The parable of the sower, Mark 4:1-9. Its interpretation, Mark 4:10-20. The use we should make of the instructions we receive, Mark 4:21-26. The parable of the progressively growing seed, Mark 4:26-29. Of the mustard seed, Mark 4:30-34. Christ and his disciples are overtaken by a storm, Mark 4:35-38. He rebukes the wind and the sea, and produces fair weather, Mark 4:39-41.
And he began again to teach by the sea side: and there was gathered unto him a great multitude, so that he entered into a ship, and sat in the sea; and the whole multitude was by the sea on the land.
And he taught them many things by parables, and said unto them in his doctrine,He taught them many things by parables - See every part of this parable of the sower explained on Matthew 13:1 (note), etc.
Hearken; Behold, there went out a sower to sow:
And it came to pass, as he sowed, some fell by the way side, and the fowls of the air came and devoured it up.The fowls - Του ουρανου, of the air, is the common reading; but it should be omitted, on the authority of nine uncial MSS., upwards of one hundred others, and almost all the versions. Bengel and Griesbach have left it out of the text. It seems to have been inserted in Mark, from Luke 8:5.
And some fell on stony ground, where it had not much earth; and immediately it sprang up, because it had no depth of earth:
But when the sun was up, it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away.
And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up, and choked it, and it yielded no fruit.
And other fell on good ground, and did yield fruit that sprang up and increased; and brought forth, some thirty, and some sixty, and some an hundred.
And he said unto them, He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.And he said - He that hath ears to hear, let him hear - The Codex Bezae, later Syriac in the margin, and seven copies of the Itala, add, και ὁ συνιων συνιετω, and whoso understandeth, let him understand.
And when he was alone, they that were about him with the twelve asked of him the parable.They that were about him - None of the other evangelists intimate that there were any besides the twelve with him: but it appears there were several others present; and though they were not styled disciples, yet they appear to have seriously attended to his public and private instructions.
And he said unto them, Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables:Unto you it is given to know - Γνωναι, to know, is omitted by ABKL, ten others, the Coptic, and one of the Itala. The omission of this word makes a material alteration in the sense; for without it the passage may be read thus: - To you the mystery of the kingdom of God is given; but all these things are transacted in parables to those without. Griesbach leaves it doubtful. And Professor White says, probabiliter delendum. I should be inclined to omit it, were it not found in the parallel passages in Matthew and Luke, in neither of whom it is omitted by any MS. or version. See the dissertation on parabolical writing at the end of Matthew 13:58.
That seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them.
And he said unto them, Know ye not this parable? and how then will ye know all parables?Know ye not this parable? - The scope and design of which is so very obvious.
How then will ye know all parables? - Of which mode of teaching ye should be perfect masters, in order that ye may be able successfully to teach others. This verse is not found in any of the other evangelists.
The sower soweth the word.
And these are they by the way side, where the word is sown; but when they have heard, Satan cometh immediately, and taketh away the word that was sown in their hearts.These are they - Probably our Lord here refers to the people to whom he had just now preached, and who, it is likely, did not profit by the word spoken.
Where the word is sown - Instead of this clause, four copies of the Itala read the place thus - They who are sown by the way side, are they Who Receive The Word Negligently. There are thousands of this stamp in the Christian world. Reader, art thou one of them?
And these are they likewise which are sown on stony ground; who, when they have heard the word, immediately receive it with gladness;
And have no root in themselves, and so endure but for a time: afterward, when affliction or persecution ariseth for the word's sake, immediately they are offended.
And these are they which are sown among thorns; such as hear the word,
And the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in, choke the word, and it becometh unfruitful.The deceitfulness of riches - This is variously expressed in different copies of the Itala: the errors - delights of the world - completely alienated (abolienati) by the pleasures of the world. The lusts of other things - which have not been included in the anxious cares of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches. All, all, choke the word!
And these are they which are sown on good ground; such as hear the word, and receive it, and bring forth fruit, some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some an hundred.
And he said unto them, Is a candle brought to be put under a bushel, or under a bed? and not to be set on a candlestick?Is a candle - put under a bushel! - The design of my preaching is to enlighten men; my parables not being designed to hide the truth, but to make it more manifest.
For there is nothing hid, which shall not be manifested; neither was any thing kept secret, but that it should come abroad.For there is nothing hid, etc. - Probably our Lord means, that all that had hitherto been secret, relative to the salvation of a lost world, or only obscurely pointed out by types and sacrifices, shall now be uncovered and made plain by the everlasting Gospel. See on Matthew 5:15 (note); Matthew 10:26 (note).
If any man have ears to hear, let him hear.
