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And again he began to teach by the seaside. This return to the seaside is mentioned by St. Mark only. From this time our Lord's teaching began to be more public. The room and the little courtyard no longer sufficed for the multitudes that came to him. The Authorized Version says that "a great multitude was gathered unto him." The Greek adjective, according to the most approved reading, is πλεῖστος the superlative of πολὺς, and should be rendered "a very great" multitude. They bad probably been waiting for him in the neighborhood of Capernaum. He entered into a boat—probably the boat mentioned at Mark 3:9—and sat in the sea, i.e. in the boat afloat on the water, so as to be relieved of the pressure of the vast multitude (πλεῖστος ὄχλος) gathered on the shore.
He taught them many things in parables. This was a new system of teaching. For some months he had taught directly. But as he found that this direct teaching was met in some quarters with unbelief and scorn, he abandoned it for the less direct method of the parable. The parable (παραβολή) is etymologically the setting forth of one thing by the side of another, so that the one may be compared with the other. The parable is the truth presented by a similitude. It differs from the proverb inasmuch as it is necessarily figurative. The proverb may be figurative, but it need not of necessity be figurative. The parable is often an expanded proverb, and the proverb a condensed parable. There is but one Hebrew word for the two English words "parable" and "proverb," which may account for their being frequently interchanged. The proverb (Latin) is a common sentiment generally accepted. The parable (Greek) is something put by the side of something else. Theologically, it is something in the world of nature which finds its counterpart in the world of spirit. The parable attracts attention, and so becomes valuable as a test of character. It reveals the seekers after truth, those who love the light. It withdraws the light from those who love darkness. And said unto them in his doctrine (ἐν τῇ διδαχῇ αὐτοῦ); literally, in his teaching, namely, that particular mode of teaching which he bad just introduced; "he taught them" (ἐδίδασκεν). He said, "in his teaching" (ἐν τῇ διδαχῇ αὐτοῦ).
Hearken (Ακούετε). This word is introduced in St. Mark's narrative only; and it is very suitable to the warning at verse 9, "he hath ears to hear, let him hear. The sower went forth to sow. The scope of this beautiful parable is this: Christ teaches us that he is the Sower, that is, the great Preacher of the gospel among men.
1. But not all who hear the gospel believe it and receive it; just as some of the seed sown fell by the wayside, on the hard footpath, where it could not penetrate the ground, but lay upon the surface, and so was picked up by the birds.
2. Again, not all who hear and believe persevere in the faith; some fall away; like the seed sown on rocky ground, which springs up indeed, but for want of depth of soil puts forth no root, and is soon scorched by the rising sun, and, being without root, withers away.
3. But further, not all who show faith bring forth the fruit of good works; like the seed sown among the thorns, which, growing up together with it, choked it (συνέπνιξαν αὐτὸ); such is the meaning. St. Luke has the words (συμφυεῖσαι αἱ ἄκανθαι ἀπέπνιξαν), "the thorns grew up with it and choked it."
4. But, lastly, there are those who receive the gospel in the love of it, and bring forth fruit, not, however, in equal measures, but some thirtyfold, some sixty, some a hundred; and this on account of the greater influences of grace, or on account of the more ready co-operation of the free-will of man with the sovereign grace of God. The whole parable marks a gradation. In the first case the seed produces nothing; in the second it produces only the blade; in the third it is near the point of producing fruit, but fails to bring forth to perfection; in the fourth it yields fruit, but in different measures.
And he said, Who hath ears to hear, let him hear. St. Luke (Luke 8:8) bus a stronger word than (ἔλεγεν) "he said." He (Luke 8:8) has (ἐφώνει) "he cried." Our Lord uses this expression, "he that hath ears to hear," etc, when the subject-matter is figurative or obscure, as though to rouse the attention of his hearers. He has "ears to hear" who diligently attends to the words of Christ, that he may ponder and obey them. Many heard him out of curiosity, that they might bear something new, or learned, or brilliant; not that they might lay to heart the things which they heard, and endeavor to practice them in their lives. And so it is with those who go to hear sermons on account of the fame of the preacher, and not that they may learn to amend their lives; and thus the words of Jehovah to Ezekiel (Ezekiel 33:32) are fulfilled, "And, lo, thou art unto them as a very lovely song of one that hath a pleasant voice, and can play well on an instrument: for they hear thy words, but they do them not."
When he was alone. These words do not appear in St. Matthew's account. He simply says that " the disciples came and said unto him." This must have been upon some other occasion. It could not have been when be was preaching from the boat; for St. Mark says, they that were about him with the twelve. He is the only evangelist who notices this. We must not forget that, besides the twelve, there were seventy other disciples. They asked of him the parables (τὰς παραβολάς), according to the best reading. The inquiry was a general one, although St. Mark here gives the explanation of one only.
Mark 4:11, Mark 4:12
To know the mystery. The Greek verb γνῶναι, to know, is not found in the best manuscripts, in which the words are (ὑμῖν τὸ μυστὴριον δέδοται), unto you is given the mystery of the kingdom of God. Our Lord here explains why he spake to the mixed multitude in parables; namely, because most of them were as yet incapable of receiving the gospel: some would not believe it, others reviled it. Therefore our Lord here encourages his own disciples to search out his words spoken in parables, and humbly to inquire into their full meaning, that so they might become able ministers and efficient preachers of the gospel. Moreover, by this he shows that this efficiency cannot be obtained by our own strength, but must be humbly sought for from God. For it is his own gift which he bestows on the disciples of Christ, and denies to others, whom he leaves to the blindness of their own hearts. It is as though he said, "To you, my disciples, my apostles, it is given, since you believe in me as the Messiah, to have continually more clear revelations from me of the mysteries of God and of heaven, by which you shall day by day increase in the knowledge and love of him. But from the scribes and others, because they will not believe in me as their own Messiah, God will take away even that small knowledge which they have of him and of his kingdom. Yea, he will deprive them of all the special privileges which they have hitherto possessed." But the words are not limited in their application to those who were living on the earth when Christ sojourned here. He says to all in every age who come within the reach of his gospel, "Those who come to me with a sincere heart and a simple desire to know the truth, as you, my apostles, are doing, to them I will reveal the mysteries of my kingdom, and I will help them onwards in the path of holiness, by which they may at length attain to the heavenly kingdom. But they who have not this pure desire of truth, but indulge their own lusts and errors, from them that little knowledge of God and of Divine things will by degrees be taken away, and they will become altogether blind." Observe the expression (ἐκείνοις δὲ τοῖς ἔξω), but unto them that are without. There were then, just as there are now, those who were outside the realm of spiritual things; not caring for, not understanding, not desirous of spiritual truth. Lest at any time they should be converted (μήποτε ἐπιστρέψωσι)—lest haply they should turn again (the verb is active) and their sins should be forgiven them. According to the best reading, τὰ ἁμαρτήματα is omitted; so it runs, and it should be forgiven them. The use of the active verb brings out the sinner's responsibility with respect to his own conversion.
Know ye not this parable? and how shall ye know all the parables? that is, "How, then, can you expect to understand all parables, as they ought to do who are instructed unto the kingdom of heaven?" It is St. Mark alone who recalls and records these words. They are striking and vivid, as illustrating the condition of mind of the disciples at this time—slow of apprehension, and yet desirous to learn.
The sower soweth the word. St. Matthew (Matthew 13:19) calls it "the word of the kingdom"—an expression equivalent to "the gospel of the kingdom," not merely moral truth, but spiritual and eternal.
Straightway cometh Satan. St. Matthew (Matthew 13:19) says, "then cometh (ὁ πονηρὸς) the evil one;" the same expression which our Lord uses in the Lord's Prayer, and which helps to justify the English rendering in the Revised Version there. As the seed failing by the wayside is refused by the hard and well-trodden ground, and so is readily picked up by the birds; in like manner, the seed of God's Word, falling upon a heart rendered callous by the custom of sinning, is straightway snatched away by "the evil one," urging the heart again to its accustomed sins. Well may we pray to be delivered from this "evil one."
Mark 4:16, Mark 4:17
And these are they likewise which are sown on stony ground. This sentence would be better rendered, And these in like manner are they that are sown upon the rocky places, where the words "likewise," or "in like manner," mean "by a similar mode of interpretation." This is the second condition of soil on which the seed is sown—a better condition than the former; for the former plainly refused the seed, but this, having some soil layout. able to the germination of the seed, receives it, and the seed springs up, though but for a little while. So the rocky ground is like the heart of that hearer who hears the Word of God, and receives it with joy. He is delighted with its beauty, its justice, its purity; and he breaks forth with holy affections. But alas he has more of the rock than of the good soil in his heart. Hence the Word of God cannot strike a deep root into his soul. He is not constant in the faith. He endures but for a time, and in the hour of temptation he falls away.
And these are they which are sown among thorns. According to the best authorities, the words are (καὶ ἄλλοι εἰσιν), and others are they, etc. This marks a considerable difference between the two classes. This is the third condition of soft; and it is so much better than the former, inasmuch as the thorns present less obstacles to the growth of the seed than the rocky ground does. This similitude indicates the heart of that hearer who is beset with the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches and the lusts of other things.
The cares of the world (τοῦ αἰῶνος); literally, of the age; that is, temporal and secular cares, incident to the age in which our lot is cast, and which are common to all. These, like thorns, distress and trouble, and often wound the soul; while, on the other hand, the care of the soul and the thought of heavenly things compose and establish the mind. The deceitfulness of riches. Riches are aptly compared to thorns, because, like thorns, they pierce the soul. St. Paul (1 Timothy 6:10) speaks of some who, through the love of riches, "have pierced themselves through with many sorrows." Riches are deceitful, because they often seduce the soul from God and from salvation, and are the cause of many sins. "How hardly," says our Lord, "shall a rich man enter into the kingdom of God I" They have a tendency to choke the Word of God, and to weaken the power of religion. "Those are the only true riches," says St. Gregory, "which make us rich in virtue."
Those are they that were sown upon the good ground. The good ground represents the heart which receives the Word of God with joy and desire, and true devotion of spirit, and which steadfastly retains it, whether in prosperity or in adversity; and so yields fruit, "sows thirty, some sixty, and some a hundredfold." St. Jerome remarks that, as of the bad ground there were three different kinds—the way, side, the rocky, and the thorny ground; so of the good ground there is a threefold gradation indicated in the amount of its productiveness. There are differences of conditions in the hearts both of those who believe and of these who do not believe.
Is a candle brought to be put under a bushel, etc.? The Greek is ὁ λύχνος, and is better rendered the lamp. The figure is recorded by St. Matthew (Matthew 5:15) as used by our Lord in his sermon on the mount. It is evident that he repeated his sayings, and used them sometimes in a different connection. The lamp is here the light of Divine truth, shining in the person of Christ. Is the lamp brought to be put under the bushel? It comes to us. The light in our souls is not of our own kindling; it comes to us from God, that we may manifest it for his glory. "The bushel" (μόδιος), from the Latin medias, a measure containing flour, was the flour-bin, a part of the furniture of every house, as was the tall lampstand with its single light. St, Luke (Luke 8:16) calls it "a vessel" (καλύπτει αὐτὸν σκεύει). The light is to be set on "a lamp-stand," and in like manner the light which we have received is to shine before men. As Christians, we are Christ's light-bearers. By this illustration our Lord teaches that he was unwilling that the mysteries of this great parable of the sower and of other parables should be concealed, but that his disciples should unfold these things to others as he had to them, although at present they might not be able to receive them.
For there is nothing hid which shall not be manifested. The Greek of the latter part of this sentence, according to the best authorities, runs thus: ἐὰν μὴ ἵνα φανερωθῇ; so the true rendering of the words is, there is nothing hid save that it should be manifested; that is, there is nothing now hid, but in order that it may be made known. There is a great principle of the Divine operations here announced by our Lord. Much, very much, is now hidden from us, in nature, in providence, and in grace. But it will not always be hidden. In natural things more and more is revealed as science advances, and in providence and in grace the mysteries of the kingdom will one day, and at the fitting time, be laid open to all. "What I tell you in the darkness, speak ye in the light" (Matthew 10:27).
Take heed what ye hear. Attend, that is, to these words which ye hear from me, that ye may understand them, and commit them to memory, and so be able to communicate them effectually to others. Let none of my words escape you. Our Lord bids us to pay the greatest attention to his words, and so to digest them that we may be able to teach them to others. With what measure ye mete it shall be measured unto you: and more shall be given unto you. Our Lord's meaning is clearly this: If you freely and plentifully communicate and preach my doctrine to others, you shall receive a corresponding reward. Nay, you shall have a return in far more abundant measure. For thus the fountains, the more water they pour out below, so much the more do they receive from above. Here, then, is great encouragement to all faithful teachers of the Word, of whatever kind; that by how much they give to others in teaching them, by so much the more shall they receive of wisdom and grace from Christ; according to those words of the apostle, "He that soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully" (2 Corinthians 9:6).
For he that hath, to him shall be given. He that uses his gifts, whether of intellect or of goodness, bestowed upon him by God, to him shall be granted an increase of those gifts. But from him who uses them not, God will gradually take them away. Christ here encourages his apostles and disciples to diligent and earnest preaching of his gospel, by promising them in return yet greater influxes of his wisdom and grace.
This parable is recorded by St. Mark alone. It differs greatly from the parable of the sower, although both of them are founded upon the imagery of the seed cast into the ground. In both cases the seed represents the doctrine of the gospel; the field represents the hearers; the harvest the end of the world, or perhaps the death of each individual hearer. So is the kingdom of God, in its progress from its establishment to its completion. The sower casts seed upon the earth, not without careful preparation of the soil, but without further sowing. And then he pursues his ordinary business. He sleeps by night; he rises by day; he has leisure for other employment; his work as a sower is finished. Meanwhile the seed germinates and grows by its own hidden virtues, assisted by the earth, the sun, and the air, the sower knowing nothing of the mysterious process. First comes the blade, then the ear, then the full corn in the ear. Such is the preaching of the gospel. Here, therefore, the sower represents human responsibility in the work. The vitality of the seed is independent of his labour. The earth develops the plant from the seed by those natural but mysterious processes through which the Creator is ever working. So in spiritual things, the sower commences the work, and the grace of God perfects it in the heart which receives these influences. The earth beareth fruit of herself. In like manner, by degrees, the faith of Christ increases through the preaching of the gospel; and the Church grows and expands. And what is true of the Church collectively is true also of each individual member of the Church. For the heart of each faithful Christian produces first the blade, when it conceives good desires and begins to put them into action; then the ear, when it brings them to good effect; and lastly the full corn in the ear, when it brings them to their full maturity and perfection. Hence our Lord in this parable intimates that they who labour for the conversion of souls ought, with much patience, to wait for the fruit of 'their labour, as the husbandman waits with much patience for the precious fruits of the earth.
But when the fruit is ripe (ὅταν δὲ παραδῷ ὁ καρπὸς). The verb here is active; it might be rendered delivereth up, or alloweth. It is a peculiar expression, though evidently meaning "when the fruit is ready." He putteth forth the sickle, because the harvest is come. As soon as Christ's work is completed, whether in the Church or in the individual, "immediately" the sickle is sent forth. As soon as a Christian is ready for heaven, God calls him away; and therefore we may infer that it is unwise, if not sinful, for a Christian, pressed it may be with sickness or trouble, to be eager in wishing to leave this world. "It is one thing to be willing to go when God pleases; it is another thing to speak as though we wished to hasten our departure." "When the fruit is ripe, immediately he putteth forth the sickle." If therefore, the sickle is not yet sent forth, it is because the fruit is not yet fully ripe. The afflictions of the faithful are God's means to ripen them for heaven. They are the dressing which the Lord of the vineyard employs to make the tree more fruitful, to make the Christian more fruitful in grace, and more ripe for glory.
Whereunto shall we liken the kingdom of God? or with what comparison shall we compare it! In the first clause of this verse the best authorities give πῶς for τίνι, How shall we liken the kingdom of God? and in the second clause, instead of the Greek of which the Authorized Version is the rendering, the best-approved reading is (τίνι αὐτὴν παραβολῇ θῶμεν), in what parable shall we set it forth? Our Lord thus stimulates the intellect of his hearers, by making them his associates, as it were, in the search for appropriate similitudes (see Dr. Morison, in loc.). The kingdom of God, that is, his Church on earth, is like a grain of mustard seed. By this image our Lord shows the great power, fertility, and extension of the Church; inasmuch as it started from a very small and apparently insignificant beginning, and spread itself over the whole world. It is not literally and absolutely true that the grain of mustard seed is less than all seeds. There are other seeds which are less than it. But the expression may readily be allowed when we compare the smallness of the seed with the greatness of the results produced by it. It is one of the least of all seeds. And so the preaching of the Gospel and the establishment of the Church was one of the smallest of beginnings. Perhaps the well-known pungency of the seed of the mustard plant may suggest the quickening, stimulating power of the Gospel when it takes root in the heart. The mustard plant shoots out large branches, which are used as fuel in some countries, quite large enough for shadow for the birds. A traveler in South America says that it grows to so large a tree upon the slopes of the mountains of Chili that he could ride under its branches.
Mark 4:33, Mark 4:34
With many such parables; such, that is, as he had just been delivering—plain and simple illustrations which all might understand; not abstruse and difficult similitudes, but sufficiently plain for them to perceive that there was heavenly and Divine truth lying hidden beneath them, so that they might be drawn onwards through that which they did understand, to search into something hidden beneath it, which at present they did not know. But privately to his own disciples he expounded (ἐπέλυε) all things. This word (ἐπιλύω) occurs nowhere else in the Gospels. But it does occur in St. Peter's second Epistle (2 Peter 1:20), "No Scripture is of any private (ἐπιλύσεως) exposition, or interpretation." This suggests a connection between St. Mark's Gospel and that Epistle, and may be accepted as an auxiliary evidence, however small, as to the genuineness of the Epistle.
Mark 4:35, Mark 4:36
And on that day,—the day, that is, on which the parables were delivered, at least those recorded by St. Mark—when even was come, he saith unto them, Let us go over unto the other side. And leaving the multitude, they take him with them, even as he was, in the boat. It was the boat from which he had been preaching. They made no special preparation. They did not land first to obtain provisions. It would have been inconvenient to go ashore in the midst of the crowd. They made at once, as he told them to do, for the other side. And other boats were with him. This is another interesting circumstance. Probably those who were in these boats had availed themselves of them to get nearer to the great Prophet, the boatmen themselves having seen the vast crowd that was gathered on the shore, and so having been attracted thither. Thus he had a large audience on the sea as well as on the land. And not it was so ordered that he was surrounded by a fleet and by a multitude of witnesses when he stilled the tempest.
And there arose a great storm of wind; literally, there ariseth (γίνεται λαίλαψ). St. Mark often uses the historical present, which gives vigor and point to his narrative. And the waves beat into the boat, insomuch that the boat was now filling (ἤδη γεμίζεσθαι). St. Matthew says (Matthew 8:24), "the boat was covered with the waves." St. Luke (Luke 8:23), "they were filling with water, and were in jeopardy." Bede and ethers have thought that the boat in which Christ was the only boat that was tossed by this storm; in order that Christ might show his power in limiting the area of the tempest. But it is far more probable that the ether boats were subject to it; for they were very near to the boat in which Christ was. There must have been some reason for the allusion to these boats; and the wider the reach of the tempest, the greater would appear the Divine power of Christ in stilling it, and the greater the amount of testimony to the reality of the miracle. The miracle was wrought to show his power over all creation, the sea as well as the dry land; and that they, his disciples, and all who were with him might believe in him as the Omnipotent God. But further, this tempest on the sea of Galilee was a type and symbol of the trials and temptations which should come on the Church. For the Church of God is as a ship in a storm, ever tossed upon "the waves of this troublesome world." And then, moreover, as the rude storm urges the ship onwards, so that it more quickly reaches the desired haven, so afflictions and temptations quicken Christ's disciples to the greater desire of holiness, by which they are borne onwards more speedily to "the haven where they would be."
And he was in the hinder part of the ship, asleep on a pillow; more literally, he himself was in the stern (ἦν αὐτὸς ἐπὶ τῇ πρύμνῃ) asleep on the cushion (ἐπὶ τὸ προσκεφάλαιον καθεύδων). He had changed his posture. He was weary with the labour of addressing the great multitude. He had sought the momentary rest which the crossing of the lake offered to him. He was resting his head upon the low bench which served both for a seat and for a pillow. But while he slept as man, he was watchful as God. "Behold, he that keepeth Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps." Master, carest thou not that we perish? This question savours of impatience, if not of irreverence. Who so likely to have put it as St. Peter? Nor would he be likely afterwards to forget that he had put it. Hence, probably, its appearance in St. Mark's Gospel.
And he arose—literally, he awoke (διεγερθεὶς)—and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still (Σιώπα πεφίμωσο); literally, Be silent! be muzzled! The Greek perfect implies that before the word was uttered, the thing was done by the simple fiat of his will preceding the word. The combined descriptions of the synoptists show that the storm was very violent, such as no human power could have composed or stilled. So that these words indicate the supreme authority of Christ as God, ruling the sea with his mighty power. Thus Christ shows himself to be God. In like manner, Christ is able to overrule and control the persecutions of the Church and the temptations of the soul. St. Augustine says that "when we allow temptations to overcome us, Christ sleeps in us. We forget Christ at such times. Let us, then, remember him. Let us awake him. He will speak. He will rebuke the tempest in the soul, and there will be a great calm." There was a great calm. For all creation perceives its Creator. He never speaks in vain. It is observable that, as in his miracles of healing, the subjects of them usually passed at once to perfect soundness, so here, there was no gradual subsiding of the storm, as in the ordinary operations of nature, but almost before the word had escaped his lips there was a perfect calm.
And he said unto them, Why are ye fearful! have ye not yet faith? Not πῶς οὐκ ἔχετε, but οὔπω ἔχετε. If they had faith, they would have known that, though asleep, he could preserve them.
And they feared exceedingly, and said one to another, Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him? This would seem to have been said by the sailors, though it was doubtless assented to by all.
It is a picturesque and memorable sight. Multitudes of people, of all classes and from every part of the land, have assembled on the western shore of the Galilean lake, where Jesus is daily occupied in teaching and in healing. To protect himself from the pressure of the crowd, and the better to command his audience, Jesus steps into a boat, and pushes off a few yards from the beach. There, with the fair landscape before him, corn-fields covering the slopes, the birds of the air above, winging their flight over the still waters,—the great Teacher addresses the people. His language is figurative, drawn from the processes of nature and the employments of husbandry, probably at the very moment apparent to his eye. How natural that, at this moment and in this scene, our Lord should introduce a new style of teaching, should enter upon a new phase of ministry! The parable, as a vehicle for spiritual truth, had indeed been employed by Jewish teachers and prophets; but it was our Lord himself who carried this style of spiritual instruction to perfection.
I. THE sower. Every man, and especially every teacher, is a sower—intellectual, moral, or both. Christ is emphatically the Sower. He was such in his ministry on earth; in his death, when the corn of wheat fell into the ground and died, he was both the Sower and the Seed; in the gospel dispensation he continues to be the Divine Sower. His apostles and all his ministers have been sowing through the long centuries, or rather he has been sowing by their hands. How wise, liberal, diligent, unwearied, is Christ in this beneficent work!
II. THE SEED. This is the Word of God. All truth is spiritual seed; the truth relating to God—his will and grace—is "the seed of the kingdom." Like the seed, the gospel is comparatively small and insignificant; it has within it inherent vitality, a living germ; it is seemingly thrown away and hidden; its nature is to grow and to increase and multiply; it is tender and depends upon the treatment it meets with whether it lives or dies.
III. THE sore. The human heart is adapted to receive and to cherish the spiritual seed. But as on the surface of the earth some ground is fertile and some is barren, some ground is adapted to one crop and other ground to a crop of different kind, so it is in the spiritual husbandry. Whilst all hearts are created to receive the heavenly seed, and only fulfill their end when they bear spiritual fruit, we cannot but recognize the marvellous diversity of soil into which the gospel is deposited. Yet we must not so interpret the parable as to countenance the doctrine of fatalism.
IV. THE sowing. Was the sower in the parable guided, in the manner and measure of his sowing, by the likelihood or otherwise that the land would prove fruitful? No; neither should the gospel sower reckon probabilities: his Master did not. The sower should be liberal and indiscriminate, should "sow beside all waters," should remember that he "knows not which shall prosper, this or that." It is for him to do his work diligently and faithfully, and leave results to God; e.g. the mother and the child, the teacher and the class, the master and the pupil or apprentice, the preacher and the congregation, the author and the reader.
