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Bible Commentaries

The Biblical Illustrator
Mark 4

 

 

Verse 1-2

Mark 4:1-2

And He began again to teach by the seaside.

Christ teaching

I. The place where Christ taught.

1. By the seaside. Opposed to a prevailing notion. This example at present imitated.

2. In a ship. The spread of the gospel prefigured.

II. Those who formed His audience.

1. The general crowd.

2. The apostles and disciples.

III. The manner in which Christ taught.

1. He taught the multitudes in parables. Remarkable for simplicity when understood. Very apt and likely to be misunderstood.

2. He explained His parables to His disciples, but this was accompanied by reproof.

IV. The reason He taught the multitude in parables.

1. As a fulfilment of prophecy (Psalms 78:2; Matthew 13:34-35).

2. In consequence of the moral state of the Jewish nation (Isaiah 6:9-10; Matthew 13:14-15, and elsewhere).

3. Originally, and as quoted, describes a particular moral state, in which-The Word is not understood, not felt, does not convert, is not heard. This state is ascribed to themselves, to the prophet, to God (Matthew 13:14-15; Isaiah 6:9-10; John 12:40). Learn: That the ungodly see and hear without understanding; that in order that a people be left in darkness, it is not necessary that the gospel be removed; that when a faithful ministry is sent to a people, it is not always for their conversion; that the means of converting are also the means of hardening.

V. The reason Christ taught His disciples more directly.

1. A knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom was a gift to them.

2. Instruction was the mode of conveying it. (Expository Discourses.)

By parables.

The use and abuse of allegorical instruction

Lay down some rules to assist in the interpretation of parables.

1. The first and principal one I shall mention is, the carefully attending to the occasion of them. No one, for instance, can be at a loss to explain the parable of the prodigal son, who considers that our Lord had been discoursing with publicans and sinners, and that the proud and self-righteous Pharisees had taken offence at His conduct. With this key we are let into the true secret of this beautiful parable, and cannot mistake in our comment upon it. Understanding thus from the occasion of the parable what is the grand truth or duty meant to be inculcated.

2. Our attention should be steadily fixed to that object. If we suffer ourselves to be diverted from it by dwelling too minutely upon the circumstances of the parable, the end proposed by Him who spake it will be defeated, and the whole involved in obscurity. For it is much the same here as in considering a fine painting; a comprehensive view of the whole will have a happy and striking effect, but that effect will not be felt if the eye is held to detached parts of the picture without regarding the relation they bear to the rest. Were a man to spend a whole hour on the circumstances of the ring and the robe in the parable just referred to, or on the two mites in that of the good Samaritan, it is highly probable both he and his hearers by the time they got to the close of the discourse, would lose all idea of our Saviour’s more immediate intent in both those instructive parables.

3. That great caution should be observed in our reasoning from the parables to the peculiar doctrines of Christianity.


Verse 1-2

Mark 4:1-2

And He began again to teach by the seaside.

Christ teaching

I. The place where Christ taught.

1. By the seaside. Opposed to a prevailing notion. This example at present imitated.

2. In a ship. The spread of the gospel prefigured.

II. Those who formed His audience.

1. The general crowd.

2. The apostles and disciples.

III. The manner in which Christ taught.

1. He taught the multitudes in parables. Remarkable for simplicity when understood. Very apt and likely to be misunderstood.

2. He explained His parables to His disciples, but this was accompanied by reproof.

IV. The reason He taught the multitude in parables.

1. As a fulfilment of prophecy (Psalms 78:2; Matthew 13:34-35).

2. In consequence of the moral state of the Jewish nation (Isaiah 6:9-10; Matthew 13:14-15, and elsewhere).

3. Originally, and as quoted, describes a particular moral state, in which-The Word is not understood, not felt, does not convert, is not heard. This state is ascribed to themselves, to the prophet, to God (Matthew 13:14-15; Isaiah 6:9-10; John 12:40). Learn: That the ungodly see and hear without understanding; that in order that a people be left in darkness, it is not necessary that the gospel be removed; that when a faithful ministry is sent to a people, it is not always for their conversion; that the means of converting are also the means of hardening.

V. The reason Christ taught His disciples more directly.

1. A knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom was a gift to them.

2. Instruction was the mode of conveying it. (Expository Discourses.)

By parables.

The use and abuse of allegorical instruction

Lay down some rules to assist in the interpretation of parables.

1. The first and principal one I shall mention is, the carefully attending to the occasion of them. No one, for instance, can be at a loss to explain the parable of the prodigal son, who considers that our Lord had been discoursing with publicans and sinners, and that the proud and self-righteous Pharisees had taken offence at His conduct. With this key we are let into the true secret of this beautiful parable, and cannot mistake in our comment upon it. Understanding thus from the occasion of the parable what is the grand truth or duty meant to be inculcated.

2. Our attention should be steadily fixed to that object. If we suffer ourselves to be diverted from it by dwelling too minutely upon the circumstances of the parable, the end proposed by Him who spake it will be defeated, and the whole involved in obscurity. For it is much the same here as in considering a fine painting; a comprehensive view of the whole will have a happy and striking effect, but that effect will not be felt if the eye is held to detached parts of the picture without regarding the relation they bear to the rest. Were a man to spend a whole hour on the circumstances of the ring and the robe in the parable just referred to, or on the two mites in that of the good Samaritan, it is highly probable both he and his hearers by the time they got to the close of the discourse, would lose all idea of our Saviour’s more immediate intent in both those instructive parables.

3. That great caution should be observed in our reasoning from the parables to the peculiar doctrines of Christianity.


Verse 3

Mark 4:3

Hearken; behold, there went out a sower to sow.

Parable of the sower

This parable is both a solemn lesson and warning, and also a description of what is actually taking place in the world. There are calls to lead a holy life perpetually going on; there are either sudden rejections or gradual forgettings of those calls. Such calls may differ in degree, and strength, and strikingness of the impression, but they are all calls; a truth is distinctly embraced by the mind of the person at the time: he sees that something is true which he had not realized to be true before, and had only held in word. That person can never afterwards say he did not know or was not made fully aware of Christian truth; or that it was always brought before him in such a way that he could not recognize it. He has been made to see it, and to recognize it. The point with which this parable deals is the various kinds of treatment accorded by different people to these calls. Let us look at the several classes.

I. The unscrupulous. By a bold, proud, sometimes even sudden and impulsive act of sin, they cast out of their hearts something which incommodes and annoys them, and threatens to interfere with their plan of enjoyment. These are they who have made up their minds to get on in life, and they refuse to let anything interfere with the realization of this desire. Judas. Ananias and Sapphira. I do not say that a man may not recover spiritually after having inflicted such a blow upon himself, but it is a dreadful act, which provokes the righteous justice of God, and that worst of punishments, a hardened heart.

II. The light-minded and careless. These could receive the Word, because that merely implies the capacity of being acted upon by solemn and powerful representations of the truth; which they might be, lust as they might be impressed by some striking scene or incident. But, being without energy of their own to take hold of the Word and extract its powers, they soon fall away. To begin a thing, and to go on with it, are two totally different affairs. The commencement is in its own nature something fresh; but to go on with an undertaking is to do things over and over again, when all the freshness has disappeared, and no incentive remains but the sense of duty. This is the true test, and under it how many fail! Upon how many do we count for continuing their profession under different circumstances? Is there not a regular expectation formed in us, when we estimate the manifestations which men make, that they will not last; that they have their time, like the seasons or periods of weather, and that they will end as naturally as they have begun? Can there be a greater contrast to the abiding faithfulness of the gospel pattern?

III. The worldly. These are not light-minded men altogether; they are serious as regards this world, calculating, exercising forecast, attentive, persevering; but it is solely in relation to this world that they maintain this gravity and seriousness. They do not give a place in their thoughts to another world. What a common mistake with regard to religion this is! Our Lord says, “Ye cannot serve God and mammon;” and yet it would almost appear as if one-half of mankind had determined to prove Him a liar, and to show that that is possible which He declared was not. Each one thinks that in his own particular case there will be a complete agreement in these two great aims and undertakings, the earthly and the spiritual; that others may have missed this union, but that they will fix upon it. They enter upon their course in life with a swing. Feeling no hesitation about themselves, they plunge into the thick of the struggle for the world’s possessions, they are carried away with the ardour of the pursuit, and they do not imagine at all that they are injuring or suppressing the religious principle in them. They think that can maintain itself, and therefore they never think of looking after it, to see how it is faring. And so the stream carries them along, being interested in the objects of the world, content with supposition and doing nothing about religion; until that which has thriven by practice has completely driven out the principle which has had no exercise, and the result is a simple man of the world.

IV. Opposed to all these is the treatment given to the word by the honest and good heart. Not sinning against light; not abandoning what it has undertaken; not captivated by worldly pomp and show: it is faithful to God; it knows the excellence of religion; it is able to count the cost, and make the sacrifice which is necessary for the great end in view. Have we this? We cannot be certain of it until we have continued and persevered to the end. Those who have begun well may boldly cast away the Spirit, or they may fall away from grace because they have no root, or they may be swallowed up by the cares and aims of worldly life. We know not what we are till we have been tried to that extent which God thinks fit. But so far as we have striven, we may feel a comfortable sense that we do possess that heart; and certainly, if we have not striven, we cannot give ourselves any such hope. Let us strive to enter in at the strait gate, and to be found among the faithful. (J. B. Mozley, D. D.)

The effect of Divine truth as conditioned by the state of men’s hearts

The title with which we are familiar is almost a misnomer. It is not the sower who is most prominent, for the seed of the Word is a more important factor; nor yet is the seed, for it is the four kinds of soil into which it shall fall that determines the seed’s future. If preachers and teachers are drawing lessons from the parable, then it may be well called the Parable of the Sower; but if the hearers of the Word are getting their lessons from it, they will find the greater part of the parable telling of the soil and the false growths therein that may render the Word unfruitful. Jesus, standing by the seashore, and surveying the motley company before Him, gives us a prophecy of the future of His truth among men. It cannot win an easy triumph. The seed is God’s own, but it does not create its own soil. It drops on what is at hand, and is to be scattered broadcast, to meet varied fortunes. (E. N. Packard.)

The sower

I. The function of the sower, not destructive but constructive; not to root up or remove, but to plant.

II. The loneliness of the sower. A sower. The reaper may work amidst a company, but the sower is always alone. Thousands reap the fruit of what one man sows.

III. The season when he goes forth to sow. No foliage, no verdure, sky cloudy, and air cold.

IV. Sowing is a sorrowful process. He goes forth weeping. He must part with a certain amount of present good, in order to obtain a larger amount of future good.

V. The nature of the seed which he sows. The word of truth must be the word of life. (Hugh Macmillan.)

The sower

I. The sower.

1. Unity of purpose. His work was seed sowing, not soil culture.

2. Variety of results.

II. The seed.

1. Its origin. Every seed was originated by Christ. But there is a sense in which every man originates his own seed. This he does when he is true to his individuality.

2. Its vitality.

3. Its growth. Man can sow, God alone can quicken.

4. Its identity. The seed is the same in all ages and climes.

III. The soil.

1. Hardness-“Some seeds fell by the wayside,” etc

2. Shallowness-“And some fell upon stony places,” etc.

3. Preoccupancy-“And some fell among thorns,” etc.

4. Richness-“Other fell into good ground,” etc.

This soil contained all the qualities essential to fruitfulness. Moisture, depth, cleanness, and quality. (A. G. Churchill.)

The leading ideas of the parable explained

These are-the sower, the seed, the ground, and the effect of casting the seed into it.

I. By the sower is meant our Saviour Himself, and all those whose office it is to instruct men in the truth and duties of religion. The business of the husbandman is, of all others, most important and necessary, requires much skill and attention, is painful and laborious, and yet not without pleasure and profit. A man of this profession ought to be well versed in agriculture, to understand the difference of soils, the various methods of cultivating the ground, the seed proper to be sown, the seasons for every kind of work, and in short how to avail himself of all circumstances that arise for the improvement of his farm. He should be patient of fatigue, inured to disappointment, and unwearied in his exertions. Every day will have its proper business. Now he will manure his ground, then plough it; now cast the seed into it, then harrow it; incessantly watch and weed it; and after many anxious cares, and, if a man of piety, many prayers to heaven, he will earnestly expect the approaching harvest. The time come, with a joyful eye he will behold the ears fully ripe bending to the hands of the reapers, put in the sickle, collect the sheaves, and bring home the precious grain to his garner. Hence we may frame an idea of the character and duty of a Christian minister. He ought to be well-skilled in Divine knowledge, to have a competent acquaintance with the world and the human heart, etc. Of these sowers some have been more skilful, and successful, and laborious than others. Among them the Apostle Paul holds a distinguished rank. But the most skilful and painful of all sowers was our Lord Jesus Christ.

II. The seed sown, which our Saviour explains of “the Word of the Kingdom,” or as St. Luke has it, “the Word of God.” The husbandman will be careful to sow his ground with good seed. He goeth forth bearing precious seed. By “the Word of the Kingdom” is meant the gospel. Let us apply it-

1. To personal religion. In the heart of every real Christian a kingdom is established. Now the seed sown in the hearts of men is the Word of this kingdom, or that Divine instruction which relates to the foundation, erection, principles, maxims, laws, immunities, government, present happiness, and future glory of this kingdom: all which we have contained in our Bibles. It is the doctrine of Christ. Again, let us apply the idea of a kingdom.

2. To the Christian dispensation, or the whole visible church. In this sense it is used by John the Baptist, “Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven,” that is, the gospel dispensation, “is at hand.” All who profess the doctrine, and submit to the institutions of Christ, compose one body of which He is the head, one kingdom of which He is the sovereign-“a kingdom which,” He himself tells us, “is not of this world.” Now the gospel is the seed of this kingdom, as it gives us the laws by which it is to be regulated, of worship, ordinances, discipline, protection, increase and final glory. Once more, the term kingdom is to be understood also.

3. Of heaven, and all the happiness and glory to be enjoyed there. The gospel is the Word of this kingdom, as it has assured us upon the most certain grounds of its reality, and given us the amplest description of its glories our present imperfect faculties are capable of receiving.

III. To consider the ground into which the seed is east, by which our Saviour intends the soul of man, that is, the understanding, judgment, memory, will, and affections. The ground, I mean the earth on which we tread, is now in a different state from what it was in the beginning, the curse of God having been denounced upon it. In like manner, the soul of man, in consequence of the apostacy of our first parents, is enervated, polluted, and depraved. It shall suffice at present to observe, that as there is a variety in the soil of different countries, and as the ground in some places is less favourable for cultivation than in others, so it is in regard of the soul. There is a difference in the strength, vigour, and extent of men’s natural faculties; nor can it be denied that the moral powers of the soul are corrupted in some, through sinful indulgences, to a greater degree than in others. As to mental abilities, who is not struck with the prodigious disparity observable among mankind in this respect? Here we see one of a clear understanding, a lively imagination, a sound judgment, a retentive memory, and there another, remarkably deficient in each of these excellences, if not wholly destitute of them all. These are gifts distributed among mankind in various portions. But none possess them in that perfection they were enjoyed by our first ancestors in their primeval state. The ground must be first made good, and then it will be fruitful.

IV. Consider the general process of this business, as it is either expressly described or plainly intimated in the parable. The ground, first manured and made good, is laid open by the plough, the seed is cast into it, the earth is thrown over it, in the bosom of the earth it remains awhile, at length, mingling with it, it gradually expands, shoots up through the clods, rises into the stalk and then the ear, so ripens, and at the appointed time brings forth fruit. Such is the wonderful process of vegetation. Nor can we advert thus generally to these particulars, without taking into view at once the exertions of the husbandman, the mutual operation of the seed and the earth on each other, and the seasonable influence of the sun and the rain, under the direction and benediction of Divine providence. So, in regard of the great business of religion, the hearts of men are first disposed to listen to the instructions of God’s Word; these instructions are then, like the seed, received into the understanding, will, and affections; and after a while, having had their due operation there, bring forth, in various degrees, the acceptable fruits of love and obedience. And how natural, in this case, as in the former, while we are considering the rise and progress of religion in the soul, to advert, agreeable to the figure in the parable, to the happy concurrence of a Divine influence, with the great truths of the gospel, dispensed by ministers, and with the reasonings of the mind and heart about them. To shut out all idea here of such influence would be as absurd as to exclude the influence of the atmosphere and sun from any concern in culture and vegetation. Let the husbandman lay what manure he will on barren ground, it can produce no change in the temperature of it, unless it thoroughly penetrates it, and kindly mingles with it; and this it cannot do without the assistance of the falling dew and rain, and the genial heat of the sun. In like manner, all attempts, however proper in themselves, to change the hearts of men, and to dispose them to a cordial reception of Divine truths, will be vain without the concurrence of Almighty grace, Reflections:

1. How honourable, important, and laborious is the employment of ministers.

2. What a great blessing is the Word of God.

3. What cause have we for deep humiliation before God, when we reflect on the miserable depravity of human nature.

4. How great are our obligations to Divine grace for the renewing influences of the Holy Spirit. Let not the regard which the sower pays to Divine providence, reproach out inattention and insensibility to the more noble and salutary influences of Divine grace. (S. Stennett, D. D.)

The four kinds of soil

The growth of the seed depends always on the quality of the soil. The stress of the story lies not on the character of the sower, or even on the quality of the seed, but on the nature of the soil. The character of the hearer determines the effect of the Word upon him. We should cultivate the habit of profitable hearing. It is well that our students should be instructed how to preach, but it is equally important that the people should be taught how to hear; for if it be true, as is sometimes cynically said, that good preaching is one of the lost arts, it is to be feared that good hearing also has too largely disappeared; and, wherever the fault may have begun, the two act and re-act on each other. A good hearer makes a lively preacher, just as really as a poor preacher makes a dull hearer; and eloquence is not all in the speaker. To use Mr. Gladstone’s illustration, he gets from his bearers in vapour that which he returns to them in flood, and a receptive and responsive audience adds fervour and intensity to his utterance. Eloquent hearing, therefore, is absolutely indispensable to effective preaching; and so it is quite as necessary that listeners should be taught to hear, as it is that preachers should be taught what and how to speak.

1. Taking, then, first, the things to be guarded against, we find foremost among these the danger of preventing the truth from getting any entrance into the soul at all. The seed that fell upon the pathway lay on the outside of the soil. The ground had been so hardened by the tread of many feet, that the grain could not get into it. The soul may be sermon-hardened as well as sin-hardened. But another thing which makes a foot walk over the soul is evil habit.

2. But a second danger to be avoided is that of shallow impulsiveness. So the man of shallow nature makes a great show at first. He is all enthusiasm. He “never heard such a sermon in all his life.” He seems greatly moved, and for a time it looks as if he were really converted; but it does not last. It is but an ague fever, which is succeeded by a freezing chill; and by and by some new excitement follows, to give place in its turn to another alternation into cold neglect. He lacks depth of character, for he has nothing but rock beneath the surface. He seems to have much feeling, indeed, and his religion is all emotional; but, in reality, he has no proper feeling. It is all superficial. That which is only feeling, will not even be feeling long. Now, the fault in all this lies in a lack of thoughtfulness, or a neglecting to “count the cost.” The man of depth looks before he leaps. He will not commit himself until he has carefully examined all that is involved; but when he does thus commit himself, he does so irrevocably. He who signs a document without reading it will be very likely to repudiate it when any trouble comes of it; but the man who knew what he was doing when he appended his name to it, if he be a true man, will stand to his bond at all hazards. Now, the merely impulsive, shallow, flippant hearer acts without deliberation, signs his bond without reading it, and is therefore easily discouraged. When he is called to suffer anything unpleasant for his confession, he breaks down. He had not calculated on such a contingency. He enlisted only for the review, and not for the battle; and so, on the first alarm of war, he disappears from the ranks. He did not stop to consider all that his enlistment involved; he was allured only by the uniform, and the gay accessories of military life: but, when it came to fighting, he deserted. The enthusiastic convert is often preferred to the calm and apparently unimpassioned disciple. The growth in the one seems so much more rapid than in the other, that he is put far above him. But when affliction or persecution arises, what a revelation it makes! for then the enthusiasm of the one goes out, and that of the other comes out.

3. But we must look to the kind of thing to be guarded against, which we may call the preoccupation of the heart by other objects than the word heard by the man.

II. The qualities to be cultivated by gospel hearers, as these are indicated in the Saviour’s explanation of the seed which fell into good soil.

1. Attention: they hear.

2. Meditation: they keep.

3. Obedience: they bring forth fruit with patience. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)

Eastern cornfields

Our grain fields are level, and covered with the crop from hedge to hedge. But theirs were broken patches, not unlike the little croft you may see before a Highland cottage. It is not fenced; the footpath to the moor, the well, or the village runs through it; the soil is wavy, and dotted with rocky hillocks; bushes of thorn and thistle are in the corner. As the crofter sows his little plot, some seeds fall on the footpath and its hardened margins, some on the rocky knolls, and some among the thorns, as well as on the best soil. Such uneven seed fields stretched then along the Lake of Galilee, sloping suddenly up from the shore. The soil was deep at the water’s edge, but grew shallower near the foot of the little hills. Very likely Christ’s hearers were then standing upon or within sight of such a field. (J. Wells.)

Life in the seed

Dry and dead as it seems, let a seed be planted with a stone flashing diamond, or burning ruby; and while that in the richest soil remains a stone, this awakes and, bursting its husky shell, rises from the ground to adorn the earth with beauty, perfume the air with fragrance, or enrich men with its fruit. Such life there is in all, but especially in gospel, truth. (T. Guthrie, D. D.)

Force in the seed

Buried in the ground a seed does not remain inert-lie there in a living tomb. It forces its way upward, and with a power quite remarkable in a soft, green, feeble blade, pushes aside the dull clods that cover it. Wafted by winds or dropped by passing bird into the fissure of a crag, from weak beginnings the acorn grows into an oak-growing till, by the forth-putting of a silent but continuous force, it heaves the stony table from its bed, rending the rock in pieces. But what so worthy to be called the power as well as the wisdom of God as that Word which, lodged in the mind, and accompanied by the Divine blessing, fed by showers from heaven, rends hearts, harder than the rocks, in pieces? (T. Guthrie, D. D.)

Propagation in the seed

A single grain of corn would, were the produce of each season sown again, so spread from field to field, from country to country, from continent to continent, as in the course of a few years to cover the whole surface of the earth with one wide harvest, employing all the sickles, filling all the barns, and feeding all the mouths in the world. (T. Guthrie, D. D.)

Varied soils

The wayside hearers do not take in the seed at all; the rocky ground hearers take in the seed, but do not let it sink deep enough; the thorny ground hearers take it in, but take in bad seeds also; the good-ground hearers take the seed into their deepest heart, and take in nothing else. In these four sorts of soil you see the beginning and end of spring, summer, and autumn. In the first, the seed does not spring; in the second, it springs, but does not grow up; in the third, it grows up, but does not ripen; in the fourth, it ripens perfectly. (J. Wells.)

The duty of the sower

A pastor or preacher is a workman hired and sent out to sow the field of God; that is, to instruct souls in the truths of the gospel. This workman sins-

1. When, instead of going to the field, he absents himself from it; nothing being more agreeable to nature and Divine law than for a servant to obey his master, for a seedsman to be in the field for which he is hired, and whither he is sent to sow.

2. When he stays in the field, but does not sow.

3. When he changes his master’s seed, and sows bad instead of good.

4. When he affects to cast it on the highway, i.e., loves to preach only before people of fashion and influence.

5. When he fixes on stony ground, from whence there is little hope of receiving any fruit. If interest, inclination, the spirit of amusement, or self-satisfaction determine a pastor to attend chiefly on such souls who seek not God, and whose virtue has no depth, he has but little regard to his Master’s profit. He must not, indeed, neglect any, but he ought not to base his preference on worldly motives.

6. When he is not careful to pick out the stones, and to pluck up the thorns. The sower Complains of the barrenness of the field; and perhaps the field will complain, at the tribunal of God, of the negligence of the sower, in not preparing and cultivating it as he ought.

7. When he does not endeavour to make the seed in the good ground yield fruit in proportion to its goodness. (Quesnel.)

In framing this parable, our Lord classified the hearers of the Word according to His own experience as a preacher, basing His classification not so much upon generalities as upon well-remembered illustrations. It would not be difficult to exemplify this, by specimens drawn from the records of His dealings with men (Bruce, e.g. has found examples of each kind of hearer in St. Luke 12:11; Luke 21:13; Luke 9:57; Luke 9:61-62, and in the case of Barnabas). It will suffice at present, however, to give point to His descriptions, by recalling the divers effects produced by His claims to the Messiahship.

1. There were men hardened by Jewish prejudice, and seared with worldliness, who looked only for material advancement by the establishment of a new kingdom, and yet flocked to hear His words, meek and lowly as He was. They might possibly have been impressed, had not the Pharisaic enemies of the Cross, the emissaries of Satan, stepped in with their specious arguments, and caught away the seed before ever it found any lodgment in their hearts.

2. There were others of an emotional temperament, who were carried away in the excitement aroused by His sudden popularity, who, when they witnessed the wonderful works that He did, would have taken Him by force and made Him a king; and yet, staggered by the first check their enthusiasm received, within twenty-four hours “went away backward, and walked no more with Him.”

3. There was another class, more limited, no doubt, who saw in Him the beauty they desired, and recognized His goodness; men, too, whom He loved in return for all that was best in their lives; but who failed at last because their heart was not whole. Underneath all this there was “a root of bitterness”-love of riches, or pleasure, or even distracting cares of home; and though for a time these blemishes showed no vitality, not springing up simultaneously with the crop of new desires, yet by the vapidity and rankness of their growth they just spoiled the life when it was on the eve of bearing fruit.

4. The last class was composed of those whose hearts the Baptist had prepared, and the Lord had opened, who were “waiting for the consolation of Israel:” men like Andrew, John, Nathanael, or women like the devout band who “ministered to Him of their substance,” and in varying degrees of productiveness bore fruit in their lives. (H. M. Luckock, D. D.)

Likeness between the Word and seed

God’s Word has all the hidden life of a seed. Take up a grain of wheat in your hand, and ask yourself where its life lies. Not, surely, upon the surface; not in its inner compartments as a distinct thing. Chemistry will give you every material element it contains, and you will be as far as ever from knowing or seeing the very thing that makes it a seed-that mysterious something we call its life. Within that little mass of matter there lies a force which sun, rain, and soil shall call forth with voices it will hear and obey. God hath given it a body, and to every seed his own body. The hidden life and unwearied force of the wheat grain furnish analogies to the Word of God. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but the Word of Christ shall not pass away. This is not because of any arbitrary fiat of Omnipotence, any mechanically conferred sanctity, but because it is an eternal seed, to which God has given eternal form. But this vitality is not lodged where we can see it. (E. N. Packard.)


Verses 3-9

Verses 4-15

Mark 4:4-15

Some fell by the wayside, and the fowls of the air came and devoured it up.

Though men be outward hearers of the Word, and do also in some sort understand what is taught, yet if their hearts be so hardened in sin and through Satan’s temptations that they are not affected and moved by it, it can never profit them. As seed sown upon a beaten path or highway cannot sink into the earth by reason of the hardness of it, nor take root or fructify; so the doctrine of the Word being preached to those whose hearts are hardened in sin cannot enter into them, and therefore cannot profit them. If the seed of the Word be only sown in their outward ears and in their minds; if it lie above ground, i.e., if it swim and float aloft in their brain and understanding only, and do not enter and sink into their hearts; if their hearts be not affected to love and embrace it, as well as their understandings enlightened by it, it will never take root or bear fruit in them. (G. Petter.)

The character of inattentive hearers considered

1. These persons hear the Word. They are not deaf, and so utterly incapable of hearing. Nor are they determined that they will not hear (Jeremiah 22:21).

2. They are only occasional hearers of the Word. They are, in regard of the assemblies where the gospel is preached, what the wayside is to the field where the seed is sown, ground without the inclosure, Or whereon the seed falls as it were accidentally or by chance. They come by constraint of conscience, or from curiosity.

3. They are not at all prepared for hearing the Word. The ground is beaten, and has received no cultivation.

4. That they hear in a heedless, desultory manner.

5. They remain grossly ignorant.

6. But some in this class do in a sense understand the Word, for the seed is said to be sown in their hearts. They understand speculatively.

7. It makes no abiding impression on the heart.

8. Our Lord’s account of the manner in which these impressions are effaced-“the fowls of the air came,” etc.

I. Who is this wicked one and why he is so called. From this short scriptural account of Satan it appears with what propriety he is here, and in many other passages, styled emphatically “the wicked one.” He is wicked himself in the highest degree, for as be exceeds all others in subtilty and power, so also in impiety and sin; a spirit the most proud, false, envious, turbulent, and malignant among all the various orders of fallen spirits. He, too, is the author of all wickedness, the contriver and promoter of every species of iniquity. Whence, the infinitely numerous evils that prevail in our world are called “the works of the devil.” Such is the character of this first apostate arch-angel, the grand, avowed enemy of God and man. And thus are we led to our second inquiry-

II. What is meant by his “catching away the seed,” and how is this done? For no more is meant by the influence which Satan is supposed in certain cases to exert over the mind, than what is similar to the influence which wicked men are acknowledged to have over others, to allure them by persuasions to sin, and to dissuade them by menaces from their duty. It cannot force them into sin against the consent of their will; or, in other words, so operate on their minds as to deprive them of that freedom which is necessary to constitute them accountable creatures. This mighty adversary watches his opportunity to prevent the salutary effect of the Word upon those that hear it. And considering what is the character of the sort of hearers we are here speaking of, it is not to be wondered at that he is permitted to catch away the seed sown in their hearts, or that he succeeds in the attempt. For if their motives in attending upon Divine service are base and unworthy, if they address themselves to the duties of religion without any previous preparation, how righteous is it in God to permit Satan to use every possible artifice to defeat the great and good ends to which religious instructions are directed!

1. Satan uses his utmost endeavours to divert men’s attention from the Word while they are hearing it.

2. Satan uses every art to excite and inflame men’s prejudices against the Word they hear.

3. Another artifice Satan uses to counteract the influence of God’s Word on men’s hearts is to prevent their recollecting is after they have heard it. (S. Stennett, D. D.)

Wasted seed

We are taught to regard waste of all kinds as a great fault and sin. Wasted food, wasted money, wasted health, wasted time, wasted instruction, wasted opportunities of doing and receiving good; these, in their several ways, are all sins against God and our own souls. While we are young we are punished for them; when we are older we suffer for them; the consummation of them at last is the loss of the soul. But what I wish you to observe is that, sinful as waste of any kind is in us, there is in nature, in providence, in the spiritual world, a constant waste going on, suggesting much of anxious and painful wonder. (C. J. Vaughan, D. D.)

The plough needed

Nothing is needed but to plough it up. God drives a deep share through many a wayside heart, and the coulter of affliction breaks up many a spirit, that it may afterwards yield “the peaceable fruit of righteousness.” And if He does that for you, bless Him for His mercy; but do not wait, for you can get rid of all this insensibility by the simple effort of your own will. (Dr. McLaren.)

The devil is an inveterate enemy to the hearing of the Word, and to the fruit of it

He hinders men in sundry ways from profiting by the Word.

1. By keeping them from hearing it; stirring up occasions of worldly business or some other impediments on the Lord’s day to keep them away from church.

2. By keeping them from attending to it when they do hear it.

3. By blinding their minds that they may not understand it.

4. By labouring to hold them in infidelity that they may not believe and apply the Word to themselves.

5. By using means to thrust the Word heard out of their minds that they may not remember it.

6. By keeping them from yielding obedience to the Word. See from this what need we have to be watchful over ourselves and against Satan and his practices when we are to hear the Word. How needful to watch before we hear, that he may not lay blocks in our way to hinder us from hearing. How needful in time of hearing to watch against Satan, that he hinder not our attention by suggesting to us roving thoughts. How needful to pray to God not to suffer him to blind our minds or harden our hearts in unbelief, that we may not understand or believe the Word. How needful also to watch against Satan after we have heard, that he do not quickly thrust the Word out of our minds and memories. Look to these things therefore everyone that would profit by hearing. The more malicious and politic Satan is to hinder us from profiting, the more wise must we be and careful to disappoint him of his purpose. (G. Petter.)

The Satanic hindering of the Word of God

The Lord tells us that this indifference to the Word, by which it fails to convince and convert, is brought about, not through natural, but through supernatural, agency. An enemy does this. In our present fallen state he is able to summon up thoughts which may distract the attention from the thoughts which the life-giving Word suggests, and our evil will fails in with the thoughts which he instills. These thoughts may not always be evil by any means, but they do his work, for they distract the attention, and being far more in accordance with the bent of the evil heart the good thought is swallowed up, effaced, and forgotten. I think that no minister who comes closely into contact with the souls of men for their conversion, but must be aware that there is not only an evil principle at work in the heart, but an evil personal agency which is able to suggest doubts and interpose difficulties, and assist the soul in barring out the Word by placing all his cunning at the disposal of the evil will. Satan or his emissary, the evil spirit to whom he has committed the destruction of the man’s soul, cometh immediately. (M. F. Sadler.)

The devil a great traveller

The devil is no idle spirit, but a walker and vagrant runagate walker, like Cain, that cannot rest in a place. I have heard of travellers that have seen many parts of the world, but never any perpetual peripatetic or universal walker but Satan, who hath travelled all coasts and corners of the earth, and would of heaven, too, if he might be admitted. He is not like St. George’s statue, ever on horseback and never riding, but, as if he were knight-marshal of the whole world, he is ever walking. His motion is circular, and his unwearied steps know no rest. He hath a large and endless circuit. His walk is a siege, that goes about the fort to find the weakest place as easiest for battery. His walks are the circumference, and man the centre. The motive, cause, and main intention of his journey is to win man. As he walks through the streets there he throws a short measure, a false balance, into a tradesman’s shop. He steps into a drinking house and kindles a quarrel. He shoulders to the bar and pops in a forged evidence, a counterfeit seal. He dares enter the schools and commence schisms and contentions, nay, climb up into the pulpit and broach sects and divisions. He travels no ground but, like a stinking fox or dying oppressor, he leaves a scent behind him. (T. Adams.)


Verse 5

Mark 4:5; Mark 4:16-17

And some fell on stony ground, where it had not much earth.
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The seed upon stony ground

I. A brief biography of certain professors in religion. They heard the Word. They received the Word. They received it immediately. They received it with gladness. They made rapid progress. In duo time came trial. Immediately they were offended.

II. Their radical defect. It lay in an unbroken heart. This led to want of depth. They lacked moisture.

III. The lessons of the text. Be deeply in earnest. Watch the effect of your own daily trials. Constantly examine yourself. Let all this show us how necessary it is that we cast all the stress and burden of our salvation entirely upon the Lord Jesus Christ. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

The character of enthusiastic hearers considered

I. With the character of these hearers previous to their hearing the Word. They are compared to stony or rocky ground, which is unfavourable to cultivation; but yet has a little mould or earth cast over it, suited to receive seed, and in which it may lodge awhile, and disseminate itself. So that this ground is partly bad and partly good. And thus are very aptly described, the miserably perverse and depraved state of the will on the one hand, and the warmth and liveliness of the natural passions on the other. These qualities often meet in one and the same person, and bear a different aspect to religion, the one being un-favourable and the other favourable to it.

1. It is true of these hearers that their will is wretchedly depraved. Stone is a figure used in Scripture to signify the obstinate aversion of the mind to what is holy and good. So Ezekiel speaks of a stony heart in opposition to a heart of flesh; and Paul, of the living epistles of Christ being written, not on tables of stone, but fleshly tables of the heart. And yet, with all this depravity of the will, they have-

2. Warm and lively passions; a circumstance in itself not a little favourable to religion. This is admirably expressed by the earth or mould said to be cast over the rock, which was of a nature so rich and luxuriant, that the seed instantly mingled with it, and expanding, sprung up, and created a beautiful verdure which promised great fruitfulness. Nothing was wanting to produce the desired effect but a sufficient depth of earth, tied the ground at bottom been properly cultivated this fine mould cast upon it would have assisted and forwarded vegetation; but that remaining hard and rocky, this had only a temporary effect, and served little other purpose than to deceive the expectation of the husbandman. Such is truly the case in the matter before us. The heart, like the stony ground, is indisposed to what is good; and the affections, like the earth cast over it, are warm and lively; wherefore, the Word not entering into the former, and yet mingling with the latter, produces no real fruit, but only the gay and splendid appearance of an external profession. And here it is further to be remarked, that however the passions are of excellent use in religion, if the heart be right with God; yet, this not being the case, their influence is rather pernicious than salutary: indeed, the more eager and impetuous the natural temper, the greater evil is in this case to be apprehended from it, both to the man himself, and to those with whom he is connected. As to himself mistaking the warm efforts of mere passion for real religion, he instantly concludes, that he is without doubt a real Christian, and so is essentially injured by the imposition he puts upon himself. But it will be proper, before we pass on, to examine more particularly the character of the enthusiast. He has a lively imagination, but no judgment to correct it; and warm feelings, but neither wisdom nor resolution to control them. Struck with appearances, he instantly admits the reality of things, without allowing himself time to inquire into their nature, evidence and tendency. And impressions thus received, whether from objects presented to the senses, or representations made to the fancy, produce a mighty and instantaneous effect on his passions. These agitate his whole frame, and precipitate him into action, without any intervening consideration, reflection, or prospect. And his actions, under the impulse of heated imagination, are either right or wrong, useful or pernicious, just as the notions he has thus hastily adopted happen to be conformable to truth or error. So we shall see the countenance of a man of this complexion kindling into rapture and ecstasy at the idea of something new and marvellous; a flood of tears streaming down his cheeks at the representation of some moving scene of distress; his face turning pale, and his limbs trembling, at the apprehension of some impending danger; his whole frame distorted with rage at the hearing of some instance of cruelty; and his eye sparkling with joy in the prospect of some fancied bliss. Nor is it to be wondered, that one who is wholly at the mercy of these passions, without the guidance of a sober understanding, and the control of a well-disposed heart, should, as is often the case, break out into loud and clamorous language, assume the most frantic gestures, and be guilty of the most strange and extravagant actions.

1. He receives the Word. Receiving is a figurative term, and may here be explained of what is the consequence of admitting any doctrine to be true, that is, the professing it. It is used in Scripture to signify faith itself (John 1:12). Now, as faith has the promise of salvation, and some believe who yet are not saved, a distinction becomes necessary; and the common one of historical and Divine faith is easy and natural. Or if the faith is genuine, yet his notion of the gospel has a great deal of error mingled with it. And then he receives it not upon the Divine testimony, or a clear perception of the internal and external evidence of it; but upon the confident assertions of others, whose eagerness and zeal, expressed by their loud voice and violent gesture, have a mighty effect upon that credulity we spoke of under the former head. Further, his faith is not cordial; it has not the hearty approbation of his judgment and will. Nor does it produce the kindly and acceptable fruits of love and obedience. Yet it is not without its effects, for being of that enthusiastic turn of mind before described, his imagination and passions have a great influence on his profession. Whence those strong appearances of sincerity, earnestness, and zeal, whereby he imposes upon himself and others. Now he loudly affirms he believes, scarcely admitting that man to be a Christian who at all hesitates. Then he treats cool reasoning, and calm reflection, as inimical to religion.

2. He receives the Word immediately. The seed is said in the text to spring up forthwith, and so the idea may respect the quickness of the vegetation. It is true both of the reception and operation of the Word. He receives it not circuitously, but directly. It is no sooner spoken than admitted to be true. He is not embarrassed with doubt, and does not hesitate, reflect, or compare what he has heard with the Scriptures. So without either his judgment being informed, or his will renewed, he is impetuously carried away with a mere sound.

3. His receiving the Word with joy. Joy is a pleasing elevation of the spirits, excited by the possession of some present, or the expectation of some future, good. Now, the gospel is good news, and so adapted to give pleasure to the mind. He therefore who receives it with joy, receives it as it ought to be received. But the man our Saviour here describes is not a real Christian, his icy therefore must have something in it, or in the circumstances accompanying it, distinguishable from that of a genuine believer. Of Herod it is said that “he heard John gladly:” and from the story it clearly appears Herod remained, notwithstanding, the same profligate man he was before.

How, then, is the joy of the one to be distinguished from that of the other?

1. Let us consider what precedes it. The real Christian, previous to his enjoying solid peace, is usually much depressed and cast down. Nor is his dejection the effect of bodily disorder, or an ill-temperature of the animal spirits, or of something he can give no rational account of. It is an anxiety occasioned by a sense of sin. But it stands to reason that the joy the heart feels must bear some proportion to the anxiety it has suffered.

2. Let us inquire what it is that excites this joy. The causes of that elevation of the spirits which we commonly call joy are various. In some instances it is the Word itself, the mere sound, without any idea affixed to it, that creates joy. The effect is instantly and mechanically produced by the tone and cadence of the voice, accompanied by an appearance, attitude, and gesture, that happen to please. In other instances, it is not the sound only, but the sense, that affects. We may easily conceive how a pleasing kind of sensation, excited in the breast by a pathetic description of misery, particularly the sufferings of Christ, may be mistaken for religion. We are next to consider

II. To consider the lamentable apostasy of these deluded men. The seed that fell upon stony places, and forthwith sprung up, in a little time “withered away.”

1. The term of his profession is short. Enthusiastic zeal, like inflammable air, quickly evaporates. The sources of that pleasure which gives existence to a spurious religion, and an equivocal devotion, are soon exhausted. The imagination tires, the senses are palled, and the passions, for want of novelty and variety to keep them alive, sink away into a languid, unfeeling, torpid state.

2. In what manner does he renounce his profession? He either silently quits it, or publicly disavows it. He is offended, stumbles, falls, falls away.

III. The cause of these men’s apostasy. This our Saviour explains with admirable precision, by teaching us that it is partly owing to the want of something within, essentially important to religion, and partly to a concurrence of circumstances from without unfavourable to the profession of it.

1. Something is wanting within. The parable says: “The seed forthwith sprung up, because it had no deepness of earth;” “and it withered away because it had no root,” as Mark has it; “and lacked moisture,” as is expressed in Luke. For want of a sufficient quantity of earth the seed did not sink deep enough into the ground, and through the luxuriance of the mould it too quickly disseminated and sprung up. So that having taken root, there was no source whence the tender glass might be supplied with nourishment; and of consequence it must necessarily in a little time wither and die. Agreeably therefore to the figure, our Lord, in His explanation of the parable, speaks of these hearers as “having no root in themselves.” And such precisely is the case of the sort of professors we are discoursing of. They have no principle of religion in their hearts. Their notions are not properly digested, they do not disseminate themselves in the mind, take fast hold on the conscience, and incorporate, if I may so express myself, with the practical powers of the soul. “The Word preached does not profit them, not being mixed with faith;” or, as perhaps it might be rendered, because they are not united by faith to the word.

2. To a concurrence of circumstances from without unfavourable to the profession of religion. These, in the parable, are all comprehended under the idea of the sun’s scorching the springing grass; and, in our Saviour’s exposition of it, are described by the terms tribulation, persecution, affliction, and temptation, all which arise because of the word, or are occasioned by it.

Religion, however, is not to be blamed for these evils, of which it is no way the cause, though it may be the occasion; they are to be set down to the account of a fatal, but too frequent combination of a depraved heart, with an impetuous natural temper.

1. What a striking picture has our Saviour here given us of human nature.

2. Of what importance is it to study ourselves, and to keep a guard upon our passions!

3. We see what kind of preaching is to be coveted, and what avoided.

4. Our Lord, by the instruction given us in our text, has enabled us to reply to an objection often urged against the doctrine of the saints’ final perseverance. We are frequently reminded of persons whose profession for a time was fair and splendid, but who in the end renounced it. And no doubt this has been the fact in too many sad instances. Yet what does it prove? No more than that these men were either designing hypocrites, or else hastily took upon them a profession of what, they did not rightly understand, truly believe, and cordially approve.

5. And lastly, let not the mournful subject we have been considering create any discouragement in the breast of the truly humble but weak Christian. (S. Stennett, D. D.)

Rapid growth means rapid decay

Precocity and rapid growth are everywhere the forerunners of rapid decay. The oak that is to stand a thousand years does not shoot up like the hop or the creeper. (M. Dods, D. D.)

Excited but not converted

The short and pathetic history of some who are called revival converts. They are charmed but not changed; much excites, but not truly converted. These are they that “have no root in themselves, and so endure but for a time” (Mark 4:17). Their root is in the crowd, the fine music, the lively stir, the hearty companionships of the gospel meeting. The Moravians every Sabbath offer up this prayer, “From light-minded swarming, deliver us, good God.” (J. Wells.)

Perfect too soon

Most Christians are perfect too soon, which is the reason they are never perfect. (A. Farindon.)

Fair-weather Christians

Some fresh-water sailor, standing upon the shore on a fair day, and beholding the ship’s top and top-gallant sail in all their bravery, riding safely at anchor, thinks it a brave thing to go to sea, and will by all means aboard; but being out a league or two from the harbour, and feeling by the rocking of the ship his stomach begin to work, and his soul even to abhor all manner of meat-or otherwise a storm to arise, the wind and the sea as it were conspiring the sinking of the vessel-forthwith repents his folly, and makes vows that if he but once be set ashore again he will bid an eternal farewell to all such voyages. And thus there be many faint-hearted Christians to be found amongst us, who, in calm days of peace, when religion is not overclouded by the times, will needs join themselves to the number of the people of God; they will be as earnest and as forward as the best, and who but they? Yet, let but a tempest begin to appear, and the sea to grow rougher than at the first entry, the times alter, troubles rise, many cross winds of opposition and gainsaying begin to blow, they are weary of their course, and will to shore again, resolving never to thrust themselves into any more adventures. Christ they would have by all means, but Christ crucified by no means. If the way to heaven be by the gates of hell, let who will they will not go that way; they rather sit down and be quiet. (Spencer.)

Religion genuine in bad times

Many men owe their religion, not to grace, but to the favour of the times; ‘tis in fashion, they may profess it at a cheap rate, because none contradict it. Indeed, it shows that they are extremely bad when they may be as good without any loss to themselves, but it does not show they are good that they are only good in good times. Dead fish swim with the stream. They do not build upon the rock, but set up a shed leaning to another man’s house, which costs them nothing; carried with a multitude, are not able to go alone in a good way; if they be religious, it is for others’ sakes. Then is integrity discovered, when persons dare be good in bad times, as Noah was said to be an upright man, because he was perfect in his generation. (T. Manton.)


Verse 7

Mark 4:7; Mark 4:18-19

And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it.

The character of worldly-minded hearers considered

1. The treatment the Word meets with from these persons. They hear and receive it.

2. How this salutary operation on his heart is obstructed and defeated.

3. What is the event? These thorns choke the Word.

I. What these things are which obstruct the due operation of God’s word on the hearts of these men?

1. The cares of the world. By the cares of the world He means criminal anxieties about secular concerns.

2. The deceitfulness of riches. Men are prone to reason mistakenly about riches. Riches are, in a sense, themselves deceitful. They assume an appearance different from their real nature and use, and so the unwary observer is imposed upon. Consider the false reasonings of a depraved heart:

3. The pleasures of this life, or “the lusts of other things.” Here we need not be very particular, for as riches are the means of procuring pleasures, and most generally coveted with that view, the same folly and criminality we have charged to the account of the avaricious is, with a little variation of circumstances, to be imputed likewise to the sensualist. Pleasure indeed, abstractedly considered, is a real good; the desire of it is congenial with our nature, and cannot be eradicated without the destruction of our very existence. This is not therefore what our Lord condemns. He well knew that there ale passions and appetites proper to men as men, that the moderate gratification of them is necessary to their happiness, and of consequence that the desire of such gratification is not sinful. But the pleasure He prohibits is that which results from the indulgence of irregular desires, I mean such as are directed to wrong objects, and such as are excessive in their degree.

II. To show how they obstruct the due operation of God’s word on the heart.

1. As to these of the first description, the careful. It involves distrust of the faithfulness and goodness of Divine providence.

2. As to the avaricious. How vain such desires, expectations, and exertions. Will you suffer such noxious weeds to grow in your heart? Wisdom will give you riches and honour.

3. As to the voluptuous. It precipitates into extravagances which often prove fatal to character. There is no profiting by the Word we hear, without duly weighing and considering it.

There are three things necessary to this:

1. Leisure. Ground choked with briers and thorns affords not room for the seed cast upon it to expand and grow. In like manner, he whose attention is wholly taken up with secular affairs has not leisure for consideration. Say, you who are oppressed with the cares, or absorbed in the pleasures of life, whether this is not the fact? What is it first catches your imagination when you awake in the morning? What is it engrosses your attention all the day? What is it goes with you to your bed, and follows you through the restless hours of night? What is it you are constantly thinking of at home, abroad, and in the house of God? It is the world. Oh sad! not a day, not an hour, scarce a moment in reserve, for a meditation on God, your soul, and an eternal world! And can religion exist where it is never thought of, or gain ground in a heart where it is but now and then adverted to? As well might a man expect to live without sustenance, or get strong without digesting his food. That then, which deprives men of time for consideration, is essentially injurious to religion.

2. Composure. By composure, I mean that calmness or self-possession, whereby we are enabled to attend soberly and without interruption to the business we are about. Consideration implies this in it; for how is it possible that a man should duly consider a subject, whether civil or religious, coolly reason upon it, and thoroughly enter into the spirit of it, if his mind is all the while occupied with a thousand other things, foreign to the matter before him? In order, therefore, to our doing justice to any question of importance, we must rid our minds of all impertinent thoughts, be self-collected, and fix our attention steadily to the point. How difficult this is I need not say. Studious people feel the difficulty; and in regard of religion, the best of men are sensible of their weakness in this respect, and deeply lament it. But where the world gains the ascendant, this difficulty is increased, and, in some instances, becomes almost insuperable. Let me here describe to you, in a few words, the almost incessant hurry and confusion of their minds, who answer to the three characters in our text of the careful, the covetous, and the voluptuous.

So you will clearly see, how impossible it is for persons thus circumstanced to pay the attention to religious subjects which is necessary in order to their being profited by them.

1. The case of him who is swallowed up with the anxious cares of life is truly lamentable. It is not riches the unhappy man aims at, but a competence, or perhaps a mere subsistence. The dread of being reduced, with his family, to extreme poverty, harrows up his very soul. The horrid spectres of contempt, famine, and a prison, haunt his imagination. And how incapable is a man, thus circumstanced, of coolly thinking on the great things of religion! Does he attempt in his retirement to fix his attention to some Divine subject? he instantly fails in the attempt, cares like a wild deluge rush in upon his soul, and break all the measures he had taken to obtain a little respite from his trouble.

2. The like effect hath an eager desire after riches to disqualify men for consideration. When on his knees he is still in the world: when he is worshipping God in his family he is still pursuing his gain. His closet is an accounting house and his church an exchange.

3. How an eager attention to worldly pleasures must have the like effect, to render the mind incapable of serious consideration. Scenes of splendour and sensual delight are before the eyes of men of this character. How is it possible for a mind thus hurried, dissipated, intoxicated with vain amusements, to cultivate religion? They not only deprive men of time, composure for serious consideration-

3. But of all inclination to it. But what I mean, is to show that an eager attention to the things of this life confirms the habit of inconsideration, and tends, where there is an aptitude to meditation, to weaken and deprave it. A mind wholly occupied with the objects of sense, is not only estranged from the great realities of religion, but averse to them. As it has neither leisure nor calmness for sublime contemplations, so it has no taste or relish for them. “The carnal mind is enmity against God.” And the more carnal it grows by incessant commerce with the world, the more does that prejudice and enmity increase. What violence are such men obliged to put upon themselves, if at any time, by some extraordinary circumstance, they are prevailed on to think of the concerns of their souls! The business is not only awkward, as they are unaccustomed to it, but it is exceeding irksome and painful. Now if a hearty inclination to any business is necessary to capacity to pursue it with success, whatever tends to abate that inclination, or to confirm the opposite aversion, is essentially injurious to such business. In like manner, cares, riches, and pleasures of the world choke the Word.

III. The bad event of such undue commerce with the world. The unhappy man not having leisure, calmness, or inclination to attend to the Word.

1. He understands not the Word of the kingdom. He has a speculative acquaintance with the truths of religion; it cannot be experimental.

2. He does not believe it. He who believes the gospel to the salvation of his soul must enter into the spirit of it. But how can this be the case with a man whose heart is possessed by the god of this world?

3. Not rightly understanding or believing the Word of the kingdom, he is not obedient to it.

4. What is the final issue of all? Why, the man himself, as well as the seed, is choked (Luke 8:14).

Exhortation:

1. Let the professors of religion have no more to do with the world than duty clearly requires. “Be not conformed to this world; but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind.” “Come out from among them, and be ye separate, and touch not the unclean thing.” “Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness.”

2. If thorns before we are aware get in, let us instantly root them out. Exert all the power of Christian resolution.

3. Receive the good seed. It is not enough that the ground is cleared of noxious weeds, if it be not sown with the proper grain. Neither is it sufficient to guard against the corrupt maxims, customs, and manners of the world, if our hearts are not impregnated with Divine truth.

