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Bible Commentaries
Mark 4

Godbey's Commentary on the New TestamentGodbey's NT Commentary

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Verses 1-25



Matthew 13:1-23 ; Mark 4:1-25 ; & Luke 8:4-18 . Mark: “And again He began to teach by the sea; and a great multitude were gathered unto Him, so that, entering into a ship, He sat in the sea. The whole multitude was at the sea on the land. And He was teaching them many things in parables. And He said unto them in His teaching, Hear ye! Behold, a sower went out to sow, and it came to pass while he was sowing, some fell by the wayside, and the fowls of the air came and devoured it; and others fell among the rocks, where it had not much earth, and immediately it sprang up, because it had no depth of earth; the sun having risen, it was scorched, and because it had no root, it withered away. And other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up and choked it out, and it brought forth no fruit; and others fell in good ground, and springing up brought forth fruit, and produced, some thirty, some sixty, and some a hundred fold. And He said unto them, Let the one having ears to hear, hear.”

Matthew 8:10 : “And His disciples coming said to Him, Wherefore do You speak to them in parables? And He responding, said to them, Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For whosoever has, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundantly; but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he hath.” How clearly do we see this law of spiritual thrift universally demonstrated in the kingdom of God! The great preachers are not those favored with brilliant precocity in the outset. Adam Clarke, who became the greatest linguist and theologian of his day, is said to have been proverbial for his juvenile stupidity. The brightest saints did not all receive a Pauline conversion nor a Pentecostal sanctification; but utilizing the germ of grace and spark of fire, they have moved on from the tinkling rill to the swelling river, from the potato-hill to the towering mountain. If you do not cultivate the grace given and utilize it for God, it will be taken from you, and given to others who will magnify the Donor. “Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing, they see not; hearing, they hear not; neither do they understand;” i.e., they see with their physical eyes and hear with their mortal ears, while their spiritual senses are locked tight in the death of sin. “The prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled unto them, saying, By hearing, ye shall hear, and may not understand; seeing, ye shall see, and may not perceive.” You observe here the contingent tense of these verbs revelatory of grace, which is freely administered by the Holy Spirit to all who will receive it, as He is ever present to open the blind eyes and unstop the deaf ears, soften the stony heart, and quicken the dead spirit into life, thus giving blessed spiritual availability to all who will reciprocate His merciful intervention.

“For the heart of this people has waxed gross, and they hear heavily with their ears, and they have closed their eyes, lest they may see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their heart, and turn, and I shall heal them.” (Isaiah 6:9.)

Where E.V. here says “be converted,” the reading is simply “may turn unto Me,” denoting their own spontaneous action, receptive of Divine mercy and spiritual overtures. “Happy are your eyes, because they see; and your ears, because they hear. For I say unto you, That many prophets and righteous men desired to see those things which you see, and saw them not; and to hear those things which you hear, and heard them not.” All the prophets, from the days of Abel through the lapse of four thousand years, had hoped and longed to see Jesus come on the earth, but died without the sight. So the saints of the Christian ages have lived and died, longing to see Jesus return in His glory. Shall our faith waver because He tarrieth? God forbid! Mark 4:14 : “The sower soweth the word. Those who are by the wayside, when the word is sown, and when they may hear it, immediately Satan comes, and takes away the word which was sown in their hearts.