V. THE GROWTH. This is not universal; for, as the parable reminds us, it comes to pass, both in the natural and the spiritual sowing, that in some cases the seed disappears and comes to nought. Yet the redemption of Christ proclaimed, and the grace of the Holy Spirit vouchsafed, co-operate oftentimes to most blessed results, even as in nature seed and soil, showers and sunshine, produce a vigorous growth.
VI. THE HARVEST. What is the end of sowing and tilling, of culture and toil? It is fruit. And, in the spiritual kingdom, what is the aim and recompense of the Divine and of all human sowers? It is fruit—of holiness, obedience, love, joy, peace, eternal life. It shall not be wanting. "My word shall not return unto me void;" "They that sow in tears shall reap in joy;" "They shall bring their sheaves with them;" it may be "after many days." There is a harvest in time, and a richer, riper harvest in eternity.
1. One of encouragement for all gospel sowers; they are doing the Master's work, they are following the Master's example, they are assured of the Master's support.
2. One of admonition to all to whom the Word is preached. Take heed what and how you hear. The seed is heavenly; is the soil kindly, prepared, grateful, fruitful?
Mark 4:4, Mark 4:15
The Word stolen from the heart.
Young preachers, in the strength of their convictions and the ardor of their benevolence, are often inspired with enthusiastic expectations concerning the results of the preaching of the gospel. It seems to them that the Word has only to be addressed to men's minds in order to meet with an eager, grateful, and immediate acceptance. As their experience enlarges, and as they learn in how many cases reason and conscience are silenced by the clamor of passion and interest, or disregarded through the power of sinful habit or the influence of sinful society, they turn to this parable, and learn how just was the view and how tempered the expectations of the Divine Teacher and Saviour, as to the acceptance with which his gospel should meet.
I. THE HEART HARDENED BY WORLDLINESS AND SIN IS NOT RECEPTIVE OF THE WORD.
1. Wordly thoughts and cares preoccupy the mind, so that there is no response to the appeals of the gospel. When the attention is absorbed by things seen and temporal, spiritual realities appear imaginary and uninteresting. As there was no room for the babe Jesus at the inn, so the nature which welcomes every passing guest finds no place for the King and for his Word.
2. Sin shuts out the truth. There is no fellowship between light and darkness. The sinner's heart is closed against the heavenly rays. What preacher could not, from his own observation, offer many a living illustration of the saying, "Men love darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil" ? To revert to the figure of the text, sin loved and unrepented of treads down the heart into a hard, impenetrable pathway, where no glebe breaks up, in frost, in shower, or in sunshine, to give a welcome, a home, a cradle, to the germ of spiritual life.
3. Familiarity with truth unheeded hardens any nature against the gospel. Who are the least hopeful in our congregations? Surely they are those who have, from habit or through influence, been attending the "means of grace" for many years, to whom every statement, every appeal, every remonstrance, every warning, is an old familiar sound, "a twice-told tale." The nature becomes not only indifferent, but callous; there is no real heed, no living susceptibility, no response of faith and joy.
II. THE ENEMY OF SOULS SNATCHES THE WORD FROM THE HARDENED HEART. The condition of the sinner's soul is such as offers to Satan an occasion for frustrating the benevolent designs of the Divine Sower. Had the seed fallen into good ground and been covered over, there would have been no invitation or opportunity for the birds to snatch it away. So it is only the worldly, sensual, or unbelieving nature that, so to speak, tempts the tempter himself. By the birds it is usually understood that the great Teacher intends to represent evil thoughts and imaginations and desires, such as possess the unspiritual and unthinking. How true to the life is this account! How many careless and unbelieving hearers of the gospel no sooner leave the church in which they have listened to the Word, than common, foolish, selfish, sinful thoughts take possession of their mind, and the Word is snatched away—is as though it had not been! The necessary result is that there is no fruit. How can there be fruit when the Word has not been mixed with faith in the heater's heart? "Do you take care that it falls not on, but in, your souls." "Break up your fallow ground; for it is time to seek the Lord."
Mark 4:5, Mark 4:6, Mark 4:16, Mark 4:17
The Word starved in the heart.
The Christian preacher sometimes reason to exclaim, "Who hath believed our report?" But sometimes he has occasion to lament over those who apparently have believed but whose goodness proves, as time passes, "as the morning cloud and as the early dew, which goeth away." Our Lord warns us that we shall meet with such cases, which first excite hope and expectation, and then cloud the soul of the Christian labourer with disappointment and sorrow. Such are compared to the rocky soil, with just a scattering of earth upon the surface, where the seed may grow, but where it will never live to produce a crop.
I. GROWTH EXCITES HOPE. In the cases symbolized by this part of the parable there is much to please and encourage the inexperienced sower of the Divine Word. We observe:
1. Sensibility and susceptibility. How different from the wayside hearer is this! Here we behold the truth obtaining at once a lodgment and welcome in the heart. An impressible nature is affected by the glad tidings which Christ brings from heaven. The conscience is aroused, the judgment is convinced, the heart is captivated. The first contact of the truth with the soul is of the most hopeful character.
2. Gladness follows the reception of the Word; for this is an emotional nature, responsive to the joyful tidings. This is indeed what ought to be expected; yet its occurrence is so rare as to occasion surprise and enkindle the most glowing expectations. It is especially in times of "revival" that such instances abound. A general excitement heightens the emotion of joy which springs up in the heart of the impressible hearer; it is joy as of one who finds a great treasure.
3. Precocity of growth is the natural consequence. The soil is of a "forcing" character, and yields speedy and surprising, if temporary, results. Very different from the slow, steady, gradual growth, which is most, on the whole, to be desired, is the rapid development of the religious life in the superficial convert of the apparent "revival." Extreme views, extravagant expectations, thoughtless but ardent resolves,—all testify to the quick, unhealthy growth.
II. WITHERING BRINGS DISAPPOINTMENT.
1. After a while a season of trial comes. Time tries all, and affliction and persecution arise. This is the providential appointment; it is discipline which Divine wisdom deems necessary. In the early days of Christianity this was a common test, and in some form and in some measure it continues and will long continue to be so.
2. Before the scorching sun the feeble growth is withered and destroyed. The furnace which refines the gold consumes the straw. The effect at first produced was owing to novelty, excitement, company, enthusiasm. Only the surface was reached, below was nothing. The transitory joy is followed by depression, carelessness, stolidity, obduracy. Perhaps there is a hope of the renewal of excitement, which never comes. It is seen that belief is not faith, feeling is not principle, joy is not life. To endure that test there is needed an inward, hidden life, hidden with Christ in God. There is needed a soil watered continually by heavenly dews and showers. "Blessed is he that endureth!"
1. Let sanguine preachers and teachers take a sober and scriptural view of their work, and guard against being misled by enthusiasm and extravagant expectations.
2. Let hearers of the gospel seek grace that the truth may not only touch but may penetrate their heart; let them seek the Holy Spirit's aid that they may hear the Word of God, and keep it!
Mark 4:7, Mark 4:18, Mark 4:19
The Word choked in the heart.
Thorns make a good hedge but a bad crop. The soil here described was in itself rich, good soil. But it could not grow both thorns and wheat, and, when occupied by the one, failed to yield the other.
I. WHAT ARE THE THORNS THAT OVERGROW THE SOIL? Thorns, thistles, brambles, briers, are signs of neglect. They are the emblems of the primeval curse, for the garden was by our first parents exchanged for the thorny wilderness. In our parable the thorns are explained to represent:
1. "The cares of this world." Cares, whether of State or business, of letters or science, of family or calling, may occupy the mind which has received the truth of God, to such an extent as to hinder that truth from growing up.
"Care, when it once hath entered in the breast,
Will have the whole possession ere it rest."
Cares are distractions, and, even when concerning lawful things, if unchecked, are detrimental and disastrous. This is the special temptation of the poor and hardworking. Well are we directed to be "careful for nothing," etc., and "to take no thought for the morrow," etc.
2. "The deceitfulness of riches" is depicted under the figure of the thorns. The possession of wealth may be a curse to the rich, and the search—the race—after riches may be a curse to the avaricious and worldly. The unwary are deceived; for riches promise what they cannot give, and they sometimes draw away the heart from the treasure in heaven, which alone can truly enrich and satisfy for ever. How many, trusting in riches, have failed of the kingdom!
3. "The lusts of other things" have much of mischief laid to their charge. Pleasure is a fair and fragrant flower, but it may hide a thorn. It may be manifestly sinful, it may be doubtful, it may be innocent but unduly absorbing,—and in any such case it may choke the Word. How many are the things which men put in the place of religion ! They are left unnamed, that we may supply them from our own knowledge of our own hearts and their manifold and varied snares. To desire aught earthly overmuch is to desire things heavenly too little.
II. HOW DO THESE THORNS CHOKE THE SEED? In two ways:
1. By taking up the room which the Word requires. They occupy the short and fleeting period of time allotted for our probation. The leisure for pondering and practically obeying the truth never comes. Time flies: the soul dies. They absorb attention and engage the heart. The words of the world must be listened to, and Christ must wait until "a more convenient season"—which never comes. But if the world must have our ears, must claim our hands, Christ should have our heart. Alas! men plan and toil, prosper and grow rich, respected, powerful, famous; and in doing so neglect the Word. Little know they of the mind of Paul, "To me to live is Christ."
2. By counteracting the influence of the truth. In the former case (the rocky ground) it was persecution; in this case it is the allurements of the world which prove injurious to the soul. Cares and lusts are thorns which must be choked or they choke. So thorn and corn grow side by side with a fair show. But gradually the evil gains the victory, and goodness perishes. What experienced sower has not seen and mourned over the process? Warnings are in vain. The thorns grow apace; the soul becomes insensible to all the claims of Christ, to all the appeals of the gospel. So the Word is unfruitful as before.
"Stones mar the root;
Thorns spoil the fruit."
What poor produce there is comes to no maturity, no perfection. Labour is wasted, promise is blasted, hope is clouded, all is lost!
APPLICATION. None who receive the Word of life are free from the danger here described. Search and find out the hindrances to vigor and fruitfulness in the spiritual life. Root them all up, that the Word may live and grow and yield abundance. Look for fruit; God looks for it as the only proof of life. Else, when the Lord comes and finds no fruit, the thorns will indeed be burned, but the ground will be exposed as fruitless and worthless, and "nigh unto cursing."
Mark 4:8, Mark 4:20
The Word fruitful in the heart.
Most varied results attend the preaching of the gospel. Look at our Lord's own ministry. On the one hand, we are told, "He did there no mighty works because of their unbelief;" "yet they believed not upon him; 'and we find him exclaiming, "Woe unto you, cities!" etc. On the other hand, "the multitude heard him gladly;" of the Samaritans, "many more believed because of his word," and sometimes, in their eagerness, "they pressed upon him to hear," etc. Nor was this fact peculiar to Christ's ministry; the apostles confessed that they were to some a savor of life, to others of death; and the historian records, as a matter of fact, that "some believed, and some believed not." So is it with Christian preachers in every age; there are instances which rejoice and recompense them, and others which disappoint and depress them. The great Teacher foretells in this part of the parable that there shall ever be cases in which the Lord's Word "shall not return unto him void."
I. THE PREPARED SOIL. The good ground was in contrast with the several varieties of poor and bad soil. It was soft and yielding, as distinguished from the trodden earth of the wayside. It was deep, as distinguished from the shallow sprinkling of earth upon the rock beneath. It was clean as distinguished from the foul, weedy, thorny land. So with the honest and good heart, prepared by Divine influences and responsive to Divine culture and care. There is in this figurative language no countenance given to fatalism. We meet with good ground sometimes amongst those brought up in the Christian family and Church, as in Timothy; sometimes amongst those not specially privileged, but candid and guileless, as in Nathanael; sometimes even among the outwardly wicked, who yet may not be hardened, but may be ready to welcome deliverance from their evil ways, as in some of the publicans and sinners. Similar instances are recorded in the Acts of the Apostles.
II. THE VITAL PROCESS. In the other cases, the seed sooner or later perishes; in this case it lives. It is neither stolen, nor starved, nor choked. The reason is that the soil accepts and retains the seed. So with the heart that not only receives but holds fast the Word of life, that cherishes and matures it, that gives it a resting-place, and welcomes all heavenly influences which can quicken and strengthen and prosper it. That nature will develop into Divine life and immortal fruitfulness which ponders the truth of God, assimilates it, keeps for it the place of honor, pre-eminence, and power, gives it room and scope and play, watches over it and prays for its vitality, energy, and increase. In such a nature the seed germinates and lives and grows, for it finds there congenial soil and cordial welcome and sustenance. The power of this life is that of the Holy Spirit: "God giveth the increase."
III. THE FRUITFUL HARVEST. What is meant by "fruit" ? Spiritual result for spiritual toil and agency and culture. In the case of the sinner, the first and most welcome fruit is that of conversion unto God. But the rich fruits expected are these: obedience, righteousness, holiness, Christlikeness, consecration, self-denial, usefulness. "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace," etc. Such fruit is the only proof of life and growth. "By their fruits ye shall know them;" i.e. by the quality, the flavour, and fragrance of the moral produce. "Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit;" i.e. by abundance alone can the husbandman be satisfied and recompensed. The multiplication of the seed is one of the many points of resemblance between the physical and the spiritual life. Who has not seen a heart changed by one sermon, a life made anew by one utterance or by one lesson of Divine providence? Seemingly an insignificant seed, yet a crop of glorious ripeness and luxuriance. And as for variety, every congregation of Christians is a living witness to this. Either because the same opportunities have been, in some eases, more diligently used, or because different advantages have been employed with equal assiduity; it results that some yield fruit thirty, some sixty, and others a hundredfold.
1. The responsibility of hearing the Word. God provides the seed; but the preparation of the soil is largely in our hands.
2. The expectation of the Sower is great in proportion to the greatness of our advantages. Nothing less than much fruit can satisfy him from you.
Mark 4:10-13, Mark 4:21-25
The lamp of parabolic teaching.
Probably the opposition, malignity, and misrepresentation of the scribes and Pharisees were the occasion of the commencement by our Lord of a new style of public teaching. He did not wish at present to excite so much turmoil and violence as should lead to the interruption of his ministry. His design was to introduce into men's minds new ideas of the spiritual reign of God—ideas altogether in contradiction to their own carnal notions and hopes. He knew, however, the importance of considering the character and the mental position of the learner, in order that the mature might be thoroughly enlightened and instructed, in order that the immature might be encouraged to inquiry and to thought, in order that, for a season, the doctrine might remain concealed from the unspiritual and the unsympathetic.
I. THE LAMP OF DIVINE TEACHING IS INTENDED TO GIVE LIGHT. The Galilean cottage had its lampstand, its bed, its corn-measure; and every peasant could see the absurdity of first kindling the lamp and then hiding it under the meal-box or the couch. Let it be put upon the lofty stand, and it will give light to all. So when Christ came, the great Teacher, the great Saviour, he came a light into the world, to be the light, of men. His words, his character, his deeds, his whole life, were an illumination from heaven. When he taught he taught for all humanity and for all time.
II. THE PARABOLIC FORM OF TEACHING WAS NO EXCEPTION. The parable hid the truth, made a secret of it, enclosed it like a jewel in a casket. But it was never intended that the truth should remain concealed; the intention was that it should be manifested, that it should come to light (Mark 4:22). And, as a matter of fact, the figurative and pictorial form has served to display and illumine rather than to hide the great truths of Christianity. To how many simple, childlike minds have the parables of our Lord Jesus brought home lessons of wisdom, grace, hope, and consolation! And what materials for reflection, what profound spiritual help and illumination, have they afforded to the thoughtful student of the Word! And what themes for the teacher, the preacher, the expositor, have these parables ever been found! They are "a mystery;" but a mystery is a truth once hidden but now made clear and published abroad.
III. IN FACT, PARABOLIC TEACHING IS DARKNESS TO THE UNSPIRITUAL AND LIGHT TO THE SPIRITUAL. Like all good things, it may be used and it may be abused. When Christ speaks, there are those who do not perceive, who do not understand. Is this the fault of the Word? No, it is the fault of their own inattentive, unreceptive, unsympathizing nature. It is they, the hearers, who are to blame; not the truth which they will not appreciate (Mark 4:12). Yet are there those "who have ears to hear;" and these hear. To them the Word is as music, satisfying their souls, bringing to them the thoughts of the Divine mind, the love of the Divine heart, the secret of the Divine purposes. To them it is said, "Happy are your ears, for they hear!"
IV. CHRISTIANS LEARN THE MYSTERY THAT THEY MAY PUBLISH IT. Speaking especially to his apostles, but through them to all who receive the gospel, our Lord bids those who welcome and value the truth to proclaim it far and wide. It is light intended for the world's illumination; let it be set up on high, that all in this great dark house of humanity may see their way to God. It is meal for the hungering multitude; let it be dealt forth to every applicant with no sparing hand, no grudging heart. There is light enough for all who are in darkness; bread enough for all who are in danger of starving. It is the office of the members of Christ's Church to hold forth the light of life, to take of the food and, as it multiplies in their hands, to give to the vast multitude in the barren wilderness.
V. WE ARE ACCOUNTABLE BOTH FOR THE WAY IN WHICH WE RECEIVE AND FOR THE WAY IN WHICH WE IMPART DIVINE TRUTH.
1. "Take heed what and how ye hear." It is unprofitable and wrong to offer a willing ear to every teacher, to all tidings. On the other hand, it is folly and sin to turn away from him who speaketh from heaven, or to listen to him with inattention, with unconcern, with unsympathizing, unbelieving hearts.
2. "With what measure ye mete it shall be measured unto you." Be faithful, be diligent, fulfill your trust with zeal and wisdom, display benevolence towards the untaught and the unblessed, and you shall receive more—more of truth and more of spiritual enrichment and joy. On the other hand, the selfish, the unpitying, the unfaithful, shall gain nothing by spiritual niggardliness; from them shall be taken away even that which they have.
There are common truths and a common interpretation underlying this and several other parables. In all this group the seed is the Word of God, the soil is the heart of man, the life is the spiritual history and development, the fruit is Christian character, and the harvest is eternal result and retribution. But the peculiar lesson of this parable is the nature of spiritual growth. It this case it is presumed that the seed is sown in good soil.
I. IT IS HIDDEN, AND CANNOT BE TRACED AND WATCHED. Until it is deposited in the ground, seed may be beheld and examined by the eye. But then it is covered up and concealed, and germinates and begins to grow beneath the surface. In like manner you may see the truth as written, you may hear it as spoken; but when once it gets into the heart, germinates, and goes to its work, the preacher and teacher fail to follow it, and altogether lose sight of it. In the silent soul the Divine seed works in secret, lives, strives, moves, grows. Probably those reared in Christian homes cannot recollect when the truth, quickened by the Spirit, first began to live in them. Certainly you can only very dimly follow the process of growth in others. Years pass; the youth grows into the man, goes about daily duty, takes nightly rest, and all the while the hidden seed is living and developing slowly or swiftly, but unperceived even by those who planted it. How little, in some instances, preachers and teachers and parents can follow the Word, as it does its work within the hearts of those for whom they care! Yet "the kingdom of God comes without observation." Convictions of their own spiritual nature and immortal destiny, of the character and government of God, of the love and reign of Christ, are all forming within, becoming part of the spiritual being. And the vital growth, though unperceived, is giving signs of its reality.
II. IT IS MYSTERIOUS AND NOT TO BE UNDERSTOOD. The husbandman, the gardener, "knoweth not how." Even the scientific observer cannot explain the mystery of life and growth. There is no caprice; all is reason and law, yet the process baffles our understanding. So in the working of God's kingdom within, there is much that is mysterious. How can Divine truth, naturally so unpalatable, gain a hold upon the heart? How can it overmaster other principles so that it shall flourish as they fade? And, looking to the external, how can we account for it, that the kingdom of God, so unworldly, can advance to universal victory? The power of life must be that of the holy Spirit, acting like the sunlight and the genial warmth, the frequent showers and the morning dew. It is the Lord's doing, invisible, incomprehensible, admirable, adorable, Divine!
III. IT IS ACCORDING TO ITS OWN LAWS, NOT OURS. In dealing with vegetation, there is much which we can do if we work with nature. We can till the soil, expose the seed to moisture and warmth, protect it from unfavourable conditions. But we cannot work against laws of nature; we cannot make pebbles grow, acorns produce elm trees, or barley yield a crop of wheat; we cannot grow the produce of the tropics at the poles. Providence has imposed laws upon nature, and with regard to life some things are possible, and others impossible. So spiritual life follows laws which we cannot change, and much of our interference has no influence or but little. The seed grows "of itself," i.e. as God appoints for it. The truth of God is not trammelled by our notions or fancies; the Spirit of God is not hampered by our rules. Men prove their own pettiness when they attempt to prescribe how the Divine seed shall grow. The Giver of the seed and Lord of the harvest does his work in his own way and time. He carries on a heavenly process in the conscience and the heart, in the bosom of human society. Vain is our fancy that we can rule the life. "Paul plants, Apollos waters, and God gives the increase."
IV. THE PROCESS IS USUALLY GRADUAL AND PROGRESSIVE. There is a regular law of development, "first the blade," etc. We never get the fruit first, the blade last. Everything in its season. So in the spiritual kingdom of God. In the child or the young convert, we look first for signs of life—the blade which proves that the seed has germinated. By Christian nurture, scriptural instruction, and Divine discipline, gradual and sure progress is made. The promise is partly realized when the ear is formed; it is the time of vigor and manifest growth. Then with the long and profitable years comes the full corn—the ripeness of Christian knowledge, experience, and service. A few favorable years bring the seedling to the sapling, and the sapling to the stalwart tree; a few months cover the broad brown tilth with the golden shocks. So in the Church of Christ we see the gradual unfolding of character, the gentle ripening of experience, one stage of growth left behind in making way for that which succeeds.
V. THE HARVEST IS THE END AND THE RECOMPENSE OF ALL. If the growth is unobtrusive, the harvest is conspicuous. The secret working has prepared for the open result. Life ends in fruit. It is so in the spiritual field. When there is ripeness, then the time has come for the sickle to be put in. The harvest is gathered, and the garner of God is filled with golden grain. Fruit is yielded upon earth; and the richest crop is reaped hereafter.
1. The Christian sower and labourer may learn to think humbly of himself, highly of his work.
2. There is encouragement for the "babes in Christ;" their stage of experience is the necessary preparation for the more complete fulfillment of the high purposes of God.
3. The glory must be given to God when life is vigorous and when fruit is ripe.
The mustard seed.
The kingdom of God has its intension and its extension, its rule over the individual soul, and its sway over human society, its invisible work within and its manifest and mighty achievement without; it transforms character and it renews the world. Perhaps it is fair to regard the preceding parable of "the seed growing secretly" as a parable of the history of the Word in the heart; and this of the mustard seed as a parable of the fortunes and destiny of the Word in the world. Our attention is here directed to—
I. THE SMALL AND INSIGNIFICANT BEGINNINGS OF CHRIST'S KINGDOM, The suggestions of nature here are many and striking. Not only does the tree begin with a seed, the eagle comes from an egg, the river is first a little rill, the fire is ignited by a spark, and every day, however gorgeous, begins with a faint and glimmering dawn.
1. The Lord Jesus himself, in his simplicity and humiliation, seemed most unlikely to be the Founder of the greatest of all kingdoms. "Despised and rejected of men," cast out, calumniated, and crucified, Jesus was as the grain of mustard seed.
2. The apostles of the Saviour were termed "ignorant and unlearned men," and were apparently little adapted to revolutionize the world. But in them God chose "the weak things of the world to confound the mighty."
3. The early Church may well have seemed to an observer to have had a poor prospect of growing into a world-embracing community. In many a thoughtful mind, only doubt and perplexity could arise as to "whereunto this thing should grow." Few, feeble, contemned, these little societies were, however, the earnest of a universal Church. It was then "the day of small things."
4. The very characteristics of Christianity gave little promise of the diffusion of this religion throughout the world. Its defiance of worldly principles and powers, its spirituality, its dependence upon unseen might, its warfare with prevailing error and sin,—all seemed prejudicial to its prospects of progress and victory.