4. And lastly, look to God for His blessing. “Paul may plant, and Apollos water; but it is God that giveth the increase.” We may hear, read, meditate, reflect, watch, and use many good endeavours; but if no regard be had to a superior influence, all will be vain. (S. Stennett, D. D.)

The Word choked

Robert Burns-who had times of serious reflection, in one of which, as recorded by his own pen, he beautifully compares himself, in the review of his past life, to a lonely man walking amid the ruins of a noble temple, where pillars stand dismantled of their capitals, and elaborate works of purest marble lie on the ground, overgrown by tall, foul, rank weeds-was once brought, as I have heard, under deep convictions. He was in great alarm. The seed of the Word had begun to grow. He sought counsel from one called a minister of the gospel. Alas, that in that crisis of his history he should have trusted the helm to the hands of such a pilot! This so-called minister laughed at the poet’s fears-bade him dance them away at balls, drown them in bowls of wine, fly from these phantoms to the arms of pleasure. Fatal, too pleasant advice! He followed it; and “the lusts of other things” entering in, choked the word. (T. Guthrie.)

The insinuating destruction of truth in the soul

In the gardens of Hampton Court you will see many trees entirely vanquished and well-nigh strangled by huge coils of ivy, which are wound about them like the snakes around the unhappy Laocoon; there is no untwisting the folds, they are too giant-like, and fast fixed, and every hour the rootlets of the climber are sucking the life out of the unhappy tree. Yet there was a day when the ivy was a tiny aspirant, only asking a little aid in climbing; had it been denied then the tree had never become its victim, but by degrees the humble weakling grew in strength and arrogance, and at last it assumed the mastery, and the tall tree became the prey of the creeping, insinuating destroyer. The moral is too obvious. Sorrowfully do we remember many noble characters which have been ruined little by little by insinuating habits. Covetousness, drink, the love of pleasure, and pride, have often been the ivy that has wrought the ruin. (The Sword and Trowel.)

The cares of wealth

An emperor once said to his courtiers: “You gaze on my purple robe and golden crown, but did you know what cares are under it, you would not take it up from the ground to have it.” (Brooks.)

Gold a destroyer

When Arates threw his gold into the sea, he cried out, “I will destroy you, lest you should destroy me.” (Secker.)

Prosperity favourable to deception

The snow covers many a dunghill, and so doth prosperity many a rotten heart. It is easy to wade in a warm bath and every bird can sing on a sunshiny day. (Brooks.)

Remedies against immoderate care for temporal things

1. Consider the nature of these things: they are vain, transitory, perishing; and they only minister to our earthly life which will end we know not how soon.

2. By all our care we cannot help or profit ourselves, without God’s blessing on the means we use.

3. It is a heathenish practice thus to vex and trouble ourselves with immoderate cares for earthly things: not fit for Christians, who profess faith in God’s Providence.

4. We are commanded to cast our cares upon God; and He has promised to care for us, and to provide for us all things necessary for this life, as well as for that which is to come, if we depend on Him by faith (Psalms 55:2; 1 Peter 5:7).

5. Consider how God provides for other creatures, of less value and worth than ourselves, without their care.

6. Immoderate cares for this life oppress the heart and mind exceedingly, taking them up so that they cannot be free to meditate on spiritual and heavenly things: hindering men also from daily preparing themselves for death and judgment (Luke 21:34).

7. Let our chief care be for heavenly and spiritual things, which concern God’s glory and the salvation of our souls. This will moderate and slake our care for temporal things. (G. Petter.)

The difficulty of worldly prosperity

Great skill is required to the governing of a plentiful and prosperous estate, so as it may be safe and comfortable to the owner, and beneficial to others. Every corporal may know how to order some few files; but to marshal many troops in a regiment, many regiments in a whole body of an army, requires the skill of an experienced general. (Hall.)

Prosperity a trial

Life is a time for the getting of character, and for the trial and perfecting of it. The world is a moral furnace, in which God searches and tests us. One man He tries by adversity, another by prosperity. And the latter is the severer of the two.

1. A prosperous man has little time to spare for religion. Every effort is needed to ensure the continued success of his worldly enterprises. Accordingly, his spiritual life droops and withers.

2. From want of cultivation his taste for spiritual things abates.

3. Pride is apt to increase.

4. Self-indulgence creeps in, and the lower appetites obtain mastery in the heart.

5. The result is a thoroughly worldly life-a life occupied wholly with transitory things, a life in which religion has no part. These are some of the chief dangers which appertain to a state of prosperity. Beware of them in time. They encroach very gradually; and before you are aware of it, you may be swallowed up. (A. Raleigh, D. D.)

Ill effects of prosperity

Generally speaking, the sunshine of too much worldly favour weakens and relaxes our spiritual nerves; as weather, too intensely hot, relaxes those of the body. A degree of seasonable opposition, like a fine dry frost, strengthens and invigorates and braces up. (A. M. Toplady.)

Prosperity causes men to forget God

Prosperity most usually makes us proud, insolent, forgetful of God, and of all duties we owe unto Him. It chokes and extinguishes, or at least cools and abates, the heat and vigour of all virtue in us. And as the ivy, whilst it embraces the oak, sucks the sap from the root, and in time makes it rot and perish; so worldly prosperity kills us with kindness whilst it sucks from us the sap of God’s graces, and so makes our spiritual growth and strength to decay and languish. Neither do men ever almost suffer an eclipse of their virtues and good parts, but when they are in the full of worldly prosperity. (Downame.)

Worldliness defined

It is the spirit of a life, not the objects with which the life is conversant. It is not the “flesh,” nor the “eye,” nor “life” which are forbidden, but the lust of these. It is not this earth nor the men who inhabit it, nor the sphere of our legitimate activity, that we may not love; but it is the way in which the love is given which constitutes worldliness. (F. W. Robertson.)

Worldliness is the spirit of childhood carried on into manhood

The child lives in the present hour; today to him is everything. The holiday promised at a distant interval is no holiday at all-it must be either now or never. Natural in the child, and therefore pardonable, this spirit when carried on into manhood is worldliness. (F. W. Robertson.)

The deceitfulness of riches: Heathen testimony to this

When Cyrus received intelligence that the Lydians had revolted from him, he told a friend, with much emotion, that he had almost determined to make them all slaves. His friend expostulated, begging him to pardon them. “But,” he added, “that they may no more rebel or be troublesome to you, command them to lay aside their arms, to wear long vests and buskins, that is, to vie with each other in the elegance and richness of their dress. Order them to drink, and sing, and play, and you will soon see their spirits broken, and themselves changed to the effeminacy of women, so that they will no more rebel, nor give you any further uneasiness.” The advice was followed, and the result proved how politic it was. While the advice is such as no good man could consistently follow, the incident shows the deteriorating influence of luxury in a very striking light.

The lusts of other things

The love of pleasure, of amusements, and sensual gratifications, and even the cultivation of refined tastes; all which have a tendency to engross the mind, and induce it quietly to take up with a world which yields it so much satisfaction. (M. F. Sadler.)

“Entering in:”

Very suggestive expression; teaching us that these cares of the world, and deceitfulness of riches, may not be present or sensibly felt when the Word first springs up in the heart; but, when opportunity offers, they may make their appearance, and grow far faster and more vigorously than the true religious life, and ultimately destroy it. (M. F. Sadler.)


Verse 8

Mark 4:8; Mark 4:20

And other fell on good ground, and did yield fruit that sprang up and increased.

The character of sincere hearers considered

1. That these hearers have honest and good hearts. The ground must be properly manured and prepared, before the seed can so mingle with it as to produce fruit. In like manner, the powers of the soul must be renewed by Divine grace, before the instructions of God’s Word can so incorporate with them as to become fruitful. Their understanding is illuminated, and a new bent is given to their will. So,

2. They hear the Word after a different manner, and to a very different purpose from what others do, and from what they themselves formerly did. They hear it with attention, candour, meekness, and simplicity; and then-to go on with our Saviour’s account of these hearers-they,

3. Understand the Word. This is not expressly said, as I remember, of either of the former characters. Their knowledge is, in short, experimental and practical.

4. They keep the Word. The seed once lodged in the heart remains there. It is not caught away by the wicked one, it is not destroyed by the scorching beams of persecution, nor is it choked by the thorns of worldly cares and pleasures. It is laid up in the understanding, memory, and affections; and guarded with attention and care, as the most invaluable treasure. And, indeed, how is it imaginable that the man who has received the truth in the love of it, has ventured his everlasting all on it, and has no other ground of hope whatever, should be willing to part with this good Word of the grace of God! sooner would he renounce his dearest temporal enjoyments, yea, even life itself. Again,

5. They bring forth fruit. The seed springs up, looks green, and promises a fair harvest. They profess the Christian name, and live answerable to it. Their external conduct is sober, useful, and honourable; and their temper is pious, benevolent, and holy. The fruit they bear is of the same nature with the seed whence it springs.

6. They bring forth fruit with patience. It is a considerable time before the seed disseminates, rises into the stalk and the ear, and ripens into fruit (James 5:7).

7. And lastly. They bring forth fruit in different degrees, “some thirty, some sixty, and some an hundred fold.” And now, in order to the fully discussing this argument, we shall-

I. Show the necessity of the heart’s being made honest and good, in order to men’s duly receiving the word and keeping it; this will clearly appear on a little reflection. I suppose it will scarce be denied that the will and affections have a considerable influence on the operations of the understanding and judgment. To a mind, therefore, under the tyranny of pride and pleasure, positions that are hostile to these passions will not easily gain admission. Their first appearance will create prejudice. And if that prejudice does not instantly preclude all consideration, it will yet throw insuperable obstructions in the way of impartial inquiry. If it does not absolutely put out the eye of reason, it will yet raise such dust before it as will effectually prevent its perceiving the object. What men do not care to believe, they will take pains to persuade themselves is not true. When once a new bias is given to the will and affections, and a man, from a proud, becomes a humble man, from a lover of this world, a lover of God, his prejudices against the gospel will instantly subside. The thick vapours exhaled from a sensual heart, which had obscured his understanding, will disperse; and the light of Divine truth shine in upon him with commanding evidence. He will receive the truth in the love of it. How important, then, is regeneration! This leads us-

II. To describe the kind of fruit which such persons will bear. It is good fruit-fruit of the same nature with the seed whence it grows, and the soil with which it is incorporated: of the same nature with the gospel itself which is received in faith, and with those holy principles which are infused by the blessed Spirit. Here let us dwell a little more particularly on the nature and tendency of the gospel. “God is in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them.” O how inflexible the justice, how venerable the holiness, and how boundless the goodness of God! And if this be the gospel, who can hesitate a moment upon the question respecting its natural and proper tendency? How can piety languish and die amidst this scene of wonders? How can the heart, occupied with these sentiments, remain unsusceptible to the feelings of justice, truth, humanity, and benevolence? How can a man believe himself to be that guilty, depraved, helpless wretch which this gospel supposes him to be, and not be humble? How can he behold the Creator of the world expiring in agonies on the cross, and follow Him thence a pale, breathless corpse to the tomb, and not feel a sovereign contempt for the pomps and vanities of this transitory state? But to bring the matter more fully home to the point before us, what kind of a man is the real Christian? Let us contemplate his character, and consider what is the general course of his life. Instructed in this Divine doctrine, and having his heart made honest and good, he will be a man of piety, integrity, and purity. “The grace of God, which bringeth salvation, will teach him to deny ungodliness, and worldly lusts, and to live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world” (Titus 2:11-12). As to piety. A due regard to the authority of the blessed God will have a commanding influence upon his temper and practice. As to social duties. His conduct will be governed by the rule his Divine Master has laid down, of doing to others as he would have them do to him. As to personal duties. He will use the comforts of life, which he enjoys as the fruits of Divine benevolence, with temperance and moderation. Such are the fruits which they bring forth, who hear the Word in the manner our Saviour describes, and who keep it in good and honest hearts (Ephesians 4:1; Philippians 1:27; Galatians 5:22-23). But it is not meant by this description of the Christian to raise him above the rank of humanity, or to give a colouring to the picture which it will not bear. He is still a man, not an angel. To fix the standard of real religion at a mark to which none can arrive, is to do an injury to religion itself, as well as to discourage the hearts of its best friends. But though perfection, in the strict sense of the term, is not to be admitted, yet the fruit which every real Christian bears is good fruit.

1. How gracious is that influence which the blessed God exerts, to make the heart honest and good, and so dispose it to receive the Word, and profit by it!

2. From the nature and tendency of the gospel, which has been just delineated, we derive a strong presumptive evidence of its truth.

3. Of what importance is it that we converse intimately with the gospel, in order to our bringing forth the fruits of holiness!

4. And lastly, How vain a thing is mere speculation in religion! We have discoursed on the two first heads, and proceed now-

III. To consider the great variety there is among Christians in regard of degrees of fruitfulness and the reasons of it. First, as to the fact that there are degrees of fruitfulness, a little observation will sufficiently prove it. Fruitfulness may be considered in regard both of the devout affections of the heart, and the external actions of the life; in each of which views it will admit of degrees. The variety is prodigious. What multitudes live harmless, sober, and regular lives. Their obedience is rather negative than positive. They bring no dishonour on their profession, nor yet are they very ornamental and exemplary. Others are strictly conscientious and circumspect in their walk, far removed from all appearance of gaiety and dissipation, and remarkably serious and constant in their attendance upon religious duties; but, for want of sweetness of temper, or of that sprightliness and freedom which a lively faith inspires, the fruit they bear is but slender, and of an unpleasant flavour. There are those, further, in whom seriousness and cheerfulness are happily united, and whose conduct is amiable in the view of all around them; but then, moving in a narrow sphere, and possessing no great zeal or resolution, their lives are distinguished by few remarkable exertions for the glory of God, and the good of others. And again, there are a number whose bosoms, glowing with flaming zeal and ardent love, are rich in good works, never weary in well-doing, and full of the fruits of righteousness, to the praise and the glory of God. In the garden of God there are trees of different growth. Some newly planted, of slender stature and feeble make, which yet bring forth good, though but little, fruit. And here and there you see one that out-tops all the rest, whose roots spread far and wide, and whose boughs are laden in autumn with rich and large fruit. Such variety is there among Christians. And variety there is; too, in the different species of good works. Some are eminent in this virtue, and some in that; while perhaps a few abound in every good word and work. Whoever consults the history of religion in the Bible will see all that has been said exemplified in the characters and lives of a long scroll of pious men. Not to speak here of the particular excellences that distinguished these men of God from each other, it is enough to observe that some vastly outshone others. The proportions of a hundred, sixty, and thirty fold might be applied to patriarchs, prophets, judges, kings, apostles, and the Christians of the primitive church. Between, for instance, an Abraham that offered up his only son, and a righteous Lot, that lingered at the call of an angel. Secondly, inquire into the grounds and reasons of this disparity among Christians respecting the fruits of holiness. These are of very different consideration. Many of them will be found to have no connection at all with the inward temper of the mind; a reflection, therefore, upon them will give energy to what has been said in regard of the charity we ought to exercise in judging of others. Let us begin, then-

1. With men’s worldly circumstances. The affluent Christian you will see pouring his bounty on all around him. But the poor Christian can render few, if any, of these services to his fellow creatures.

2. Opportunity is another ground of distinction among Christians in regard of fruitfulness. By opportunity I mean occasions of usefulness, which arise under the particular and immediate direction of Divine Providence. A Daniel shall have such easy access to the presence of a mighty tyrant as shall enable him to whisper the most beneficial counsels in his ear; and an apostle, by being brought in chains before a no less powerful prince, shall have an opportunity of defending the cause of his Divine Master in the most essential manner.

3. Mental abilities have a considerable influence in this matter. What shining talents do some good men possess! They have extensive learning, great knowledge of mankind, much sagacity and penetration, singular fortitude, a happy manner of address, flowing language, and a remarkable sweetness of temper.

4. The different means of religion that good men enjoy are another occasion of their different degrees of fruitfulness.

5. That the comparative different state of religion in one Christian and another is the more immediate and direct cause of their different fruitfulness. But this plain general truth we may affirm, leaving everyone to apply it to himself, that, in proportion as religion is on the advance or decline in a man’s heart, so will his external conduct be more or less exemplary.

6. And lastly, the greater or less effusion of Divine influences.

IV. The blessedness of those who, hearing the word, and keeping it in honest and good hearts, bring forth the fruits of holiness.

1. As to the pleasure that accompanies ingenuous obedience. “Great peace have they,” says David, “who love Thy law, and nothing shall offend them” (Psalms 119:165).

2. Fruitfulness affords a noble proof of a man’s uprightness, and so tends indirectly, as well as directly, to promote his happiness.

3. The esteem, too, in which he is held among his fellow Christians must contribute not a little to his comfort.

4. How glorious will be the rewards which the fruitful Christian will receive at the hands of the Great Husbandman on the day of harvest! That day is approaching. “Mark the perfect man; behold the upright; for the end of that man is peace.” Going down to death like a shock of corn fully ripe, the precious grain shall lie secure in the bosom of the earth; angels shall keep their vigils about it: while the immortal spirit, acquiring its highest degree of perfection, shall join the company of the blessed above. (S. Stennett, D. D.)

“Some thirty fold”

Everyone has observed the difference between those who may be called good Christians, in the matter of their good works-how some seem to produce twice or thrice the fruit that others do. Some are, compared with others, three times more careful in all the trilling matters which make up so much of life; three times more self-denying, three times more liberal, three times more humble, subdued, and thankful. Does not the Lord recognize this difference in the parable of the pounds-when the nobleman, in leaving, gives a pound to each of his servants; and one servant makes it ten pounds, and another five; and he commends both, but gives to the more industrious worker twice the reward? (M. F. Sadler.)

Patience

Patience is power. With time and patience the mulberry leaf becomes satin. (Eastern Proverb.)

Never think that God’s delays are God’s denials. Hold on; hold fast; hold out: Patience is genius. (Buffon.)

Meditation

Meditation is partly a passive, partly an active state. Whoever has pondered long over a plan which he is anxious to accomplish, without distinctly seeing at first the way, knows what meditation is. The subject itself presents itself in leisure moments spontaneously: but then all this sets the mind at work-contriving, imagining, rejecting, modifying. It is in this way that one of the greatest of English engineers, a man uncouth and unaccustomed to regular discipline of mind, is said to have accomplished his most marvellous triumphs. He threw bridges over almost impracticable torrents, and pierced the eternal mountains for his viaducts. Sometimes a difficulty brought all the work to a pause; then he would shut himself up in his room, eat nothing, speak to no one, abandon himself intensely to the contemplation of that on which his heart was set; and at the end of two or three days, would come forth serene and calm, walk to the spot, and quietly give orders which seemed the result of superhuman intuition. This was meditation. (F. W. Robertson.)

The numerical relations of good and evil

In the parable of the four sorts of ground whereon the seed was sown, the last alone proved fruitful. There the bad were more than the good. But amongst the servants, two improved their talents, or pounds, and one only buried them. Here the good were more than the bad. Again, amongst the ten virgins, five were wise and five were foolish. There the good and bad were equal. I see, that concerning the number of the saints in comparison to the reprobates, no certainty can be collected from these parables. Good reason, for it is not their principal purpose to meddle with that point. Grant that I may never rack a Scripture simile beyond the true intent thereof. (Thomas Fuller.)

Favourable moral conditions

A great deal of fire falleth upon a stone and it burneth not, but a dry chip soon taketh fire. (T. Maclaren.)


Verse 9

Mark 4:9

He that hath ears to hear.

The duty of consideration explained and enforced

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

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

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

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

I. Let us consider the duty our Saviour inculcates on those to whom the Word is preached.

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

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

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

4. That our dependence should be firmly placed on the gracious and seasonable influences of the Holy Spirit. And now, thus prepared, we have a right, be our audience who they may, to adopt the language of our Master, and with authority to say, “Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.” Upon the grounds of common sense as well as religion, we may demand their most serious attention. First, some kind of preparation previous to our hearing the Word. Secondly, how we ought to behave ourselves in the house of God.

Thirdly, a duty lying upon us after we have heard the Word. Recollection is what I mean, together with self-application and prayer.

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

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

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

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

A man who did not wish to hear the sermon

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

Hearing the gospel not to be vitiated by a faulty faculty

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

Hearing the gospel not to be vitiated by moral insensibility

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

Hearing the gospel constant

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

Heedful hearing

I. Let us seek, in the beginning, to discriminate and classify the ordinary hearers of the Word as they show themselves in the sight of the preacher.

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

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

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

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

II. Let us seek now, in the second place, to discriminate and classify the ordinary hearers of the Word as they appear in the sight of the world at large. Here comes in the question as to results rather than mere behaviour. We fall back upon the parable of the sower; it was given as our Saviour’s illustration of the effect of the truth as it is thrown upon human hearts like seed upon different soils.

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

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

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

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

III. Let us now, in the third place, look upon those who hear the Word as they appear in the sight of God. (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)


Verses 10-13

Verse 11

Mark 4:11

Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the Kingdom of God.

Parables for two multitudes

As for the multitude, if you strain Christ’s language respecting them, you might say they were punished for their blindness by His making dark to them things which He made clear to others. This has been said. You have heard of judicial blindness-blindness, that is to say, inflicted by God as the punishment of unbelief or other sin. But if this was the case, why did He speak to them at all? Did He wish only a dozen men, or a few dozens, to understand what He said? If then it was not to hide His meaning from the multitude that Christ taught them in parables, how do you account for His choosing to teach them in that way? To answer this question we have to consider for a moment-

I. What a parable is. Now there is one thing certain as to these stories, that whatever might be His intention in using them, they do clear up things wonderfully. It would have taken a long discourse on true piety to show the distinction between it and false piety, which is shown in the Publican and the Pharisee; and what long discourse would have shown it so well? Remember this also, in regard to parables like Christ’s-they keep close to reality, they reproduce nature and life. Now if we take all this into consideration as to the nature of parables, it is possible, I think, to account for Christ’s speaking to the multitude in parables, and parables alone. In the first place, possibly there were what we may call considerations of prudence and policy in favour of this way of teaching. Look at the whole set of parables in this chapter; they all relate to the kingdom of God; and one thing they all more or less distinctly intimate, and it is that the establishment of that kingdom must be a work of time. It is like a sower who goes forth to sow; it is like the tares and the wheat which must grow up together until the harvest. As all these parables here suggest to us, time was needed for truth to prevail against error. Direct attack upon it was useless. Christ had tried that and found it unprofitable. And here the parables came in to serve the purpose. They did not assail error or assert truth controversially. Everyone could take from them and make of them what he pleased. But there was one thing certain with regard to them, and it was that they were certain to be remembered. They were sure to pass from mouth to mouth, and travel where doctrine however clear, or precept however just, would not reach. The meaning in them now open to the few would remain, and by and by might be perceived by the many. Time would ripen them for the purpose of instructing the multitude as well as the disciples. And this was their special virtue, that while they were thus fitted to preserve truth from being forgotten, they were above all fitted to preserve truth from being corrupted. Those whose minds were filled with the Pharisees’ ideas of religion could hardly help misunderstanding and misrepresenting the doctrinal sayings of Jesus. But it is impossible to corrupt, or sophisticate, or distort the story of the Prodigal Son or the Good Samaritan. A parable cannot be qualified like a saying or a body of doctrine. It is a bit of fact, and cannot be qualified by words. It keeps its meaning pure in spite of every effort to corrupt it. It is of kin with nature, which, whatever you may say of it or of any part of it, remains nature still, and is the truth. And thus it was for one thing Christ spoke to the multitude in parables. His purpose was to teach them truth, but their minds being filled with error, they had to unlearn that first. He spoke in parables, knowing that parables would last, and that while they lasted and were working their work, they would not, because they could not, be corrupted. But the great thing was that which distinguishes parables from other figures of speech-that they keep close to reality, to nature, and to life. It was the special vice of the religion of the multitude in Christ’s day, that it was wholly artificial, all sacrifice and no mercy. Their teachers taught them for doctrine the commandments of men, the thousand and one arbitrary rules about eating and drinking, about fasts and feasts, about offerings, about days, about intercourse with Gentiles, and touching the dead. The scope of Christ’s teaching was exactly the opposite of this. He was for mercy, and not sacrifice; for righteousness, and not mint and anise and cumin. It suited His doctrine, therefore, to be taught in parables. The world itself, if your doctrine is mercy, is one great parable ready for your use. Reality of any kind is truth, and all truth, from the lowest to the highest, is one; so that there are books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything. The truth of things, begin with it where you will, if you follow it out will lead you up to God. You can make birds and beasts, and virtues and vices talk what you please; but you cannot, if you go to nature and human life find a parable to fit a lie. Christ chose that form of teaching which brought men face to face with nature and human life, because the men He had to teach, in the matter of their religion had departed as far as was possible from the truth of things, and had lost themselves in sayings and commandments and traditions, questions and strifes of words. He put truth into a form in which it could not perish or be corrupted; He turned his hearers’ minds in the direction in which they could soonest unlearn their errors and be prepared to receive His truth.

II. Now, consider the different effect of his parables upon the multitude and the disciples. As for the multitude, they had first to begin and unlearn everything they believed, before they could perceive the truth which His parables contained. Before anything in this particular set of parables here as to the kingdom of God could reach their minds, they had to unlearn all that they had learned from their teachers as to the kingdom of God being a Jewish commonwealth. The sower going forth to sow, the tares and the wheat growing up together until the harvest, the grain of mustard seed, the leaven hid in meal, the net dropped into the sea-what had these to tell them of their ideal Jewish commonwealth? They would find no meaning in these, as far as that kingdom of heaven was concerned. This, to be sure, was not to be the final effect of Christ’s parables, even upon the multitude. From being brought into this school of nature and life some of them at least would begin to feel its influence in turning them away from strifes of words about rites and ceremonies. Contact with reality could scarcely fail in many cases to engender suspicion, and then distrust, of all that was fictitious; and so in the decline of error truth would have its day. But, while, in course of time this might be the effect of the parables upon the multitude, the immediate effect, no doubt, was to confuse and darken their minds. Turn, on the ether hand, to the disciples. They had, at least in part, unlearned the false. They had begun to appreciate the true. To the minds of the disciples, alive already to the value of righteousness and the worthlessness of ceremonial sanctity, how rich in instruction and in comfort the story of the Prodigal Son!-how true and how glorious its representation of the great Father as one who is never so happy as when He has to welcome back to the home of eternal goodness and eternal blessedness the erring and miserable of His children! To their minds again how full of meaning and of comfort, the parable of the Lost Sheep!-the suggestion of the Eternal Righteousness engrossed, to the neglect of suns and solar systems, in the recovery of one soul which has strayed into the damnation of evil. Think that these disciples, like the multitude, were Jews, and held, till Christ began to teach, the religious notions of the multitude. Then consider all the certainty and breadth and fulness which these parables of their Master could not but give to their new faith,-faith in God as good, in goodness as man’s true life, in the ultimate triumph of good over evil. Consider under what a different aspect the world now presented itself to their minds. He said to His disciples in reference to these parables, “Blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear;” and also when he added, “For verily I say unto you, that many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them, and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them.” I conclude with two remarks, the first of which is, that not one religion, but every religion, that of Christ included is apt, in the common mind, to degenerate into ceremonialism and strifes of words. And, in that case, what professes to be light becomes the grossest of darkness. It was not for an age, therefore, but for all time, that Christ spoke in parables to the multitude. These parables of His, bringing us into contact with nature and human life, furnish us with a resource of inestimable value against the prevalence of irreligion, error, infidelity, not only in the world, but in the church. Thus the parables are the salt of Christianity to preserve it from corruption and extinction; they recall us from all this barren or disgraceful war of words to the sterling virtue of the Good Samaritan, and the substantial goodness of the Prodigal’s Father. Again, I remark, the blessedness of Christian belief is that it is a vision of the universe as undivided. What did the disciples, who were blessed in their seeing, see? When it was given to them, as it was not given to the multitude, to understand these parables, what did they hear and comprehend? It was not that their own souls were to be saved; it was not that the Jews were to be converted, or the Gentiles to be visited by Christian missionaries. It was, that the kingdom of God, the Father and Saviour of all men, is eternal; that evil here and every where is temporary, and good alone is forever and ever. (J. Service, D. D.)


Verse 12

Mark 4:12

That seeing, they may see, and not perceive.

The derelict

Terrible, but just and adorable, is this conduct of God towards those who have deserved to be left to themselves. This dereliction has several degrees-

1. Their being abandoned to their own darkness.

2. Their not being able to understand the truths of salvation.

3. Their not obeying them.

4. Their remaining in their sins.

5. Their being condemned.

God is pleased to give examples of this, that the children of promise may know how much they owe to grace. It is a mistake to imagine that whatever appears most severe and rigorous in the conduct of God ought to be concealed from Christians. He Himself instructs us in it, on purpose that we should take great notice of it on proper occasions, and glorify Him on the account of all the good we do, and of all the evil which we avoid. (Quesnel.)


Verses 14-20

Verse 16-17

Mark 4:5; Mark 4:16-17

And some fell on stony ground, where it had not much earth.
-

The seed upon stony ground

I. A brief biography of certain professors in religion. They heard the Word. They received the Word. They received it immediately. They received it with gladness. They made rapid progress. In duo time came trial. Immediately they were offended.

II. Their radical defect. It lay in an unbroken heart. This led to want of depth. They lacked moisture.

III. The lessons of the text. Be deeply in earnest. Watch the effect of your own daily trials. Constantly examine yourself. Let all this show us how necessary it is that we cast all the stress and burden of our salvation entirely upon the Lord Jesus Christ. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

The character of enthusiastic hearers considered

I. With the character of these hearers previous to their hearing the Word. They are compared to stony or rocky ground, which is unfavourable to cultivation; but yet has a little mould or earth cast over it, suited to receive seed, and in which it may lodge awhile, and disseminate itself. So that this ground is partly bad and partly good. And thus are very aptly described, the miserably perverse and depraved state of the will on the one hand, and the warmth and liveliness of the natural passions on the other. These qualities often meet in one and the same person, and bear a different aspect to religion, the one being un-favourable and the other favourable to it.

1. It is true of these hearers that their will is wretchedly depraved. Stone is a figure used in Scripture to signify the obstinate aversion of the mind to what is holy and good. So Ezekiel speaks of a stony heart in opposition to a heart of flesh; and Paul, of the living epistles of Christ being written, not on tables of stone, but fleshly tables of the heart. And yet, with all this depravity of the will, they have-

2. Warm and lively passions; a circumstance in itself not a little favourable to religion. This is admirably expressed by the earth or mould said to be cast over the rock, which was of a nature so rich and luxuriant, that the seed instantly mingled with it, and expanding, sprung up, and created a beautiful verdure which promised great fruitfulness. Nothing was wanting to produce the desired effect but a sufficient depth of earth, tied the ground at bottom been properly cultivated this fine mould cast upon it would have assisted and forwarded vegetation; but that remaining hard and rocky, this had only a temporary effect, and served little other purpose than to deceive the expectation of the husbandman. Such is truly the case in the matter before us. The heart, like the stony ground, is indisposed to what is good; and the affections, like the earth cast over it, are warm and lively; wherefore, the Word not entering into the former, and yet mingling with the latter, produces no real fruit, but only the gay and splendid appearance of an external profession. And here it is further to be remarked, that however the passions are of excellent use in religion, if the heart be right with God; yet, this not being the case, their influence is rather pernicious than salutary: indeed, the more eager and impetuous the natural temper, the greater evil is in this case to be apprehended from it, both to the man himself, and to those with whom he is connected. As to himself mistaking the warm efforts of mere passion for real religion, he instantly concludes, that he is without doubt a real Christian, and so is essentially injured by the imposition he puts upon himself. But it will be proper, before we pass on, to examine more particularly the character of the enthusiast. He has a lively imagination, but no judgment to correct it; and warm feelings, but neither wisdom nor resolution to control them. Struck with appearances, he instantly admits the reality of things, without allowing himself time to inquire into their nature, evidence and tendency. And impressions thus received, whether from objects presented to the senses, or representations made to the fancy, produce a mighty and instantaneous effect on his passions. These agitate his whole frame, and precipitate him into action, without any intervening consideration, reflection, or prospect. And his actions, under the impulse of heated imagination, are either right or wrong, useful or pernicious, just as the notions he has thus hastily adopted happen to be conformable to truth or error. So we shall see the countenance of a man of this complexion kindling into rapture and ecstasy at the idea of something new and marvellous; a flood of tears streaming down his cheeks at the representation of some moving scene of distress; his face turning pale, and his limbs trembling, at the apprehension of some impending danger; his whole frame distorted with rage at the hearing of some instance of cruelty; and his eye sparkling with joy in the prospect of some fancied bliss. Nor is it to be wondered, that one who is wholly at the mercy of these passions, without the guidance of a sober understanding, and the control of a well-disposed heart, should, as is often the case, break out into loud and clamorous language, assume the most frantic gestures, and be guilty of the most strange and extravagant actions.

1. He receives the Word. Receiving is a figurative term, and may here be explained of what is the consequence of admitting any doctrine to be true, that is, the professing it. It is used in Scripture to signify faith itself (John 1:12). Now, as faith has the promise of salvation, and some believe who yet are not saved, a distinction becomes necessary; and the common one of historical and Divine faith is easy and natural. Or if the faith is genuine, yet his notion of the gospel has a great deal of error mingled with it. And then he receives it not upon the Divine testimony, or a clear perception of the internal and external evidence of it; but upon the confident assertions of others, whose eagerness and zeal, expressed by their loud voice and violent gesture, have a mighty effect upon that credulity we spoke of under the former head. Further, his faith is not cordial; it has not the hearty approbation of his judgment and will. Nor does it produce the kindly and acceptable fruits of love and obedience. Yet it is not without its effects, for being of that enthusiastic turn of mind before described, his imagination and passions have a great influence on his profession. Whence those strong appearances of sincerity, earnestness, and zeal, whereby he imposes upon himself and others. Now he loudly affirms he believes, scarcely admitting that man to be a Christian who at all hesitates. Then he treats cool reasoning, and calm reflection, as inimical to religion.

2. He receives the Word immediately. The seed is said in the text to spring up forthwith, and so the idea may respect the quickness of the vegetation. It is true both of the reception and operation of the Word. He receives it not circuitously, but directly. It is no sooner spoken than admitted to be true. He is not embarrassed with doubt, and does not hesitate, reflect, or compare what he has heard with the Scriptures. So without either his judgment being informed, or his will renewed, he is impetuously carried away with a mere sound.

3. His receiving the Word with joy. Joy is a pleasing elevation of the spirits, excited by the possession of some present, or the expectation of some future, good. Now, the gospel is good news, and so adapted to give pleasure to the mind. He therefore who receives it with joy, receives it as it ought to be received. But the man our Saviour here describes is not a real Christian, his icy therefore must have something in it, or in the circumstances accompanying it, distinguishable from that of a genuine believer. Of Herod it is said that “he heard John gladly:” and from the story it clearly appears Herod remained, notwithstanding, the same profligate man he was before.

How, then, is the joy of the one to be distinguished from that of the other?

1. Let us consider what precedes it. The real Christian, previous to his enjoying solid peace, is usually much depressed and cast down. Nor is his dejection the effect of bodily disorder, or an ill-temperature of the animal spirits, or of something he can give no rational account of. It is an anxiety occasioned by a sense of sin. But it stands to reason that the joy the heart feels must bear some proportion to the anxiety it has suffered.

2. Let us inquire what it is that excites this joy. The causes of that elevation of the spirits which we commonly call joy are various. In some instances it is the Word itself, the mere sound, without any idea affixed to it, that creates joy. The effect is instantly and mechanically produced by the tone and cadence of the voice, accompanied by an appearance, attitude, and gesture, that happen to please. In other instances, it is not the sound only, but the sense, that affects. We may easily conceive how a pleasing kind of sensation, excited in the breast by a pathetic description of misery, particularly the sufferings of Christ, may be mistaken for religion. We are next to consider

II. To consider the lamentable apostasy of these deluded men. The seed that fell upon stony places, and forthwith sprung up, in a little time “withered away.”

1. The term of his profession is short. Enthusiastic zeal, like inflammable air, quickly evaporates. The sources of that pleasure which gives existence to a spurious religion, and an equivocal devotion, are soon exhausted. The imagination tires, the senses are palled, and the passions, for want of novelty and variety to keep them alive, sink away into a languid, unfeeling, torpid state.

2. In what manner does he renounce his profession? He either silently quits it, or publicly disavows it. He is offended, stumbles, falls, falls away.

III. The cause of these men’s apostasy. This our Saviour explains with admirable precision, by teaching us that it is partly owing to the want of something within, essentially important to religion, and partly to a concurrence of circumstances from without unfavourable to the profession of it.

1. Something is wanting within. The parable says: “The seed forthwith sprung up, because it had no deepness of earth;” “and it withered away because it had no root,” as Mark has it; “and lacked moisture,” as is expressed in Luke. For want of a sufficient quantity of earth the seed did not sink deep enough into the ground, and through the luxuriance of the mould it too quickly disseminated and sprung up. So that having taken root, there was no source whence the tender glass might be supplied with nourishment; and of consequence it must necessarily in a little time wither and die. Agreeably therefore to the figure, our Lord, in His explanation of the parable, speaks of these hearers as “having no root in themselves.” And such precisely is the case of the sort of professors we are discoursing of. They have no principle of religion in their hearts. Their notions are not properly digested, they do not disseminate themselves in the mind, take fast hold on the conscience, and incorporate, if I may so express myself, with the practical powers of the soul. “The Word preached does not profit them, not being mixed with faith;” or, as perhaps it might be rendered, because they are not united by faith to the word.

2. To a concurrence of circumstances from without unfavourable to the profession of religion. These, in the parable, are all comprehended under the idea of the sun’s scorching the springing grass; and, in our Saviour’s exposition of it, are described by the terms tribulation, persecution, affliction, and temptation, all which arise because of the word, or are occasioned by it.

Religion, however, is not to be blamed for these evils, of which it is no way the cause, though it may be the occasion; they are to be set down to the account of a fatal, but too frequent combination of a depraved heart, with an impetuous natural temper.

1. What a striking picture has our Saviour here given us of human nature.

2. Of what importance is it to study ourselves, and to keep a guard upon our passions!

3. We see what kind of preaching is to be coveted, and what avoided.

4. Our Lord, by the instruction given us in our text, has enabled us to reply to an objection often urged against the doctrine of the saints’ final perseverance. We are frequently reminded of persons whose profession for a time was fair and splendid, but who in the end renounced it. And no doubt this has been the fact in too many sad instances. Yet what does it prove? No more than that these men were either designing hypocrites, or else hastily took upon them a profession of what, they did not rightly understand, truly believe, and cordially approve.

5. And lastly, let not the mournful subject we have been considering create any discouragement in the breast of the truly humble but weak Christian. (S. Stennett, D. D.)

Rapid growth means rapid decay

Precocity and rapid growth are everywhere the forerunners of rapid decay. The oak that is to stand a thousand years does not shoot up like the hop or the creeper. (M. Dods, D. D.)

Excited but not converted

The short and pathetic history of some who are called revival converts. They are charmed but not changed; much excites, but not truly converted. These are they that “have no root in themselves, and so endure but for a time” (Mark 4:17). Their root is in the crowd, the fine music, the lively stir, the hearty companionships of the gospel meeting. The Moravians every Sabbath offer up this prayer, “From light-minded swarming, deliver us, good God.” (J. Wells.)

Perfect too soon

Most Christians are perfect too soon, which is the reason they are never perfect. (A. Farindon.)

Fair-weather Christians

Some fresh-water sailor, standing upon the shore on a fair day, and beholding the ship’s top and top-gallant sail in all their bravery, riding safely at anchor, thinks it a brave thing to go to sea, and will by all means aboard; but being out a league or two from the harbour, and feeling by the rocking of the ship his stomach begin to work, and his soul even to abhor all manner of meat-or otherwise a storm to arise, the wind and the sea as it were conspiring the sinking of the vessel-forthwith repents his folly, and makes vows that if he but once be set ashore again he will bid an eternal farewell to all such voyages. And thus there be many faint-hearted Christians to be found amongst us, who, in calm days of peace, when religion is not overclouded by the times, will needs join themselves to the number of the people of God; they will be as earnest and as forward as the best, and who but they? Yet, let but a tempest begin to appear, and the sea to grow rougher than at the first entry, the times alter, troubles rise, many cross winds of opposition and gainsaying begin to blow, they are weary of their course, and will to shore again, resolving never to thrust themselves into any more adventures. Christ they would have by all means, but Christ crucified by no means. If the way to heaven be by the gates of hell, let who will they will not go that way; they rather sit down and be quiet. (Spencer.)

Religion genuine in bad times

Many men owe their religion, not to grace, but to the favour of the times; ‘tis in fashion, they may profess it at a cheap rate, because none contradict it. Indeed, it shows that they are extremely bad when they may be as good without any loss to themselves, but it does not show they are good that they are only good in good times. Dead fish swim with the stream. They do not build upon the rock, but set up a shed leaning to another man’s house, which costs them nothing; carried with a multitude, are not able to go alone in a good way; if they be religious, it is for others’ sakes. Then is integrity discovered, when persons dare be good in bad times, as Noah was said to be an upright man, because he was perfect in his generation. (T. Manton.)


Verse 18-19

Mark 4:7; Mark 4:18-19

And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it.

The character of worldly-minded hearers considered

1. The treatment the Word meets with from these persons. They hear and receive it.

2. How this salutary operation on his heart is obstructed and defeated.

3. What is the event? These thorns choke the Word.

I. What these things are which obstruct the due operation of God’s word on the hearts of these men?

1. The cares of the world. By the cares of the world He means criminal anxieties about secular concerns.

2. The deceitfulness of riches. Men are prone to reason mistakenly about riches. Riches are, in a sense, themselves deceitful. They assume an appearance different from their real nature and use, and so the unwary observer is imposed upon. Consider the false reasonings of a depraved heart:

3. The pleasures of this life, or “the lusts of other things.” Here we need not be very particular, for as riches are the means of procuring pleasures, and most generally coveted with that view, the same folly and criminality we have charged to the account of the avaricious is, with a little variation of circumstances, to be imputed likewise to the sensualist. Pleasure indeed, abstractedly considered, is a real good; the desire of it is congenial with our nature, and cannot be eradicated without the destruction of our very existence. This is not therefore what our Lord condemns. He well knew that there ale passions and appetites proper to men as men, that the moderate gratification of them is necessary to their happiness, and of consequence that the desire of such gratification is not sinful. But the pleasure He prohibits is that which results from the indulgence of irregular desires, I mean such as are directed to wrong objects, and such as are excessive in their degree.

II. To show how they obstruct the due operation of God’s word on the heart.

1. As to these of the first description, the careful. It involves distrust of the faithfulness and goodness of Divine providence.

2. As to the avaricious. How vain such desires, expectations, and exertions. Will you suffer such noxious weeds to grow in your heart? Wisdom will give you riches and honour.

3. As to the voluptuous. It precipitates into extravagances which often prove fatal to character. There is no profiting by the Word we hear, without duly weighing and considering it.

There are three things necessary to this:

1. Leisure. Ground choked with briers and thorns affords not room for the seed cast upon it to expand and grow. In like manner, he whose attention is wholly taken up with secular affairs has not leisure for consideration. Say, you who are oppressed with the cares, or absorbed in the pleasures of life, whether this is not the fact? What is it first catches your imagination when you awake in the morning? What is it engrosses your attention all the day? What is it goes with you to your bed, and follows you through the restless hours of night? What is it you are constantly thinking of at home, abroad, and in the house of God? It is the world. Oh sad! not a day, not an hour, scarce a moment in reserve, for a meditation on God, your soul, and an eternal world! And can religion exist where it is never thought of, or gain ground in a heart where it is but now and then adverted to? As well might a man expect to live without sustenance, or get strong without digesting his food. That then, which deprives men of time for consideration, is essentially injurious to religion.

2. Composure. By composure, I mean that calmness or self-possession, whereby we are enabled to attend soberly and without interruption to the business we are about. Consideration implies this in it; for how is it possible that a man should duly consider a subject, whether civil or religious, coolly reason upon it, and thoroughly enter into the spirit of it, if his mind is all the while occupied with a thousand other things, foreign to the matter before him? In order, therefore, to our doing justice to any question of importance, we must rid our minds of all impertinent thoughts, be self-collected, and fix our attention steadily to the point. How difficult this is I need not say. Studious people feel the difficulty; and in regard of religion, the best of men are sensible of their weakness in this respect, and deeply lament it. But where the world gains the ascendant, this difficulty is increased, and, in some instances, becomes almost insuperable. Let me here describe to you, in a few words, the almost incessant hurry and confusion of their minds, who answer to the three characters in our text of the careful, the covetous, and the voluptuous.

So you will clearly see, how impossible it is for persons thus circumstanced to pay the attention to religious subjects which is necessary in order to their being profited by them.

1. The case of him who is swallowed up with the anxious cares of life is truly lamentable. It is not riches the unhappy man aims at, but a competence, or perhaps a mere subsistence. The dread of being reduced, with his family, to extreme poverty, harrows up his very soul. The horrid spectres of contempt, famine, and a prison, haunt his imagination. And how incapable is a man, thus circumstanced, of coolly thinking on the great things of religion! Does he attempt in his retirement to fix his attention to some Divine subject? he instantly fails in the attempt, cares like a wild deluge rush in upon his soul, and break all the measures he had taken to obtain a little respite from his trouble.

2. The like effect hath an eager desire after riches to disqualify men for consideration. When on his knees he is still in the world: when he is worshipping God in his family he is still pursuing his gain. His closet is an accounting house and his church an exchange.

3. How an eager attention to worldly pleasures must have the like effect, to render the mind incapable of serious consideration. Scenes of splendour and sensual delight are before the eyes of men of this character. How is it possible for a mind thus hurried, dissipated, intoxicated with vain amusements, to cultivate religion? They not only deprive men of time, composure for serious consideration-

3. But of all inclination to it. But what I mean, is to show that an eager attention to the things of this life confirms the habit of inconsideration, and tends, where there is an aptitude to meditation, to weaken and deprave it. A mind wholly occupied with the objects of sense, is not only estranged from the great realities of religion, but averse to them. As it has neither leisure nor calmness for sublime contemplations, so it has no taste or relish for them. “The carnal mind is enmity against God.” And the more carnal it grows by incessant commerce with the world, the more does that prejudice and enmity increase. What violence are such men obliged to put upon themselves, if at any time, by some extraordinary circumstance, they are prevailed on to think of the concerns of their souls! The business is not only awkward, as they are unaccustomed to it, but it is exceeding irksome and painful. Now if a hearty inclination to any business is necessary to capacity to pursue it with success, whatever tends to abate that inclination, or to confirm the opposite aversion, is essentially injurious to such business. In like manner, cares, riches, and pleasures of the world choke the Word.

III. The bad event of such undue commerce with the world. The unhappy man not having leisure, calmness, or inclination to attend to the Word.

1. He understands not the Word of the kingdom. He has a speculative acquaintance with the truths of religion; it cannot be experimental.

2. He does not believe it. He who believes the gospel to the salvation of his soul must enter into the spirit of it. But how can this be the case with a man whose heart is possessed by the god of this world?

3. Not rightly understanding or believing the Word of the kingdom, he is not obedient to it.

4. What is the final issue of all? Why, the man himself, as well as the seed, is choked (Luke 8:14).

Exhortation:

1. Let the professors of religion have no more to do with the world than duty clearly requires. “Be not conformed to this world; but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind.” “Come out from among them, and be ye separate, and touch not the unclean thing.” “Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness.”

2. If thorns before we are aware get in, let us instantly root them out. Exert all the power of Christian resolution.

3. Receive the good seed. It is not enough that the ground is cleared of noxious weeds, if it be not sown with the proper grain. Neither is it sufficient to guard against the corrupt maxims, customs, and manners of the world, if our hearts are not impregnated with Divine truth.

4. And lastly, look to God for His blessing. “Paul may plant, and Apollos water; but it is God that giveth the increase.” We may hear, read, meditate, reflect, watch, and use many good endeavours; but if no regard be had to a superior influence, all will be vain. (S. Stennett, D. D.)

The Word choked

Robert Burns-who had times of serious reflection, in one of which, as recorded by his own pen, he beautifully compares himself, in the review of his past life, to a lonely man walking amid the ruins of a noble temple, where pillars stand dismantled of their capitals, and elaborate works of purest marble lie on the ground, overgrown by tall, foul, rank weeds-was once brought, as I have heard, under deep convictions. He was in great alarm. The seed of the Word had begun to grow. He sought counsel from one called a minister of the gospel. Alas, that in that crisis of his history he should have trusted the helm to the hands of such a pilot! This so-called minister laughed at the poet’s fears-bade him dance them away at balls, drown them in bowls of wine, fly from these phantoms to the arms of pleasure. Fatal, too pleasant advice! He followed it; and “the lusts of other things” entering in, choked the word. (T. Guthrie.)

The insinuating destruction of truth in the soul

In the gardens of Hampton Court you will see many trees entirely vanquished and well-nigh strangled by huge coils of ivy, which are wound about them like the snakes around the unhappy Laocoon; there is no untwisting the folds, they are too giant-like, and fast fixed, and every hour the rootlets of the climber are sucking the life out of the unhappy tree. Yet there was a day when the ivy was a tiny aspirant, only asking a little aid in climbing; had it been denied then the tree had never become its victim, but by degrees the humble weakling grew in strength and arrogance, and at last it assumed the mastery, and the tall tree became the prey of the creeping, insinuating destroyer. The moral is too obvious. Sorrowfully do we remember many noble characters which have been ruined little by little by insinuating habits. Covetousness, drink, the love of pleasure, and pride, have often been the ivy that has wrought the ruin. (The Sword and Trowel.)

The cares of wealth

An emperor once said to his courtiers: “You gaze on my purple robe and golden crown, but did you know what cares are under it, you would not take it up from the ground to have it.” (Brooks.)

Gold a destroyer

When Arates threw his gold into the sea, he cried out, “I will destroy you, lest you should destroy me.” (Secker.)

Prosperity favourable to deception

The snow covers many a dunghill, and so doth prosperity many a rotten heart. It is easy to wade in a warm bath and every bird can sing on a sunshiny day. (Brooks.)

Remedies against immoderate care for temporal things

1. Consider the nature of these things: they are vain, transitory, perishing; and they only minister to our earthly life which will end we know not how soon.

2. By all our care we cannot help or profit ourselves, without God’s blessing on the means we use.

3. It is a heathenish practice thus to vex and trouble ourselves with immoderate cares for earthly things: not fit for Christians, who profess faith in God’s Providence.

4. We are commanded to cast our cares upon God; and He has promised to care for us, and to provide for us all things necessary for this life, as well as for that which is to come, if we depend on Him by faith (Psalms 55:2; 1 Peter 5:7).

5. Consider how God provides for other creatures, of less value and worth than ourselves, without their care.

6. Immoderate cares for this life oppress the heart and mind exceedingly, taking them up so that they cannot be free to meditate on spiritual and heavenly things: hindering men also from daily preparing themselves for death and judgment (Luke 21:34).

7. Let our chief care be for heavenly and spiritual things, which concern God’s glory and the salvation of our souls. This will moderate and slake our care for temporal things. (G. Petter.)

The difficulty of worldly prosperity

Great skill is required to the governing of a plentiful and prosperous estate, so as it may be safe and comfortable to the owner, and beneficial to others. Every corporal may know how to order some few files; but to marshal many troops in a regiment, many regiments in a whole body of an army, requires the skill of an experienced general. (Hall.)

Prosperity a trial

Life is a time for the getting of character, and for the trial and perfecting of it. The world is a moral furnace, in which God searches and tests us. One man He tries by adversity, another by prosperity. And the latter is the severer of the two.

1. A prosperous man has little time to spare for religion. Every effort is needed to ensure the continued success of his worldly enterprises. Accordingly, his spiritual life droops and withers.

2. From want of cultivation his taste for spiritual things abates.

3. Pride is apt to increase.

4. Self-indulgence creeps in, and the lower appetites obtain mastery in the heart.

5. The result is a thoroughly worldly life-a life occupied wholly with transitory things, a life in which religion has no part. These are some of the chief dangers which appertain to a state of prosperity. Beware of them in time. They encroach very gradually; and before you are aware of it, you may be swallowed up. (A. Raleigh, D. D.)

Ill effects of prosperity

Generally speaking, the sunshine of too much worldly favour weakens and relaxes our spiritual nerves; as weather, too intensely hot, relaxes those of the body. A degree of seasonable opposition, like a fine dry frost, strengthens and invigorates and braces up. (A. M. Toplady.)

Prosperity causes men to forget God

Prosperity most usually makes us proud, insolent, forgetful of God, and of all duties we owe unto Him. It chokes and extinguishes, or at least cools and abates, the heat and vigour of all virtue in us. And as the ivy, whilst it embraces the oak, sucks the sap from the root, and in time makes it rot and perish; so worldly prosperity kills us with kindness whilst it sucks from us the sap of God’s graces, and so makes our spiritual growth and strength to decay and languish. Neither do men ever almost suffer an eclipse of their virtues and good parts, but when they are in the full of worldly prosperity. (Downame.)