And likewise those who were sown upon the rocks are they who, when they may hear the word, immediately with joy receive it. And they have no root in themselves, but are temporary; then tribulation or persecution arising on account of the word, immediately they are offended. And the others, who were sown among the thorns, are they who, hearing the word, and the cares of this age and the deceitfulness of riches and desires concerning remaining things come in, choke out the word, and it becomes unfruitful. And those which were sown in good ground are they who hear the word, and receive it, and bring forth, some thirty, some sixty, and some a hundred fold.” Here, in this notable, beautiful, and exceedingly lucid Parable of the Sower, we have four different sowings the wayside, the stony ground, the thorny ground, and the good ground. You observe the final failure on the part of all the sowings except the good ground. The wayside sowing was all caught away by the fowls of the air, which emblematize demons. Consequently there were no results whatever in their case. O, what a large proportion of popular audiences belongs to this class! The precious truth on which they are dependent for salvation is snatched up by their guardian demons and carried away, the Word going in at one ear and out at the other, leaving them utterly empty and blank; so they get nothing, thus living and dying under the blaze of gospel day, but in practical heathenism, only hastening to a more dreadful damnation than if they had lived and died in Central Africa. The second sowing is among the rocks, where soil is scarce, and the underlying strata near the surface. It is a well-known fact in agriculture that this sort of land warms early under the vernal sun, germinating quickly, giving farmers the first grass in spring and the first vegetables; yet it is the first to wilt under the scorching summer sun, and to feel the heavy tread of an autumnal drought. What is needed to make this land all right? Blow up the rocks, break them to pieces, using the workable for edifices, fences, and roads, burning the fragments into lime to enrich the ground, thus transforming these almost worthless stony hills into fertile fields and blooming gardens. The stony ground here is the superficial convert, who, as Jesus says, “immediately receives the Word with joy;” i.e., is converted easily and quickly, characteristic of the great, sweeping revivals, in which hundreds and thousands are counted, and after a year we scarcely find a corporal’s guard. The trouble is, they are not “rooted and grounded in love.” (Ephesians 3:18.) Hence, when tribulation or persecution rises, they are offended; i.e., they fall away. If the work could move on steadfastly, not giving them time to backslide, till the dynamite of the Holy Ghost blows out and breaks up all the stony strata in the deep interior of the heart, thus sanctifying them wholly and transforming them into “good ground,” they would stand all right. The third sowing is in the thorny ground, which is much better and more hopeful than the stony ground. Thorns indicate rich soil, yet they are awfully obnoxious to the crop, and exceedingly difficult to get rid of, surviving every other indigenous bramble, and even making their appearance after the land has been cultivated a hundred years. We need the long, sharp mattock of entire sanctification to dig them out by the roots, then burn them into ashes, and sow it on the fields to enrich the soil, thus developing it into good ground. Jesus tells us that these thorns are the cares of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and desires appertaining to other things; i.e., things other than the kingdom of God. The thorny ground here gets a much better and deeper work of grace than the stony ground, and is apt to get the victory over the seductive temptations to carnal pleasure and worldly amusement incident to the youth, and go on into the sterner responsibilities of middle life, to find accumulating riches, multiplication of worldly business, social and official aggrandizement, preponderant over the citadel of grace in his heart, ultimately getting the door open wide enough for Satan, with a cohort of carnal and worldly imps, to come in, quench the fire of spiritual devotion, and freeze him into a beautiful iceberg, reflecting the splendor of the polar sun, which shines six months without setting, concentrating the admiration of the whole Church, so they elect him a member of the General Conference, promoting him to honors and emoluments, making him a ruling elder; and, finally, preaching him a glorious funeral sermon, while he is with Dives in hell. The digging necessary to take out all the thorn roots is quite a painful ordeal, while the consuming fire of the Holy Ghost, in His sanctifying Pentecost, by the mere mention, brings stampede into a popular Church, filled up with these thorny-ground backsliders. The fourth sowing is on the good ground. Of course you already know what this good ground is. It is the heart which the Holy Ghost has made good, as none are good by nature. In the Divine estimation, pursuant to the great plan of salvation, the ground is not good till all the rocks and thorns are sanctified out. You see ample provisions are made in the economy of gospel grace to make all the ground good; i.e., sanctify every heart. How can you make the hard, dry, wayside land good? Throw the fence of God’s gracious providence around it, and keep stock from treading on it. The vernal showers will soften it, the freezes loosen it up, till it becomes alluvial. Cast fertilization on it, take out all of the rocks, and grub up all of the thorns; let the plow go down deep, and the harrow do thorough work, and before you are aware, you have good ground. You see in the progress of this parable that, out of the four sowings, only one proves a success. The wayside does not so much as receive the seed till it is devoured by the demons. The stony ground germinates quickly, but utterly withers speedily, terminating in total failure; while the thorny ground not only germinates, but grows up and produces fruit; but Luke says it does not bring it to perfection; i.e., it either rots on the stalk, or after it is gathered, as unripe fruit will not keep. Hence you see that the only hope for the first three sowings is to turn all of the land into good ground i.e., get all hearts sanctified wholly then every sowing will be a success. You here see the wonderful growth in grace peculiar to sanctified people; as in case of the good ground some produce thirty-fold i.e., at the end of life had thirty times as much religion as when they were converted; others, sixty; and others, a hundred i.e., winding up with a hundred times the quantum of regenerating grace. O what an incentive to everybody to come into the good ground i.e., to get sanctified wholly!