II. THE SECRET OF THE PROGRESS OF CHRIST'S KINGDOM. The figurative language of the parable suggests what this is. It is the supernatural life which inspires it. Life comes from life; and the Divine vitality and growth of the Christian Church is owing to the indwelling of a heavenly principle and force. A Divine Saviour, a Divine Spirit, a Divine Word,—these account for the fact that Christianity lives and grows, expands and conquers, day by day and year by year. These alone explain its resistance alike of force and of corruption, its endurance amidst all changes of civilization, its permanence when all things else fleet, vanish, disappear.
III. THE DESTINED MAJESTIC GROWTH OF CHRIST'S KINGDOM. The Oriental mustard tree, with its large, strong branches, where the birds settle and eat the pungent seeds, beneath the shadow of which men rest, serves as an emblem of the vastness and capacious hospitality and ample provision of Christianity in its ultimate perfection. The records of our religion tell of noble character, of sublime heroism, of saintly devotion, of marvellous patience, of mature wisdom, of boundless benevolence. And all have sprung from that seed which fell into the ground and died eighteen centuries ago in Judaea. The progress of Christianity during the first centuries of persecution, its conquest of the barbarian conquerors, its purification under the Reformers, its modern missions to the East and to the South,—all prove its inherent vitality, and predict its ultimate universality of dominion. The predictions alike of the Old and New Testaments are glowing and inspiriting, yet, in our own days, even calm calculation will not deem their fulfillment improbable, whilst faith beholds them already realized. The "kingdoms of this world shall become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ."
1. The discouraged may learn here a lesson of patience. The growth of knowledge, virtue, and piety, may be slow, but it is sure. "The husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit."
2. All labourers in Christ's cause may be of good cheer; for what has been beheld of progress is enough to inspire with confidence and animate to toil: "Your labour will not be in vain in the Lord."
The storm: the two questions.
The scene here depicted by the evangelist is an emblem of the condition, of the needs, of the fears, of the Church of Christ; and of the perpetual presence, the brotherly care, the Divine dignity, of the Lord. The disciples were on the Sea of Gennesaret; and we are upon the sea of life—of this uncertain world. They took Christ with them in the boat; and we have him with us alway. A storm arose and threatened their safety; and we, as long as we are here, are exposed to the tempests of trial, doubt, and danger. Jesus slept; and to us it sometimes seems as though he had forgotten and abandoned us. At the disciples' cry, Jesus arose and stilled the storm; and never can we call upon him without experiencing his friendly and effectual interposition. He reproached the faithless; and for us too he has often a word of expostulation. His authority impressed the disciples' minds with reverence; and never can we contemplate his character and his saving might without renewing our faith and adoration. There are two questions in the record which represent the two movements of the narrative.
I. THE QUESTION OF THE DISCIPLES, "HAST THOU NO CARE?" It was the cry of impulse, and a cry which has often sprung from the heart of the Lord's people in their griefs and dangers.
1. A cry of fear. Christians have the same natural passions as other men. In times of bodily danger, in scenes of public commotion and disaster, in circumstances of threatening and suffering to the Church, the fears of Christ's people have often been awakened. "We perish!" "Carest thou not? "Save us!" Such are the exclamations uttered by imperilled, anxious, and terrified souls.
2. A cry, evincing seine faith. If the disciples had been altogether without faith, they would not have appealed to Jesus, they would not have called him "Master!" they would not have entreated him to save them. So, when in our distress we call upon the Lord that he will deliver us, we prove that we have some faith in him whose help we seek.
3. A cry, however, evincing defect of faith. If the disciples' faith in their Master had been perfect, they would not have given way to panic, and they would not have been rebuked. Our attitude of spirit often proves the deficiency and imperfection of our confidence in our Lord. There was want of faith in his knowledge. Did he not, though sleeping, understand their danger and their need? A want of faith in his interest and care. He did care; and they ought, even in such circumstances, to have felt assured of this. A want of faith in his habitual rule. Though slumbering, he was nature's Lord. And how often are we, Christ's people, guilty of overlooking, in our distresses, the acquaintance of Jesus with our case, the power of Jesus over our foes, the love of Jesus for our souls!
II. THE QUESTION OF THE CHRIST, "HAVE YE NO FAITH?" Well might Jesus appeal thus to his disciples. Often had they experienced his power. Always had he justified their confidence. Never had he forgotten or forsaken them. How justly may our Lord address a similar expostulation to us when we are ready to abandon ourselves to sorrow and to despair!
1. No faith, when there is such an Object of faith? Christ has shown himself by his character and his work, to be deserving of all faith; and when we have least confidence in ourselves or our fellow-men we may well have all confidence in him.
2. No faith when in human life there is so much need of faith? From danger, temptation, sorrow, sin, there is no exemption. If we throw up faith in Christ, we throw up all.
3. No faith, when we have so many examples and instances to justify faith? Refer to Old Testament history in the light of Hebrews 11:1-40; refer to the Gospel narratives of the centurion, of the Canaanite woman, etc.; refer to the instances of our Lord's gracious reply to the appeal and prayer of faith;—and ask if there is any excuse for withholding faith.
4. No faith, when absence of faith must leave the heart desolate and helpless? What do you lose and forfeit if you are without confidence in Christ? Peace of mind, strength for life's conflicts, hope in suffering and in age and in death. Can we forego all these?
5. No faith, when there is such express encouragement to trust in Christ? He himself invites our confidence: "Believe in me;" "Be not faithless, but believing;" "Have ye not yet faith?"
1. Let the unbelieving repent of their unbelief, and look unto and call upon Jesus; that henceforth, knowing his grace, they may surely trust in him.
2. Let the doubting Christian be encouraged to put away his fears, and to pray, "Lord, increase our faith!"
3. Let the believing Christian remember that Christ's people can never perish.
"With Christ in the vessel,
I smile at the storm."
4. Let all who experience the Saviour's delivering power and grace unite in adoring him and witnessing to him: "What manner of man is this?"
HOMILIES BY A.F. MUIR
Mark 4:1, Mark 4:2
The nature-preaching of Christ.
I. CIRCUMSTANCES OCCASIONING IT. The order of Matthew and Mark preferable and explanatory. Various considerations led him to adopt this method of teaching.
1. A reasonable prudence. His enemies were busy, and scarcely suffered a single opportunity to pass without spying or planning means by which to destroy him. Out of doors he would be able to keep the crowd at a greater remove, and so hostile listeners would be under better observation.
2. Sympathy for those who were "without." In the small country cottages, where for the most part he resided, there was no accommodation for the numbers that thronged to his ministry. Stifling heat and inconvenient jostling would ill accord with the dignity of his message. Multitudes were unable to hear or see him, and he had compassion on their souls. A different class of people, too, might be reached by this new method.
3. The charm of nature. There are abundant evidences of Christ's poetic and artistic sense of nature. He would be drawn forth from the heat and squalor of the small cottage to the spaciousness, grandeur, and ever-varying phenomena of the outside world. It was his own world. He was present when "the morning stars sang together" at its birth, "and without him was not anything made that was made."
II. ADVANTAGES OF THIS MODE OF TEACHING.
1. It linked the ideas of the spiritual world with the real world of every-day experience.
2. By its associating the common life of men with the Divine and eternal, the former was refined and elevated. The many were thus addressed, and a certain general benefit received by them.
3. The inner meaning of such teaching could only be discerned by the spiritual and devout, and thus his safety was secured. His enemies were baffled and kept in ignorance.
4. This teaching was attractive to all.
III. WHAT IT SUGGESTED AS TO THE SPHERE AND FUNCTION OF THE "KINGDOM OF GOD."
1. That it was coextensive with the universe.
2. That the heavenly element is to penetrate and include the earthly element in God's world.
3. That the senses, if rightly used, are aids to the spirit.—M.
Mark 4:3-9; 18-23
The parable of the sower.
The kingdom of God as—
I. A PRINCIPLE OF LIFE. Outwardly insignificant; exposed to the uncertainties of human agency and the vicissitudes of circumstance; yet embodying vital force, and capable under suitable conditions of producing its kind. Ever commencing anew, in germ and vital unit. A result as well as a cause, even as the seed is a fruit in the first instance. Requiring everything external of itself that is necessary to its being deposited in the minds of men to be done for it; yet containing an independent, original power of its own, viz. reproduction.
II. A PROCESS OF GROWTH. Dependent upon:
1. Manner of its reception;
2. Character of the hearer, i.e. whether deep or shallow, thorough or otherwise, like the soil;
3. Place which it holds in human regard—whether considered as the chief or only as a subordinate interest in life;
4. Time,—this in all cases.
III. A CONDITION OF FRUITFULNESS. The soul, just like the ground, if left alone, will be barren or overgrown with weeds. It must be tilled, sown, and tended. Sometimes these duties are divided, sometimes combined, but all are necessary.
1. All true believers are not alike fruitful. This is analogous to material and mental culture.
2. It is enough if each brings forth according to capacity and ability.
3. all cases there is compensating power of increase in the Word, beyond the natural qualities and powers of the believer, although a certain relation is always observed to the proportion of faith and diligence. The blessing of God is especially manifest in the fruits of the Word.—M.
Mark 4:3-9; 18-23
The parable of the sower.
As illustrating the purpose of God in his Word.
I. TRUTH IS MEANT FOR ALL MEN.
II. TRUTH IS OFFERED TO ALL,
III. IT IS RECEIVED BY MANY DIFFERENT SORTS OF PEOPLE, AND IN DIFFERENT WAYS.
IV. IT IS FRUITFUL ONLY WITH A FEW.—M.
Mark 4:3-9; 18-23
The parable of the sower.
As exhibiting the kingdom of God—
I. IN ITS BEGINNINGS.
II. ITS PROCESSES.
III. ITS RESULTS,—M.
Mark 4:3, Mark 4:9
Christ's claim upon the attention of men.
"Hearken!" "Who hath ears to hear, let him hear!" A frequent peculiarity in Christ's speech. It is well to note when he uses it. It is the whisper of Christ. John seems to have caught and represented this manner of the Master most closely.
I. THE VALUE OF THE STATEMENTS OF THE GOSPEL.
1. Affecting the personal interest of every one. Happiness or misery, life or death.
2. Determining the character of every one.
3. The condescension and compassion of infinite love.
II. THE DIFFICULTY OF GIVING THEM THE ATTENTION AND CONSIDERATION THEY DESERVE.
1. They appeal to the least-developed side of human nature.
2. They have little or no immediate earthly interest to commend them.
3. They have commoner and more latent meanings, and the latter may not be apprehended.
4. They have many counterfeits. "Lo here! Lo there!"
5. The earthly life of men is full of distractions.
III. THE RESPONSIBILITY ATTACHING TO THEM. This remains with the hearer, and he cannot free himself. The language of Scripture and the deepest experiences of human nature alike assure us of this.
1. God has given all men power to understand and receive his gospel. That is, of course, provided they have not lost their reason.
2. Personal moral effort is required with respect to them.
(1) To cease delaying.
(2) To use what faculty and opportunity we have.
(3) To suppress prejudice, aversion, sin, etc.—M.
The reward of discipleship.
The sense of the word "mystery." Eleusinian and other heathen mysteries. Something previously hidden, but revealed in the gospel; or rather, something hidden from certain conditions of the moral nature of man, but revealed to other conditions.
I. IT AGREES WITH THE MANIFEST END OF DISCIPLESHIP. The learner seeks for knowledge. The disciple of any master desires to receive his special doctrine or discovery. It is the highest, the esoteric, teaching that is here promised. There are to be no secrets or reserves between the Master and his disciples. Revelation not the mere anticipation of experience, but its determining influence and its consummation.
II. IT IS BEYOND THE COMPASS OF UNAIDED HUMAN FACULTY. Christ said," To you it is given." They were not to discover it of themselves.
1. The noblest saints who had preceded them were not able to understand (1 Peter 1:10-12).
2. The wisdom of man could not discover them. "Eye hath not seen," etc. (1 Corinthians 2:8-10; cf. Ephesians 1:15-23; Colossians 1:9, seq.).
III. IT IS A DIVINE GRACE FOR MORAL PURPOSES. This appears from the negatives of Verse 12. To produce:
1. Repentance and faith.
2. Sympathy with Christ in his aims, works, and sufferings.
3. Triumphant superiority to the evil circumstance of the world.—M.
From one learn all.
I. THIS IS A PRINCIPLE NOT TO BE UNIVERSALLY ACTED UPON IN EARTHLY THINGS. Because of:
1. Limitation of human powers.
2. Obscurity, complexity, and occasional discontinuity and non-uniformity of nature and human life.
II. TO THOSE WHO ARE ILLUMINATED IT IS ABSOLUTELY VALID IN DIVINE THINGS.
1. Not because the forms and successive stooges of the truth are mere repetitions of one another.
2. But they are all centred and interpreted in one Person.
3. They all require the exercise of the same spiritual faculty.—M.
Mark 4:21, Mark 4:22
Revelation and not concealment the final purpose of the truth.
I. THIS APPEARS FROM:
1. Its very nature. That which reveals (e.g. light) is not to be itself hidden. Its whole tendency is and has been towards greater manifestation. Each revelation of God has been grandee than that which preceded.
2. Its central significance in the Divine economy. It has evidently a practical relation to the whole, just as "the lamp" had to the peasant's room, as the general means of illumination. Everything in the world, in human lives, and in the constitution of the human soul answers to its interpreting light, which is the only true light by which they can be understood.
3. The existence in man of a faculty for its discernment. This may have been overlaid or perverted; but it really exists, and will answer to the believing effort to exercise it. It is Satan, not God, who has blinded the minds of those who are lost.
II. HOW STRONG MUST HAVE BEEN THE REASONS FOR TEMPORARY CONCEALMENT!
1. The fearful wickedness of the contemporaries of Jesus. A last time with reference to many preceding stages of darkening spiritual consciousness.
2. The revelation of that wickedness in convicting it of ignorance of Divine things.
3. The preservation of the Personal Truth in human/Grin until his manifestation should be complete.—M.
Mark 4:24, Mark 4:25
"Measure for measure;" or, the law of equity in its relation to Divine knowledge.
A wider law (Matthew 7:2) with special application to spiritual learning. One of the phases of the exactitude of relation between God and man, which yet admits of grace and blessing.
I. THE WORD OF GOD MUST BE RIGHTLY ATTENDED TO IN ORDER TO ITS BEING UNDERSTOOD. There is no process of mere mechanical transfer of truth into the nature of man. Experience and progress in truth are subject to the conditions of all intellectual inquiry, and also to special moral ones.
II. ACCORDING TO THE PROPORTION OF HEARING WILL BE THE SPIRITUAL BENEFIT.
1. It is to the use of faculties, and not to their mere possession, the reward attaches.
2. The communication of truth is therefore a spiritual discipline. "Quicquid recipitur, recipitur ad modum recipientis." Obedience is the gateway of knowledge. "Holding the truth in unrighteousness," we shall sooner or later lose it; holding it "in a pure conscience" and a willing spirit, we shall advance to the fullness of truth.—M.
The seed cast upon the earth; or, the self-development of truth in the heart of man.
I. THERE IS A PRE-ESTABLISHED HARMONY BETWEEN THE TRUTH AND HUMAN NATURE. The seed left in the soil germinates because of the mutual adaptation; so the Word of God.
II. THE WORD OF THE KINGDOM HAS AN INNATE POWER OF DEVELOPMENT. Under the appointed conditions it is bound to grow.
III. GOD DOES NOT INTERFERE WITH IT OR REMOVE IT UNTIL IT HAS PRODUCED ITS FRUIT.
1. It is left to the law of gradualness. First "the blade," etc.
2. It is taken account of and judged in its final result.—M.
Man used and then dispensed with.
I. WHAT GOD DOES BY AND THROUGH HIS SERVANTS. The mere sowing of the seed.
1. Receiving the seed for one's self.
2. Imparting it vitally to other minds.
II. WHAT GOD DOES WITHOUT HIS SERVANTS. The pre-existence and independent growth of the seed a great mystery. Its hidden processes provocative of spiritual discipline to the sower. In God's hand and the womb of time (Psalms 65:1-13.). Committing it thereto, and leaving it there, a proof and exercise of faith.
III. RESULTANT RESPONSIBILITIES.
1. The harvest a living growth, not a dead, mechanical effect; manifold in its producing, modifying, and enriching causes, one in result.
2. Judgment on sower and sown alike. It is in the final product that the evidence as to faithfulness, obedience, and diligence is found.—M.
Mark 4:30, Mark 4:31
"Whereunto shall we liken it?"
An invitation to mutual effort of spiritual thought and imagination. An instance of sympathetic condescension.
I. THERE ARE MANY SIMILITUDES OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD.
II. SOME ARE BETTER THAN OTHERS. Either absolutely or relatively to present circumstances.
III. WE ARE NOT TO BE ONLY PASSIVE RECIPIENTS OF CHRIST'S TEACHING.
IV. SAINTS ENJOY FELLOWSHIP WITH CHRIST IN THE DISCOVERY OF TRUTH AND IN SPIRITUAL REALIZATION.—M.
"Without a parable spake he not unto them."
To be understood of Christ's general habit or manner of teaching. It was specially characteristic of him after it became evident that the Pharisees were seeking an occasion for his destruction. This practice proved—
I. THE VASTNESS OF HIS SPIRITUAL RESOURCES.
1. When prevented from using direct statements, he adopted an indirect mode of expression. The truth was not stifled, it only assumed another form. There was not the least sign of labour or effort in making this transition. He played upon the varying moods and appearances of nature as a skilled musician upon his instrument, so as not only to discourse sweet sounds, but to suggest Divine ideas and principles. His supplies of spiritual truth must have been as inexhaustible as nature itself. He must have had many modes and degrees of expression in which to clothe the same truth. Restriction of speech in one direction only developed a larger liberty in another.
2. In order to this his perception of truth must have been of a very deep and vital nature. His parables were not only facile, they were felicitous. In them truth lived and breathed. It is not as more or less distant analogies one reads them, but as one might look at the naked truth itself. How instinctively must he have discerned the Divine side of things! And there is in his figurative teaching an unassuming originality, a vigor and vividness that could spring from nothing less than inward understanding of spiritual principles—a practical, sympathetic familiarity with them in their root and essence. The author of such similitudes cannot be conceived of as standing apart from Divine truth, but as one with it; therefore the conclusion, "I am the Truth," is inevitable.
II. HIS DIDACTIC SKILL. The parables are beautiful, but it is not as creations of artistic genius that they chiefly impress us. Jesus was not the slave of his imagination. A careful adaptation of means to ends is perceptible in all his utterances. You feel he did not want to paint a beautiful picture, but simply to tell the truth. The latter was thus rendered:
(2) familiar and forcible; and
III. HIS PRACTICAL MORAL PURPOSE. By his parables our Lord:
1. Demonstrated the unity of creation. The words and works of God were one in their meaning and message. A multitude of phenomena so varied and different, yet so mutually suggestive and harmoniously concurrent in testimony, could not be a soulless medley or a resultant of blind forces; it must be a system throughout, informed and controlled by one governing mind, and moving onward to a worthy if at present inadequately apprehended end.
2. Redeemed nature and human life from base associations. "In everything there was discernible the idea;" the humblest thing was suggestive, if rightly interrogated, of the Divine. Henceforth nothing was to be considered "common or unclean."
3. Rendered human experience a Divine discipline. Every-day events and circumstances were charged with spiritual lessons, and revealed as "working together for good to them that love God."—M.
The grain of mustard seed; or, the growth of the kingdom of God relatively to its beginnings.
I. THE BEGINNINGS OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD, AS COMPARED WITH THOSE OF OTHER INFLUENCES AFFECTING THE WORLD'S LIFE, ARE VERY SMALL AND INSIGNIFICANT. A parable and a prophecy. Two plants, either of which might have been referred to by Christ—Sinapis Orientalis, a garden herb, bushy in habit, with black or white seeds, from four to six in a pod; or the Salvadora Persica, commonly known as the tree mustard; the latter the most likely. The comparison expressed in the phrase, "the least of all seeds," is a free one, and not to be understood absolutely. How minute and obscure have been the first origins of Christianity! The Incarnation; the upper room at Jerusalem. The first throb of repentance; the dawning power to resist temptation; the first acts of faith and charity; the first words of invitation and appeal. As a seed, it has been for the most part hidden; as a plant, it has seemed in its first upspringing like the herbs. This is true of
(1) the understanding of the kingdom of God;
(2) of interest in spiritual things;
(3) of spiritual influence.
1. It contrasts in this respect with powers founded on force, material advantages, prestige, or accidental circumstances. Political empire; military aggrandizement; advance of mechanical arts and material improvements.
2. In this respect it resembles but far exceeds the mortal and intellectual movements that have marked the progress of the world: philosophies, civilization, the sentiment of humanity, growth of science, etc.
II. ITS ULTIMATE DIMENSIONS WILL BE DISPROPORTIONATELY VAST.
1. It grows according to its own law, yet imperceptibly. As the bud into the rose, the village into the city.
2. It becomes comprehensive. Other forces and vital principles are revealed as in relation to it and ultimately included.
3. Its increase is in the direction of beneficence and universal blessing. The truth of the epithet, "Mother Church." All the best interests of humanity are included and protected. It saves and ennobles whatever it affiliates.
4. This is due to its own inherent genius; not an accident. Circumstances have not favored Christianity, but it has grown in spite of opposition, and converted obstacles into auxiliaries, enemies into friends. It is an absolutely central, and therefore the only truly universal, principle.—M.
Mark 4:33, Mark 4:34
The parable an instrument of mercy and judgment.
I. AN INSTRUMENT OF JUDGMENT.
1. As concealing more than it revealed to the popular mind.
2. As convicting men of sinful ignorance and spiritual incapacity.
II. AN INSTRUMENT OF MERCY.
1. The Word of God was not wholly withdrawn.
2. This, the only practicable form of teaching that remained to Christ, was used with constant regard to the benefit of the hearers.
3. The desire for Divine knowledge was thereby stimulated.
4. Further instruction was ever attainable by sincere inquirers.—M.
Christ and his disciples in the storm.
The service of Christ—
I. CONSISTING IN OBEDIENCE, SYMPATHY, AND CO-OPERATION, II. INVOLVING HARDSHIP AND APPARENT RISK.
III. A TRIAL AND DISCIPLINE OF FAITH.
1. Left to the realization of imminent destruction.
2. Discovering the weakness of the carnal nature.
3. Affording opportunity for the moral teaching of the Master.
IV. A REVELATION OF THE DIGNITY AND POWER OF CHRIST. "This is the first of a second group of miracles. Those before mentioned are cures of bodily disease. These are deliverances from other adverse influences—the elements of nature, evil spirits, End the sins of men. Christ has authority also over these" (Godwin, on Matthew 8:23). "Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?" The great inference: Although indefinite, yet practically a complete demonstration of Christ's Godhood.—M.
The Church in the world.
Communion with Christ in—
II. TRIAL AND APPARENT DANGER.
III. MUTUAL SYMPATHIES AND CARES.
IV. FINAL VICTORY AND ATTAINMENT.—M.
The Christian's extremity Christ's opportunity.
I. THE CHRISTIAN FREQUENTLY SUFFERED TO ENTER INTO APPARENT PERIL.
1. Outward losses troubles Persecution in its various phases and degrees. The major calamities of life. Everything seems against him, and he is continually disappointed; yet the objects sought are reasonable and proper.
2. Inward griefs and fears. Self-questionings as to being in a state of grace; as to whether or not God's favor has been turned away doubts; prevailing sins.
II. IN THESE CIRCUMSTANCES ORDINARY MEANS OF DELIVERANCE ARE OF SO AVAIL. The ordinances of the Church fail to comfort or strengthen. Work for Christ becomes distasteful and mechanical. Prayer itself appears to be unanswered, etc.
III. THE REASONS FOR THIS.
1. To correct and strengthen character. Besetting weakness is discovered; defective principles of belief are exposed; the backward graces of the Spirit are stimulated; the whole nature is roused to keener sensitiveness, and awakened to the solemn responsibility and greatness of the Divine life.
2. A more signal and immediate manifestation of God is vouchsafed.
(1) To create a closer and higher communion, and a more vivid sense of the supernatural, and to deepen and correct the creed of the believer. A conscious dependence upon his heavenly Father takes the place of the former distance and semi-legalism. Self and self-dependence are subdued, and practical faith made the daily experience. One such great and signal providence may do more than anything else to elevate and confirm the spiritual life.
(2) To be a sign to them that are without. For a "means of grace," or simply as a warning and an undeniable demonstration, which may make them, with the devils, "believe and tremble" even in their rebellion.—M.
Mark 4:38, Mark 4:40
Human and Divine remonstrances.
