.
I. WHAT THESE THINGS ARE WHICH OBSTRUCT THE DUE OPERATION OF GOD'S WORD ON THE HEARTS OF THESE MEN?
1. The cares of the world. By the cares of the world He means criminal anxieties about secular concerns.(1) They relate to subsistence. By this we mean the necessaries of life; man cannot be indifferent to these, but must not distrust the providence of God.(2) They relate to competence. This is a relative term, and has respect to capacity and desire. But such as is suited to desires not regulated by religion and reason, is an equivocal competence; all care about it is criminal. A prince requires more than his subject; desires directed to this object are commendable. But even though the object be right, the care about it may exceed, and unduly engross our attention and time.(5) They relate to affluence. This also right; but pride, ambition, and the gratification of vain passions must be offensive to God. Thus these cares, like thorns in the soil, will stifle every generous sentiment.
2. The deceitfulness of riches. Men are prone to reason mistakenly about riches. Riches are, in a sense, themselves deceitful. They assume an appearance different from their real nature and use, and so the unwary observer is imposed upon. Consider the false reasonings of a depraved heart:(1) As to wealth itself. Riches may be a blessing. The value of them is chiefly to be estimated by their use. Here men mistake it. Money will purchase delicate food, fine mansions, but will it set him beyond the reach of pain, contempt?(2) Of the mode of acquiring wealth men reason very mistakenly. They too often ignore the providence of God, so He blasts their schemes.(3) Men reason deceitfully concerning the term of enjoying the wealth they acquire.
3. The pleasures of this life, or "the lusts of other things." Here we need not be very particular, for as riches are the means of procuring pleasures, and most generally coveted with that view, the same folly and criminality we have charged to the account of the avaricious is, with a little variation of circumstances, to be imputed likewise to the sensualist. Pleasure indeed, abstractedly considered, is a real good; the desire of it is congenial with our nature, and cannot be eradicated without the destruction of our very existence. This is not therefore what our Lord condemns. He well knew that there ale passions and appetites proper to men as men, that the moderate gratification of them is necessary to their happiness, and of consequence that the desire of such gratification is not sinful. But the pleasure He prohibits is that which results from the indulgence of irregular desires, I mean such as are directed to wrong objects, and such as are excessive in their degree.
II. TO SHOW HOW THEY OBSTRUCT THE DUE OPERATION OF GOD'S WORD ON THE HEART.
1. As to these of the first description, the careful. It involves distrust of the faithfulness and goodness of Divine providence.
2. As to the avaricious. How vain such desires, expectations, and exertions. Will you suffer such noxious weeds to grow in your heart? Wisdom will give you riches and honour.
3. As to the voluptuous. It precipitates into extravagances which often prove fatal to character. There is no profiting by the Word we hear, without duly weighing and considering it.There are three things necessary to this:
1. Leisure. Ground choked with briers and thorns affords not room for the seed cast upon it to expand and grow. In like manner, he whose attention is wholly taken up with secular affairs has not leisure for consideration. Say, you who are oppressed with the cares, or absorbed in the pleasures of life, whether this is not the fact? What is it first catches your imagination when you awake in the morning? What is it engrosses your attention all the day? What is it goes with you to your bed, and follows you through the restless hours of night? What is it you are constantly thinking of at home, abroad, and in the house of God? It is the world. Oh sad! not a day, not an hour, scarce a moment in reserve, for a meditation on God, your soul, and an eternal world! And can religion exist where it is never thought of, or gain ground in a heart where it is but now and then adverted to? As well might a man expect to live without sustenance, or get strong without digesting his food. That then, which deprives men of time for consideration, is essentially injurious to religion.
2. Composure. By composure, I mean that calmness or self-possession, whereby we are enabled to attend soberly and without interruption to the business we are about. Consideration implies this in it; for how is it possible that a man should duly consider a subject, whether civil or religious, coolly reason upon it, and thoroughly enter into the spirit of it, if his mind is all the while occupied with a thousand other things, foreign to the matter before him? In order, therefore, to our doing justice to any question of importance, we must rid our minds of all impertinent thoughts, be self-collected, and fix our attention steadily to the point. How difficult this is I need not say. Studious people feel the difficulty; and in regard of religion, the best of men are sensible of their weakness in this respect, and deeply lament it. But where the world gains the ascendant, this difficulty is increased, and, in some instances, becomes almost insuperable. Let me here describe to you, in a few words, the almost incessant hurry and confusion of their minds, who answer to the three characters in our text of the careful, the covetous, and the voluptuous.So you will clearly see, how impossible it is for persons thus circumstanced to pay the attention to religious subjects which is necessary in order to their being profited by them.
1. The case of him who is swallowed up with the anxious cares of life is truly lamentable. It is not riches the unhappy man aims at, but a competence, or perhaps a mere subsistence. The dread of being reduced, with his family, to extreme poverty, harrows up his very soul. The horrid spectres of contempt, famine, and a prison, haunt his imagination. And how incapable is a man, thus circumstanced, of coolly thinking on the great things of religion! Does he attempt in his retirement to fix his attention to some Divine subject? he instantly fails in the attempt, cares like a wild deluge rush in upon his soul, and break all the measures he had taken to obtain a little respite from his trouble.
