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Bible Commentaries

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary
Luke 8

 

 

Verse 5

BENEATH THE SURFACE

‘As he sowed.’

Luke 8:5

Ages have passed, and Christ is the Sower still, by whatever instrument He works, for we are God’s husbandry as well as God’s building. And the ‘seed’ is the Word of God; so strangely able to work invisibly below the surface of human life.

I. Indifference.—This seed, the Word of God, is sown broadcast, as all our opportunities are given. Men may receive the grace of God in vain, and this in more ways than one. On some it produces no vital impression whatever; it lies on the surface of a mind which the feet of human interests have trodden hard. It may well be doubted whether any soul, wholly indifferent to religious truth, ever retained even its theoretic knowledge long. The foolish heart is darkened. The fowls of the air catch away the priceless seed of eternity. Observe how Jesus explained this calamity. It was not because of forgetfulness; nor the truth neglected by, or withheld from, the careless, but—Jesus said, ‘straightway cometh Satan and taketh away the Word which hath been sown in them.’

II. Shallowness.—There are other dangers to dread besides absolute indifference to truth. Next to those who neglect the Word, He places those ‘who, when they have heard the word, straightway receive it with joy.’ They have taken the promises without the precepts, they have hoped for the crown without the cross. Their type is the thin layer of earth over a shelf of rock; a hot-bed for a time; and the seed springs up, but there is no deepness of soil, its roots are scorched, and it withers away. The roots of a real Christian life must strike deeper down. A mature and settled joy is among ‘the fruits of the Spirit’; it is not the first blade that shoots up. Feelings easily quickened are also easily perverted. Tribulation or persecution are not counted upon. Trouble and opposition of wicked men are not included in the superficial view of the life Divine. They endure, but only for a while.

III. Mixed motive.—There are very earnest men who, nevertheless, are in sore danger, because (being by nature earnest) they cannot also resign this world, whatever be their concern about the next; the soil of their life would fain grow two inconsistent harvests. Like seed sown among thorns, ‘choked’ by their entangling roots, the Word is overmastered by an unworthy rivalry. There is a sort of vegetation, but the Word becometh unfruitful. It is the same lesson as when Jesus said, ‘No man can serve two masters.… Ye cannot serve God and mammon. The various evils of this parable are all of them worldliness, differently manifested.

IV. Loyalty.—Lastly, we have those on the good ground. These are not described by their sensibilities or their enjoyments, but by their loyalty. They ‘hear the word and accept it and bear fruit.’ Fruitfulness is never in the Gospel the condition by which life is earned, but it is always the test by which to prove it. In all the accounts of the final judgment, we catch the principle of the bold challenge of St. James, ‘Show me thy faith without thy works, and I will show thee my faith by my works.’ We are not wrong in preaching that honest faith in Christ is the only condition of acceptance, and the way to obtain strength for good works. But perhaps we fail to add, with sufficient emphasis, that good works are the only evidence of real faith, of genuine conversion; ‘They bear fruit, thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.’

—Bishop G. A. Chadwick.

Illustrations

(1) ‘In Mark’s version of this parable we read (Mark 4:3) that our Lord prefaced it thus, “Hearken! Behold!” “Hearken,” Jesus said, to impress on men that His simple story conveyed more than met their ears; protesting in advance against fatalistic abuses of the parable, as if we were already elected to be hard, or shallow, or thorny, or fruitful; impressing upon all that, if the vitalising seed were the imparted Word, it was our part to receive and treasure it. Indolence and shallowness must fail to bear fruit; but—it is not necessary that we should remain indolent or shallow. “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.” Having said “Hearken,” Jesus added, “Behold!” Very possibly the scene was before their eyes, and a process was visible, if they would but see, of which the tilling of the ground (and the sowing) was only a type. A nobler seed was being scattered for a vaster harvest, and it was no common labourer, but the True Sower, Who went forth to sow. “The Sower soweth the Word.” Who? Matthew tells us “The Sower is the Son of Man”; and it is clear that none of His disciples could mistake His meaning.’

(2) ‘The introduction of Satan into the parable is uncalled for by any demand save the necessity of telling the truth. It is true, therefore, that an active and deadly enemy of souls is at work to quicken the mischief which neglect and indifference would produce; and, as seed is only safe from fowls when buried in the soil, so the Word of life is only safe when it has sunk down into our hearts.’

(SECOND OUTLINE)

THE SOIL OF THE HEART

A parable is a story taken from natural things to instruct us in spiritual things; just as we teach children by pictures. And here the kinds of soil are to represent the different people who hear the Word.

I. The wayside (Luke 8:5; Luke 8:12).—Paths around or across a field, trodden down by the constant thoroughfare of the world—they are hard, impenetrable. So are some hearts (Romans 2:5; Psalms 95:8). They hear, but do not understand the Word (Matthew 13:19; Proverbs 1:7; John 8:43). Perhaps they are pleased with it (Ezekiel 33:31-32). ‘Immediately’ Satan, like the birds, picks away the Word (2 Corinthians 4:3-4; 1 Peter 5:8; 1 John 5:18).

Why? ‘Lest they should believe and be saved’ (2 Thessalonians 2:9-13). Ex., Pharaoh.

II. The rocky (Luke 8:6; Luke 8:13).—Often on stony ground there is a thin layer of earth. The seed springs up, but does not take root. The Word often fills the head without reaching the heart (Isaiah 58:2). Slight conviction (1 Samuel 15:24). Excited feelings (Acts 8:13). Warm affections (Mark 10:17). Compare Jonah’s gourd (Jonah 4:6-7) and the grass upon the house-tops (Psalms 129:6). Such cannot bear the storm or heat (Matthew 24:9-13; John 15:20). They have no root (Colossians 2:7; Ephesians 3:17). Ex., Herod.

III. The thorny (Luke 8:7; Luke 8:14).—Here the seed might take root, but it is prevented bringing forth fruit—it is choked. The Word may find its way to the heart, but there can be no good result if it is divided. Cares of this world (Luke 10:40-41). Deceitfulness of riches (2 Peter 2:15). Pleasures of this life (Mark 6:26). All these prevent the Divine fruit appearing (Galatians 5:17-23; 1 Thessalonians 5:19). Ex., Demas.