Christ and his disciples chide one another, yet gently and affectionately. Representative positions—
I. AS SUGGESTING THE OPPOSITE STANDPOINTS FROM WHICH PRACTICAL DIFFICULTIES OF THE RELIGIOUS LIFE MAY BE REGARDED.
II. As FURNISHING THEIR SOLUTION.—M.
HOMILIES BY A. ROWLAND
Divine teaching from the fisherman's boat.
Matthew gives us, in the thirteenth chapter of his Gospel, a series of seven parables, which correspond with the three which Mark records here. They all illustrate the nature and the progress of the kingdom of God which Christ sought to establish. The parable of the sower describes the founding of the kingdom, and the various difficulties with which it would meet; the parable of the seed growing secretly teaches us that its progress would be natural, unostentatious, and certain; while the parable of the mustard seed declares that in its final consummation it would have wide-reaching influence. The second of these is peculiar to Mark. We propose to consider, not the parables themselves, but the circumstances under which they were uttered, which also suggest and illustrate truths concerning the kingdom. Our Lord's teaching from the fisherman's boat suggests the following thoughts:—
I. THAT HOSTILITY MAY CHANGE OUR METHOD, BUT MUST NOT BE ALLOWED TO PREVENT OUR WORK. The Pharisees had become openly antagonistic to our Lord. Their spies followed him everywhere. Their controversial champions argued with him and misrepresented him in the synagogues. This hostility drove the Lord from the sanctuaries of his people. He would not suffer his Father's house to be desecrated by such tactics. Accordingly, he no longer, as a rule, was found in the synagogues, but in the fields and streets, in the homes of the people, or in the fishing-boats that rocked on the Sea of Galilee. He thus acted on the principle he laid down for his disciples when he said to them, "If they persecute you in one city, flee to another." And that principle still holds good, and may have the widest application. St. Paul acted on it when he adapted himself, under varying circumstances, to the conditions of his hearers. If he addressed the people of Lystra, he did not argue from the Old Testament, of which they knew nothing, but pointed to the mountains and fields, and spoke of the God who gave them "fruitful seasons." If he was surrounded by Athenians in their beautiful city, he referred to the temples which crowned the Acropolis, and to the statues which adorned the Agora. If he was in the synagogue at Antioch, in Pisidia, he argued from the sacred Scriptures, the authority of which his hearers acknowledged. He became "all things to all men, if by any means he might win some;" and in this he followed in the footsteps of the great Teacher, who, when refused a fair hearing in the synagogue, preached beside the open sea. Thus, with the utmost flexibility and freedom, Christian workers should alter their methods to meet the changing circumstances in which they find themselves; never for a moment losing sight of the object they have set before themselves, but seeking to attain that by the most suitable means. This may be applied to those who preach or teach, whether amongst the sceptical or the indifferent, among the children or the cultured.
II. THAT THERE IS NO PLACE WHERE GOD'S WORK MAY NOT BE DONE. The change in method, indicated by the text, did not trouble our Lord as it would have troubled any one to whom place and mode seem everything in worship. All the earth was holy in his eyes. The heavenly Father was near him everywhere. The rippling of the sea or the rustling of the corn would be more grateful to him than the murmured repetitions of formal prayers by the mechanical and unspiritual worshippers in the synagogue. Apart from persecution, he would often have chosen, from preference, such a sphere of work as this, as indeed he did when he preached the sermon on the mount. Read his teaching to the woman of Samaria (John 4:20, John 4:21), and see how acceptable to God is spiritual worship wherever it may be offered. Study the parable that immediately follows our text, and you will notice that the sower threw out his seed broadcast upon all kinds of soil. Our Lord would preach in a Pharisee's house, or on a mountain, or from a boat, as readily as in a synagogue or in the temple; for "Holiness to the Lord" (Zechariah 14:20) was written everywhere, and he accounted "nothing common or unclean" (Acts 10:15). Too often Christian workers select their little sphere for service, and strictly confine themselves to it, contented that multitudes should be left untouched who might easily be brought under their influence. The true sower is willing to scatter his seed broadcast.
III. THAT THE MODE OF OUR LORD'S TEACHING MADE HIS UTTERANCES MORE WIDELY ACCEPTABLE. This was not only true of his own day, but of ours. Publicans, lepers, and outcasts, excluded from the synagogue, could hear him on the beach; and all "the common people heard him gladly," for he spake "as one having authority, and not as the scribes." It is well for us also that it was so. There is wonderfully little local colouring about his words; a marvellous freedom from such theological technicalities as the rabbis were wont to use; and his teaching, therefore, comes home to us as it never would have done if couched in the phraseology currently used for the interpretation of the Law. His utterances are fragrant with the fresh air, and they ring with a pleasant freedom, for which we cannot be too thankful; for what might have been Jewish is human, and the words of him who called himself, not "the Son of David," but the "Son of man," are so simple and natural, that there is not a fisherman on our coasts, not a merchant in our streets, not a housewife in our homes, not a sower in our fields, who may not know something of the meaning and beauty of the doctrine of the great Teacher who has come from God.
IV. THAT OUR LORD'S POSITION IN THE FISHING-BOAT IS A SIGN OF THE TRANSIENT NATURE OF ABUSED PRIVILEGES. Christ in the boat has often been regarded as an emblem of Christ in his Church. From both he preaches to the world. The Church, in comparison with the world it seeks to influence, is small, as the boat with the few in it was small compared with the crowds listening upon the beach; and her comparative poverty may be represented by that fisherman's barque, which had about it, we may be sure, no costly adornment. But small and poor as the Church may seem, and the Christ who is in it, she is free as the Master was, who could in a moment leave those who were hostile or unreceptive, and pass over to the other side (Luke 8:37). There are yet to be found amongst us the impenitent and foolhardy, to whom he will have to say, "Because I have called, and ye refused; I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded; but ye have set at nought all my counsel, and would none of my reproof: I will also laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh.'—A.R.
Human hearts tested by truth.
"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.
The perils and the prospects of the good seed of the kingdom.
The importance of the parable of the sower is shown by the prominence given to it by the evangelists, and by the question of our Lord in the thirteenth verse, "Know ye not this parable? and how then will ye know all parables?" In some respects it was the basis of similar teaching, while the key to its interpretation, given by the Lord himself, opens the door of other mysteries. The illustration is an analogy, going deeper than many suppose. Husbandry was the appointment of God when man dwelt in the bliss of paradise, before the Divine order had been interfered with by human sin and self-will. Even in man's unfallen state, seed had to be sown and cared for, while the blessing of heaven was always essential to its productiveness. He who made the first Adam a sower in things natural, made the second Adam a Sower in what was spiritual. Our Lord referred to himself and to all who follow him in his work when he said, "Behold, the sower went forth to sow." Now, soil and seed are essential to each other. Many a man has the "honest and good heart;" but he must not be content with that, for, as the richest soil will remain empty unless seed be in it, so even such a heart will be unproductive of spiritual results without Christ, the true and living Word. While the soil is thus useless without the seed, the seed is unproductive without the soil. Hence Christ urged men to receive him, and hence he said of his teaching, "He that hath ears to hear, let him hear." Christian truth may be intellectually known and propagated, but the world is only the richer for it as it becomes the inspiration of human hearts. Christ's words must be translated into men's lives, that they may be read as "living epistles." In a sense, the Lord himself must become incarnate in each of his followers (Colossians 1:27). For the world's sake, as well as our own, may we receive the seed of the kingdom! This parable speaks of—
I. THE PERILS WHICH THREATEN THE GOOD SEED. Let us seek to recognize them in the various thoughts which contend for the mastery with Christ's truth.
1. Evil thoughts. They come through companions, from books, etc., but find their source in Satan (Mark 4:15). Often we find that they are most intrusive just after or during our holiest hours. They are like the birds of prey which swooped down on Abraham's sacrifice when he was making his covenant with God (Genesis 15:1-21.). Like him, we must seek by constant watching and effort to drive them away.
2. Vacant thoughts. The foolish habit of letting thoughts wander as they list, settling nowhere on what is definite or dignified, is a characteristic of the shallow characters represented by the rocky soil. Earnest conviction and the abiding stability which follows it cannot belong to these. Well is it when each can say, "I hate vain thoughts, but thy Law do I love."
3. Anxious thoughts. "The cares of this world" (Mark 4:19) are destructive of the serenity and rest which Christ's true disciples should always rejoice in. Therefore our Lord so urgently warns us against them (Matthew 6:25-34). St. Paul says, "Be careful for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God," and then "the peace of God... shall keep your hearts."
4. Adverse thoughts. "The lusts of other things "so absorb some that their minds are like a soil full of growing thorns. "If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him." Judas Iscariot was a terrible example of this. It would be useless to point out such perils as these if it were not that our hearts are not like the soil, which is destitute of will, of effort, and of a voice to cry to Heaven. Our condition largely depends upon our choice, or rather on the prayer which is the outcome of it; so that it is not in vain that we have guarded ourselves against the perils which beset the seed. From them let us turn to consider—
II. THE PROGRESS WHICH AWAITS THE SEED in various hearts.
1. Swiftly gone, devoured by the birds, i.e. dissipated or destroyed by other thoughts. Warn against the flippancy and worldliness of much conversation in Christian homes on the Lord's day, and point out the injury which young people may thus receive.
2. Springing soon, withering soon. This is specially seen in sentimental natures. There is a shallowness in thought and experience from which we should earnestly pray for deliverance. It is well when such underlying rock is broken up by the plough of affliction.
3. Growing, not fruit-bearing. This is the condition of many professed Christians, whose homes witness to unconquered tempers and whose Churches mourn unattempted service.
4. Producing fruit and increase. All do not bring forth the same fruit, either in kind or in degree. Still we see the "thirtyfold," the "sixty-fold," and the "hundredfold," according to the gift and capacity of each. God only expects of us according to that which we have, and not according to that which we have not. The different talents entrusted to the servants (Matthew 25:1-46.) remind us of this; yet that every one of them could win the reward of him who had been "good and faithful." Allude to various examples of fruit-bearing among Christians, e.g. the quiet ministrations in the home, of which no one outside it hears; the steadfast adherence to Christian principle when slight swerving from it would bring an advantage, which as a keen man he is quick to see, but as a devout man is swift to spurn; the privilege of writing words which go forth to unseen multitudes, stirring in them loftier thoughts of God and of his Word and works; the pleasantness of the gentle girl who at school or at home thinks of every one before herself; the influence of the brave lad whose "wholesome tongue is a tree of life," etc. Each of these bears fruit, and that fruit is the new seed from which future harvests spring.—A.R.
The progress of Divine life in the soul.
Mark alone records this parable. It occupies the position of the parable of the tares in Matthew 13:1-58, following "the sower," preceding "the mustard seed," but is not to be identified with it. It teaches us that Divine life, like ordinary seed, requires time for its development, that its growth is unnoticed and but little dependent upon human interference, and that it will have a glorious consummation.
I. THE GROWTH OF THE DIVINE LIFE.
1. It is secret (Matthew 13:27). Man "knoweth not how" the seed springs. Our "natural laws" are little more than generalizations of observed facts, and afford no adequate explanation of the nature of life and growth. While we are busy or are resting the seed is quietly growing up under the care of God. We know but little more of the Divine life, even in ourselves. We know that we have it and that it produces certain effects, but of its essential nature our keenest analysis discovers but little. Still less do we know of the Divine life in others; and, as Christian teachers or parents, we must neither intrude upon it, as a child will do on growing seed, nor be over-anxious about it, as a foolish husbandman may be. With faith in God, leave it prayerfully to him, and "in due season we shall reap, if we faint not."
2. It is independent (Matthew 13:28). The meaning of the phrase, "The earth bringeth forth fruit of herself," is this, that she has powers of developing life which exclude our agency, though they include God's agency. After sowing his seed, man may sleep or rise, leaving it to natural influences. We are not taught to be idle, but are reminded that we can do but little after sowing. In religious work we must never try to force growth by unnatural methods. First religious feelings are too sacred and delicate to be treated as they sometimes are. Intrusive and over-anxious teachers may sometimes do harm, not least in the confessional. The principle applies to our own life also. A morbid brooding over our own spiritual condition, a petty and constant measurement of our own feelings, is injurious. "He that observeth the wind shall not sow, and he that regardeth the clouds shall not reap."
II. THE MANIFESTATION OF THE DIVINE LIFE. True seed, under favorable conditions, cannot keep hidden beneath the soil. It must grow, and, if it grows, it must ultimately be seen. Nor can we keep our spiritual life a secret from others if it be true; for in holy influence and loving deeds and devout life it must appear. This parable describes its gradual progress, representing it in three stages, which correspond with those represented by St. John (1 John 2:1-29.) in his references to "children," "young men," and "fathers."
1. The blade represents the "little children" in grace, "whose sins are forgiven for his Name's sake." A wise husbandman never despises the blades of corn. He knows their value, their tenderness, their possibilities. God has provided for their safety. When the wind sweeps over the fields they bend before it and are uninjured, though much that is stronger is swept away. So young Christians, though in some respects weak, give promise of the future, have a special grace and beauty of their own, and, amidst temptations under which those older fall, abide and appear more fresh and fair.
2. The ear represents the "young men," who have "overcome the wicked one." Here there is a loss of freshness, but a gain in strength. There is less enthusiasm, but more principle. The showers of adversity as well as the sunlight of prosperity are necessary to this. Speak of some who in special circumstances of temptation have proved the power of the grace of God.
3. The full corn in the ear. The "fathers," who have "known him that is from the beginning," are like the full-grown wheat, bending its head under the weight of the rich grain it bears, ready to be cut down and carried home. Such a one has a fulfillment of the promise, "Thou shalt come to thy grave in a good old age, like as a shock of corn cometh in in his season."
III. THE CONSUMMATION OF THE DIVINE LIFE. (Verse 29.) Here the reference is to its earthly consummation only, for when the ripe corn is carried home, though it no longer adorns the field in which it grew, it is only beginning to fulfill its true destiny. The moment of death is the time when the reaper puts in the sickle, because the harvest is come; and the same sickle which destroys one life gives new energy to another and Higher life. Mortality is swallowed up of life. The outcome of time shall be the seed of eternity.—A.R.
Great issues from small beginnings.
The lesson which our Lord intended to teach by the parable of the mustard seed is stated in the announcement of our subject. If he had wished to set forth the splendor of his kingdom, he would have chosen as an illustration the stately cedar or the fruitful vine. The mustard in its greatest growth is by no means majestic; but it is large in proportion to its seed, and although it was not literally "the smallest of seeds," it was the smallest of those used in ordinary husbandry, and was proverbially used to denote what was little and despicable. All references to the supposed qualities of the seed, e.g. to its corrective power in disease, to its efficacy against venom, to its fiery vigor, to its giving out of virtue after being bruised, and so forth, appear to us beside the main purpose of the parable, which was to set forth the great issues which, in the kingdom of our Lord, would spring from small beginnings. This principle we propose now to illustrate.
I. IT IS EXEMPLIFIED IN THE EARTHLY HISTORY OF OUR LORD. In his history we see, as in a microcosm, the history of his Church. With limitless powers of choice, he selected for himself the most humble and obscure modes of ministry. His ways are not as our ways. Man makes a pretentious beginning, and often comes to a disastrous ending. The building of the Tower of Babel is a typical instance of this. Our Lord, who came to effect the stupendous work of redeeming the world, began by spending thirty years in comparative seclusion as a dependent infant, as an obedient child, as the son of a village carpenter. During his two or three years of public ministry his converts were few, and for the most part poor and ignorant. At last he died in agony and shame, amidst the hooting of a rabble and the hatred of the reputable; and his body was laid to rest in a borrowed grave. As we consider his life on earth, we see that it may be represented by a seed less in appearance than many others. But there was a fulfillment of his own words about himself, "Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone; but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit."
II. IT IS EXEMPLIFIED IN THE SPECIAL DOCTRINES OF CHRISTIANITY. They were not truths which would commend themselves to sensuous imaginations or to worldly hearts. They did not appear in such form and phrase as at once to win popular applause. Notice some of our Lord's special doctrines as laid down in the sermon on the mount and elsewhere: e.g. happiness is to be found in the sacrifice of self; sin is to be hated, not because its results are painful, but because it is sin; outward obedience and large gifts and sacrifices are valueless in themselves, etc. After his crucifixion, this fact was still more prominent. Paul said, "We preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling-block, and unto the Greeks foolishness; but unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God." Indicate some of the reasons for the non-reception of Christian truth.
III. IT IS EXEMPLIFIED IN THE HISTORY OF THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH. Christianity at the time of our Lord's crucifixion appeared to be buried in the hearts of a few disciples and forgotten by the world. But on the spring day of Pentecost it appeared in a vigor and beauty which amazed all onlookers. It was like the bursting forth of forgotten seeds where you have been busily employed planting something else. Christianity rapidly spread. Give evidences of this from early Christians and from Suetonius, Pliny's letter to Trajan, etc. This, humanly speaking, was the work of poor and illiterate men. Manifestly the result was due, not to the sower, but to the seed. Describe the condition and influence of the Christian Church now: the most powerful and civilized nations largely ruled by its authority; the indirect work it is doing through just laws, wholesome literature, philanthropic agencies, etc. Draw a contrast between the social and religious condition of the peoples now and at the time of Christ's coming. The seed has become a tree, "so that the fowls of the air may lodge under the shadow of it."
IV. IT IS EXEMPLIFIED IN THE EXPERIENCE OF EACH CHRISTIAN. "The kingdom of God" is not to be a something outside ourselves. We are not among its subjects because we can say, "This nation in which we dwell is Christian." "The kingdom of heaven is within you," said our Lord to his disciples. It is within us when we welcome Christ, its King, with all that he represents, to our own hearts to love and obey for evermore. That being so, a new life is ours, the test of whose vitality is to be found in growth until every thought and affection and purpose (like the birds spoken of in this parable) dwell under its influence. If there has been no growth, let us examine ourselves. When a flower or plant is fading, drooping, and likely to die, we try to discover the cause. Perhaps it wants water, perhaps it is shut off from sunshine, perhaps it has been too long coddled under artificial heat and is therefore weakly, or perhaps a worm is gnawing at the root. If our spiritual life has no growth, let us ask why this is. We want showers of blessing, the sunshine of God's favor, independence of artificial stimulants, and above all, freedom from the sin which doth so easily beset us, and then we shall grow like plants of God's right hand planting.—A.R.
HOMILIES BY R. GREEN
The duty of faithfully hearing the Word.
He who taught by every act of his life, and who had already given many most important lessons with his lips, now, after the interruptions just recorded, "began to teach" more formally. It was "by the seaside," the multitude standing "by the sea on the land," and he "entered into a boat, and sat in the sea." "He taught them many things in parables." The first of these and one of the chief of the parables and the chiefest of all on the subject of "the Word," is, with its explanation, the key to many others. The lesson of the whole is summed up in the words of Mark 4:24, "Heed what ye hear." It was not without purpose that he spoke of hearing. All depends upon it. Noah, Moses, Paul, Jesus himself, will preach in vain if men hear not with care. The parable teaches—
I. THE ESPECIAL, EVILS AGAINST WHICH MEN GUARD IN HEARING THE WORD.
1. The first evil is losing the Word before faith has made it fruitful. "The parable is this: the seed is the Word of God." The kingdom of heaven grows from this seed only. By it alone is conviction of sin wrought; by it is faith begotten; by it Christ is revealed; by it regeneration is effects; by it the way of life is defined; by it are men sanctified; by it hope, and patience, and charity, and all graces are strengthened. This great lesson is, by both preachers and hearers, to be pondered. But the Word, by whomsoever sown, may be lost before it is fruitful. It may be taken out of the heart, out of the memory, from the understanding. "When they have heard, straightway cometh Satan, and taketh away the Word which hath been sown in them."
2. A second danger is from a mere temporary faith. There is "no deepness of earth," "no root in themselves." They "endure for a while." A little thing turns them away from that which they received "straightway with joy," but without counting the cost.
3. A third evil is the fruitlessness of the Word through the "cares of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things," especially "the pleasures of this life." The ground is good; the seed is good; it is well received and kept in the heart; yet is it choked. Yea, even God's good Word sown in the heart by Christ's own hand may be choked. This is a danger to which every believer is exposed. It is allowing other growths to sap this, other things to take up the time and attention, to absorb the interest, to steal the affections. The poor are in danger from "the cares of the world;" the rich from "the deceitfulness of riches." The parable teaches—
II. THE REWARD OF FAITHFUL HEARING. "He that hath, to him shall be given." To him that hath as the fruit of his diligence, not simply what was given to him—all had this—to him shall be added the Lord's increase, over and above the natural consequences of his carefulness. He who so uses Divine truth as to be the better for it is in more favorable circumstances to receive and understand. Such know the truth, for "the mystery of the kingdom of God is given" to them. Every step in the ascent makes the next step possible. Truth grows to its perfection (that is to say, the character which is the product of truth) when it is "heard" and held fast in "an honest and good heart;" a heart inwardly good and outwardly honest; a heart honestly desiring the Word and acting honestly by it. To such there is "fruit, thirtyfold, and sixtyfold, and a hundredfold." This is the truly prepared ground—ploughed, as could not be said of "the wayside" or the "stony ground." The parable further teaches—
III. THE CONDEMNATION OF HIM WHO HEARETH NOT TO PROFIT.
1. " He that hath not," i.e. hath not any fruit of his careful hearing, hath nothing more than was first given to him; "even that which he hath"—that which was given to him—"shall be taken away." Disregarded truth becomes disliked truth, and by him who does not use his understanding about it, it is naturally forgotten. So the condemnation takes the form of a removal of the truth.
2. In carelessness he puts the truth away from him. His measure is small, so he metes it to himself.
3. To hear is a duty; to neglect brings God's condemnation.
4. He who does not so receive God's truth as to become a true subject of the kingdom of heaven, is in the kingdom of evil, and continued disobedience leaves the man further and further from God.
5. So truth assumes the form of a parable to him. His eye is dimmed. He sees only the outward word; of the inward meaning, which is experimental, he knows nothing. Even Christ, his work and his gospel, may be to men a mere parable. They know not "the things" which are spoken. Thus is to be seen:
(1) The terrible and to-be-dreaded consequence of not heeding the Word. It becomes a parable, a dark saying, a riddle. "If they hear not Moses," etc.
(2) The mercifulness of him who would hide truth in a beautiful parable, to tempt the careless to inquire that they may be roused to effort and be saved.
(3) The great lesson, "to hear the Word," "to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the same, that by patience and comfort of the Scriptures we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which is given to us in our Saviour Jesus Christ."—G.
The kingdom of God further illustrated by parables.
No single parable holds the entire truth in itself; therefore, by "many such parables" Jesus "spake the Word unto the multitude." Of those spoken at this time, St. Mark selects only two others besides that of the sower, and both of them, as was the first, are drawn from seeds. How suitable a simile of that kingdom, whose inherent, vital, self-expanding force is one of its most distinguishing features! These two parables stand related: the one leading us to think of the part "the earth" plays in bearing "fruit"—the power, as before we saw the duty, of the human heart to receive and to nourish the seed, to yield its due results; the other teaching the history of the little seed when received into suitable soil. This parable, the only one peculiar to St. Mark, is simple and very beautiful, and full of rich teaching. It embraces all the history of the seed in the heart, from its sowing, through its stages of growth, to its ripeness and ingathering, it may be summarized
I. THE LAW OF THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE CHRISTIAN LIFE.
1. The human heart is the suitable "earth" for the heavenly seed. But one kind of seed," the Word," is named. From this alone the kingdom grows. Yet the seed is not always sufficiently winnowed. The same hand sometimes scatters darnel with the wheat, or the gaudy, bright, but useless poppy. But seeds, bad and good, will grow together in the same field. What will not grow in the human heart! He who made the warm soil suitable for the growth of the useful herb for the service of man, and adapted the seed to the earth, has made the heart so that the best and highest truths will grow therein. There, what would otherwise be a dead truth—a hard seed—may find the suitable conditions for its nourishment and growth. There it is quickened. Every holy truth may find a home in the heart of man; the richest, ripest, most wholesome, most abundant fruit may be gathered in that Eden.
