William Kelly Major Works Commentary
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.Mark Chapter 4
Matthew 13:1-23; Luke 8:4-15.
The Lord Jesus had been announced as the Messiah by His forerunner, had manifested Himself fully as such, so that all were responsible, from the chief authorities down to the people at large. The last chapter showed what the result would be - the crowning testimony of the Spirit rejected as well as the Son of man in person, the unpardonable sin of that rebellious and apostate race, and the formation of new relationships, characterized by the doings of God's will, in lieu of the natural ties which were now solemnly and publicly disowned of the Lord.
This opens the way for a parabolic description of the Saviour's ministry, its course and results, His attitude meanwhile and at the close, as well as the circumstances of His disciples while engaged under Him. Mark does not present a full view of the dispensation of the kingdom of heaven, which has its appropriate place in Matthew. Nevertheless, both he and Luke give us in a very complete manner, each suited to the special aim of the respective Gospels, the Parable of the Sower.
"And He taught them many things by parables, and said to them in His doctrine, Hearken: Behold, the sower went forth to sow, and it came to pass as he sowed, some fell by the wayside,44 and the birds* came and devoured it up. And some fell on rocky ground, where it had not much earth; and immediately it sprang up, because it had no depth of earth; but when the sun arose it was scorched; and because it had no root it withered away. And some fell among the thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no fruit. And other fell into the good ground, and yielded fruit that sprang up and increased; and brought forth, some thirty, and some sixty, and some a hundred. And He said, He that hath ears to hear, let him hear."
*"The birds" (simply): so ABCL, 1, 33, 69, Amiat. Syrr. Memph. "Of the sky" is added by DCM and some cursives.
This was His work now, scattering abroad the seed of the Word. There was nothing in man acceptable to God. It was a question of something new and Divine, the fruit of the operation of grace. A new life there must be if fruit unto God be looked for. There was nothing like it before: not even John's preaching went out thus far and wide, and still less the law and the prophets.
But, then, there are divers lessons to be learnt, for the action is always responsible, even where it is not efficacious. The seed was good: there was no defect there; but man, as such, is good for nothing, and the effect, where there is not the saving work of the Spirit, comes to nothing sooner or later. Much, therefore, was, in this point of view, lost.
The first class, where all fails as to result, consists of the wayside hearers. "When they heard," says the Lord in explanation, "Satan cometh immediately and taketh away the word that was sown in them."* This answers to the birds coming and devouring the seed that fell by the roadside. This is the direct, destructive power of the enemy which hinders the entrance of the Word. It does not penetrate below the surface, never goes farther than talk, speculation, or admiration of the preacher. The moral state of death is evidently untouched, and Satan has it all his own way.
*"In them": so ACLΔ, Syrhcl(mg), Edd. read "into them," with B, 1, 69, etc. "In their hearts" appears in D, the later uncials, 33, Amiat. Syrsin pesch hcl(t).
Next, we have the case of the seed that fell on stony ground, where it had but little earth, and the effect was full of instantaneous promise. "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." Here we have the flesh or nature doing its best, but proving its utter weakness. They are the persons "who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with gladness; and have no root in themselves, but are for a time; then, tribulation or persecution arising for the word's sake, immediately they are offended." Here the work went no deeper than the affections, without reaching the conscience and convicting it before God. To take the joy of Christianity where there has been no judgment of the life and state as in God's sight is really to slight and ignore Him altogether, making much of self. Haste in reception of the blessing is anything but the indication of a Divine Work. Hence the all-importance of repentance, which has been too much lost sight of through a desire to guard the freeness of grace and deliver the Gospel from legal clogs. But this remedy is, at least, as dangerous as the disease which it was intended to cure. We must not weaken the solemn dealing of the Holy Ghost with the conscience. It is good, wholesome, and essential that the soul should weigh its condition in God's light and pronounce His judgment on itself, though, doubtless, repentance is of faith, and not a preparation for faith. Still, there may be no kind of peace and all but despair as yet. The heart may be ploughed up deeply and with scarcely more than a hope of mercy, which keeps it from utterly sinking; and the Lord in due time brings home the word, "Thy sins, which are many, are forgiven. . . . Thy faith hath saved thee: go in peace." Then, indeed, there is, at once and lastingly, peace and joy in believing.