Worldliness defined

It is the spirit of a life, not the objects with which the life is conversant. It is not the “flesh,” nor the “eye,” nor “life” which are forbidden, but the lust of these. It is not this earth nor the men who inhabit it, nor the sphere of our legitimate activity, that we may not love; but it is the way in which the love is given which constitutes worldliness. (F. W. Robertson.)

Worldliness is the spirit of childhood carried on into manhood

The child lives in the present hour; today to him is everything. The holiday promised at a distant interval is no holiday at all-it must be either now or never. Natural in the child, and therefore pardonable, this spirit when carried on into manhood is worldliness. (F. W. Robertson.)

The deceitfulness of riches: Heathen testimony to this

When Cyrus received intelligence that the Lydians had revolted from him, he told a friend, with much emotion, that he had almost determined to make them all slaves. His friend expostulated, begging him to pardon them. “But,” he added, “that they may no more rebel or be troublesome to you, command them to lay aside their arms, to wear long vests and buskins, that is, to vie with each other in the elegance and richness of their dress. Order them to drink, and sing, and play, and you will soon see their spirits broken, and themselves changed to the effeminacy of women, so that they will no more rebel, nor give you any further uneasiness.” The advice was followed, and the result proved how politic it was. While the advice is such as no good man could consistently follow, the incident shows the deteriorating influence of luxury in a very striking light.

The lusts of other things

The love of pleasure, of amusements, and sensual gratifications, and even the cultivation of refined tastes; all which have a tendency to engross the mind, and induce it quietly to take up with a world which yields it so much satisfaction. (M. F. Sadler.)

“Entering in:”

Very suggestive expression; teaching us that these cares of the world, and deceitfulness of riches, may not be present or sensibly felt when the Word first springs up in the heart; but, when opportunity offers, they may make their appearance, and grow far faster and more vigorously than the true religious life, and ultimately destroy it. (M. F. Sadler.)


Verse 20

Mark 4:8; Mark 4:20

And other fell on good ground, and did yield fruit that sprang up and increased.

The character of sincere hearers considered

1. That these hearers have honest and good hearts. The ground must be properly manured and prepared, before the seed can so mingle with it as to produce fruit. In like manner, the powers of the soul must be renewed by Divine grace, before the instructions of God’s Word can so incorporate with them as to become fruitful. Their understanding is illuminated, and a new bent is given to their will. So,

2. They hear the Word after a different manner, and to a very different purpose from what others do, and from what they themselves formerly did. They hear it with attention, candour, meekness, and simplicity; and then-to go on with our Saviour’s account of these hearers-they,

3. Understand the Word. This is not expressly said, as I remember, of either of the former characters. Their knowledge is, in short, experimental and practical.

4. They keep the Word. The seed once lodged in the heart remains there. It is not caught away by the wicked one, it is not destroyed by the scorching beams of persecution, nor is it choked by the thorns of worldly cares and pleasures. It is laid up in the understanding, memory, and affections; and guarded with attention and care, as the most invaluable treasure. And, indeed, how is it imaginable that the man who has received the truth in the love of it, has ventured his everlasting all on it, and has no other ground of hope whatever, should be willing to part with this good Word of the grace of God! sooner would he renounce his dearest temporal enjoyments, yea, even life itself. Again,

5. They bring forth fruit. The seed springs up, looks green, and promises a fair harvest. They profess the Christian name, and live answerable to it. Their external conduct is sober, useful, and honourable; and their temper is pious, benevolent, and holy. The fruit they bear is of the same nature with the seed whence it springs.

6. They bring forth fruit with patience. It is a considerable time before the seed disseminates, rises into the stalk and the ear, and ripens into fruit (James 5:7).

7. And lastly. They bring forth fruit in different degrees, “some thirty, some sixty, and some an hundred fold.” And now, in order to the fully discussing this argument, we shall-

I. Show the necessity of the heart’s being made honest and good, in order to men’s duly receiving the word and keeping it; this will clearly appear on a little reflection. I suppose it will scarce be denied that the will and affections have a considerable influence on the operations of the understanding and judgment. To a mind, therefore, under the tyranny of pride and pleasure, positions that are hostile to these passions will not easily gain admission. Their first appearance will create prejudice. And if that prejudice does not instantly preclude all consideration, it will yet throw insuperable obstructions in the way of impartial inquiry. If it does not absolutely put out the eye of reason, it will yet raise such dust before it as will effectually prevent its perceiving the object. What men do not care to believe, they will take pains to persuade themselves is not true. When once a new bias is given to the will and affections, and a man, from a proud, becomes a humble man, from a lover of this world, a lover of God, his prejudices against the gospel will instantly subside. The thick vapours exhaled from a sensual heart, which had obscured his understanding, will disperse; and the light of Divine truth shine in upon him with commanding evidence. He will receive the truth in the love of it. How important, then, is regeneration! This leads us-

II. To describe the kind of fruit which such persons will bear. It is good fruit-fruit of the same nature with the seed whence it grows, and the soil with which it is incorporated: of the same nature with the gospel itself which is received in faith, and with those holy principles which are infused by the blessed Spirit. Here let us dwell a little more particularly on the nature and tendency of the gospel. “God is in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them.” O how inflexible the justice, how venerable the holiness, and how boundless the goodness of God! And if this be the gospel, who can hesitate a moment upon the question respecting its natural and proper tendency? How can piety languish and die amidst this scene of wonders? How can the heart, occupied with these sentiments, remain unsusceptible to the feelings of justice, truth, humanity, and benevolence? How can a man believe himself to be that guilty, depraved, helpless wretch which this gospel supposes him to be, and not be humble? How can he behold the Creator of the world expiring in agonies on the cross, and follow Him thence a pale, breathless corpse to the tomb, and not feel a sovereign contempt for the pomps and vanities of this transitory state? But to bring the matter more fully home to the point before us, what kind of a man is the real Christian? Let us contemplate his character, and consider what is the general course of his life. Instructed in this Divine doctrine, and having his heart made honest and good, he will be a man of piety, integrity, and purity. “The grace of God, which bringeth salvation, will teach him to deny ungodliness, and worldly lusts, and to live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world” (Titus 2:11-12). As to piety. A due regard to the authority of the blessed God will have a commanding influence upon his temper and practice. As to social duties. His conduct will be governed by the rule his Divine Master has laid down, of doing to others as he would have them do to him. As to personal duties. He will use the comforts of life, which he enjoys as the fruits of Divine benevolence, with temperance and moderation. Such are the fruits which they bring forth, who hear the Word in the manner our Saviour describes, and who keep it in good and honest hearts (Ephesians 4:1; Philippians 1:27; Galatians 5:22-23). But it is not meant by this description of the Christian to raise him above the rank of humanity, or to give a colouring to the picture which it will not bear. He is still a man, not an angel. To fix the standard of real religion at a mark to which none can arrive, is to do an injury to religion itself, as well as to discourage the hearts of its best friends. But though perfection, in the strict sense of the term, is not to be admitted, yet the fruit which every real Christian bears is good fruit.

1. How gracious is that influence which the blessed God exerts, to make the heart honest and good, and so dispose it to receive the Word, and profit by it!

2. From the nature and tendency of the gospel, which has been just delineated, we derive a strong presumptive evidence of its truth.

3. Of what importance is it that we converse intimately with the gospel, in order to our bringing forth the fruits of holiness!

4. And lastly, How vain a thing is mere speculation in religion! We have discoursed on the two first heads, and proceed now-

III. To consider the great variety there is among Christians in regard of degrees of fruitfulness and the reasons of it. First, as to the fact that there are degrees of fruitfulness, a little observation will sufficiently prove it. Fruitfulness may be considered in regard both of the devout affections of the heart, and the external actions of the life; in each of which views it will admit of degrees. The variety is prodigious. What multitudes live harmless, sober, and regular lives. Their obedience is rather negative than positive. They bring no dishonour on their profession, nor yet are they very ornamental and exemplary. Others are strictly conscientious and circumspect in their walk, far removed from all appearance of gaiety and dissipation, and remarkably serious and constant in their attendance upon religious duties; but, for want of sweetness of temper, or of that sprightliness and freedom which a lively faith inspires, the fruit they bear is but slender, and of an unpleasant flavour. There are those, further, in whom seriousness and cheerfulness are happily united, and whose conduct is amiable in the view of all around them; but then, moving in a narrow sphere, and possessing no great zeal or resolution, their lives are distinguished by few remarkable exertions for the glory of God, and the good of others. And again, there are a number whose bosoms, glowing with flaming zeal and ardent love, are rich in good works, never weary in well-doing, and full of the fruits of righteousness, to the praise and the glory of God. In the garden of God there are trees of different growth. Some newly planted, of slender stature and feeble make, which yet bring forth good, though but little, fruit. And here and there you see one that out-tops all the rest, whose roots spread far and wide, and whose boughs are laden in autumn with rich and large fruit. Such variety is there among Christians. And variety there is; too, in the different species of good works. Some are eminent in this virtue, and some in that; while perhaps a few abound in every good word and work. Whoever consults the history of religion in the Bible will see all that has been said exemplified in the characters and lives of a long scroll of pious men. Not to speak here of the particular excellences that distinguished these men of God from each other, it is enough to observe that some vastly outshone others. The proportions of a hundred, sixty, and thirty fold might be applied to patriarchs, prophets, judges, kings, apostles, and the Christians of the primitive church. Between, for instance, an Abraham that offered up his only son, and a righteous Lot, that lingered at the call of an angel. Secondly, inquire into the grounds and reasons of this disparity among Christians respecting the fruits of holiness. These are of very different consideration. Many of them will be found to have no connection at all with the inward temper of the mind; a reflection, therefore, upon them will give energy to what has been said in regard of the charity we ought to exercise in judging of others. Let us begin, then-

1. With men’s worldly circumstances. The affluent Christian you will see pouring his bounty on all around him. But the poor Christian can render few, if any, of these services to his fellow creatures.

2. Opportunity is another ground of distinction among Christians in regard of fruitfulness. By opportunity I mean occasions of usefulness, which arise under the particular and immediate direction of Divine Providence. A Daniel shall have such easy access to the presence of a mighty tyrant as shall enable him to whisper the most beneficial counsels in his ear; and an apostle, by being brought in chains before a no less powerful prince, shall have an opportunity of defending the cause of his Divine Master in the most essential manner.

3. Mental abilities have a considerable influence in this matter. What shining talents do some good men possess! They have extensive learning, great knowledge of mankind, much sagacity and penetration, singular fortitude, a happy manner of address, flowing language, and a remarkable sweetness of temper.

4. The different means of religion that good men enjoy are another occasion of their different degrees of fruitfulness.

5. That the comparative different state of religion in one Christian and another is the more immediate and direct cause of their different fruitfulness. But this plain general truth we may affirm, leaving everyone to apply it to himself, that, in proportion as religion is on the advance or decline in a man’s heart, so will his external conduct be more or less exemplary.

6. And lastly, the greater or less effusion of Divine influences.

IV. The blessedness of those who, hearing the word, and keeping it in honest and good hearts, bring forth the fruits of holiness.

1. As to the pleasure that accompanies ingenuous obedience. “Great peace have they,” says David, “who love Thy law, and nothing shall offend them” (Psalms 119:165).

2. Fruitfulness affords a noble proof of a man’s uprightness, and so tends indirectly, as well as directly, to promote his happiness.

3. The esteem, too, in which he is held among his fellow Christians must contribute not a little to his comfort.

4. How glorious will be the rewards which the fruitful Christian will receive at the hands of the Great Husbandman on the day of harvest! That day is approaching. “Mark the perfect man; behold the upright; for the end of that man is peace.” Going down to death like a shock of corn fully ripe, the precious grain shall lie secure in the bosom of the earth; angels shall keep their vigils about it: while the immortal spirit, acquiring its highest degree of perfection, shall join the company of the blessed above. (S. Stennett, D. D.)

“Some thirty fold”

Everyone has observed the difference between those who may be called good Christians, in the matter of their good works-how some seem to produce twice or thrice the fruit that others do. Some are, compared with others, three times more careful in all the trilling matters which make up so much of life; three times more self-denying, three times more liberal, three times more humble, subdued, and thankful. Does not the Lord recognize this difference in the parable of the pounds-when the nobleman, in leaving, gives a pound to each of his servants; and one servant makes it ten pounds, and another five; and he commends both, but gives to the more industrious worker twice the reward? (M. F. Sadler.)

Patience

Patience is power. With time and patience the mulberry leaf becomes satin. (Eastern Proverb.)

Never think that God’s delays are God’s denials. Hold on; hold fast; hold out: Patience is genius. (Buffon.)

Meditation

Meditation is partly a passive, partly an active state. Whoever has pondered long over a plan which he is anxious to accomplish, without distinctly seeing at first the way, knows what meditation is. The subject itself presents itself in leisure moments spontaneously: but then all this sets the mind at work-contriving, imagining, rejecting, modifying. It is in this way that one of the greatest of English engineers, a man uncouth and unaccustomed to regular discipline of mind, is said to have accomplished his most marvellous triumphs. He threw bridges over almost impracticable torrents, and pierced the eternal mountains for his viaducts. Sometimes a difficulty brought all the work to a pause; then he would shut himself up in his room, eat nothing, speak to no one, abandon himself intensely to the contemplation of that on which his heart was set; and at the end of two or three days, would come forth serene and calm, walk to the spot, and quietly give orders which seemed the result of superhuman intuition. This was meditation. (F. W. Robertson.)

The numerical relations of good and evil

In the parable of the four sorts of ground whereon the seed was sown, the last alone proved fruitful. There the bad were more than the good. But amongst the servants, two improved their talents, or pounds, and one only buried them. Here the good were more than the bad. Again, amongst the ten virgins, five were wise and five were foolish. There the good and bad were equal. I see, that concerning the number of the saints in comparison to the reprobates, no certainty can be collected from these parables. Good reason, for it is not their principal purpose to meddle with that point. Grant that I may never rack a Scripture simile beyond the true intent thereof. (Thomas Fuller.)

Favourable moral conditions

A great deal of fire falleth upon a stone and it burneth not, but a dry chip soon taketh fire. (T. Maclaren.)


Verse 21

Mark 4:21

Is a candle brought to be put under a bushel, or under a bed?

The extension of the kingdom

The kingdom, as it appeared in its beginning, is like the little grains of wheat cast into the damp soil in the chilly days of spring. To the mature Christian of today it is like the city which John saw, filling all his vision, let down out of heaven from God, glowing with strange opaline light, so that neither sun nor moon were longer needed, with jasper walls and pavements of transparent gold, and great gates, each a single pearl, and at each gate a glorious angel. This parable teaches us that one of the agencies bringing about this result is man’s work in the kingdom.

1. To make known its character and the conditions of entrance into it. Even the smallest taper is lighted in order that it may give light. The youngest disciple is to shine for the guidance of others. The rays of one little lamp, piercing through miles of gloom, have saved noble ships from destruction, with all their precious living freight. It may have been only such a lamp as lights one little room; but it was surrounded by powerful reflectors, which sent its rays afar, and multiplied its influence a hundredfold.

2. To give his mind and heart to increase his knowledge and experience of the truth by which the kingdom grows. The lighted lamp must have oil to feed upon. We cannot be making known the character of the kingdom unless our knowledge of it is growing. Alas for him before whose eyes the vision of the heavenly city, once seen, is allowed to fade and disappear! On the other hand, the more brightly we shine, the more eagerly we seek and the more fully we receive that which keeps the light burning. The more generously we give to others what we know of the gospel, the more clearly it will be revealed to us. (A. E. Dunning.)

The Word not to be hidden

This reproves those who hide their knowledge of the Word, and keep it to themselves only, shutting up this light within their own breast, as it were, as in a close and private place, that it cannot be seen of others, and so as others have no benefit by it. They do not shine to others by the light of that knowledge which is in them; they show forth no fruits of it in a holy conversation; neither are they careful to communicate their knowledge to others by instruction of them in the ways of God. What is this but hiding the candle under a bushel, or setting it under a bed, when it should be set upon a candlestick, that the light of it might be plainly seen by those in the house? Let such consider how great a sin it is to hide the spiritual gifts bestowed on us by God, and not to employ them well to the glory of God and the good of our brethren. If thou hast never so much knowledge in the Word, and yet dost hide it only in thine own breast, and in thine own head, and dost not shine to others by the light of it, then thy knowledge is no sanctified and saving knowledge; for if it were, it could not thus lie hid and buried in thee, but it would manifest itself toward others for their good: it would not only enlighten thy mind, but also thy whole outward life and conversation, causing thee to shine as a light or candle unto others. (G. Petter.)

Sharing our light

It might seem a superfluous thing to urge the communication of gospel hopes and comforts, but there is none more needed. For one person who puts the candle on a candlestick, there are twenty that put it under a bushel-a dull wooden measure that keeps in all the light. There are many sorts of bushels.

1. One very bad one, and much employed to cover the light, is modesty (falsely so called). Modesty pretends to be not good enough or wise enough to speak, and turns the soul into a dark lantern.

2. Selfishness is another bushel for the light; forbidding men to take the trouble to shed it.

3. Indolence.

4. Fearfulness.

5. Despair of people heeding.

6. A narrow doctrine of salvation.

7. Sometimes a little scientific knowledge, creating conceit, makes a bushel; men being so anxious to mix the earthly with the heavenly light that the grave, sweet light of godly knowledge cannot get though the mistiness of the earthly mixture. (R. Glover.)


Verses 21-25

Verse 22

Mark 4:22

For there is nothing hid, which shall not be manifested.

Immediate revelation not always desirable

Here our Lord is justifying the parabolic form of teaching, which often serves to veil the truth, on the ground that immediate revelation is not always desirable. Many things are concealed, both in nature and by art, though the concealment is by no means designed to be permanent. What striking illustrations of this principle are furnished in geology! Look at the almost measureless beds of coal, hidden for ages in the bowels of the earth, but designed by Providence to be revealed when necessity should arise. The precise time for the unveiling it is not always easy to decide, because man’s knowledge is finite, but we rest assured that it will coincide with the need for its use. It is a principle worth bearing in mind when human efforts fail; for it is encouraging to know that such a result may be due simply to the fact that we have tried unconsciously to anticipate the fore-appointed time. (H. M. Luckock, D. D.)

Things brought to light sooner or later

The doctrine of Jesus Christ has nothing in it which fears the light; it is itself the light which must enlighten the world. Everything is brought to light sooner or later. The humble person conceals his virtue in this life, but God will disclose it at the day of eternity. The hypocrite hides his wickedness here, but he shall suffer an eternal confusion for it in the sight of heaven and earth. (Quesnel.)

Secret sin comes out at the judgment

One day Thomas Edwards, the Scottish naturalist, went out on one of his expeditions to search for insects. He had on, as usual on such occasions, an old coat with many pockets, and each pocket held a goodly store of chip boxes wherein to place the various specimens of the insect tribe which he might find. He had a most successful day; met with many curious and rare insects, all of which he duly deposited each in its own little box, And now he was returning home laden with the spoils, every box and every pocket full, when suddenly he was overtaken by a tremendous storm. The thunder roared, the lightning blazed around him, the rain came down in torrents, like water from a bucket, and he was soon drenched and wet to the skin. Espying a farmhouse at a short distance, he made for it, and begged leave to shelter himself from the storm. To this the gudewife readily assented, made up a blazing fire, threw on a log, and told him to draw near and dry himself, whilst she went on with her household duties. Accordingly he did so, and soon his benumbed limbs began to feel the pleasant warmth of the fire. Presently the housewife returned, uttered a loud cry of horror and disgust, caught up a broomstick, and, deaf to all entreaties, drove him forth again into the pitiless storm. He now looked at himself, and soon perceived the cause of this strange treatment, for he was covered from head to foot with his beloved insects, so abhorred by others. The soaking rain had loosed and destroyed the boxes, and set their inhabitants at liberty, and they remained unseen in his pockets till the warmth of the fire brought them out. So will it be in the day of judgment: men’s darling sins will come forth to light, and cover the sinner with horror and confusion as with a cloak. The fire of that day will bring them forth, and then the sinner will be driven out by the Judge into the fierce tempest of God’s wrath.


Verse 23-24

Mark 4:23-24

Take heed what ye hear.

Instruction from the Lord to hearers

In these days we have many instructions as to preaching; but our Lord principally gave directions as to hearing. The art of attention is quite as difficult as that of homiletics. The text may be viewed as a note of discrimination. Hear the truth, and the truth only. Be not indifferent as to your spiritual meat, but use discernment, We shall use it as a note of arousing. When you do hear the truth, give it such attention as it deserves. Give good heed to it.

I. Hear is a precept: “Take heed what ye hear.”

1. Hear with discrimination, shunning false doctrine (John 10:5).

2. Hear with attention; really and earnestly hearing (Matthew 13:23).

3. Hear for yourself, with personal application (1 Samuel 3:9).

4. Hear retentively, endeavouring to remember the truth.

5. Hear desiringly, praying that the Word may be blessed to you.

6. Hear practically, obeying the exhortation which has come to you.

Note-this hearing is to be given, not to a favourite set of doctrines, but to the whole of the Word of God (Psalms 119:128).

II. Here is a proverb: “with what measure,” etc. In proportion as you give yourself to hearing, you shall gain by hearing.

1. Those who have no interest in the Word find it uninteresting.

2. Those who desire to find fault, find faults enough.

3. Those who seek solid truth, learn it from any faithful ministry.

4. Those who hunger find food.

5. Those who bring faith, receive assurance.

6. Those who come joyfully are made glad.

But no man finds blessing by hearing error; nor by careless, forgetful, cavilling hearing of the truth.

III. Here is a promise: “Unto you that hear,” etc. You that hear shall have-

1. More desire to hear.

2. More understanding of what ye hear.

3. More convincement of its truth.

4. More personal possession of the blessings of which you hear.

5. More delight in hearing.

6. More practical benefit from it. God gives more to those who value what they have. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

The gospel demands and deserves attention

I. Here is implied the authority of the speaker.

1. He had all the authority which is derived from knowledge. Religion was the subject He came to teach. He knew the whole perfectly.

2. He had the authority which is derived from unimpeachable rectitude.

3. He had the authority flowing from “miracles, as wonders and signs.”

4. Consider His incalculable dominion. There is no place where His voice does not reach.

5. Consider the dignity of His character-“Where the word of a king is there is power.”

6. And does He not stand in relations the most intimate and affecting? Shall such an authority be despised?

II. The importance of the subject. Jesus Christ is not afraid to awaken attention; He knows that He can more than repay it. His instructions are important. But in order to this, they must be true. How pleasing is truth. Whether we consider the gospel with regard to man in his individual or social existence, it demands attention.

III. It is an appeal to impartial consideration. The demand supposes the subject to be accessible. In heathenism there were many mysteries from a knowledge of which the common people were excluded. Error needs disguise. Trash glories in exposure. Be sure that it is the gospel you are conveying, and not any corruptions which have blended with it. Nothing is more adverse to this demand than dissipation. Attention is necessary. But it is of little use to apply a mind already biassed. Impatience disqualifies us from religious investigation. So does pride. Examine the character given by the sacred writers of God.

IV. He demands a practical improvement of his word.

1. The danger of delusion.

2. The precarious tenure of the privileges.

3. The happiness of those who receive the gospel in power.

4. These means unimproved will be found injurious. (W. Jay.)

Light by hearing

The increase of spiritual knowledge is dependent upon the temper in which we approach the study of Christian truth. According to the measure of our faithfulness and diligence as hearers and students we shall receive illumination.

1. There must be intellectual preparedness. This is often wanting in those who listen to the teachings of Christianity.

2. There must be moral preparedness. Men fail to receive truth because of the impurity of their hearts. (W. L. Watkinson.)

A worldly spirit hinders the saving power of the gospel

Preachers are often blamed because their discourse fails to impress, but the great Preacher Himself failed to impress secularized minds! A lay preacher, some short time ago, dreamed a dream, which was much more than a dream. He fancied himself in the pulpit before a large congregation, and, opening the Bible to give out his text, found, to his dismay, that it was not the Bible, but his ledger, that he had brought with him in mistake; in confusion, he looked round, and seized what seemed the genuine book, but it was his stock book; once more he found another book on the desk, but on opening it, to his horror, found it was his cash book, and awoke to find it was not altogether a dream. Is it not often true that we cannot get at the gospel, and its saving truths, because of worldly thoughts and sympathies? The Hebrews are rebuked because they “were dull of hearing;” and the apostle indicates that they had become worldly in heart and practice, and so were the less able to comprehend and receive the highest truth. (W. L. Watkinson.)

A spirit susceptible to saving truth

The grace and light of God come where there is a preparedness for them. In nature the dew only distils where it is useful-the stones are dry, the plants are wet; and so He, “who is as the dew unto Israel,” grants His truth and love to susceptible minds and hearts-to those only which are ripe to profit. (W. L. Watkinson.)

The pure heart the hearing heart

There is an old church in Germany with which a singular legend is connected. In this church, at certain times, a mighty treasure is said to become visible to mortal eyes. Gold and silver vessels, of great magnificence and in great abundance, are disclosed; but only he who is free from sin can hope to secure the precious vessels. This legend shadows a great truth. In the temple of God, in the Word of God, are riches beyond gem or gold; but only the sincere, the pure in purpose, can hope to realize the Divine treasure. There must be in the truth seeker a moral susceptibility and passion for the light. Someone has said that when he goes to church he “lies back and thinks of nothing,” and this saying has been eulogized as representing the true attitude of a hearer. It is not the true attitude. He who lies back and thinks of nothing would most probably go to sleep if Jesus Christ were in the pulpit. John 7:16-17, teaches us that he who is willing, desirous, anxious to do God’s will, shall know the doctrine that is Divine. Whosoever “willeth to do the will of God, shall know the doctrine that it is of God.” The bent of the will, the purity of the purpose, are the conditions of illumination. To the determined lover of sin, to the indifferent, the truth is hidden from their eyes.

Feel the vast obligation of hearing

It is a serious thing to preach. Robertson said that “he would rather lead a forlorn hope than mount the pulpit stairs.” Is it not a solemn thing to hear? Is not the pew as terrible as the pulpit? The scientist tells us that no substance can be subjected to the sun’s rays without undergoing an entire chemical change; and it is equally true that no heart can be subjected to the action of the truth without undergoing a profound moral change. It is, indeed, the “savour of life unto life, or of death unto death.”

Take heed what ye hear

Listen for the voice of God. In many places we are chiefly interested in the form and expression of things, the subject is quite secondary. If we listen to a great orator, the subject is comparatively immaterial; the voice, the elocution, the rhetoric, the presentment of the subject is everything. So, in music, we are chiefly occupied with the style, composition, execution, giving hardly a thought to the theme. So, in painting, it is the drawing, colouring, grouping which monopolize attention. The aesthetical form, sound, colour, engage attention in the music hall or chamber of arts. But not thus should it be in the temple. There the subject is everything, modes of presentment little indeed. Ceremonies, preachers, buildings, stay not with these; listen for the undertone of God, and however dull your senses, however dull the preacher, you shall hear that still small whisper which is the light and life of all who hear it.

Take heed how ye hear

Upon the how depends the what. Listen for God’s voice in Christ; listen with meekness, with sincerity of purpose, with practical designs to do as you gain in knowledge, and you shall hear the voice which is full alike of majesty and mercy. Light shall enter into your soul; that light shall ever brighten, until all the darkness is gone, and we find ourselves in that land of which God Himself is sun and moon. (W. L. Watkinson.)

Light by obeying

the increase of our spiritual light is dependent upon the measure of our practical faithfulness. If we consider the world about us, we discover the importance of action as a source of knowledge. Men do not expect a fulness of light before they proceed to action; but, with a little knowledge, they apply themselves to action, and with action light increases and problems are solved. And it is this testing and developing ideas by action which distinguishes between the grand benefactors of our race, and the mere dreamers of dreams of progress. Such men as Arkwright, Watt, Stephenson, applied their knowledge; ever verified, corrected, developed it by actual experiment and use, and so became light centres to their own and after generations. Action kept pace with speculation in these great discoverers, and so they pushed out the borders of science, and enriched society with a thousand blessings; whilst men of large speculation and little or no action pass away, their splendid dreamings being as barren as splendid. The world of knowledge has become wider, clearer, richer beyond all precedent, in these modern times, because men have learned that knowledge must be applied if it is to be increased. And this is the order in the moral universe. The Scriptures associate knowledge with action (Colossians 1:9-10; Psalms 34:8; Proverbs 1:7; John 7:17). The examples of Scripture are to the same effect. Men acted on the little light they had and received more (Acts 18:24-28). Observe:

1. It is only through obedience that we get knowledge. It is only in obedience that light passes into knowledge; otherwise our light is opinion, imagination, speculation, sentiment. In action-perception, contemplation, speculation-become that real, solid, influential treasure we call knowledge. Anyone can easily realize the truth of this who passes from the circle of speculative and controversial writers to listen to the confessions of the members of the Christian Church. In the merely literary world what universal uncertainty! Philosophers and speculative theologians are as men “who beat the air.” It is cloudland, and any breath of wind changes the entire aspect of the misty imagery; there is no fixity, no solidity, no assurance. Listen to the sincere, earnest, practical members of the Church, and they speak that which “they do know.” There is a definitiveness, depth, certainty, and power in their convictions. “I know that my Redeemer liveth,” etc. “I know in whom I have believed, and am persuaded,” etc. “One thing I know, that whereas I was blind, now I see.” “We know that if this earthly house of our tabernacle were dissolved,” etc. This depth, and fulness, and blessedness of persuasion can only be realized through obedience. Do, and you shall know.

2. It is only through obedience that we retain knowledge. Not to act out what we know is to lose it, as men forget a language they cease to speak. The Apostle recognizes this: “Of whom we have many things to say, and hard to be uttered (to be comprehended), seeing ye are (have become) dull of hearing.” They were deficient in quickness of spiritual apprehension, and lost their hold upon high spiritual truth, and this was the result of their backsliding life. We hold the light on the condition of using it; and neglecting to use it, the “light within us becomes darkness,” and of all darkness that darkness is the most intense and hopeless.

3. It is only through obedience that we increase spiritual knowledge. The dawn of truth will pass to the noon, only whilst we do the work God gives us to do. Do you wish to comprehend more clearly the love of God in dying for men? You will not gain the light you covet by merely studying the various theories of the Atonement. Believe in God’s love as declared in the cross; imitate the principle in your own life, and you “shall comprehend with all saints the length, and breadth, and depth, and height, and know the love of God which passeth knowledge.” Do you wish for more light on the question of the Divine element in the Scriptures? Commune with their doctrines in your heart, act out their precepts, and you shall find what you seek better than by reading a thousand philosophical treatises on inspiration. Do you wish to understand more fully the essential nature of morality? Be moral. Be truthful, honest, just, pure, and your practical goodness will shed most light on the true theory of virtue. (W. L. Watkinson.)

Light by Evangelizing

Some of the old philosophers taught that from the earth continually ascended invisible exhalations, and these vapours, they affirmed, fed the sun and stars, and kept them ever bright and burning. According to this theory, what the earth gave to the sky, the sky gave back again to the earth in light and beauty. Wrong in science, but a beautiful parable of the law of life-what we give to the world around us comes back to our own bosom again in sevenfold brightness and preciousness. To this law Christ refers in the text: “Give, and it shall be given unto you again.” According to your bounty in communicating light shall be the measure of light shed on your own path. Teach, instruct, give forth illumination, and as you do so your own brain shall be the clearer, your own knowledge the more full and certain. Light comes through evangelistic work. Evangelistic work is necessary-

I. To the preservation of the truth. If we do not communicate the light we lose it. If we seek to keep the truth to ourselves we lose our perception of it, our hold upon it-our candle goes out in the confined air. Thus Moses to Israel: “Only take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently, lest thou forget the things which thine eyes have seen, and lest they depart from thy heart all the days of thy life; but teach them thy sons, and thy son’s sons” (Deuteronomy 4:9). If you are not to forget-if you are not to lose the truth-you must teach it. Truth unspoken “spoils, like bales unopened to the sun.” To seek light in intellectual pursuits to the neglect of evangelistic work is to commit a vital error. The Church needs thinkers and scholars, but it needs, with a more imperative necessity, preachers, teachers, visitors, missionaries, otherwise the intellectualists would soon ruin it. A merely speculative, literary, philosophizing Church would soon lose the truth as it is in Jesus, and substitute the unsubstantial and fantastic shapes of dreamland. If a Church thinks and works, it shall be well with it; its actions shall correct and chasten its thinking, and thus it shall be saved from rationalism on the one side, and mysticism on the other. Unduly exalt intellectual work, and the Church is forthwith afflicted with all kinds of theological vagaries; give the first and largest place to the practical work of saving the souls of men in the field of the world, and the pure gospel shall be conserved, a light and a salvation. We only keep the light whilst we spread it, and this is true alike of Churches and of individuals. Evangelistic work is necessary-

II. To the realization of the truth. In active service the truth is defined and realized. Earnestly striving to save the souls of men, the haziness of mere opinion passes into well-defined and strongly-held knowledge and conviction. Some scientific men say that the sun is a dark body, and that it is only when its dark radiations touch our atmosphere that it realizes itself-only then that it flashes out a globe of glory, only then that its beams become luminous and vital. So it is when the thinker leaves his solitude and speculation, and comes into contact with society, seeking to profit and bless, that his knowledge realizes itself, that it becomes defined, and bright, and vital. A working Church knows, as no merely literary Church can know. A working Christian knows as no mere idealist can know. The “full assurance” for which we cry, comes through the constant application of gospel truth to the world’s wants and woes, through constantly beholding the practical triumphs of the gospel in the hearts, lives, and homes of the people. Livingstone having recorded in his diary how vividly and powerfully he had recognized some commonplace truth, the editor of his “Last Journals” justly observes: “Men, in the midst of their hard earnest toil, perceive great truths with a sharpness of outline and a depth of conviction which is denied to the mere idle theorist.” Evangelistic work is necessary-

III. To the development of the truth. Working for God in the salvation of men, we shall see the truth more clearly, and further discoveries of it shall be granted. Luther, speaking of the truth, declared that he would not “have the eagle put in a sack.” And ever since he gave freedom to the truth, and insisted on its being freely and fully enforced the world over, the “Eagle” has spread a more majestic wing, its golden feathers have shone with a rarer glory, and its eye has kindled into a sublimer fire. The truth spoken, enforced, has grown. More light has shone from God’s holy Word. If we wish to know more we must teach more, work more. The men who gave us the Epistles were not students, but workers and preachers, and light came from their work as the wheel kindles as it turns. Our missionaries teach the same lesson. What light they have poured on many great and obscure questions! The missionaries diffusing the light, working to compass the salvation of men, have poured far more light on a score dark problems than they could possibly have done had they remained to ponder in studies and cloisters. Teaching the pagan, we have in turn been taught. The light we communicated to them comes back to us as from a polished reflector. “We are debtors both to the wise and the unwise, to the Greek and to the barbarian.” There are abounding proofs that love to others, leading us to instruct and serve them, is a precious but much neglected source of illumination. A heart full of pure and practical charity is the east window in the temple of human life, whilst dim and uncertain is the light which filters through a cold and selfish brain. You will not find truth through thinking for thinking’s sake; nay, you will not find truth through seeking for it directly. Truth, like happiness, is “found of them that seek it not” directly and selfishly, but who find it, when scarcely thinking of it, in the paths of charity and duty. Stirred by a glorious discontent we seek to know more, and ever more. Plants turn toward the light, and stretch their branches to reach it; the migration of birds, naturalists tell us, is the result of an intense longing for the light. And so the same instinct, in its highest manifestation, works in man, and he yearns towards the “Day spring.” Hear, with a true heart; do, with a sincere and loyal heart; give, with a loving heart as you have freely received; and the “light of the moon shall be as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun shall be seven fold, as the light of seven days.” (W. L. Watkinson.)

Hearing but not heeding

What care I to see a man run after a sermon, if he cozens and cheats as soon as he comes home? (John Selden.)

Heart-memory needed

A heart memory is better than a head memory. It were better to carry away a little of the life of God in our souls, than if we were able to repeat every word of every sermon we ever heard. (De Sales.)

Attention given more to worldly than spiritual things

Alas, the place of hearing is the place of sleeping with many a fine professor! I have often observed that those who keep shops can briskly attend upon a two penny customer, but when they come themselves to God’s market, they spend their time too much in letting their thoughts wander from God’s commandments, or in a nasty, drowsy way. The head, also, and heart of most hearers are to the Word as the sieve is to water; they can hold no sermons, remember no texts, bring home no proof, produce none of the sermon to the edification and profit of others. (John Bunyan.)

Eclectic hearers

Some can be content to hear all pleasant things, as the promises and mercies of God, but judgments and reproofs, threats and checks, these they cannot brook; like unto those who, in medicine, care only for a pleasant smell or appearance in the remedy, as pills rolled in gold, but have no regard for the efficacy of the physic. Some can willingly hear that which concerns other men and their sins, their lives and manners, but nothing touching themselves or their own sins; as men can willingly abide to hear of other men’s deaths, but cannot abide to think of their own. (R. Stock.)

Whom to hear

Ebenezer Blackwell was a rich hanker, a zealous Methodist, and a great friend of the Wesleys. “Are you going to hear Mr. Wesley preach?” he was asked one day. “No,” he replied, “I am going to hear God; I listen to Him, whoever preaches; otherwise I lose all my labour.”

Take heed what ye hear

I. Faith cometh by hearing. This means-

1. Faith comes from knowledge, i.e., there can be no faith without knowledge. “How shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard?”

2. It means that the living preacher, as opposed to mere instruction out of books, is the great means of producing faith. This does not mean

3. It means that the instruction by the ear, as coming from a living preacher, is the ordinary method of salvation. Proof from Scripture and experience.

II. Why is hearing or the living preacher necessary? Why may not books and Bibles answer for the conversion of men?

1. The sufficient answer to the question is the Divine appointment.

2. Because from the constitution of our nature, what is addressed to the ear has more power in arousing attention, in producing conviction, and exciting feeling, than what is addressed to the eye.

3. There is a law of propagation of Divine life analogous to the propagation of vegetable and animal life. So in the Church it is the general law that the spiritual life is communicated through and by living members of the Church.

III. Two inferences flow from this truth.

1. That we should hear for ourselves, and cause others to hear, the gospel, not being content in either case with books, to the neglect of the living teacher.

2. That we should be careful what we hear and how we hear.


Verse 25

Mark 4:25

For he that hath, to him shall be given.

The law of increase

The good use of knowledge and grace draws down more: the ill use leads to blindness and hardness of heart. The one is an effect of grace itself; the other, an effect of a depraved will. A faithful soul has a great treasure. The riches which it heaps up have scarce any bounds, because it puts none to its fidelity. A base and slothful soul grows poorer every day, until it is stripped of all. Who can tell the prodigious stock which is acquired by an evangelical labourer, a zealous missionary, who crosses the seas on purpose to seek souls whom he may convert, and is intent on nothing but the salvation of sinners! The greater his grace is, the more it increases by labour. O how happy and holy is this usury of a faithful soul! (Quesnel.)

“Having” helps the “getting”

Having one language helps the gaining of another. Having mathematics helps the getting of science. Capital tends to gather more wealth. “Nothing succeeds like success.” One victory leads the way to another. The knowledge of one truth ever opens the mind for perception of another. Grace to do one good act opens the heart to admit grace to do another. If but a beginning is made, it is an immense assistance to attainment. If converted, do not undervalue the infinite importance of the beginning thus made. But remember, at the same time, that none can keep grace except on the condition that he employs it. Whatever knowledge of truth, whatever feeling, whatever power of obedience you possess, you will lose unless you employ it. (R. Glover.)

The duty of faithfully hearing the Word of God

What ye hear heed. Not without purpose our Lord spoke of hearing. All success on the part of the teacher depends upon attention on the part of the hearer. Though Noah, Moses, Paul, or even Jesus speak, no benefit to careless hearer. Whoso has a great truth to impart has a right to claim a hearing-how much more He who is the Truth. Consider-

I. The especial evils against which men must guard in hearing the Word are three:-

1. Losing the Word before faith has made it fruitful (Luke 8:11). The peril is, it may be lost before it is fruitful. It may be taken out of the heart.

2. A merely temporary faith.

3. Fruitlessness of Word through cares, deceit of riches, lust of other things (Mark 4:18-19; Luke 8:14).

II. The reward of faithful hearing (Mark 4:20-25; Luke 8:15). The lot of the seed describes the lot of him who receives it. “Let him that hath”-as the fruit of his using-this his own increase; “shall more be given”-this the Lord’s increase (cf. parable of talents). Every attainment of truth a condition of meetness to gain other and deeper truth. So in all study and acquisition. Truth grows to its perfection in the “good” “honest.”

III. Condemnation of him who heareth not to profit. “Him that hath not”-hath nothing more than was first given to him. From him shall even that be taken. Anyone can “have” what is given; only the diligent have more.

1. The condemnation assumes the form of a removal of truth (Matthew 13:13-15). It is naturally forgotten by him who does not use his understanding upon it. Disregarded truth (and duty) becomes disliked truth.

2. In carelessness he puts it away from him. His measure is small; he metes it to himself. The eye not trained to see beauties and harmonies of form fails to see them: so the ear music, and the hand skilfulness.

3. To hear is a duty; to neglect duty brings God’s condemnation.

4. He who does not receive the kingdom of heaven is ipso facto in the kingdom of evil. Continued departures from truth and duty leave the man farther from God, truth, heaven.

5. All truth is in parables. History the parable of Providence. Ordinances the parables of grace. The attentive see not only the parable, but the “things” also; the inattentive see only the parable, not the things (John 10:6).

6. Even Christ and His work and His gospel may be mere parables, outward things. Men seeing see not, their hearts being gross, their ears dull of hearing, and their eyes closed.

We see-

1. The terrible and to be dreaded consequence of not heeding the Word: it becomes a parable, a dark saying, a riddle.

2. But the mercifulness of Him who would hide truth in a beautiful parable, to tempt if possible the careless to inquire, that they may be saved. (Studies.)

The law and the gospel

The tendency of gifts, powers, possessions to accumulate in some hands and dwindle in others is a common fact of observation. And it often appears, too, that when accumulation begins it goes on by a momentum of its own; that the farther it goes the faster it goes; and on the other hand that losses follow the same law; disaster breeds disaster, and misfortune multiplies by a geometrical law.

I. We see the workings of this law in the conditions of our physical lives. Health and vigour have a tendency to increase. The food we eat builds up the body; active exercise confirms its strength; the cold increases its power of endurance; the summer heat nourishes its vitality. Nature brings constant revenues to the healthy man; all things work together for his good. On the other hand disease and physical feebleness have a tendency to increase. The food that ought to nourish the system irritates and oppresses it; exertion brings to the body fatigue and enervation; cold benumbs it; heat debilitates it; nature seems to be the foe of feebleness; all things work together to prevent the recovery of health when once it is lost; often it is only by the greatest vigilance and patience that it can be regained.

II. The law that we are considering is fulfilled in the facts of the social order. The man who has station or influence or wealth or reputation finds the current flowing in his favour; the man who has none of these things soon learns that he must stem the current. Popularity always follows this law. It is often remarkable how small a saying will awaken the enthusiasm of the crowd when spoken by a man who is a recognized favourite: and how many great and wise utterances fail of producing any effect whatever when he who speaks them is comparatively unknown. It is almost impossible for one who has gained the reputation of being a wit to say anything at which his auditory will not laugh. His most sober and commonplace speeches will often be greeted as great witticisms. On the other hand the purest wit and the choicest humour, if it happen to fall from the lips of a plain, matter-of-fact individual, will often be received with funereal gravity by all who hear it. Men are apt to bestow their help as well as their applause most freely on those who need it least. Those who have gifts to bestow often give them to those who do not want them, passing by those who are suffering for the lack of them. “The destruction of the poor,” the wise man says, “is his poverty.” Because he is poor he cannot get the credit, the privilege, the favour that he could get if he were rich. The narrowness of his resources cramps him. The church that has the rich people is likely to attract the rich people; the weak churches are often left to their own destruction, while those that are strong financially are strengthened by constant accessions. What is this law that we are studying? It is nothing else than what some philosophers call the law of natural selection-the law of the survival of the fittest; that is, in most cases, the strongest. When a tree is cut down in the forest a number of sprouts frequently spring up from the stump, and these grow together for a while until they begin to crowd one another. There is not room for a dozen trees on the ground where one tree stood; there is only room for one. But it is generally the case that one of these shoots growing from the root of the old tree is a little larger than the rest, and this one gradually overshadows the rest, takes from the air and the light more nourishment than they can get-takes that which belongs to them, so that they dwindle and die beneath its shadow while its roots reach out for a firmer footing in the soil and its branches stretch forth with loftier pride and ampler shade. Nature selects the strongest shoot for preservation, and destroys the others that it may live. We know that man adopts this method of selection in all his agricultural operations; in the cornfield and in the fruit nursery it is the likeliest growths that are chosen and cultivated; the others are weeded out to make room for them. But some of you are asking, “Is this law of natural selection God’s law?” To this question there is but one answer. If the law of natural selection is the law of nature, then it is God’s law. This law of natural selection is a natural law, and not a moral law. We speak of it as a law in the sense in which we speak of the law of heredity, or the law of gravitation, or the law of supply and demand. This law is announced by Christ but it is not enjoined by Him. “This,” He says, “is the way things are: this is the course things uniformly take.” This law of natural selection is a law of nature, ordained by God. It is the law under which rewards and penalties are administered; it is a retributive law, for the sanctions of the moral law are found in the natural order. But some of you are protesting that this cannot be true. “How is it,” you ask, “that the natural law of the survival of the strongest tends to the rewarding of the good or the punishing of the bad? By this law it is the strong, rather than the good that are rewarded. It is to those that have, rather than to those that deserve, that abundance is given.” True; but this is only an illustration of the fact that a dispensation of law always works hardship. Law makes nothing perfect; it hurts some that need help and it helps some that do not deserve it. Law must be uniform and inflexible; it cannot adapt itself to differing conditions and abilities. Gravitation is a good law, but it kills thousands of innocent people every year. Yet it would not do to have it less uniform and inflexible than it is. The universe is built on the basis of universal righteousness and health: its laws are all adapted to that condition of things, and they ought to be. If all men were good and wise and strong, then this law would only tend to increase the virtue and the wisdom and the vigour of all men. It would be seen, then, that this is a good law. But sin has entered to enfeeble and deprave many, and the result is that the law which ought to be a savour of life unto life to them becomes a savour of death unto death. The same forces that ought to build them up tend to destroy them. So it often is that when the law enters offences abound, and hardships are suffered; under its severe and inflexible rule more is given to those who have abundance already, while those who have but little are stripped of what they have. Thus we see that the natural law, which is the instrument of retribution, inflicts suffering and loss not only upon the sinful, but upon the weak, the unfortunate, the helpless; upon those who have fallen behind in the race of life. That is the way the law works. But remember also that there is something better and diviner then law in the tidings that He has brought us. What the law could not do He came to do. It was for the deliverance and the relief of those who are being pushed to the wall by the operation of these retributive forces that He came. His life proves this. He did not fall into that social order that we have seen prevailing. He did not bestow His praise upon the famous, nor His friendship on the popular, nor His benefactions on the rich. His words of applause greeted the saints who in obscurity tried to live virtuously; He was the Friend of publicans and sinners; He was the constant helper of the poor. It was not to those who had abundance that He gave, but to those who had nothing. “They that be whole,” He says, “need not a physician, but they that are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” Nature is against them; their own natures are infirm and corrupt; their appetites entice them; their selfish desires mislead them; but He assures them that by faith in Him they may be made partakers of the Divine nature, and thus be reinforced and invigorated for conflict with the evil. And, mark you, in doing all this He does not destroy but fulfils the law. And what Christ does is to give the real good of life, the moral strength and soundness which are the source of all life’s real good, to those who have nothing-who are so reduced in moral vigour that they are practically destitute; to restore to them that which they have lost, so that they shall have; and then this law is a minister of good to them as God meant it to be to all. Here is a vine that has fallen from its trellis, and that is being choked by the weeds that have overgrown it, as it lies prostrate on the earth. The law of nature, the law of vegetable growth, is only operating to destroy it so long as it remains in this condition; for the sun and the showers nourish the weeds, and they overshadow the vine more and more, preventing its growth, and drawing away the strength from the soil. But the gardener lifts up the vine and fastens it to the trellis, and pulls up the weeds that are stealing its nutriment, and than the laws of nature promote the growth of the vine; the same laws under which its life was being destroyed now configure its life and increase its growth. Some such service as this Christ renders to all those who are morally weak and helpless; by the communication to them of His own life He lifts them out of their helplessness into a condition in which all things that were working together against them shall work together for their good. It will be well for us all to remember that if we are Christians, we are co-workers with Christ, and that our business, therefore, is not to add force to the law whose severities bear so heavily upon many of our fellow men, but to counteract the severities of the law by ministries of sympathy and tenderness and help. (W. Gladden.)

Addition easy

And it is always easier to get the addition than it was to get the unit. When the current is fairly turned in our direction, the stream keeps running. It has been said that it is harder for a man to get his first thousand dollars, than any subsequent thousand. The more wealth a man has, the easier it is for him to increase it. So of knowledge; so of influence; so of affection. So also of spiritual gifts.


Verse 26

Mark 4:26; Mark 4:29

So is the kingdom of God, as if a man should cast seed into the ground.

The religion of Christ

I. The religion of Christ is a reign. It is not a creed, or a sentiment, or a ritualism, but a regal force, a power that holds sway over intellect, heart, and will. As a reign it is-

1. Spiritual. Its throne is within.

2. Free.

3. Constant.

II. It is a Divine reign. This is proved by-

1. Its congruity with human nature. It accords with reason, conscience, and the profoundest cravings of the soul.

2. Its influence on human life. It makes men righteous, loving, peaceful, godlike.

III. It is a growing reign. It grows in the individual soul, and in the increase of its subjects.

1. This growth is silent. It does not advance as the reign of human monarchs, by noise and bluster, by social convulsion and bloody wars. It works in the mind and spreads through society, silent as the distilling dew or the morning beam.

2. Gradual.

3. Secret.

IV. Christ’s religion may be promoted by human agency. Whilst man cannot in nature create the crop, no crop would come without his agency; so Christ has left the extension of His religion to depend in some measure on man.

V. Human effort is founded on confidence in Divine laws. (D. Thomas, D. D.)

The kingdom in the heart

I. The first lesson taught us here is, that progress in personal religion is vital and not mechanical (Mark 4:26).

1. The “seed” contains in itself the germ of all the future growth. Hence, all expectation must actually begin and end with the grain which is sown. If the initial impartation of Divine grace in the truth through the Holy Ghost be not received, it will do no good whatsoever to watch and hope and encourage ourselves. (See John 6:65.)

2. The “ground” develops the germ. The human life and experience which the seed falls into has to be prepared, and, of course, needs to be cultivated; then God sends His celestial benediction of the sunshine and the showers. But the fruit “the earth bringeth forth of herself.” This union of human fidelity with Divine grace constitutes the cooperation with which the mysterious work goes on. We are to “add” to our attainments, “giving all diligence” (2 Peter 1:5). We are to “work out” our own salvation “with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12-13).

3. The “man” casts the seed. God gives it, and the germ of salvation is in what God gives. But a free-willed man must let it sink into his heart and life. There are “means of grace;” human beings must put themselves in the way of them. The first step in the new life is displayed in the willingness to take every other step. (See 2 Corinthians 3:18, in the New Revision.)

II. Our next lesson from the figure which Christ uses is this: progress in personal religion is constant and not spasmodic. (See verses 26, 27.)

1. Observe here that the growth of the seed is continued through the “night and day.” One little brilliant touch of imagination does great service in this picture. The man rests; he has done his duty. God, the unseen, is silently keeping His promise. And while we rejoice in the sweet helpful sunshine, and thank Him for it, we ought to thank Him too for these heavy moist nights of gloom, which surprise us often with their darkness, and then surprise us more afterwards with the extraordinary progress they have brought. (See Hebrews 12:11.)

2. Hence also we observe that even hindrances help sometimes. Those are the hardiest plants which have been oftenest shadowed; and those are the most stable trees which have been oftenest writhed and tossed by the blasts as they blustered around them.

3. So, above everything else, we observe that here we are taught the necessity of trust. No one thing in nature is more pathetically beautiful than the behaviour of certain sensitive plants we all are acquainted with, as the nightfall approaches. They tranquilly fold up their leaves, as if they were living beings, and now knew that from the evening to the morning again they would have to live just by faith in the Supreme Hand which made them. We must make up our minds that there can be never any healthy growth which undertakes to move forward by frantic leaps or spasms of progress. We must trust God; and He neither dwarfs nor forces. Hothouse shoots are proverbially feeble, and almost always it has been found that conservatory oranges are the bitterest sort of fruit.

III. Once more: let us learn from the figure which our Lord uses, that progress in personal religion is spiritual and not conspicuous. The seed grows, but the man “knows not how.”

