Mark 4:9


The seed is the Word. Such is the interpretation given by the Lord himself, in his exposition of the parable of the sower. In other words, the seed represents the truth uttered by Christ and embodied in Christ, who is himself declared to be the everlasting Word (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.







He that hath ears to hear.
1. Our Lord evidently meant, by the language of the text, to remind His hearers that it was an apologue, fable, or parable He had been delivering.

2. By this mode of expression they were further reminded that the several truths veiled under this parable were most interesting and important.

3. The direct purport of the exhortation was, to persuade them to consider what they had heard.

4. He in effect tells them that if they were not benefited by what they heard the fault was rather in their will than their understanding. "Who hath ears to hear, let him hear."

I. LET US CONSIDER THE DUTY OUR SAVIOUR INCULCATES ON THOSE TO WHOM THE WORD IS PREACHED.

1. Let us take care to digest properly in our own minds the subject on which we mean to discourse to others.

2. Care also is to be taken about the manner, as well as the matter, of our discourse.

3. That we should look well to our aims and views in discoursing of the great things of God.

4. That our dependence should be firmly placed on the gracious and seasonable influences of the Holy Spirit. And now, thus prepared, we have a right, be our audience who they may, to adopt the language of our Master, and with authority to say, "Who hath ears to hear, let him hear." Upon the grounds of common sense as well as religion, we may demand their most serious attention. First, some kind of preparation previous to our hearing the Word. Secondly, how we ought to behave ourselves in the house of God.Thirdly, a duty lying upon us after we have heard the Word. Recollection is what I mean, together with self-application and prayer.

1. Avoid as much as possible everything that may tend to dissipate the mind, and render it incapable of consideration and recollection.

2. Be not fond of hearing more than you can retain and digest. There is such a thing as intemperance in regard of the mind as well as the body: and if excessive eating may be as hurtful to the constitution as excessive abstinence, it is also true of the mind, that the hearing more than is fit may be very nearly as injurious as the not hearing at all. A great abundance of instruction poured into the ear, without sufficient intermission for reflection and practice, is extremely prejudicial: it confounds the judgment, overburdens the memory, and so jades the mind as to render it incapable of recollecting afterwards what it had heard, and of calmly deliberating thereon.

3. The making a point of retiring at the close of the day, for the purpose of recollection and prayer.

II. TO ENFORCE WHAT HAS BEEN SAID WITH SUITABLE MOTIVES. And our first argument shall be taken, First, from the decency and fitness of the thing itself. Secondly, let me remind you of the particular obligations you owe to those whose ministrations you attend. Thirdly, it is to be remembered that preaching is a Divine institution; and that they who are called to dispense the gospel, have, by virtue of that call, a claim to the attention of those to whom they are sent. Fourthly, from the momentous nature of the business itself on which we are sent to you. Fifthly, the necessity of consideration in order to our profiting by the Word. Sixthly, there are many obstructions in the way of this duty, the recollection of which ought to have the force of an argument to excite and animate us to it. Seventhly, the authority that enjoins this duty upon us adds infinite weight to all that has been said. Eighthly, and lastly, from the advantage to be expected from consideration.

(S. Stennett, D. D.)

An innkeeper, addicted to intemperance, on hearing of the particularly pleasing mode of singing at a church some miles distant, went one Sunday to gratify his curiosity, but with a resolution not to hear a word of the sermon. Having with difficulty found admission into a narrow, open pew, as soon as the hymn before sermon was sung, which he heard with great attention, he secured both his ears against the sermon with his forefingers. He had not been in this position many minutes, before the prayer finished, and the sermon commenced with a powerful appeal to the consciences of his hearers, of the necessity of attending to the things which belonged to their eternal peace; and the minister, addressing them solemnly, said: "He that hath ears to hear, let him hear." Just the moment before these words were pronounced, a fly having fastened on the face of the innkeeper, and stung him sharply, he drew one of his fingers from his ear and struck off the painful visitant. At that very moment the words, "He that hath ears to hear, let him hear," pronounced with great solemnity, entered the ear that was opened, like a clap of thunder. It struck him with irresistible force: he kept his hand from returning to his ear, and, feeling an impression he had never known before, he presently withdrew the other finger, and listened with deep attention to the discourse which followed. A salutary change was produced on him. He abandoned his former evil ways, became truly serious, and for many years went, in all weather, six miles to the church where his soul was awakened from its spiritual slumber. After about eighteen years' faithful and close walk with God, he died, rejoicing in the hope of that glory which he now enjoys.

The eye, indeed, is seldom blinded to exclude the most trifling object that might afford us pleasure, and the ear is never shut to anything that might contribute to our amusement; yet reason is often hoodwinked to the precepts of virtue, and our consciences are suffered to slumber and to sleep, while we follow the gratifications of appetite and passion. Thus it was that many, fettered with prejudice and superstition, blinded by ignorance and pride, or enslaved to the world, could hear the Son of God Himself inculcate the sublimest truths, and teach the most important duties, with insulting scorn or listless indifference. Against such dreadful perversion and abuse of the talent entrusted to our care let us be ever on our guard. Let us consider that, on the duo improvement of our faculties, from the benefits of experience, and the discipline of religion, every real blessing is founded.