IV. The good (Luke 8:8; Luke 8:15).—Here the ground has been prepared, dug up, and softened, so as to receive the seed (Proverbs 16:1). The Spirit digs up the ground in conviction (Jeremiah 4:3-4; Hosea 10:12). He pours upon it the rain and gentle dew (Isaiah 45:8; Isaiah 55:10). He applies the warmth and genial influence of the sun (Malachi 4:2; John 16:14). And what is the result? Fruit an hundredfold (Galatians 5:22; Philippians 1:11).

What an important lesson for us is here! What are we doing every Sunday? We are hearing the Word; but are we bringing forth fruit? If not, why not? (1 Thessalonians 2:13.)

Bishop Rowley Hill.

Illustration

‘“He taught them by parables,” says Jeremy Taylor, “under which were hid mysterious senses, which shined through their veil like a bright sun through an eye closed with a thin eyelid.”’


Verse 5-6

SOWERS FOR THE KINGDOM

‘Some fell by the way side; and it was trodden down, and the fowls of the air devoured it. And some fell upon a rock; and as soon as it was sprung up, it withered away, because it lacked moisture.’

Luke 8:5-6

What we all need is greater depth of conviction. We need to be convinced of the truth that we are all sent into this world to be sowers of the good, the beautiful, and the true. To be quite certain that we cannot stand idle in the market-place, but with every moment of our waking time we are actually sowing for God or for the Devil.

I. The choice of the seed.—We need to know that the choice of seed is largely in our own hand. Do we wish to sow Christ’s word, which is faith in the Heavenly Father and love to the brethren, or the Devil’s word, which is love for ourselves and no belief in anything that is greater? Are we convinced that the real world is the world of spiritual thought and aspiration, and the only world worth living in, the only world worth sowing for, the only world that has the promise of this life and the life to come, or are we content with the world of touch and taste and handling—of the visible and the present? Shall we sow to this latter world of the flesh and reap corruption, or be sowers in the world of spirit and see God everlastingly? You answer, we need some one to help us to our conviction; to whom shall we go to strengthen us as we go forth to the fields till eventide ere the night comes when no more work can be done? I reply, go to the shore of the Sea of Galilee, join the multitude there that is listening to the Speaker of a wondrous parable, and first be convinced of the truth that

God may have other words for other worlds,

But for this world the Word of God is Christ.

II. Sowing in pain.—And next let us be convinced that as He sowed in pain ere He reaped with joy, so to us all must come the constant disappointment that shall try us, the fiery temptation, the heat and burden of the day, ere in due time we reap. We cannot expect to be sowers of the good seed, the seed of the mind of Christ, unless we are prepared to suffer for our principles and to stand persecution because of the Word—persecution that is no less real because in our twentieth century it is less apparent. But depend upon it, it is God’s plan that as surely as the seed corn cannot grow to fruit till all the earth about it has suffered the thrust of the plough, the bruising of the harrow, and the breaking of the ground, so for us who will go forth to sow good ‘in scorn of consequence’ it is eternally true that only through much tribulation shall we enter the kingdom of heaven. Let us be convinced of this and go forth bravely to the field. Let us be sowers of the ideal, sowers for the Kingdom, and endure as seeing Him Who is invisible, for he only that endureth to the end, the same shall be saved.

III. No seed wasted.—One other conviction needs to be deepened in our hearts. It is this, that if the seed we sow be indeed the Word of Christ, it shall not return empty. Though all appearances be against it, and we die not seeing the harvest, the seed will not wither. In the time of trouble and the strife of tongues God shall hide it secretly in His own rock from the provoking of all men. And after many days the earth shall be glad thereof, and men shall eat of its bread and be satisfied.

Canon H. D. Rawnsley.

Illustration

‘The husbandman went forth in good heart, and beneath the form of this brave going forth to sow in such unpromising-looking ground is a lesson which Christ the Master Sower emphasised when He came forth to cast His seed not only into good ground, but on rocky heart—in shallow mind and lives preoccupied with this world’s caring—as lovingly as the heavenly Father sent His sun on the just and unjust alike, and having done His work left the fruit of it to be carried far and wide by successive generations of heavenly-hearted husbandmen, and bids us go forth in His undaunted way to scatter our seed in spite of all the world, the flesh, and the devil can do to thwart us, in hard as well as soft ground, on well tilled and on waste alike. That figure of Christ as Sower has helped all true hearts all the ages up. “We be but sowers,” said St. Francis. “We are at the best only sowers,” said Edward Thring, and he never tired of telling his pupils to look upon themselves as going forth to sow seeds of light in dark places, and trusting to God for the increase in His own good time.

Heralds of the light are we,

Sowers of the world to be

With a seed-light pure and free.

Heralds of the morn we stand,

Foot to foot and hand in hand,

Flinging morning o’er the land.’


Verse 8

AN HONEST AND GOOD HEART

‘And other fell on good ground, and sprang up, and bare fruit an hundredfold.’

Luke 8:8

The parable comes to tell us that once more Christ the great Sower is sowing the seed of His Word in our hearts, and that if we have not hitherto borne fruit as we ought, we may turn over a new leaf and begin to do better. The parable tells us two things.

I. What God expects of us.—This is the first thing. It tells us that God expects fruit at our hands. The good ground brought forth an hundredfold. If we are good Christians, good hearers of God’s Word, if we come to church and go away again in the spirit that we ought, then we shall be bringing forth fruit an hundredfold. Everybody in this church who is not bringing forth fruit an hundredfold is not a good hearer. He is not receiving the Word into an honest and good heart. This is the first part of what the parable tells you. If you are an honest hearer you are bringing forth fruit an hundredfold. Now everybody likes to consider himself honest. A man will be ready to say a good many hard things against himself. A man will be ready to say he is quick-tempered, or careless, or thoughtless, or a ‘little wild.’ All these things people will be ready to say against themselves; but I never yet knew a man who would not be in a passion if I said to him he was not an honest-hearted man. And yet what does God say to you here? He says that if you are an honest-hearted man you are bringing forth fruit an hundredfold in return for the seed of His Word and Gospel.