Where there is not the sounding of the heart thus morally, as in God's sight, the same haste which receives easily gives up without difficulty in presence of fiery trial. Well, in truth, it is for the soul, thus captivated by an imaginative joy through a mere feeling of the beauty, the truth, and the attractiveness of God's most unselfish love in the abstract, which may be mistaken for its own deep enjoyment of His grace to a sin-convicted soul - well it is if it discover the fatal error, and, after being turned aside, if it return, or, rather, turn in reality, to God in divinely wrought sense of its sin and guilt, to find in Christ Jesus the only answer to its wants.
The third case is where some seed fell among thorns but, being choked by the growing thorns, it yielded no fruit. Such are they who hear the word; but 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 (verses 18, 19), a serious and not infrequent thing. May we beware! There are various forms in which the evil works, but it is worldly lust and real selfishness, in distrust of God and indifference to His interests, so that the heart gets either overwhelmed with anxiety or active in the pursuit of present things. The very semblance of devotedness is lost, and the soul goes back, it may be with intense avidity, to the world it had seemed to leave. There are none without the need of God's guard against them all. But ye that are poor, watch against encroaching cares; ye rich, be not enticed by the deceitfulness of riches; both of you, see that ye judge "the lusts of other things!"
On the other hand, there is seed that falls on good ground, and yields fruit, some thirty, and some sixty, and some an hundred: even there the result is chequered, for that which is fatal to the unbeliever may injure grievously the fruitfulness of the faithful. "He that hath ears to hear, let him hear" (verse 9). It is a grave matter for every soul - grave for him that hears; and what is it for him who has no ear to hear?
"And when He was alone, they that were about Him with the Twelve asked of Him the parables.* 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 things are done in parables: that beholding they may behold, and not see; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest it may be they should be converted, and they should be forgiven.‡ And He said to them, Know ye not this parable and how then will ye be acquainted with all parables He explains the mind of God, not to the Twelve only, but to those who were about Him. They were those within: all else were "without," to whom all things happen in parables, a rebelling people without even a reprover now. But those within have the privilege of knowing the mystery of the kingdom: grace thus wrought distinguishing those separated to Christ from the guilty nation, given up increasingly to judicial darkness, though it reproved them for their want of understanding. 45 Nor was this parable hard to discern, but elementary and fundamental, a sort of introduction to those which were to follow. Nevertheless, the gracious Lord, if He rebukes, proceeds to expound it, as we have seen in verses 14-20.
*"Parables": so Edd., with BCLΔ, Amiat. Memph. The reading of AEΠΣ Syrpesch Goth. AEth. is "parable."
†["To know"]: so Ccorr DΔ, etc., Old Latin Syrpesch hier have the word, but Edd. omit, as ABCpm KLΠ Syrsin.
‡"They should be forgiven": so Edd., with BCL, etc. "Their sins," etc., is found in AD, etc., Syrsin pesch, Old Latin, Memph.
But, beside saving the soul, the engrafted word issues in testimony; and this is the next and characteristic statement of the Lord in our Gospel. "And He said unto them, Is a lamp brought to be put under the bushel, or under the bed, and not to be set on the lamp-stand? For there is nothing hidden which shall not be manifested; neither does any secret thing take place but that it should come to light. If any man have ears to hear, let him hear." The word is not "seed" only to produce fruit, but a lamp to shine in the witness of God's grace and truth in this dark world, even as Christ, lowly as He was, and servant of all, was its perfect expression personally. Was it, then, come to be put under a bushel or a couch, and not, rather, on its own appropriate stand? It could not be: for, in truth, "There is nothing hidden which shall not be manifested; neither does any secret thing take place but that it should come to light. If any man hath ears to hear, let him hear." Thus we have the responsibility to shine in the world, holding forth the word of life; and this with the settled certainty that all must come out, whether of good or evil, closing with the solemn appeal to individual conscience once more.