2. The needful committal of the seed to the earth has its parallel in Christ's committal of his kingdom to the fruit-bearing heart. There it grows, "we know not how," though we know so much. There is but one true Sower to whom the field belongs, and who provided the one basket of seed. But many sow in his Name and by his direction—preachers, parents, teachers, writers, friends. But the truth once sown in the heart must be left to Heaven's own influence. Days and nights follow. Patient waiting is needed, for the growth of good principles is slow and the perfect fruitfulness not immediate. And the lesson of patience is silently hidden in the words of the parable. He who causes the seeds of the earth to swell and burst and die, and out of the hidden germ a new life to spring up, brings the truth to the remembrance, awakens dormant thought, stirs the indolent conscience, carries conviction deep within, whence springs faith, to be followed by all holiness. The growth retains its own distinctive character, being nevertheless affected by the nature of the soil—"the earth which beareth fruit of herself."
3. The progression of the spiritual life is as the growth of the field. The truth quickly works its way. The first signs are found in a slightly changed manner of life, as it submits to the restraining and guiding truth; the tint on the face of the field is slightly altered: a delicate tinge of spring green blades mingles with the russet-brown of the soil. All is immature and feeble, but beautiful, as the field in the first days of spring; and it is full of promise. A longer space follows ere the ear appears. It is the time of growth. The responsibility of the sower is transferred to the earth, save that he may guard it from being trampled by the rude, rough hoof of stray cattle, or from being ploughed up wrongfully by careless hands. Now the sower must "sleep and rise night and day." He cannot hurry the growth. This is the time of trial, exposure, and danger. It is the needful time for Christian culture, for the gradual acquisition of strength and wisdom, and the slow building up of character: And what is true of the individual growth is true also of the great wide field which is the world, where all good, and alas! all evil, may grow, and whose prolonged history goes on slowly towards the great harvest. "The full corn in the ear" points to the matured Christian character, the trained, subdued, chastened spirit. Sunshine and shadow, calm and storm, darkness and light, have all passed over the field; all helpful, each in its own way, in promoting the growth, strength, and fruitfulness, alike in the less or the greater field; and all tending towards that moment "when the fruit is ripe." Then, and not until then, "he putteth forth the sickle, because the harvest is come." So is it with every believer—every varied growth in the wide field; so is it with the entire history which tends towards that "harvest" which "is the end of the world." Hence from this parable, which is one long teaching, we learn the wisdom and duty:
1. Of thankfully receiving the Word into our hearts.
2. Of faithfully cherishing it.
3. Of patiently waiting for its full fruits.—G.
The parable of the mustard seed.
This parable stands related to the former. That pointed to the history of the growth of the seed; this points to the inherent vitality of the seed. That laid the emphasis on the field; this lays it on the seed. The simile is so exact that we are in danger of transferring a needful canon in the interpretation of parables, and to treat it as a realism. The parable illustrates the history of the kingdom of heaven in its outward manifestation, especially the smallness of its beginning contrasted with the greatness of its results.
I. THE KINGDOM OF GOD FINDS ITS APPROPRIATE SYMBOL IN A SEED WITH ITS INHERENT, VITAL, SELF-EXPANDING FORCE. This is true, whether we interpret the kingdom of God to refer to its essential principle—the dominion of the Divine Spirit over the human spirit; or to its outward manifestation in the visible Church of God—the gospel developing itself in the heart and life of mankind; or even to its instrument—the Divine Word. Gathering these together as all comprised in the idea of the kingdom of God, we must see it to be truly represented by a seeder living, inherently vital power. This parable leads us to think more particularly of the outward manifestation of the kingdom of God; and wherever we see it planted we sooner or later see signs of growth and extension. One of the first sentiments stirred in the breast of the newly converted is a desire for the conversion of others; and the first activities evoked from the new life are found in efforts to lead others to like blessing. Each believer becomes the germ of a Church; each is a self-propagating seed. From one may spring a thousand, nay, as many as the stars of heaven for multitude. So was it with the Church in the beginning—the little quickened seed in Jerusalem. So has it been in every age. To-day we joyfully witness the signs of this vitality on every hand.
II. A SECOND FEATURE OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD IS THE EXTREME SMALLNESS OF ITS ORIGIN. Still thought of as an outward manifestation, how small was its beginning! How little a seed! Judging Christ's work by the greatness of its aims, how small were his means! What books did he write? What organization did he frame? What cities did he build? What armies did he raise? What did he? Estimated by outward signs—a mere nothing. A few women and fewer men gathered; no multitude, no Church, no forms of worship, no writings. No; no; nothing. What then? Just a living seed dropped into the warm heart. Not more than a human heart could treasure—not more than Matthew could remember. The record of a brief life, with its few words; its few noble deeds of sincerity, love, and self-denial; and its sad death and marvellous resurrection. All the kingdom of God in that one life, all the heavenly treasure in that one earthen vessel; all in a "mustard seed,... less than all the seeds that are upon earth." But it grew to be "a tree."
III. This the third feature of the parable: THE ULTIMATE EXTENSION OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD. And the point of interest seems to be it grows beyond its probable limits, "greater than all the herbs;" yea, it "putteth out great branches, becometh a tree, so that the birds of the heaven" not only "lodge under the shadow" of it, but "in the branches thereof." Its growth is beyond, far beyond, what might have been reasonably expected. So we see to-day; so will it be more and more seen. These parables Jesus spake unto the multitude "as they were able to hear;" and privately then, as he now does to them who care to know, "he expounded all things."—G.
The stilling of the storm: the deliverance of the Church.
The miracles so far recorded were miracles of healing, and demonstrate the dominion of Christ in the realm of the human life—he is Lord of the human body. Now he declares his equal dominion in the realm of disturbed nature, "even the wind and the sea obey him." The Church has found two uses in the miracles of our Lord.
1. In an earlier age they were a sign to unbelievers, evidences of the authority of the Teacher, attestations to the truth of his message. Christ appealed to them: "The works that the Father hath given me to accomplish, the very works that I do, bear witness of me, that the Father hath sent me. Though ye believe not me, believe the works."
2. In later times they have been found to be a treasure of spiritual teaching, a word of revelation and power to believers. Thus they form a part of the Church's inestimable possessions. The instruction divides itself into two branches: the positive knowledge which they convey—as in this, the lordship of the world's Redeemer over external nature; and the typical and more hidden spiritual lessons. The Church has ever seen herself represented in that ship. "The ark of Christ's Church" is a consecrated term, and in the sea she has beheld the wild, raging, unfriendly world. So the incident becomes typical:
(1) of the Church's exposure in the world, as a bark on a stormy sea;
(2) of the Church's true safety in the presence of Christ;
(3) of the ever-present and final stilling of the rage of the world and the perfect deliverance of his own from all surrounding peril.
I. THE HISTORY OF THE CHURCH OF THE LORD JESUS IS A HISTORY OF EXPOSURE TO DANGER. What perils have threatened the holy writings—that ark in which all the truth is held! At first hut a few scattered recollections of men; Heaven's high treasures held in earthen vessels. Then written on a few flying leaves of parchment by tremulous human hands in uncertain human letters. Afterwards followed dangers from the errors of dim-sighted transcribers, from injudicious interpolators, from the destructive ravages of fire. Yet after the long ages it is probable we possess a more accurate transcript of the original documents than the Church ever possessed since the very early transcripts were penned. To what perils has the true Society of Jesus—the holy Catholic Church—been exposed in her very varying history! Scarcely had thin barque left the shores ere the strong surf of Judaism threatened to overturn it. Then fitful winds of human wisdom—"the profane babblings and oppositions of the knowledge which is falsely so called." Dangers have arisen from internal contentions—a mutinous crew; from unsteady hands at the helm, and clouded eyes upon the watch; from overlading with worldly goods, gold, raiment, precious stones; from sunken rocks of pride and worldly glory. False lights have threatened to wreck the vessel upon rugged and uncertain coasts, while black darkness has overcast the heavens, when "for many days neither sun nor stars have shone and no small tempest lay" on the exposed craft. Truly this Galilean boat, this "ark of Christ's Church," has been often in perilous seas. But with all she has not sunk. Christ has said, "Let us go over unto the other side." A wider view would lead us to think of the exposure of the whole spiritual interests of men. Though these have been exposed to dire destruction, they still survive, and faith, and hope, and love, and truth, and righteousness abound.
II. THE CHURCH'S SAFETY HAS EVER BEEN, IS NOW, AND EVER WILL BE, IN CHRIST. This no believer will doubt. To all human appearance asleep, he hastily responds to the cry of prayer, of fear, and desire. The Church to-day is as truly safe in the midst of her many dangers as in that night when the whole Church and the Lord thereof were in that one fishing-boat, when all seemed to be risked, and men accustomed to the sea cried, being fearful, "We perish." Up out of the evils of this stormy life will he lift his own by the miracles of his supremacy. His sweet, calm voice will yet be heard above "the raging of the sea and the tumult of the people," above strife and war and cruel hate, above ignorance, and sin, and sorrow, and pain. Even to evil he will say, "Peace, be still." So that unto him whom winds and seas obey shall be glory and honor from the quiet spirits of his whole Church for evermore.—G.
HOMILIES BY E. JOHNSON
The process of truth in the soul.
"Word" in the parable stands for truth in general. It is the Greek logos, which contains everything relating to ideas and the reception of them.
I. THE RELATION OF TRUTH TO THE SOUL. It is mysterious, because in it the secret of life lies. We know certain things about the seed; we know certain things about the soil; we know that their contact is necessary that germination and growth may take place. Sight, experience, teach us this. But the relation itself is unseen and defies the grasp of thought. Well may the poet say of the "flower in the crannied wall" that he has plucked and holds in his hand, could he know its mystery, he should know "man and God and all things." Piety lacks root without reverence; and reverence is begotten of mystery, i.e. of the sense that God is present in every fact of life, in every act of thought.
II. THE RECEPTION OF TRUTH IN THE SOUL. The parable clearly teaches that the whole intelligence and will are closely concerned in this.
1. There must be attention. The frivolous listener lets the sound of instruction "go in at one ear and out at the other." Pictures of life and duty, which need to be seized and fixed in conduct so soon as they arise in the inner chambers of imagery, melt away like dissolving views.
2. There must be retention. Memory depends on attention: "Therefore we ought to give earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest at any time they should slip by us." Memory is a talent of which some have more, some less; but in every case it may be increased. Truth does not strike all minds in the same way; the important thing is to seize the truth which does strike us, and which we know to be truth by the way in which it strikes us. If conscious of the frailty of our memory, let a few things be constantly brought before our thoughts. Non multa, sod multum.
3. There must be simplicity of choice. Truth is jealous, and admits no rival. We must be true to her, for she alone gives freedom. Passions, cares, excitements of the imagination—these cannot be avoided in our active life in the world. For a time they may overcloud our ideal, cause us to lose sight of our goal. But the cloud will lift again, and directness of purpose will dispel these mists and cause the weight of the μέριμναι βιωτικαί to fall. Christ sympathizes with our life-difficulties, but implies that we may overcome them.
III. THE PROGRESS OF TRUTH IN THE SOUL.
1. It follows the analogy of plant-growth. We can hardly think of spiritual growth under any other image. Herein the need of some knowledge of natural science to the theologian. There lie some of his best instructions and illustrations. It is the Divine counterpart in nature of the ideal truth of spirit.
2. There is diversity in spiritual as in natural growth. Here the corn only is used as an analogy. But we may generalize. The differences in kind as well as degree of produce are not less numerous than in the immense plant-world. The world of souls is as varied as a garden—as a tropical forest. 'Tis a universe of variety. God spiritually unfolding himself in endless forms of beauty and of strength, delicacy and vigor. "He that hath ears to hear, let him hear." For the parable is in fact a sketch-picture of the ideal world—of God's kingdom of the invisible and eternal. We are in this world to be acted upon by him, that we may react upon him in all the devout activities of a fruitful life.—J.
The use of the spirit.
I. THE FACULTIES OF THE HUMAN SPIRIT COMPARED TO LIGHT. We may take any division of them we please: intellectual, emotional, volitional; head, heart, hand;—the comparison holds good.
1. Light is cheering, so is intellect; sound reasoning, bright fancy, lambent wit, genial humor, sound knowledge.
2. With light goes heat. The sound head is generally associated with the large heart. Carlyle said that a great heart was the foundation of talent.
3. Light promotes morality, purity, progress; dispels the thoughts and deeds of darkness. Great is the blessing of the presence and action of the man of high principle in the home, the Church, the court, the senate, the judgment seat.
4. It is revealing. The beauties of nature exist not for us in the darkness. Nor can we see the wonders of God in the spiritual or ideal world without the light shed by the genius of the scientific man, the moralist, the philosopher, and the poet.
II. FACULTIES GIVEN TO BE USED.
1. If not used they are hardly possessed. They dwindle and become enfeebled in disuse. "To him that hath shall be given," etc. this lies the important differences between man and man. The seeming stupid becomes bright by patient friction with difficulty, while the idle clever man rusts and blunts his edge.
"If our virtues go not forth from us, 'tis all
As one as though we had them not."
2. God is an exact creditor, tie starts us in life with a certain fixed capital of energy; just such and such a sum or number of talents. The rest is our part. The increase may be indefinite, in this world and worlds to come. He "lends not the smallest scruple of his excellence, but, like a thrifty creditor, demands both thanks and use." Let life be the grateful repayment of the spiritual loan. If we do not "pay our way" we shall suffer for it.
"Wouldst thou seal up the avenues of ill?
Pay every debt as if God wrote the bill."
3. In the long run, success or failure, prosperity or ruin, is the reaction of our own deeds. We reap as we sow. A Nemesis presides over all our works. "If you serve, or fancy you serve, an ungrateful master, serve him the more. Put God in your debt. Every stroke shall be repaid. The longer the payment is withholden, the better for you; for compound interest on compound interest is the rate and usage of this exchequer." "The benefit we receive must be rendered again, line for line, deed for deed, penny for penny, to somebody. Beware of too much good staying in your hand. It will fast corrupt and breed worms. Pay it away quickly in some sort."—J.
The beauty of growth.
I. THE SMALL BEGINNING. What smaller or more seemingly feeble than the seed—the thought—the word—the volition? Yet in the beginning lies the end, in the acorn the oak.
II. THE IMMENSE DIVINE POWER. We lie on the bosom of nature as the seed lies in the earth. For as winds blow and waters move and earth rests, God in his might and love bears up and onward the living soul. All things are ours to work our good.
III. THE SECRECY AND SLOWNESS OF THE PROCESS. God does the best for us while we sleep. The Greek artist represented Fortune driving cities into the net of the sleeping conqueror Timotheus. Cultivate a wise patience. Know the power of the word Wait!
Think you of all the mighty sum
Of things for ever speaking,
That nothing of itself will come,
But we must still be seeking?"
"Ripeness is all." 'Tis worth waiting a lifetime for the fruition of an hour. Each hour is a fruition of eternity to him who lives in God. And we may be reaping when we seem only to be sowing.—J.
The power of ideas.
I. THE KINGDOM OF GOD IS THE KINGDOM OF IDEAS. All forms of the true, holy, and good are included in this kingdom. Life would be intolerable, amidst the greatest physical comfort, without ideas. Our spirit is born to love and live among them. Novelty of ideas is the condition of change for the better in every life-department.
II. IDEAS ARE SELF-MULTIPLYING. Start a beautiful pattern in trade; it gives birth to a whole creation of beauty. Cast in a golden hour a seed of truth or love into the general mind; up springs a flower, whose seed will presently be in all gardens (see Tennyson's poem). Do a noble deed, speak a word from the full voice of the heart; an infinity of echoes will awake; a thousand imitators will arise. Let us speak in these parables of nature to the many; and for the few let us analyze and elicit their wider meaning. For the truths of the seen are less than those of the unseen. Illustrations light up a truth not understood; but their value is transient. The truth escapes from this or that clothing into other forms.—J.
Storm and calm.
I. STORMS BREAK UNEXPECTEDLY UPON US. The Lake of Galilee was peculiarly exposed to them from the north; the wind rushed as through a funnel down those gulleys and ravines. This was known to the sailors, yet the storm was unexpected. Life is the lake; change may come at any moment, we know; and yet it is the "unexpected which always happens."
II. PRESENCE OF MIND IS NEEDED. To know that the mind is our real place, and all that happens elsewhere is not our affair,—this makes us independent of change, calm amidst scenes of terror. Nature is for mind. Divine reason subdues the wild forces of nature. Faith in that reason is what we need. It is the true and deepest source of "presence of mind."
III. THE ABSENCE OF CONFIDENCE AND COURAGE IS BLAMEWORTHY. "Why are you so fearful?" You may know at any time the worst. Fear is the reflection in our mind of some image of overwhelming power, threatening our existence. With Christ on board, our spiritual existence is safe. Perfect abandonment to duty, truth, and God alone, lifts above this anxiety.
"If my bark sinks,
'Tis to another sea."
HOMILIES BY J.J. GIVEN
Parallel passages: Matthew 13:1-23; Luke 8:4-18.—
I. THE PARABLE OF THE SOWER.
1. Benefit of acquaintance with Scripture topography. To the right comprehension of Scripture acquaintance with Scripture topography is indispensable. This is easily obtainable at the present day from several books of travels now accessible to all. Much may be gained in this way even by those who have not had any opportunity of visiting Bible lands.
2. Peculiarities in this parable. Here several things are peculiar, and only such as are to be met with in the East. First, the sower went forth (ἐξῆλθεν) from his homestead, for his fields evidently lay at a considerable distance from his dwelling. In the next place, the different kinds of soil are represented in close proximity. Further, the seed is scattered on the highway as well as on the ordinary and proper ground. The produce likewise in one case appears unusually large. Now, on turning to Stanley's book on 'Palestine,' or to Thomson's 'The Land and the Book,' we get a glimpse at the state of things in the East, which proves all this to be clear, correct, and consistent. From those interesting records of Eastern travel, with their graphic sketches of Eastern scenes, we learn that the sower has to go forth frequently a distance of some miles from his home in order to deposit his seed in the ground. On reaching the corn-land, he finds it devoid of fences, a pathway passing through it, thorn bushes growing in clumps together, with rocks here and there peering through the surface of sparse and scanty soil, while not far off are patches of exceeding fertility; the produce at the same time amounting to the high figure of a hundredfold, but reckoned in the following peculiar fashion:—Of three bushels sown one is lost by the birds, particularly the crows; another third is destroyed by mice and insects, but out of the one remaining bushel one hundred bushels are reaped.
3. Confirmatory facts. Speaking of the verification of the parable with respect to the different kinds of ground, Thomson, in his entertaining manner, proceeds thus: "Now, here we have the whole four within a dozen rods of us. Our horses are actually trampling down some seeds which have fallen by the wayside, and larks and sparrows are busy picking them up. That man, with his mattock, is digging about places where the rock is too near the surface for the plough; and much that is sown there will wither away, because it has no deepness of earth. And not a few seeds have fallen among the bellan, and will be effectually choked by this most tangled of thorn bushes. But a large portion, after all, fails into really good ground, and four months hence will exhibit every variety of crop, up to the richest and heaviest." Stanley's account, though quite independent, is remarkably similar and confirmatory of the foregoing in all the main particulars. The following extract contains the substance of it:—Referring to the plain of Gennesaret, he says, "There was the undulating corn-field descending to the water's edge. There was the trodden pathway running through the midst of it, with no fence or hedge to prevent the seed from falling here and there on either side of it or upon it; itself hard with the constant tramp of horse and mule and human feet. There was the 'good,' rich soil, which distinguishes the whole of that plain and its neighborhood. There was the rocky ground of the hillside protruding here and there through the corn-fields. There were the large bushes of thorn, the 'nabk,' that kind of which tradition says that the crown of thorns was woven, springing up in the very midst of the waving wheat;" while in a note he adds, "I observed that the same mixture of corn-field, pathway, rock, and thorn extended through the whole of this part of the shores of the lake."
4. Naturalness of our Lord's imagery. The comparisons employed by our Lord are every way appropriate, not only suitable to the comprehension and habitudes of the persons addressed, but springing naturally out of the circumstances in which he and they find themselves placed, or the scenery by which they are surrounded. His eye rests on a rich pasture-ground of Southern Palestine, where a flock of many sheep is grazing amid green herbage or reposing by still waters; or perhaps he sees them following the shepherd, with whose kindly voice they are so familiar, as he goes before them, in Oriental fashion, and gently leads them along the hillside or down in the deep valley; or they are returning to the shelter of the fold on the sunny slope, and passing through the wicket gate under the friendly shepherd's care;—immediately and naturally the scene suggests the illustration, "He that entereth in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep .. I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture .. I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one flock, and one shepherd." Again, among the many once vine-clad hills of Judah, he stands beside the steep side of the terraced hill that bears the vine; or he is passing along the street of one of its towns or cities, and he sees the vine climbing up the wall or spreading its branches along the trellis-work beside the door of a dwelling, or standing by itself alone at the house-side;—at once the thought is present to his mind and finds utterance by his lips, "I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit." Again, in Northern Palestine he gazes on the fertile plain of Gennesaret, with its luxuriant vegetation, its rich corn-ground carefully tilled if not highly cultivated, and waving in harvest-time with its heavy masses of ripened grain;—and thence he draws his parables of the sower going forth to sow his precious seed and again returning laden, bearing his sheaves and rejoicing by the way; of the tares; and the secret growth of the seed; perhaps also that of the mustard tree. When he surveyed the blue waters of the Sea of Galilee and contemplated its calm expanse, while its waves came gently rippling to the beach or slumbered in silence at his feet; or when the hum of its busy industry sounded in his ears, and his attention was turned to the variety of vessels that ploughed its surface, and its numerous fishing craft;—he thence derived the illustration, which is found embodied in the parable of the draw-net with its great length and extensive reach, gathering within its folds of every kind both bad and good—the valuable and the vile alike. Once more, when he gazed on the city of Capernaum, "his own city," so highly exalted in religious privilege, and the riches of its merchandise, and the resources of its commerce;—the merchantman with his goodly pearls or with his carefully hoarded and cautiously hidden treasures was naturally suggested to his mind.
5. Variety in the independent records. In that chapter of parables, the thirteenth of St. Matthew's Gospel, no fewer than seven parables are recorded; in the parallel passage of St. Mark four are recorded; and by St. Luke in the corresponding section only two. Of the seven parables in St. Matthew's record, two are also recorded by St. Mark, with two additional; of the four in St. Mark's record, two are recorded by St. Luke. But all three relate the parable of the sower contained in this chapter. Accordingly, the seven parables of the chapter of St. Matthew's Gospel referred to are—the sower, the tares, the mustard seed, the leaven, the hidden treasure, the pearl, and the draw-net; of these parables, the first teaches the production or founding of the kingdom; the second and seventh, the persons commingling in it or its mixture; the third and fourth, its progress; and the fifth and sixth, its preciousness. In the corresponding section of St. Mark are the four parables-the sower, the mustard seed, the secret growth of the seed, and the candle set on a candlestick, if we may properly call it a parable; in the corresponding portion of St. Luke we find the parable of the sower and that of the candle on a candlestick.
II. COLLATION OF THE THREE RECORDS.
1. A complete whole. By comparing the three gospel narratives and piecing them together, as it were, we obtain a complete whole. It is often of much importance and always of great interest thus to consolidate the narrative by a comparison, if not a combination, of the text.
2. The seed by the wayside. In the narrative of the seed sown by the wayside, St. Matthew and St. Mark both tell us of the fowls, or winged creatures, of the heaven devouring it; while St. Luke states in addition the fact that it was trodden down. In the interpretation which our Lord gives of this same portion of the parable, all three agree in informing us that the Word that was sown in the hearers' hearts is taken away by the devil, or Satan, or the wicked one, as they severally designate him; while St. Matthew gives us the additional information that this occurs in the case of persons hearing the Word and not understanding it, and that he snatcheth it away; and St. Luke subjoins the object for which it is thus taken away, "lest they should believe and be saved."
3. The seed on stony ground. In the narrative of the seed sown on stony ground, or on the rock according to St. Luke, all three tell us that it withered away; but St. Matthew and St. Mark add that, before withering, it was scorched, after the sun had risen, from want of root, and that owing to lack of soil; while St. Luke states simply that the withering was due to lack of moisture. In the explanation, again, all three tell us that those sown on stony ground receive the word with joy, but that they have no root, and that they endure or believe for a while; St. Matthew and St. Mark further state that when "affliction or persecution ariseth because of the Word, immediately they are offended," or stumble; but St. Luke speaks of such a season more generally as a time of trial, and intimates that they then stand aloof, or apostatize altogether.