II. Christ the great Sower finds out if we are not bringing forth an hundredfold.—Some I trust may be. God knows, and man does not. But many—very many of us—are not doing so, and the question is—why not? Why are we not honest-hearted? What is the matter with us, that prevents us dealing fairly by God and His Word? The parable tells us the various kinds of things which prevent men dealing fairly by God. It tells us the things that make us dishonest towards God, and which make our coming to church and hearing His Word no good to us or anybody else.

Illustration

‘When you sow corn you expect it will grow corn. You don’t sow wheat for it to lie in the ground and never grow up; and you don’t sow wheat and expect when it grows up you will reap barley. You expect to reap wheat when you sow wheat, and you expect to reap a great deal more than you sowed, or else where was the good of sowing? The harvest is of the same kind as the seed, and a great deal more of it: that is what we have to look to in the parable; and that is what we are meant to look to in ourselves. When God says He expects fruit of us, He means that He expects us to take home to ourselves what he puts into our hearts, and to keep it there, like the earth holds the seed, and then to go and produce the same kind of thing over again in our own lives that he puts into us by His teaching. God puts His Word into our hearts, and if our hearts are honest there are two things that we shall do: we shall keep His Word in our minds, and we shall produce its like over again, both in our characters and in our actions.’


Verse 10

MYSTERIES MADE KNOWN

‘Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God: but to others in parables; that seeing they might not see, and hearing they might not understand.’

Luke 8:10

When Christ spake the parable of the sower, He was not addressing any little cluster of men—‘a great multitude were by the sea on the land,’ and they all heard His words. Why was it then that only a few, ‘those who were about Him with the Twelve,’ followed Him to ask the meaning of the parable? Surely if more had asked the question, more would have received the answer.

I. ‘He that hath, to him shall be given.’—There are some who feel the mystery of life, the awfulness of their being, who draw near to the Lord and ask Him questions and receive His answer. There are others to whom the world is a parable which they do not care to have explained. They ask no questions, for they have forgotten that there are things unseen. They have not, therefore they cannot receive. Yet they who follow the Light are the very last to fancy that they have made that Light for themselves. They who arise at the sound of their Father’s voice are the very last to fancy that they have made themselves His children. They are sure that they could not have sought Him, if He had not been seeking them first. Unto them it was given to know the mysteries. It was no great achievement of theirs. He had called, and they had answered. That was all. The call and the answer both were His—the commandment and the power to fulfil it.

II. Life’s mysteries.—‘To know the mysteries.’ We live encompassed with mysteries. The fashion of this world passeth away. And when it has passed away, what remains but—mystery? Whence came we? whither go we? what are we doing here in this little point of time resting upon the depths of the great eternity? None of us can quite forget the mystery of our being. It forces itself upon us when we least expect it. In hours of sorrow and in hours of joy; in the shock of some crisis of our life or in a time of quiet thought; in the awful silence of the chamber of death or in the peaceful stillness of a starlight night. Whether in tones of hope or fear, in a whisper which brings peace to the soul or one which the soul would gladly not have heard, the world unseen, the world of mystery, is sure to find a voice which will reach us—‘It speaks and we must hear.’ And as we hear we become conscious of a mystery within ourselves which is greater and more mysterious far than all that is without.

III. The mysteries of the kingdom.—The mysteries which surround us are the mysteries of a kingdom. The world unseen is not without form and void. It is no dreary waste of an un-peopled wilderness. There are no dark and terrible forms which move without order or law, which may crush or destroy or let alone, according to chance or their own caprice. There is One Who controls them all. They all obey a Ruler. They belong to a kingdom. It is the Kingdom of God. All peace lies in these words—Blessed is he ‘who understands and knows that God is the Lord.’

IV. Mysteries made known.—To those who ask it is given to know these things—to know them, not as we know the things of this world, which we can understand and express in words, but to know them with the deep devotion and the fervent love of the inmost heart. ‘To know the mystery of His will’—to give ourselves up to it, and enter into it with all the living consciousness of the spirit—to work it out in ourselves and in the world around us; is there a more blessed portion for us upon the earth than this? Is it not a gift worth the asking?

Illustration

‘It is easy, alas! to question the authority of the greatest thoughts which God sends to us. It is easy to darken them and to lose them. But it is not easy to live on to the end without them. You must have been allowed to feel that you are stirred with the truest joy, and braced to labour best at your little tasks, while you welcome and keep before you the loftiest ideal of the method and the aim of work and being which God has made known to you. That is, indeed, His revelation, the vision of Himself. So He declares what He would have you to do, what He will enable you to do. So He calls you to be prophets. The heart alone can speak to the heart. But he who has beheld the least fragment of the Divine glory, he who has spelt out in letters of light on the face of the world one syllable of the Triune Name, will have a confidence and a power which nothing else can bring. Only let him trust what he has seen, and it will become to him a guiding-star till he rests in the unveiled presence of Christ. We shall say, with the lowliest confession of our unworthiness, “our eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts.”’


Verse 11

THE WORD AS THE SEED

‘Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God.’

Luke 8:11

All our Lord’s teaching is most truly practical, and it is only when we begin to try to live according to its spirit that its full meaning becomes clear; and even before putting it into practice, our best chance of understanding it is to compare it, step by step, with what we already know of ourselves and our own hearts and our own lives.

I. Who is this ‘Sower’?—None of the Evangelists tell us precisely. Christ Himself says that the seed is the Word of God: and the sower is often said to represent those whose duty it is to preach—the ministers of God’s Word. This is, no doubt, a lawful application of the figure, but assuredly it is not its first meaning. We may borrow the explanation from the next parable, ‘The tares.’ There we are plainly told that ‘He that soweth the seed is the Son of Man.’ He, without doubt, is the Sower here.

II. But how does He sow His seed?—Assuredly not by the lips alone; or how little by comparison would be included in the heavenly sowing. We are influenced by much which is never actually spoken. The ground cannot be the ear. That is a mere passage to our hearts and minds. It is there within that the Divine Sower, sowing good seed, and the enemy, sowing tares, are both at work—in the heart. Whatever becomes of the seed, He, the Sower, is always the same, and He has a hand in every part of the process. The heavenly Sower’s work is everywhere and at all times. The parable is true of all men. They may try to keep out of reach of any human preacher’s voice which speaks to them of God and His holy Law; but they cannot move themselves out of reach of the true Sower. Not one, be he ever so ignorant, can plead that he has received no seed from above. God takes care that it is sown, and man’s responsibility consists in how he receives it, and how he suffers it to live and grow.