(J. Howlett, B. D.)

Perhaps you hear with comfort and satisfaction those vices forbidden of which you are in no danger, from inclination, from your natural constitution, or from some peculiar circumstance of life. When you are old, you might with pleasure listen to such admonitions as chiefly regard the errors of the young; and while in the full enjoyment of happiness and prosperity, you might, with a degree of self-approbation, join in the condemnation of such wickedness and disorder as relate only to the wretched and the poor. On such occasions, perhaps, you will allow the Word of God to resemble "a two-edged sword," and to speak "with power." But say, are you so willing to hear it, when it calls aloud against some darling vice? when it arraigns your favourite indulgences, or curtails you of sinful pleasures?

(J. Howlett, B. D.)

Farther, if we are really interested in "those things which belong unto our peace," we should endeavour to make that interest uniform and constant. It should extend to all our actions; it should be the rule and measure of our conduct; and its influence should be felt as a gentle, but powerful, corrective throughout the whole system of life. As for those casual emotions which arise only during the moments of exhortation, or those frail resolutions which are formed only when no temptation is near, and which, in the conflux of worldly passions and pleasures, are as soon lost as the brook that mingles with the ocean, of what avail are they?

(J. Howlett, B. D.)

I. Let us seek, in the beginning, to discriminate and classify the ordinary hearers of the Word AS THEY SHOW THEMSELVES IN THE SIGHT OF THE PREACHER.

1. For one class, he would be sure to see the listless hearers. He might discover in various parts of the audience room those whose countenances would defy all study. They are perfect blanks. No more life appears than there would be discovered in a gallery of statuary. Some will be asleep. Some there will be who hear the sound of the words, but so inattentively and unintelligently that nothing is regarded as it passes their ears. The sentences fall on their organs like the ordinary ticking of a clock; they disturb no sensibility whatsoever. We should judge that they attracted no attention of any sort if it were not that the eyes flash up suddenly with an eager curiosity if, for some reason, the sound happens to stop.

2. Next, this visitor in the pulpit would notice the criticising hearers.

3. Yet a third class might be singled out: the suspicious bearers. These are continually on the look-out, not exactly, in our times, for heterodoxy, but for eccentricities. They are afraid the preacher will say something inconsistent with the established views they cherish.

4. Then there is a fourth class: the distributing hearers. Some most devout people always listen for the sake of the rest of the congregation.

II. Let us seek now, in the second place, to discriminate and classify the ordinary hearers of the Word AS THEY APPEAR IN THE SIGHT OF THE WORLD AT LARGE. Here comes in the question as to results rather than mere behaviour. We fall back upon the parable of the sower; it was given as our Saviour's illustration of the effect of the truth as it is thrown upon human hearts like seed upon different soils.

1. To begin with, there are the wayside hearers. Let us read over the old story, and lay alongside of the description at once our Lord's interpretation. (See Mark 4:4, 15.) King Agrippa (Acts 26:28) is instanced to us as an example. He went with great pomp to hear the Apostle Paul preach. That earnest and powerful pleader laid the truth on his heart, as if he would plough and harrow it into his life. But the devil's birds were near to pick up the seed. Pride came with her glittering pinions, and chirped in his ear, "Thou art a king, but who is this tent-maker?" Lust croaked behind Pride, and had something to say about giving up Berenice. So they came one after another, picked up the grain, and flew away.

2. Then our Lord mentions the stony ground hearers, and afterwards tells His disciples what He means. (See Mark 4:5, 15.) Paul had some of these hearers among his converts in Galatia (Galatians 5:7). Christ had some among His followers in Galilee: their earth was only surface soil (John 6:66).

3. Next, our Lord classifies the thorn-choked hearers. A peculiar kind of thorn in that country grows suddenly and rankly, and seems to love the borders of wheat fields (Mark 4:7, 18). Demas's history has been offered us for an illustration of this short-lived sort of emotion, in one melancholy sentence of Paul's Second Epistle to Timothy (2 Timothy 4:10). Perhaps the saddest of all experiences we have to meet is found in this watching of people who promise so much but who come to so little.

4. Then our Saviour speaks of the good-ground hearers in the parable. But for such, seed-sowing would be a failure. (See Mark 4:8, 20.) The great source of comfort to a preacher of the gospel is found here; the principal field of his labour is good ground. He is sustained by two promises, one about the seed (Isaiah 55:10, 11), and one about the sower (Psalm 126:5, 6).

III. Let us now, in the third place, look upon those who hear the Word AS THEY APPEAR IN THE SIGHT OF GOD.

(C. S. Robinson, D. D.)

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