2. The like effect hath an eager desire after riches to disqualify men for consideration. When on his knees he is still in the world: when he is worshipping God in his family he is still pursuing his gain. His closet is an accounting house and his church an exchange.
3. How an eager attention to worldly pleasures must have the like effect, to render the mind incapable of serious consideration. Scenes of splendour and sensual delight are before the eyes of men of this character. How is it possible for a mind thus hurried, dissipated, intoxicated with vain amusements, to cultivate religion? They not only deprive men of time, composure for serious consideration —
3. But of all inclination to it. But what I mean, is to show that an eager attention to the things of this life confirms the habit of inconsideration, and tends, where there is an aptitude to meditation, to weaken and deprave it. A mind wholly occupied with the objects of sense, is not only estranged from the great realities of religion, but averse to them. As it has neither leisure nor calmness for sublime contemplations, so it has no taste or relish for them. "The carnal mind is enmity against God." And the more carnal it grows by incessant commerce with the world, the more does that prejudice and enmity increase. What violence are such men obliged to put upon themselves, if at any time, by some extraordinary circumstance, they are prevailed on to think of the concerns of their souls! The business is not only awkward, as they are unaccustomed to it, but it is exceeding irksome and painful. Now if a hearty inclination to any business is necessary to capacity to pursue it with success, whatever tends to abate that inclination, or to confirm the opposite aversion, is essentially injurious to such business. In like manner, cares, riches, and pleasures of the world choke the Word.
III. THE BAD EVENT OF SUCH UNDUE COMMERCE WITH THE WORLD. The unhappy man not having leisure, calmness, or inclination to attend to the Word.
1. He understands not the Word of the kingdom. He has a speculative acquaintance with the truths of religion; it cannot be experimental.
2. He does not believe it. He who believes the gospel to the salvation of his soul must enter into the spirit of it. But how can this be the case with a man whose heart is possessed by the god of this world?
3. Not rightly understanding or believing the Word of the kingdom, he is not obedient to it.
4. What is the final issue of all? Why, the man himself, as well as the seed, is choked (Luke 8:14).Exhortation:
1. Let the professors of religion have no more to do with the world than duty clearly requires. "Be not conformed to this world; but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind." "Come out from among them, and be ye separate, and touch not the unclean thing." "Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness."
2. If thorns before we are aware get in, let us instantly root them out. Exert all the power of Christian resolution.
3. Receive the good seed. It is not enough that the ground is cleared of noxious weeds, if it be not sown with the proper grain. Neither is it sufficient to guard against the corrupt maxims, customs, and manners of the world, if our hearts are not impregnated with Divine truth.
4. And lastly, look to God for His blessing. "Paul may plant, and Apollos water; but it is God that giveth the increase." We may hear, read, meditate, reflect, watch, and use many good endeavours; but if no regard be had to a superior influence, all will be vain.
(S. Stennett, D. D.)
(The Sword and Trowel.)
(Brooks.)1. Consider the nature of these things: they are vain, transitory, perishing; and they only minister to our earthly life which will end we know not how soon.
2. By all our care we cannot help or profit ourselves, without God's blessing on the means we use.
3. It is a heathenish practice thus to vex and trouble ourselves with immoderate cares for earthly things: not fit for Christians, who profess faith in God's Providence.
4. We are commanded to cast our cares upon God; and He has promised to care for us, and to provide for us all things necessary for this life, as well as for that which is to come, if we depend on Him by faith (Psalm 55:2; 1 Peter 5:7).
5. Consider how God provides for other creatures, of less value and worth than ourselves, without their care.
6. Immoderate cares for this life oppress the heart and mind exceedingly, taking them up so that they cannot be free to meditate on spiritual and heavenly things: hindering men also from daily preparing themselves for death and judgment (Luke 21:34).
7. Let our chief care be for heavenly and spiritual things, which concern God's glory and the salvation of our souls. This will moderate and slake our care for temporal things.
1. A prosperous man has little time to spare for religion. Every effort is needed to ensure the continued success of his worldly enterprises. Accordingly, his spiritual life droops and withers.
2. From want of cultivation his taste for spiritual things abates.
3. Pride is apt to increase.
4. Self-indulgence creeps in, and the lower appetites obtain mastery in the heart.
5. The result is a thoroughly worldly life — a life occupied wholly with transitory things, a life in which religion has no part. These are some of the chief dangers which appertain to a state of prosperity. Beware of them in time. They encroach very gradually; and before you are aware of it, you may be swallowed up.
(A. Raleigh, D. D.)
(A. M. Toplady.)
(F. W. Robertson.)nhood. The child lives in the present hour; today to him is everything. The holiday promised at a distant interval is no holiday at all — it must be either now or never. Natural in the child, and therefore pardonable, this spirit when carried on into manhood is worldliness.
(F. W. Robertson.)
(M. F. Sadler.)
(M. F. Sadler.)
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