III. ‘He that soweth the seed is the Son of Man.’—The (Incarnate) Son of God is known to us as the ‘Son of Man.’ Thus He speaks to us in the still small voice of our own nature. ‘Take heed how ye hear,’ says Christ. (But the words do not apply to the outward ear alone.) Though no human lips may have spoken God’s message, yet men in one way or another hear the voice of the ‘Son of Man.’ In the pressure of poverty, or sickness, or sorrow, He is sowing that which, if it falls on a soft and fruitful soil, will help to make our lives rich with heavenly graces; as St. Paul says: ‘Afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness to them that are exercised’ by the present pain. Where we discover in ourselves any struggle against evil, any high desire, accomplished or not, we shall, if we search diligently, find the seeds of His sowing; and out of these, if we do not baffle His purpose, those heavenly plants shall hereafter spring. Thus we see that God’s voice is not heard only through His Book. The word of God is whatever God speaks.

However men may be divided, each of us has all the soils in his heart, and he has the Sower always with him. God’s ministers may preach, His Bible may teach, but it is within that the true Word of words is sounding.

—Rev. Dr. Hort.

Illustration

‘What we are responsible for, all of us who are engaged in Christian work, is that we should make known to men, as far as we ourselves know it, the Word of God. That is the seed of the perfect life. We may interest them in very many ways, but if we do not interest them in God, and in what God has said, our work is a failure. We may impress them in many ways, in many ways create strong emotion among them, but if they are not impressed by God, and by what God has said, our work is a failure. We may excite them greatly. There is a certain dangerous influence in our own earnestness that other men can hardly help feeling, but if the excitement is not produced by what God has said, our work is a failure. The Word of God—that is the true seed of the diviner life in man.’


Verse 12

SATAN’S EVIL WORK

‘Then cometh the devil, and taketh away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved.’

Luke 8:12

Let us translate the parable a little into modern circumstances. Here is, let us say, a worthy, respectable person—regular in public worship, whatever he may be in private. He has joined, or seemed to join, more or less attentively, in a thoroughly Scriptural service. There has been every help to lift the mind to God, and fix holy thoughts and godly resolutions in his heart; no care, no pains have been spared, perhaps, as far as we can see, for his spiritual profit. He rises up at last with God’s Holy Word ringing in his very ears, with God’s own blessing freshly invoked upon his head, to carry home this good seed, this godly instruction, and, if he will, to act upon it and bring forth good fruit. And just at this very moment, when all seems so safe, so hopeful, so prosperous, when we have all prayed that this good seed may sink down inwardly into his heart, when all humbly hope some good has been done, some blessed impression left on his memory, some holy resolution ready to spring up in his heart—then cometh the devil!

I. In the most unlikely moment.—Then—for has he not been watching, as it were, in the very porch? Then—for he has no time to lose. Then cometh the devil, as he has come to thousands more, as he has come so often, and finds the good seed lying there, and catches it up unopposed, and taketh away that which is sown in his heart. The man was not asleep, nor inattentive. Else good seed would never have got into the ground of his heart at all. When you see the birds fly down on some newly-sown and well-worked piece of land, and with their busy beaks try to rob the sower of his long and careful toil, do you recollect that there is God’s own picture before your eyes of many a hearer of God’s Word, many a worshipper in God’s house; and do you ever ask yourself—Has it been, is it thus, even with me? Good seed, sown over and over again; and what has it all come to? The devil catches away the good seed out of the man’s heart, ‘lest he should be saved.’ Careless souls allow Satan to rob them, to deprive them of their own eternal happiness.

II. How is it that he succeeds so well?—Why are so many forgetful hearers—so few doers of the Word? Why is so much good seed sown—so little fruit borne for God’s glory and man’s salvation? He catches away the seed because it never sank down deep; it lay on the surface; it was never, so to say, raked in and covered over. The Psalmist says, ‘O God, Thy word have I hid within my heart, that I should not sin against Thee.’ That is exactly where the careless hearer fails. Let the Word sink down and be hidden deep, and then, though the devil comes, he cannot snatch it away. What do we read of the Blessed Virgin Mary? (chap. 2) She ‘kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart’ (Luke 8:19); and again, ‘His mother kept all these sayings in her heart’ (Luke 8:51). What sort of crop would he have who neither prepared his ground to receive seed, nor covered it over after it was sown? Ah! the plough, and drill, and harrow, the spade and the rake, all teach us lessons. All bid us prepare for seasons of grace.

III. Who is really careful and anxious over this important matter?—If we would only form one good resolution, while God’s Holy Word is fresh in our ears; if we would say as some neglected duty is brought to our minds, or some secret sin comes home to our conscience—‘Now, from this very moment I resolve, before God, to do this, or that’ (however humble or trifling the act in itself), it would be the greatest safeguard to the good seed. Satan would come and try, but the holy resolution, by God’s help, would be too strong for his cunning. If hell is paved with good intentions, heaven is paved with good resolutions. Let the good resolution be something we can act upon at once. In one, perhaps, it would be a resolution always to read and meditate on at least one verse of Holy Scripture, say at a fixed time daily. Another, perhaps, would resolve to begin the practice of family prayer. Another would resolve to give, perhaps, part of one day in each week to visit the poor. Another, some act of goodwill to an unkind or quarrelsome neighbour. There are hundreds of devout rules, of kind Christian acts, in which we fall short and offend.

Rev. J. T. Parsons.

Illustrations

(1) ‘Nowhere, perhaps, is the Devil so active as in a congregation. Nowhere does he labour so hard to stop the progress of that which is good, and to prevent men and women being saved. From him come wandering thoughts and roving imaginations—listless minds and dull memories—sleepy eyes and fidgety nerves—weary ears and distracted attention. In all these things Satan has a great hand. People wonder where they come from, and marvel how it is that they find sermons so dull and remember them so badly! They forget the parable of the sower. They forget the Devil.’