1. The man cannot possibly “know how.” Our Saviour, in another place, gives the full reasons for that (Luke 17:20-21). When He declares “the kingdom of God cometh not with observation,” He adds at once His sufficient explanation; “for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.” We are unable to become in any case thoroughly acquainted with each other. We are often mistaken about ourselves. The most we can hope to understand is to be found in grand results, and not in the processes.

2. The man does not need to “know how.” He needs only to keep growing, and all will be right in the end. Christians are not called knowers, but “believers.” The old promise is that “the righteous shall flourish like the palm tree.” And the singularity of the palm tree is that it is an inside grower; it is always adding its woody layers underneath the bark, and enlarging itself from the centre out of sight. Botanically speaking, man is “endogenous.” Our best attainments, like Moses’ shining face, axe always gained unconsciously, and others see them first.

3. Many men make mistakes in trying to “know how.” The religious life of a genuine Christian cannot be dealt with from the outside without injury. It is harmed when we attempt to make it showy. You will kill the strongest trees if you seek to keep them varnished. All penances and pilgrimages, all mere rituals and rubrics, all legislations and reforms, are as powerless to save the soul as so many carvings and statues and cornices on the exterior of a house would be to give health to a sick man within. Time is wasted in efforts to help men savingly in any other way than by teaching them to “grow up in all things into Christ, which is the head” (Ephesians 4:14-16).

IV. Let us learn, in the fourth place, from the figure our Lord uses, that progress in personal religion is natural and not artistic. (See verse 28.)

1. Our Lord Himself was entirely unconventional.

2. Hence, a conventional religion cannot be Christian. For it is not possible that “a man in Christ” should be artistic. Fancy forms of devoteeism are simply grotesque.

3. The “beauty of holiness” will not stand much millinery of adornment. Naturalness is the first element of loveliness.

4. Meantime, let us remember that all Christ seems to desire of His followers is just themselves. Timothy was not set to find some extraordinary attainment, but to “stir up the gift” which was “in him.” Jesus praised the misjudged woman because she had “done what she could.”

V. Finally, we may learn from the figure which our Lord uses, that progress in personal religion is garnered at last, and not lost. (See Mark 4:29.)

1. The “fruit” is what is wanted. And the gains of the growth are all conserved in the fruit. Growth is for the sake of more fruit. Some might say, “The seed that we cast into the ground is quite lost.” No; the seed will be found inside of every fruit. Others might say, “The increase in size and strength is certainly all lost.” No; the increase is ten or a hundred fold inside of the fruit. There is a whole field-full of living germs in the matured fruit of each honest life for God.

2. The “harvest” fixes the final date of the ingathering. There does not appear to be anything like caprice in God’s plan. “He hath made everything beautiful in His time.” And in the harvest time, surely, the fields of ripened grain are loveliest.

3. For it is the ripeness of the fruit which announces the harvest. That must be the force here of the fine and welcome word “immediately.” When the believer is ready to go to his home, the Lord is ready to receive him. (C. S. Robinson.)

God’s work in the kingdom

I. In its beginnings. God permits us to cooperate with Him; but the great work is His. We learn the truth by prayer, and study, and obedience. We make it known. He gives its life. As the farmer can only sow the seed he has obtained, and must depend on the life within it, and the earth which brings forth fruit of herself, so we can only make known the truth we have received, and must trust entirely to God to make it effective.

II. In its growth God advances this new life according to its own laws. We need not be impatient, nor attempt to force unnatural growth, nor dig it up to see if it is growing. But we must make the utmost of our own powers to aid those that are beyond us. As it requires a whole man to make a successful farmer, so all the energies of character, study, and devotion are needed to make a successful sower of the seed of the kingdom.

III. In its perfection. There is a harvest time. God completes the work He has begun in each soul; but He has made us so interdependent that its completion calls for our watchful activity. We are not responsible for the laws of spiritual growth; but we are commanded to be at hand to watch the blade as it appears, to welcome the ear and the full fruit. (A. E. Dunning.)

Human agency likened to a growing plant

I. Man’s knowledge and power, in matter and in mind, are small, yet requisite.

II. Natural powers are made to do much for him, but secretly and slowly.

III. He has to wait in patience, and then to take possession. (J. H. Godwin.)

The growth of the spiritual life

I. Spiritual goodness is a growth. It springs and grows up. Cut the stone and carve it, so it remains; cut the tree, lop off its branches, and then it will sprout. Man can impart motion, and make automata, but he cannot give life. The test of real life is growth.

II. Spiritual goodness is an independent growth. Not a hot house plant. Needs no petting. Ministers need not torment themselves about the issue of the work: God gives the increase.

III. Spiritual goodness is a mysterious growth. The law of development is hidden, though real.

IV. Spiritual goodness is a constant growth. Our souls do not rest.

V. Spiritual goodness is a progressive growth. The blade is the mark of tenderness; the ear is the mark of full vigour; the full corn in the ear is the mark of maturity. (F. W. Robertson, M. A.)

The power of growth inherent in things divine

The husbandman has only two functions with regard to the seed-to sow it, and to reap. All the rest the seed can manage for itself. So in spiritual things, we need only take care that we sow good seed-seed of truth, seed of good example, seed of loving sympathy. We need not too curiously inquire as to the exact attitude of the hearts on which we scatter the seed, nor ask every hour as to the appreciation which the seed receives, nor use a microscope to measure its daily growth, nor keep piling on the simple seed undue efforts to secure its fruitfulness. (R. Glover.)

The seed growing mysteriously

Remarkable correspondence between history of Church and spiritual life of individual Christians. Consider in this connection:

I. The growth and fruitfulness of the Divine Word in the entire history of the Church.

1. The certain growth of the truth through this dispensation. Christianity is always spreading.

2. The orderly development of the truth. Providence continually brings into view long-hidden meanings and applications of the gospel.

3. The mystery of the gospel’s extension and development. Even the wisest are far from understanding the true reason and mode of its growth.

II. The growth and fruitfulness of the Divine Word in individual lives.

1. They who hear the gospel should consider the consequences of their conduct in relation to it. The honest reception of it is the beginning of a life of holy fruitfulness to the glory of God. The rejection involves a state worse than barrenness.

2. This parable should teach cheerful confidence to all who sow the good seed-ministers, teachers-all who speak a word for Christ. The result is beyond their power or knowledge, but it is sure.

3. It should produce joy in all Christian hearts by the prospect which it opens. The glorious issue of each Christian life. The blessed consummation of the world’s history. The final rejoicing of all who labour in the gospel. Above all, the harvest gladness of the Lord. (E. Heath.)

The kingdoms of grace and glory

These two kingdoms differ not specifically, but gradually; they differ not in nature, but only in degree. The kingdom of grace is nothing but the inchoation or beginning of the kingdom of glory; the kingdom of grace is glory in the seed, and the kingdom of glory is grace in the flower; the kingdom of grace is glory in the daybreak, and the kingdom of glory is grace in the full meridian; the kingdom of grace is glory militant, and the kingdom of glory is grace triumphant. There is such an inseparable connection between these two kingdoms, that there is no passing into the one but by the other. At Athens there were two temples-a temple of virtue and a temple of honour; and there was no going into the temple of honour but through the temple of virtue. So the kingdoms of grace and glory are so joined together, that we cannot go into the kingdom of glory but through the kingdom of grace. Many people aspire after the kingdom of glory, but never look after grace; but these two, which God hath joined together, may not be put asunder. The kingdom of grace leads to the kingdom of glory. (T. Watson.)

The seed in the heart

The ascendency and growth of true religion.

1. External agencies. We are not passive and powerless recipients of heavenly influences; we are required to use diligently all the appliances of the husbandman, leaving the rest to Him who disposes all things. The eye of God marks what becomes of each grain of seed: how one lies disregarded on the surface of the worldly heart, and another sinks no deeper than the first stratum of fitful impulse piety; how the young choke the seed with pleasures, the middle-aged destroy it with worldly ambitions, and the old stifle it with corroding cares; yet, dead as this seed may seem, it springeth up, ay, and will spring up in another world, if not in this, and bear its testimony against all who neglect or despise the message of God.

2. The invisible methods of its succeeding processes. There is no discovering of the subtle law, by which the preaching of the self-same Word becomes powerless here, and effectual there. An unperceived influence is brought to bear on a man’s heart, constraining but not compelling him, causing principles and desires and feelings to spring up “he knows not how.” It is for him to yield to this influence.

3. The certain progressiveness of true religion. No standing still. All religion is a spreading and an advancing thing. God leads on the converted soul step by step; He restores the features of our lost spiritual image little by little; He destroys the dominant passions of the old man one by one; and so leads us on from strength to strength, till in the perfect righteousness of Christ we appear before Him in Zion. To continue babes in Christ, would be like saying that we have the leaven of God within us, and yet that it is not affecting the surrounding mass; that the fire of God is within our hearts, without burning up the dross and stubble; that, aged trees as we are, we put forth nothing but the tender shoot, and patriarchs as we should be in spiritual things, we are but as infants of a day old.

4. The end: the final gathering of the ripe sheaves into the garner of life. Here our progress may be slow; there is an infinitude of holy attainment beyond. (Daniel Moore, M. A.)

The soul’s restoration is gradual

It is one of the severest trials of our faith, to go on day after day in the same struggle against sin and self; and it is a sore temptation to many-because they do not see any striking proofs of restoration, any rapid growth in grace, any marked progress in the heavenward journey-to doubt whether progress has been made. It is Satan who makes this suggestion to them, to daunt and to destroy; but it is a lie which can deceive those only who forget or distrust their God. The farmer who goes every day to his fields, though he knows that in due season he shall reap, does not notice the development which is going on in his wheat; but they who pass by at longer intervals observe and admire. It is so with the true Christian: he does not see his character change, the kingdom of God cometh not with observation unto him; but, slowly and surely, silently as the sap rises in the trees, as the leaves unroll and the blossom bursts, and lo! the fruit is there; so goes on the restoration of grace-imperceptibly, as the light will soon fade into darkness, or rather, as the morning shineth more and more unto the perfect day. A soul can no more be restored and sanctified for heaven at once, than a tree can bear fruit without the blossom, or a church be restored without cost and toil. Only they who learn to labour and to wait, will have wages from the Lord of the vineyard, when the even of the world is come, and to him that overcometh He shall give the beautiful crown. (S. R. Hole, M. A.)

The patience of hope

I. Do not worry yourself about the growth of grace in others. Do not press too hardly for evidence of growth in your children. Confine your care to the seed you sow, and, calm and hopeful, leave the rest to God.

II. Be not too anxious about the work of grace in your own soul. It grows like the corn; like the corn you cannot see it growing. Take care of your action, and your nature will take care of itself. Harbour no thoughts of despair.

III. Be patient with yourself. Plants that are meant to live long grow slowly. A mushroom grows swiftly, and passes away swiftly. The oak grows slow to stand long. Grace is meant to live forever, and grows, therefore, slowly. Each good act helps it a little, but you cannot trace the help. If God has patience with you, have patience with yourself; and make not your grace less by worrying because it is not more. (R. Glover.)

Spiritual growth

In form and imagery this parable is exquisitely simple; in principle and meaning it is very profound. To be able to put great truths in simple language is a note of true power. Christ was a master of this art. His disciples do not seem to have ever attempted it. The parable was too Divine a thing for them to touch. The idea in this parable is distinct and beautiful. The seed once sown, grows according to its own nature; it has life in itself; and when once fairly deposited in congenial soil, and subjected to the quickening influences of heavenly sunshine and shower, it silently and mysteriously develops the life that is in it, according to the ordinary principles of growth. It has an inherent vitality, a growth power, which springs up “we know not how;” we only see that it grows. The brown clod of the field is first tinged with virgin green; then covered as with a carpet; then waves, in yielding beauty to the wind, like a summer sea, and rustles in ripening music, like a forest. So is the kingdom of God; the field of the heart, the field of the world, are thus covered with gracious fruit.

I. This great law of spiritual growth is not always recognized, nor are men always contented with it. We are eager for quick results; we have not the patience to wait for the slow development from seed to fruit.

II. But this is God’s plan in all things. He produces nothing by great leaps and transitions; all His great works are quiet processes. Light and darkness melt into each other; the seasons change by gradual transition; all life, vegetable and animal, grows from a germ; and the higher and nobler the type of life, the slower and more gradual is the process of growth. The oak attains to maturity more slowly than the flower; man than the lower animals; the mind than the body; the soul than the mind.

III. Application to the character and course of the Christian life.

1. Its beginning. Only a blade, hardly to be discerned above the soil, or distinguished from common grass. We may often confound the real beginnings of religion with ordinary human virtues.

2. Its progress. We look for the formation of the ear, and for the full corn in the ear. A child of God, always a babe, is a deformity.

3. Its consummation. How fruitful and beautiful it should be, not with the verdant beauty of the blade, but with the golden beauty of the ripe corn. (Henry Allon.)

The blade, the ear, the fall corn

The seed in the ground. The kingdom of God, or religion in the heart, is secret in its beginnings. This is suggested by the parable. A man casts seed into the ground, and then leaves it to Nature-that is, to God. Such is the silence and secrecy of the Divine life in the heart. We have the truth of God as seed. Compared with natural or scientific truth (which yet we would not disparage) it may well be called, as in one of the Psalms, “precious seed,” and the sowers of it may well go forth “weeping”-i.e. with intensity of will, with all their sensibilities stirred to the sowing of it; and yet let them know-it is well for us all to know-that a sower can only sow. He cannot decompose the grain. He cannot vitalize the inward germ. He must leave the seed with God. Attempts are made, sometimes, in times of religious revival and excitement, to force the living process, and even to have essential power and action in it; to make it begin at certain times and in certain ways; but the success of these efforts is but small. Very often the result of such intrusive violence is simply this, that Nature is made to look like grace for a little while, only to sink back into Nature again. We are only sowers. We “cast the seed into the ground,” we “sleep and rise night and day.” We go about our customary avocations and know nothing for certain of what has become of the seed for a time. By and by we shall know by the appearing of the blade above the soil, by the growing and by the ripening; but at first we knew nothing. The blade.

Not only is there secrecy at the beginning, but even after life is begun the manifestations of it are very slender and even dubious. Life must appear in some way, else we cannot apprehend it. We know life, not in its very substance, but only in its attributes and fruits. The first appearance of life is therefore a time of great interest; we watch it as the farmer watches the blade when it first shows above the soil. It does not then look at all like the corn it ultimately becomes. “First the blade.” Take it when it is just visible above the soil-tender, pale, hardly green as yet-and compare that with the treasures of the threshing floor. What a difference! and how wonderful it seems that those should come from that! Not only is the first appearance small and slender, but to the unskilled eye it is very dubious and uncertain. Even so! The springing of the precious seed of Divine truth out of the secret soul into the visible life, is known at first often by manifestations very slender and sensitive. The begun life is so feeble that you can hardly say “It is there.” A flush on the cheek or a gleam of the eye betokens some unusual inward feeling. Something is done, or something is left undone, and that is all! A Bible is kept in the room, and sometimes read in the morning or the evening. A new walk is taken that a certain person may be met, or missed. A letter has a sentence or two with the slightest touch of a new tone in it. Or there is some other faint suggestion of a change of mind and view. And if one should come with a high standard and a strict measuring line he might, of course, say, “Is that all?” Do you expect that to endure the conflicts and tests of life, and overcome its difficulties? Do you look for golden harvest only out of that? And yet that young, tender, trembling soul will grow in grace, and will be at last as ripe and mellow and ready for the garner as the other. “Then the ear.”-God’s day of revelation. Everyone knows corn in the ear-all dubiety is over when we look on the ear of corn. In the spike that holds the grain, as in a protective loving embrace, we know, although we do not see it, that the corn is enfolded. And when the spike expands with the force of vegetation, and the seeds of corn appear, no one can deny or doubt their existence. So there is a revealing or declaring time in the spiritual life. Life, hidden beyond the proper time of manifestation, will die. The corn in the ear cannot be preserved; it must grow on, or perish. “The full corn in the ear.”-The work of grace perfected. As the result of the growing comes the ripening, or what is here called “the full corn in the ear.” How little there is of man! How much of God! Man throws the seed into the ground, as one might throw a handful of pebbles into the sea! and months afterwards he comes, and carries away, by reaping and harvesting, thirty fold or sixty fold. He throws in one and carries away thirty, as it were direct from the hand of God. It is God who has been working during all these silent months. He never leaves the field. Down beneath the red mould He has His laboratory. He kindles there ten thousand invisible fires. He carries on and completes in unreckonable instances that process of transmutation which is the most wonderful that takes place beneath the sun. He opens in every field ten thousand times ten thousand fountains of life, and out of these living fountains spring the visible forms, blade, and sheath, and ear, and ripened corn. And after God has been thus working, then again comes the man, with his baskets, with his empty garners, and God fills them. Now the chief lesson-the very teaching of the parable-is this: that the human agency is no more in proportion and degree within the “kingdom of God” than it is in the field of corn. “So is the kingdom of God.” The spiritual life is as much and as constantly under God’s care as, in the natural world, is the field of growing corn. Indeed, we may say the spiritual life has more of His care. For, while the man has the sowing and the reaping in the natural field, in the spiritual field he has the sowing but not the reaping. “The angels are the reapers.” Souls ripened for heaven are not reaped by men on the earth. The practical uses of the great truth taught in the parable are such as these. It teaches us a lesson of diligence. We can only sow, therefore let us sow. A lesson of reverence. What wonders are being wrought very near to us in silence! The Spirit of God is striving with human spirits! A lesson of abstinence. Having sown the seed, leave it with God. Think-“It has passed now from my care into a more sacred department, and into far higher hands. With Him let me leave it.” Finally, a lesson of trust. (A. Raleigh, D. D.)

The different stages in the growth of Christian life

I. Let us attend to the words before us, by observing briefly the stages of Christian life as presented to us by them. A thing of events must have stages; a thing of time must also have its stages; so must all things of growth and advancement Christian life is a thing of events, of time, and of growth; as such, it has its stages of development and maturity.

1. There is the blade stage. Human life, in all its forms, has its blade form and condition, as well as the plant.

2. Then the ear. This is the middle stage of Christian life.

3. The full corn in the ear.

4. It is intended to show us a life having answered its right end. The end of all toil and culture was to make it full and rich in the ear; that period has arrived without a failure, and all rejoice in the fact. Such a life is the highest thing possible, for there is nothing better for us than to answer the end of the Divine plan of wisdom and goodness.

II. The progress of Christian life. Divine order is one of progress. Among finite imperfect beings, this is a necessity in law, and a kindness in provision. We are born infants, and we gain strength and knowledge by gradual progression.

1. It is a progress by events. Sometimes there is a discovery made which reveals more in an hour than otherwise in an age. We on a sudden rise to the top of some sunny mountain, and see more by that event than all the travel in the valley below would have shown us all our life-the haziness is removed from the vision in one moment by the relation of events, and we become truer, stronger, and happier, as by the magic of lightning. The peeping of the blade through the earth, the forming of the ear, and the filling of the ear, are events in the plant which show its advancement, as well as being the means of its progress. Birth, in our natural life, is an event of amazing progress; so is the quickening of our moral sentiments in our religious life; and often the reading of a book, the intercourse with a superior friend, or entrance into a school, become the greatest possible events in our mental life. Nature is full of events, so is religion. They break the monotony of life, and give freshness and force to the general and common in existence, so as to make them varied and attractive. Let us not think that they are not of Divine ordination by reason that they are only rare and occasional; they have their class, laws, and work, as much as the common in every day’s transaction.

2. It is a progress of law and order. Progress is only possible by law; the thing that does not advance by law is a retrogression. We may not be able to understand all in the law of life, but we can follow it, for that is both our duty and privilege alike. The law of progress is within the reach of the babe; by submitting to it he advances into true manhood. It is the fixing of the soul upon high objects, using all means given us for that end, and unyielding perseverance in the application.

3. It is a progress through opposing forces and difficulties. Nothing escapes the opposing powers of life. If the little blade could give us the history of days and nights, oh! what a story of difficulties and dangers would it tell us! Can sinful man expect to advance more easily than the beautiful flower or the innocent blade? Human nature is weedy and thorny, a very uncongenial soil for the seed of life.

4. It is a progress in itself imperceivable in its actual process. The growth of the blade is not seen in itself, it is only seen at different epochs.

5. It is a progress hidden in mystery. We speak of things as if we knew them, whereas we know very little more than their existence and their names. No physiologist can explain all the laws of life and growth in the plant; and it can be no amazement if we know as little in the greater thing of spiritual life in the soul.

6. It is a progress of gradual, slow development. The plant does not reach its maturity in one hour, but it is the growth of different seasons, treatment night and day, weeks and months. Good culture can only bring it forward more rapidly, and produce a better quality; it cannot alter the law of gradual advancement. Slow and gradual development of Christian life in our heart and practice corresponds with our powers to bear and to do. If it were all at once, we could not bear it; also its educational power over our patience and hope would be of little value, as well as the perpetual enjoyment which it throws over the whole period of gradual growth. It is dependent upon our activity, and if we acted more earnestly it would be much faster in growth than it is: but if we acted to the top of our strength, used all means, and failed in nothing, it would be still an advancement by degrees. If we are slow in the climbing, we have time to reflect and gain wisdom as we proceed; if it is gradual and tedious, we get more consolidated in the growth and soil. Let us not be discouraged; this is not an exception in our spiritual life, it is the law in other matters much the same. The organs of our bodies, the powers of our minds, reach their full height and maturity little by little. The great building is reared by slow and gradual advancement, and the tall and broad oak reaches its climax maturity through very slow degrees. We have no reason to be discouraged; law is safe and sure; it is as faithful in the slow process as it is in the event of the faster advancement. We have nothing to fear apart from ourselves; enough for us to know that it will be finished in due time if we fail not to give all diligence to secure the happy result.

III. The conditional laws of Christian life, required in every stage of its advancement and involved even in the fact of its existence.

1. One condition in the life and growth of the plant is, there must be vital seed. No one with experience thinks of planting lifeless particles, for experience and reason unite to proclaim it hopeless and useless. A mere form or appearance of life is not sufficient; it must be real in the heart of the seed to give life to the plant. Christian truth in its right relation is life, and thus planted and cultivated, produces life in the believing mind and heart that receives it.

2. Another condition in the order of law is, there must be a proper soil to receive the seed. To receive the seed of life, there is a fit soil required in our mind, heart, and conscience.

3. Another law in the growth of the plant is the one of means. The plant you must cultivate, or it will decline into feebleness, and will die. You must water its root, remove destructive weeds from communion with it, take away the thing that shades it, and sometimes you must prop it; these are the means of law and life, and you never say they are hard and unreasonable; you think yourself sufficiently rewarded for all in being able to preserve the life of the plant. Think not that spiritual life requires less at your hands than that of the plant.

4. Another law in the advancement of life, both of the plant and Christian, is variety in unity of operation. Before a little plant can live and grow, you must have combination of elements operating in beautiful harmony for the purpose. The wind must blow, the rain must fall; light, heat, and gases must meet in nice equality and harmonious activity. The absence of one would make the process imperfect; even an inequality would impair the total result of the whole. The law applicable to the plant is analogically the same in Christian life. As in the life of the plant, so there are various elements and agencies required to sustain and carry on the process of Christian life to its full beauty and perfection. Light, faith, love, hope, patience, action, communion, perseverance, and sacrifice, must be united in the delicate and important work of the building up of Christian life.

5. Another law in the economy of life is active exercise. Life is an active thing; it is preserved and advanced by unceasing activity. To preserve Christian life in full and healthy vigour, the whole soul must be in full exercise.

6. Another condition I shall just name-something supernatural, and above and behind life, is required for its existence and growth. Life in the plant, as well as in the heart, is incapable of producing itself, and the source of it must be above and independent of the means which produce and sustain it. (T. Hughes.)

What the farm labourers can do and what they cannot do

I. We shall, first, learn from our text what we can do and what we cannot do. “So is the kingdom of God, as if a man should cast seed into the ground:” this the gracious worker can do. “And the seed should spring and grow up, he knoweth not how:” this is what he cannot do: seed once sown is beyond human jurisdiction, and man can neither make it spring nor grow. Notice, then, that we can sow. Any man who has received the knowledge of the grace of God in his heart can teach others. We need never quarrel with God because we cannot do everything, if He only permits us to do this one thing; for sowing the good seed is a work which will need all our wit, our strength, our love, our care. Still, wise sowers discover favourable opportunities for sowing, and gladly seize upon them. This seed should be sown often, for many are the foes of the wheat, and if you repeat not your sowing you may never see a harvest. The seed must be sown everywhere, too, for there are no choice corners of the world that you can afford to let alone, in the hope that they will he self-productive. You may not leave the rich and intelligent under the notion that surely the gospel will be found among them, for it is not so: the pride of life leads them away from God. You may not leave the poor and illiterate, and say, “Surely they will of themselves feel their need of Christ.” I have heard that Captain Cook, the celebrated circumnavigator, in whatever part of the earth he landed, took with him a little packet of English seeds, and scattered them in suitable places. He mould leave the boat and wander up from the shore. He said nothing, but quietly scattered the seeds wherever he went, so that he belted the world with the flowers and herbs of his native land. Imitate him wherever you go; sow spiritual seed in every place that your foot shall tread upon. Let us now think of what you cannot do. You cannot, after the seed has left your hand, cause it to put forth life. I am sure you cannot make it grow, for you do not know how it grows. The text saith, “And the seed should spring and grow up, he knoweth not how.” That which is beyond the range of our knowledge is certainly beyond the reach of our power. Can you make a seed germinate? Certainly this is true of the rise and progress of the life of God in the heart. It enters the soul and roots itself we know not how. Naturally men hate the Word, but it enters and it changes their hearts, so that they come to love it; yet we know not how. Their whole nature is renewed, so that instead of producing sin it yields repentance, faith, and love; but we know not how. How the Spirit of God deals with the mind of man, how He creates the new heart and the right spirit, how we are begotten again unto a lively hope, we cannot tell.

II. Our second head is like unto the first, and consists of what we can know and what we cannot know. First, what we can know. We can know when we have sown the good seed of the Word that it will grow; for God has promised that it shall do so. Moreover, the earth, which is here the type of the man, “bringeth forth fruit of herself.” We must mind what we are at in expounding this, for human hearts do not produce faith of themselves; they are as hard rock on which the seed perishes. But it means this-that as the earth under the blessing of the dew and the rain is, by God’s secret working upon it, made to take up and embrace the seed, so the heart of man is made ready to receive and enfold the gospel of Jesus Christ within itself. Man’s awakened heart wants exactly what the Word of God supplies. Moved by a divine influence the soul embraces the truth, and is embraced by it, and so the truth lives in the heart, and is quickened by it. Man’s love accepts the love of God; man’s faith wrought in him by the Spirit of God believes the truth of God; man’s hope wrought in him by the Holy Ghost lays hold upon the things revealed, and so the heavenly seed grows in the soil of the soul. The life comes not from you who preach the Word, but it is placed within the Word which you preach by the Holy Spirit. The life is not in your hand, but in the heart which is led to take hold upon the truth by the Spirit of God. Salvation comes not from the personal authority of the preacher, but through the personal conviction, personal faith, and personal love of the hearer. So much as this we may know, and is it not enough for all practical purposes? Still, there is a something which we cannot know, a secret into which we cannot pry. I repeat what I have said before: you cannot look into men’s inward parts and see exactly how the truth takes hold upon the heart, or the heart takes hold upon the truth. Many have watched their own feelings till they have become blind with despondency, and others have watched the feelings of the young till they have done them rather harm than good by their rigorous supervision. In God’s work there is more room for faith than for sight. The heavenly seed grows secretly.

III. Thirdly, our text tells us what we may expect if we work for God and what we may not expect. According to this parable we may expect to see fruit. But we may not expect to see all the seed which we sow spring up the moment we sow it. We are also to expect to see the good seed grow, but not always after our fashion. Like children we are apt to be impatient. Your little boy sowed mustard and cress yesterday in his garden. This afternoon Johnny will be turning over the ground to see if the seed is growing. There is no probability that his mustard and cress will come to anything, for he will not let it alone long enough for it to grow. So is it with hasty workers; they must see the result of the gospel directly, or else they distrust the blessed Word. Certain preachers are in such a hurry that they will allow no time for thought, no space for counting the cost, no opportunity for men to consider their ways and turn to the Lord with fall purpose of heart. All other seeds take time to grow, but the seed of the Word must grow before the speaker’s eyes like magic, or he thinks nothing has been done. Such good brethren are so eager to produce blade and ear there and then, that they roast their seed in the fire of fanaticism, and it perishes. We may expect also to see the seed ripen. Our works will by God’s grace lead up to real faith in those He hath wrought upon by his Word and Spirit; but we must not expect to see it perfect at first. How many mistakes have been made here. Here is a young person under impression, and some good, sound brother talks with the trembling beginner, and asks profound questions. He shakes his experienced head, and knits his furrowed brows. He goes into the cornfield to see how the crops are prospering, and though it is early in the year, he laments that he cannot see an ear of corn; indeed, he perceives nothing but mere grass. “I cannot see a trace of corn,” says he. No, brother, of course you cannot; for you will not be satisfied with the blade as an evidence of life, but must insist upon seeing everything at full growth at once. If you had looked for the blade you would have found it; and it would have encouraged you. For my own part, I am glad even to perceive a faint desire, a feeble longing, a degree of uneasiness, or a measure of weariness of sin, or a craving after mercy. Will it not be wise for you, also, to allow things to begin at the beginning, and to be satisfied with their being small at the first? See the blade of desire, and then watch for more. Soon you shall see a little more than desire; for there shall be conviction and resolve, and after that a feeble faith, small as a mustard seed, but bound to grow. Do not despise the day of small things.

IV. Under the last head we shall consider what sleep workers may take and what they may not take; for it is said of this sowing man, that he sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed springs and grows up he knoweth not how. But how may a good workman for Christ lawfully go to sleep? I answer, first, he may sleep the sleep of restfulness born of confidence. Also take that sleep of joyful expectancy which leads to a happy waking. Take your rest because you have consciously resigned your work into God’s hands. But do not sleep the sleep of unwatchfulness. A farmer sows his seed, but he does not therefore forget it. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

On the analogies which obtain between the natural and the spiritual husbandry

A man may be qualified for practically carrying forward a process, of whose hidden steps and of whose internal workings he is most profoundly ignorant. This is true in manufactures. It is true in the business of agriculture. And it holds eminently true in the business of education. How many are the efficient artizans, for example, in whose hands you may at all times count on a right and prosperous result; but who are utterly in the dark as to the principles of that chemistry in their respective arts by the operation of which the result is arrived at. And how many a ploughman, who knows best how to prepare the ground, and who knows best how to deposit the seed for the object of a coming harvest; and yet, if questioned upon the arcana of physiology, or of those secret and intermediate changes by which the grain in the progress of vegetable growth is transformed into a complete plant ripened and ready for the use of man, would reply, in the language of my text, that he knoweth not how. And, in like manner, there is many a vigorous and successful educationist, who does come at the result of good scholarship, whether in Christianity or in common learning-and that without ever theorizing on the latent and elementary principles of the subject upon which he operates-without so much as casting one glance at the science of metaphysics-a science more inscrutable still than that of physiology; and which, by probing into the mysteries of the human spirit, would fain discover how it is that a truth is first deposited there by communication, and then takes root in the memory, and then warms into an impression, and then forms into a sentiment, and then ripens into a purpose, and then comes out to visible observation in an effect or a deed or a habit of actual performance. There are thousands who, in the language of our text, know not how all this comes about, and yet have, in point of fact and of real business, set the process of it effectively agoing. We cannot afford at present to trace all the analogies which obtain between a plant from the germination of its seed, and a Christian from the infancy of his first principles. We shall, in the first place, confine ourselves to one or two of these analogies; and, secondly, endeavour to show how some of what may be called the larger operations of Christian philanthropy admit of having a certain measure of light thrown upon them, by the comparison which is laid before us in this parable between the work of a teacher and the work of a husbandman.

I. In the agricultural process there is much that is left to be done by nature and in a way that the workman knoweth not how; nor is it at all necessary that he should. He puts forth his hand and sets a mechanism ageing-the principles of which he, with his head, is wholly unable to comprehend. The doing of his part is indispensable, but his knowledge of the way in which Nature doeth her part is not indispensable. Now, it is even so in the work of spiritual husbandry. There is an obvious part of it that is done by the agency of man; and there is a hidden part of it which is independent of that agency. What more settled and reposing than the faith which a husbandman has in the constancy of Nature. He knows not how it is; but, on the strength of a gross and general experience, he knows that so it is. And it were well in a Christian teacher to imitate this confidence. There is in it both the wisdom of experience and the sublime wisdom of piety. But, again, it is the work of the husbandman to cast the seed into the ground. It is not his work to manufacture the seed. This were wholly above him and beyond him. In like manner, to excogitate and to systematize the truths which we are afterwards to deposit in the minds of those who are submitted to our instruction, were a task beyond the faculties of man. These truths, therefore, are provided to his hand. What his eye could not see, nor his ear hear, has been brought within his reach by a communication from heaven; and to him nothing is left but a simple acquiescence in his Bible, and a faithful exposition of it. Our writers upon education may have done something. They may have scattered a few superficial elegancies over the face of society, and taught the lovely daughters of accomplishment how to walk in gracefulness their little hour over a paltry and perishable scene. But it is only in as far as they deal in the truths and lessons of the Bible that they rear any plants for heaven, or can carry forward a single pupil to the bloom and the vigour of immortality. And as we have not to manufacture a seed for the operations of our spiritual husbandry, so neither have we to mend it. It is not fit that the wisdom of God should thus be intermeddled with by the wisdom of man. But again-we do not lose sight of the analogy which there is between the work of a spiritual and that of a natural husbandman-when, after having affirmed the indispensableness of casting into the ground of the human heart the pure and the simple Word, we further affirm the indispensableness and the efficacy of prayer. Even after that, in the business of agriculture, man hath performed his handiwork by depositing the seed in the earth-he should acknowledge the handiwork of God, in those high and hidden processes, whether of the atmosphere above or of the vegetable kingdom below, which he can neither control nor comprehend. By the work of diligence which he does with his hand, he fulfils man’s parts of the operation. By the prayer of dependence which arises from his heart, he does homage and recognition to God’s part of it. And we are not to imagine that prayer is without effect, even in the processes of the natural economy. The same God who framed and who organized our great mundane system has never so left it to the play and the impulses of its own mechanism as to have resigned even for one moment that mastery over it which belongs to Him; but He knows when to give that mysterious touch, by which He both answers prayer, and disturbs not the harmony of the universe which He has formed. It is when man aspires upwards after fellowship with God, and looks and longs for the communications of light and of power from the sanctuary-it is then that God looks with loudest complacency upon man, and lets willingly downward all the treasures of grace upon his soul. It is said of Elijah that, when he prayed, the heaven gave rain and the earth brought forth her fruit.

II. We now come to the second thing proposed, which was to show how some of what may be called the larger operations of Christian philanthropy admit of a certain measure of light being thrown upon them by the comparison made in this parable between the work of a Christian teacher and the work of a husbandman. And first, it may evince to us the efficacy of that Christian teaching, which is sometimes undertaken by men in humble life and of the most ordinary scholarship. Let them have but understanding enough for the great and obvious simplicities of the Bible, and let them have grace enough for devout and depending prayer; and, on the strength of these two properties, they are both wise unto salvation for themselves, and may become the instruments of winning the souls of others also. It is well for the families of our land that the lessons of eternity can fall with effect even from the lips of the cottage patriarch. But this brings us to the last of those analogies between the natural and the spiritual husbandry which we shall at present be able to overtake-an analogy not certainly suggested by the text, but still close enough for the illustration of all which we can now afford to say in defence of those parochial establishments which have done so much, we think, both for the Christianity and the scholarship of our people. A territorial division of the country into parishes, each of which is assigned to at least one minister as the distinct and definite field of his spiritual cultivation-this we have long thought does for Christianity what is often done in agriculture by a system of irrigation. You are aware what is meant by this. Its use is for the conveyance and the distribution of water, that indispensable aliment to all vegetation over the surface of the land. It is thus, for example, that by the establishment of duets of conveyance the waters of the Nile are made to overspread the farms of Egypt-the country through which it passes. This irrigation, you will observe, does not supply the water. It only conveys it. It does not bring down the liquid nourishment from heaven. It only spreads it abroad upon the earth. Were there no descent of water from above, causing the river to overflow its banks, there is nothing in the irrigation, with its then dry and deserted furrows, which could avail the earth that is below. On the other hand, were there no irrigation, many would be the tracts of country that should have no agriculture and could bang no produce. Let not, therefore, our dependence on the Spirit lead us to despise the machinery of a territorial establishment, and neither let our confidence in machinery lead us to neglect prayer for the descent of living water from on high. (Dr. Chalmers.)

Mysterious growth

We little think how much is always going on in what we may call the underground of life; and how much more we have to do with those secret processes which underlie everything, than might, at first sight, appear. We are all casting live seeds. Every word, act, look, goes down into somebody’s mind, and lives there. You said something-it was false. You said it lightly. But someone heard it, and it lodged in his mind; it was a seed to him. It found something in that man’s mind that was congenial to it; and so it struck a root; it ramified; it fructified. It led on to other thoughts; then it became a word or an action in that man’s life; and his word and act did to another heart just what yours did to him. This is the dark side of a grand truth. Now read the bright side. “So is the kingdom of God, as if a man should cast seed,” etc. The sower of this seed is properly the Lord Jesus Christ; but He uses men. The truth in a man’s heart propagates-but secretly. We are to believe in the independent power that there is in God’s Word to do its own work in a man’s heart. There is something kindred between a particular word and some affection or thought in a man’s mind before it can take effect. Perhaps the word will incline a man to give up some sin he has previously indulged; may awaken a sense of dissatisfaction with the world; may beget a painful sense of sin. However it be, there will be a great deal passing in the mind which does not meet the eye. Fathers and mothers, who have cast the early seed, you have slept for very sorrow. You see nothing. Wait on. The springing and the growing will be you know not where, and you know not how. (J. Vaughan, M. A.)

The seed growing secretly

1. God does His work silently.

2. God does His work slowly.

3. God does His work surely Underneath all apparent disasters His kingdom comes.

I. In expounding this parable observe that this law of God supposes human effort.

II. It supposes human confidence quite as much as human effort. (W. G. Barrett.)

Progressive religion

I. God carries on His work of grace by the instrumentality of men-“As if a man should cast seed.”

II. This work of grace is often for some time unperceived. Thus the seed of Divine grace sown in the heart is frequently there when not discerned. It is often concealed owing to the gradual and imperceptible manner in which it is produced; by the privacy of a man’s situation, and because of the natural timidity of his temper. It should excite the prayer, “Let Thy work appear unto Thy servant,” etc.

III. Where this work of grace exists it must sooner or later appear-“Springeth and groweth up.”

IV. It is gradual in its growth-“First the blade,” etc. For some time knowledge, faith, love, hope, joy, are small and feeble. But gradually the believer gathers strength. He grows in knowledge and hatred of sin. But let not the weakest be discouraged; the tenderness of Jesus is a strong consolation.

V. The work of grace is beneficial in its present effects-“When the fruit is brought forth.” The fruit of piety towards God and of usefulness to men.

VI. This work of grace is glorious in its final result-“Immediately he putteth in the sickle, because the harvest is come.” The gathering of saints to heaven is God’s harvest. The value which God attaches to His own people, and the tender care which He exercises over them. When this work is done they are gathered into heaven.

1. Has the Word of God been sown in your hearts? You have it in your Bibles, but have you received it?

2. You that seem to receive the Word, what evidence have you of its growth?

3. What prospect have you of this glorious result? (T. Kidd.)

Changes incident to Christian growth

1. The law of growth is one of the necessary laws of life. All life must be actually growing.

2. That growth in Christian life involves change. Our views of God may be expected to change and grow; of the relationship between God and Christ; of the relative importance and the proportions of different doctrines; our views of God’s Word will change. But as these changes pass over the growing Christian he is often greatly distressed. Be humble, but do not fear. Some of the changes incident to Christian growth will affect our views, of religious duties and the religious life. As we grow we form a different estimate of the active and passive, of the working and waiting. (R. Tuck, B. A.)

Growth through change

And this is the peculiarity of growth in animal life-it is growth through change. Think of the silkworm. It is first a little egg; within it life is developing; presently the worm comes creeping forth; again and again it casts its skin, changing until it passes into a state like death, changing once more into a winged form, full of beauty. These growings by change have been illustrated from the peculiarities of the ride by railway into the City of Edinburgh. Sometimes the train passes through fiat, well-populated country. Sometimes it hurries through the busy towns, over which the dark smoke hangs. Sometimes it passes amid the hills, up winding valleys, and along the murmuring shores, and the travellers are enchanted with varying scenes of natural beauty, presently it nears its destination, and rushes screaming into the dark tunnel, which shuts out all light and beauty. That is the last change, and soon it comes forth into the North Loch, and all the full glory of that city of monuments and mansions breaks upon the view. Ever advancing, through changings and growings, we, too, shall come through the valley of the shadow to the city of the great King, and the full glory of holiness and the smile of God. (R. Tuck, B. A.)

Soul life and growth imperceptible

When a man is building a house he can see it as it goes on. That is an outside matter. There is seam after seam, row after row of stone or brick. Gradually the form of the window or the door rises. The second story, the third story, the building up to the roof appears. He can see it day by day. A man goes into his garden and plants, for spring, the early lettuce, or radish, or whatever it may be. He may sit up all night with spectacles and a lantern, but he will not see anything going on; and yet there is something going on which is vitally connected with the whole operation of vegetable development. The seed has not been in the ground an hour before it feels its outward husk swelling by imbibing moisture. It has not been for ten hours in the warm soil before it begins to feel that the material in the seed itself is chemically affected, changed. Many a seed has not been twenty-four hours in the ground before there is an impulse in it at one end to thrust down a root, and at the other end to thrust up a plumule, or the beginning of a visible stalk; but it makes no noise. It is like Solomon’s Temple; it is a structure that is built without the sound of a hammer; and whatever it may come to, all the earlier processes of germination and development are invisible and are silent; for if you take it out into the light it will not grow. The seed needs warmth, moisture, and luminous darkness-that is to say, considerable darkness, and yet a little invisible light. So it is with the spiritual life. (H. W. Beecher.)

Christian life long invisible

I knew a young man in Boston, whose father was rich. He had genius, particularly in the formative, sculptural art; and his amusement was in making busts and little clay statues. One lucky day, the father lost all his property, and the young man was thrown out of business, and had to work for his own livelihood. He had already made the busts of friends, and when the motives to indolence were taken away from him, when the golden chair was broken, and he had to get up and go to work, he said to himself, “What can I do for a living better than this?” Well, he has come to the artist state already, unconsciously, not expecting to be a professional artist, simply following his taste; but the moment he puts out his sign, showing that he would like to have custom for the sake of self-support, then everybody says, “He has become an artist.” He has been an artist a good while, but it is just being developed before the public. The roots of the thing were in him long ago. (H. W. Beecher.)

Moral changes sometimes unconsciously wrought

When I travelled in Italy I knew the line between Italy and Austria. We all had to go out and have our trunks examined and our passports vised. We were all of us hurried out suspiciously, as if we were contrabands. Then we went over, and I knew I was in Austria. But in America you can go from one State to another, as there is no Custom House, thank God, on the lines; as there are no passports required; as there is nothing to interrupt the journey. You glide into the State of New York from Connecticut, from New York into Pennsylvania, and from Pennsylvania into Ohio, and you do not think you have made any change in the State, though you have really. You bring a person up in Christian nurture, and in the admonition of the Lord, in the household, and he is gaining more light; he is adapting the light which he has; and he comes into that state of mind in which all he wants in order to realize that he is a Christian is to wake up into consciousness. (H. W. Beecher.)

The helplessness of the spiritual husbandman

We have in this a most simple, yet striking, representation of the business and, at the same time, of the helplessness of the spiritual husbandman. Unto the ministers of the gospel, who are the great moral labourers in the field of the world, there is entrusted the task of preparing the soil and of casting in the seed. And if they bring to this task all the fidelity and all the diligence of intent and single-eyed labourers; if they strive to make ready the ground by leading men to clear away the weeds of an unrighteous practice, and to apply the spade and ploughshare of a resistance to evil, and a striving after good; and if, then, by a faithful publication of the grand truths of the gospel, they throw in the seed of the Word, they have reached the boundary of their office and also of their strength; and are to the full as powerless to the making the seed germinate, and send forth a harvest, as the husbandman to the causing the valleys to stand thick with corn. And indeed, in the spiritual agriculture, the power of the husbandman is even more circumscribed than in the natural. With all the pains with which a minister of Christ may ply at the duties of his office, he can never be sure that the ground is fit for receiving the grain: he must just do always, what the tiller of the natural soil is never reduced to do, run the risk of casting the seed upon the rock, or of leaving it to be devoured by the fowls of the air. (H. Melvill.)

Seed growing though unrecognized

Ministers require to be very cautious in judging as to the influence of the truth among their hearers. Amidst much that is externally unfavourable, and even hostile, that truth may be operating, producing conviction, checking long-cherished sins, and subduing the pride of the corrupt heart. It is a very agreeable and self-flattering thing for a man to say that because religion does not manifest itself in other men in the same way it does in him, therefore these people have no religion. This is very common, and is in reality but a branch of that master sin of intolerance, which has so often been crushing all the charities of our nature; and even amidst the solemnity of devotional exercises, despising and invading the conventional decencies of life. Often, when we do not see it, religion is at work; often, when we never suspected it, it has made considerable progress. Its influence is sweet, makes no noise, and has no ostentatious signs. We must not forget the mistake of Elijah, a mistake into which ministers and others have not unfrequently fallen. When he supposed himself to stand alone the defender of the truth, there were seven thousand in Israel doing daily homage to it. If he had been told seventy, it would have been remarkable-if seven hundred, more so; but seven thousand was altogether astonishing. “The kingdom of God cometh not with observation.” In obscure places, in noiseless retirements, and without one arresting sign, the truth takes effect. The minister is not thinking of it. The very members of the family are not thinking of it. Daily companions and friends are not thinking of it. There is no profession, no controversy, no street shouts, no exclusiveness, no badges of partizanship; but nevertheless, on the unseen arena of thought, the truth is establishing its power, achieving its triumphs, subduing desire after desire, purpose after purpose, and will at last yield peace and joy unspeakable. (Archibald Bennie.)

Growth unexplained

Who shall scrutinize the agency by which the Word is applied to the conscience? Who shall explain how, after weeks, it may be, or months, or years, during which the seed has been buried, there will often unexpectedly come a moment when the preached Word shall rise up in the memory, and a single text, long ago heard, and to all appearance forgotten, overspread the soul with the big thoughts of eternity? It is a mystery which far transcends all our powers of investigation, how spirit acts upon spirit, so that whilst there are no outward tokens of an applied machinery, there is going on a mighty operation, even the effecting a moral achievement which far surpasses the stretch of all finite ability. We are so accustomed to that change which takes place in a sinner’s conversion that we do not ascribe to it in right measure its characteristic of wonderful. Yet wonderful, most wonderful it is-wonderful in the secrecy of the process, wonderful in the nature of the result! I can understand a change wrought on matter; I have no difficulty in perceiving that the same substance may be presented in quite a different aspect, and that mechanical and chemical power may make it pass through a long series of transformations; but where is the mechanism which shall root from the heart the love of sin? where the chemistry which shall so sublimate the affections, that they will mount towards God? It is the eternal revolution which I have no power of scrutinizing, except in its effect. (H. Melvill.)

Seed never idle

Though it is very slow and imperceptible in its growth, still the seed never really lies idle. From the moment of its first start to its final ripening, it is always on its way; it never once stops, far less does it ever go backward. It can never return into the blade out of which it originally sprang; it cannot even stand for long together without exhibiting decided signs of its growth. Now and then, perhaps, the weather may be very much against it, still it keeps waiting for the first favourable change; and as soon as ever this appears, it takes immediate advantage of it, and starts forward again on its way. And so, too, it is with the good seed in the heart. Trials and temptations may check its growth there for a while; but it is only for a while; and at the first removals or lessening of these, it again goes on its way as before. It never goes back any more than the ear goes back into the blade out of which it has sprung. It has but one way of growing, and that is heavenwards. (H. Harris.)

Growth of seed mysterious

In saying that the seed groweth up we “know not how,” the mysterious nature and working of grace is hinted at. It is not regulated by natural laws, though they afford many illustrative analogies. It cannot be reduced to a science, like agriculture or mechanics. There is no philosophy of the Holy Ghost. Regeneration is not the result of any forces which human reason defines and gauges, much less controls; and the Divine life which is breathed into the soul by the mysterious visitation of the Spirit, blowing like the wind, of which we cannot tell whence it cometh and whither it goeth, is afterwards maintained by supernatural supplies from the same invisible source, and is “hid with Christ in God.” (Josiah D. Smith.)

The truth is God’s seed

The one great consideration to be kept in view is, that the truth is God’s seed. It is no theory or set of maxims of man’s devising-adapted in the short-sighted calculations of human reason to certain ends; but it is God’s selected instrument, and in that very fact we have at once obligation and encouragement to use it. That moral world where its effects are produced is His, as well as the firmament of heaven, or the green fields of the earth-naked to His eye, and subject to His control. He has adapted it to the end which He has in view-He who poised the stars in their spheres, and so skilfully adjusted the exquisite mechanism of man, beast, and bird. Besides, he has annexed a Divine, ever-active, ever-present agency to the use of it. It is not left to force its way amidst obstructions; but, while Providence often appears to pioneer its way into the hearts of men, that gracious Spirit which moved of old on the face of the waters, goes forth with it, gives to its brief sentences the power of thunder, and to its appeals the withering force of the lightning flash, and makes it to revolutionize and transform the whole inner world of thought and desire. Hence the rapid and extraordinary triumphs with which it has glorified the annals of the Church; the temples of idolatry shaken to their foundations; ancient prejudices melted like wax; proud passions crushed and eradicated; superstition, pleasure, philosophy, all put to flight. The power of opinion is not unfrequently greatly extolled, and it is wonderful. A single truth, clearly announced, troubles a continent. A small thought goes forth from one man’s breast, and achieves victories denied to armed hosts and costly expeditions. But all the triumphs of opinion are a mere trifle compared with the triumphs of the truth of God; truth, whose banners have been planted upon the domes of heathen temples, bare waved above the ruins of thrones, and have been borne in bloodless fame to the ends of the earth. This is the true seed, of which the harvest is eternal life. (Archibald Bennie.)

Conversion gradual

Is there not a great deal too much anxiety to recognize in conversion something sudden and surprising, some word or thing arresting or transfixing the soul? It is possible by electricity to make seeds suddenly germinate and prematurely grow, but this is not healthy, fruitful life. People want something like this in conversion; they can hardly believe in a new life unless it begins thus. Conviction must come like lightning-a blaze in the midst of a great darkness. Is it not better to come like sunlight-a gradual, illuminating, diffusive thing? If it do come like lightning, let us be thankful that God does so break in upon the darkness of our day. Hardened, immoral men are sometimes thus smitten to the earth. More commonly and more naturally it comes like light “shining more and more unto the perfect day.” The pious nurture of infancy and childhood deepening the religious heart, and developing the religious life-“first the blade, then the ear, then the full corn in the ear.” But let it begin as it may, the process is one of continuous growth, innocence maturing into holiness, passion deepening into principle, struggle developing strength, laborious act becomes easy habit; a gracious mellowing influence permeating and glorifying the entire life; the life of the soul growing, not as a fragile succulent gourd, but as a close-grained tree, every day and every experience adding growth and strength. (H. Allen.)

The order of growth

Not only does the corn always go on growing, but it always observes the same order and succession in its growth; “first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear.” This is an order which is never reversed or altered; it is always the full corn in the ear which is the last to show itself. And so it is with the heart. First, it is always repentance and sorrow for sin; then, faith in Jesus Christ; then, without losing these, any more than the grain loses the protection of the blade and the ear, it goes on to holiness of life, and a sure hope in God’s promises; and last of all to love, love the ripened corn, the fulfilling of the ear. (H. Harris.)

Hope in spite of sight

This is a parable of hope. It teaches us to be hopeful when nothing hopeful is seen. The earth which seems the grave is really the cradle of the seed, and its death is its life. Except it fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone. It is God’s seed, it suits the soil, the sunshine and the shower favour it, ever so many mysteries too great for me to grasp are on its side, and God has promised the harvest. Why lose heart then? The reaping time shall come by and by. What though it seems unlikely? Look at that bare, brown field in spring. What more unlikely than that it shall wave with golden grain? Every harvest is a perfect miracle. You see a foolish, wicked boy, into whose heart a praying mother has dropped the good seed. All seems lost; but wait, and he becomes a great Christian like John Newton, like thousands whose biographies are the best commentaries upon this parable. (J. Wells, M. A.)

The young convert

There is first the convert in the young days of his godliness-the green blades just breaking through the soil, and giving witness to the germination of the seed. This is ordinarily a season of great promise. We have not, and we look not for the rich fruit of a matured, well-disciplined piety, but we have the glow of verdant profession-everything looks fresh. The young believer scarcely calculates on any interruption, and as though there were no blighting winds, and no nipping frosts, and no sweeping hail to be expected, in the spiritual agriculture, the tender shoot rises from the ground, and glistens in the sunshine. (H. Melvill.)