4. The seed among thorns. In the narrative of that sown among thorns, all three inform us that the thorns choked it; but St. Luke further informs us that the thorns grew up simultaneously with it; and St. Mark adds, what in these circumstances might be expected, that it yielded no fruit. In the explanation, all three acquaint us with the fact that it is choked and becomes unfruitful; they trace the unfruitfulness to its being choked; St. Luke says, by cares and riches and the pleasures of this life, as men go on their way in it; St. Mark uses a more comprehensive expression than the "pleasures of this life," which St. Matthew altogether omits, namely, "the lusts of other things;" while both St. Matthew and St. Mark qualify riches by an expressive term, addling "the deceitfulness of riches."
5. The seed sown on good ground. In the narrative of the seed sown on good ground, we are informed by all three that it bore fruit, but on a graduated scale—a hundredfold, sixtyfold, and thirtyfold, according to St. Matthew; but in reverse order according to St. Mark; while St. Luke merely specifies the maximum at a hundredfold, as if he had in view Genesis 26:12, "Then Isaac sowed in that land, and received in the same year an hundredfold, and the Lord blessed him." Here again, in the explanation, all three coincide in the matter of fruitfulness. St. Matthew tells that "they understand the Word," St. Mark that "they receive it," St. Luke that "having heard it in an honest and good heart, they keep it, and bring forth fruit with perseverance."
6. A gradation. Thus the seed by the wayside did not even spring up at all; that on the rock did indeed spring up, but withered; that among thorns sprang up and grew, but being choked yielded no fruit; only that on good ground sprang up, grew, and brought forth fruit to perfection.
III. INTERPRETATION OF THE SEED.
1. The seed is the Word of God. The seed is that Word of which, as has been well said, "Truth is the substance, salvation the end, and God the author." The seed is that Scripture all of which "is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness; that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works." The signature to a will or other document does not need to be rewritten or repeated from time to time; nor does the seal to such an instrument need to be restamped once and again; so with those miracles which were the sign manual of God to the truth of his Word, and the seal affixed to it in attestation of its Divine authorship. Once wrought, as those miracles were, according to the record of the most authentic history in the world—and no facts of history were ever more fully or more clearly testified, or more carefully and critically scrutinized—they remain to the present hour the signature of the Divine Author; and not only that, but his seal to the reality of the Divine origin of Scripture. Thus Heaven has stamped approval on the document with its own seal and signature; while these proofs, authenticated by the most unexceptionable witnesses, remain permanent and powerful as ever.
2. Proof from prophecy. But view Scripture again in the light of prophecy. The Messianic prophecies, for example, were delivered by different persons, in different places, at different times, under different circumstances, and on different occasions; yet these prophecies, when carefully and correctly put together, portray unmistakably Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah—the Christ of God. Suppose a painting executed in a somewhat similar way—the head painted in Berlin, the hands in Boston, the arms in Paris, the trunk in St. Petersburg, the legs in Vienna, and the feet in Rome; suppose these different parts all brought to London and placed together, each in its proper position, and that, when thus put together, they present the exact picture of Christ which is seen in the famous "Descent from the Cross" as painted by Rembrandt, or by Rubens, or even by Jouvenet: what conclusion would we, or should we, come to from such a phenomenon? Would it not be that some great master painter had presided over and prepared the whole, guiding in some way every hand, directing every brush, and inspiring every head so that one of the finest specimens of pictorial art was thus wondrously brought into existence? In like manner, let the Old Testament prophets who foresaw and foretold the sufferings of Christ as well as the glory that should follow—let Moses and Malachi, David and Daniel, Isaiah and Micah, Jeremiah and Zechariah, be brought together round the cross of Calvary, and let their pictures and prophecies meet together there, and they will unite in perfect harmony, and present the exact picture of him whose hands and whose feet were pierced with nails, who "was wounded for our transgressions, and bruised for our iniquities," and on whom "the chastisement of our peace was laid," and in whose riven side was opened that cleansing" fountain for sin and for uncleanness." Though the portions contributed, the prophets themselves, the periods at which they lived, the plans they pursued, the predictions they delivered, were all different, yet one Spirit testified in them, one God inspired them, one unseen but almighty hand superintended them all; and the picture, brought together from so many different quarters and composed of so many different parts, is one.
3. Practical proof. But let us take a still plainer and more practical test. See you venerable patriarch whose locks are silvered with years; he resides in a remote hamlet, he dwells in a humble cottage. Observe with what reverence he takes down the ancestral Bible, and with what grace he reads its sacred page at the hour of morning or evening worship. He has never read, perhaps never heard of, any of the great writers on the evidences—Butler, or Paley, or Lardner, or Leslie, or Leland, or Watson; and yet, if you ask him how he knows that volume, which he reads so dutifully and devoutly, to be the Word of God, he will at once and unhesitatingly reply that he knows it must be the Word of God, for he has felt its power to be Divine, bringing, as it has done, pardon to his soul, peace to his conscience, light to his feet and a lamp to his path, joy to his heart, and the "sure and certain hope" of eternal life and immortal glory to his never-dying spirit. Wherever we find a man of that stamp, whether he lives in town or country, in city or village; whether he is the peer that owns a castle or the peasant that is only a tenant in a cottage; whether he be a native of merry England, or broad Scotland, or green Ireland, or gay France, or proud Spain, or the German Fatherland, or classic Italy; whatever be his caste, or calling, or country, or clime, that man, having God's truth in his heart, the grace of God in his soul, and the Spirit of God to guide his feet in the path of peace—that man, whoever he is, or in whatever rank he is found, is a living witness that the seed, of which the Saviour speaks in this parable, is the Word of God and the abiding seed of holiness, for "being born of God he doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God."
4. The seed is the Word of the kingdom. The seed is also called, and so explained to be, the Word of the kingdom. The King of the country to which we travel has issued this Word as a Guide-book to every pilgrim who is travelling to the kingdom of glory. It is the Law of him who is anointed to be a King for ever—who is enthroned as King upon the holy hill of Zion, yea, who is seated at the right band of the Majesty on high. It is the Word of that kingdom which at its first beginnings is as a little stone hewn out of the mountain without hands, but which afterwards becomes a great mountain and fills the whole earth. It is the Law of that King whose kingdom is to be without bounds, and whose reign is to be without end. Of his kingdom it is the Statute-book. From that kingdom it comes and to that kingdom it conducts, translating the sinner out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light, out of the kingdom of sin into the kingdom of grace, out of the kingdom of Satan into the kingdom of God. And no sooner has any traveler set his face and turned his feet from the City of Destruction towards the city of the great King, than, like Bunyan's pilgrim, he is observed with this Book in his hand, and at every progressive step in his pilgrimage his eye is on the Book, and thus he reads and walks, and walks and reads, ever reading as he goes. Like David, "his delight is in the Law of the Lord, and in that Law he meditates day and night." In reference to this Law it was said of Israel, "What nation is there so great that hath statutes and judgments so righteous as all this Law which I have set before you this day?" We, with Law and Gospel in our hands, are surely bound to be grateful, and to feel—
"How greatly blessed the people are
The joyful sound that know!"
5. Our duty in relation to the Word of the kingdom. The statutes of an earthly kingdom are carefully studied as well as frequently perused. How much more ought the Word of the kingdom, that is, the statutes of the kingdom of heaven, to be daily and diligently read and consulted! If the King of heaven condescends to be at pains to teach us his statutes and his judgments, surely the least that we, who are "of the earth, earthy"—creatures of a day, worms of the dust, should do, is to be at pains to learn those statutes of the Lord that are right, "rejoicing the heart." Again, where the word of a king is there is power, consequently the Word of him who is King of kings and Lord of lords should come home to our hearts, not in word only, "but in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance." When the word or law of an earthly king is transgressed, such transgression is usually visited with pains and penalties proportionate to the transgression. Can we reasonably expect, then, that the transgressors of Heaven's Law shall escape with impunity? The King who rules in Zion will, we are assured, rule also in the midst of his enemies. If we refuse to touch the scepter of his mercy, or if we reject the Word of his grace, then assuredly we shall be broken with a rod of iron and dashed in pieces like a potter's vessel. The Word of the kingdom is the Word of the King of glory; if we follow its directions they will conduct us on the way to glory. It is the Word of him whose kingdom is not of this world; if we walk according to its instructions, then shall our conversation, or citizenship, even now be in heaven.
6. This seed is absolutely necessary for salvation. It is, as we have seen, the Word of God and the Word of the kingdom, but it is still the seed; and what the seed is in the natural world, the Word of God, or of the kingdom, is in the spiritual world. Without seed there can be no vegetation—neither root nor fruit, neither bud nor blossom, neither leaf nor flower, neither stalk nor plant. The soil may be as rich as that of the primeval forest when it is cleared, or as that of the virgin prairie when it is for the first time opened by the ploughshare; there may be gentle showers and genial sunshine, reviving heat and refreshing dews. The seasons may be most propitious; they may follow each other with successive and suitable blessings—the purifying winds of winter, the freshness of spring, the sultriness of summer, the maturity of autumn; but notwithstanding all this, if the seed be wanting, there cannot be a single stalk of grain nor plant of any kind—neither "grass for the cattle nor herb for the service of man." So spiritually, the Word of God is seed of regenerating power; for are we born again? Then it is "not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the Word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever." Thus the Word of God is seed—the seed of grace in this world, and of glory in the next; the seed of holiness in time, and of heaven through eternity.
7. The seed needs quickening. We have seen that without the seed of God's Word there is neither grace nor glory, neither holiness nor heaven; and therefore as much as justifies the inference that all that is good and gracious, all that is really noble and truly Christian, every grace and every good work,—all spring from the seed of the Word. In the economy of nature, the vigorous stem, and green leafage, and lovely blossom, and abundant fruit are all owing to the seed, and could not possibly exist without it; so in the economy of grace, strong faith, lively hope, and ever-advancing holiness,—all spring out of the seed which is the Word of God. But granting all this, the seed only contains the material of life—it is the means of life; but it is dependent on the quickening, vivifying, life-giving Spirit of God. By his Spirit he fructifies the seed; by his Spirit he vivifies his Word. The Word of God, the Son of God, and the Spirit of God must all go together in the salvation of every human soul. The Son of God brings salvation, the Word of God reveals it, and the Spirit of God applies it.
8. There is vitality in every verse as well as in the whole volume. Even where the Bible is not found collectively and in all its component parts, fragments of it may exist in the shape of single books, or chapters, or verses. And wherever it is thus met with even in dispersed portions, there is seed, there is the germ of life, and, by the blessing of God and the operation of his Spirit, there will in due time be the full development of life and fruitfulness. While it is a blessed privilege to possess the whole of God's Word, and sufficient means of understanding it, and abundant material for its enforcement; still persons not so privileged, but having in possession some small portion of God's Word, are not without the means of safety and salvation. Paragraphs of the Bible, verses of the Bible, sentiments of the Bible, are often blended with the religious compositions of human authors; yet still they retain their vitality, and only want the Spirit of God to quicken them into living power.
IV. THE WAYSIDE HEARERS.
1. Nature of the wayside. By this we may understand a highway, or byway, or bridle-way, or ordinary footpath; but whether the way be broad or narrow, whether it be a well-constructed road or merely a beaten pad, whether it be a public road or pathway, two notions attach to it. We connect with it, first, the idea of a passage, along which people walk, or ride, or drive, or along which traffic is conveyed. But a second idea attached to it, and one which is the consequence of the first, is that of hardness, because of the constant resort along it. Both ideas characterize the hearts of wayside hearers. Just as the highway is that along which people travel on foot, or horseback, or in vehicles of whatever kind, and that too along which their goods are conveyed and their commerce carried on—along which, in fact, their merchandise is transported; so the heart of the wayside hearer is a highway for the passage of worldly thoughts. Such thoughts are constantly passing to and fro along it. Temporal things make it their thoroughfare; unchecked, unhindered, unimpeded, and uninterrupted, they pass and repass. Earthly, or sensual and sinful, objects are constantly found on the highway of that carnal heart. Passion and pride, avarice and ambition, luxury and lust are ever traversing that highway or the byways that diverge from it. Memories of the past, anticipations of the future, present reflections on worldly things, earthly joys or sorrows, worldly cares and anxieties, schemes of wealth and thoughts of indulgence, or hopes of worldly aggrandizement,—all find free passage along the wayside heater's heart. No foot, however unhallowed, is forbidden to enter there. Now, these hearers come to the house of God and seem to hear his Word: "They come unto thee as the people cometh, and they sit before thee as my people, and they hear thy words, but they will not do them. And, lo, thou art unto them as a very lovely song of one that hath a pleasant voice, and can play well on an instrument: for they hear thy words, but they do them not." With this free and constant passage of thousands of earthly, temporal, worldly, and sinful thoughts along the open thoroughfare of the wayside bearer's heart there is small space for thoughts of God. They come "to hear of heaven and learn the way," but their heart is preoccupied, and their thoughts engaged with other objects. Besides, from this constant traffic along it, the heart becomes hard as the wayside, and like the common highway. When thoughts of what is good or gracious do enter, they pass over it, going out as they came in. They never settle on it or sink into it. Any good impressions or gracious influences are merely transient.
2. The wayside hearers understand it not. They hear the Word, but they understand it not. How could they? Understanding requires attention, but worldly thoughts engross the attention that should be given to thoughts of God. Not only so, the heart has become so hard by the constant traffic upon it that such thoughts, when they do enter, cannot penetrate the surface so as to find lodgment in the understanding. What with the crowding together and crushing along of worldly thoughts, and the consequent hardness of heart, the understanding remains untouched. Instead of minds enlightened by the Spirit of God, such hearers come with hearts hardened by the deceitfulness of sin and like a common highway; and so any serious notions that do force an entrance are lost amid the host of other thoughts, and lie on the hard surface. Any truths or facts not duly attended to cannot be properly understood; when only partially, or imperfectly, or perhaps not at all understood, they cannot be retained in the memory. So the wayside hearer neither takes heed to the Word nor keeps hold of it, and therefore gets no benefit from it. But another circumstance increases the culpability of the hearer and claims our notice.
3. It is trodden down. Many a precious seed of gospel truth has been thus treated. Many a time have the truths of God's Word been trodden down. Many an assurance of Christ's ability and readiness "to save to the uttermost" has been trodden down. Many an offer of grace and salvation has been trodden down. Many an "exceeding great and precious promise" by which the hearer might be made partaker of a Divine nature has been trodden down. Many a Scripture picturing the joys of heaven, inviting and even urging us to make those joys our own, has been trodden down. Many a faithful wanning of the sinner to forsake his ways and flee from present wrath and eternal ruin has been trodden down. Thus the Word of God has been despised and despite done to the Spirit of grace. The pure precepts of that Word as well as its precious promises, its earnest entreaties as well as its solemn exhortations, its faithful reproofs as well as its friendly remonstrances, its gracious invitations as well as its many warnings, have all been trodden down, and so treated with carelessness, indifference, and even contempt.
4. Satan snatches it away. "The fowls of the air came and devoured it up." Here again we should notice the verisimilitude of our Lord's representation. "In the countless birds of all kinds—aquatic fowls by the lake-side, partridges and pigeons hovering, as on the Nile-bank, over the rich plain of Gennesaret, we may still see," says Stanley, "the 'birds of the air' which came and devoured the seed by the wayside,' or which took refuge in the spreading branches of the mustard tree.' " Again he observes, "The flocks of birds in the neighborhood of Gennesaret have been already observed. Their number, their beauty, their contrast with the busy stir of sowing and reaping and putting into barns visible in the plains below (whether of Hattin or Gennesaret), must have always courted observation." Never did a bird of the air rush with greater swiftness on its prey than Satan rushes to take away the Word of God as it lies unheeded and despised—trodden down, in fact, on the sinner's heart. Never did the birds that in such multitudes frequent the lake and plain of Gennesaret, whether pigeons, or partridges, or aquatic fowls, hasten with greater eagerness to pick up the seeds let fall by the sower on the pathway running through the corn-land in the plain of Gennesaret, than Satan hurries to take away the seed of truth out of the wayside heater's heart. The wayside was not meant for cultivation nor intended to be sown; so there are hearers who come to hear the Word from custom, or fashion, or from conformity to a respectable observance, or for sake of appearance, or perhaps from a slight twitching of conscience, but not out of a sense of duty, or feeling of privilege, or any earnest desire to get good from it or profit by it. When they do come, their minds detach themselves, as it were, from their bodies and wander miles away; their thoughts wander on the mountains of vanity, or are absorbed in their worldly plans, or prospects, or purposes. Thus the seed lies on the beaten pathway, and is trodden down. Satan is "the prince of the power of the air," and multiplies himself in his emissaries, here represented by fowls, or winged creatures (πετεινὰ), of the air. He turns away their thoughts from the truth that is being proclaimed and engrosses them with some worldly object; he amuses them, it may be, with some peculiarity of the preacher, or engages their attention with some article of a neighbor's dress; he prejudices their minds against the truth, or preoccupies them with thoughts widely different from those that should be suggested by the subject in hand; he may rob them of the seed by an after-sermon critic, or by the sarcasm of some worthless witling, or the sneer of a sceptically inclined friend. He has thousands of little birds of the air to carry away any thoughts of God, of the soul, of sin, of salvation, of heaven, of hell, of death, of judgment, of eternity, that might lie as seeds of truth on the heart.
5. The immediateness of his arrival. St. Mark draws attention to this point by the word εὐθέως, which occurs so often in his Gospel; but much the same thing is implied by the word which St. Matthew employs to represent Satan's method of taking away the seed. It is not αἴρει, equivalent to "taketh it away," used by both the other evangelists who record the parable; but ἁρπάζει, equivalent to "snatcheth it away" in hot haste, and in the eagerness of his desire to prevent any possibility, however remote, of its growth. This is a very remarkable feature in the narrative. Was it not enough that, from the continuous stream of other thoughts passing through the mind, and the myriad multitude of such, the seed had been neglected? Was it not enough that it was let lie on the surface of a heart that had contracted a sort of highway hardness? Was it not enough at least that it was trodden underfoot, trampled on, and despised? Strange that all this was not sufficient for Satan's purpose! But Satan knows too well the living energy of the Divine Word; and, however neglected or jostled aside, however trodden down or trampled on it may be, however hard and impervious that wayside bearer's heart may be,—Satan, fully alive to the vitality of the seed of Divine truth, apprehends danger from its presence to his own sovereignty over his subjects. If he allowed the seed some time to lie on the heart it might, after all, recover from the trampling and root itself downward, and in the end bear fruit upward. He therefore comes immediately. And though he came immediately, still the seed had been already trodden down; and we therefore infer that the seed had no sooner fallen on the heart than it was instantly trodden down.
6. Satan's object in all this. This object is plainly stated in the words, "lest they should believe and be saved," or, as the Revised Version renders them, "that they may not believe and be saved." Here we have the whole plan of salvation in the briefest form; here we have the system of Divine grace for saving the souls of men. Here, too, we have the subject, the object, the instrument, and the result. The subject is every one on whose heart the seed of Divine truth is sown; the object to be accepted by faith is that truth; that faith, again, is the instrument; while salvation is the grand result. The object offered for our belief is the Word of God; the means by which we embrace that Word is faith; and the final and blessed end is salvation. Reader, this Word is now presented to you, and even pressed on your acceptance; if you prefer remaining in ignorance of it, or refuse to believe it, or neglect to apply it, and so fail to feel its saving efficacy, and obey, and enjoy it; then do you judge yourself unworthy of everlasting life, reject the offer of mercy, and put away from you the means—the only means of salvation. If when the truth of God, with its sanctifying and saving influences, is sown on your heart, you allow Satan to snatch it away, or, what amounts to the same thing, to occupy your mind with other topics, or divert your attention from it, or perhaps provoke your hostility against it, then will the end which should be the salvation of your soul remain unattained!
V. PRACTICAL LESSONS.
1. We learn from all this the great sin of carelessness, heedlessness, and thoughtlessness, or rather thinking of other things, when the Word of God is being read or preached.
2. We learn the necessity of careful preparation for Divine ordinances. If we would hear the Word of God with profit, we must supplicate the Spirit of God to prepare our hearts to receive the Word, and to enlighten our minds to understand it, and to bring it home to our souls in demonstration and power.
3. We learn the importance of withdrawment from worldly thoughts as well as worldly business, of spending the morning of the sabbath in religious exercises and hallowed engagements, of avoiding idle gossip and all trifling conversation, and also of watchfulness against vain thoughts and wandering thoughts and sinful thoughts when in the house of God, so that Satan may neither hinder the work of God in, nor snatch the Word of God out of, our hearts.
4. Three processes are thus indispensable—breaking up the fallow ground by previous preparation, covering the seed sown by subsequent meditation and faithful pleading for the dews of Divine grace to water the seed sown, as well as taking earnest heed that we do not let it slip.
VI. THE STONY-GROUND HEARERS.
1. Their shallowness. The first characteristic of such is their shallowness. This is better expressed by rocky (πετρῶδες),than stony ground. The first class of hearers had no receptivity in consequence of their heart being so hard, and the traffic along its thoroughfare so continuous. The seed falling on its surface lay there, was instantly trodden down, and immediately taken away by the evil one himself or some of his numerous emissaries. Now, this second class of hearers is so far superior to the former that they possess receptivity, but only to a limited extent. The surface of this soil is soft, it is true, but shallow. A soil may be stony in the proper sense; the stones may be small and loose; they may be tolerably close together or considerably apart. In either case the plant makes way in the inter-spaces, and roots itself where there is sufficient depth of earth. The present case is different. The ground is in the strict sense rocky; the rock—the limestone rock which prevails so extensively in Palestine—reaches the surface and comes fully into view, or is only covered and concealed from the eye by a sparse and shallow sprinkling of earth. Seed sown on such soil soon springs up, quickened into vegetation and warmed into life by the heat of an Eastern clime; and all the more so as the plant, when impeded in its development downward, would, by curious plant-instinct, the more rapidly propagate itself upward. But the very heat that helps the rapid springing of the seed upward out of that thin, shallow soil, soon becomes hurtful because of that very shallowness of soil, where the root has no room for healthy development, and finds no moisture to invigorate its growth and counteract the excess of heat. Soon as the plant has sprung up and the sun has risen upon it, it is scorched. The sun's heat, so beneficial to a strongly rooted plant, is thus most prejudicial to that of which the root is not sufficiently developed. The whole is a correct representation of those shallow, impulsive creatures who at once fall in with any current excitement, or are carried away by some shallow sensationalism.
2. Immediate and joyful reception of the Word. This is the first particular which our Lord, in his exposition of this portion of the parable, specifics. Those who hear the Word in this way are in advance of that large portion of the population, sometimes called the lapsed masses, who never enter the house of God, nor wait at the posts of wisdom's doors to hear what God the Lord will say to their souls. They are also in advance of those who do indeed frequent the house of God, but who, like the wayside hearers, from carelessness, heedlessness, difference, inattention, and the indulgence of vain, wandering, and sinful thoughts, are entirely irreceptive, never admitting the Word into their understanding or minds at all. They are in advance of those too who, though they attend the public worship of God, do so only as a matter of form, and regard it as a piece of decent drudgery, to which the force of public opinion, or compliance with the wishes of friends, or a notion of respectability, obliges them to submit. The persons referred to hear the Word with a large amount of satisfaction, and so far they are considerably ahead of multitudes of mankind and of many of their neighbors; yet they fail miserably at the end, and fall short of heaven. They receive it anon, at once, and without hesitancy or delay; but they are somewhat precipitate in their reception of it; they do not take time to "mark, learn, and inwardly digest" it. They receive it readily, neither "proving all things" nor" holding fast that which is good." They receive it with pleasure, but without profit. They receive it as an intellectual treat or literary enjoyment, but there its influence is at an end. They receive it with mental approbation, but, though gratified with it, they are neither guided nor governed by it. They receive it with eagerness as the good Word of God, and it is sweet to their taste; but it does not check their beloved lusts and besetting sins, nor change their evil habits and ungodly lives. Or, if it do produce any change, that change is merely transient. Their goodness is like the morning cloud, now careering it in the vault of heaven, and for a short time visible as a rain-cloud, then vanishing without the promised shower—a moment seen, then gone for ever; or like the early dew-drops scattered as pearls upon the grass, and sparkling in the morning sun, but brushed away by the foot of the passing traveler before it reaches the earth to moisten its surface or fructify its soil. But how or why is this? How is it possible that persons may receive the Word with gravity and solemnity, with frequency and apparent fervor, with eagerness and gladness, and yet without any beneficial effect or abiding result? Because they do not receive it with faith, and therefore "the Word does not profit, not being mixed with faith in them that hear it?'