(2) ‘The agency of the fowls is external—it is not in the soil itself, nor is it connected with the soil; and, in like manner, the foe who removes the seed from the heart—that is from the memory of man—is external. Satan exercises a certain amount of power over the memory. He can relax its grasp, says Christ, upon that which is good—upon that which, if admitted, might convert the soul; and if so, is there any reasonable ground for doubting that he may do mischief in the same quarter in another form, and tighten the hold of the memory upon the evil deposits which by evil accidents have been lodged there?’


Verse 13

ROOTS OF THE CHRISTIAN LIFE

‘These have no root.’

Luke 8:13

The question is, What are ‘roots’? I should define the ‘root’ to be that which, lying secret, far down, gives strength and steadiness to that which is exposed, and at the same time supplies to all the other parts the nourishment which each requires for its life and growth.

I. The deepest ‘root’ of all is God’s election.—So deep, that it is really out of all reach and knowledge and ken of man, and yet it is the largest ‘root’ of all the ‘roots.’ If you are a Christian, the beginning of all beginnings is that ‘God chose you.’ There you touch God. You build upon a rock. You entwine yourself about the Eternities of the Unchangeable.

I do not say that you are to attempt to handle and examine this ‘root’; but when you think of it, it is an immense comfort and strength: ‘God loved me from everlasting.’ When all other ‘roots’ may seem to snap, you can hold to that. ‘God, in His amazing love, chose me.’

II. Only second to this is a distinct knowledge and a firm personal appropriation of the scheme of salvation.—Every one who wishes to continue in grace must have clear views of doctrine. God having loved me (why, I do not know, but because He is love) gave me to His Son; His Son, dying for me, paid all my debt, cancelled all my sins, and gave me a perfect righteousness, bestowing upon me a title to heaven. The Son, having saved me, gave me to the Spirit, that I might be made myself gradually holier and holier, till I was meet for heaven. And because I am not holy even thus, the Spirit gives me back to Jesus, to be perfected in His perfections, which clothe me with a beautiful robe, and make me, poor sinner as I am, in God’s sight ‘perfect.’ And so Jesus presents me, and gives me back to the Father—Who first gave me to him—‘complete.’

III. Growing out of this ‘root’ is another ‘root’—love.—You are loved, and the ray must reflect itself. I should not now make any distinction about whom you love—God or man, or whom. I mean, there is a melting, soft, loving frame—it is what a sense of God’s love always gives—an affectionate compassion of the heart. Of course it will go, at first, to God. But then it will widen its circles—everywhere. It becomes the motive power—‘The love of Christ constraineth me.’

IV. Branching out of this ‘root’ is another—a humbling sense of sin and weakness.—I see it here because I know that humility is a shoot of love. We never do feel our guilt and nothingness until we feel loved and forgiven. The sense of being loved is the surest thing to put a man into the dust. And this feeling that we are nothing, and can be nothing, is a very great ‘root.’

V. One more ‘root’—secret communion with God.—Nothing will be a substitute for that. Services—Christian fellowship—holy communion—are all necessary parts of the Divine life. But those are not ‘roots.’ The ‘root’ must go deeper. It must be something deep and hidden—a converse with God in the depths of a man’s soul. In consists chiefly in two things—the private exercises of your own room, and the little silent communications with God which occur in your heart everywhere. If you do not keep up both these—earnestly and constantly—your soul must die!

Rev. James Vaughan.

Illustration

‘“The length of the branch is the measure and the extent of the root.” As the one spreads above ground, so in exact proportion the other stretches beneath it. How far do your branches go? How far are you extending an influence for God? Whom do you bring to live under God’s shadow? Where are you exercising some deep power over another’s soul? Who is picking fruit off you for Christ and His glory? It is very easy—to be moved by the beauty of religion and the loveliness of Christ—even to tears! It is very easy—to have a strong conviction of sin, rather for sin’s sake, because it is so wretched, than for Christ’s sake, because it is so dire! It is very easy—to be good for a day, or a week, or a month! It is very easy—to receive with joy, and lose with levity! I have seen many who have “flourished like a green bay tree”; but I pass by to-morrow, “and lo! they are not,” and “their place is nowhere to be found!” And I hear that sad sentence—that wail, sadder than the dirge of the grave, “These have no root!”’


Verse 14

HALF-HEARTED CHRISTIANS

‘And that which fell among thorns are they, which, when they have heard, go forth, and are choked with cares and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to perfection.’

Luke 8:14

Our Lord would have us understand that besides those hearers of the Gospel who are simply hard-hearted, and those others who are shallow, there is yet a third class, who come next to those who are true and devout followers of Him, but are still a long way behind them, and it consists of those who have sufficiently good ground to grow a crop of good works for the glory of God and the benefit of men, but who are so taken up with other things than God’s works that they bring forth no fruit to perfection.

I. Half-hearted Christians.—I am not speaking of those who reject the Word, and think it too hard, and put it away from them as a task they are unwilling to undertake. I am speaking now of half-hearted Christians, those who would serve God if they could serve the world at the same time, those who will not seek the Kingdom of God first, in the hope that all other things will be added to them. Against this temper it is that our Lord warns us; and therefore we have to think, each one of us, what are our thorns and briars, what are the things which prevent us from bringing forth fruit to perfection—why there is so much straw and so little ear.

II. Causes of half-heartedness.—And, if we think, we shall find that our Lord, when He names the causes which hinder the soul’s growth, puts under these heads nearly all the things which interfere with us when we try to bring forth fruit to God. For, observe, what we have to do in order to do anything well is to give our whole mind to it. If we are distracted by anything else, if we find our thoughts wandering when we ought to give our undivided and fixed attention to the work in hand, we do that thing badly, and nothing so badly as a thing which concerns our salvation.

Take, for example, what our Lord puts as the first thing which draws people away from religious duties. See, He puts first of all ‘cares.’ Then in the middle He places ‘riches,’ and at the end He puts ‘pleasures.’

(a) Thus people who are very poor, and who have to work very hard for their living, must consider how to get their bread; they often spend the principal part of their time not only in labouring for their bread, but in thinking how they may labour effectually for it. They are in this way choked with the cares of this life, and so bring forth no fruit to perfection.