The anxieties of growth in the ear

Next comes the ear; and this is a season of weariness and of watching. Sometimes there will be long intervals without any perceptible growth; sometimes the corn will look sickly, as though blasted by the mildew; sometimes the storm will rush over it, and almost level it with the earth. All this takes place in the experience of the Christian. The spiritual husbandman and the natural know the like anxieties in observing the ear of which they have sown the seed. How slow is sometimes the growth in grace! how slight are the tokens of life! how yellow and how drooping the corn! The sudden gust of temptation, the fatal blight of worldly association, the corroding worm of indwelling corruption,-all these may tell powerfully and perniciously on the rising crop, and cause that often there shall scarcely seem reason to hope that any fruit will eventually be yielded. Who would recognize in the lukewarm, the half-and-half professor, the ardent, the active, and resolute convert? Who would know, in the stunted shrivelled ear, the green blade which had come up like an emerald shoot? We do not indeed say, that in every case there will be these various interruptions and declensions. You may find instances wherein godliness grows uniformly, and piety advances steadily, and even rapidly, towards perfection. The Christian will sometimes ripen for heaven, as though, in place of being exposed to cold air, and wind, and rain, he had been treated as an exotic, and had always been kept under shelter. But, generally, even with those who maintain the most consistent profession, the Christian life is the scene of anxiety and uncertainty; and if it were not that there are gracious promises assuring them that “the bruised reed shall not be broken, nor the smoking flax quenched,” often must the spiritual husbandman mourn bitterly over the apparent disappointment of all his best hopes, and surrender himself to the fear, that when the great day of harvest breaks on this creation, the field which had once worn that lovely enamel which gave such promise of an abundant ingathering, will yield nothing to the reaper but the dry and parched stalks, fit only to be bound in bundles for the burning. (H. Melvill.)

Suffering Christians spared: “Immediately he putteth in the sickle”

We must dwell a moment longer upon this; it is a matter full of interest and instruction. It seems often, as we have said, to excite surprise both in the sufferer himself and in others, when a Christian, who has long been eminent for piety, and whose faith had been conspicuous in his works, lingers for months, perhaps even years, in wearisome sickness, as though, notwithstanding the preparation of a righteous life, he needed protracted trial to fit him for the presence of God. But there is, we believe, altogether a mistake in the view which is commonly taken of old age and lingering sickness. Because a man is confined to his room or his bed, the idea seems to be that he is altogether useless. In the ordinary phrase, he is “quite laid by,” as though he had no duties to perform when he could no longer perform those of more active life. Was there ever a greater mistake? The sick room, the sick bed, has its special, its appropriate duties, duties to the full as difficult, as honourable, as remunerative, as any which devolve on the Christian whilst yet in his unbroken strength. They are not precisely the same duties as belong to him in health, but they differ only by such difference as a change in outward circumstances and position will always introduce. The piety which he has to cultivate, the resignation which he has to exhibit, the faith which he has to exercise, the example which he has to set-oh, talk not of the sick man as of a man laid by! Harder duties, it may be, ay, deeds of more extensive usefulness, are required from him who lingers on the couch, than from the man of health in the highest and most laborious of Christian undertakings. Is there, then, any cause for surprise if a Christian be left to linger in sickness, to wear away tedious months in racking pain and slow decay? Is it at all in contradiction to the saying that “so soon as the fruit is ripe, immediately he putteth in the sickle”? Not so! The fruit is not necessarily ripe; the man’s work is not necessarily done, because he is what you call “laid by,” and can take no part in the weightier bustle of life. It is they who turn many to righteousness that are “to shine as stars in the firmament;” and is there no sermon from the sick bed? Has the sick bed nothing to do with publishing and adorning the gospel? Yea, I think, then, an awful and perilous trust is committed to the sick Christian-friends, children, neighbours, the church at large, look to him for some practical exhibition of the worth of Christianity. If he be fretful, or impatient, or full of doubts and fears, they will say-Is this all that the gospel can do for a man in a season of extremity? If, on the other hand, he be meek and resigned, and able to testify to God’s faithfulness to his word, they will be taught-and nothing teaches like example-that Christianity can make good its pretensions; that it is a sustaining, an elevating, a death-conquering religion. And who shall calculate what may be wrought through such practical exhibitions of the power and preciousness of the gospel? I, for one, will not dare to affirm that more is done towards converting the careless, confirming the wavering, and comforting the desponding, by the bold champions who labour publicly in the making Christ known; than by many a worn-down invalid, who preaches to a household or a neighbourhood by simple unquestioning dependence on God: I, for one, can believe that he who dies the death of trial, passing almost visibly, whilst yet in the exercise of every energy, from a high post of usefulness to the kingdom of glory, may have fewer at the judgment to witness to the success of his labours, than many a bedridden Christian, who, by a beautiful submission, waited, year after year, his summons to depart. (H. Melvill.)

Originality in character

We observe the sacredness of individual character-of originality. It bears fruit of itself in its own individual development. The process is never exactly repeated. Life is no mechanical thing. It is everywhere alike, yet different. Count the leaves and grains, measure the height of the trees, examine the leaves of an oak. So in the Christian life. No two men think the same, or believe the same. It is always so in the highest life, and in national character. There is ever a beautiful diversity. (F. W. Robertson.)

Life expansion

Real life is that which has in it a principle of expansion. It “springs and grows up.” Moreover, it is not only growth, but tendency ever towards a higher life. Life has innate energy, and will unfold itself according to the law of its own being. Its law is progress towards its own possible completeness: such completeness as its nature admits of. By this we distinguish real life from seeming life. As you cut the stone and carve it, so it remains. But cut a tree; lop off its branches, strip it; it will shoot and sprout. Only deadness remains unaltered. Trees in winter all seem alike. Spring detects life. Man can impart motion, and make automatons. Growth and power he cannot give. This is the principle of all life. And in the higher life especially there is not only expansion but progress. The limpet on the rock only increases in volume. The plant develops into the flower. The insect develops from the egg into the caterpillar, grows, spins itself a coffin, and becomes hard and shelly. But the life goes on, and it emerges a brilliant butterfly. (F. W. Robertson.)

Hardihood of character

Real life is that which has individual, independent energy: it “bears fruit of itself.” Observe its hardihood. It needs no petting. It is no hot house plant. Let the wild winds of heaven blow upon it, with frost, scorching sun, and storms. Religion is not for a cloister, but for life, real hardy life. Observe Christ’s religion, and compare it with the fanciful religion of cloistered men. Religious books which speak of fastidious, retiring, feeble delicacy. The best Christianity grows up in exposure. The life of Christ Himself is an illustration of this. So too that of the apostles in the world, and that of a Christian in the army. Again, it can be left to itself safely. It will grow. Ministers need not torment themselves about the issue of their work, for God gives the increase. It can be left: for it is God in the soul. When once the farmer has sown, he can do little more except weed. (F. W. Robertson.)

The ear

The ear. Marked by vigour and beauty. Vigour: erect, with decision, fixed principles, and views. Beauty. Describe the flowering petals, etc. Solemn season. What remiss! What thoughtfulness. Yet blight is more frequent now-prostration. (F. W. Robertson.)

Moral ripeness

Full corn in the ear. Marked by maturity and ripeness. It has no further stage of development on earth. It must die and sprout again. But its present work is done. What is ripeness? Completeness, all powers equally cultivated. It is the completion of the principles, feelings, and tempers. This period is also marked by humility and by joy. By humility; the head hangs gracefully down in token of ripeness; always so with men of great attainments. “I am but a little child,” said Newton, “picking up pebbles on the shore of the vast ocean of truth.” By joy; the happy aspect of waving corn! But its beauty is chiefly felt by the thoughtful man. It is the calm deep joy of the harvest being safe, and famine impossible. The food of a nation waves before him. (F. W. Robertson.)

Growth in the natural and in the spiritual world

The analogy between growth in the natural world and growth in the spiritual world must be maintained in its integrity, with regard at once to spontaneity, slowness, and gradation. Growth in the spiritual world as in the natural is spontaneous, in the sense that it is subject to definite laws of the spirit over which man’s will has small control. The fact is one to be recognized with humility and thankfulness. With humility, for it teaches dependence on God; a habit of mind which brings along with it prayerfulness, and which, as honouring to God, is more likely to insure ultimate success than a self-reliant zeal. With thankfulness, for it relieves the heart of the too heavy burden of an undefined, unlimited responsibility, and makes it possible for the minister of the Word to do his work cheerfully, in the morning sowing the seed, in the evening withholding not his hand; then retiring to rest to enjoy the sound sleep of the labouring man, while the seed sown springs and grows apace, he knoweth not how. Growth in the spiritual world, as in the natural, is, further, a process which demands time and gives ample occasion for the exercise of patience. Time must elapse even between the sowing and the brairding; a fact to be laid to heart by parents and teachers, lest they commit the folly of insisting on seeing the blade at once, to the probable spiritual hurt of the young intrusted to their care. Much longer time must elapse between the brairding and the ripening. That a speedy sanctification is impossible we do not affirm; but it is, we believe, so exceptional that it may be left altogether out of account in discussing the theory of Christian experience. Once more, growth in the spiritual world, as in the natural, is graduated; in that region as in this there is a blade, a green ear, and a ripe ear. (A. B. Bruce, D. D.)

Imperceptible growth

You tell your child that this pine tree out here in the sandy field is one day going to be as large as that great sonorous pine that sings to every wind in the wood. The child, incredulous, determines to watch and see whether the field pine really does grow and become as large as you say it will. So, the next morning, he goes out and takes a look at it, and comes back and says, “It has not grown a bit.” The next week he goes out and looks at it again, and comes back and says, “It has not grown yet. Father said it would be as large as the pine tree in the wood, but I do not see any likelihood of its becoming so.” How long did it take the pine tree in the wood to grow? Two hundred years. Then men who lived when it began to grow have been buried, and generations besides have come and gone since then. And do you suppose that God’s kingdom is going to grow so that you can look at it, and see that it has grown during any particular day? You cannot see it grow. All around you are things that are growing, but that you cannot see grow. And if it is so with trees, and things that spring out of the ground, how much more is it so with the kingdom of God? That kingdom is advancing surely, though it advances slowly, and though it is invisible to us … You cannot see it, even if you watch for it; but there it is; and if, after a while, you go and look at it, you will be convinced that it has been advancing, by the results produced. You will find that things have been done, though you could not see them done. Men are becoming better the world over, though you cannot trace the process by which they are becoming better. Christ’s kingdom goes forward from age to age, though you cannot discern the steps by which it is going forward. While men, as individuals, pass off from the stage of life, God’s work does not stop. (H. W. Beecher.)

The law of growth in the kingdom of God

I. In the first place, we shall see that we ought never to be discouraged in a true Christian work, of whatever kind, by what seems a slow growth.

II. We may see that we are never to be discouraged in our efforts for Christ’s kingdom by adverse circumstances; nor by any unexpected combination of these, and their prolonged operation.

III. Let us remember that good influences are linked to good issues in this world, as the seed to its fruitage; and that so every effort for the good of mankind, through the kingdom of Christ, shall have its meet result.

IV. Let us remember, too, as a thing which illustrates all the rest, that God is within and behind all forces that tend to enlarge and perfect His kingdom, as He is beneath the physical forces which bring harvest in its season, and set on the springing seed its coronal. He never forsakes a true work for Himself, and is certain to carry it to ultimate success.

V. Let us remember what the glory of the harvest shall be in this developing kingdom of God; and in view of that let us constantly labour with more than fidelity, with an eager enthusiasm that surpasses all obstacles, makes duty a privilege, and transmutes toil into joy! (R. S. Storrs, D. D.)

The unfolding seed

What a wonderful thing is the germination of a seed! What scalpel so keen as to lay bare, what microscope so searching as to detect, that subtle force hidden in the elementary initial cell, which we vaguely call the principle of life? Yet there it is, lying in solemn mystery, ready to burst forth into vigour whenever the conditions of life are fulfilled. To the thoughtful man there is something inexpressively marvellous in this quickening of the seed. This is why botany is a more wonderful science than astronomy, the violet a sublimer thing than Alcyone. All that the scientist can do is to trace sequences; he cannot explain the initial force. He can describe the plant; he cannot expound the plant. The seed springeth up and groweth, he knoweth not how. If he could explain it, he would be a philosopher indeed. In this particular, at least, the parable in Mark 4:26-29 is fitly styled, “The parable of the seed growing secretly.” Again: Not the least wonderful of the phenomena of plant growth is this: it is, at least apparently, automatic. “The earth yieldeth fruit of herself.” It is the echo of the divine dixit on the third day of the creative week: “Let the earth bring forth plants; and the earth brought forth plants.” Not that the soil is the source of vegetation-it is only the sphere of vegetation; not that the soil is the sire of the plant-it is only, so to speak, the matrix of the plant. Nevertheless, so far as appearances go, it does seem as though the soil were a thing of life, bringing forth fruit of herself. There lies the seed buried in the ground. It needs no one to come and touch its pent-up potentialities. It springs up independently of man. True, it is for man to plant the seed, and supply conditions of growth. But it is not for man to cause the seed to germinate or to fructify. The process, so far as man is concerned, is strictly automatic. Verily, the plant does seem to be a living person, self-conscious and self-regulating. But the processes of vegetation are not only mysterious and automatic, they are also gradual. The kernel does not become the full corn in the ear in an instant. In the case of cereals, months intervene between the sowing and the reaping; in the case of fruit trees, years intervene between the planting and the gathering. Nature, at least in the sphere of life and growth, does nothing by leaps. The processes of vegetation are also as orderly as they are gradual. They follow each other in due and regular succession: first the blade, then the ear, then the full corn in the car. The kernel does not become the plump golden corn except by way of the blade. And all these processes issue in fruit. The harvest is but the unfolded seed, unfolding in orderly succession along the axis of growth; and the axis has as its purpose fruit. It is the very nature of the growth, the very law of the seed, to unfold and culminate in crop. And now our farmer comes again into view. Having sown the seed, he went away, confidently leaving it to its own inherent forces. But now that the fruit has ripened, he reappears, and, putting in his sickle, he shouts: “Harvest home!” Such is the parable of the unfolding seed. And now let us ponder the meaning of the parable. In other words, let us trace some of the analogies between the unfolding seed and the unfolding kingdom of God and Christianity.

I. The growth of Christianity is mysterious. As the seed springs up and grows, we know not how, so it is with the kingdom of God. Take, for example, the very beginning of Christianity, the miraculous conception in Nazareth. Who is there that can understand it? Incomparably more mysterious is it than the germination of any seed. Or take the problem of the growth of Christianity-I mean the genuine, original Christianity, truth as it is in Jesus. Once, like a grain of mustard seed, it was the smallest of seeds; but now it has become the largest of herbs, overshadowing with its blessed canopy that tallest portion of the world which we fondly call Christendom. But how came it thus to spread? Because the doctrine of the cross has been preached. And the doctrine of the cross is to the wise men of this world, in an eminent sense, foolishness. Who will explain this mystery, namely, that the foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of man, the weakness of God stronger than the strength of men? How elaborately the solution of this problem has been undertaken, and how wretched the failure, is strikingly seen in the famous fifteenth chapter of Gibbon’s “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.” Or take the growth of Christianity in the case of any individual soul. How secret and underground is the process! How subtle the workings of the Divine life within! The Christian is a mystery even to himself. His life is a life hid with Christ in God.

II. Again: As the seed grows automatically, the earth yielding fruit of herself, so grows the kingdom of God. Christianity is in its own inherent nature self-vital and self-evolving. See how like a thing of life it is. Behold its wondrously absorbing power, subsidizing to its own purposes, and assimilating into its own growing structure, whatever there is of worth in learning, or wealth or influence, or statesmanship, or sect, or providences.

III. The kingdom of God, like the seed which grows gradually, stage by stage, does not burst forth full-grown, like panoplied Minerva from the cloven brow of Jove. See how slow has been the growth of Christendom, taken as a matter of geography. Nearly two millenniums have rolled away since the heavenly Sower declared that His field was the world; and yet by far the larger part of that field is still heathen, never as yet sown with the heavenly seed. Again: See how gradual has been the growth in respect to the moral character of Christendom. More than eighteen centuries have swept away since the Lord of the kingdom pronounced His Beatitudes, and yet there are still in His Church the proud, and the censorious, and the avaricious, and the quarrelsome, and the revengeful. Nevertheless, for let us be just, there has been real growth. We have seen idolatry shaken, slavery abolished, intemperance checked, monopoly curbed, woman emancipated, brotherhood asserted, war preparing to go into perpetual exile. But how tedious has been the growth. In like manner, how slow is the growth in the case of each individual Christian. How slow this unfolding along the axis of Christ’s character! In this is seen the immense advantage of early piety, for it takes a long, long time to unfold into the full-grown man, even the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.

IV. Just as the seed does not leap instantly or whimsically into the fruit, but unfolds itself in orderly succession-first the tender blade, then the swelling ear, then the ripe grain in the ear-so it is with the seed of the kingdom, or God’s truth. This is true in respect to doctrine. First Athanasius, the exponent of the doctrine of Christ; then Augustine, the exponent of the doctrine of Man; then Anselm, the exponent of the doctrine of Grace; then Luther, the exponent of the doctrine of Faith; even faith in that Divine Christ whose grace saves sinful man. Nor has the growth, or advancing order of due succession, ceased. The problem of this present age is the doctrine of the Church, or what constitutes the true body of Christ. And even now we see faint glimmers of the final doctrine-the parousia, or the doctrine of last things. And all this is in due succession; advancing from the Christ who saves to the heaven which is the issue of His saving. And this law of orderly unfolding is equally true in respect to personal character. Do not be so unphilosophical, then, as to look for the full-bearded grain of saintliness preceding the blade of youthful piety; the ripe fruits of the Spirit clustered around the subterranean root. First little children; then young men; then fathers. But there is one more likeness of the kingdom of God to the seed.

V. As the unfolding seed has fruit for its issue, so it is with the seed of the kingdom, or truth as it is in Jesus. When the fruit is ripe, straightway he putteth forth the sickle, because the harvest is come. Christianity means something more than sowing: it also means reaping. Do not be over-anxious. Christian responsibility does have its limits. Beware of Uzziah’s sin of distrust. Plant faithfully the seed, and then go trustfully away. (G. D. Boardman, D. D.)


Verses 26-29

Verse 29

Mark 4:26; Mark 4:29

So is the kingdom of God, as if a man should cast seed into the ground.

The religion of Christ

I. The religion of Christ is a reign. It is not a creed, or a sentiment, or a ritualism, but a regal force, a power that holds sway over intellect, heart, and will. As a reign it is-

1. Spiritual. Its throne is within.

2. Free.

3. Constant.

II. It is a Divine reign. This is proved by-

1. Its congruity with human nature. It accords with reason, conscience, and the profoundest cravings of the soul.

2. Its influence on human life. It makes men righteous, loving, peaceful, godlike.

III. It is a growing reign. It grows in the individual soul, and in the increase of its subjects.

1. This growth is silent. It does not advance as the reign of human monarchs, by noise and bluster, by social convulsion and bloody wars. It works in the mind and spreads through society, silent as the distilling dew or the morning beam.

2. Gradual.

3. Secret.

IV. Christ’s religion may be promoted by human agency. Whilst man cannot in nature create the crop, no crop would come without his agency; so Christ has left the extension of His religion to depend in some measure on man.

V. Human effort is founded on confidence in Divine laws. (D. Thomas, D. D.)

The kingdom in the heart

I. The first lesson taught us here is, that progress in personal religion is vital and not mechanical (Mark 4:26).

1. The “seed” contains in itself the germ of all the future growth. Hence, all expectation must actually begin and end with the grain which is sown. If the initial impartation of Divine grace in the truth through the Holy Ghost be not received, it will do no good whatsoever to watch and hope and encourage ourselves. (See John 6:65.)

2. The “ground” develops the germ. The human life and experience which the seed falls into has to be prepared, and, of course, needs to be cultivated; then God sends His celestial benediction of the sunshine and the showers. But the fruit “the earth bringeth forth of herself.” This union of human fidelity with Divine grace constitutes the cooperation with which the mysterious work goes on. We are to “add” to our attainments, “giving all diligence” (2 Peter 1:5). We are to “work out” our own salvation “with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12-13).

3. The “man” casts the seed. God gives it, and the germ of salvation is in what God gives. But a free-willed man must let it sink into his heart and life. There are “means of grace;” human beings must put themselves in the way of them. The first step in the new life is displayed in the willingness to take every other step. (See 2 Corinthians 3:18, in the New Revision.)

II. Our next lesson from the figure which Christ uses is this: progress in personal religion is constant and not spasmodic. (See verses 26, 27.)

1. Observe here that the growth of the seed is continued through the “night and day.” One little brilliant touch of imagination does great service in this picture. The man rests; he has done his duty. God, the unseen, is silently keeping His promise. And while we rejoice in the sweet helpful sunshine, and thank Him for it, we ought to thank Him too for these heavy moist nights of gloom, which surprise us often with their darkness, and then surprise us more afterwards with the extraordinary progress they have brought. (See Hebrews 12:11.)

2. Hence also we observe that even hindrances help sometimes. Those are the hardiest plants which have been oftenest shadowed; and those are the most stable trees which have been oftenest writhed and tossed by the blasts as they blustered around them.

3. So, above everything else, we observe that here we are taught the necessity of trust. No one thing in nature is more pathetically beautiful than the behaviour of certain sensitive plants we all are acquainted with, as the nightfall approaches. They tranquilly fold up their leaves, as if they were living beings, and now knew that from the evening to the morning again they would have to live just by faith in the Supreme Hand which made them. We must make up our minds that there can be never any healthy growth which undertakes to move forward by frantic leaps or spasms of progress. We must trust God; and He neither dwarfs nor forces. Hothouse shoots are proverbially feeble, and almost always it has been found that conservatory oranges are the bitterest sort of fruit.

III. Once more: let us learn from the figure which our Lord uses, that progress in personal religion is spiritual and not conspicuous. The seed grows, but the man “knows not how.”

1. The man cannot possibly “know how.” Our Saviour, in another place, gives the full reasons for that (Luke 17:20-21). When He declares “the kingdom of God cometh not with observation,” He adds at once His sufficient explanation; “for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.” We are unable to become in any case thoroughly acquainted with each other. We are often mistaken about ourselves. The most we can hope to understand is to be found in grand results, and not in the processes.

2. The man does not need to “know how.” He needs only to keep growing, and all will be right in the end. Christians are not called knowers, but “believers.” The old promise is that “the righteous shall flourish like the palm tree.” And the singularity of the palm tree is that it is an inside grower; it is always adding its woody layers underneath the bark, and enlarging itself from the centre out of sight. Botanically speaking, man is “endogenous.” Our best attainments, like Moses’ shining face, axe always gained unconsciously, and others see them first.

3. Many men make mistakes in trying to “know how.” The religious life of a genuine Christian cannot be dealt with from the outside without injury. It is harmed when we attempt to make it showy. You will kill the strongest trees if you seek to keep them varnished. All penances and pilgrimages, all mere rituals and rubrics, all legislations and reforms, are as powerless to save the soul as so many carvings and statues and cornices on the exterior of a house would be to give health to a sick man within. Time is wasted in efforts to help men savingly in any other way than by teaching them to “grow up in all things into Christ, which is the head” (Ephesians 4:14-16).

IV. Let us learn, in the fourth place, from the figure our Lord uses, that progress in personal religion is natural and not artistic. (See verse 28.)

1. Our Lord Himself was entirely unconventional.

2. Hence, a conventional religion cannot be Christian. For it is not possible that “a man in Christ” should be artistic. Fancy forms of devoteeism are simply grotesque.

3. The “beauty of holiness” will not stand much millinery of adornment. Naturalness is the first element of loveliness.

4. Meantime, let us remember that all Christ seems to desire of His followers is just themselves. Timothy was not set to find some extraordinary attainment, but to “stir up the gift” which was “in him.” Jesus praised the misjudged woman because she had “done what she could.”

V. Finally, we may learn from the figure which our Lord uses, that progress in personal religion is garnered at last, and not lost. (See Mark 4:29.)

1. The “fruit” is what is wanted. And the gains of the growth are all conserved in the fruit. Growth is for the sake of more fruit. Some might say, “The seed that we cast into the ground is quite lost.” No; the seed will be found inside of every fruit. Others might say, “The increase in size and strength is certainly all lost.” No; the increase is ten or a hundred fold inside of the fruit. There is a whole field-full of living germs in the matured fruit of each honest life for God.

2. The “harvest” fixes the final date of the ingathering. There does not appear to be anything like caprice in God’s plan. “He hath made everything beautiful in His time.” And in the harvest time, surely, the fields of ripened grain are loveliest.

3. For it is the ripeness of the fruit which announces the harvest. That must be the force here of the fine and welcome word “immediately.” When the believer is ready to go to his home, the Lord is ready to receive him. (C. S. Robinson.)

God’s work in the kingdom

I. In its beginnings. God permits us to cooperate with Him; but the great work is His. We learn the truth by prayer, and study, and obedience. We make it known. He gives its life. As the farmer can only sow the seed he has obtained, and must depend on the life within it, and the earth which brings forth fruit of herself, so we can only make known the truth we have received, and must trust entirely to God to make it effective.

II. In its growth God advances this new life according to its own laws. We need not be impatient, nor attempt to force unnatural growth, nor dig it up to see if it is growing. But we must make the utmost of our own powers to aid those that are beyond us. As it requires a whole man to make a successful farmer, so all the energies of character, study, and devotion are needed to make a successful sower of the seed of the kingdom.

III. In its perfection. There is a harvest time. God completes the work He has begun in each soul; but He has made us so interdependent that its completion calls for our watchful activity. We are not responsible for the laws of spiritual growth; but we are commanded to be at hand to watch the blade as it appears, to welcome the ear and the full fruit. (A. E. Dunning.)

Human agency likened to a growing plant

I. Man’s knowledge and power, in matter and in mind, are small, yet requisite.

II. Natural powers are made to do much for him, but secretly and slowly.

III. He has to wait in patience, and then to take possession. (J. H. Godwin.)

The growth of the spiritual life

I. Spiritual goodness is a growth. It springs and grows up. Cut the stone and carve it, so it remains; cut the tree, lop off its branches, and then it will sprout. Man can impart motion, and make automata, but he cannot give life. The test of real life is growth.

II. Spiritual goodness is an independent growth. Not a hot house plant. Needs no petting. Ministers need not torment themselves about the issue of the work: God gives the increase.

III. Spiritual goodness is a mysterious growth. The law of development is hidden, though real.

IV. Spiritual goodness is a constant growth. Our souls do not rest.

V. Spiritual goodness is a progressive growth. The blade is the mark of tenderness; the ear is the mark of full vigour; the full corn in the ear is the mark of maturity. (F. W. Robertson, M. A.)

The power of growth inherent in things divine

The husbandman has only two functions with regard to the seed-to sow it, and to reap. All the rest the seed can manage for itself. So in spiritual things, we need only take care that we sow good seed-seed of truth, seed of good example, seed of loving sympathy. We need not too curiously inquire as to the exact attitude of the hearts on which we scatter the seed, nor ask every hour as to the appreciation which the seed receives, nor use a microscope to measure its daily growth, nor keep piling on the simple seed undue efforts to secure its fruitfulness. (R. Glover.)

The seed growing mysteriously

Remarkable correspondence between history of Church and spiritual life of individual Christians. Consider in this connection:

I. The growth and fruitfulness of the Divine Word in the entire history of the Church.

1. The certain growth of the truth through this dispensation. Christianity is always spreading.

2. The orderly development of the truth. Providence continually brings into view long-hidden meanings and applications of the gospel.

3. The mystery of the gospel’s extension and development. Even the wisest are far from understanding the true reason and mode of its growth.

II. The growth and fruitfulness of the Divine Word in individual lives.

1. They who hear the gospel should consider the consequences of their conduct in relation to it. The honest reception of it is the beginning of a life of holy fruitfulness to the glory of God. The rejection involves a state worse than barrenness.

2. This parable should teach cheerful confidence to all who sow the good seed-ministers, teachers-all who speak a word for Christ. The result is beyond their power or knowledge, but it is sure.

3. It should produce joy in all Christian hearts by the prospect which it opens. The glorious issue of each Christian life. The blessed consummation of the world’s history. The final rejoicing of all who labour in the gospel. Above all, the harvest gladness of the Lord. (E. Heath.)

The kingdoms of grace and glory

These two kingdoms differ not specifically, but gradually; they differ not in nature, but only in degree. The kingdom of grace is nothing but the inchoation or beginning of the kingdom of glory; the kingdom of grace is glory in the seed, and the kingdom of glory is grace in the flower; the kingdom of grace is glory in the daybreak, and the kingdom of glory is grace in the full meridian; the kingdom of grace is glory militant, and the kingdom of glory is grace triumphant. There is such an inseparable connection between these two kingdoms, that there is no passing into the one but by the other. At Athens there were two temples-a temple of virtue and a temple of honour; and there was no going into the temple of honour but through the temple of virtue. So the kingdoms of grace and glory are so joined together, that we cannot go into the kingdom of glory but through the kingdom of grace. Many people aspire after the kingdom of glory, but never look after grace; but these two, which God hath joined together, may not be put asunder. The kingdom of grace leads to the kingdom of glory. (T. Watson.)

The seed in the heart

The ascendency and growth of true religion.

1. External agencies. We are not passive and powerless recipients of heavenly influences; we are required to use diligently all the appliances of the husbandman, leaving the rest to Him who disposes all things. The eye of God marks what becomes of each grain of seed: how one lies disregarded on the surface of the worldly heart, and another sinks no deeper than the first stratum of fitful impulse piety; how the young choke the seed with pleasures, the middle-aged destroy it with worldly ambitions, and the old stifle it with corroding cares; yet, dead as this seed may seem, it springeth up, ay, and will spring up in another world, if not in this, and bear its testimony against all who neglect or despise the message of God.

2. The invisible methods of its succeeding processes. There is no discovering of the subtle law, by which the preaching of the self-same Word becomes powerless here, and effectual there. An unperceived influence is brought to bear on a man’s heart, constraining but not compelling him, causing principles and desires and feelings to spring up “he knows not how.” It is for him to yield to this influence.

3. The certain progressiveness of true religion. No standing still. All religion is a spreading and an advancing thing. God leads on the converted soul step by step; He restores the features of our lost spiritual image little by little; He destroys the dominant passions of the old man one by one; and so leads us on from strength to strength, till in the perfect righteousness of Christ we appear before Him in Zion. To continue babes in Christ, would be like saying that we have the leaven of God within us, and yet that it is not affecting the surrounding mass; that the fire of God is within our hearts, without burning up the dross and stubble; that, aged trees as we are, we put forth nothing but the tender shoot, and patriarchs as we should be in spiritual things, we are but as infants of a day old.

4. The end: the final gathering of the ripe sheaves into the garner of life. Here our progress may be slow; there is an infinitude of holy attainment beyond. (Daniel Moore, M. A.)

The soul’s restoration is gradual

It is one of the severest trials of our faith, to go on day after day in the same struggle against sin and self; and it is a sore temptation to many-because they do not see any striking proofs of restoration, any rapid growth in grace, any marked progress in the heavenward journey-to doubt whether progress has been made. It is Satan who makes this suggestion to them, to daunt and to destroy; but it is a lie which can deceive those only who forget or distrust their God. The farmer who goes every day to his fields, though he knows that in due season he shall reap, does not notice the development which is going on in his wheat; but they who pass by at longer intervals observe and admire. It is so with the true Christian: he does not see his character change, the kingdom of God cometh not with observation unto him; but, slowly and surely, silently as the sap rises in the trees, as the leaves unroll and the blossom bursts, and lo! the fruit is there; so goes on the restoration of grace-imperceptibly, as the light will soon fade into darkness, or rather, as the morning shineth more and more unto the perfect day. A soul can no more be restored and sanctified for heaven at once, than a tree can bear fruit without the blossom, or a church be restored without cost and toil. Only they who learn to labour and to wait, will have wages from the Lord of the vineyard, when the even of the world is come, and to him that overcometh He shall give the beautiful crown. (S. R. Hole, M. A.)

The patience of hope

I. Do not worry yourself about the growth of grace in others. Do not press too hardly for evidence of growth in your children. Confine your care to the seed you sow, and, calm and hopeful, leave the rest to God.

II. Be not too anxious about the work of grace in your own soul. It grows like the corn; like the corn you cannot see it growing. Take care of your action, and your nature will take care of itself. Harbour no thoughts of despair.

III. Be patient with yourself. Plants that are meant to live long grow slowly. A mushroom grows swiftly, and passes away swiftly. The oak grows slow to stand long. Grace is meant to live forever, and grows, therefore, slowly. Each good act helps it a little, but you cannot trace the help. If God has patience with you, have patience with yourself; and make not your grace less by worrying because it is not more. (R. Glover.)

Spiritual growth

In form and imagery this parable is exquisitely simple; in principle and meaning it is very profound. To be able to put great truths in simple language is a note of true power. Christ was a master of this art. His disciples do not seem to have ever attempted it. The parable was too Divine a thing for them to touch. The idea in this parable is distinct and beautiful. The seed once sown, grows according to its own nature; it has life in itself; and when once fairly deposited in congenial soil, and subjected to the quickening influences of heavenly sunshine and shower, it silently and mysteriously develops the life that is in it, according to the ordinary principles of growth. It has an inherent vitality, a growth power, which springs up “we know not how;” we only see that it grows. The brown clod of the field is first tinged with virgin green; then covered as with a carpet; then waves, in yielding beauty to the wind, like a summer sea, and rustles in ripening music, like a forest. So is the kingdom of God; the field of the heart, the field of the world, are thus covered with gracious fruit.

I. This great law of spiritual growth is not always recognized, nor are men always contented with it. We are eager for quick results; we have not the patience to wait for the slow development from seed to fruit.

II. But this is God’s plan in all things. He produces nothing by great leaps and transitions; all His great works are quiet processes. Light and darkness melt into each other; the seasons change by gradual transition; all life, vegetable and animal, grows from a germ; and the higher and nobler the type of life, the slower and more gradual is the process of growth. The oak attains to maturity more slowly than the flower; man than the lower animals; the mind than the body; the soul than the mind.

III. Application to the character and course of the Christian life.

1. Its beginning. Only a blade, hardly to be discerned above the soil, or distinguished from common grass. We may often confound the real beginnings of religion with ordinary human virtues.

2. Its progress. We look for the formation of the ear, and for the full corn in the ear. A child of God, always a babe, is a deformity.

3. Its consummation. How fruitful and beautiful it should be, not with the verdant beauty of the blade, but with the golden beauty of the ripe corn. (Henry Allon.)

The blade, the ear, the fall corn

The seed in the ground. The kingdom of God, or religion in the heart, is secret in its beginnings. This is suggested by the parable. A man casts seed into the ground, and then leaves it to Nature-that is, to God. Such is the silence and secrecy of the Divine life in the heart. We have the truth of God as seed. Compared with natural or scientific truth (which yet we would not disparage) it may well be called, as in one of the Psalms, “precious seed,” and the sowers of it may well go forth “weeping”-i.e. with intensity of will, with all their sensibilities stirred to the sowing of it; and yet let them know-it is well for us all to know-that a sower can only sow. He cannot decompose the grain. He cannot vitalize the inward germ. He must leave the seed with God. Attempts are made, sometimes, in times of religious revival and excitement, to force the living process, and even to have essential power and action in it; to make it begin at certain times and in certain ways; but the success of these efforts is but small. Very often the result of such intrusive violence is simply this, that Nature is made to look like grace for a little while, only to sink back into Nature again. We are only sowers. We “cast the seed into the ground,” we “sleep and rise night and day.” We go about our customary avocations and know nothing for certain of what has become of the seed for a time. By and by we shall know by the appearing of the blade above the soil, by the growing and by the ripening; but at first we knew nothing. The blade.

Not only is there secrecy at the beginning, but even after life is begun the manifestations of it are very slender and even dubious. Life must appear in some way, else we cannot apprehend it. We know life, not in its very substance, but only in its attributes and fruits. The first appearance of life is therefore a time of great interest; we watch it as the farmer watches the blade when it first shows above the soil. It does not then look at all like the corn it ultimately becomes. “First the blade.” Take it when it is just visible above the soil-tender, pale, hardly green as yet-and compare that with the treasures of the threshing floor. What a difference! and how wonderful it seems that those should come from that! Not only is the first appearance small and slender, but to the unskilled eye it is very dubious and uncertain. Even so! The springing of the precious seed of Divine truth out of the secret soul into the visible life, is known at first often by manifestations very slender and sensitive. The begun life is so feeble that you can hardly say “It is there.” A flush on the cheek or a gleam of the eye betokens some unusual inward feeling. Something is done, or something is left undone, and that is all! A Bible is kept in the room, and sometimes read in the morning or the evening. A new walk is taken that a certain person may be met, or missed. A letter has a sentence or two with the slightest touch of a new tone in it. Or there is some other faint suggestion of a change of mind and view. And if one should come with a high standard and a strict measuring line he might, of course, say, “Is that all?” Do you expect that to endure the conflicts and tests of life, and overcome its difficulties? Do you look for golden harvest only out of that? And yet that young, tender, trembling soul will grow in grace, and will be at last as ripe and mellow and ready for the garner as the other. “Then the ear.”-God’s day of revelation. Everyone knows corn in the ear-all dubiety is over when we look on the ear of corn. In the spike that holds the grain, as in a protective loving embrace, we know, although we do not see it, that the corn is enfolded. And when the spike expands with the force of vegetation, and the seeds of corn appear, no one can deny or doubt their existence. So there is a revealing or declaring time in the spiritual life. Life, hidden beyond the proper time of manifestation, will die. The corn in the ear cannot be preserved; it must grow on, or perish. “The full corn in the ear.”-The work of grace perfected. As the result of the growing comes the ripening, or what is here called “the full corn in the ear.” How little there is of man! How much of God! Man throws the seed into the ground, as one might throw a handful of pebbles into the sea! and months afterwards he comes, and carries away, by reaping and harvesting, thirty fold or sixty fold. He throws in one and carries away thirty, as it were direct from the hand of God. It is God who has been working during all these silent months. He never leaves the field. Down beneath the red mould He has His laboratory. He kindles there ten thousand invisible fires. He carries on and completes in unreckonable instances that process of transmutation which is the most wonderful that takes place beneath the sun. He opens in every field ten thousand times ten thousand fountains of life, and out of these living fountains spring the visible forms, blade, and sheath, and ear, and ripened corn. And after God has been thus working, then again comes the man, with his baskets, with his empty garners, and God fills them. Now the chief lesson-the very teaching of the parable-is this: that the human agency is no more in proportion and degree within the “kingdom of God” than it is in the field of corn. “So is the kingdom of God.” The spiritual life is as much and as constantly under God’s care as, in the natural world, is the field of growing corn. Indeed, we may say the spiritual life has more of His care. For, while the man has the sowing and the reaping in the natural field, in the spiritual field he has the sowing but not the reaping. “The angels are the reapers.” Souls ripened for heaven are not reaped by men on the earth. The practical uses of the great truth taught in the parable are such as these. It teaches us a lesson of diligence. We can only sow, therefore let us sow. A lesson of reverence. What wonders are being wrought very near to us in silence! The Spirit of God is striving with human spirits! A lesson of abstinence. Having sown the seed, leave it with God. Think-“It has passed now from my care into a more sacred department, and into far higher hands. With Him let me leave it.” Finally, a lesson of trust. (A. Raleigh, D. D.)

The different stages in the growth of Christian life

I. Let us attend to the words before us, by observing briefly the stages of Christian life as presented to us by them. A thing of events must have stages; a thing of time must also have its stages; so must all things of growth and advancement Christian life is a thing of events, of time, and of growth; as such, it has its stages of development and maturity.

1. There is the blade stage. Human life, in all its forms, has its blade form and condition, as well as the plant.

2. Then the ear. This is the middle stage of Christian life.

3. The full corn in the ear.

4. It is intended to show us a life having answered its right end. The end of all toil and culture was to make it full and rich in the ear; that period has arrived without a failure, and all rejoice in the fact. Such a life is the highest thing possible, for there is nothing better for us than to answer the end of the Divine plan of wisdom and goodness.

II. The progress of Christian life. Divine order is one of progress. Among finite imperfect beings, this is a necessity in law, and a kindness in provision. We are born infants, and we gain strength and knowledge by gradual progression.

1. It is a progress by events. Sometimes there is a discovery made which reveals more in an hour than otherwise in an age. We on a sudden rise to the top of some sunny mountain, and see more by that event than all the travel in the valley below would have shown us all our life-the haziness is removed from the vision in one moment by the relation of events, and we become truer, stronger, and happier, as by the magic of lightning. The peeping of the blade through the earth, the forming of the ear, and the filling of the ear, are events in the plant which show its advancement, as well as being the means of its progress. Birth, in our natural life, is an event of amazing progress; so is the quickening of our moral sentiments in our religious life; and often the reading of a book, the intercourse with a superior friend, or entrance into a school, become the greatest possible events in our mental life. Nature is full of events, so is religion. They break the monotony of life, and give freshness and force to the general and common in existence, so as to make them varied and attractive. Let us not think that they are not of Divine ordination by reason that they are only rare and occasional; they have their class, laws, and work, as much as the common in every day’s transaction.

2. It is a progress of law and order. Progress is only possible by law; the thing that does not advance by law is a retrogression. We may not be able to understand all in the law of life, but we can follow it, for that is both our duty and privilege alike. The law of progress is within the reach of the babe; by submitting to it he advances into true manhood. It is the fixing of the soul upon high objects, using all means given us for that end, and unyielding perseverance in the application.

3. It is a progress through opposing forces and difficulties. Nothing escapes the opposing powers of life. If the little blade could give us the history of days and nights, oh! what a story of difficulties and dangers would it tell us! Can sinful man expect to advance more easily than the beautiful flower or the innocent blade? Human nature is weedy and thorny, a very uncongenial soil for the seed of life.

4. It is a progress in itself imperceivable in its actual process. The growth of the blade is not seen in itself, it is only seen at different epochs.

5. It is a progress hidden in mystery. We speak of things as if we knew them, whereas we know very little more than their existence and their names. No physiologist can explain all the laws of life and growth in the plant; and it can be no amazement if we know as little in the greater thing of spiritual life in the soul.

6. It is a progress of gradual, slow development. The plant does not reach its maturity in one hour, but it is the growth of different seasons, treatment night and day, weeks and months. Good culture can only bring it forward more rapidly, and produce a better quality; it cannot alter the law of gradual advancement. Slow and gradual development of Christian life in our heart and practice corresponds with our powers to bear and to do. If it were all at once, we could not bear it; also its educational power over our patience and hope would be of little value, as well as the perpetual enjoyment which it throws over the whole period of gradual growth. It is dependent upon our activity, and if we acted more earnestly it would be much faster in growth than it is: but if we acted to the top of our strength, used all means, and failed in nothing, it would be still an advancement by degrees. If we are slow in the climbing, we have time to reflect and gain wisdom as we proceed; if it is gradual and tedious, we get more consolidated in the growth and soil. Let us not be discouraged; this is not an exception in our spiritual life, it is the law in other matters much the same. The organs of our bodies, the powers of our minds, reach their full height and maturity little by little. The great building is reared by slow and gradual advancement, and the tall and broad oak reaches its climax maturity through very slow degrees. We have no reason to be discouraged; law is safe and sure; it is as faithful in the slow process as it is in the event of the faster advancement. We have nothing to fear apart from ourselves; enough for us to know that it will be finished in due time if we fail not to give all diligence to secure the happy result.

III. The conditional laws of Christian life, required in every stage of its advancement and involved even in the fact of its existence.

1. One condition in the life and growth of the plant is, there must be vital seed. No one with experience thinks of planting lifeless particles, for experience and reason unite to proclaim it hopeless and useless. A mere form or appearance of life is not sufficient; it must be real in the heart of the seed to give life to the plant. Christian truth in its right relation is life, and thus planted and cultivated, produces life in the believing mind and heart that receives it.

2. Another condition in the order of law is, there must be a proper soil to receive the seed. To receive the seed of life, there is a fit soil required in our mind, heart, and conscience.

3. Another law in the growth of the plant is the one of means. The plant you must cultivate, or it will decline into feebleness, and will die. You must water its root, remove destructive weeds from communion with it, take away the thing that shades it, and sometimes you must prop it; these are the means of law and life, and you never say they are hard and unreasonable; you think yourself sufficiently rewarded for all in being able to preserve the life of the plant. Think not that spiritual life requires less at your hands than that of the plant.

4. Another law in the advancement of life, both of the plant and Christian, is variety in unity of operation. Before a little plant can live and grow, you must have combination of elements operating in beautiful harmony for the purpose. The wind must blow, the rain must fall; light, heat, and gases must meet in nice equality and harmonious activity. The absence of one would make the process imperfect; even an inequality would impair the total result of the whole. The law applicable to the plant is analogically the same in Christian life. As in the life of the plant, so there are various elements and agencies required to sustain and carry on the process of Christian life to its full beauty and perfection. Light, faith, love, hope, patience, action, communion, perseverance, and sacrifice, must be united in the delicate and important work of the building up of Christian life.

5. Another law in the economy of life is active exercise. Life is an active thing; it is preserved and advanced by unceasing activity. To preserve Christian life in full and healthy vigour, the whole soul must be in full exercise.

6. Another condition I shall just name-something supernatural, and above and behind life, is required for its existence and growth. Life in the plant, as well as in the heart, is incapable of producing itself, and the source of it must be above and independent of the means which produce and sustain it. (T. Hughes.)

What the farm labourers can do and what they cannot do

I. We shall, first, learn from our text what we can do and what we cannot do. “So is the kingdom of God, as if a man should cast seed into the ground:” this the gracious worker can do. “And the seed should spring and grow up, he knoweth not how:” this is what he cannot do: seed once sown is beyond human jurisdiction, and man can neither make it spring nor grow. Notice, then, that we can sow. Any man who has received the knowledge of the grace of God in his heart can teach others. We need never quarrel with God because we cannot do everything, if He only permits us to do this one thing; for sowing the good seed is a work which will need all our wit, our strength, our love, our care. Still, wise sowers discover favourable opportunities for sowing, and gladly seize upon them. This seed should be sown often, for many are the foes of the wheat, and if you repeat not your sowing you may never see a harvest. The seed must be sown everywhere, too, for there are no choice corners of the world that you can afford to let alone, in the hope that they will he self-productive. You may not leave the rich and intelligent under the notion that surely the gospel will be found among them, for it is not so: the pride of life leads them away from God. You may not leave the poor and illiterate, and say, “Surely they will of themselves feel their need of Christ.” I have heard that Captain Cook, the celebrated circumnavigator, in whatever part of the earth he landed, took with him a little packet of English seeds, and scattered them in suitable places. He mould leave the boat and wander up from the shore. He said nothing, but quietly scattered the seeds wherever he went, so that he belted the world with the flowers and herbs of his native land. Imitate him wherever you go; sow spiritual seed in every place that your foot shall tread upon. Let us now think of what you cannot do. You cannot, after the seed has left your hand, cause it to put forth life. I am sure you cannot make it grow, for you do not know how it grows. The text saith, “And the seed should spring and grow up, he knoweth not how.” That which is beyond the range of our knowledge is certainly beyond the reach of our power. Can you make a seed germinate? Certainly this is true of the rise and progress of the life of God in the heart. It enters the soul and roots itself we know not how. Naturally men hate the Word, but it enters and it changes their hearts, so that they come to love it; yet we know not how. Their whole nature is renewed, so that instead of producing sin it yields repentance, faith, and love; but we know not how. How the Spirit of God deals with the mind of man, how He creates the new heart and the right spirit, how we are begotten again unto a lively hope, we cannot tell.

II. Our second head is like unto the first, and consists of what we can know and what we cannot know. First, what we can know. We can know when we have sown the good seed of the Word that it will grow; for God has promised that it shall do so. Moreover, the earth, which is here the type of the man, “bringeth forth fruit of herself.” We must mind what we are at in expounding this, for human hearts do not produce faith of themselves; they are as hard rock on which the seed perishes. But it means this-that as the earth under the blessing of the dew and the rain is, by God’s secret working upon it, made to take up and embrace the seed, so the heart of man is made ready to receive and enfold the gospel of Jesus Christ within itself. Man’s awakened heart wants exactly what the Word of God supplies. Moved by a divine influence the soul embraces the truth, and is embraced by it, and so the truth lives in the heart, and is quickened by it. Man’s love accepts the love of God; man’s faith wrought in him by the Spirit of God believes the truth of God; man’s hope wrought in him by the Holy Ghost lays hold upon the things revealed, and so the heavenly seed grows in the soil of the soul. The life comes not from you who preach the Word, but it is placed within the Word which you preach by the Holy Spirit. The life is not in your hand, but in the heart which is led to take hold upon the truth by the Spirit of God. Salvation comes not from the personal authority of the preacher, but through the personal conviction, personal faith, and personal love of the hearer. So much as this we may know, and is it not enough for all practical purposes? Still, there is a something which we cannot know, a secret into which we cannot pry. I repeat what I have said before: you cannot look into men’s inward parts and see exactly how the truth takes hold upon the heart, or the heart takes hold upon the truth. Many have watched their own feelings till they have become blind with despondency, and others have watched the feelings of the young till they have done them rather harm than good by their rigorous supervision. In God’s work there is more room for faith than for sight. The heavenly seed grows secretly.

III. Thirdly, our text tells us what we may expect if we work for God and what we may not expect. According to this parable we may expect to see fruit. But we may not expect to see all the seed which we sow spring up the moment we sow it. We are also to expect to see the good seed grow, but not always after our fashion. Like children we are apt to be impatient. Your little boy sowed mustard and cress yesterday in his garden. This afternoon Johnny will be turning over the ground to see if the seed is growing. There is no probability that his mustard and cress will come to anything, for he will not let it alone long enough for it to grow. So is it with hasty workers; they must see the result of the gospel directly, or else they distrust the blessed Word. Certain preachers are in such a hurry that they will allow no time for thought, no space for counting the cost, no opportunity for men to consider their ways and turn to the Lord with fall purpose of heart. All other seeds take time to grow, but the seed of the Word must grow before the speaker’s eyes like magic, or he thinks nothing has been done. Such good brethren are so eager to produce blade and ear there and then, that they roast their seed in the fire of fanaticism, and it perishes. We may expect also to see the seed ripen. Our works will by God’s grace lead up to real faith in those He hath wrought upon by his Word and Spirit; but we must not expect to see it perfect at first. How many mistakes have been made here. Here is a young person under impression, and some good, sound brother talks with the trembling beginner, and asks profound questions. He shakes his experienced head, and knits his furrowed brows. He goes into the cornfield to see how the crops are prospering, and though it is early in the year, he laments that he cannot see an ear of corn; indeed, he perceives nothing but mere grass. “I cannot see a trace of corn,” says he. No, brother, of course you cannot; for you will not be satisfied with the blade as an evidence of life, but must insist upon seeing everything at full growth at once. If you had looked for the blade you would have found it; and it would have encouraged you. For my own part, I am glad even to perceive a faint desire, a feeble longing, a degree of uneasiness, or a measure of weariness of sin, or a craving after mercy. Will it not be wise for you, also, to allow things to begin at the beginning, and to be satisfied with their being small at the first? See the blade of desire, and then watch for more. Soon you shall see a little more than desire; for there shall be conviction and resolve, and after that a feeble faith, small as a mustard seed, but bound to grow. Do not despise the day of small things.

IV. Under the last head we shall consider what sleep workers may take and what they may not take; for it is said of this sowing man, that he sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed springs and grows up he knoweth not how. But how may a good workman for Christ lawfully go to sleep? I answer, first, he may sleep the sleep of restfulness born of confidence. Also take that sleep of joyful expectancy which leads to a happy waking. Take your rest because you have consciously resigned your work into God’s hands. But do not sleep the sleep of unwatchfulness. A farmer sows his seed, but he does not therefore forget it. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

On the analogies which obtain between the natural and the spiritual husbandry

A man may be qualified for practically carrying forward a process, of whose hidden steps and of whose internal workings he is most profoundly ignorant. This is true in manufactures. It is true in the business of agriculture. And it holds eminently true in the business of education. How many are the efficient artizans, for example, in whose hands you may at all times count on a right and prosperous result; but who are utterly in the dark as to the principles of that chemistry in their respective arts by the operation of which the result is arrived at. And how many a ploughman, who knows best how to prepare the ground, and who knows best how to deposit the seed for the object of a coming harvest; and yet, if questioned upon the arcana of physiology, or of those secret and intermediate changes by which the grain in the progress of vegetable growth is transformed into a complete plant ripened and ready for the use of man, would reply, in the language of my text, that he knoweth not how. And, in like manner, there is many a vigorous and successful educationist, who does come at the result of good scholarship, whether in Christianity or in common learning-and that without ever theorizing on the latent and elementary principles of the subject upon which he operates-without so much as casting one glance at the science of metaphysics-a science more inscrutable still than that of physiology; and which, by probing into the mysteries of the human spirit, would fain discover how it is that a truth is first deposited there by communication, and then takes root in the memory, and then warms into an impression, and then forms into a sentiment, and then ripens into a purpose, and then comes out to visible observation in an effect or a deed or a habit of actual performance. There are thousands who, in the language of our text, know not how all this comes about, and yet have, in point of fact and of real business, set the process of it effectively agoing. We cannot afford at present to trace all the analogies which obtain between a plant from the germination of its seed, and a Christian from the infancy of his first principles. We shall, in the first place, confine ourselves to one or two of these analogies; and, secondly, endeavour to show how some of what may be called the larger operations of Christian philanthropy admit of having a certain measure of light thrown upon them, by the comparison which is laid before us in this parable between the work of a teacher and the work of a husbandman.