“And He said to them, Whether does the light come, that it may be placed under a bushel or under a bed? is it not that it may be placed on a candlestick? for there is nothing hidden which may not be revealed; nor was there anything secret, but that it may come into the light. If any one has ears to hear, let him hear. And He said to them, See what you hear. With what measure you measure, it shall be measured unto you, and shall be added to those who hear. For whosoever may have, shall be given unto him; whosoever has not, it shall be taken from him whatsoever he hath.”

Thus our Lord winds up this beautiful, lucid, and instructive Parable of the Sower with a few pertinent practical remarks. If you would not put your light under a bushel, you must become good ground, and appreciate the wonderful possibilities of accumulation here specified, one gaining thirty, another sixty, and another a hundred fold. His trite maxim about hearing, He also subjoins. To the unspiritual it sounds insignificant, as the multitude were then hearing His voice; yet it is only the spiritually quickened ear that can hear the voice of God that wakes the dead, physical ears only hearing the voice of the man who can not save. We receive the Man Christ, while the God Christ saves us. He also here very pertinently repeats His wonderful law of spiritual thrift. That if we faithfully utilize the gifts and graces He gives us, He will increase them indefinitely; while if we are lazy and unappreciative, He will take them away altogether, giving us a place with the “unprofitable servant.”

Verse 9


For all the prophets and the law prophesied unto John. And if you wish to receive him, this is Elijah who is to come.” (Malachi 3:1) “Let the one having ears to hear, hear.” Though all have physical ears, they never can hear the voice of God and the music of heaven till Jesus speaks the Ephthatha, “Be thou opened.” The above Scriptures settle all questions as to the boundaries of the dispensations, showing clearly that John the Baptist did actually wind up the Mosaic dispensation, being the last of the prophets and the greatest of all.

Verse 23


For all the prophets and the law prophesied unto John. And if you wish to receive him, this is Elijah who is to come.” (Malachi 3:1) “Let the one having ears to hear, hear.” Though all have physical ears, they never can hear the voice of God and the music of heaven till Jesus speaks the Ephthatha, “Be thou opened.” The above Scriptures settle all questions as to the boundaries of the dispensations, showing clearly that John the Baptist did actually wind up the Mosaic dispensation, being the last of the prophets and the greatest of all.

Verses 26-34


Mark 4:26-34 . “And He said, Thus is the kingdom of God as if a man may cast seed upon the ground, and he may sleep, and it springs up, night and day, and the seed germinates and grows, while he did not know it. For the earth spontaneously brings forth fruit, first the blade, then the ear, and then the full corn in the ear, and when the fruit may develop, immediately he sendeth forth his sickle, because the harvest is at hand.” While the Divine economy, like the vegetable world, beginning with germination, grows on to maturity, yet, as we here see, periods and epochs are recognizable in the progressive development. The appearance of the blade marks germination

i.e., regeneration; the formation of the wheat-head, sanctification, which is the fruit, as above revealed; finally, the full corn in the ear i.e., the ripening of the wheat-heads symbolizes glorification, the consummating work of the Holy Ghost, preparatory for the heavenly harvest, when the saints are gathered into the glorified presence of God.