And he said unto them, Take heed what ye hear: with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you: and unto you that hear shall more be given.And unto you that hear shall more be given - This clause is wanting in DG, Coptic, and four copies of the Itala; and in others, where it is extant, it is variously written. Griesbach has left it out of the text, and supposes it to be a gloss, Whosoever hath, to him shall be given.
For he that hath, to him shall be given: and he that hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he hath.He that hath - See on Matthew 13:12 (note).
And he said, So is the kingdom of God, as if a man should cast seed into the ground;So is the kingdom of God - This parable is mentioned only by Mark, a proof that Mark did not abridge Matthew. Whitby supposes it to refer to the good ground spoken of before, and paraphrases is thus: - "What I have said of the seed sown upon good ground, may be illustrated by this parable. The doctrine of the kingdom, received in a good and honest heart, is like seed sown by a man in his ground, properly prepared to receive it; for when he hath sown it, he sleeps and wakes day after day, and, looking on it, he sees it spring and grow up through the virtue of the earth in which it is sown, though he knows not how it doth so; and when he finds it ripe, he reaps it, and so receives the benefit of the sown seed. So is it here: the seed sown in the good and honest heart brings forth fruit with patience; and this fruit daily increaseth, though we know not how the Word and Spirit work that increase; and then Christ the husbandman, at the time of the harvest, gathers in this good seed into the kingdom of heaven." I see no necessity of inquiring how Christ may be said to sleep and rise night and day; Christ being like to this husbandman only in sowing and reaping the seed.
And should sleep, and rise night and day, and the seed should spring and grow up, he knoweth not how.And should sleep and rise night and day - That is, he should sleep by night, and rise by day; for so the words are obviously to be understood.
He knoweth not how - How a plant grows is a mystery in nature, which the wisest philosopher in the universe cannot fully explain.
For the earth bringeth forth fruit of herself; first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear.Bringeth forth - of herself - Αυτοματη. By its own energy, without either the influence or industry of man. Similar to this is the expression of the poet: -
Namque aliae, Nullis Homlnum Cogentibus, ipsae
Sponte Sua veniunt.
Virg. Geor. l. ii. v. 10
"Some (trees) grow of their own accord, without the labor of man."
All the endlessly varied herbage of the field is produced in this way.
The full corn - Πληρη σιτον, Full wheat; the perfect, full-grown, or ripe corn. Lucian uses κενος καρπος, Empty fruit, for imperfect, or unripe fruit. See Kypke.
The kingdom of God, which is generated in the soul by the word of life, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, is first very small; there is only a blade, but this is full of promise, for a good blade shows there is a good seed at bottom, and that the soil in which it is sown is good also. Then the ear - the strong stalk grows up, and the ear is formed at the top; the faith and love of the believing soul increase abundantly; it is justified freely through the redemption that is in Christ; it has the ear which is shortly to be filled with the ripe grain, the outlines of the whole image of God. Then the full corn. The soul is purified from all unrighteousness; and, having escaped the corruption that is in the world, it is made a partaker of the Divine nature, and is filled with all the fullness of God.
But when the fruit is brought forth, immediately he putteth in the sickle, because the harvest is come.He putteth in the sickle - ΑποϚελλει, he sendeth out the sickle, i.e. the reapers; the instrument, by a metonomy, being put for the persons who use it. This is a common figure. It has been supposed that our Lord intimates here that, as soon as a soul is made completely holy, it is taken into the kingdom of God. But certainly the parable does not say so. When the corn is ripe, it is reaped for the benefit of him who sowed it; for it can be of little or no use till it be ripe: so when a soul is saved from all sin, it is capable of being fully employed in the work of the Lord: it is then, and not till then, fully fitted for the Master's use. God saves men to the uttermost, that they may here perfectly love him, and worthily magnify his name. To take them away the moment they are capable of doing this, would be, so far, to deprive the world and the Church of the manifestation of the glory of his grace. "But the text says, he immediately sendeth out the sickle; and this means that the person dies, and is taken into glory, as soon as he is fit for it." No, for there may be millions of cases, where, though to die would be gain, yet to live may be far better for the Church, and for an increase of the life of Christ to the soul. See Philippians 1:21, Philippians 1:24. Besides, if we attempt to make the parable speak here what seems to be implied in the letter, then we may say, with equal propriety, that Christ sleeps and wakes alternately; and that his own grace grows, he knows not how, in the heart in which he has planted it.
On these two parables we may remark: -
1. That a preacher is a person employed by God, and sent out to sow the good seed of his kingdom in the souls of men.
2. That it is a sin against God to stay in the field and not sow.
3. That it is a sin to pretend to sow, when a man is not furnished by the keeper of the granary with any more seed.
4. That it is a high offense against God to change the Master's seed, to mix it, or to sow bad seed in the place of it.
5. That he is not a seeds-man of God who desires to sow by the way side, etc., and not on the proper ground, i.e. he who loves to preach only to genteel congregations, to people of sense and fashion, and feels it a pain and a cross to labor among the poor and the ignorant.