I. In the agricultural process there is much that is left to be done by nature and in a way that the workman knoweth not how; nor is it at all necessary that he should. He puts forth his hand and sets a mechanism ageing-the principles of which he, with his head, is wholly unable to comprehend. The doing of his part is indispensable, but his knowledge of the way in which Nature doeth her part is not indispensable. Now, it is even so in the work of spiritual husbandry. There is an obvious part of it that is done by the agency of man; and there is a hidden part of it which is independent of that agency. What more settled and reposing than the faith which a husbandman has in the constancy of Nature. He knows not how it is; but, on the strength of a gross and general experience, he knows that so it is. And it were well in a Christian teacher to imitate this confidence. There is in it both the wisdom of experience and the sublime wisdom of piety. But, again, it is the work of the husbandman to cast the seed into the ground. It is not his work to manufacture the seed. This were wholly above him and beyond him. In like manner, to excogitate and to systematize the truths which we are afterwards to deposit in the minds of those who are submitted to our instruction, were a task beyond the faculties of man. These truths, therefore, are provided to his hand. What his eye could not see, nor his ear hear, has been brought within his reach by a communication from heaven; and to him nothing is left but a simple acquiescence in his Bible, and a faithful exposition of it. Our writers upon education may have done something. They may have scattered a few superficial elegancies over the face of society, and taught the lovely daughters of accomplishment how to walk in gracefulness their little hour over a paltry and perishable scene. But it is only in as far as they deal in the truths and lessons of the Bible that they rear any plants for heaven, or can carry forward a single pupil to the bloom and the vigour of immortality. And as we have not to manufacture a seed for the operations of our spiritual husbandry, so neither have we to mend it. It is not fit that the wisdom of God should thus be intermeddled with by the wisdom of man. But again-we do not lose sight of the analogy which there is between the work of a spiritual and that of a natural husbandman-when, after having affirmed the indispensableness of casting into the ground of the human heart the pure and the simple Word, we further affirm the indispensableness and the efficacy of prayer. Even after that, in the business of agriculture, man hath performed his handiwork by depositing the seed in the earth-he should acknowledge the handiwork of God, in those high and hidden processes, whether of the atmosphere above or of the vegetable kingdom below, which he can neither control nor comprehend. By the work of diligence which he does with his hand, he fulfils man’s parts of the operation. By the prayer of dependence which arises from his heart, he does homage and recognition to God’s part of it. And we are not to imagine that prayer is without effect, even in the processes of the natural economy. The same God who framed and who organized our great mundane system has never so left it to the play and the impulses of its own mechanism as to have resigned even for one moment that mastery over it which belongs to Him; but He knows when to give that mysterious touch, by which He both answers prayer, and disturbs not the harmony of the universe which He has formed. It is when man aspires upwards after fellowship with God, and looks and longs for the communications of light and of power from the sanctuary-it is then that God looks with loudest complacency upon man, and lets willingly downward all the treasures of grace upon his soul. It is said of Elijah that, when he prayed, the heaven gave rain and the earth brought forth her fruit.

II. We now come to the second thing proposed, which was to show how some of what may be called the larger operations of Christian philanthropy admit of a certain measure of light being thrown upon them by the comparison made in this parable between the work of a Christian teacher and the work of a husbandman. And first, it may evince to us the efficacy of that Christian teaching, which is sometimes undertaken by men in humble life and of the most ordinary scholarship. Let them have but understanding enough for the great and obvious simplicities of the Bible, and let them have grace enough for devout and depending prayer; and, on the strength of these two properties, they are both wise unto salvation for themselves, and may become the instruments of winning the souls of others also. It is well for the families of our land that the lessons of eternity can fall with effect even from the lips of the cottage patriarch. But this brings us to the last of those analogies between the natural and the spiritual husbandry which we shall at present be able to overtake-an analogy not certainly suggested by the text, but still close enough for the illustration of all which we can now afford to say in defence of those parochial establishments which have done so much, we think, both for the Christianity and the scholarship of our people. A territorial division of the country into parishes, each of which is assigned to at least one minister as the distinct and definite field of his spiritual cultivation-this we have long thought does for Christianity what is often done in agriculture by a system of irrigation. You are aware what is meant by this. Its use is for the conveyance and the distribution of water, that indispensable aliment to all vegetation over the surface of the land. It is thus, for example, that by the establishment of duets of conveyance the waters of the Nile are made to overspread the farms of Egypt-the country through which it passes. This irrigation, you will observe, does not supply the water. It only conveys it. It does not bring down the liquid nourishment from heaven. It only spreads it abroad upon the earth. Were there no descent of water from above, causing the river to overflow its banks, there is nothing in the irrigation, with its then dry and deserted furrows, which could avail the earth that is below. On the other hand, were there no irrigation, many would be the tracts of country that should have no agriculture and could bang no produce. Let not, therefore, our dependence on the Spirit lead us to despise the machinery of a territorial establishment, and neither let our confidence in machinery lead us to neglect prayer for the descent of living water from on high. (Dr. Chalmers.)

Mysterious growth

We little think how much is always going on in what we may call the underground of life; and how much more we have to do with those secret processes which underlie everything, than might, at first sight, appear. We are all casting live seeds. Every word, act, look, goes down into somebody’s mind, and lives there. You said something-it was false. You said it lightly. But someone heard it, and it lodged in his mind; it was a seed to him. It found something in that man’s mind that was congenial to it; and so it struck a root; it ramified; it fructified. It led on to other thoughts; then it became a word or an action in that man’s life; and his word and act did to another heart just what yours did to him. This is the dark side of a grand truth. Now read the bright side. “So is the kingdom of God, as if a man should cast seed,” etc. The sower of this seed is properly the Lord Jesus Christ; but He uses men. The truth in a man’s heart propagates-but secretly. We are to believe in the independent power that there is in God’s Word to do its own work in a man’s heart. There is something kindred between a particular word and some affection or thought in a man’s mind before it can take effect. Perhaps the word will incline a man to give up some sin he has previously indulged; may awaken a sense of dissatisfaction with the world; may beget a painful sense of sin. However it be, there will be a great deal passing in the mind which does not meet the eye. Fathers and mothers, who have cast the early seed, you have slept for very sorrow. You see nothing. Wait on. The springing and the growing will be you know not where, and you know not how. (J. Vaughan, M. A.)

The seed growing secretly

1. God does His work silently.

2. God does His work slowly.

3. God does His work surely Underneath all apparent disasters His kingdom comes.

I. In expounding this parable observe that this law of God supposes human effort.

II. It supposes human confidence quite as much as human effort. (W. G. Barrett.)

Progressive religion

I. God carries on His work of grace by the instrumentality of men-“As if a man should cast seed.”

II. This work of grace is often for some time unperceived. Thus the seed of Divine grace sown in the heart is frequently there when not discerned. It is often concealed owing to the gradual and imperceptible manner in which it is produced; by the privacy of a man’s situation, and because of the natural timidity of his temper. It should excite the prayer, “Let Thy work appear unto Thy servant,” etc.

III. Where this work of grace exists it must sooner or later appear-“Springeth and groweth up.”

IV. It is gradual in its growth-“First the blade,” etc. For some time knowledge, faith, love, hope, joy, are small and feeble. But gradually the believer gathers strength. He grows in knowledge and hatred of sin. But let not the weakest be discouraged; the tenderness of Jesus is a strong consolation.

V. The work of grace is beneficial in its present effects-“When the fruit is brought forth.” The fruit of piety towards God and of usefulness to men.

VI. This work of grace is glorious in its final result-“Immediately he putteth in the sickle, because the harvest is come.” The gathering of saints to heaven is God’s harvest. The value which God attaches to His own people, and the tender care which He exercises over them. When this work is done they are gathered into heaven.

1. Has the Word of God been sown in your hearts? You have it in your Bibles, but have you received it?

2. You that seem to receive the Word, what evidence have you of its growth?

3. What prospect have you of this glorious result? (T. Kidd.)

Changes incident to Christian growth

1. The law of growth is one of the necessary laws of life. All life must be actually growing.

2. That growth in Christian life involves change. Our views of God may be expected to change and grow; of the relationship between God and Christ; of the relative importance and the proportions of different doctrines; our views of God’s Word will change. But as these changes pass over the growing Christian he is often greatly distressed. Be humble, but do not fear. Some of the changes incident to Christian growth will affect our views, of religious duties and the religious life. As we grow we form a different estimate of the active and passive, of the working and waiting. (R. Tuck, B. A.)

Growth through change

And this is the peculiarity of growth in animal life-it is growth through change. Think of the silkworm. It is first a little egg; within it life is developing; presently the worm comes creeping forth; again and again it casts its skin, changing until it passes into a state like death, changing once more into a winged form, full of beauty. These growings by change have been illustrated from the peculiarities of the ride by railway into the City of Edinburgh. Sometimes the train passes through fiat, well-populated country. Sometimes it hurries through the busy towns, over which the dark smoke hangs. Sometimes it passes amid the hills, up winding valleys, and along the murmuring shores, and the travellers are enchanted with varying scenes of natural beauty, presently it nears its destination, and rushes screaming into the dark tunnel, which shuts out all light and beauty. That is the last change, and soon it comes forth into the North Loch, and all the full glory of that city of monuments and mansions breaks upon the view. Ever advancing, through changings and growings, we, too, shall come through the valley of the shadow to the city of the great King, and the full glory of holiness and the smile of God. (R. Tuck, B. A.)

Soul life and growth imperceptible

When a man is building a house he can see it as it goes on. That is an outside matter. There is seam after seam, row after row of stone or brick. Gradually the form of the window or the door rises. The second story, the third story, the building up to the roof appears. He can see it day by day. A man goes into his garden and plants, for spring, the early lettuce, or radish, or whatever it may be. He may sit up all night with spectacles and a lantern, but he will not see anything going on; and yet there is something going on which is vitally connected with the whole operation of vegetable development. The seed has not been in the ground an hour before it feels its outward husk swelling by imbibing moisture. It has not been for ten hours in the warm soil before it begins to feel that the material in the seed itself is chemically affected, changed. Many a seed has not been twenty-four hours in the ground before there is an impulse in it at one end to thrust down a root, and at the other end to thrust up a plumule, or the beginning of a visible stalk; but it makes no noise. It is like Solomon’s Temple; it is a structure that is built without the sound of a hammer; and whatever it may come to, all the earlier processes of germination and development are invisible and are silent; for if you take it out into the light it will not grow. The seed needs warmth, moisture, and luminous darkness-that is to say, considerable darkness, and yet a little invisible light. So it is with the spiritual life. (H. W. Beecher.)

Christian life long invisible

I knew a young man in Boston, whose father was rich. He had genius, particularly in the formative, sculptural art; and his amusement was in making busts and little clay statues. One lucky day, the father lost all his property, and the young man was thrown out of business, and had to work for his own livelihood. He had already made the busts of friends, and when the motives to indolence were taken away from him, when the golden chair was broken, and he had to get up and go to work, he said to himself, “What can I do for a living better than this?” Well, he has come to the artist state already, unconsciously, not expecting to be a professional artist, simply following his taste; but the moment he puts out his sign, showing that he would like to have custom for the sake of self-support, then everybody says, “He has become an artist.” He has been an artist a good while, but it is just being developed before the public. The roots of the thing were in him long ago. (H. W. Beecher.)

Moral changes sometimes unconsciously wrought

When I travelled in Italy I knew the line between Italy and Austria. We all had to go out and have our trunks examined and our passports vised. We were all of us hurried out suspiciously, as if we were contrabands. Then we went over, and I knew I was in Austria. But in America you can go from one State to another, as there is no Custom House, thank God, on the lines; as there are no passports required; as there is nothing to interrupt the journey. You glide into the State of New York from Connecticut, from New York into Pennsylvania, and from Pennsylvania into Ohio, and you do not think you have made any change in the State, though you have really. You bring a person up in Christian nurture, and in the admonition of the Lord, in the household, and he is gaining more light; he is adapting the light which he has; and he comes into that state of mind in which all he wants in order to realize that he is a Christian is to wake up into consciousness. (H. W. Beecher.)

The helplessness of the spiritual husbandman

We have in this a most simple, yet striking, representation of the business and, at the same time, of the helplessness of the spiritual husbandman. Unto the ministers of the gospel, who are the great moral labourers in the field of the world, there is entrusted the task of preparing the soil and of casting in the seed. And if they bring to this task all the fidelity and all the diligence of intent and single-eyed labourers; if they strive to make ready the ground by leading men to clear away the weeds of an unrighteous practice, and to apply the spade and ploughshare of a resistance to evil, and a striving after good; and if, then, by a faithful publication of the grand truths of the gospel, they throw in the seed of the Word, they have reached the boundary of their office and also of their strength; and are to the full as powerless to the making the seed germinate, and send forth a harvest, as the husbandman to the causing the valleys to stand thick with corn. And indeed, in the spiritual agriculture, the power of the husbandman is even more circumscribed than in the natural. With all the pains with which a minister of Christ may ply at the duties of his office, he can never be sure that the ground is fit for receiving the grain: he must just do always, what the tiller of the natural soil is never reduced to do, run the risk of casting the seed upon the rock, or of leaving it to be devoured by the fowls of the air. (H. Melvill.)

Seed growing though unrecognized

Ministers require to be very cautious in judging as to the influence of the truth among their hearers. Amidst much that is externally unfavourable, and even hostile, that truth may be operating, producing conviction, checking long-cherished sins, and subduing the pride of the corrupt heart. It is a very agreeable and self-flattering thing for a man to say that because religion does not manifest itself in other men in the same way it does in him, therefore these people have no religion. This is very common, and is in reality but a branch of that master sin of intolerance, which has so often been crushing all the charities of our nature; and even amidst the solemnity of devotional exercises, despising and invading the conventional decencies of life. Often, when we do not see it, religion is at work; often, when we never suspected it, it has made considerable progress. Its influence is sweet, makes no noise, and has no ostentatious signs. We must not forget the mistake of Elijah, a mistake into which ministers and others have not unfrequently fallen. When he supposed himself to stand alone the defender of the truth, there were seven thousand in Israel doing daily homage to it. If he had been told seventy, it would have been remarkable-if seven hundred, more so; but seven thousand was altogether astonishing. “The kingdom of God cometh not with observation.” In obscure places, in noiseless retirements, and without one arresting sign, the truth takes effect. The minister is not thinking of it. The very members of the family are not thinking of it. Daily companions and friends are not thinking of it. There is no profession, no controversy, no street shouts, no exclusiveness, no badges of partizanship; but nevertheless, on the unseen arena of thought, the truth is establishing its power, achieving its triumphs, subduing desire after desire, purpose after purpose, and will at last yield peace and joy unspeakable. (Archibald Bennie.)

Growth unexplained

Who shall scrutinize the agency by which the Word is applied to the conscience? Who shall explain how, after weeks, it may be, or months, or years, during which the seed has been buried, there will often unexpectedly come a moment when the preached Word shall rise up in the memory, and a single text, long ago heard, and to all appearance forgotten, overspread the soul with the big thoughts of eternity? It is a mystery which far transcends all our powers of investigation, how spirit acts upon spirit, so that whilst there are no outward tokens of an applied machinery, there is going on a mighty operation, even the effecting a moral achievement which far surpasses the stretch of all finite ability. We are so accustomed to that change which takes place in a sinner’s conversion that we do not ascribe to it in right measure its characteristic of wonderful. Yet wonderful, most wonderful it is-wonderful in the secrecy of the process, wonderful in the nature of the result! I can understand a change wrought on matter; I have no difficulty in perceiving that the same substance may be presented in quite a different aspect, and that mechanical and chemical power may make it pass through a long series of transformations; but where is the mechanism which shall root from the heart the love of sin? where the chemistry which shall so sublimate the affections, that they will mount towards God? It is the eternal revolution which I have no power of scrutinizing, except in its effect. (H. Melvill.)

Seed never idle

Though it is very slow and imperceptible in its growth, still the seed never really lies idle. From the moment of its first start to its final ripening, it is always on its way; it never once stops, far less does it ever go backward. It can never return into the blade out of which it originally sprang; it cannot even stand for long together without exhibiting decided signs of its growth. Now and then, perhaps, the weather may be very much against it, still it keeps waiting for the first favourable change; and as soon as ever this appears, it takes immediate advantage of it, and starts forward again on its way. And so, too, it is with the good seed in the heart. Trials and temptations may check its growth there for a while; but it is only for a while; and at the first removals or lessening of these, it again goes on its way as before. It never goes back any more than the ear goes back into the blade out of which it has sprung. It has but one way of growing, and that is heavenwards. (H. Harris.)

Growth of seed mysterious

In saying that the seed groweth up we “know not how,” the mysterious nature and working of grace is hinted at. It is not regulated by natural laws, though they afford many illustrative analogies. It cannot be reduced to a science, like agriculture or mechanics. There is no philosophy of the Holy Ghost. Regeneration is not the result of any forces which human reason defines and gauges, much less controls; and the Divine life which is breathed into the soul by the mysterious visitation of the Spirit, blowing like the wind, of which we cannot tell whence it cometh and whither it goeth, is afterwards maintained by supernatural supplies from the same invisible source, and is “hid with Christ in God.” (Josiah D. Smith.)

The truth is God’s seed

The one great consideration to be kept in view is, that the truth is God’s seed. It is no theory or set of maxims of man’s devising-adapted in the short-sighted calculations of human reason to certain ends; but it is God’s selected instrument, and in that very fact we have at once obligation and encouragement to use it. That moral world where its effects are produced is His, as well as the firmament of heaven, or the green fields of the earth-naked to His eye, and subject to His control. He has adapted it to the end which He has in view-He who poised the stars in their spheres, and so skilfully adjusted the exquisite mechanism of man, beast, and bird. Besides, he has annexed a Divine, ever-active, ever-present agency to the use of it. It is not left to force its way amidst obstructions; but, while Providence often appears to pioneer its way into the hearts of men, that gracious Spirit which moved of old on the face of the waters, goes forth with it, gives to its brief sentences the power of thunder, and to its appeals the withering force of the lightning flash, and makes it to revolutionize and transform the whole inner world of thought and desire. Hence the rapid and extraordinary triumphs with which it has glorified the annals of the Church; the temples of idolatry shaken to their foundations; ancient prejudices melted like wax; proud passions crushed and eradicated; superstition, pleasure, philosophy, all put to flight. The power of opinion is not unfrequently greatly extolled, and it is wonderful. A single truth, clearly announced, troubles a continent. A small thought goes forth from one man’s breast, and achieves victories denied to armed hosts and costly expeditions. But all the triumphs of opinion are a mere trifle compared with the triumphs of the truth of God; truth, whose banners have been planted upon the domes of heathen temples, bare waved above the ruins of thrones, and have been borne in bloodless fame to the ends of the earth. This is the true seed, of which the harvest is eternal life. (Archibald Bennie.)

Conversion gradual

Is there not a great deal too much anxiety to recognize in conversion something sudden and surprising, some word or thing arresting or transfixing the soul? It is possible by electricity to make seeds suddenly germinate and prematurely grow, but this is not healthy, fruitful life. People want something like this in conversion; they can hardly believe in a new life unless it begins thus. Conviction must come like lightning-a blaze in the midst of a great darkness. Is it not better to come like sunlight-a gradual, illuminating, diffusive thing? If it do come like lightning, let us be thankful that God does so break in upon the darkness of our day. Hardened, immoral men are sometimes thus smitten to the earth. More commonly and more naturally it comes like light “shining more and more unto the perfect day.” The pious nurture of infancy and childhood deepening the religious heart, and developing the religious life-“first the blade, then the ear, then the full corn in the ear.” But let it begin as it may, the process is one of continuous growth, innocence maturing into holiness, passion deepening into principle, struggle developing strength, laborious act becomes easy habit; a gracious mellowing influence permeating and glorifying the entire life; the life of the soul growing, not as a fragile succulent gourd, but as a close-grained tree, every day and every experience adding growth and strength. (H. Allen.)

The order of growth

Not only does the corn always go on growing, but it always observes the same order and succession in its growth; “first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear.” This is an order which is never reversed or altered; it is always the full corn in the ear which is the last to show itself. And so it is with the heart. First, it is always repentance and sorrow for sin; then, faith in Jesus Christ; then, without losing these, any more than the grain loses the protection of the blade and the ear, it goes on to holiness of life, and a sure hope in God’s promises; and last of all to love, love the ripened corn, the fulfilling of the ear. (H. Harris.)

Hope in spite of sight

This is a parable of hope. It teaches us to be hopeful when nothing hopeful is seen. The earth which seems the grave is really the cradle of the seed, and its death is its life. Except it fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone. It is God’s seed, it suits the soil, the sunshine and the shower favour it, ever so many mysteries too great for me to grasp are on its side, and God has promised the harvest. Why lose heart then? The reaping time shall come by and by. What though it seems unlikely? Look at that bare, brown field in spring. What more unlikely than that it shall wave with golden grain? Every harvest is a perfect miracle. You see a foolish, wicked boy, into whose heart a praying mother has dropped the good seed. All seems lost; but wait, and he becomes a great Christian like John Newton, like thousands whose biographies are the best commentaries upon this parable. (J. Wells, M. A.)

The young convert

There is first the convert in the young days of his godliness-the green blades just breaking through the soil, and giving witness to the germination of the seed. This is ordinarily a season of great promise. We have not, and we look not for the rich fruit of a matured, well-disciplined piety, but we have the glow of verdant profession-everything looks fresh. The young believer scarcely calculates on any interruption, and as though there were no blighting winds, and no nipping frosts, and no sweeping hail to be expected, in the spiritual agriculture, the tender shoot rises from the ground, and glistens in the sunshine. (H. Melvill.)

The anxieties of growth in the ear

Next comes the ear; and this is a season of weariness and of watching. Sometimes there will be long intervals without any perceptible growth; sometimes the corn will look sickly, as though blasted by the mildew; sometimes the storm will rush over it, and almost level it with the earth. All this takes place in the experience of the Christian. The spiritual husbandman and the natural know the like anxieties in observing the ear of which they have sown the seed. How slow is sometimes the growth in grace! how slight are the tokens of life! how yellow and how drooping the corn! The sudden gust of temptation, the fatal blight of worldly association, the corroding worm of indwelling corruption,-all these may tell powerfully and perniciously on the rising crop, and cause that often there shall scarcely seem reason to hope that any fruit will eventually be yielded. Who would recognize in the lukewarm, the half-and-half professor, the ardent, the active, and resolute convert? Who would know, in the stunted shrivelled ear, the green blade which had come up like an emerald shoot? We do not indeed say, that in every case there will be these various interruptions and declensions. You may find instances wherein godliness grows uniformly, and piety advances steadily, and even rapidly, towards perfection. The Christian will sometimes ripen for heaven, as though, in place of being exposed to cold air, and wind, and rain, he had been treated as an exotic, and had always been kept under shelter. But, generally, even with those who maintain the most consistent profession, the Christian life is the scene of anxiety and uncertainty; and if it were not that there are gracious promises assuring them that “the bruised reed shall not be broken, nor the smoking flax quenched,” often must the spiritual husbandman mourn bitterly over the apparent disappointment of all his best hopes, and surrender himself to the fear, that when the great day of harvest breaks on this creation, the field which had once worn that lovely enamel which gave such promise of an abundant ingathering, will yield nothing to the reaper but the dry and parched stalks, fit only to be bound in bundles for the burning. (H. Melvill.)

Suffering Christians spared: “Immediately he putteth in the sickle”

We must dwell a moment longer upon this; it is a matter full of interest and instruction. It seems often, as we have said, to excite surprise both in the sufferer himself and in others, when a Christian, who has long been eminent for piety, and whose faith had been conspicuous in his works, lingers for months, perhaps even years, in wearisome sickness, as though, notwithstanding the preparation of a righteous life, he needed protracted trial to fit him for the presence of God. But there is, we believe, altogether a mistake in the view which is commonly taken of old age and lingering sickness. Because a man is confined to his room or his bed, the idea seems to be that he is altogether useless. In the ordinary phrase, he is “quite laid by,” as though he had no duties to perform when he could no longer perform those of more active life. Was there ever a greater mistake? The sick room, the sick bed, has its special, its appropriate duties, duties to the full as difficult, as honourable, as remunerative, as any which devolve on the Christian whilst yet in his unbroken strength. They are not precisely the same duties as belong to him in health, but they differ only by such difference as a change in outward circumstances and position will always introduce. The piety which he has to cultivate, the resignation which he has to exhibit, the faith which he has to exercise, the example which he has to set-oh, talk not of the sick man as of a man laid by! Harder duties, it may be, ay, deeds of more extensive usefulness, are required from him who lingers on the couch, than from the man of health in the highest and most laborious of Christian undertakings. Is there, then, any cause for surprise if a Christian be left to linger in sickness, to wear away tedious months in racking pain and slow decay? Is it at all in contradiction to the saying that “so soon as the fruit is ripe, immediately he putteth in the sickle”? Not so! The fruit is not necessarily ripe; the man’s work is not necessarily done, because he is what you call “laid by,” and can take no part in the weightier bustle of life. It is they who turn many to righteousness that are “to shine as stars in the firmament;” and is there no sermon from the sick bed? Has the sick bed nothing to do with publishing and adorning the gospel? Yea, I think, then, an awful and perilous trust is committed to the sick Christian-friends, children, neighbours, the church at large, look to him for some practical exhibition of the worth of Christianity. If he be fretful, or impatient, or full of doubts and fears, they will say-Is this all that the gospel can do for a man in a season of extremity? If, on the other hand, he be meek and resigned, and able to testify to God’s faithfulness to his word, they will be taught-and nothing teaches like example-that Christianity can make good its pretensions; that it is a sustaining, an elevating, a death-conquering religion. And who shall calculate what may be wrought through such practical exhibitions of the power and preciousness of the gospel? I, for one, will not dare to affirm that more is done towards converting the careless, confirming the wavering, and comforting the desponding, by the bold champions who labour publicly in the making Christ known; than by many a worn-down invalid, who preaches to a household or a neighbourhood by simple unquestioning dependence on God: I, for one, can believe that he who dies the death of trial, passing almost visibly, whilst yet in the exercise of every energy, from a high post of usefulness to the kingdom of glory, may have fewer at the judgment to witness to the success of his labours, than many a bedridden Christian, who, by a beautiful submission, waited, year after year, his summons to depart. (H. Melvill.)

Originality in character

We observe the sacredness of individual character-of originality. It bears fruit of itself in its own individual development. The process is never exactly repeated. Life is no mechanical thing. It is everywhere alike, yet different. Count the leaves and grains, measure the height of the trees, examine the leaves of an oak. So in the Christian life. No two men think the same, or believe the same. It is always so in the highest life, and in national character. There is ever a beautiful diversity. (F. W. Robertson.)

Life expansion

Real life is that which has in it a principle of expansion. It “springs and grows up.” Moreover, it is not only growth, but tendency ever towards a higher life. Life has innate energy, and will unfold itself according to the law of its own being. Its law is progress towards its own possible completeness: such completeness as its nature admits of. By this we distinguish real life from seeming life. As you cut the stone and carve it, so it remains. But cut a tree; lop off its branches, strip it; it will shoot and sprout. Only deadness remains unaltered. Trees in winter all seem alike. Spring detects life. Man can impart motion, and make automatons. Growth and power he cannot give. This is the principle of all life. And in the higher life especially there is not only expansion but progress. The limpet on the rock only increases in volume. The plant develops into the flower. The insect develops from the egg into the caterpillar, grows, spins itself a coffin, and becomes hard and shelly. But the life goes on, and it emerges a brilliant butterfly. (F. W. Robertson.)

Hardihood of character

Real life is that which has individual, independent energy: it “bears fruit of itself.” Observe its hardihood. It needs no petting. It is no hot house plant. Let the wild winds of heaven blow upon it, with frost, scorching sun, and storms. Religion is not for a cloister, but for life, real hardy life. Observe Christ’s religion, and compare it with the fanciful religion of cloistered men. Religious books which speak of fastidious, retiring, feeble delicacy. The best Christianity grows up in exposure. The life of Christ Himself is an illustration of this. So too that of the apostles in the world, and that of a Christian in the army. Again, it can be left to itself safely. It will grow. Ministers need not torment themselves about the issue of their work, for God gives the increase. It can be left: for it is God in the soul. When once the farmer has sown, he can do little more except weed. (F. W. Robertson.)

The ear

The ear. Marked by vigour and beauty. Vigour: erect, with decision, fixed principles, and views. Beauty. Describe the flowering petals, etc. Solemn season. What remiss! What thoughtfulness. Yet blight is more frequent now-prostration. (F. W. Robertson.)

Moral ripeness

Full corn in the ear. Marked by maturity and ripeness. It has no further stage of development on earth. It must die and sprout again. But its present work is done. What is ripeness? Completeness, all powers equally cultivated. It is the completion of the principles, feelings, and tempers. This period is also marked by humility and by joy. By humility; the head hangs gracefully down in token of ripeness; always so with men of great attainments. “I am but a little child,” said Newton, “picking up pebbles on the shore of the vast ocean of truth.” By joy; the happy aspect of waving corn! But its beauty is chiefly felt by the thoughtful man. It is the calm deep joy of the harvest being safe, and famine impossible. The food of a nation waves before him. (F. W. Robertson.)

Growth in the natural and in the spiritual world

The analogy between growth in the natural world and growth in the spiritual world must be maintained in its integrity, with regard at once to spontaneity, slowness, and gradation. Growth in the spiritual world as in the natural is spontaneous, in the sense that it is subject to definite laws of the spirit over which man’s will has small control. The fact is one to be recognized with humility and thankfulness. With humility, for it teaches dependence on God; a habit of mind which brings along with it prayerfulness, and which, as honouring to God, is more likely to insure ultimate success than a self-reliant zeal. With thankfulness, for it relieves the heart of the too heavy burden of an undefined, unlimited responsibility, and makes it possible for the minister of the Word to do his work cheerfully, in the morning sowing the seed, in the evening withholding not his hand; then retiring to rest to enjoy the sound sleep of the labouring man, while the seed sown springs and grows apace, he knoweth not how. Growth in the spiritual world, as in the natural, is, further, a process which demands time and gives ample occasion for the exercise of patience. Time must elapse even between the sowing and the brairding; a fact to be laid to heart by parents and teachers, lest they commit the folly of insisting on seeing the blade at once, to the probable spiritual hurt of the young intrusted to their care. Much longer time must elapse between the brairding and the ripening. That a speedy sanctification is impossible we do not affirm; but it is, we believe, so exceptional that it may be left altogether out of account in discussing the theory of Christian experience. Once more, growth in the spiritual world, as in the natural, is graduated; in that region as in this there is a blade, a green ear, and a ripe ear. (A. B. Bruce, D. D.)

Imperceptible growth

You tell your child that this pine tree out here in the sandy field is one day going to be as large as that great sonorous pine that sings to every wind in the wood. The child, incredulous, determines to watch and see whether the field pine really does grow and become as large as you say it will. So, the next morning, he goes out and takes a look at it, and comes back and says, “It has not grown a bit.” The next week he goes out and looks at it again, and comes back and says, “It has not grown yet. Father said it would be as large as the pine tree in the wood, but I do not see any likelihood of its becoming so.” How long did it take the pine tree in the wood to grow? Two hundred years. Then men who lived when it began to grow have been buried, and generations besides have come and gone since then. And do you suppose that God’s kingdom is going to grow so that you can look at it, and see that it has grown during any particular day? You cannot see it grow. All around you are things that are growing, but that you cannot see grow. And if it is so with trees, and things that spring out of the ground, how much more is it so with the kingdom of God? That kingdom is advancing surely, though it advances slowly, and though it is invisible to us … You cannot see it, even if you watch for it; but there it is; and if, after a while, you go and look at it, you will be convinced that it has been advancing, by the results produced. You will find that things have been done, though you could not see them done. Men are becoming better the world over, though you cannot trace the process by which they are becoming better. Christ’s kingdom goes forward from age to age, though you cannot discern the steps by which it is going forward. While men, as individuals, pass off from the stage of life, God’s work does not stop. (H. W. Beecher.)

The law of growth in the kingdom of God

I. In the first place, we shall see that we ought never to be discouraged in a true Christian work, of whatever kind, by what seems a slow growth.

II. We may see that we are never to be discouraged in our efforts for Christ’s kingdom by adverse circumstances; nor by any unexpected combination of these, and their prolonged operation.

III. Let us remember that good influences are linked to good issues in this world, as the seed to its fruitage; and that so every effort for the good of mankind, through the kingdom of Christ, shall have its meet result.

IV. Let us remember, too, as a thing which illustrates all the rest, that God is within and behind all forces that tend to enlarge and perfect His kingdom, as He is beneath the physical forces which bring harvest in its season, and set on the springing seed its coronal. He never forsakes a true work for Himself, and is certain to carry it to ultimate success.

V. Let us remember what the glory of the harvest shall be in this developing kingdom of God; and in view of that let us constantly labour with more than fidelity, with an eager enthusiasm that surpasses all obstacles, makes duty a privilege, and transmutes toil into joy! (R. S. Storrs, D. D.)

The unfolding seed

What a wonderful thing is the germination of a seed! What scalpel so keen as to lay bare, what microscope so searching as to detect, that subtle force hidden in the elementary initial cell, which we vaguely call the principle of life? Yet there it is, lying in solemn mystery, ready to burst forth into vigour whenever the conditions of life are fulfilled. To the thoughtful man there is something inexpressively marvellous in this quickening of the seed. This is why botany is a more wonderful science than astronomy, the violet a sublimer thing than Alcyone. All that the scientist can do is to trace sequences; he cannot explain the initial force. He can describe the plant; he cannot expound the plant. The seed springeth up and groweth, he knoweth not how. If he could explain it, he would be a philosopher indeed. In this particular, at least, the parable in Mark 4:26-29 is fitly styled, “The parable of the seed growing secretly.” Again: Not the least wonderful of the phenomena of plant growth is this: it is, at least apparently, automatic. “The earth yieldeth fruit of herself.” It is the echo of the divine dixit on the third day of the creative week: “Let the earth bring forth plants; and the earth brought forth plants.” Not that the soil is the source of vegetation-it is only the sphere of vegetation; not that the soil is the sire of the plant-it is only, so to speak, the matrix of the plant. Nevertheless, so far as appearances go, it does seem as though the soil were a thing of life, bringing forth fruit of herself. There lies the seed buried in the ground. It needs no one to come and touch its pent-up potentialities. It springs up independently of man. True, it is for man to plant the seed, and supply conditions of growth. But it is not for man to cause the seed to germinate or to fructify. The process, so far as man is concerned, is strictly automatic. Verily, the plant does seem to be a living person, self-conscious and self-regulating. But the processes of vegetation are not only mysterious and automatic, they are also gradual. The kernel does not become the full corn in the ear in an instant. In the case of cereals, months intervene between the sowing and the reaping; in the case of fruit trees, years intervene between the planting and the gathering. Nature, at least in the sphere of life and growth, does nothing by leaps. The processes of vegetation are also as orderly as they are gradual. They follow each other in due and regular succession: first the blade, then the ear, then the full corn in the car. The kernel does not become the plump golden corn except by way of the blade. And all these processes issue in fruit. The harvest is but the unfolded seed, unfolding in orderly succession along the axis of growth; and the axis has as its purpose fruit. It is the very nature of the growth, the very law of the seed, to unfold and culminate in crop. And now our farmer comes again into view. Having sown the seed, he went away, confidently leaving it to its own inherent forces. But now that the fruit has ripened, he reappears, and, putting in his sickle, he shouts: “Harvest home!” Such is the parable of the unfolding seed. And now let us ponder the meaning of the parable. In other words, let us trace some of the analogies between the unfolding seed and the unfolding kingdom of God and Christianity.

I. The growth of Christianity is mysterious. As the seed springs up and grows, we know not how, so it is with the kingdom of God. Take, for example, the very beginning of Christianity, the miraculous conception in Nazareth. Who is there that can understand it? Incomparably more mysterious is it than the germination of any seed. Or take the problem of the growth of Christianity-I mean the genuine, original Christianity, truth as it is in Jesus. Once, like a grain of mustard seed, it was the smallest of seeds; but now it has become the largest of herbs, overshadowing with its blessed canopy that tallest portion of the world which we fondly call Christendom. But how came it thus to spread? Because the doctrine of the cross has been preached. And the doctrine of the cross is to the wise men of this world, in an eminent sense, foolishness. Who will explain this mystery, namely, that the foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of man, the weakness of God stronger than the strength of men? How elaborately the solution of this problem has been undertaken, and how wretched the failure, is strikingly seen in the famous fifteenth chapter of Gibbon’s “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.” Or take the growth of Christianity in the case of any individual soul. How secret and underground is the process! How subtle the workings of the Divine life within! The Christian is a mystery even to himself. His life is a life hid with Christ in God.

II. Again: As the seed grows automatically, the earth yielding fruit of herself, so grows the kingdom of God. Christianity is in its own inherent nature self-vital and self-evolving. See how like a thing of life it is. Behold its wondrously absorbing power, subsidizing to its own purposes, and assimilating into its own growing structure, whatever there is of worth in learning, or wealth or influence, or statesmanship, or sect, or providences.

III. The kingdom of God, like the seed which grows gradually, stage by stage, does not burst forth full-grown, like panoplied Minerva from the cloven brow of Jove. See how slow has been the growth of Christendom, taken as a matter of geography. Nearly two millenniums have rolled away since the heavenly Sower declared that His field was the world; and yet by far the larger part of that field is still heathen, never as yet sown with the heavenly seed. Again: See how gradual has been the growth in respect to the moral character of Christendom. More than eighteen centuries have swept away since the Lord of the kingdom pronounced His Beatitudes, and yet there are still in His Church the proud, and the censorious, and the avaricious, and the quarrelsome, and the revengeful. Nevertheless, for let us be just, there has been real growth. We have seen idolatry shaken, slavery abolished, intemperance checked, monopoly curbed, woman emancipated, brotherhood asserted, war preparing to go into perpetual exile. But how tedious has been the growth. In like manner, how slow is the growth in the case of each individual Christian. How slow this unfolding along the axis of Christ’s character! In this is seen the immense advantage of early piety, for it takes a long, long time to unfold into the full-grown man, even the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.

IV. Just as the seed does not leap instantly or whimsically into the fruit, but unfolds itself in orderly succession-first the tender blade, then the swelling ear, then the ripe grain in the ear-so it is with the seed of the kingdom, or God’s truth. This is true in respect to doctrine. First Athanasius, the exponent of the doctrine of Christ; then Augustine, the exponent of the doctrine of Man; then Anselm, the exponent of the doctrine of Grace; then Luther, the exponent of the doctrine of Faith; even faith in that Divine Christ whose grace saves sinful man. Nor has the growth, or advancing order of due succession, ceased. The problem of this present age is the doctrine of the Church, or what constitutes the true body of Christ. And even now we see faint glimmers of the final doctrine-the parousia, or the doctrine of last things. And all this is in due succession; advancing from the Christ who saves to the heaven which is the issue of His saving. And this law of orderly unfolding is equally true in respect to personal character. Do not be so unphilosophical, then, as to look for the full-bearded grain of saintliness preceding the blade of youthful piety; the ripe fruits of the Spirit clustered around the subterranean root. First little children; then young men; then fathers. But there is one more likeness of the kingdom of God to the seed.

V. As the unfolding seed has fruit for its issue, so it is with the seed of the kingdom, or truth as it is in Jesus. When the fruit is ripe, straightway he putteth forth the sickle, because the harvest is come. Christianity means something more than sowing: it also means reaping. Do not be over-anxious. Christian responsibility does have its limits. Beware of Uzziah’s sin of distrust. Plant faithfully the seed, and then go trustfully away. (G. D. Boardman, D. D.)


Verse 30

Mark 4:30; Mark 4:32

It is like a grain of mustard seed.

The parable of the mustard seed

In the parable before us, the unity of the kingdom becomes conspicuous, the individuality of its members subordinate. The figure is changed accordingly. “The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed which a man took and sowed in his field; which indeed is the least of all seeds; but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree.” The kingdom is a tree; its subjects are as birds sheltering under its shadow. As it grows and spreads out its branches, it is shown that it has been planted by God for the spiritual good of men. The kingdom here appears as an organic whole, a source of blessing for all who come under its shade. Taking the illustration in its earliest stages, we must have regard not only to the “grain of mustard seed,” but also to the presence and action of the man who “took it and sowed it in his field.” That the agent in sowing this grain of seed is the Son of Man, admits of no doubt. The Saviour is not here represented by the tree; for then would His disciples be the branches, as in the fifteenth chapter of John’s Gospel. He is the Man who sowed His seed in His field. Our Lord having thus a distinct place in the parable, we are precluded from thinking of the tree as a symbol for Christ Himself, and afterwards for His people collectively as His representatives on the earth. Further, we are prevented from seeing here any allusion to the lowliness of the Saviour’s birth, or the feebleness of His infancy, understood by some to be implied in the image of the little seed. The incongruity of the description, “the least of all seeds,” as attributed to the Divine Redeemer, is so glaring as to warn us against such methods of interpretation. The kingdom is here represented as something to which men come, and in coming to which they receive shelter and comfort. At first sight this might seem to point to the Church, as the outward manifestation of the kingdom-a view which might have been accepted, had the branches of the tree represented the members of the Church. But when the members are not the branches, but are sheltered among the branches, something distinct from the Church seems intended. Both in this parable, and in that of the leaven, the reference is clearly to the truth of the kingdom, as in the parable of the sower the seed is the Word of the kingdom. This parable is concerned with the outward exhibition of the truth; the leaven, with the inward and hidden application of it. The kingdom of heaven is a kingdom of truth; this truth is displayed to the world in outward manifestation, and also applied to the souls of men as an unseen influence. We have accordingly two parables: the one representing the visible, the other the hidden, operation of the truth revealed in Jesus. The truth of the gospel-the truth as to the pardoning mercy and renewing grace provided in Jesus, was as a very little seed, planted in the earth by the Messiah, and that so quietly that the act hardly attracted the attention of the world. The significance of the act was not understood even by those who observed it. To the future was entrusted the discovery of the importance for the world of this little seed. It was destined to spring up and attain a great stature, spreading itself forth on every side, attracting attention all around. (Dr. Calderwood.)

An encouraging parable

No doubt other figures might have been chosen in abundance, more suggestive of the great after-development of the kingdom of Christ-such forest trees, e.g., as the oak of Bashan or cedar of Lebanon; but the acorn and cone were both far less adapted to represent the littleness of its initial state. The mustard was probably the smallest seed from which so large a shrub or tree was known to grow. It is not without a purpose that the contrast between the first beginning of His kingdom and its expected future should have been put before the apostles in such a striking form. The parables which had preceded it must have had a most depressing effect upon their minds. They showed that of the seed sown in men’s hearts, three parts would be lost to one saved; and that the field carefully planted with the best of seeds too often mocked all the husbandman’s hopes of a goodly crop by a simultaneous growth of noxious weeds. Well then might this parable be spoken to encourage them in their despondency. No doubt the main object of the parable was simply to predict the future increase of the kingdom; but there is surely a side lesson to be learned from the natural properties of the mustard seed-from its internal heat and pungency, and from the fact that it must be bruised ere it yield its best virtues. Its inherent stimulating force finds its parallel in the quickening vitality and vigour derived from the indwelling of the Holy Spirit; and the necessity of crushing it is no inapt figure of the principle which has been embodied in the familiar proverb, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” (H. M. Luckock, D. D.)

The mustard plant

As I was riding across the plain of Akka, on the way to Carmel, I perceived, at some distance from the path, what seemed to be a little forest or nursery of trees. I turned aside to examine them. On coming nearer, they proved to be an extensive field of the plant (mustard) I was so anxious to see. It was then in blossom, full grown, in some cases six, seven, and nine feet high, with a stem or trunk an inch or more in thickness, throwing out branches on every side. I was now satisfied in part. I felt that such a plant might well be called a tree, and, in comparison with the seed producing it, a great tree. But still the branches, or stems of the branches, were not very large, nor, apparently, very strong. Can the birds, I said to myself, rest upon them? Are they not too slight and flexible? Will they not bend or break beneath the superadded weight? At that very instant, as I stood and revolved the thought, lo! one of the fowls of heaven stopped in its flight through the air, alighted down on one of the branches, which hardly moved beneath the shock, and then began, perched there before my eyes, to warble forth a strain of the richest music. All my doubts were now charmed away. I was delighted at the incident. It seemed to me at the moment as if I enjoyed enough to repay me for all the trouble of the whole journey. (H. B. Hackett, D. D.)

Small beginnings

Some few monks came into Brittany in ages past, when that country was heathen. They built a rude shed in which to dwell, and a chapel of moor stones, and then prepared to till the soil. But, alas! they had not any wheat. Then one spied a robin redbreast sitting on a cross they had set up, and from his beak dangled an ear of wheat. They drove the bird away, and secured the grain, sowed it, and next year had more; sowed again, and so by degrees were able to sow large fields, and gather abundant harvests. If you go now into Brittany, and wonder at the waving fields of golden grain, the peasants will tell you all came from robin redbreast’s ear of corn. And they have turned the redbreast’s ear of corn into a proverb. (S. Baring Gould, M. A.)

The Church as an organization

A prophecy which has been fulfilled to the letter. In the course of little more than one century after it was uttered, there was not a city of any size in the Roman Empire which had not its bishop, with his priests and deacons preaching the Word of God, baptizing (and so admitting men into the new kingdom), celebrating the Eucharist, and exercising discipline over the faithful. It was not the spread of a philosophy, or of a system of opinions, or even of a gospel only. It was the spread of an organization for purposes of rule and discipline, of exclusion of the unworthy, and of pastoral care over the worthy. And it went on progressing and prospering till it became a great power in the world, though not of it. For centuries emperors, kings, and people had to take it into account in every department of government and civil policy. Its present weakness is a reaction against its former abuse of its power when it had become secular, and failed to fulfil some of the chief purposes of its institution. (M. F. Sadler.)

The Church giving rest and shelter

In all ages the Church has afforded to men what the Lord foretold, rest and shelter. No human philosophy has afforded any rest or refuge for the wandering spirit. Only the Church has done this, and the Church has been able to do this because the foundation of all her doctrine has been the Incarnation of her Lord. She teaches the soul to look for the foundation of her hope, not into herself, her frames and feelings, but to the historical facts of the Incarnation, Death, and consequent Resurrection and Ascension of the eternal Son, together with the Church system and sacramental means which are the logical outcome of that Incarnation; and because of this, and this only, she is an abiding refuge. (M. F. Sadler.)

The seedling of Iona

Far out in the western main, is a little island round which for nearly half the year the Atlantic clangs his angry billows, keeping the handful of inhabitants close prisoners. Most of it is bleak and barren; but there is one little bay rimmed round with silvery sand, and reflecting in its waters a slope of verdure. Towards this bay one autumn evening, 1,300 years ago, a rude vessel steered its course. It was a flimsy bark, no better than a huge basket of osiers covered over with the skins of beasts; but the tide was tranquil, and as the boatmen plied their oars, they raised the voice of psalms. Skimming across the bay they beached their coracle and stepped on shore-about thirteen in number. On the green slope they built a few hasty huts and a tiny Christian temple. The freight of that little ship was the gospel, and the errand of the saintly strangers was to tell benighted heathen about Jesus and His love. From the favoured soil of Ireland they had brought a grain of mustard seed, and now they sowed it in Iona. In the conservatory of their little church it throve, till it was fit to be planted out on the neighbouring mainland. To the Picts with their tattooed faces, to the Druids peeping and muttering in their dismal groves, the missionaries preached the gospel. That gospel triumphed. The groves were felled, and where once they stood rose the house of prayer. Planted out on the bleak moorland, the little seed became a mighty tree, so that the hills of Caledonia were covered with the shade; nor must Scotland ever forget the seedling of Iona, and the labours of Columba with his meek Culdees. (James Hamilton, D. D.)

The growth of the little seed

This suggests the treatment we ourselves should give the truths of God. An acorn on the mantelpiece, a dry bulb in a dark cupboard, a mustard seed in your pocket or in a pill box, won’t grow. So texts or truths in the memory are acorns on the shelf, seeds in the pillbox. It is good to have them, but don’t leave them there. Ponder over it till it grows wonderful-till its meaning comes out, and you feel some amazement at its unsurmised significance. Ponder it till, like the phosphorescent forms of vegetation, the light of its expanding falls on other passages, and revelation is itself revealed. (James Hamilton, D. D.)

The small germ expanded

This is a great encouragement for those who are trying to find favour for any useful plan or good idea. As long as it remains in your own mind it is the seed in the mustard pod; but cast it into the field, the garden, it will grow. Thus John Pound’s little scapegrace, bribed by a hot potato to come for his daily lesson, has multiplied into our Ragged Schools, with their thousands of teachers and myriads of scholars. Thus David Nasmith’s notion of a house-to-house visitation of the London poor has grown into those Town and City Missions which are the salt, the saving element, in our overcrowded centres. (James Hamilton, D. D.)

Spiritual growth

Impressions growing into resolutions constitute conversion, or the beginning of the Divine life in man. These impressions may appear insignificant, but when they produce thought, and thought produces action, the result is so great that it creates attention.

I. Vitality. The small seed of the mustard is brimful of life. This we discover not by microscopical analysis, but by observing the changes that are wrought, and the growth which follows. The gospel is the power of God unto salvation. Divine thoughts are full of life because the Spirit of God is in them.

II. Assimilation. The seed was sown, and when life reappeared, the properties of the soil, the rain, the light, and the air, were assimilated to build up the herb.

III. Expansion. The statue does not grow. The mountain does not expand. Growth is a quality of life only. The process is hidden, but expansion is manifest. The roots spread in the earth, the branches in the air. The growth of devotion is God-ward, that of usefulness man-ward. The power of the gospel creates intellectual, moral, and social expansion. Christ in the heart enlarges its capacity for purity, love, and goodness. “Be ye also enlarged.”

IV. Maturity. There are ends to piety; it is not a cycle eternally revolving in the same way, but a definite action with definite results. The life of the believer steps forward, by slow degrees, until it reaches the measure of the stature of Christ. There are initial conditions of faith, but these make way for the stronger stages of entire consecration to God. (Anon.)

The growth of the kingdom

I. The kingdom of heaven was small at its establishment.

1. Its numbers were limited.

2. Its subjects were destitute of resources of a visible kind.

3. Its smallness only disguised its real resources. The Church’s strength is not to be judged of by sense.

II. In the end it shall be very great. It soon grew among the Jews-was enlarged to embrace the Gentiles-was soon spread into all the world-is destined to a great enlargement-its magnitude will appear at the last day. (Expository Discourses.)

The design of the parable is obvious; the underlying thought is simple and single. A little germ and a large result, a small commencement and a conspicuous growth, an obscure and tiny granule followed by a vigorous vegetation, the “least of all seeds,” and “the greatest of all herbs,” such is the avowed contrast of the parable. Is it not so when we glance at the history of real religion?

I. In the world.

II. In communities.

III. In the individual soul. (James Hamilton, D. D.)

The gospel originally small and ultimately great

The gist of the representation lies in the largeness of the produce as compared with the smallness of the original. Of course, had our Lord merely wished to show that the gospel, in its maturity and efflorescence, would overtop other systems and overshadow the creation, he might have led His hearers into the forests of the earth, and selected some monarch of the woods. Even in Eastern countries the mustard plant, though it reaches a size and strength unknown in our own land, would not be used as a symbol by a speaker whose object was to shadow stateliness and dominion. But, when you compare the size of the seed with the size of the shrub-and wish to illustrate the production of great things from small-it would seem probable that in the whole range of the vegetable kingdom there is not to be found a more apposite image. The degree in which the shrub expands in size as compared with the seed, is, perhaps, greater in the case of the mustard plant than in any other instance. And in this, we again say, must be thought to lie the gist of the parable-the chief object of Christ being to show that there never had been so mighty a consummation following on so inconsiderable a beginning; that never had there been so vast a disproportion between a thing at its outset, and that same thing at its conclusion, as was to be exhibited in the case of that kingdom of heaven, the setting up of which was His business on earth. (H. Melvill.)