Verses 30-32


Matthew 13:31-32 , & Mark 4:30-32 . “And He said, To what must we liken the kingdom of God? or in what parable may we expound it? It is like a grain of mustard, which, when it may be sown upon the earth, is the smallest of seeds which are upon the earth, and when it may be sown and becomes greater than all the herbs, and produces great branches, so that the fowls of the air are able to lodge under its shadow.” Mark says, “And when it may grow up, it is the greatest of herbs, and becomes a tree, so that the fowls of the air come and lodge in its branches.” Our Savior was speaking on the bank of the Galilean Sea, near Capernaum, where the mustard plant grows spontaneously, very numerous, and quite large, high as a man’s head, with spreading branches, so as to shade the birds, as Mark says, or even bear some of them on its branches. As it is designated an herb, it is highly probable that was the mustard to which our Savior made the allusion. The dragomen who escorted us in that country gave it as their opinion that the herb was really the mustard here used to symbolize the kingdom. It is also a matter of fact that there is a tree in Palestine called “mustard,” from the pungency of the seed, imparting a burning sensation when taken into the mouth, and thus resembling the mustard plant. This tree grows up about thirty feet high, spreading out its branches very copiously, and thus fulfilling the description with reference to the lodgment of the aerial tribes. You will find specimens of this tree at the Fountain Engedi, at the southern terminus of the Dead Sea. (Ezekiel 47:12.) In the Parable of the Sower, which is a part of this same sermon, you see the fowls gathering up the seed sown by the wayside emblematized devils. We see no reason why we should change the application in this parable. While the kingdom of grace, originating in a community from the smallest beginning, will gradually spread throughout the whole country. Fifteen hundred years ago, St. Patrick was carried by kidnapers into Ireland, and sold into slavery, quite in his boyhood. This godly youth preached the gospel, which spread over the entire island. You know how corrupt, superstitious, and priest-ridden Romanism has blighted that country a thousand years. Can you not see how the filthy, destructive fowls of the air- i.e., the demons from the bottomless pit--came and took possession of the gospel-tree, lodging in its branches and devouring the fruit? The gospel is rapidly spreading throughout the whole earth. Yet if you will follow in its track, you will see the air darkened by the black wing of the ravens, devouring the fruit, and polluting the tree by their contaminating touch. The great Churches of the Old World, which numerically throw Protestant America into eclipse, have long ceased to show up a trace of spirituality, having apparently degenerated to the level of mere politico-ecclesiastical institutions.

Verses 35-41


Matthew 13:18-27 ; Mark 4:35-41 ; & Luke 8:22-25 ; Luke 9:57-62 . Mark: “And He says to them on that day, it being evening, Let us cross over to the other side. And leaving the multitude, they receive Him, as he was in the ship; and there were many other ships along with Him. And there is a great storm of wind, and the waves poured into the ship, so that it was already sinking.” Matthew says is was covered with the waves, and Luke says they were being filled up and were in danger. The Sea of Galilee, seven hundred feet below the Mediterranean, as a natural consequence of this deep depression, is surrounded by mountains on all sides, except the deep valley through which the Jordan flows from the north and out toward the south. Consequently it is very liable to sudden tornadoes; the atmosphere, pouring down in all directions from the highlands, gets turned about, and develops whirlwinds, which are very dangerous, as it is sixteen and one-half miles long and seven and one-half miles wide, with a coast of seventy-five miles. We were warned by the guidebooks to beware of storms. This we heeded, lighting on the good fortune to get a very valuable boat, which was built last year, in Beyroot, for the especial accommodation of the German emperor. We found it splendid, and, sailing over the sea two days, encountered no storm. “He was lying in the stern, sleeping on a pillow; they arouse Him up, and say to Him, Master, is there no care to Thee that we perish?” Matthew: “And He says to them, Why are ye cowardly, O ye of little faith?” This was a just rebuke; because they might have known that they were in no danger with Him on hoard. This is the secret of perfect love, which always takes Jesus aboard, casting out fear. Mark “And rising, He rebuked the wind and said to the sea, Be quiet!

be calm! And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. And He said to them, Why are ye afraid? How have you not faith? And they feared with great fear, and continued to say to one another, Who then is this, because the wind and the sea obey Him?” This was a most incontestable miracle, commanding the elements of nature, illustrating to all that He had made the sea and the storms, and had nothing to do but speak, and they promptly obey. We sailed over the same route last November, meanwhile we read the account of this storm and the miraculous calm.

Bibliographical Information
Godbey, William. "Commentary on Mark 4". "Godbey's Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ges/mark-4.html.
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