6. That he who sows with a simple, upright heart, the seed of his Master, shall (though some may be unfruitful) see the seed take deep root; and, notwithstanding the unfaithfulness and sloth of many of his hearers, he shall doubtless come with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him. See Quesnel.
And he said, Whereunto shall we liken the kingdom of God? or with what comparison shall we compare it?Whereunto shall we liken the kingdom of God? - How amiable is this carefulness of Jesus! How instructive to the preachers of his word! He is not solicitous to seek fine turns of eloquence to charm the minds of his auditors, nor to draw such descriptions and comparisons as may surprise them: but studies only to make himself understood; to instruct to advantage; to give true ideas of faith and holiness; and to find out such expressions as may render necessary truths easy and intelligible to the meanest capacities. The very wisdom of God seems to be at a loss to find out expressions low enough for the slow apprehensions of men.
How dull and stupid is the creature! How wise and good the Creator! And how foolish the preacher who uses fine and hard words in his preaching, which, though admired by the shallow, convey no instruction to the multitude.
It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when it is sown in the earth, is less than all the seeds that be in the earth:A grain of mustard seed - See on Matthew 13:31, Matthew 13:32 (note).
But when it is sown, it groweth up, and becometh greater than all herbs, and shooteth out great branches; so that the fowls of the air may lodge under the shadow of it.
And with many such parables spake he the word unto them, as they were able to hear it.With many such parables - Πολλαις, many, is omitted by L, sixteen others; the Syriac, both the Persic, one Arabic, Coptic, Armenian, Ethiopic, and two of the Itala. Mill approves of the omission, and Griesbach leaves it doubtful. It is probably an interpolation: the text reads better without it.
As they were able to hear - Ακουειν, or to understand always suiting his teaching to the capacities of his hearers. I have always found that preacher most useful, who could adapt his phrase to that of the people to whom he preached. Studying different dialects, and forms of speech, among the common people, is a more difficult and a more useful work than the study of dead languages. The one a man should do, and the other he need not leave undone.
But without a parable spake he not unto them: and when they were alone, he expounded all things to his disciples.He expounded all things to his disciples - That they might be capable of instructing others. Outside hearers, those who do not come into close fellowship with the true disciples of Christ, have seldom more than a superficial knowledge of Divine things.
In the fellowship of the saints, where Jesus the teacher is always to be found, every thing is made plain, - for the secret of the Lord is with them who fear him.
And the same day, when the even was come, he saith unto them, Let us pass over unto the other side.Let us pass over unto the other side - Our Lord was now by the sea of Galilee.
And when they had sent away the multitude, they took him even as he was in the ship. And there were also with him other little ships.They took him even as he was in the ship - That is, the disciples; he was now εν τῳ πλοιῳ, in the boat, i.e. his own boat which usually waited on him, and out of which it appears he was then teaching the people. There were several others there which he might have gone in, had this one not been in the place. The construction of this verse is exceedingly difficult; the meaning appears to be this: - The disciples sailed off with him just as he was in the boat out of which he had been teaching the people; and they did not wait to provide any accommodations for the passage. This I believe to be the meaning of the inspired penman.
And there arose a great storm of wind, and the waves beat into the ship, so that it was now full.A great storm of wind - See on Matthew 8:24 (note).
And he was in the hinder part of the ship, asleep on a pillow: and they awake him, and say unto him, Master, carest thou not that we perish?On a pillow - Προσκεφαλαιον probably means a little bed, or hammock, such as are common in small vessels. I have seen several in small packets, or passage boats, not a great deal larger than a bolster.
And he arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.Peace, be still - Be silent! Be still! There is uncommon majesty and authority in these words. Who but God could act thus? Perhaps this salvation of his disciples in the boat might be designed to show forth that protection and deliverance which Christ will give to his followers, however violently they may be persecuted by earth or hell. At least, this is a legitimate use which may be made of this transaction.
And he said unto them, Why are ye so fearful? how is it that ye have no faith?Why are ye so fearful? - Having me with you.
How is it that ye have no faith? - Having already had such proofs of my unlimited power and goodness.
And they feared exceedingly, and said one to another, What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?What manner of man is this? - They were astonished at such power proceeding from a person who appeared to be only like one of themselves. It is often profitable to entertain each other with the succor and support which we receive from God in times of temptation and distress; and to adore, with respectful awe, that sovereign power and goodness by which we have been delivered.
Having spoken so largely of the spiritual and practical uses to be made of these transactions, where the parallel places occur in the preceding evangelist, I do not think it necessary to repeat those things here.