Little seeds soul saving

But to pass from these general observations on the imagery drawn from the vegetable world to that particular figure which Christ employs in our text. Observe, we pray you, the minuteness of the seed, which is ordinarily first deposited by God’s Spirit in man’s heart. If you examine the records of Christian biography, you will find, so far as it is possible to search out such facts, that conversion is commonly to be traced to inconsiderable beginnings. We believe, for example, that proceeding on the principle that He will honour what He has instituted, God ordinarily uses the preaching of the gospel as His engine for gathering in His people. But then it is perhaps single sentence in a sermon, a text which is quoted, a remark to which, probably, if you had asked the preacher himself, he attached less consequence than to any other part of his sermon-this is the seed, the inconsiderable grain, which makes its way into the heart of the unconverted hearer. We just wish that a book could be compiled, registering the sayings, the words, which, falling from the lips of preachers in different ages, have penetrated that thick coating of indifference and prejudice which lies naturally on every man’s heart, and reached the soil in which vegetation is possible. We are quite persuaded that you would not find many whole sermons in such a book, not many long pieces of elaborate reasoning, not many protracted demonstrations of human danger and human need; we have a thorough belief that the volume would be a volume of little fragments, that it would be made up of simple sentiments and brief statements; and that, in the majority of instances, a few syllables would constitute that element of Christianity which gained a lodgment in the soul. (H. Melvill.)

The maxims of human philosophy not so productive as Divine truth

We shall not enlarge further on the parable as sketching Christ’s religion in its dominion over the individual. We can only remark, in passing, that none of the maxims of human philosophy have shown themselves capable of yielding such produce as we thus trace to the seed of a solitary text. There is much truth and beauty in many of those sayings with which writers on ethics have adorned their pages; but the most weighty proverbs that ever issued from the porch of the academy, and the most sententious maxims which lecturers on morals ever delivered to their people, have always failed to work anything approaching to that renovation of nature which can distinctly be traced to some gospel truth quoted with authority from God. Take the result of a hiding in the heart a sentence which asserts the excellence of virtue, and one which sets forth God’s love in the gift of His Son. Now sentences may be likened unto seeds, not only because both are small, but because, if rightly planted and watered, and developed, they are capable of producing fruit in the life and conversation. But who, unless ignorant of facts, or determined to be deceived, would assert the holiness of the best heathenism to be comparable to the holiness of Christianity, or who that has ever tried theory, by the touchstone of experience, would declare, that a man who was a cultivator of virtue, because excellent in its nature, will ever reach as high a standard of morality as one who, having hope in Christ, seeks to “purify himself even as Christ is pure?” We give it as a truth, which the history of the world presses forward to substantiate, that no maxims, except Scriptural maxims, have been long efficacious in withholding man from vice, or have ever nerved him to the striving after a high-toned and elevated morality. And if, then, we must admit that the sayings of a sound moral philosophy may be figured by seeds, because they contain elements which, under due culture, may be expanded into something like righteousness of deportment, we still contend that when the amount even of possible produce is contrasted with the original grain, the tree which, under the most favourable circumstances, can spring from the seed, and that seed itself-there are no sayings, but those of Christianity, just as there are no particles, but those of Divine grace, which deserve to be compared with the grain of mustard seed; for in no case but that, we must believe, would there be such disproportion between what was cast into the soil of the heart, and that spreading over of the whole district of the life, as to warrant the employment of the imagery whose design it has been our effort to delineate. (H. Melvill.)

The visible growth of the gospel

Christ’s kingdom also grows outwardly and visibly as the hidden mustard seed grows into a great tree. Christ not only taught new truth, but He also founded a new society, which is to he like a living, growing tree. That society is sometimes called the Visible Church, and it is very visible in our day, quite as visible as the biggest garden tree is among garden plants. (J. Wells.)

Christ’s religion a refuge for all

As the tree is for every bird from any quarter of heaven that wishes its shelter, so Christ’s religion is for all sorts of people. The religion of the Chinese is only for the Chinese; the religion of Mahomed is only for those who live in warm countries; a Hindoo loses his religion by crossing the seas; but the religion of Jesus of Nazareth is for people of every class, clime, and nation. It is like the tree that offers lodging to all the birds of the air. (J. Wells.)

Fiery energy

Darius sent to Alexander the Great a bag of sesame seed, symbolizing the number of his army. In return, Alexander sent a sack of mustard seed, showing not only the numbers but the fiery energy of his soldiers. (DHerbelot.)

Building and growing

To see the stateliest pile of building filling the space which before was empty, makes an appeal to the imagination: that kind of increase we seem to understand; stone is added to stone by the will and toil of man. But when we look at the deeply-rooted and wide-branching tree, and think of the tiny seed from which all this sprang without human will or toil, but by an internal vitality of its own, we are confronted by the most mysterious and fascinating of all things, the life that lies unseen in nature. (Marcus Dods.)

The mustard seed and leaven

The parable of the grain of mustard seed must be taken in close connection with that of the leaven, and both are meant to illustrate the small beginnings, the silent growth, and the final victory of the grace of God in the human soul. But they belong to different points of view. The one is extensive, the other intensive. The parable of the grain of mustard seed shows us the origin and the development of the kingdom of God, in communities and in the world: the parable of the leaven shadows forth its unimpeded influence in the soul of each separate man. (Archdeacon Farrar.)

All great movements have had trivial commencements

Look at history, and see how true the doctrine is, not only of the kingdom of heaven, but of every other power that has really held sway among men. In almost all cases the great, the permanent work has been done, not by those who seemed to do very much, but by those who seemed to do very little. Our Lord’s founding of the Church was but the most striking instance of a universal rule. He seemed to all outside spectators to do almost nothing. The Roman rulers hardly knew of His name. What was He doing? He was sowing the seed; the seed whose fruit was not yet, whose perfect fruit was not to be gathered, as it has since turned out, for many centuries; the seed which seemed small and perishable, but was certain to grow into a great tree. All the greatest work has been done both before and after, not often by producing immediate results, but by sowing seeds. So have sciences all grown, not from brilliant declarations to the world, but from patient labour, and quiet thought, and language addressed to the few who think. So has all growth in politics always begun in the secret thoughts of men who have found the truth, and have committed it to books or to chosen learners. The true powers of human life are contained in those seeds, out of which alone comes any real and permanent good. (Bp. Temple.)


Verses 30-34

Verse 32

Mark 4:30; Mark 4:32

It is like a grain of mustard seed.

The parable of the mustard seed

In the parable before us, the unity of the kingdom becomes conspicuous, the individuality of its members subordinate. The figure is changed accordingly. “The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed which a man took and sowed in his field; which indeed is the least of all seeds; but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree.” The kingdom is a tree; its subjects are as birds sheltering under its shadow. As it grows and spreads out its branches, it is shown that it has been planted by God for the spiritual good of men. The kingdom here appears as an organic whole, a source of blessing for all who come under its shade. Taking the illustration in its earliest stages, we must have regard not only to the “grain of mustard seed,” but also to the presence and action of the man who “took it and sowed it in his field.” That the agent in sowing this grain of seed is the Son of Man, admits of no doubt. The Saviour is not here represented by the tree; for then would His disciples be the branches, as in the fifteenth chapter of John’s Gospel. He is the Man who sowed His seed in His field. Our Lord having thus a distinct place in the parable, we are precluded from thinking of the tree as a symbol for Christ Himself, and afterwards for His people collectively as His representatives on the earth. Further, we are prevented from seeing here any allusion to the lowliness of the Saviour’s birth, or the feebleness of His infancy, understood by some to be implied in the image of the little seed. The incongruity of the description, “the least of all seeds,” as attributed to the Divine Redeemer, is so glaring as to warn us against such methods of interpretation. The kingdom is here represented as something to which men come, and in coming to which they receive shelter and comfort. At first sight this might seem to point to the Church, as the outward manifestation of the kingdom-a view which might have been accepted, had the branches of the tree represented the members of the Church. But when the members are not the branches, but are sheltered among the branches, something distinct from the Church seems intended. Both in this parable, and in that of the leaven, the reference is clearly to the truth of the kingdom, as in the parable of the sower the seed is the Word of the kingdom. This parable is concerned with the outward exhibition of the truth; the leaven, with the inward and hidden application of it. The kingdom of heaven is a kingdom of truth; this truth is displayed to the world in outward manifestation, and also applied to the souls of men as an unseen influence. We have accordingly two parables: the one representing the visible, the other the hidden, operation of the truth revealed in Jesus. The truth of the gospel-the truth as to the pardoning mercy and renewing grace provided in Jesus, was as a very little seed, planted in the earth by the Messiah, and that so quietly that the act hardly attracted the attention of the world. The significance of the act was not understood even by those who observed it. To the future was entrusted the discovery of the importance for the world of this little seed. It was destined to spring up and attain a great stature, spreading itself forth on every side, attracting attention all around. (Dr. Calderwood.)

An encouraging parable

No doubt other figures might have been chosen in abundance, more suggestive of the great after-development of the kingdom of Christ-such forest trees, e.g., as the oak of Bashan or cedar of Lebanon; but the acorn and cone were both far less adapted to represent the littleness of its initial state. The mustard was probably the smallest seed from which so large a shrub or tree was known to grow. It is not without a purpose that the contrast between the first beginning of His kingdom and its expected future should have been put before the apostles in such a striking form. The parables which had preceded it must have had a most depressing effect upon their minds. They showed that of the seed sown in men’s hearts, three parts would be lost to one saved; and that the field carefully planted with the best of seeds too often mocked all the husbandman’s hopes of a goodly crop by a simultaneous growth of noxious weeds. Well then might this parable be spoken to encourage them in their despondency. No doubt the main object of the parable was simply to predict the future increase of the kingdom; but there is surely a side lesson to be learned from the natural properties of the mustard seed-from its internal heat and pungency, and from the fact that it must be bruised ere it yield its best virtues. Its inherent stimulating force finds its parallel in the quickening vitality and vigour derived from the indwelling of the Holy Spirit; and the necessity of crushing it is no inapt figure of the principle which has been embodied in the familiar proverb, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” (H. M. Luckock, D. D.)

The mustard plant

As I was riding across the plain of Akka, on the way to Carmel, I perceived, at some distance from the path, what seemed to be a little forest or nursery of trees. I turned aside to examine them. On coming nearer, they proved to be an extensive field of the plant (mustard) I was so anxious to see. It was then in blossom, full grown, in some cases six, seven, and nine feet high, with a stem or trunk an inch or more in thickness, throwing out branches on every side. I was now satisfied in part. I felt that such a plant might well be called a tree, and, in comparison with the seed producing it, a great tree. But still the branches, or stems of the branches, were not very large, nor, apparently, very strong. Can the birds, I said to myself, rest upon them? Are they not too slight and flexible? Will they not bend or break beneath the superadded weight? At that very instant, as I stood and revolved the thought, lo! one of the fowls of heaven stopped in its flight through the air, alighted down on one of the branches, which hardly moved beneath the shock, and then began, perched there before my eyes, to warble forth a strain of the richest music. All my doubts were now charmed away. I was delighted at the incident. It seemed to me at the moment as if I enjoyed enough to repay me for all the trouble of the whole journey. (H. B. Hackett, D. D.)

Small beginnings

Some few monks came into Brittany in ages past, when that country was heathen. They built a rude shed in which to dwell, and a chapel of moor stones, and then prepared to till the soil. But, alas! they had not any wheat. Then one spied a robin redbreast sitting on a cross they had set up, and from his beak dangled an ear of wheat. They drove the bird away, and secured the grain, sowed it, and next year had more; sowed again, and so by degrees were able to sow large fields, and gather abundant harvests. If you go now into Brittany, and wonder at the waving fields of golden grain, the peasants will tell you all came from robin redbreast’s ear of corn. And they have turned the redbreast’s ear of corn into a proverb. (S. Baring Gould, M. A.)

The Church as an organization

A prophecy which has been fulfilled to the letter. In the course of little more than one century after it was uttered, there was not a city of any size in the Roman Empire which had not its bishop, with his priests and deacons preaching the Word of God, baptizing (and so admitting men into the new kingdom), celebrating the Eucharist, and exercising discipline over the faithful. It was not the spread of a philosophy, or of a system of opinions, or even of a gospel only. It was the spread of an organization for purposes of rule and discipline, of exclusion of the unworthy, and of pastoral care over the worthy. And it went on progressing and prospering till it became a great power in the world, though not of it. For centuries emperors, kings, and people had to take it into account in every department of government and civil policy. Its present weakness is a reaction against its former abuse of its power when it had become secular, and failed to fulfil some of the chief purposes of its institution. (M. F. Sadler.)

The Church giving rest and shelter

In all ages the Church has afforded to men what the Lord foretold, rest and shelter. No human philosophy has afforded any rest or refuge for the wandering spirit. Only the Church has done this, and the Church has been able to do this because the foundation of all her doctrine has been the Incarnation of her Lord. She teaches the soul to look for the foundation of her hope, not into herself, her frames and feelings, but to the historical facts of the Incarnation, Death, and consequent Resurrection and Ascension of the eternal Son, together with the Church system and sacramental means which are the logical outcome of that Incarnation; and because of this, and this only, she is an abiding refuge. (M. F. Sadler.)

The seedling of Iona

Far out in the western main, is a little island round which for nearly half the year the Atlantic clangs his angry billows, keeping the handful of inhabitants close prisoners. Most of it is bleak and barren; but there is one little bay rimmed round with silvery sand, and reflecting in its waters a slope of verdure. Towards this bay one autumn evening, 1,300 years ago, a rude vessel steered its course. It was a flimsy bark, no better than a huge basket of osiers covered over with the skins of beasts; but the tide was tranquil, and as the boatmen plied their oars, they raised the voice of psalms. Skimming across the bay they beached their coracle and stepped on shore-about thirteen in number. On the green slope they built a few hasty huts and a tiny Christian temple. The freight of that little ship was the gospel, and the errand of the saintly strangers was to tell benighted heathen about Jesus and His love. From the favoured soil of Ireland they had brought a grain of mustard seed, and now they sowed it in Iona. In the conservatory of their little church it throve, till it was fit to be planted out on the neighbouring mainland. To the Picts with their tattooed faces, to the Druids peeping and muttering in their dismal groves, the missionaries preached the gospel. That gospel triumphed. The groves were felled, and where once they stood rose the house of prayer. Planted out on the bleak moorland, the little seed became a mighty tree, so that the hills of Caledonia were covered with the shade; nor must Scotland ever forget the seedling of Iona, and the labours of Columba with his meek Culdees. (James Hamilton, D. D.)

The growth of the little seed

This suggests the treatment we ourselves should give the truths of God. An acorn on the mantelpiece, a dry bulb in a dark cupboard, a mustard seed in your pocket or in a pill box, won’t grow. So texts or truths in the memory are acorns on the shelf, seeds in the pillbox. It is good to have them, but don’t leave them there. Ponder over it till it grows wonderful-till its meaning comes out, and you feel some amazement at its unsurmised significance. Ponder it till, like the phosphorescent forms of vegetation, the light of its expanding falls on other passages, and revelation is itself revealed. (James Hamilton, D. D.)

The small germ expanded

This is a great encouragement for those who are trying to find favour for any useful plan or good idea. As long as it remains in your own mind it is the seed in the mustard pod; but cast it into the field, the garden, it will grow. Thus John Pound’s little scapegrace, bribed by a hot potato to come for his daily lesson, has multiplied into our Ragged Schools, with their thousands of teachers and myriads of scholars. Thus David Nasmith’s notion of a house-to-house visitation of the London poor has grown into those Town and City Missions which are the salt, the saving element, in our overcrowded centres. (James Hamilton, D. D.)

Spiritual growth

Impressions growing into resolutions constitute conversion, or the beginning of the Divine life in man. These impressions may appear insignificant, but when they produce thought, and thought produces action, the result is so great that it creates attention.

I. Vitality. The small seed of the mustard is brimful of life. This we discover not by microscopical analysis, but by observing the changes that are wrought, and the growth which follows. The gospel is the power of God unto salvation. Divine thoughts are full of life because the Spirit of God is in them.

II. Assimilation. The seed was sown, and when life reappeared, the properties of the soil, the rain, the light, and the air, were assimilated to build up the herb.

III. Expansion. The statue does not grow. The mountain does not expand. Growth is a quality of life only. The process is hidden, but expansion is manifest. The roots spread in the earth, the branches in the air. The growth of devotion is God-ward, that of usefulness man-ward. The power of the gospel creates intellectual, moral, and social expansion. Christ in the heart enlarges its capacity for purity, love, and goodness. “Be ye also enlarged.”

IV. Maturity. There are ends to piety; it is not a cycle eternally revolving in the same way, but a definite action with definite results. The life of the believer steps forward, by slow degrees, until it reaches the measure of the stature of Christ. There are initial conditions of faith, but these make way for the stronger stages of entire consecration to God. (Anon.)

The growth of the kingdom

I. The kingdom of heaven was small at its establishment.

1. Its numbers were limited.

2. Its subjects were destitute of resources of a visible kind.

3. Its smallness only disguised its real resources. The Church’s strength is not to be judged of by sense.

II. In the end it shall be very great. It soon grew among the Jews-was enlarged to embrace the Gentiles-was soon spread into all the world-is destined to a great enlargement-its magnitude will appear at the last day. (Expository Discourses.)

The design of the parable is obvious; the underlying thought is simple and single. A little germ and a large result, a small commencement and a conspicuous growth, an obscure and tiny granule followed by a vigorous vegetation, the “least of all seeds,” and “the greatest of all herbs,” such is the avowed contrast of the parable. Is it not so when we glance at the history of real religion?

I. In the world.

II. In communities.

III. In the individual soul. (James Hamilton, D. D.)

The gospel originally small and ultimately great

The gist of the representation lies in the largeness of the produce as compared with the smallness of the original. Of course, had our Lord merely wished to show that the gospel, in its maturity and efflorescence, would overtop other systems and overshadow the creation, he might have led His hearers into the forests of the earth, and selected some monarch of the woods. Even in Eastern countries the mustard plant, though it reaches a size and strength unknown in our own land, would not be used as a symbol by a speaker whose object was to shadow stateliness and dominion. But, when you compare the size of the seed with the size of the shrub-and wish to illustrate the production of great things from small-it would seem probable that in the whole range of the vegetable kingdom there is not to be found a more apposite image. The degree in which the shrub expands in size as compared with the seed, is, perhaps, greater in the case of the mustard plant than in any other instance. And in this, we again say, must be thought to lie the gist of the parable-the chief object of Christ being to show that there never had been so mighty a consummation following on so inconsiderable a beginning; that never had there been so vast a disproportion between a thing at its outset, and that same thing at its conclusion, as was to be exhibited in the case of that kingdom of heaven, the setting up of which was His business on earth. (H. Melvill.)

Little seeds soul saving

But to pass from these general observations on the imagery drawn from the vegetable world to that particular figure which Christ employs in our text. Observe, we pray you, the minuteness of the seed, which is ordinarily first deposited by God’s Spirit in man’s heart. If you examine the records of Christian biography, you will find, so far as it is possible to search out such facts, that conversion is commonly to be traced to inconsiderable beginnings. We believe, for example, that proceeding on the principle that He will honour what He has instituted, God ordinarily uses the preaching of the gospel as His engine for gathering in His people. But then it is perhaps single sentence in a sermon, a text which is quoted, a remark to which, probably, if you had asked the preacher himself, he attached less consequence than to any other part of his sermon-this is the seed, the inconsiderable grain, which makes its way into the heart of the unconverted hearer. We just wish that a book could be compiled, registering the sayings, the words, which, falling from the lips of preachers in different ages, have penetrated that thick coating of indifference and prejudice which lies naturally on every man’s heart, and reached the soil in which vegetation is possible. We are quite persuaded that you would not find many whole sermons in such a book, not many long pieces of elaborate reasoning, not many protracted demonstrations of human danger and human need; we have a thorough belief that the volume would be a volume of little fragments, that it would be made up of simple sentiments and brief statements; and that, in the majority of instances, a few syllables would constitute that element of Christianity which gained a lodgment in the soul. (H. Melvill.)

The maxims of human philosophy not so productive as Divine truth

We shall not enlarge further on the parable as sketching Christ’s religion in its dominion over the individual. We can only remark, in passing, that none of the maxims of human philosophy have shown themselves capable of yielding such produce as we thus trace to the seed of a solitary text. There is much truth and beauty in many of those sayings with which writers on ethics have adorned their pages; but the most weighty proverbs that ever issued from the porch of the academy, and the most sententious maxims which lecturers on morals ever delivered to their people, have always failed to work anything approaching to that renovation of nature which can distinctly be traced to some gospel truth quoted with authority from God. Take the result of a hiding in the heart a sentence which asserts the excellence of virtue, and one which sets forth God’s love in the gift of His Son. Now sentences may be likened unto seeds, not only because both are small, but because, if rightly planted and watered, and developed, they are capable of producing fruit in the life and conversation. But who, unless ignorant of facts, or determined to be deceived, would assert the holiness of the best heathenism to be comparable to the holiness of Christianity, or who that has ever tried theory, by the touchstone of experience, would declare, that a man who was a cultivator of virtue, because excellent in its nature, will ever reach as high a standard of morality as one who, having hope in Christ, seeks to “purify himself even as Christ is pure?” We give it as a truth, which the history of the world presses forward to substantiate, that no maxims, except Scriptural maxims, have been long efficacious in withholding man from vice, or have ever nerved him to the striving after a high-toned and elevated morality. And if, then, we must admit that the sayings of a sound moral philosophy may be figured by seeds, because they contain elements which, under due culture, may be expanded into something like righteousness of deportment, we still contend that when the amount even of possible produce is contrasted with the original grain, the tree which, under the most favourable circumstances, can spring from the seed, and that seed itself-there are no sayings, but those of Christianity, just as there are no particles, but those of Divine grace, which deserve to be compared with the grain of mustard seed; for in no case but that, we must believe, would there be such disproportion between what was cast into the soil of the heart, and that spreading over of the whole district of the life, as to warrant the employment of the imagery whose design it has been our effort to delineate. (H. Melvill.)

The visible growth of the gospel

Christ’s kingdom also grows outwardly and visibly as the hidden mustard seed grows into a great tree. Christ not only taught new truth, but He also founded a new society, which is to he like a living, growing tree. That society is sometimes called the Visible Church, and it is very visible in our day, quite as visible as the biggest garden tree is among garden plants. (J. Wells.)

Christ’s religion a refuge for all

As the tree is for every bird from any quarter of heaven that wishes its shelter, so Christ’s religion is for all sorts of people. The religion of the Chinese is only for the Chinese; the religion of Mahomed is only for those who live in warm countries; a Hindoo loses his religion by crossing the seas; but the religion of Jesus of Nazareth is for people of every class, clime, and nation. It is like the tree that offers lodging to all the birds of the air. (J. Wells.)

Fiery energy

Darius sent to Alexander the Great a bag of sesame seed, symbolizing the number of his army. In return, Alexander sent a sack of mustard seed, showing not only the numbers but the fiery energy of his soldiers. (DHerbelot.)

Building and growing

To see the stateliest pile of building filling the space which before was empty, makes an appeal to the imagination: that kind of increase we seem to understand; stone is added to stone by the will and toil of man. But when we look at the deeply-rooted and wide-branching tree, and think of the tiny seed from which all this sprang without human will or toil, but by an internal vitality of its own, we are confronted by the most mysterious and fascinating of all things, the life that lies unseen in nature. (Marcus Dods.)

The mustard seed and leaven

The parable of the grain of mustard seed must be taken in close connection with that of the leaven, and both are meant to illustrate the small beginnings, the silent growth, and the final victory of the grace of God in the human soul. But they belong to different points of view. The one is extensive, the other intensive. The parable of the grain of mustard seed shows us the origin and the development of the kingdom of God, in communities and in the world: the parable of the leaven shadows forth its unimpeded influence in the soul of each separate man. (Archdeacon Farrar.)

All great movements have had trivial commencements

Look at history, and see how true the doctrine is, not only of the kingdom of heaven, but of every other power that has really held sway among men. In almost all cases the great, the permanent work has been done, not by those who seemed to do very much, but by those who seemed to do very little. Our Lord’s founding of the Church was but the most striking instance of a universal rule. He seemed to all outside spectators to do almost nothing. The Roman rulers hardly knew of His name. What was He doing? He was sowing the seed; the seed whose fruit was not yet, whose perfect fruit was not to be gathered, as it has since turned out, for many centuries; the seed which seemed small and perishable, but was certain to grow into a great tree. All the greatest work has been done both before and after, not often by producing immediate results, but by sowing seeds. So have sciences all grown, not from brilliant declarations to the world, but from patient labour, and quiet thought, and language addressed to the few who think. So has all growth in politics always begun in the secret thoughts of men who have found the truth, and have committed it to books or to chosen learners. The true powers of human life are contained in those seeds, out of which alone comes any real and permanent good. (Bp. Temple.)


Verse 33-34

Mark 4:33-34

But without a parable spake He not unto them.

Christ’s economy of teaching

Not as He was able to have spoken; He could have expressed Himself at a higher rate than any mortal can; He could have soared to the clouds; He could have knit such knots they could never untie. But He would not. He delighted to speak to His hearers’ shallow capacities (John 16:12). (T. Brooks.)

Christ’s method of teaching

With matter Divine and manner human, our Lord descended to the level of the humblest of the crowd, lowering Himself to their understandings, and winning His way into their hearts by borrowing His topics from familiar circumstances and the scenes around Him. Be it a boat, a plank, a rope, a beggar’s rags, an imperial robe, we would seize on anything to save a drowning man; and in His anxiety to save poor sinners, to rouse their fears, their love, their interest, to make them understand and feel the truth, our Lord pressed everything-art and nature, earth and heaven-into His service. Creatures of habit, the servants if not the slaves of form, we invariably select our text from some book of the Sacred Scriptures, He took a wider, freer range; and, instead of keeping to the unvarying routine of text and sermon with formal divisions, it were well, perhaps, that we sometimes ventured to follow His example; for may it not be that to the naturalness of their addresses and their striking out from the beaten paths of texts and sermons, to their plain speaking and home thrusts, to their direct appeals and homespun arguments, our street and lay preachers owe perhaps not a little of their power? Our Lord found many a topic of discourse in the scenes around Him; even the humblest objects shone in His hands, as I have seen a fragment of broken glass or earthenware, as it caught the sunbeam, light up, flashing like a diamond. With the stone of Jacob’s Well for a pulpit, and its water for a text, He preached salvation to the Samaritan woman. A little child, which He takes from its mother’s side, and holds up blushing in His arms before the astonished audience, is His text for a sermon on humility. A husbandman on a neighbouring height between Him and the sky, who strides with long and measured steps over the field he sows, supplies a text from which he discourses on the gospel and its effects on different classes of hearers. In a woman baking; in two women who sit by some cottage door grinding at the mill; in an old, strong fortalice perched on a rock, whence it looks across the brawling torrent to the ruined and roofless gable of a house swept away by mountain floods-Jesus found texts. From the birds that sung above His head, and the lilies that blossomed at His feet, He discoursed on the care of God-these His text, and Providence His theme. (T. Guthrie, D. D.)

Illustrating

I have generally found that the most intellectual auditors prefer to hear a simple scriptural and spiritual preaching. The late Judge McLean, of the United States Supreme Court once said to me, “I was glad to hear you give that solemn personal incident in, your discourse last night Ministers now-a-days are getting above telling a story in a sermon; but I like it. (T. L. Cuyler.)

“Likes” in a sermon

“You have no ‘likes’ in your sermons,” said Robert Hall to a brother minister; “Christ taught that the kingdom of heaven was ‘like leaven,’ etc. You tell us what things are, but never what they are like.” Parables are more ancient than arguments. (Lord Bacon.)

And when they were alone.-

Christ alone with His disciples; or, the parable expounded

I. The parables a puzzle. It is very striking that the very means of instruction should have hid the truth, and even from His followers. The parables of Christ were sometimes obscure and confounding to His foes; that is not strange. Where there is no taste or desire for instruction, the clearest and simplest lessons may be vain. It was a judgment, but not an arbitrary and cruel one. It was a punishment which the blinded deserved, and it was one which they inflicted upon themselves. Parables were among the easiest and most interesting methods of instruction. They addressed a variety of powers; and thus were suited to a variety of minds, and a variety of faculties in the same mind. But if the eye was at fault, and could not see, or could not see aright, then the windows had no use; and the means of light conveyed no image, or a false one. There is often, and especially in moral matters, more in the learner than the lessons. Parables would have been no judgment, if there had been no obtuseness and perverseness in the hearers. It is harder to understand how “the disciples,” who had some insight and sympathy, should have been perplexed. But why did Christ employ a method which had the effect of concealing what, if stated without a parable, they must have seen and appreciated at once? We are here, my brethren, right upon a great and blessed truth. The parable taught minds by taxing them. It made truth plain to the thoughtful; but required sometimes more, sometimes less thought for its comprehension. It was a way of teaching, but by calling out the desire and effort to learn. If a man only heard it, the truth was hidden; if he were bent on getting at its sense, the truth became more plain and powerful by its means. To look at it was to see nothing; to look through it was to behold most beautiful and glorious things. When it fell upon a passive nature, it left no impression; when it fell on one quick and active, and in quest of truth, it realized a blessed end. As soon as the disciples, failing to apprehend Christ’s sense, came to the prayer, “Declare unto us the parable,” they had reached the highest end of teaching: they not only were in the way to know, they were exercising the powers of knowledge. All things He does as well as says, in this sense, are parables: they are intended to teach, but they teach in the way of training; they have in them an element of difficulty mercifully fitted to make easy, an element of obscurity mercifully fitted to make clear. He wishes to excite, to awaken the dormant and stimulate the sluggish; to call out our powers; not only to bless us, but to bless us by quickening us; not only to impart knowledge, but make us knowing; not only to enrich us with goodness and happiness, but to enlarge our capacity for both. And a heaven on lighter terms would be a heaven of smaller joy.

II. The different ways in which the parables were treated. Some gaze upon the mystery scornfully or listlessly, others seek with deep anxiety to have it solved. Difficulty offends or disheartens these, but stirs up those to activity and zeal. Truth is often difficult. What is needful to salvation is within the reach of all, for an inaccessible boon cannot be an indispensable blessing. But truth of most sorts, as well as religious, is not unavoidable, and frequently it is hard to get. And if we pass from what is to be known to what is to be done, from the difficulty of apprehension to the difficulty of the performance, the same kind of remark applies, “Is there not a warfare to man upon the earth?” Is any promise of good in other than the apocalyptic form, “To him that overcometh will I give”?

III. The private solution of the parables. When the multitude were sent away, Matthew says that the disciples came to Jesus, requesting an explanation of His teaching. This is not the only occasion mentioned (Matthew 15:15), and we may be sure there were many. They had the right, and availed themselves of it. And there are now those who have access, so to speak, to the solitude of the Saviour. Many only know Him in the world, and the face of day; in His written word, in His general providence; as the Teacher of crowds, as the Worker of wonders. They might know Him otherwise. Had this multitude cared for His intimacy, they might have had it. We, like the disciples, may be “alone,” and alone with Jesus. It is not necessary, in order to this, that we should be absent from men. There is a solitude of the flesh, and a solitude of the spirit. Christ is the best revelation of spiritual truth, its strongest evidence, and its only quickening force; and we may say of Him and Christianity, what Cowper says of God and Providence-

“He is His own interpreter, and He will make it plain.”

Perhaps your parable is evil, the evil in the world, in yourselves. Christ has this explanation. And the same remark applies to duties. More faith in Him will lighten the burden and ease the yoke, however hard and heavy. “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” He is model, motive, might of all obedience; and the life we live is His life, and we follow Him, and all we do is from His love constraining us. There is a lesson for all. Some are painfully exercised with doubts and difficulties “great upon” them. They “walk in darkness,” “a darkness that may be felt.” Let me entreat such to “come to Jesus in the house;” to seek the secret Saviour. (A. J. Morris.)


Verses 35-41

Mark 4:35-41

And the same day, when the even was come, He saith unto them, Let us pass over unto the other side.

In the storm

I. The influence of danger it caused the disciples to doubt the care of Christ. Why is it we doubt the Lord in seasons of danger?

1. Imperfect knowledge of the Lord.

2. Natural impatience.

3. Satanic temptations.

II. The folly of suspicion. It is groundless. The truth is ratified, that God will not leave us to perish. Were it not stated in such plain terms, we might infer as much from-

1. God’s former dealings with ourselves and others.

2. The known character of the Lord.

3. The relationship in which we stand to Him.

III. The secret of tranquility.

1. Meditation.

2. Prayer.

3. Resignation.

IV. The blessedness of holy confidence.

1. It honours God.

2. It blesses our own souls afterward.

If the record had run thus, “And there arose a great storm, etc., but the disciples, believing their Master would not suffer them to perish, watched Him until He awoke. And when Jesus arose, He said, Great is your faith; and He saved them,” what joy would the memory have brought to their hearts in later years!

3. Hereby we obtain more speedy relief. Unbelief causes God to delay or deny (Matthew 13:58). (R. A. Griffin.)

A great storm and a great calm

I. The first aspect of Christ’s life presented to us in this wonderful passage of Scripture is His weariness.

1. It arose from incessant labour.

2. It arose from laborious work.

II. The second aspect of Christ’s life brought before us is his rest. We regard this sleeping of Christ-

1. As an evidence of His humanity.

2. As an evidence of His trustfulness. He cast Himself upon His Father’s care, and was not afraid of Galilee’s stormy lake.

3. As an evidence of His goodness. He slept like one who had a good conscience.

III. But all too soon was the best of Christ disturbed. “And they awoke Him.” How often was Christ’s repose disturbed! Three things led to the disturbance of Christ’s rest:

1. A sudden and violent storm.

2. The danger of the disciples.

3. The fears of the disciples.

IV. Then followed a glorious manifestation of the power of Christ.

1. It was manifested in His authority over nature.

2. It was manifested in His rebuke of the disciples.

3. It was manifested in His evident superiority of character.

“What manner of man is this?” He is the God-Man, who stands equal with God on the high level of Deity, and equal with man on the low level of humanity. “He that hath seen Me, hath seen the Father.” (Joseph Hughes.)

A picture of the Christian life

This narrative is a touching picture of the Christian life. Following its leadings; we contemplate the Christian life in its beginning, in its progress, in its issue.

I. The beginning of the Christian life. We go out on the waves of life and have Christ for our leader in the days of our childhood; that is, where we have the blessing of Christian parents and teachers, etc. Oh happy years of childlike faith! How merciless they who could rob us of this faith. What have they to offer in its place? No; we will not be robbed of it. In its nature and essence this childlike faith is true and unchangeable; but the garment by which it is covered, the veil it carries over it, must be torn off. The childlike faith receives the Saviour in the only vessel in which the child can receive the Divine-in the vessel of the feelings. In manhood we have another vessel in which we can receive Him-the vessel of the understanding. Not that we should loose Him from the vessel of the feelings as we become men, but that our manhood should receive Him into the understanding as well as into the heart. Our childlike faith has seen the Saviour as the little ship of life glided over the smooth waters; it has not yet learnt to know Him in the storm and the tempest. It has known Him in His kindness and love; He is not yet revealed in His wisdom and power.

II. The beginning of life passes by, and in the progress of life Christ slumbers in the soul, and is awakened by the storm. That beautiful childlike sense of faith slumbers-not universally, for there have been favoured souls in whom Christ has never slumbered, who have retained their childish faith to their ripe manhood. It is otherwise in times of conflict like these. It seems that in these troubled times, this childlike faith must apparently die, i.e., must throw off its veil when the storm rages, and rises in a new form. Even on the sacred floor of the church the young Christian finds doubt, strife, and disunion, and he doubts. The Lord awakes, and says, “…Canst thou believe?” and we answer, “…Lord, I believe; help Thou mine unbelief.” There is faith still, though doubt may be ever so strong; there is still an anchor firmly fastened in the sanctuary of the breast. Faith slumbers, but is not dead.

III. That will be the issue if, instead of yielding, you wrestle. As you have known the Saviour earlier in His kindness and love, you will come to know Him in His wisdom and power. Life is a conflict. Some trifle with life; with them it is like playing with soap bubbles. They have never looked the doubt earnestly in the face, to say nothing of the truth. God will not send the noblest of His gifts to laggards: the door of truth closed against those who would willingly enter is a solemn thought (Matthew 25:10-11). (Dr. Tholuch.)

The disciples in the storm

I. In the storm while prosecuting the Saviour’s command-teaching.

1. Implicit obedience does not exempt from trials. Joseph, David, Daniel, St. Paul, etc.

2. Trials are not always punitive, but always disciplinary. This trial was a test both in respect to faith and works.

(a) Will they believe that they will be saved?

(b) Will they go on in their line of duty?

II. In the story while Jesus was with them.

1. Jesus was exposed to the same fury of the tempest, and to the same upheavals of the angry waves.

(a) Was there ever a storm in which Jesus was absent from His disciples?

2. Though with His disciples, He was fast asleep.

(a) A symbol of what frequently occurs. Let every disciple remember that a sleeping Christ is not a dead Christ.

(b) Though asleep, He has not forgotten His disciples.

III. In the storm while Jesus was with them and yet they had to cry to Him for deliverance.

1. Prayer is the disciples’ privilege and duty at all times, especially in times of trial and peril.

2. The prayer that arises from a believing heart can never go unanswered.

IV. Is the storm delivered from the storm in answer to prayer.

1. Christ’s Divine power was not affected by physical fatigue.

2. Jesus, touched by the cry of His disciples, wields a power before which nothing can stand.

V. Deliverance from the storm a grand moral power.

1. It exercised a moral power, awakening deeper reverence for Christ as Messiah.

2. Awakening greater awe for Christ as the Son of God. (D. G. Hughes, M. A.)

God’s storms

They only measure Christ aright, who are forced to carry to Him some great grief, and find by experience He is great enough to save them. It is when men have weighed Him in the balances of some great necessity, and found Him not wanting, that they believe in Him. So the disciples are sent to school. Storm and danger are for the night to be their schoolmasters, bringing them to Christ, not with wonder or service merely, but with suppliant prayers. So starting, they get on their journey a little way, hoping, I suppose, that an hour and a half will see them comfortably across; when lo! this gale breaks on them with the fury of a wild beast. They are stunned with its suddenness. Doubtless in an instant the sail is lowered, oars are shipped, and carefully keeping head to wind or giving way before it, they seek to avoid getting broadside on to the waves in the dangerous trough of the sea. It is touching to see how they shrink from waking Him. Pitiful for His weariness, reverent to His dignity, they run every risk they dare before presuming to disturb Him. Yet how confused they must have felt. A sleeping Christ seems a contradiction. If Saviour of men, why does He not rise to save Himself and them? If He is ignorant of the storm, and about to be drowned, how came His mighty works? Such is life! The sea calm-gleam of setting sun or rising stars reflected on the limpid surface; no occasion of solicitude disturbs the heart, and you are making good progress to some haven of rest, when suddenly a storm of cares overwhelms the soul, and so batters and agitates it that it is like to be drowned beneath their weight; or a storm of grief rises from some bereavement, and threatens to overwhelm all faith or hope in God; or a storm of temptation assails and seems to make goodness impossible, and ruin inevitable. And still Christ seems asleep. It seems as if He must be either ignorant or indifferent, and you do not know which of the two conclusions is sadder to come to. Murmur not. Others have been in storms, and thought the Saviour listless; but He is never beyond the call of faith. (R. Glover.)

Christ in the storm

It is, then, no freak of fancy to see in this narrative an acted parable, if you will, an acted prophecy. Again and again the Church of Christ has been all but engulfed, as men might have deemed, in the billows; again and again the storm has been calmed by the Master, who had seemed for awhile to sleep.

I. Often has Christianity passed through the troubled waters of political opposition. During the first three centuries, and finally under Julian, the heathen State made repeated and desperate attempts to suppress it by force. Statesmen and philosophers undertook the task of eradicating it, not passionately, but in the same temper of calm resolution with which they would have approached any other well-considered social problem. More than once they drove it from the army, from the professions, from the public thoroughfares, into secrecy; they pursued it into the vaults beneath the palaces of Rome, into the catacombs, into the deserts. It seemed as if the faith would be trodden out with the life of so many of the faithful: but he who would persecute with effect must leave none alive. The Church passed through these fearful storms into the calm of an ascertained supremacy; but she had scarcely done so, when the vast political and social system which had so long oppressed her, and which by her persistent suffering she had at length made in some sense her own, itself began to break up beneath and around her. The barbarian invasions followed one upon another with merciless rapidity; and St. Augustine’s lamentations upon the sack of Rome express the feelings with which the higher minds in the Church must have beheld the completed humiliation of the Empire. Christianity had now to face, not merely a change of civil rulers, but a fundamental reconstruction of society. It might have been predicted with great appearance of probability that a religious system which had suited the enervated provincials of the decaying empire would never make its way among the free and strong races that, amid scenes of fire and blood, were laying the foundations of feudalism. In the event it was otherwise. The hordes which shattered the work of the Caesars learnt to repeat the Catholic Creed, and a new order of things had formed itself, when the tempest of Mahomedanism broke upon Christendom. Politically speaking, this was perhaps the most threatening storm through which the Christian Church has passed. There was a time when the soldiers of that stunted and immoral caricature of the Revelation of the One True God, which was set forth by the false prophet, had already expelled the very Name of Christ from the country of Cyprian and Augustine; they were masters of the Mediterranean; they had desolated Spain, were encamped in the heart of France, were ravaging the seaboard of Italy. It was as if the knell of Christendom had sounded. But Christ, “if asleep on a pillow in the hinder part of the ship,” was not insensible to the terrors of His servants. He rose to rebuke those winds and waves, as by Charles Martel in one age, and by Sobieski in another; it is now more than two centuries since Islam inspired its ancient dread. The last like trial of the Church was the first French Revolution. In that vast convulsion Christianity had to encounter forces which for awhile seemed to threaten its total suppression. Yet the men of the Terror have passed, as the Caesars had passed before them; and like the Caesars, they have only proved to the world that the Church carries within her One who rules the fierce tempests in which human institutions are wont to perish.

II. Political dangers, however, do but touch the Church of Christ outwardly; but she rests upon the intelligent assent of her children, and she has passed again and again through the storms of intellectual opposition or revolt. Scarcely had she steered forth from the comparatively still waters of Galilean and Hellenistic devotion than she had to encounter the pitiless dialectic, the subtle solvents, of the Alexandrian philosophy. It was as if in anticipation of this danger that St. John had already baptized the Alexandrian modification of the Platonic Loges, moulding it so as to express the sublimest and most central truth of the Christian Creed; while, in the Epistle to the Hebrews, Alexandrian methods of interpretation had been adopted in vindication of the gospel. But to many a timid believer it may well have seemed that Alexandrianism would prove the grave of Christianity, when, combining the Platonic dialectics with an Eclectic Philosophy, it endeavoured in the form of Arianism to break up the Unity of the Godhead by making Christ a separate and inferior Deity. There was a day when Arianism seemed to be triumphant; but even Arianism was a less formidable foe than the subtle strain of infidel speculation which penetrated the Christian intellect in the very heart of the Middle Ages, that is to say, at a time when the sense of the supernatural had diffused itself throughout the whole atmosphere of human thought. This unbelief was the product sometimes of a rude sensuality rebelling against the precepts of the gospel; sometimes of the culture divorced from faith which made its appearance in the twelfth century; sometimes, specifically, of the influence of the Arabian philosophy from Spain; sometimes of the vast and penetrating activity of the Jewish teachers. It revealed itself constantly under the most unexpected circumstances. We need not suppose that the great Order of the Templars was guilty of the infidelity that along with crimes of the gravest character, was laid to their charge; a study of their processes is their best acquittal, while it is the condemnation of their persecutors. But unbelief must; have been widespread in days when a prominent soldier, John of Soissons, could declare that “all that was preached concerning Christ’s Passion and Resurrection was a mere farce;” when a pious bishop of Paris left it on record that he “died believing in the Resurrection, with the hope that some of his educated but sceptical friends would reconsider their doubts;” when that keen observer, as Neander terms him, Hugh of St. Victor, remarks the existence of a large class of men whose faith consisted in nothing else than merely taking care not to contradict the faith-“quibus credere est solum fidei non contradicere, qui consuetudine vivendi magis, quam virtute credendi fideles nominantur.” The prevalence of such unbelief is attested at once by the fundamental nature of many of the questions discussed at the greatest length by the Schoolmen, and by the unconcealed anxieties of the great spiritual leaders of the time. After the Middle Ages came the Renaissance. This is not the time or place to deny the services which the Renaissance has rendered to the cause of human education, and indirectly, it may be, to that of Christianity. But the Renaissance was at first, as it appeared in Italy, a pure enthusiasm for Paganism, for Pagan thought, as well as for Pagan art and Pagan literature. And the Reformation, viewed on its positive and devotional side, was, at least in the South of Europe, a reaction against the spirit of the Renaissance: it was the Paganism, even more than the indulgences of Leo X, which alienated the Germans. The reaction against this Paganism was not less vigorous within the Church of Rome than without it; Ranke has told us the story of its disappearance. Lastly, there was the rise of Deism in England, and of the Encyclopedist School in France, followed by the pure Atheism which preceded the Revolution. It might well have seemed to fearful men of that day that Christ was indeed asleep to wake no more, that the surging waters of an infidel philosophy had well-nigh filled the ship, and that the Church had only to sink with dignity.

III. Worse than the storms of political violence or of intellectual rebellion, have been the tempests of insurgent immorality through which the Church has passed. In the ages of persecution there was less risk of this, although even then there were scandals. The Epistles to the Corinthians reveal beneath the very eyes of the Apostle a state of moral corruption, which, in one respect at least, he himself tells us, had fallen below the Pagan standard. But when entire populations pressed within the fold, and social or political motives for conformity took the place of serious and strong conviction in the minds of multitudes, these dangers became formidable. What must have been the agony of devout Christians in the tenth century, when appointments to the Roman Chair itself were in the hands of three unprincipled and licentious women; and when the life of the first Christian bishop was accounted such that a pilgrimage to Rome involved a loss of character. Well might the austere Bruno exclaim of that age that “Simon Magus lorded it over a Church in which bishops and priests were given to luxury and fornication:” well might Cardinal Baronius suspend the generally laudatory or apologetic tone of his Annals, to observe that Christ must have in this age been asleep in the ship of the Church to permit such enormities. It was a dark time in the moral life of Christendom: but there have been dark times since. Such was that when St. Bernard could allow himself to describe the Roman Curia as he does in addressing Pope Eugenius III such again was the epoch which provoked the work of Nicholas de Cleargis, “On the Ruin of the Church.” The passions, the ambitions, the worldly and political interests which surged around the Papal throne, had at length issued in the schism of Avignon; and the writer passionately exclaims that the Church had fallen proportionately to her corruptions, which he enumerates with an unsparing precision. During the century which preceded the Reformation, the state of clerical discipline in London was such as to explain the vehemence of popular reaction; and if in the last century there was an absence of grossness, such as had prevailed in previous ages, there was a greater absence of spirituality. Says Bishop Butler, charging the clergy of the Diocese of Durham in 1751-“As different ages have been distinguished by different sorts of particular errors and vices, the deplorable distinction of ours is an avowed scorn of religion in some, and a growing disregard to it in the generality.” That disregard, being in its essence moral, would hardly have been arrested by the cultivated reasoners, who were obliged to content themselves with deistic premises in their defenses of Christianity: it did yield to the fervid appeals of Whitefield and of Wesley. With an imperfect idea of the real contents and genius of the Christian Creed, and with almost no idea at all of its majestic relations to history and to thought, these men struck a chord for which we may well be grateful. They awoke Christ, sleeping in the conscience of England; they were the real harbingers of a day brighter than their own.

IV. For if the question be asked, how the Church of Christ has surmounted these successive dangers, the answer is, by the appeal of prayer. She has cried to her Master, who is ever in the ship, though, as it may seem, asleep upon a pillow. The appeal has often been made impatiently, even violently, as on the waves of Gennesaret, but it has not been made in vain. It has not been by policy, or good sense, or considerations of worldly prudence, but by a renewal in very various ways of the first fresh Christian enthusiasm which flows from the felt presence of Christ, that political enemies have been baffled, and intellectual difficulties reduced to their true dimensions, and moral sores extirpated or healed. Christianity does thus contain within itself the secret of its perpetual youth, the certificate of its indestructible vitality; because it centres in, it is inseparable from, devotion to a living Person. No ideal lacking a counterpart in fact could have guided the Chinch across the centuries. Imagination may do much in quiet and prosperous times; but amid the storms of hostile prejudice and passion, in presence of political vicissitudes or of intellectual onslaughts, or of moral rebellion or decay, an unreal Saviour must be found out. A Christ upon paper, though it were the sacred pages of the gospel, would have been as powerless to save Christendom as a Christ in fresco; not less feeble than the Countenance which, in the last stages of its decay, may be traced on the wall of the Refectory at Milan. A living Christ is the key to the phenomenon of Christian history. The subject suggests, among others, two reflections in particular. And, first, it is a duty to be on our guard against, panics. Panics are the last infirmity of believing souls. But panics are to be deprecated, not because they imply a keen interest in the fortunes of religion, but because they betray a certain distrust of the power and living presence of our Lord. Science may for the moment be hostile; in the long run it cannot but befriend us. And He who is with us in the storm is most assuredly beyond the reach of harm: to be panic stricken is to dishonour Him. A second reflection is this: a time of trouble and danger is the natural season for generous devotion. To generous minds a time of trouble has its own attractions. It enables a man to hope, with less risk of presumption, that his motives are sincere; it fortifies courage; it suggests self-distrust; it enriches character; it invigorates faith. (Canon Liddon.)

The Ruler of the waves

I. That following Christ will not prevent our having earthly sorrows and troubles.

II. That the Lord Jesus Christ is truly and really man.

III. That there may be much weakness and infirmity in a true Christian. “Master, carest Thou not that we perish?”

1. There was impatience.

2. There was distrust.

3. There was unbelief. Many of God’s children go on very well so long as they have no trials.

IV. The power of the Lord Jesus Christ.

1. His power in creation.

2. In the works of providence.

3. In His miracles. Christ is “able to save to the uttermost” (Hebrews 7:25).

V. How tenderly and patiently the Lord Jesus deals with weak believers. The Lord Jesus is of tender mercy. He will not cast away His believing people because of shortcomings. (J. C. Ryle, M. A.)

The hurricane

I. That when you are going to take a voyage of any kind you ought to have Christ in the ship. These boats would all have gone to the bottom if Christ had not been there. You are about to voyage out into some new enterprise; you are bound to do the best you can for yourself; be sure to take Christ in the ship. Here are men largely prospered. They are not puffed up. They acknowledge God who gives them their prosperity. When disaster comes that destroys others, they are only helped into higher experiences. Christ is in the ship. Here are other men, the prey of uncertainties. In the storm of sickness you will want Christ.

II. That people who follow Christ must not always expect smooth sailing. If there are any people who you would think ought to have a good time in getting out of this world, the apostles of Jesus Christ ought to have been the men. Have you ever noticed how they got out of the world? St. James lost his head. St. Philip was hung to death against a pillar. Matthew was struck to death by a halberd. Mark was dragged to death through the streets. St. James the Less had his brains dashed out with a fuller’s club. St. Matthias was stoned to death. St. Thomas was struck through with a spear. John Huss in the fire, the Albigenses, the Waldenses, the Scotch Covenanters-did they always find smooth sailing? Why go so far? There is a young man in a store in New York who has a hard time to maintain his Christian character. All the clerks laugh at him, the employers in that store laugh at him, and when he loses his patience they say: “You are a pretty Christian.” Not so easy is it for that young man to follow Christ. If the Lord did not help him hour by hour he would fail.

III. That good people sometimes get very much frightened. And so it is now that you often find good people wildly agitated. “Oh!” says some Christian man, “the infidel magazines, the bad newspapers, the spiritualistic societies, the importation of so many foreign errors, the Church of God is going to be lost, the ship is going to founder! The ship is going down!” What are you frightened about? An old lion goes into his cavern to take a sleep, and he lies down until his shaggy mane covers his paws. Meanwhile, the spiders outside begin to spin webs over the mouth of his cavern, and say, “That lion cannot break out through this web,” and they keep on spinning the gossamer threads until they get the mouth of the cavern covered over. “Now,” they say, “the lion’s done, the lion’s done.” After awhile the lion awakes and shakes himself, and he walks out from the cavern, never knowing there were any spiders’ webs, and with his voice he shakes the mountain. Let the infidels and the sceptics of this day go on spinning their webs, spinning their infidel gossamer theories, spinning them all over the place where Christ seems to be sleeping. They say: “Christ can never again come out; the work is done; He can never get through this logical web we have been spinning.” The day will come when the Lion of Judah’s tribe will rouse Himself and come forth and shake mightily the nations. What then all your gossamer threads? What is a spider’s web to an aroused lion? Do not fret, then, about the world’s going backward. It is going forward.

IV. That Christ can hush the tempest. Christ can hush the tempest of bereavement, loss and death. (Dr. Talmage.)

The toiling Christ

I. Point out some of the significant hints which the gospel records give us of the toilsomeness of Christ’s service. In St. Matthews Gospel the idea of the king is prominent; in St. Mark’s, Christ as a servant. Notice the traits of His service which it brings out.