3. They want root. The secret of unsuccess here is want of root; "they have no root in themselves," and so they "endure but for a time," or last only for a season (πρόσκαιροι). The seed falling on the surface soon penetrates the thin layer of soil, but when it has pierced through that shallow covering, it comes upon the hard, impenetrable rock. It can go no further; it can neither go round that stratum of rock nor enter it. So with the seed of the Divine Word when sown on rocky hearts. It has no real root in them, and so it dies away and is soon gone; it has no root in the judgment, and so there can be no fixed principles of life or action; it has no root in the understanding, and so there are no clear conceptions of truth nor correct apprehensions of duty; it has no root in the will, and so the will remains without proper restraint and right direction; it has no root in the affections, and so no habits of goodness are properly formed or of permanent continuance; it has no root in the conscience, and so no regulative force is exercised over that vicegerent of God in the heart of man; it has no root in the memory, and, as a matter of course, it is either consigned to oblivion or is only remembered as the sound of a pleasant song. The tender plant cannot penetrate the hard rock nor root itself in the unyielding limestone; it is no wonder, then, that the rootless plant cannot in any case exist for long, much less resist for any considerable time the scorching rays of the midday sun. There is
(1) no fixity in the root and no firmness in the stem. See the languishing aspect of that lovely floweret which has been uprooted from the genial soil of its parent earth; how soon it droops and dies! Compare it with the plant, or shrub, or tree fast rooted in the earth. Look at you old oak tree deep moored in the rifted rock; it is subjected to every blast; it is assailed by every storm, fretted by every gust of heaven, and exposed to every wind that blows. The wind has bent it, but never broken it; the storm has shaken it, but could never uproot it; the tempest assailed it, but it has withstood the shock. Centuries have rolled over its aged top and widespread branches, but time has only left it sturdier than ever—deeper rooted than before. "Woodman, spare that tree," for the strength of wind and the stress of weather have proved its deep-rooted stability—firm as the rock in which it is rooted, and immovable as the everlasting hill of which that rock is a part. May the Word of the eternal God take root in our hearts, and, when so rooted, may it gradually attain a greater depth of soil; and may the Spirit of the living God enable us, by meditation, prayer, self-examination, and closer communion with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, to maintain to the end such deep-rooted strength and Christian stability! But the root serves another purpose, for not only does it give fixity and firmness to the plant, it is
(2) the means of conveying nourishment to the plant; it is the channel of communication between the seed and the soil. Plants need nourishment as well as animals, and accordingly they are furnished with the apparatus necessary for receiving such nourishment. At the extremity of each fibre of a root there is a spongiole, or small sponge, to suck up nutriment from the soil. The substances required for the nourishment of plants must be in a state of solution—dissolved in many times their own bulk of water; otherwise they could not pass through the exceedingly minute apertures or pores of the spongioles. Now, it is obvious that there are two ways in which we may make a plant to perish—either by withdrawing the moisture from the soil, and the inorganic substances by which the plant is fed cannot be made available; or by destroying the root and those vessels through which the small particles of matter in solution are absorbed by the plant. In the former case the nourishment designed to sustain life is altogether withheld, or, if present, cannot be utilized; in the latter case that very nourishment tends to accelerate disorganization, for when moisture remains stagnant in the sponges they are soon saturated, and disease and putrefaction ensue. Now, in the case which the parable supposes, both the nourishment is wanting, and the means of receiving it are absent—both moisture and root are deficient, or rather entirely lacking. Where then, or how, can the plant draw the supply of nourishment which it requires? Now, the channel of communication, as well as the means of connection, between the spiritual seed and the spiritual soil—the Divine Word and the human heart—is faith. When, therefore, that which is the medium of communication and means of life is absent, how or whence can spiritual life, not to speak of growth or health, be maintained? The seed and the soil have no means of contact; the root of faith that should bring thegn into vital union is deficient; and so there is no nourishment, no development of vitality—in a word, no spiritual life.
4. A temporary semblance of life. "For a while they believe," or for a season they endure. We have seen a young twig sprout seemingly verdant and vigorous from the lifeless trunk; and so for a while a plant may appear to have life, while it is virtually dead. For a while it may seem even to flourish, where the root is dying or already dead, and where the source of life and vigor, as well as the means of communicating it, are wanting. Just so is it in things spiritual: men may for a while have a name to live, while yet they are dead; the blade of profession may be green, while the root of grace may be withered or wanting; men may profess much and seem to practice what they profess, while that profession is hollow and that practice heartless; there may be a beautiful blossom and a fair flower, and yet no fruit ever come to maturity or even come forth at all. Without the power of life in the root there is no vital principle, no genuine practice, and therefore no final perseverance. But to put the case more practically, there may be both conviction and confession of sin, and yet no conversion. Felix trembled when St. Paul "reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come;" but yet to St, Paul, after his powerful sowing of the heavenly seed, the answer was, "Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee." There may be a commendable disposition to hear God's Word and so receive the seed; there may be many good resolutions formed, and yet the result may be the same as in the case of Agrippa, when he said to St. Paul, "Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian;" still the almost Christian, as the old divines used quaintly yet truly to say, is only almost saved. Men may not only wait on the ordinances of religion with satisfaction, listen to the gospel with pleasure, and receive the preached Word with gratification and gladness, but also reform much in life and conduct, just as it is written of Herod, that he" feared John, knowing that he was a just man and an holy, and observed him; and when he heard him he did many things, and heard him gladly;" and yet the end may be no better than that of that wicked and unhappy monarch.
5. The testing-time. A time of temptation or trial cometh—"tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the Word." Here we have the genus and the species very clearly set before us; the trial in general and its specific kinds. The trial is of a hostile kind and the two sorts of it are distinctly stated, namely, personal affliction within, and persecution without. The affliction or painful pressure is such as comes upon us in connection with our own individual circumstances, and may affect us in soul, body, or estate. The persecution is that which assails us from without. But why is this? Why does this persecution arise? "Because of the Word." The world hates God's Word, because the holy doctrines of that Word are opposed to and condemn the unholy principles of the world, and because the pure precepts of that Word are contrary to and rebuke the unrighteous practices of the world. The carnal mind hates the Word, for that Word exposes and reprobates its sinful and shocking enmity to God. The flesh hates the Word, because that Word denounces "those fleshly lusts that war against the soul," and commands men to "crucify the flesh with its affections and lusts." The sinner hates the Word, for the principles of that Word are the means which the Spirit employs to reprove him, as well as "convince him of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment." Every unrenewed heart and every unregenerate soul hates the Word, because the Law of God, which it contains, is holy and just and good—exceeding "spiritual," and its "commandments are exceeding broad." Satan hates the Word, because it is "the sword of the Spirit" by which he is vanquished, by which souls are rescued from his grasp, and the destroyer deprived of his prey. Hell hates the Word, for where that Word is unknown, or unread, or unpractised, hell enlarges itself beyond measure. Hence it is that tribulation and persecution arise because of the Word.
6. Their failure in the day of trial. "Immediately they are offended"—scandalized; that is to say, a stumbling-block is laid in their way, and they fall over it. After a season of special privileges and gracious influences, a time of trial may be expected to come, in order to prove the sincerity of professors and the genuineness of their religion. After such a period a testing-time may be looked for, and then it is seen who in reality have the root of the matter in them. Persecution is like the heat of the sun's rays, and this indeed is the figure which our Lord himself employs in this parable. If the plant be well rooted, the heat of the sun exercises a genial influence on it, promoting its growth and bringing it to maturity. Once the Word of God has struck deep root and become firmly rooted in our hearts, the clouds of adversity may roll over us, the tempest of persecution rage around us, and the storms of temptation beat at our feet; yet the firmness of our attitude shall defy the storm, and the fixity of our root shall be strengthened instead of shaken. The tree rooted in the rock may be uptorn, the grey rock of centuries may itself be upheaved by the earthquake; the oaks of Bashan may be uprooted, and the cedars of Lebanon may be rent and riven by the lightning of heaven; the mountains may shake with the swelling of the waters, and the solid earth itself be removed from its deep foundations; yet, with the seed of truth fast rooted in the heart, and the heart itself grounded in love, the believer stands unmoved, unterrified, and unhurt. He stands like the spectator on the high summit of a lofty mountain that seems to pierce the clouds; he hears the hoarse and dreadful roarings of the storm far below him; he sees the broad and vivid flashes of the lightning glare beneath him; and listens to the "live thunder as it leaps far along from peak to peak among the rattling crags." The eminence he occupies elevates him above the storm; the firmness of his position secures him against its fury; the storms of an angry world may rage, but he is rooted. How different it is with plants where there is no deepness or depth of earth, where there is lack of moisture, and where the root is deficient or defective! The sun's heat scorches them, and they wither. Thus it ever is: the Word of God is either "the savor of life unto life," or "of death unto death;" Christ crucified is to "the Jews a stumbling-block, and unto the Greeks foolishness; but unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God." So is it with trial, whether tribulation or persecution; while it only confirms the faithful and leaves them more firmly rooted, it becomes an occasion of stumbling and even of final apostasy to the unfaithful who have no root in themselves. The trials, that help the believer onward to an "exceeding and eternal weight of glory," are such a hindrance in the way of the barren professor that he is offended and falls away. "The same fire," says Augustine, "turns straw into ashes, and takes away the dross from gold."
7. Final apostasy. "They fall away. How sad this statement! "They fall away," that is finally. Such is the closing scene! Many a one runs well for a time, but something hinders him, and then he stumbles and finally falls! Many a one, who bade fair to be the Lord's in the great "day when he maketh up his jewels," thus falls away and sinks into apostasy! Many a one, who appeared to be so running that he might obtain the incorruptible crown in company with the pure and holy, falls away from these high hopes and glorious prospects, and perishes for ever! Alas! how dreadful the thought of having a reward so rich in prospect, a diadem so bright in anticipation, an inheritance so incorruptible to look forward to, and yet of finally and for ever falling away and forfeiting all!
VII. PRACTICAL LESSONS.
1. Warned by all this, we are surely called on solemnly to consider how we hear, and carefully examine our motives as well as our manner of hearing.
2. We should ever have in recollection the Scripture admonition in reference to such matters, which says, "Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things that we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip."
3. We must not be content with a certain change of conduct and conversation; this may last for a time, but, unless the heart be changed, there is no permanence in the change. Unless there is the root of faith, there can never be the real fruit of righteousness.
4. We are warned to expect trial. "All who wilt live godly in Christ Jesus" must be prepared for it. But, instead of being discouraged thereby or deterred from the path of duty, we must rather rejoice as the apostle directs, saying, "Count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations [or trials];" and again, "Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him."
5. We must beware of being turned aside from the path of duty, or from the study of God's Word, or from prayer, or from the worship of the sanctuary, or from religious service of any kind, either by sneers or taunts, or by unkindness or even persecution on the part of the ungodly. By doing so we prove ourselves of those here represented by the rocky ground.
6. What need we have earnestly to seek the aid of the Holy Spirit to preserve us from an evil and hard heart of unbelief, in which the seed of God's Word can neither take root nor grow!
VIII. THE THORNY GROUND.
1. Superiority to the two preceding. "Some fell among thorns." Now, we have, in the descriptions of the several kinds of ground, an ascending climax. In the first the seed lies on the surface, and never enters the soil at all, and by such are understood the unenlightened or unintelligent hearers. In the next the seed finds its way into the soil, but that soil is so shallow and so sparse—a mere thin coating on a rock—that the progress of the root downward is soon prevented by the hard, opposing, impenetrable rock: by these conditions are represented the superficial hearers or readers of God's Word. We now enter on a third stage upward. The seed, instead of lying on the surface, or remaining rootless in the layer of mould thinly spread upon a rock, has good soil to sustain it, and takes root therein; but the soil, though of itself good enough sad deep enough, suffers from preoccupation; thorns, or roots of thorns, have found a place in it: by this description worldly hearers are meant.
2. The growth of the thorns. We are not to understand full-grown thorns, but thorn roots that had been left in the ground through defective tillage. Proper culture would have completely eradicated them. On the contrary, these thorns grew up along with the sprouting seed (συμφυεῖσαι), and quite choked it. The thorns overtopped the young plant that sprang from the good seed; in this way they over-shadowed it, shutting out at the same time both light and air; while a still worse consequence ensued from their roots absorbing the nourishment furnished by the soil, and withdrawing it from the tender plant. The inevitable result was, by robbing it of the strengthening nutriment afforded by the richness of the soil and moisture, to reduce it to a thing of sickly, stunted growth.
3. The signification of the thorns. Our Lord, in his interpretation of this part of the parable, shows us that by the thorns we are to understand cares and riches, according to the first Gospel; while a third element is added by St. Luke, namely, "the pleasures of life;" and by St. Mark under the still more general expression of "the lusts of other things." All classes of society are comprehended here; all sides of human life are here exhibited. The poor and rich here, as elsewhere, meet together. The third class, embracing such as are devoted to the pleasures of life, or who are concerned about lustings after other things, may be regarded either as a distinct class, or may be reckoned as a sub-class under either the poor or rich; especially the latter, inasmuch as the poor have often as keen a desire for pleasure, and as much zest in pleasure, as the rich, but without equal means of gratification.
4. How thorny cares choke the seed of God's Word. The cares referred to are distracting cares—anxieties pulling a man like so many cords in different directions. When such harassing cares come into conflict with thoughts about the things of God, the man in whose breast such a struggle is going on must needs be a double-minded man, in the sense of his heart being divided between God and the world. The cares here mentioned are more particularly such as distress the poor. With many the struggle for daily bread is a severe one—the battle a hard one. To provide food and raiment, a suitable place of abode, and proper education for the members of a household, with requisite preparation for their business in life or special life-work, whatever it is to be, demands a certain amount of careful attention. Nor is this anywhere forbidden in the Word of God; nay, it is commanded. We are required to "provide things honest in the sight of all men;" to be "not slothful in business, but fervent in spirit, serving the Lord;" while it is added that "if any provide not for his own, and especially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel." Besides such domestic duties, there are social duties, and personal individual duties, which we are bound to discharge as individuals and as members of society, as well as those which belong to us in our family relations. For the faithful and efficient discharge of such duties care and thought must be employed, time and pains expended.
5. Two extremes to be avoided. But, while carelessness about duties of the kind specified is sinful, there is another and opposite extreme, which our Lord deemed it necessary to rebuke by two most beautiful comparisons—the fowls of the air and the flowers of the field; the birds which in such multitudes frequented the lake and plain of Gennesaret, and the flowers which in such variety and surpassing loveliness clothed with spring beauty the hillsides of Galilee. It is our heavenly Father who clothes the one and feeds the other, thus caring for both. How much more will he take care of his children by redemption and adoption as well as by creation! "If," says an old divine, in his own plain and pithy way, "our heavenly Father feeds his birds, he will never starve his babes." God will have us cast our care upon him; he will have us feel convinced that he careth for us; he will have us to be "careful"—that is, anxiously careful—"for nothing, but in everything"—little as well as great, momentous or minute—"by prayer and supplication … make our requests known unto God." In this way, avoiding either extreme—that of criminal carelessness on the one hand, and that of corroding carefulness or over-anxiety on the other, and ever by prayer rolling our burden over on the Lord, we get rid of those thorny cares that choke and strangle the growth of the good seed in our hearts. Worldly objects do claim a due share of attention, worldly duties must not be neglected; but heavenly subjects are of paramount importance, and heavenly interests bear the same ratio to earthly that heaven itself does to earth, or eternity to time. Thorns served for fences, and in some places separated the fields in Palestine, as we infer from Micah (Micah 7:4), where the prophet uses the comparison of "a thorn hedge." They were useful, therefore, in their own way and in their own place for fences in fields, but most baneful when left to grow up in fields of corn, or grain, or other crops. So with worldly cares; they have their place. Of course, by worldly cares we do not mean those anxieties which are strictly forbidden under all circumstances, but only that amount of attention that is required for the right discharge of the worldly duties that devolve upon us. Anything beyond this is injurious to our best and highest interests. Uneasy, anxious cares, like the thorns among the growing grain, choke the Divine Word and strangle the springing plant of grace. Such cares, when yielded to or indulged in, interfere unduly with those thoughts and feelings and affections that are claimed, and justly claimed, by the lessons of God's Word. Things present take the place of things everlasting; anxieties about our worldly affairs crush out altogether, or leave little room for, spiritual concerns. The thorns of this parable are represented as encroaching on the good seed, and usurping the place which of right belongs to the useful plant; so these cares of the present world, if allowed, are sure to usurp the place that belongs to the world to come. The thorns took away from the seed-root, and drew to themselves the nourishment of the rich soil; so the concernments of a passing and perishing world take away our thoughts from God and heaven and eternity. The things that are seen and temporal withdraw our attention from things unseen and eternal. The body and its wants take the place of the soul and its necessities. Exertions and energies that should be devoted to higher and spiritual objects are squandered on the trifles of earth and sense. Under such conditions and in such circumstances the seed of the Word sown in the heart necessarily becomes unfruitful. The soil may be excellent, the seed may be carefully sown, the Word faithfully ministered, it may, moreover, take root and grow; but the thorns deprive it of its proper nourishment, its growth is obstructed, the plant becomes weak and sickly; without strength or vigor it can yield no fruit. It may have stem, and leaf, and bud, and blossom, and growth to a certain extent, but it brings no fruit to perfection or maturity (οὐ πελεσφοροῦσι). In such hearers of the Word there is no fruit of the Spirit, no Christian grace, no works of faith, or deeds of charity, or labour of love in any direction; "it becometh unfruitful."
6. Another class of thee mental thorns. With the Cares of this world our Lord classes riches, as another division of the thorns of this parable. There is nothing, sinful in riches when honestly acquired or justly inherited, and when at the same time they are rightly used. We read of the father of the faithful himself that he was "rich in cattle, in silver, and in gold." Two circumstances make the possession of riches to be perilous. The circumstances referred to are the love of riches and the abuse of riches. "The love of money," we read, "is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows;" or, according to the Revised Version, "The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil: which some reaching after have been led astray from the faith, and have pierced themselves through with many sorrows;" and hence it is that they occupy the thoughts and engross the affections to the exclusion of the lessons of inspired truth—the precepts of the Law and the promises of the gospel. They pierce and pain, moreover, like the pricking of thorns. What sorrow as well as solicitude they occasion! Men set their minds to work, and perplex themselves with plans to obtain them, and minds thus preoccupied have no room-left for better objects and holier pursuits; men torture themselves most unwarrantably in order to increase them and augment their store; men are distressed with restless schemes in order to retain secure possession of them; men, again, are so in love with them that they cannot bear to part with them, or share them with others for the noblest purposes—religious, educational, or charitable, nor even for the means of profiting their own souls. When the love of riches thus dominates the heart, and when such plans and projects regulate its thoughts and rule its affections, no wonder that such bushy and prickly thorns choke out (ἀπεπνίξαν), or crushing together suffocate (συμπνίγουσι) and stifle the seeds or plants in their growth.
7. "The deceitfulness of riches." Both St. Matthew and St. Mark mention this characteristic of riches. How often does it occur that men rise up early, sit up late, and eat the bread of carefulness with the hope of becoming rich; but the wealth they are in quest of, like some phantom form, eludes their grasp. Wealth, just as the meteor of the marsh, leads them till it leaves them in the quagmire, deluded, deceived, disappointed. They die neither rich in worldly goods, nor rich toward God. Again, men struggle long and hard for many years, and at length succeed in amassing wealth (πλοῦτος, from the root πλε entering into the verb "to fill," the noun "multitude," and the word "wealth," in Greek), and in scraping together much of this world's goods; but scarce has their object been attained, their hopes realized, when, lo! through some untoward event, such as a conflagration, the breaking of a bank, or a robbery, their riches "make to themselves wings and fly away;" and thins they are deceived by a fluctuating, vanishing possession, for the attainment of which they have strained every power of mind and body, to the entire neglect of the soul and spiritual things. Once more, we can well suppose the case of men succeeding in the race for riches, and retaining in security the fruits of their labour. But by this time they are no longer young; desire has failed, the power of enjoyment has ceased; the advance of age, with its accompanying decay and decrepitude, kept pace with the accumulation of wealth; and now in the end, after years of toil, they have no relish for the enjoyments they had anticipated; they have experienced "the deceitfulness of riches," and, what is worse, their heart is now hard, their conscience seared, the seed of truth has been so long stifled, and its instructions so long suffocated by the crowding thoughts of wealth. Further, riches deceive by their promises. They promise happiness, but instead of happiness they often bring miserable apprehensions; they promise peace of mind, but they often prove the chief disturbers of that peace; they promise contentment, but the craving for more produces restlessness and dissatisfaction; they promise to lighten the burdens of life, but they frequently superadd a crushing load of care to all its other burdens; they promise relief from care, but it is as true now as in the poet's day, that "black care mounts behind the knight." The seed of the Word may be sown on the rich soil of a young, warm heart, it may strike root deeply downward, it may develop a tender stem and green leaf upward, it may struggle for light and air, but in vain! These thorns rob the root of nourishment, and shut out the genial sunlight and healthy atmosphere from the top; and though there may be foliage, there is no fruitage. If, then, poverty distresses with its cares and distracts by its anxieties, riches may divert the mind by their abundance and deceive by their promises; in either case, the Word may be unfruitful, the life barren, heaven missed, salvation lost, and the soul ruined.
8. Other perils to profitable hearing. When we reflect on the dangers to our spiritual life and growth attending both poverty and riches, we may well say with the wise man, "Give me neither poverty nor riches," or give me grace to bear myself discreetly and devoutly in either. But if the poor man is in danger from his poverty, and the rich man in danger because of his wealth, what of the man of pleasure? The word βίος differs from both ζωή in the classics and in the Scriptures; but the difference thus existing is reversed, so that in Scripture the latter denotes the higher kind of life, and is the word of moral meaning involving moral distinction, while the former is more closely connected with natural life, or that life which we have in common with other animals. Accordingly, we read of "the pride of life" (βιοῦ), "the affairs of life," and here "the pleasures of life," with the same word in each. "The pleasures of life," or of this life—our versions supplying the pronoun—may be the pleasures of sense and sin, such as the apostle enumerates under works of the flesh, when he says, in his Epistle to the Galatians (Galatians 5:19), "Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness,… drunkenness, revellings, and such like." Or the pleasures here referred to may be the less gross and more fashionable pleasures which minister to pride, to pomp, to luxury, and to ambition. These desires about the remaining or other things may refer to gay clothing, costly furniture, rich equipages, stately mansions, works of art, broad acres, wide domains, popular applause, worldly advancement, and whatever else may be comprehended under "the lust of the eye and the pride of life." Even lawful desires inordinately pursued, proper objects too eagerly sought after, right employments and occupations too keenly followed, even natural affections carried to excess,—all these, when they are allowed to interfere with or draw away the attention from everlasting verities, the lessons of Scripture, and the concerns of the soul, and are not restrained by the grace of God, become spiritual thorns. They choke the seed, distract and distress the mind, and in the end "make a death-bed difficult." We have read somewhere that when the famous French cardinal Mazarin drew near his end, he caused himself to be dressed, shaved, rouged, and enamelled. Then he had himself rolled in an easy-chair through his picture-gallery, exclaiming at times as he went along, "See that Correggio, this Venus of Titian, that incomparable Caracci! Must I quit them all? Farewell, beloved ones! None can know how my heart bleeds to leave you." He was next wheeled into the promenade, where the feeble hands of the old sinner were actually held up while he joined in a game of cards! And so, it is added, he continued till the papal nuncio came to give him plenary indulgence.
IX. PRACTICAL LESSONS.
1. The first lesson here that presents itself to our attention may be expressed in that exhortation of the Apostle John, "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him."
2. We are warned so as to beware of the cruel disappointment of going on successfully for a time, and then coming short at the last; of being, in other words, an almost Christian, and so only coming in view of but not reaching salvation. Here the surface was not hard, as in the case of the wayside, nor was the soil shallow, as in the case of the stony ground; on the contrary, there was a soft surface to admit the seed, there was soil neither shallow nor stony to retain it; and yet the seed, though well and deeply rooted, was stifled at the top and suffocated at the root, so that it never reached maturity.