(b) Then again, when we have riches, sufficient at least, if not in abundance, then comes in the thought how to increase these riches, how to lay them out to the greatest worldly advantage; and so our thoughts are taken up with these things to the neglect of more important duties.

(c) And then, the very deceitfulness of riches is a fresh trouble, a fresh thorn. They will not do for us what we thought and wanted. Riches will not give us health, riches will not make us learned, riches will not give us cleverness, and therefore the very fact of these riches disappointing us, the fact that we do not get from them what we want, is another thorn.

(d) And then, the rich are tempted to put aside God by thinking how they can spend their money so as to enable them to enjoy life selfishly, instead of using it to the glory of God and the good of their fellow-men.

—Rev. Dr. Littledale.

Illustrations

(1) ‘In the African bush there is a kind of thorn well known to the colonists which the Dutch, with grim humour, call “Wait-a-bit.” It is barbed in such a manner that if you are once entangled in it you cannot free yourself by any sudden wrench, but you must cut your way out carefully with your knife, taking time over it, if you wish to get away. That is the history of our own thorns in our daily life.’

(2) ‘In Eastern lands they use thorns as fuel. If we use our thorns, our daily worries, as fuel to make our devotion boil all the warmer, we shall use them all the more wisely. But we must cut them down before we can do so. To this end we need, on the one hand, a resolute determination not to be worried with our daily cares, and, on the other, a perfect trust in God.’

(3) The little griefs, the petty wounds,

The stabs of daily care,

Crackling of thorns beneath the pot,

As life’s fire burns, now cold, now hot,

How hard they are to bear!

But on the fire burns, clear and still,

The cankering sorrow dies;

The small wounds heal, the clouds are rent,

And through this shattered mortal tent

Shine down the eternal skies.


Verse 15

BE PATIENT

‘And bring forth fruit with patience.’

Luke 8:15

I want to take to-day the subject of patience, and the reverse, impatience.

I. In ordinary business affairs.—Impatience is the cause of probably the greatest number of business disasters. Too great a hurry to get rich entails unwise ventures, and very frequently failures. If a business is to be one that is built up on sound, firm lines, it must be of slow growth, there must be patience. We get an exact illustration of this in nature. That plant-life which, in the world of nature, grows with great rapidity, dies with equal rapidity; but that which is permanent, is the slow-growing, hard wood.

II. In religious life.—In things appertaining to the spiritual side of man’s nature, this patience is essential. To some extent, I think, this is recognised; but I want to show you that patience occupies, or should occupy, a much larger space in our religious life than most of us think.

(a) If we want to cure a bad habit, to conquer, by God’s help, a besetting sin, it is necessary to have patience. Any disease of long standing takes a long time to get rid of, and we have the requisite patience for the healing of the disease of the body.

(b) In working for others patience is needed. People so soon despair because they are not able to see results. That is because they have not learned the necessary lesson that there must be patience to let good work grow. How foolish our despair is, when we call ourselves by the name of Christians, when we profess to draw our inspiration from Jesus, and to regard Him as our Teacher and Leader.

(c) In praying for others. We do not see any result, we do not see any improvement. And many people give up praying because they have not found any result to their prayers. They know it must be God’s will to grant such prayers, and it becomes a trial to their faith when they are not answered. Patience, to let God’s things grow, that is the reply. You may never even live to see the fruit, but you may be perfectly sure that such prayers are answered, and produce their results.

III. In matters of faith.—People do not always realise that patience is needed in matters of faith. All my hearers are probably in the habit of saying the Apostles’ Creed. You begin, ‘I believe,’ and I expect, if you are thinkers, from time to time the thought flashes across your minds, ‘Here am I saying “I believe.” What do I mean? Do I really believe at all? Do I believe in such a sense that it has no effect upon my life?’ And then, if we are patient, if we understand that faith, as everything else that is valuable in this world, must be a plant of slow growth, we shall study, read, think, pray. But if we are not patient, we shall do what a good many people do when they start thinking, and probably for the first time in their life think about matters of faith, realise that what they imagined they believed they only accepted because they had never considered it, and then they say, ‘I do not believe.’ That is impatience. How can we imagine that if it takes so much time to learn the things of this world, it should not take any time to learn the things of God?

—Rev. H. G. Hills.

Illustrations

(1) ‘To learn to wait is, perhaps, the hardest thing we can be set to do. We are naturally disposed to do just the reverse. We would wish to get rid of temptations and troubles at once. We would wish to realise blessings and enjoyments now. We do not bear our trials patiently. We fret under them, and often think at the bottom of our hearts that we are unkindly treated in having so many. Now this isn’t being Christ-like; and we should all wish to be like Jesus Christ. We must bring forth fruit “in patience,” or we shall, perhaps, bring forth none at all.’

(2)

‘God doth not bid thee wait

To disappoint at last;

A golden promise fair and great

In precept-mould is cast.

Soon shall the morning gild

The dark horizon-rim,

Thy heart’s desire shall be fulfilled:

Wait patiently for Him.’


Verse 18

TAKE HEED!

‘Take heed therefore how ye hear: for whosoever hath, to him shall be given; and whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he seemeth to have.’

Luke 8:18

What is the one great truth which is common to this and similar parables? Beyond question, the importance of using our opportunities, such as they are.

I. The opportunity of letting our light shine before men, of fervent love for God and our neighbour.

II. The opportunity of adding to our faith, virtue.

III. The opportunity of works of charity and mercy.

These—because the Kingdom of Heaven will be for us their bestowal—are to be seized and used. If they are not, there will be nothing but the closed door, the outer darkness, and the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels. It is well we should think of this. There is hardly anything which ordinary Christians so readily overlook, or fail to recognise as the opportunities they really do enjoy.

—Rev. C. F. Turner.

Illustration

‘Without penetrating the mystery of our Lord’s awful words concerning His betrayer, it will be more helpful to us to think of Judas not so much as a lost soul, but that his was a lost opportunity. It was in fact one such as has been vouchsafed to very few. We can hardly realise what it was. Sometimes we may be tempted to think that had we had the unspeakable privilege of looking with our bodily eyes on our Lord, and listening to His voice ‘with personal intonation’ speaking to us, things would have been different—faith would have been easier, self-denial less distasteful, sin less attractive, our love of God purer and deeper. Yet there is—Judas.’