1. How distinctly it gives the impression of swift, strenuous work. Mark’s favourite word is “straightway,” “immediately,” “forthwith,” “anon.” His whole story is a picture of rapid acts of mercy and love.

2. We see in Christ’s service, toil prolonged to the point of actual physical exhaustion. So in this story. He had had a long wearying day of work. He had spoken the whole of the parables concerning the kingdom of God. No wonder He slept.

3. We see in Christ toil that puts aside the claims of physical wants. “The multitude cometh together again so that they could not so much as eat bread.”

4. We see in Christ’s service a love which is at every man’s beck and call, a toil cheerfully rendered at the most unreasonable and unseasonable times.

II. The springs of this wonderful activity. There are three points which come out in the Gospels as His motives for such unresting toil. The first is conveyed in such words as these: “I must work the works of Him that sent Me.” This motive made the service homogeneous-in all the variety of service one spirit was expressed, and therefore the service was one. The second motive of His toil is expressed in such words as these: “While I am in the world I am the light of the world.” There is a final motive expressed in such words as these: “And Jesus, moved with compassion,” etc. The constant pity of that beating heart moved the diligent hand.

III. The worth of this toil for us. How precious a proof it is of Christ’s humanity. Labour is a curse till made a blessing by communion with God in it.

1. Task all your capacity and use every minute in doing the thing that is plainly set before you.

2. The possible harmony of communion and service. The labour did not break His fellowship with God.

3. The cheerful, constant postponement of our own ease, wishes, or pleasure, to the call of the Father’s voice.

4. It is an appeal to our grateful hearts. (Dr. McLaren.)

The great calm

“He maketh the storm a calm.” The “calm” then is the voice of God.

1. Of power.

2. Of love.

3. Of peace.

4. Of warning. No earthly calm lasts.

I. The inner calm. In every soul there has been storm. It rages through the whole being. But Jesus is the stiller of this storm in man.

1. In his conscience.

2. In his heart.

3. In his intellect.

II. The future calm for earth. In every aspect ours is a stormy world. But its day of calm is coming. Jesus will say to it, Peace, be still.

1. As a Prophet.

2. As a Priest.

3. As a King, to give the calm of heaven. (H. Sonar, D. D.)

“Peace, be still!”

No words can exaggerate the value and importance of a calm mind. It is the basis of almost everything which is good. Well-ordered reflections, meditation, influence, wise speech-all embosom themselves in a calm mind. Yet a state of agitation is with many the rule of life. Consider Jesus as the stiller of the heart. He was most eminently a still character. The greatest force of energy and the largest activity of mind and body are not only compatible with stillness, but they go to make it. The persons of the largest power and the most telling action are generally the quietest. They may owe it to discipline and drill-and perhaps Christ Himself did-but they show themselves reined in and well-ordered. Just as it was in the lake: the wind and the waves went before, and, so to speak, subdued and made the calm. The placidity of a fiery and passionate nature is the best of foundations for all quietness. And this may be a thought of strength and encouragement to some. The more resolute the will, and the more violent the passion, the more complete may be the victory, and the more imperturbable the temper, if only grace do its proper work. Want of religious peace lies at the root of all that is trouble to the mind. A man at peace with God will be at peace with his own conscience, with the world; he will not have his feelings greatly aggravated by external things. You won’t be much disturbed by anything if you feel and when you feel-“My Father! My Father! Jesus is mine, and I am His!” Next, if you will be calm, make pictures to yourself of all calm things-in nature, in history, in people you know, and above all, in Christ. Take care that yon do this at the moment when you begin to feel the temptation to disturbance. But still more realize at such times Christ’s presence. Is not He with you?-is not He in you?-and can restless, miserable, burning feelings dare to live in such a tenement? Let the fiercest thought touch Him, and by a strange fascination, it will clothe itself, and lie at His feet. And, fourthly, recognize it as the very office and prerogative of Christ to give quietness. And if He gives this, who then can make trouble! The disciples were more amazed at this triumph of Christ over the elements, with which they were so familiar in their sea life, than at all His other miracles. And it is not too much for me to say that you will never know what Jesus is, or what that word Saviour means, until you have felt in that heart of yours-which was once so troubled, so heaving, so tossed, and so ill at ease-all the depth and the calm, and all the beauty and the hush which He has given you. (J. Vaughan, M. A.)

Consult the chart in fine as well as in stormy weather

Let us not be like that captain of whom we lately heard, who having a true and correct chart in his cabin, failed to consult it while the weather was calm, but went below to look for it only when the wind and tide had drifted his barque upon the bar, and so, with his eyes upon the course he should have steered, felt the shock which in a few moments sent them down into the abyss. Our souls are like a ship upon the deep, and as we sail over the waves of life, we must, like wary mariners, take the hints given us in our nature. If we see on the horizon a cloud of some possible temptation no bigger than a man’s hand, though all else be bright and clear-if we hear but the first blast of some probable sin hurtling in the farthest caverns of our life-we must beware, for in that speck, in that distant howl may couch a tempest ready to spring up and leap down upon our souls. Above all we should always have Christ aboard with us; we should have Him formed within us as our hope of glory; under His ensign we should sail, as our only hope of reaching that haven for which we are making. (W. B. Philpot, M. A.)

Utilizing Christ’s presence

Too many Christians-nay, almost all of us at too many times, though we have Christ with us, do not profit by His presence nor enjoy Him as we ought. We should not only have Christ, but, having Him, ah why have we not that faith, that assurance of faith, that full assurance of faith, which can realize and utilize His presence? (W. B. Philpot, M. A.)

Christ and His disciples in the storm

I. The apostles were not exempted from danger because they were the attendants of Christ. Believers, look for storms!

II. While the apostles were exposed to the storm, they had Christ along with them in the vessel.

III. The conduct of Christ during the storm was remarkable and instructive. He was asleep.

IV. The feelings and conduct of the disciples during the storm are strongly illustrative of human character. Their faith was tried. They were afraid. They apply to Christ. Prayer not always the language of faith.

V. The effect of this application of the disciples to Christ. He answered their prayer, though their faith was weak. He thus revealed His Divine power. He unveiled His ordinary agency.

VI. Christ, with the blessing, administers a rebuke. Mark your conduct under trials. VII. The disciples came out of the trial with increased admiration of Christ. (Expository Discourses.)

Christ asleep in the vessel

I. The apparent indifference of the Lord to His people.

II. It is only apparent.

III. He has a real care for them at times when He seems indifferent.

IV. They shall see this to be the case by and by. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Trust in God often the last extremity

While a small steam packet was crossing a stormy bay, the engine suddenly stopped, and for a few minutes the situation was one of real peril. One old lady rushed to the captain with the anxious inquiry whether there was any danger. “Madam,” was the uncompromising reply, “we must trust in God.” “O sir!” wailed the inquirer, “has it come to that?” A good many Christians feel like that in times of peril; they are willing to trust in everything-except God. There are some children, who are afraid that a thunderstorm is about to burst over them every time a cloud gathers in the sky; and if the sky is cloudless, they are certain that it is only the calm before the storm. They can always see the coming storms, but cannot trust the goodness that sends them.

Help in answer to prayer

A fishing boat was struggling for life out on the sea, and the skipper had lost all knowledge of where the land was, and whither his boat was driving. In his despair, the strong man cried to God for help. Just then a little beam from a window light shone over the waters; the boat’s prow was turned, and after a little more manful fighting, she reached the haven. Was not that gleam of light God’s answer to the skipper’s prayer? A missionary was returning home, and just as he was nearing the coasts of his country, a terrible storm came on, and threatened to break the ship in pieces. The missionary went below, and prayed to God earnestly for the safety of the ship. Presently he came up and told the captain with quiet confidence that the ship would live through the storm. Captain and crew jeered at him; they did not believe it. Yet the ship came safely to port. Was the missionary wrong when he saw in this an instance of God’s readiness to give the help His children ask?

Distrust rebuked by God’s constant care

Every miracle of God’s grace is a standing rebuke of distrust. What if your child, whom you had fed and clothed and housed for years, should begin to be anxious as to where his next meal or his next suit of clothes was to come from, and whether he could be sure of having a roof over his head for another night? What if he still persisted in his distrust, although you told him that you would take care of all these things? If you can imagine your child acting in so foolish a way, you have a picture of how most of us, day after day, treat the God who cares for us, and who has promised to supply us with all things.

“Other little ships”

Those “other little ships” gained a great deal that day from Christ’s saying, “Peace be still!” which we do not discover that anybody was candid enough to acknowledge. The whole sea became tranquil, and they were saved. The world receives many unappreciated benefits from Jesus Christ’s presence in the Church. Men are just so many little ships, taking entire benefit of the miracle brought from God’s great love for His own. Start with the commonest gain that comes to the world through the Church.

1. See how property values are lifted by every kind of Christian effort.

2. See what the gospel does towards lifting a low and depraved neighbourhood into respectability.

3. See how it enriches education.

4. See how it elevates woman.

5. See how it alleviates sickness. There is no need of pursuing the illustration any farther.

But there are just three lessons which will take force from the figure, perhaps;. and these might as well be stated.

1. Why do not men of the world recognize what the Church of Christ is doing daily and yearly for them, their wives, and their children?

2. Why do not men of the world see that the men in the “other little ships” were the safer from the storm the nearer their boats were to that Jesus was in?

3. Why do not men of the world perceive that the disciples were better off than anybody else during that awful night upon Gennesareth? Oh, that is the safest place in the universe for any troubled soul to be in-among the chosen friends of Jesus Christ the Lord, and keeping the very closest to His side! (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)

Christ the Lord of nature

Nature, in the sense in which we now use it, means the world of matter, and the laws of its working. If Holy Scripture be listened to, He is so of right. “All things were made by Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made.” “God created all things by Jesus Christ.” There is no lordship like that of creation. Christ in the days of His flesh actually gave proof of His lordship on earth.

1. There is a class of miracles which had their place in what we may call productive nature; in those processes which have to do with the supply of food for man’s life. Wine made at Cana; feeding of the five thousand; feeding of the four thousand.

2. There is a class of miracles proving the dominion of Christ over animated nature. The draught of fishes on the sea of Tiberias; the piece of money in the fish’s mouth.

3. We have examples of the sovereignty of Christ over elemental nature, air, and sea.

4. We have an example of Christ’s sovereignty in the domain of morbid nature, disease and decay-“the fig tree dried up from the roots.”

Christ the Lord of nature.

1. It was necessary that the Son of God coming down from heaven for the redemption of men should prove Himself to be very God by many infallible and irresistible signs. It was in mercy as well as in wisdom that He gave this demonstration.

2. It could scarcely be but that He should as Son of God assert below His dominion over God’s creation, and over the processes of God’s providence.

3. Let us be careful how we speak of miracles, such as these, as if they were contradictions of God’s natural laws, or contradictions of God’s providential operations. When Christ wrought a miracle upon nature it was to give a glimpse of some good thing lost, of some perfect thing deteriorated, of some joyous thing spoilt, by reason of the Fall, and to be given back to man by virtue of redemption.

4. In these miracles which attest the sovereignty of Christ over nature we have one of the surest grounds of comfort for Christian souls.

5. There is also warning for the careless and sinful. Upon His blessing or curse depends all that makes existence a happiness or misery. The agencies of nature as of grace are in the hands of Christ. (C. J. Vaughan, D. D.)

Christ asleep

There is a very great spiritual importance in the fact that Jesus sleeps. In this sleep of Jesus, a very great mistake into which we are apt to fall is corrected or prevented; the mistake, I mean, of silently assuming that Christ, being Divine, takes nothing as we do, and is really not under our human conditions far enough to suffer exhaustions of nature by work or by feeling, by hunger, the want of sleep, dejections or recoils of wounded sensibility. Able to do even miracles-to heal the sick, or cure the blind, or raise the dead, or still the sea-we fall into the impression that His works really cost Him nothing, and that while His lot appears to be outwardly dejected, He has, in fact, an easy time of it. Exactly contrary to this, He feels it, even when virtue goes out only from the hem of His garment. And when He gives the word of healing, it is a draft, we know not how great, upon His powers. In the same way every sympathy requires all expenditure of strength proportioned to the measure of that sympathy. Every sort of tension, or attention, every argument, teaching, restraint of patience, concern of charity, is a putting forth with cost to Him, as it is to us. Notice also more particularly the conditions or bestowments of the sleep of Jesus and especially their correspondence with His redemptive undertaking. Saying nothing of infants, who in a certain proper sense are called innocent, there have been two examples of full-grown innocent sleep in our world: that of Adam in the garden, and that of Christ the second Adam, whose nights overtook Him with no place where to bestow Himself. And the sleep of both, different as far as possible in the manner, is yet more exactly appropriate, in each, to his peculiar work and office. One is laid to sleep in a paradise of beauty, lulled by the music of birds and running brooks, shaded and sheltered by the over-hanging trees, shortly to wake and look upon a kindred nature standing by, offered him to be the partner and second life of his life. The other, as pure and spotless as he, and ripe, as he is not, in the unassailable righteousness of character, tears Himself away from clamorous multitudes that crowd upon Him suing piteously for His care, and drops, even out of miracle itself, on the hard plank deck, or bottom, of a fisherman’s boat, and there, in lightning and thunder and tempest, sheeted as it were in the general wrath of the waters and the air, He sleeps-only to wake at the supplicating touch of fear and distress. One is the sleep of the world’s Father; the other that of the world’s Redeemer. One has never known as yet the way of sin, the other has come into the tainted blood and ruin of it, to bear and suffer under it, and drink the cup it mixes; so to still the storm and be a reconciling peace. Both sleep in character. Were the question raised which of the two will be crucified, we should have no doubt. Visibly, the toil-worn Jesus, He that takes the storm, curtained in it as by the curse-He is the Redeemer. His sleep agrees with His manger birth, His poverty, His agony, His cross; and what is more, as the cross that is maddening in His enemies is the retributive disorder of God’s just penalty following their sin, so the fury of that night shadows it all the more fitly, that what He encounters in it is the wrathful cast of Providence. (Dr. Bushnell.)

The ship of the world

In one of the prophets we have the picture of a stately ship which is a type of the world. She is all splendour and magnificence; she walks the waters like a thing of life. The fir trees of Senir and the cedars of Lebanon have contributed to her beauty; her oars are wrought from the oaks of Bashan, her sails are of fine linen and broidered work. She has a gay and gallant crew; the multitudes who throng her decks are full of joy and thoughtless of danger. Out they sail into the great waters; her rowers bring her into the midst of the sea; and when the east wind rises she is broken in the midst, and lies a helpless wreck upon the great ocean of eternity. There was no Christ in the ship to say, “Peace, be still;” no pitying Jesus to answer the bitter cry of “Lord, save us, we perish.” But not so was it with the little fisher boat. It had no pomp and vanities of which to boast, no tinselled splendour; but it carried Jesus and His fortunes-One who could rebuke the waves of sin. The world, wanting Christ, wanted all things else and was lost; the Church, with Christ in the ship, had nothing more to ask; it was sure to be saved with His “Peace, be still.” (G. F. Cushman, D. D.)

The strange inquiry concerning fear

What we could understand well enough was a mystery to Christ. In our glibness we could have explained their fear clearly. The lake was sixty fathoms deep; stoutest swimmer could not have saved his life in such a sea; some were married men; life is sweet; a storm is more terrible by night than day; and so on. But what is all plain to everyone was a mystery Christ could not solve. How a doubt of the love of God could enter a soul passed His comprehension. Why men should be afraid of the Divine ordinance called death, He could not understand. What fear was, He knew not. What a proof of Divine sanctity lies in the fact that all fear and doubt were mysteries to Him! (R. Glover.)

From one fear to another

I. They escaped one fear, only to get into another; losing the fear of the tempest, they get a greater fear, that of the Lord of the tempest.

II. They lose a bad fear to get a good one-a fear which is reverent, and one which has as much trust as awe in it. Such fear is the beginning of faith in Christ’s Godhead. (R. Glover.)
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Verses 35-41

Mark 4:35-41

And the same day, when the even was come, He saith unto them, Let us pass over unto the other side.

In the storm

I. The influence of danger it caused the disciples to doubt the care of Christ. Why is it we doubt the Lord in seasons of danger?

1. Imperfect knowledge of the Lord.

2. Natural impatience.

3. Satanic temptations.

II. The folly of suspicion. It is groundless. The truth is ratified, that God will not leave us to perish. Were it not stated in such plain terms, we might infer as much from-

1. God’s former dealings with ourselves and others.

2. The known character of the Lord.

3. The relationship in which we stand to Him.

III. The secret of tranquility.

1. Meditation.

2. Prayer.

3. Resignation.

IV. The blessedness of holy confidence.

1. It honours God.

2. It blesses our own souls afterward.

If the record had run thus, “And there arose a great storm, etc., but the disciples, believing their Master would not suffer them to perish, watched Him until He awoke. And when Jesus arose, He said, Great is your faith; and He saved them,” what joy would the memory have brought to their hearts in later years!

3. Hereby we obtain more speedy relief. Unbelief causes God to delay or deny (Matthew 13:58). (R. A. Griffin.)

A great storm and a great calm

I. The first aspect of Christ’s life presented to us in this wonderful passage of Scripture is His weariness.

1. It arose from incessant labour.

2. It arose from laborious work.

II. The second aspect of Christ’s life brought before us is his rest. We regard this sleeping of Christ-

1. As an evidence of His humanity.

2. As an evidence of His trustfulness. He cast Himself upon His Father’s care, and was not afraid of Galilee’s stormy lake.

3. As an evidence of His goodness. He slept like one who had a good conscience.

III. But all too soon was the best of Christ disturbed. “And they awoke Him.” How often was Christ’s repose disturbed! Three things led to the disturbance of Christ’s rest:

1. A sudden and violent storm.

2. The danger of the disciples.

3. The fears of the disciples.

IV. Then followed a glorious manifestation of the power of Christ.

1. It was manifested in His authority over nature.

2. It was manifested in His rebuke of the disciples.

3. It was manifested in His evident superiority of character.

“What manner of man is this?” He is the God-Man, who stands equal with God on the high level of Deity, and equal with man on the low level of humanity. “He that hath seen Me, hath seen the Father.” (Joseph Hughes.)

A picture of the Christian life

This narrative is a touching picture of the Christian life. Following its leadings; we contemplate the Christian life in its beginning, in its progress, in its issue.

I. The beginning of the Christian life. We go out on the waves of life and have Christ for our leader in the days of our childhood; that is, where we have the blessing of Christian parents and teachers, etc. Oh happy years of childlike faith! How merciless they who could rob us of this faith. What have they to offer in its place? No; we will not be robbed of it. In its nature and essence this childlike faith is true and unchangeable; but the garment by which it is covered, the veil it carries over it, must be torn off. The childlike faith receives the Saviour in the only vessel in which the child can receive the Divine-in the vessel of the feelings. In manhood we have another vessel in which we can receive Him-the vessel of the understanding. Not that we should loose Him from the vessel of the feelings as we become men, but that our manhood should receive Him into the understanding as well as into the heart. Our childlike faith has seen the Saviour as the little ship of life glided over the smooth waters; it has not yet learnt to know Him in the storm and the tempest. It has known Him in His kindness and love; He is not yet revealed in His wisdom and power.

II. The beginning of life passes by, and in the progress of life Christ slumbers in the soul, and is awakened by the storm. That beautiful childlike sense of faith slumbers-not universally, for there have been favoured souls in whom Christ has never slumbered, who have retained their childish faith to their ripe manhood. It is otherwise in times of conflict like these. It seems that in these troubled times, this childlike faith must apparently die, i.e., must throw off its veil when the storm rages, and rises in a new form. Even on the sacred floor of the church the young Christian finds doubt, strife, and disunion, and he doubts. The Lord awakes, and says, “…Canst thou believe?” and we answer, “…Lord, I believe; help Thou mine unbelief.” There is faith still, though doubt may be ever so strong; there is still an anchor firmly fastened in the sanctuary of the breast. Faith slumbers, but is not dead.

III. That will be the issue if, instead of yielding, you wrestle. As you have known the Saviour earlier in His kindness and love, you will come to know Him in His wisdom and power. Life is a conflict. Some trifle with life; with them it is like playing with soap bubbles. They have never looked the doubt earnestly in the face, to say nothing of the truth. God will not send the noblest of His gifts to laggards: the door of truth closed against those who would willingly enter is a solemn thought (Matthew 25:10-11). (Dr. Tholuch.)

The disciples in the storm

I. In the storm while prosecuting the Saviour’s command-teaching.

1. Implicit obedience does not exempt from trials. Joseph, David, Daniel, St. Paul, etc.

2. Trials are not always punitive, but always disciplinary. This trial was a test both in respect to faith and works.

(a) Will they believe that they will be saved?

(b) Will they go on in their line of duty?

II. In the story while Jesus was with them.

1. Jesus was exposed to the same fury of the tempest, and to the same upheavals of the angry waves.

(a) Was there ever a storm in which Jesus was absent from His disciples?

2. Though with His disciples, He was fast asleep.

(a) A symbol of what frequently occurs. Let every disciple remember that a sleeping Christ is not a dead Christ.

(b) Though asleep, He has not forgotten His disciples.

III. In the storm while Jesus was with them and yet they had to cry to Him for deliverance.

1. Prayer is the disciples’ privilege and duty at all times, especially in times of trial and peril.

2. The prayer that arises from a believing heart can never go unanswered.

IV. Is the storm delivered from the storm in answer to prayer.

1. Christ’s Divine power was not affected by physical fatigue.

2. Jesus, touched by the cry of His disciples, wields a power before which nothing can stand.

V. Deliverance from the storm a grand moral power.

1. It exercised a moral power, awakening deeper reverence for Christ as Messiah.

2. Awakening greater awe for Christ as the Son of God. (D. G. Hughes, M. A.)

God’s storms

They only measure Christ aright, who are forced to carry to Him some great grief, and find by experience He is great enough to save them. It is when men have weighed Him in the balances of some great necessity, and found Him not wanting, that they believe in Him. So the disciples are sent to school. Storm and danger are for the night to be their schoolmasters, bringing them to Christ, not with wonder or service merely, but with suppliant prayers. So starting, they get on their journey a little way, hoping, I suppose, that an hour and a half will see them comfortably across; when lo! this gale breaks on them with the fury of a wild beast. They are stunned with its suddenness. Doubtless in an instant the sail is lowered, oars are shipped, and carefully keeping head to wind or giving way before it, they seek to avoid getting broadside on to the waves in the dangerous trough of the sea. It is touching to see how they shrink from waking Him. Pitiful for His weariness, reverent to His dignity, they run every risk they dare before presuming to disturb Him. Yet how confused they must have felt. A sleeping Christ seems a contradiction. If Saviour of men, why does He not rise to save Himself and them? If He is ignorant of the storm, and about to be drowned, how came His mighty works? Such is life! The sea calm-gleam of setting sun or rising stars reflected on the limpid surface; no occasion of solicitude disturbs the heart, and you are making good progress to some haven of rest, when suddenly a storm of cares overwhelms the soul, and so batters and agitates it that it is like to be drowned beneath their weight; or a storm of grief rises from some bereavement, and threatens to overwhelm all faith or hope in God; or a storm of temptation assails and seems to make goodness impossible, and ruin inevitable. And still Christ seems asleep. It seems as if He must be either ignorant or indifferent, and you do not know which of the two conclusions is sadder to come to. Murmur not. Others have been in storms, and thought the Saviour listless; but He is never beyond the call of faith. (R. Glover.)

Christ in the storm

It is, then, no freak of fancy to see in this narrative an acted parable, if you will, an acted prophecy. Again and again the Church of Christ has been all but engulfed, as men might have deemed, in the billows; again and again the storm has been calmed by the Master, who had seemed for awhile to sleep.

I. Often has Christianity passed through the troubled waters of political opposition. During the first three centuries, and finally under Julian, the heathen State made repeated and desperate attempts to suppress it by force. Statesmen and philosophers undertook the task of eradicating it, not passionately, but in the same temper of calm resolution with which they would have approached any other well-considered social problem. More than once they drove it from the army, from the professions, from the public thoroughfares, into secrecy; they pursued it into the vaults beneath the palaces of Rome, into the catacombs, into the deserts. It seemed as if the faith would be trodden out with the life of so many of the faithful: but he who would persecute with effect must leave none alive. The Church passed through these fearful storms into the calm of an ascertained supremacy; but she had scarcely done so, when the vast political and social system which had so long oppressed her, and which by her persistent suffering she had at length made in some sense her own, itself began to break up beneath and around her. The barbarian invasions followed one upon another with merciless rapidity; and St. Augustine’s lamentations upon the sack of Rome express the feelings with which the higher minds in the Church must have beheld the completed humiliation of the Empire. Christianity had now to face, not merely a change of civil rulers, but a fundamental reconstruction of society. It might have been predicted with great appearance of probability that a religious system which had suited the enervated provincials of the decaying empire would never make its way among the free and strong races that, amid scenes of fire and blood, were laying the foundations of feudalism. In the event it was otherwise. The hordes which shattered the work of the Caesars learnt to repeat the Catholic Creed, and a new order of things had formed itself, when the tempest of Mahomedanism broke upon Christendom. Politically speaking, this was perhaps the most threatening storm through which the Christian Church has passed. There was a time when the soldiers of that stunted and immoral caricature of the Revelation of the One True God, which was set forth by the false prophet, had already expelled the very Name of Christ from the country of Cyprian and Augustine; they were masters of the Mediterranean; they had desolated Spain, were encamped in the heart of France, were ravaging the seaboard of Italy. It was as if the knell of Christendom had sounded. But Christ, “if asleep on a pillow in the hinder part of the ship,” was not insensible to the terrors of His servants. He rose to rebuke those winds and waves, as by Charles Martel in one age, and by Sobieski in another; it is now more than two centuries since Islam inspired its ancient dread. The last like trial of the Church was the first French Revolution. In that vast convulsion Christianity had to encounter forces which for awhile seemed to threaten its total suppression. Yet the men of the Terror have passed, as the Caesars had passed before them; and like the Caesars, they have only proved to the world that the Church carries within her One who rules the fierce tempests in which human institutions are wont to perish.

II. Political dangers, however, do but touch the Church of Christ outwardly; but she rests upon the intelligent assent of her children, and she has passed again and again through the storms of intellectual opposition or revolt. Scarcely had she steered forth from the comparatively still waters of Galilean and Hellenistic devotion than she had to encounter the pitiless dialectic, the subtle solvents, of the Alexandrian philosophy. It was as if in anticipation of this danger that St. John had already baptized the Alexandrian modification of the Platonic Loges, moulding it so as to express the sublimest and most central truth of the Christian Creed; while, in the Epistle to the Hebrews, Alexandrian methods of interpretation had been adopted in vindication of the gospel. But to many a timid believer it may well have seemed that Alexandrianism would prove the grave of Christianity, when, combining the Platonic dialectics with an Eclectic Philosophy, it endeavoured in the form of Arianism to break up the Unity of the Godhead by making Christ a separate and inferior Deity. There was a day when Arianism seemed to be triumphant; but even Arianism was a less formidable foe than the subtle strain of infidel speculation which penetrated the Christian intellect in the very heart of the Middle Ages, that is to say, at a time when the sense of the supernatural had diffused itself throughout the whole atmosphere of human thought. This unbelief was the product sometimes of a rude sensuality rebelling against the precepts of the gospel; sometimes of the culture divorced from faith which made its appearance in the twelfth century; sometimes, specifically, of the influence of the Arabian philosophy from Spain; sometimes of the vast and penetrating activity of the Jewish teachers. It revealed itself constantly under the most unexpected circumstances. We need not suppose that the great Order of the Templars was guilty of the infidelity that along with crimes of the gravest character, was laid to their charge; a study of their processes is their best acquittal, while it is the condemnation of their persecutors. But unbelief must; have been widespread in days when a prominent soldier, John of Soissons, could declare that “all that was preached concerning Christ’s Passion and Resurrection was a mere farce;” when a pious bishop of Paris left it on record that he “died believing in the Resurrection, with the hope that some of his educated but sceptical friends would reconsider their doubts;” when that keen observer, as Neander terms him, Hugh of St. Victor, remarks the existence of a large class of men whose faith consisted in nothing else than merely taking care not to contradict the faith-“quibus credere est solum fidei non contradicere, qui consuetudine vivendi magis, quam virtute credendi fideles nominantur.” The prevalence of such unbelief is attested at once by the fundamental nature of many of the questions discussed at the greatest length by the Schoolmen, and by the unconcealed anxieties of the great spiritual leaders of the time. After the Middle Ages came the Renaissance. This is not the time or place to deny the services which the Renaissance has rendered to the cause of human education, and indirectly, it may be, to that of Christianity. But the Renaissance was at first, as it appeared in Italy, a pure enthusiasm for Paganism, for Pagan thought, as well as for Pagan art and Pagan literature. And the Reformation, viewed on its positive and devotional side, was, at least in the South of Europe, a reaction against the spirit of the Renaissance: it was the Paganism, even more than the indulgences of Leo X, which alienated the Germans. The reaction against this Paganism was not less vigorous within the Church of Rome than without it; Ranke has told us the story of its disappearance. Lastly, there was the rise of Deism in England, and of the Encyclopedist School in France, followed by the pure Atheism which preceded the Revolution. It might well have seemed to fearful men of that day that Christ was indeed asleep to wake no more, that the surging waters of an infidel philosophy had well-nigh filled the ship, and that the Church had only to sink with dignity.

III. Worse than the storms of political violence or of intellectual rebellion, have been the tempests of insurgent immorality through which the Church has passed. In the ages of persecution there was less risk of this, although even then there were scandals. The Epistles to the Corinthians reveal beneath the very eyes of the Apostle a state of moral corruption, which, in one respect at least, he himself tells us, had fallen below the Pagan standard. But when entire populations pressed within the fold, and social or political motives for conformity took the place of serious and strong conviction in the minds of multitudes, these dangers became formidable. What must have been the agony of devout Christians in the tenth century, when appointments to the Roman Chair itself were in the hands of three unprincipled and licentious women; and when the life of the first Christian bishop was accounted such that a pilgrimage to Rome involved a loss of character. Well might the austere Bruno exclaim of that age that “Simon Magus lorded it over a Church in which bishops and priests were given to luxury and fornication:” well might Cardinal Baronius suspend the generally laudatory or apologetic tone of his Annals, to observe that Christ must have in this age been asleep in the ship of the Church to permit such enormities. It was a dark time in the moral life of Christendom: but there have been dark times since. Such was that when St. Bernard could allow himself to describe the Roman Curia as he does in addressing Pope Eugenius III such again was the epoch which provoked the work of Nicholas de Cleargis, “On the Ruin of the Church.” The passions, the ambitions, the worldly and political interests which surged around the Papal throne, had at length issued in the schism of Avignon; and the writer passionately exclaims that the Church had fallen proportionately to her corruptions, which he enumerates with an unsparing precision. During the century which preceded the Reformation, the state of clerical discipline in London was such as to explain the vehemence of popular reaction; and if in the last century there was an absence of grossness, such as had prevailed in previous ages, there was a greater absence of spirituality. Says Bishop Butler, charging the clergy of the Diocese of Durham in 1751-“As different ages have been distinguished by different sorts of particular errors and vices, the deplorable distinction of ours is an avowed scorn of religion in some, and a growing disregard to it in the generality.” That disregard, being in its essence moral, would hardly have been arrested by the cultivated reasoners, who were obliged to content themselves with deistic premises in their defenses of Christianity: it did yield to the fervid appeals of Whitefield and of Wesley. With an imperfect idea of the real contents and genius of the Christian Creed, and with almost no idea at all of its majestic relations to history and to thought, these men struck a chord for which we may well be grateful. They awoke Christ, sleeping in the conscience of England; they were the real harbingers of a day brighter than their own.

IV. For if the question be asked, how the Church of Christ has surmounted these successive dangers, the answer is, by the appeal of prayer. She has cried to her Master, who is ever in the ship, though, as it may seem, asleep upon a pillow. The appeal has often been made impatiently, even violently, as on the waves of Gennesaret, but it has not been made in vain. It has not been by policy, or good sense, or considerations of worldly prudence, but by a renewal in very various ways of the first fresh Christian enthusiasm which flows from the felt presence of Christ, that political enemies have been baffled, and intellectual difficulties reduced to their true dimensions, and moral sores extirpated or healed. Christianity does thus contain within itself the secret of its perpetual youth, the certificate of its indestructible vitality; because it centres in, it is inseparable from, devotion to a living Person. No ideal lacking a counterpart in fact could have guided the Chinch across the centuries. Imagination may do much in quiet and prosperous times; but amid the storms of hostile prejudice and passion, in presence of political vicissitudes or of intellectual onslaughts, or of moral rebellion or decay, an unreal Saviour must be found out. A Christ upon paper, though it were the sacred pages of the gospel, would have been as powerless to save Christendom as a Christ in fresco; not less feeble than the Countenance which, in the last stages of its decay, may be traced on the wall of the Refectory at Milan. A living Christ is the key to the phenomenon of Christian history. The subject suggests, among others, two reflections in particular. And, first, it is a duty to be on our guard against, panics. Panics are the last infirmity of believing souls. But panics are to be deprecated, not because they imply a keen interest in the fortunes of religion, but because they betray a certain distrust of the power and living presence of our Lord. Science may for the moment be hostile; in the long run it cannot but befriend us. And He who is with us in the storm is most assuredly beyond the reach of harm: to be panic stricken is to dishonour Him. A second reflection is this: a time of trouble and danger is the natural season for generous devotion. To generous minds a time of trouble has its own attractions. It enables a man to hope, with less risk of presumption, that his motives are sincere; it fortifies courage; it suggests self-distrust; it enriches character; it invigorates faith. (Canon Liddon.)

The Ruler of the waves

I. That following Christ will not prevent our having earthly sorrows and troubles.

II. That the Lord Jesus Christ is truly and really man.

III. That there may be much weakness and infirmity in a true Christian. “Master, carest Thou not that we perish?”

1. There was impatience.

2. There was distrust.

3. There was unbelief. Many of God’s children go on very well so long as they have no trials.

IV. The power of the Lord Jesus Christ.

1. His power in creation.

2. In the works of providence.

3. In His miracles. Christ is “able to save to the uttermost” (Hebrews 7:25).

V. How tenderly and patiently the Lord Jesus deals with weak believers. The Lord Jesus is of tender mercy. He will not cast away His believing people because of shortcomings. (J. C. Ryle, M. A.)

The hurricane

I. That when you are going to take a voyage of any kind you ought to have Christ in the ship. These boats would all have gone to the bottom if Christ had not been there. You are about to voyage out into some new enterprise; you are bound to do the best you can for yourself; be sure to take Christ in the ship. Here are men largely prospered. They are not puffed up. They acknowledge God who gives them their prosperity. When disaster comes that destroys others, they are only helped into higher experiences. Christ is in the ship. Here are other men, the prey of uncertainties. In the storm of sickness you will want Christ.

II. That people who follow Christ must not always expect smooth sailing. If there are any people who you would think ought to have a good time in getting out of this world, the apostles of Jesus Christ ought to have been the men. Have you ever noticed how they got out of the world? St. James lost his head. St. Philip was hung to death against a pillar. Matthew was struck to death by a halberd. Mark was dragged to death through the streets. St. James the Less had his brains dashed out with a fuller’s club. St. Matthias was stoned to death. St. Thomas was struck through with a spear. John Huss in the fire, the Albigenses, the Waldenses, the Scotch Covenanters-did they always find smooth sailing? Why go so far? There is a young man in a store in New York who has a hard time to maintain his Christian character. All the clerks laugh at him, the employers in that store laugh at him, and when he loses his patience they say: “You are a pretty Christian.” Not so easy is it for that young man to follow Christ. If the Lord did not help him hour by hour he would fail.

III. That good people sometimes get very much frightened. And so it is now that you often find good people wildly agitated. “Oh!” says some Christian man, “the infidel magazines, the bad newspapers, the spiritualistic societies, the importation of so many foreign errors, the Church of God is going to be lost, the ship is going to founder! The ship is going down!” What are you frightened about? An old lion goes into his cavern to take a sleep, and he lies down until his shaggy mane covers his paws. Meanwhile, the spiders outside begin to spin webs over the mouth of his cavern, and say, “That lion cannot break out through this web,” and they keep on spinning the gossamer threads until they get the mouth of the cavern covered over. “Now,” they say, “the lion’s done, the lion’s done.” After awhile the lion awakes and shakes himself, and he walks out from the cavern, never knowing there were any spiders’ webs, and with his voice he shakes the mountain. Let the infidels and the sceptics of this day go on spinning their webs, spinning their infidel gossamer theories, spinning them all over the place where Christ seems to be sleeping. They say: “Christ can never again come out; the work is done; He can never get through this logical web we have been spinning.” The day will come when the Lion of Judah’s tribe will rouse Himself and come forth and shake mightily the nations. What then all your gossamer threads? What is a spider’s web to an aroused lion? Do not fret, then, about the world’s going backward. It is going forward.

IV. That Christ can hush the tempest. Christ can hush the tempest of bereavement, loss and death. (Dr. Talmage.)

The toiling Christ

I. Point out some of the significant hints which the gospel records give us of the toilsomeness of Christ’s service. In St. Matthews Gospel the idea of the king is prominent; in St. Mark’s, Christ as a servant. Notice the traits of His service which it brings out.

1. How distinctly it gives the impression of swift, strenuous work. Mark’s favourite word is “straightway,” “immediately,” “forthwith,” “anon.” His whole story is a picture of rapid acts of mercy and love.

2. We see in Christ’s service, toil prolonged to the point of actual physical exhaustion. So in this story. He had had a long wearying day of work. He had spoken the whole of the parables concerning the kingdom of God. No wonder He slept.

3. We see in Christ toil that puts aside the claims of physical wants. “The multitude cometh together again so that they could not so much as eat bread.”

4. We see in Christ’s service a love which is at every man’s beck and call, a toil cheerfully rendered at the most unreasonable and unseasonable times.

II. The springs of this wonderful activity. There are three points which come out in the Gospels as His motives for such unresting toil. The first is conveyed in such words as these: “I must work the works of Him that sent Me.” This motive made the service homogeneous-in all the variety of service one spirit was expressed, and therefore the service was one. The second motive of His toil is expressed in such words as these: “While I am in the world I am the light of the world.” There is a final motive expressed in such words as these: “And Jesus, moved with compassion,” etc. The constant pity of that beating heart moved the diligent hand.

III. The worth of this toil for us. How precious a proof it is of Christ’s humanity. Labour is a curse till made a blessing by communion with God in it.

1. Task all your capacity and use every minute in doing the thing that is plainly set before you.

2. The possible harmony of communion and service. The labour did not break His fellowship with God.

3. The cheerful, constant postponement of our own ease, wishes, or pleasure, to the call of the Father’s voice.

4. It is an appeal to our grateful hearts. (Dr. McLaren.)

The great calm

“He maketh the storm a calm.” The “calm” then is the voice of God.

1. Of power.

2. Of love.

3. Of peace.

4. Of warning. No earthly calm lasts.

I. The inner calm. In every soul there has been storm. It rages through the whole being. But Jesus is the stiller of this storm in man.

1. In his conscience.

2. In his heart.

3. In his intellect.

II. The future calm for earth. In every aspect ours is a stormy world. But its day of calm is coming. Jesus will say to it, Peace, be still.

1. As a Prophet.

2. As a Priest.

3. As a King, to give the calm of heaven. (H. Sonar, D. D.)

“Peace, be still!”

No words can exaggerate the value and importance of a calm mind. It is the basis of almost everything which is good. Well-ordered reflections, meditation, influence, wise speech-all embosom themselves in a calm mind. Yet a state of agitation is with many the rule of life. Consider Jesus as the stiller of the heart. He was most eminently a still character. The greatest force of energy and the largest activity of mind and body are not only compatible with stillness, but they go to make it. The persons of the largest power and the most telling action are generally the quietest. They may owe it to discipline and drill-and perhaps Christ Himself did-but they show themselves reined in and well-ordered. Just as it was in the lake: the wind and the waves went before, and, so to speak, subdued and made the calm. The placidity of a fiery and passionate nature is the best of foundations for all quietness. And this may be a thought of strength and encouragement to some. The more resolute the will, and the more violent the passion, the more complete may be the victory, and the more imperturbable the temper, if only grace do its proper work. Want of religious peace lies at the root of all that is trouble to the mind. A man at peace with God will be at peace with his own conscience, with the world; he will not have his feelings greatly aggravated by external things. You won’t be much disturbed by anything if you feel and when you feel-“My Father! My Father! Jesus is mine, and I am His!” Next, if you will be calm, make pictures to yourself of all calm things-in nature, in history, in people you know, and above all, in Christ. Take care that yon do this at the moment when you begin to feel the temptation to disturbance. But still more realize at such times Christ’s presence. Is not He with you?-is not He in you?-and can restless, miserable, burning feelings dare to live in such a tenement? Let the fiercest thought touch Him, and by a strange fascination, it will clothe itself, and lie at His feet. And, fourthly, recognize it as the very office and prerogative of Christ to give quietness. And if He gives this, who then can make trouble! The disciples were more amazed at this triumph of Christ over the elements, with which they were so familiar in their sea life, than at all His other miracles. And it is not too much for me to say that you will never know what Jesus is, or what that word Saviour means, until you have felt in that heart of yours-which was once so troubled, so heaving, so tossed, and so ill at ease-all the depth and the calm, and all the beauty and the hush which He has given you. (J. Vaughan, M. A.)

Consult the chart in fine as well as in stormy weather

Let us not be like that captain of whom we lately heard, who having a true and correct chart in his cabin, failed to consult it while the weather was calm, but went below to look for it only when the wind and tide had drifted his barque upon the bar, and so, with his eyes upon the course he should have steered, felt the shock which in a few moments sent them down into the abyss. Our souls are like a ship upon the deep, and as we sail over the waves of life, we must, like wary mariners, take the hints given us in our nature. If we see on the horizon a cloud of some possible temptation no bigger than a man’s hand, though all else be bright and clear-if we hear but the first blast of some probable sin hurtling in the farthest caverns of our life-we must beware, for in that speck, in that distant howl may couch a tempest ready to spring up and leap down upon our souls. Above all we should always have Christ aboard with us; we should have Him formed within us as our hope of glory; under His ensign we should sail, as our only hope of reaching that haven for which we are making. (W. B. Philpot, M. A.)

Utilizing Christ’s presence

Too many Christians-nay, almost all of us at too many times, though we have Christ with us, do not profit by His presence nor enjoy Him as we ought. We should not only have Christ, but, having Him, ah why have we not that faith, that assurance of faith, that full assurance of faith, which can realize and utilize His presence? (W. B. Philpot, M. A.)

Christ and His disciples in the storm

I. The apostles were not exempted from danger because they were the attendants of Christ. Believers, look for storms!

II. While the apostles were exposed to the storm, they had Christ along with them in the vessel.

III. The conduct of Christ during the storm was remarkable and instructive. He was asleep.

IV. The feelings and conduct of the disciples during the storm are strongly illustrative of human character. Their faith was tried. They were afraid. They apply to Christ. Prayer not always the language of faith.

V. The effect of this application of the disciples to Christ. He answered their prayer, though their faith was weak. He thus revealed His Divine power. He unveiled His ordinary agency.

VI. Christ, with the blessing, administers a rebuke. Mark your conduct under trials. VII. The disciples came out of the trial with increased admiration of Christ. (Expository Discourses.)

Christ asleep in the vessel

I. The apparent indifference of the Lord to His people.

II. It is only apparent.

III. He has a real care for them at times when He seems indifferent.

IV. They shall see this to be the case by and by. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Trust in God often the last extremity

While a small steam packet was crossing a stormy bay, the engine suddenly stopped, and for a few minutes the situation was one of real peril. One old lady rushed to the captain with the anxious inquiry whether there was any danger. “Madam,” was the uncompromising reply, “we must trust in God.” “O sir!” wailed the inquirer, “has it come to that?” A good many Christians feel like that in times of peril; they are willing to trust in everything-except God. There are some children, who are afraid that a thunderstorm is about to burst over them every time a cloud gathers in the sky; and if the sky is cloudless, they are certain that it is only the calm before the storm. They can always see the coming storms, but cannot trust the goodness that sends them.

Help in answer to prayer

A fishing boat was struggling for life out on the sea, and the skipper had lost all knowledge of where the land was, and whither his boat was driving. In his despair, the strong man cried to God for help. Just then a little beam from a window light shone over the waters; the boat’s prow was turned, and after a little more manful fighting, she reached the haven. Was not that gleam of light God’s answer to the skipper’s prayer? A missionary was returning home, and just as he was nearing the coasts of his country, a terrible storm came on, and threatened to break the ship in pieces. The missionary went below, and prayed to God earnestly for the safety of the ship. Presently he came up and told the captain with quiet confidence that the ship would live through the storm. Captain and crew jeered at him; they did not believe it. Yet the ship came safely to port. Was the missionary wrong when he saw in this an instance of God’s readiness to give the help His children ask?

Distrust rebuked by God’s constant care

Every miracle of God’s grace is a standing rebuke of distrust. What if your child, whom you had fed and clothed and housed for years, should begin to be anxious as to where his next meal or his next suit of clothes was to come from, and whether he could be sure of having a roof over his head for another night? What if he still persisted in his distrust, although you told him that you would take care of all these things? If you can imagine your child acting in so foolish a way, you have a picture of how most of us, day after day, treat the God who cares for us, and who has promised to supply us with all things.

“Other little ships”

Those “other little ships” gained a great deal that day from Christ’s saying, “Peace be still!” which we do not discover that anybody was candid enough to acknowledge. The whole sea became tranquil, and they were saved. The world receives many unappreciated benefits from Jesus Christ’s presence in the Church. Men are just so many little ships, taking entire benefit of the miracle brought from God’s great love for His own. Start with the commonest gain that comes to the world through the Church.

1. See how property values are lifted by every kind of Christian effort.

2. See what the gospel does towards lifting a low and depraved neighbourhood into respectability.

3. See how it enriches education.

4. See how it elevates woman.

5. See how it alleviates sickness. There is no need of pursuing the illustration any farther.

But there are just three lessons which will take force from the figure, perhaps;. and these might as well be stated.

1. Why do not men of the world recognize what the Church of Christ is doing daily and yearly for them, their wives, and their children?

2. Why do not men of the world see that the men in the “other little ships” were the safer from the storm the nearer their boats were to that Jesus was in?

3. Why do not men of the world perceive that the disciples were better off than anybody else during that awful night upon Gennesareth? Oh, that is the safest place in the universe for any troubled soul to be in-among the chosen friends of Jesus Christ the Lord, and keeping the very closest to His side! (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)

Christ the Lord of nature

Nature, in the sense in which we now use it, means the world of matter, and the laws of its working. If Holy Scripture be listened to, He is so of right. “All things were made by Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made.” “God created all things by Jesus Christ.” There is no lordship like that of creation. Christ in the days of His flesh actually gave proof of His lordship on earth.

1. There is a class of miracles which had their place in what we may call productive nature; in those processes which have to do with the supply of food for man’s life. Wine made at Cana; feeding of the five thousand; feeding of the four thousand.

2. There is a class of miracles proving the dominion of Christ over animated nature. The draught of fishes on the sea of Tiberias; the piece of money in the fish’s mouth.

3. We have examples of the sovereignty of Christ over elemental nature, air, and sea.

4. We have an example of Christ’s sovereignty in the domain of morbid nature, disease and decay-“the fig tree dried up from the roots.”

Christ the Lord of nature.

1. It was necessary that the Son of God coming down from heaven for the redemption of men should prove Himself to be very God by many infallible and irresistible signs. It was in mercy as well as in wisdom that He gave this demonstration.

2. It could scarcely be but that He should as Son of God assert below His dominion over God’s creation, and over the processes of God’s providence.

3. Let us be careful how we speak of miracles, such as these, as if they were contradictions of God’s natural laws, or contradictions of God’s providential operations. When Christ wrought a miracle upon nature it was to give a glimpse of some good thing lost, of some perfect thing deteriorated, of some joyous thing spoilt, by reason of the Fall, and to be given back to man by virtue of redemption.

4. In these miracles which attest the sovereignty of Christ over nature we have one of the surest grounds of comfort for Christian souls.

5. There is also warning for the careless and sinful. Upon His blessing or curse depends all that makes existence a happiness or misery. The agencies of nature as of grace are in the hands of Christ. (C. J. Vaughan, D. D.)

Christ asleep

There is a very great spiritual importance in the fact that Jesus sleeps. In this sleep of Jesus, a very great mistake into which we are apt to fall is corrected or prevented; the mistake, I mean, of silently assuming that Christ, being Divine, takes nothing as we do, and is really not under our human conditions far enough to suffer exhaustions of nature by work or by feeling, by hunger, the want of sleep, dejections or recoils of wounded sensibility. Able to do even miracles-to heal the sick, or cure the blind, or raise the dead, or still the sea-we fall into the impression that His works really cost Him nothing, and that while His lot appears to be outwardly dejected, He has, in fact, an easy time of it. Exactly contrary to this, He feels it, even when virtue goes out only from the hem of His garment. And when He gives the word of healing, it is a draft, we know not how great, upon His powers. In the same way every sympathy requires all expenditure of strength proportioned to the measure of that sympathy. Every sort of tension, or attention, every argument, teaching, restraint of patience, concern of charity, is a putting forth with cost to Him, as it is to us. Notice also more particularly the conditions or bestowments of the sleep of Jesus and especially their correspondence with His redemptive undertaking. Saying nothing of infants, who in a certain proper sense are called innocent, there have been two examples of full-grown innocent sleep in our world: that of Adam in the garden, and that of Christ the second Adam, whose nights overtook Him with no place where to bestow Himself. And the sleep of both, different as far as possible in the manner, is yet more exactly appropriate, in each, to his peculiar work and office. One is laid to sleep in a paradise of beauty, lulled by the music of birds and running brooks, shaded and sheltered by the over-hanging trees, shortly to wake and look upon a kindred nature standing by, offered him to be the partner and second life of his life. The other, as pure and spotless as he, and ripe, as he is not, in the unassailable righteousness of character, tears Himself away from clamorous multitudes that crowd upon Him suing piteously for His care, and drops, even out of miracle itself, on the hard plank deck, or bottom, of a fisherman’s boat, and there, in lightning and thunder and tempest, sheeted as it were in the general wrath of the waters and the air, He sleeps-only to wake at the supplicating touch of fear and distress. One is the sleep of the world’s Father; the other that of the world’s Redeemer. One has never known as yet the way of sin, the other has come into the tainted blood and ruin of it, to bear and suffer under it, and drink the cup it mixes; so to still the storm and be a reconciling peace. Both sleep in character. Were the question raised which of the two will be crucified, we should have no doubt. Visibly, the toil-worn Jesus, He that takes the storm, curtained in it as by the curse-He is the Redeemer. His sleep agrees with His manger birth, His poverty, His agony, His cross; and what is more, as the cross that is maddening in His enemies is the retributive disorder of God’s just penalty following their sin, so the fury of that night shadows it all the more fitly, that what He encounters in it is the wrathful cast of Providence. (Dr. Bushnell.)

The ship of the world

In one of the prophets we have the picture of a stately ship which is a type of the world. She is all splendour and magnificence; she walks the waters like a thing of life. The fir trees of Senir and the cedars of Lebanon have contributed to her beauty; her oars are wrought from the oaks of Bashan, her sails are of fine linen and broidered work. She has a gay and gallant crew; the multitudes who throng her decks are full of joy and thoughtless of danger. Out they sail into the great waters; her rowers bring her into the midst of the sea; and when the east wind rises she is broken in the midst, and lies a helpless wreck upon the great ocean of eternity. There was no Christ in the ship to say, “Peace, be still;” no pitying Jesus to answer the bitter cry of “Lord, save us, we perish.” But not so was it with the little fisher boat. It had no pomp and vanities of which to boast, no tinselled splendour; but it carried Jesus and His fortunes-One who could rebuke the waves of sin. The world, wanting Christ, wanted all things else and was lost; the Church, with Christ in the ship, had nothing more to ask; it was sure to be saved with His “Peace, be still.” (G. F. Cushman, D. D.)

The strange inquiry concerning fear

What we could understand well enough was a mystery to Christ. In our glibness we could have explained their fear clearly. The lake was sixty fathoms deep; stoutest swimmer could not have saved his life in such a sea; some were married men; life is sweet; a storm is more terrible by night than day; and so on. But what is all plain to everyone was a mystery Christ could not solve. How a doubt of the love of God could enter a soul passed His comprehension. Why men should be afraid of the Divine ordinance called death, He could not understand. What fear was, He knew not. What a proof of Divine sanctity lies in the fact that all fear and doubt were mysteries to Him! (R. Glover.)

From one fear to another

I. They escaped one fear, only to get into another; losing the fear of the tempest, they get a greater fear, that of the Lord of the tempest.

II. They lose a bad fear to get a good one-a fear which is reverent, and one which has as much trust as awe in it. Such fear is the beginning of faith in Christ’s Godhead. (R. Glover.)
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Verse 39

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Mark 4:4". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tbi/mark-4.html. 1905-1909. New York.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, June 26th, 2019
the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12
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