3. With seeming progress there may be real retrogression. In the case of the wayside it is trodden down at once, never penetrating even the surface before Satan snatches it away; in the stony ground the seed finds lodgment in the soil, springs up speedily, but for want of root or depth of earth to maintain the root, it is scorched and withers away; in the thorny ground it enters the surface, roots itself in the soil, springs up and grows, but after all it remains barren and fruitless. The last state, in one point of view, is worse than the preceding, and that, again, than the first; because more progress has been made by the seed among the thorns than by that on the rocky ground, and more by that, again, than by the seed cast on the wayside; and thus to go so far as to take root and grow, and then fall short at last, is more disappointing than the case of the seed which, though it enters the soil, never takes root, and only endures for a time; and still more than that which never penetrates the surface at all.
4. It has been remarked, that the first corresponds to the carelessness of childhood, the second to the shallowness of youth, and the third to the worldliness of age; the first also implying inattention, the second impulsiveness or ardor, and the third indulgent selfishness.
X. THE GOOD GROUND.
1. Its character. The chief characteristic of the good ground. is its productiveness; while our Lord, in his explanation, indicates several other interesting particulars. The good ground represents an honest and good heart. Absolute goodness is out of the question, for "the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked;" and so the question comes to be—Is it the comparative goodness of the natural heart, or is it the heart of the believer, in reference to whom we read, that "the preparations of the heart in man are from the Lord" ? That there are differences in unregenerate men and in the condition of their hearts is, we think, unquestionable. It is so with individuals: as Nathanael, of whom, when coming to Jesus according to Philip's direction, the Saviour himself said, "Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile;" or as Cornelius, "a devout man, and one that feared God, with all his house;" or as the Ethiopian eunuch, who, while he was returning in his chariot, read carefully and pondered closely "the prophet Esaias." It was so with the members of the Beraean community, who were" more noble than they of Thessalonica, in that they received the Word with all readiness of mind." Thus even by nature some are more candid, honest, and upright than others; more earnest and desirous of knowing, as well as more ready to receive, the truth. Such natural differences, as well as those made by grace, are due to God, who alone makes men to differ. If the reference is to believers, the meaning is perfectly plain. The heart of such becomes "honest and good" in the highest human sense, when God, by his Holy Spirit, renews the heart and sanctifies the life, having united the soul by faith to the Saviour. Hearts thus quickened and purified are in a condition to receive, and do receive, the Word in simplicity and godly sincerity. Thus receiving it they grow thereby, being nourished and strengthened, and built up in their most holy faith.
2. The reception of the Word by such. Three terms are employed in this regard. St. Mark says, παραδέχονται, they receive it, with a feeling of inward satisfaction, it may be, or even delight. The stony-ground hearers are represented by the same evangelist and by St. Matthew as receiving it (λαμβάνουσι), and by St. Luke (δέχονται), with joy. The joy with which such hearers received it was a sudden impulse, which soon ceased—a quick, joyous emotion, which played on the surface without stirring to any great extent the depths of the heart. But the reception accorded to it by those having an honest and good heart is accompanied by a deep, steady, abiding interest. The usage of this word in the LXX. seems to imply a cordial reception; thus, in Isaiah 42:1 we read, "Israel is my chosen, my soul has accepted (προσεδέξατο) him;" and in Proverbs 3:12 it is written, "For whom the Lord loves he rebukes, and scourges every son whom he receives (παραδέχεται)." But whether this shade of meaning be attributable to the context or inherent in the word, certain it is that such hearers receive the Word not wearily nor listlessly, nor as a formal duty, but as a matter of privilege, and in order to be instructed and edified thereby, and that their souls may be satisfied as with marrow and fatness. But, secondly, such hearers understand (συνιών) the Word. The interest we feel in any truth or fact helps us greatly in its right comprehension; once our interest is fully awakened our attention will be excited; we shall examine its bearings more thoughtfully. It is thus especially with the Word of God: we shall study it more carefully, as well as more prayerfully; while the Holy Spirit, promised to them that ask him, will guide us into all truth, even "the truth as it is in Jesus." A third element in this reception of the Word is the retention of it (κατέχουσι, used by St. Luke): they keep it. Having received the truth in the love of it, and having mingled it with faith, it becomes the ingrafted Word—ingrafted as a fruitful shoot in the wild unfruitful stock, or implanted in them, at all events, incorporated with their very being. As a natural and necessary consequence, they hold it fast, so that Satan cannot snatch it away, nor vain thoughts crush it down, nor worldly concerns stifle it, nor any evil influence destroy it. It becomes the subject of regular, constant, daily meditation; and so it gets linked with the thoughts and feelings and affections, while it is reduced to practice in the life. The individual so receiving it is "not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the Word," and so blessed in the deed. This corresponds exactly with the apostle's statement (1 Corinthians 15:2), "By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory [κατέχετε, literally, hold fast, as here] what I preached unto you."
3. Fruititfulness. Fruit is borne in varying proportion, according to the talents bestowed and the surrounding circumstances. This fruit is borne in patience, that is, enduringly and perseveringly, and to the end; and not only the seed itself, but the fruit—each grain in every ear in turn becoming seed multiplies itself.
XI. PRACTICAL LESSONS.
1. Right way of receiving the Word. There must be the exercise of attention, understanding, and memory; as far as possible the attention must be lively and earnest, the understanding active and practical, and the memory retentive.
2. The fruitfulness. The fruit, though it varies in quantity, is a uniform product, evidencing the root of the matter, and ministering at once glory to God and grace to man.—J.J.G.
Parallel passage: Luke 8:16-18.—
Light and illumination.
I. TEMPORARY OBSCURATION. The heathens in their mysteries had esoteric doctrines only made known to the initiated, and not designed to be revealed at any time to the uninitiated. The obscuration in their case was permanent. Our Lord, at a particular period of his ministry and for a special purpose, veiled his teaching in parable. But this obscuration was only meant to continue for a time. Our Lord guards against the notion that the doctrines thus propounded were designed for perpetual concealment, or for revelation only to a select few. Accordingly he asks whether at all (μήτι) a lamp (λύχνος) is brought into an apartment in order to be secreted or to be set on a lamp-stand. The lamp is not brought, is it, to be put under a bushel (rather, a peck-measure, equivalent to the Roman modius) or under a bed, and not to be set on a lamp-stand? The light in a dwelling may be concealed for some necessary purpose and for some short time, but this is contrary to its regular and proper use. So our Lord here implies that the light of his teaching may be partially concealed by parable, and confined for a time to a few immediate followers, but shall be manifested, and is meant to be manifested, all the more afterwards. The matter is expressed in two ways—first as a prediction, and secondly as a purpose. As a prediction, "There is nothing hid, that shall not be manifested;" or, more literally, There is not anything hid, that (or whatsoever) may not be revealed. As a purpose," Neither was anything kept secret, but that it should come abroad;" rather, Neither did anything become secret, but that it might come into open view. Like a lamp placed under some piece of domestic furniture for a short space and for some sufficient reason, the light of our Lord's doctrine was placed under the veil of parable or other obscuring medium for a time. But this position was never meant to be permanent—nay, the purpose was the very opposite; that is, to promote rather than prevent the future splendor and the further outshining of that bright and beautiful light.
II. RELATION OF LEARNING TO TEACHING. Our Lord's maxims never undergo a change of meaning, but their application necessarily varies with the context. After enunciating one of these maxims, viz. "If any man have ears to ear, let him hear," as a safeguard against possible error, and to prevent a not unlikely misconception, he proceeds to state another principle of his teaching, and another purpose to be accomplished. This principle was that the measure of attention given by the disciple to his Master would be rewarded with a proportionate measure of improvement; that in proportion to the desire of instruction and the use made of it by the disciple would be the benefit bestowed by the teacher. Again, the purpose was that the instructions thus received should be utilized for the advantage of others, so that the more the disciples profited as learners, so much the more they themselves would be able to impart to others, as preachers of the gospel and as teachers of the truth. Further, ulterior and higher attainments are promised to him who makes a right use of present attainments; while he "who has not," that is to say, who has not for ready use, and who does not make available his present or previous attainments, shall forfeit even what he has, or fancies he has. We thus learn that spiritual attainments and spiritual knowledge are never exactly at a standstill. They are either increasing by proper application and improvement, or decreasing by misuse and diminishing by neglect.—J.J.G.
Spiritual vegetation or secret growth.
I. RELATION TO THE IMMEDIATELY PRECEDING PARABLE. This parable, which may very appropriately be called "the secret growth," is recorded by St. Mark alone. It is peculiar to his Gospel. Its relation to the parable of the sower, which precedes it, is somewhat of the following kind:—The former parable describes the soil, this one, the seed; the former the quality of the soil, and this the vitality of the seed.
II. THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN. "The kingdom of heaven" is an expression of frequent occurrence in Scripture. Thus we read, "The kingdom of heaven cometh not with observation," that is, "outward show," as the margin expresses it; also, "The kingdom of heaven is within you," or "among you," as the margin again has it. The meaning of this important expression is sufficiently plain to every reader of the New Testament, and does not, at least in its present connection, require any lengthened explanation. It denotes the reign of Heaven's principles in the heart of man, the spread of Heaven's principles among the families of man, and the glory of Heaven's principles as exhibited in all their plenitude and in all their power in that new heaven and new earth in which dwelleth righteousness. It may be more briefly summed up as the kingdom of grace in the heart, of peace in the family, and of glory through all the world. In Luther's 'Smaller Catechism,' on that petition of the Lord's Prayer, "Thy kingdom come," it is asked, "How does this take place?" and the answer is, "When our heavenly Father gives us his Holy Spirit, that through his grace we believe his Holy Word, and live a godly life, here in time and yonder in eternity."
III. QUALITY OF THE SEED. The seed here, as in the former parable, is the Word of God; thus we read, at the fourteenth verse of this chapter, "The sower soweth the Word:" so also in that other Scripture, "Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the Word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever." Husbandmen are particularly careful about the quality of the seed which they cast into the furrows of the field, and very properly so, for the prospect of the harvest depends so much thereon. They reject the seed that is mixed, or unhealthy, or dead; otherwise the result would be most disastrous. Exactly so should it be with the Word of God. Here is a duty incumbent both on those that speak and on those that hear that Word; it behoves them both to see well to it that it is in truth the Word of God which they speak and hear. It must be the Word of God—nothing less, and nothing else; the Word of God in its purity, the Word of God without any mixture, whether of human error or human passion, or doubtful disputation, or unsettling speculation, or tradition of men, or doctrines of men, or philosophy and vain deceit. That Word, too, must be faithfully spoken, not handled deceitfully; for we are not to speak as pleasing men, but God, which trieth our hearts; the whole counsel of God must be declared, and no part kept back; its force, too, must not be weakened, or its meaning explained away. Thus, "the truth as it is in Jesus" must be exhibited faithfully and fully, plainly and openly, just as the apostle says, "But as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ." The danger of the contrary course is very forcibly pointed out in a remarkable Scripture (1 Corinthians 3:12), where the apostle, after stating the true and only foundation to be Jesus Christ, proceeds to say, "Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble," that is, either doctrines more or less sound, or practice more or less consistent with profession, "the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is." If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire."
IV. ADAPTATION OF THE SEED TO THE SOIL. In natural husbandry men are at pains to get seed suited to the soil. Every kind of seed does not suit every kind of soil; seed suitable for one kind may not be suitable for another. There is need, therefore, of selection and adaptation. There must be proper discrimination and judicious distribution. So with the seed of the Word; there is enough for all, and something for each, but it must be duly and discreetly apportioned. This is the direction of Scripture itself, for we are told therein that there are little children, young men, and fathers in Christ, and each is to get his portion of meat in due season; and, again, milk is intended for babes, and strong meat for them that are of mature age. Accordingly, the careless are to be aroused, the unawakened are to be stirred up, the indifferent to be alarmed; the ignorant, again, are to be instructed, the timid to be encouraged, and the presumptuous to be rebuked; the tempted are to be fortified against temptation, the weak are to be strengthened, and the sorrowful to be consoled in their time of trouble; such as have backslidden, or have been overtaken in a fault, are to be restored in the spirit of meekness; saints are to be edified, believers built up in their holy faith; the lukewarm are to be brought back to their first love, and the graces of all quickened. For these various purposes there is enough in the treasury of God's Word, and out of that treasury are to be brought forth things both new and old.
V. THE PART WHICH BELONGS TO HUMAN AGENCY. Man's part is to sow the seed. This is his plain duty, this is his palpable concern, and his practical part of the business. He has not to make the seed, or manufacture the seed, or meddle in any way with the production of the seed; this were a task far above his ability and beyond his power. The seed is ready to his hand, and provided for his use. All he has to do, and all that is required of him, is to put the seed into the soil, and deposit it properly in the furrows—suiting, of course, as far as may be, the seed to the soil and to the sort of previous preparation made for it. We insist on the indispensable necessity of casting the seed into the furrow of the field, and likewise of sowing the seed of truth in the human heart; we affirm, moreover, the need of diligence in accomplishing this part of the operation, which is man's work and man's duty; we assert the absolute requirement of IIuman instrumentality in this part either of natural or spiritual husbandry. The passage we are considering sets this duty clearly before us in the words, "As if a man should cast seed into the ground."
VI. THE NECESSITY FOR DIVINE INFLUENCE. There must be Divine influence as well as human agency; for in Verse 27 we read that the husbandman, after sowing the seed, may sleep by night and rise by day, while the seed springs up and grows he knows not how. Here, in the first place, we must take note of the vitality of the seed: it buds and lengthens (βλαστάνῃ καὶ μηκύνηται). God gave it this vital energy at the first, and so wonderfully powerful is this energy, that the seed which had lain three thousand years in the hand of the mummy will, when deposited in the earth under the ordinary conditions, sprout, spring up, and grow. We have seen that the deposition of the seed in the ground is necessary for any produce, but it must be added that for the development of the seed itself another distinct and indeed a Divine influence is required. Man can only go a certain length either in the department of nature or the sphere of grace. "Paul may plant, and Apollos water, but it is God that giveth the increase." When the seed has been committed to the earth in the most careful and skillful manner, the husbandman must wait for the fertilizing shower to make the seed grow and fructify. So in the spiritual sphere; not only has the seed of truth to be sown in the heart, and the lessons of God's Word to be deposited in the soul—and all this may be effected by human agency—but the influence of the Holy Spirit of God must be added. If the Word of God be the seed, as we are assured it is, then the Spirit of God is rain-shower, the descent of which on the heart, or rather on the seed sown therein, is indispensably required for germination and fructification, or whatever else may be included under spiritual growth. Thus two distinct agencies must come together, unite, and blend in this great and important as well as mysterious process of spiritual vegetation. There must be the Word of God—that is the seed; there must be the Spirit of God—that is the shower. Without the seed and the shower, without the Word and the Spirit, there can be no spiritual vegetation. The soil may be good, the seed both good and suitable; but the dews of heavenly grace—the influences of the Divine Spirit—cannot be dispensed with. Again, the influences of the Spirit may be vouchsafed at the proper season, and in sufficient abundance; but if the seed of troth, if the lessons of the Divine Word, have not been sown in the heart, there is no germination, no quickening. However favorable the conditions of growth may otherwise be, there can be no growth, for the material is wanting. There is no seed, and so no germ of life, and consequently no life. The presence of both is absolutely and indispensably necessary. There are two elements of growth in the natural world—the seed and the shower; the deposition of the former in the soil belongs to man's department of work, the descent of the latter is God's good gift. The one acts upon the other, while the united operation results in healthy vegetation. The seed supplies the material, the shower is the fructifying agency; the shower gives efficacy to the seed, the seed expands by the combined action of the sun and shower. In spiritual husbandry the seed is the Word, the shower represents the Spirit; the Word has life, but the Spirit is required to develop it. Without the Spirit the Word would remain inert, by the Spirit it is made productive; the Word is the germ of spiritual life, the Spirit unfolds and quickens it; their mutual action issues in the happiest results.
VII. THE BOND OF UNION BETWEEN THE TWO AGENCIES, DIVINE AND HUMAN. The absence of either agency would end in disaster. Nothing can supply the place of the seed, neither the soil itself nor the stones imbedded in it. Where there are no seeds the showers of heaven may fall in abundance, the sunshine of heaven may be bright and beautiful, but neither, in the absence of the seed, would be of any avail. Contemplate in the season of harvest a field of golden grain; the stalks are strong and vigorous; the ear is filled with kindly fruit, and bending under the weight; the whole is white unto the harvest. Let this be the case not in one field, but in all; not in one district, but in many; not in one part of the country, but in every part where the land is arable and under cultivation; and yet not one particle of the plenty thus supposed sprang up without seed having been previously put into the earth. Among all the multitudinous stems that constitute that rich, luxuriant crop that waves in the autumn wind, and covers with such abundance the face of the earth in the time of harvest, not one is found that grew without a root, and not a root that grew without a seed. And just so it is with the seed of truth rooted in the heart, and producing the harvest of grace in the life of man. But, as we have already intimated, the fructifying energy of the Divine Spirit, whether it acts by the dew, or shower, or sunshine, or all combined, is equally important, and indeed absolutely necessary in producing the manifold blessings of the spiritual harvest. What, then, is the link that brings these two agencies together—the seed which man sows in the soil, and the shower or other influence which God sends down from the sky? What means must be used to procure for the seed, when sown in the human heart, the quickening and refreshing power of the Divine Spirit? The only means available to man is the power of prayer, and prayer is a power as well in the domain of the temporal as of the spiritual. No doubt man has done his all when he has properly deposited suitable seed in fertile soil; but, though he cannot actually and of himself go further or do more, there remains a duty, the proper performance of which may carry the work much further, and set other and mightier energies in operation; for "prayer moves the hand that moves the world." Once upon a time, long ago, in the land of Israel, drought and dearth prevailed; "the prophet prayed,… and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit." So when, in answer to believing prayer, God bestows his Spirit, the seed of truth germinates in the heart, and yields the fruits of the Spirit in the life.
VIII. THE FRUITFUL EARTH AND THE FAITHFUL HUSBANDMAN. "The earth bringeth forth fruit of herself." God, in his wise and powerful organization of our earth, gave it this power. In obedience to his original command, and in virtue of power originally imparted, the earth brings forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit after his kind—the three great divisions of the vegetable kingdom. The productive earth still retains the power which God at first impressed on it, and to God it is still indebted for its productiveness, as we read, "He watereth the hills from his chambers: the earth is satisfied with the fruit of thy works. He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle, and herb for the service of man, that he may bring forth food out of the earth." We can only follow the process of vegetation a very short way. We know, indeed, that the seed dies, and is decomposed, for it is not quickened except it die; and then it germinates, and new life succeeds. But the entire process is mysterious as it is invisible; it is hidden from man's scrutiny, and high above man's comprehension; while in those secret processes in the sky above and in the earth below we trace the handiwork of God, without which the earth would be barren as the granite and unfruitful as the sea. The faith of the husbandman rests securely ca the established law of the earth's fertility, produced and promoted as it is by the mighty power of God; while his patience is justified by the uniformity of such natural law. "Behold," says James, "the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and the latter rain." This parable affords great encouragement to both faith and patience, and the encouragement thus afforded forms a main feature of the parable. When, therefore, like the husbandman, we prepare the soil of the heart diligently and dutifully, and when we sow thereon the seed with carefulness and caution, and duly supplicate the blessing of heaven on our spiritual handiwork, looking up and expecting an answer, we have no more that we can do, and no more that we need to do. We may then safely leave the result to God; we may commit it quietly and confidingly to his hand, assured that he will give the increase in due time and in due measure. This principle is embodied in the husbandman sleeping and rising night and day, while the seed springs and grows up, he knows not how. There is much comfort in this assurance, much also to strengthen faith and brighten hope. Though all our care will not cause the seed to grow, though we cannot give power to the Word, though God alone can make it effectual, though we must wait patiently for his influence, though the process is mysterious in itself and hidden from the eye of man; yet we may forbear all hurtful anxiety, and forego all unseemly impatience, leaving the issue entirely to God. We must beware of enacting the part of those silly children who pull up their plants or flowers from time to time in order to examine the roots and inspect the process of growth. Though we cannot unveil the inward processes of grace any more than of nature, yet we need not dread any failure in those processes. What is required of us is to use aright the means, and instrumentalities and agencies within our reach, without meddling with what is too high above us or too deep below us; and we may feel fully persuaded that, if we labour in the Lord, our labour will not be in vain.
IX. THE GRADUAL GROWTH. By the earth of herself according to the course of nature, and by the concurring power of the God of nature, fruit is brought forth; "first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear." In like manner, the Word of truth received by faith into the heart becomes the work of grace. This the Spirit carries on while the preacher sleeps and can do no work, or is engaged in other business, or has entered into rest; for the Word preached not unfrequently does its work even after the preacher has been gathered to his fathers. When men sow their seed, they sow "not that body that shall be,... but God giveth it a body as it pleases him." The old dies, but the new blade shoots up; in this we have an emblem of the new nature, for "if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature." Next comes the ear, and in this we find the promise of, and preparation for, fruitfulness. At length we have the full corn in the ear; this is the fruit of righteousness to the praise and glory of God, and this includes all the graces of the Christian character, and all the virtues of the Christian life. Thus Divine truth, under the teaching of the Holy Spirit, first enlightens the mind, then convinces the understanding, gradually quickens the conscience, and converts the heart, while, last of all and best of all, it saves the soul.
X. THE HARVEST. Now the great end is attained. The faithful recipient of the Divine Word has grown in grace; he has added to his "faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; and to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness, and to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness charity;" he has attained to deadness to the world, spirituality of mind, heavenly dispositions, resignation to the Divine will, conformity to the Divine image, and assimilation to the Divine character. When, moreover, the Christian has thus borne the fruits of godliness, made himself useful in the Church and in the world, having served his generation in both; and when the good purposes of his heavenly Father have been fulfilled in him and by him; at length the harvest comes, the sickle is put in; meetened for heaven, ripened for the garner of the skies, he is taken home like a shock of corn in his season. Thus to the child of God "to die is gain "—the gain of heaven for earth, of rest for labour, of glory everlasting instead of the varied sorrows of this present time.—J.J.G.
Parallel passage: Matthew 13:31, Matthew 13:32.—
The mustard seed.
I. DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE PARABLE OF THE MUSTARD SEED AND THE LEAVEN. The latter parable refers rather to the growth of grace in the heart, the former to the extension of the Church in the world; the latter to the assimilating power of Divine grace in the human heart, the former to progressive development and final establishment of the Church on earth.
II. THE SMALLNESS OF THE MUSTARD SEED. The smallness of the mustard seed, if the expression be not proverbial, furnishes at least a striking and frequent subject of comparison. Thus, our Lord uses the illustration in reference to faith, "If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed;" and the present comparison, both here and in the parallel passage of St. Matthew, presents the same figure.
III. THE PROGRESS OF THE CHURCH. While this parable may possibly refer to the progress of religion in the heart, its best exemplification is found in the constantly and rapidly progressive extension of the Church of Christ since apostolic times. When all its member's met in that upper room in Jerusalem, they numbered only a hundred and twenty. Other believers, no doubt, were to be found in the holy city at that early day of the Church's history; but, be that as it may, the number above given included the entire membership of those who publicly met together and professed themselves disciples of the Nazarene. Ten days after—the interval between the Ascension and Pentecost—there took place a signal outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and in connection with St. Peter's sermon there were added to the Church about three thousand souls. Some short time after this, as we read in Acts 4:1-37, "the number of the men" who publicly avowed their faith in Christ "was about five thousand." The next notice of the numerical progress of the gospel is contained in Acts 5:1-42., where we are informed that "believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women." In the beginning of the very next chapter we have an incidental notice to the effect that "the number of the disciples was multiplied." A further and still fuller notice is found in the seventh verse of the same chapter (Acts 6:1-15.), where it is stated that "the Word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a great number of the priests were obedient to the faith." And all this occurred within a period of less than two years, and in the very place where the Founder of our holy religion had been put to death as a malefactor. Thus the mustard seed, comparatively, if not absolutely, the smallest of seeds, becomes a plant, and the plant becomes a tree, and the tree spreads out its branches, and the branches shelter with their shadow, and lodge the fowls of the air beneath their umbrageous foliage. So with the Church of Christ: it has spread from country to country; it has extended from continent to island, and from island to continent; it has enlarged its borders and multiplied its members. It has powerfully influenced all civilized nations, and all barbarous nations to which it has extended have become civilized. And now kingdoms many and mighty repose in safety and rest in security under this widespread gospel tree, like the birds of the air taking refuge under and nestling among the branches of the magnificent mustard tree of this parable.—J.J.G.
Mar 4:35 -51
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Mark 4". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12