Verse 24

CHRIST AND THE ELEMENTS

‘Then He arose, and rebuked the wind and the raging of the water: and they ceased, and there was a calm.’

Luke 8:24

There is much in that expression that ‘Christ rebuked the wind and the waves.’ You will miss a great part of the intention of the incident if you merely look upon it as a miracle of stilling a tempest.

I. Why did Christ rebuke the elements?—The word appears the language of one who either sees moral guilt, or who, in his affection, is indignant at something which is hurting those he loves. The elements, in themselves, cannot, of course, do a moral wrong.

(a) Is it possible that the prince of the power of the air had anything to do with that storm?—Was there some latent fiendish malice in that sudden outbreak of nature upon Christ and His Church? And was Christ indeed ejecting an evil spirit when He did just what He always did, and said just what He always said, when He was dealing with those who were possessed with devils? ‘He rebuked them.’

(b) There is another aspect in which we ought to see it.—We know that to the Second Adam was given what the first Adam forfeited—perfect dominion over all creation. In this light the present hurricane was like a rebellion, and Christ treated it as such, that He might show His mastership. Hence that royal word, ‘He rebuked them,’ and hence the instant submission.

II. The winds were the emblem of the external influences which affect and harass; the waves, of the inward heavings and distresses which those external influences produce upon the mind: the winds, the active, evil agencies of life; the waves, the consequence of the trials, when they fall upon you; because, as the wave answers to the wind, rising or falling with its swell or subsidence, so do our weak hearts beat or be still, and respond sensibly to the ills about us.

III. Do not wish exemption from evil, neither from sorrow, nor yet from temptation. Immunity from grief is not half as great as God’s consolation under it. Exemption is not the true peace, but deliverance, victory; the peace which Christ makes out of the materials of our troubles; the silenced fear, the subdued restlessness, the sealed pardon, the interposing grace, the triumph of an omnipotent love.

Illustration

‘This was, no doubt, a mighty miracle. It needed the power of Him Who brought the flood on the earth in the days of Noah, and in due season took it away; Who divided the Red Sea and the river Jordan into two parts, and made a path for His people through the waters; Who brought the locusts on Egypt by an east wind, and by a west wind swept them away (Exodus 10:13; Exodus 10:19). No power short of this could in a moment turn a storm into a calm. ‘To speak to the winds and waves’ is a common proverb for attempting that which is impossible. But here we see Jesus speaking, and at once the winds and waves obey! As man He had slept. As God He stilled the storm.’


Verse 25

FAITH AND ITS EVIDENCES

‘Where is your faith?’

Luke 8:25

Faith is not a mere sluggish acceptance, a mere condescending acquiescence, a mere dead passivity; it is not even a mere abstract conviction. Faith, in the Christian sense, in the sense wherein each one of us ought to say ‘I believe,’ is a possessing principle, an irresistible enthusiasm.

Men in myriads say that they believe in God. When men are sincere in the belief, it is easy to show it. Such faith is not dead or nugatory, but all-pervading; not a secondary matter, but everything; and when perfectly sincere it will bend the whole purpose of the man to love God’s law, to do His will, to glorify His name. He who really believes in God will be:

I. Watchful, because he knows God’s eye is upon him.

II. Trustful, for God is his Father.

III. Grateful, for Christ died to redeem him.

IV. Hopeful, for there is a hand that guides.

V. Self-sacrificing, for Christ bade us take up our cross.

VI. Contented with food and raiment, for Christ was poor.

VII. Holy, for He Who hath called us is holy.

We say that we believe in God. Are we sincere? If so, what are the proofs of our sincerity?

—Dean Farrar.

Illustration

‘“I believe in God, in Christ, in the Holy Ghost.” That belief, if we really had it—that is, if it were genuine faith—is strong enough to drive away vice and infidelity wholly from the world. “I believe in one God.” Why, even Mahomet said it, and meant it. With a handful of desert Arabs he burst over continents in a storm of conquests. “I believe in Christ.” Why, when a dozen Galilean peasants, unlearned and ignorant men, said it and meant it, before their emblem of a slave’s torture kings fell prostrate and armies fell. “I believe in the Holy Ghost.” Why, when the poor monk said it at Worms and at Wittemberg she whose scarlet robe was stiff with earthly pomp, whose names were many and all blasphemous, the harlot of sacerdotal tyranny and ecclesiastical corruption, reeled upon the throne of her abominations. “I believe in God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.” We say it, and from our feeble and stammering lips the words with which our fathers worked miracles fall dead. We say it, and on every side of us men are turning their backs contemptuously upon our services and are loathing our divisions and are laughing our hollow faith to scorn.’


Verse 39

TESTIMONY AT HOME

‘Return to thine own house, and shew how great things God hath done unto thee.’

Luke 8:39

The work of man’s testimony should begin at home (cf. the order in Acts 1:8).

I. Testimony at home.—There (a) they have the greater claim; (b) they can better judge of the reality of changes in character and life; (c) they are more likely to be influenced than strangers who know nothing of the man’s past.

II. The influence of home.—There (a) his faith may be more surely tried; (b) he will have more reminders of God’s mercy towards him; (c) he will be less tempted to spiritual pride. Further,

III. The claims of home.—Beware of (a) neglecting the work lying close at hand for more distant and alluring fields; (b) of testifying in public with growing indifference to the private life; and so (c) of living two lives—one, that seen by the world; the other, that known only to God, and in a measure to one’s household.

Illustration

‘We need to realise more than we do that Christianity is not simply a personal relation to Christ, that it involves a Christian society, and that, as Churchmen, our creed must be, and indeed is, Christ for the world and the world for Christ. We want, therefore, to abolish the false faith that, when a soul is brought to the Saviour, his salvation is complete, or that, when incorporated into the Church, his service is ended. Such a creed is, I recognise, nowhere theoretically held; but if works are the evidence of faith—and they are—few will be prepared to deny that, if judged practically, this is the belief of many amongst us.’


Verse 45

THE POWER OF A TOUCH

‘Who touched Me?’

