The Four Kinds of Soil
Mark 4:3
Listen; Behold, there went out a sower to sow:

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.


1. Attention: they hear.

2. Meditation: they keep.

3. Obedience: they bring forth fruit with patience.

(W. M. Taylor, D. D.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: Hearken; Behold, there went out a sower to sow:

WEB: "Listen! Behold, the farmer went out to sow,

The Effect of Divine Truth as Conditioned by the State of Men's Hearts
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