Luke 8:45

It was the peculiarity in the touch that called forth the question. The weakest of all actions was that touch only on the edge of Christ’s robe, the remotest part of that which was connected with the Lord; yet, as when we clasp hands with one who is holding an electric chain and feel the shock, so Christ felt it. Virtue went forth like an electric current. But it was by His will that it went forth.

What was Christ’s motive in asking this question?

I. He wished to give the woman an assurance of entire and permanent cure.—The woman might have doubted as she remembered she had obtained it surreptitiously, but Christ saved her from fearing on that account the return of the malady. She might have been subject to constant dread. Dread might induce nervous unsettling of the body that might bring back the old disease. Miraculous knowledge of her experience and cure was at once manifested by Christ, and He confirmed her physical healing by His question. It was like saying, ‘Daughter, fear not. No wrong has been done. Be thou henceforth perfectly whole.’ Intimation was also thereby given that she was not to be content with that physical cure, but should seek still more the spiritual healing.

II. Christ would let the woman see that He had sympathy with her.—He was not afraid of contact with the sinful, but wanted to come near. He felt an interest in her, loved her, and said not ‘woman,’ but ‘daughter.’ How much would that word express to her soul! No cold tone that chills the spirit, but a lava stream of mercy and love was in that word. And not even this from afar. He comes near, showing His willingness to be touched or to touch. The power of personal contact is great. What a lesson for us!

III. Christ sought also to give an opportunity of expressing openly gratitude for what God had done for the woman in secret.—Christ asked the question. She told Him all the truth. Many who are healed are soon lost in the crowd. Christ did not want praise. He would not proclaim His own miraculous power further. But to be grateful was a benefit to the one who had received a benefit. Hence Christ sought to foster it in the woman. If alone or in a crowd we find Christ, we must also acknowledge Him openly. He knew how afterwards she would wish for an opportunity of thanking him. What a satisfaction to be able to express obligation! See how it beams in the woman’s eye. When He departs she follows Him, either in the crowd or with her eye, as He goes on His further errand of mercy to the house of Jairus. She would not so easily have confessed Him before healing. Have we no debt, no need for gratitude, no interest in Christ, no love to Him? We ought to confess Christ. This woman’s readiness shames us.

Illustration

‘We go to the masses of this day and attempt to elevate them by calling them to lift themselves. Touch them: go and put shoulder to shoulder and clasp hands with them. If the Church had done this there had been less socialism. There is a great difference between the kindness of benevolence and that of affection. A literary artist speaks of the effect upon a cultivated man of an old oil-painting of Jesus healing a blind man, and how his mother said, “The blind man was a beggar, and poor and loathsome, therefore Christ would not heal him afar off, but put His hands on him.” The same writer also tells how a benevolent lady had tried to “do good from sense of duty, and had a sense of loathing of the object in her soul. She did not think that the one whom she had tried to benefit had keenness enough to detect the loathing, but she did.” Of course, this one said that she knew the lady “could not bear her, nor even allow herself to touch her any more than she would a reptile. Yet she had expected to do good while shrinking from contact.” Thus with many now. Christ’s plan is different. Here He calls forth the woman that He may teach her of His deep sympathy, and show that He is not afraid of defilement. If masses are to be lifted, it must be in the same way.’

(SECOND OUTLINE)

CHRIST THE HEALER

No contact is lighter than that of a touch. We say of it ‘Only a touch!’ Yet the faintest touch has a power which acts and re-acts infinitely, and which produces circle beyond circle of effects which run on, interlace, and multiply for ever. But this was no common touch. There was something in it which gave it peculiar and Divine significance. What was it?

I. Why this touch attracted the particular attention of the Saviour.

(a) It was the touch of a sufferer whose case had been desperate.

(b) It was the touch of faith.

(c) It was a touch that wrought an instant and perfect cure.

He who trusts Christ crosses the line between the state of the lost and the state of the saved.

II. Why did the Saviour ask the question?—This excited the wonder of the disciples.

(a) Not from ignorance. Omniscience asked the first question ever heard on earth (Genesis 3:9), and unless we have misread the Scriptures, and have hitherto been trusting the wrong person for our Saviour, it was omniscience that asked the question, ‘Who touched Me?’

(b) Not from exhaustion. When prophets and apostles wrought miracles of healing, it was by a power foreign to themselves, which they had to invoke by prayer: when Christ wrought them, it was from His own indwelling power. No gifts can impoverish a Divine giver.

(c) Not from displeasure. In village streets where Jesus was expected the sick were placed in long ranks of beds and litters, that they might catch from Him some comforting notice as He passed along, and touch the hem of His garment as it floated within their reach, for they knew that He delighted in mercy.

It was not therefore from any of these motives that Christ asked the question. We must account for it on some other principle.

III. Manifold seems to have been the design of the question.

(a) It was intended to show that He marks the difference between thronging and touching Him. The Saviour ever discriminates between the mere accidental touch of those who rush with the multitude and the conscious, dependent, voluntary touch of faith.

(b) It was to enlighten and invigorate the faith of her who touched Him. Weak and half-superstitious as was her faith, it drew from Him the blessing wanted.

(c) It was intended to be a method of asserting His right to be glorified for what He has done. Conscience may be telling you that in your own life there is a repetition of the conduct that called forth this question of our Lord. God’s battles will never be fought, nor His work done, nor His name spread in the world by a race of secret disciples.

(d) Christ asked the question that the interview with the woman, to which it led, might issue in the bestowment of His benediction.

Illustration

‘This woman having made her resolve, adopted the likeliest means she could think of. There is one Heal-all, one Divine Catholicon, and only one Happy is he that hath received this infallible balm from Jehovah Rophi. She persevered in the use of the means. Have you been to Doctor Ceremony, Doctor Morality, Doctor Feeling? She spent all her substance over these means of cure. What came of it all? Her sole reward for suffering and spending was that she had suffered much additional pain. That is the case with those who have not come to Christ but have sought relief apart from Him.’

 


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Bibliography Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Luke 8:4". Church Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/cpc/luke-8.html. 1876.

Lectionary Calendar
Friday, July 10th, 2020
the Week of Proper 9 / Ordinary 14
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