Again, "He said to 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 added. For he that hath, to him shall be given: and he that hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he hath." It is still responsibility in the service and testimony of the Lord. We must take heed, then, what we hear: for what we receive, we are bound to communicate. Want of value for the treasure of God, want of confidence in His grace, reaps its own bitter harvest. "With what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you; and unto you shall more be added." Such is the special connection here. Those only possess who give out in grace, and such shall receive yet more abundantly; while they who have not in reality, shall lose even the show they have.46
*["That hear"], as A and later copies, 1, 33, 69, Syr. Arm. Edd. omit, with BCDLΔ, Old Latin, Memph.
The next parable, which is peculiar to our Gospel, is singularly characteristic of it. It is the work of the kingdom. "So is the kingdom of God, as if a man should cast seed upon the earth; and should sleep, and rise up night and day, and the seed should sprout and grow up, he knoweth not how. [For]* the earth bringeth forth fruit of itself; first the blade, then an ear, then the full corn in the ear. But when the fruit is produced, immediately he putteth in the sickle, for the harvest is come." The absence and apparent disregard of the Lord are supposed, not His manifestation and active interference. Harvest being come, He reaps, instead of sending His angels, as in Matthew.47
*["For"]: so later uncials, Old Latin, Amiat. Goth. Edd. omit, with ABCL.
Matthew 13:31-35; Luke 13:18-19.
This is followed by the mustard seed, which shows its growth from a small beginning into a great development, and a system of protection on the earth even for the emissaries of the god of this world. "And with many such parables He spoke not to them,48 as they were able to hear. But without a parable He spoke not unto them; and in private He expounded all things to His disciples."*
*"His": so AD and later uncials, almost all cursives (1, 33, 69); whilst Edd. adopt "his own," with BCLΔ and Origen.
Matthew 8:18; Mat 8:23-27; Luke 8:22-25.
The final scene of the chapter sets forth the trials to which His people are exposed in their work, with Him in their midst. Their foolish, selfish unbelief is as plain as His calm supremacy over that which He only could control, and His just rebuke of their timidity, blind to the glory of His person.
NOTES ON MARK 4.
44Mark 4:3-8. - For the local scenery which enters into the Parable of the Sower, reference may be made to Thomson, "The Land and the Book," i., 115, as also to Stanley's description in his "Sinai and Palestine."
45Mark 4:10-12. - Compare Matthew 13:10-17, where the Divine motive behind the Lord's words is made quite clear. The "remnant" is discriminated from the nation at large, whose wilful repudiation of Him as the Messiah, as represented by its leaders, brings upon the mass ("the many" of Daniel 9:27, Mark's "those without," Luke's "the others") that judicial sentence of blindness which Isaiah (Isa. 6) proclaimed, but modern critics, such as Schmiedel (col. 1866) and Bousset (p. 42), are slow to apprehend. A diatribe of one of these is against the "preposterous dogmatic pedantry of a later age." Jülicher pronounces the words reported by Mark as "impossible in the mouth of Jesus." Compare with such infatuated views Neander's remarks: "There is here expressed "a moral necessity that those destitute of the right will (on which all depends, and without which the Divine drawing is in vain) could understand nothing of the things of the Lord which they saw and heard. So long as they remained as they were, the whole life of Christ, according to the same general law, remained to them an inexplicable parable" (p. 107 f.). Cf. the judicious remarks of Burkitt (p. 88) on the subject. Menzies refers to Romans 11:8, comparing Mark 3:5. Salmond cites Matthew Henry: "A shell that keeps good fruit for the diligent, but keeps it from the slothful." - J. Wesley: (a) would not, (b) could not.
In verse 12 Mark for "that" has ἵνα, for which Matthew has ὅτι. Bengel, nevertheless, would take ἵνα also as consecutive ("so that"), referring to Genesis 22:14 in the LXX (cf. Luckock, ad loc., the "more merciful rendering"), according to which the people must be supposed to make their own heart fat. See also Sadler's note on Matthew's parallel. Gould thinks that "it is only ironically that God commands the prophet to harden the people by his pungent preaching." Plumptre had already written: "The acceptance of a foreseen result was in Hebrew forms of thought expressed as the working out of an intention" (cf. John 3:19). At the passage in Matthew he refers to John 12:40 and Acts 28:26. With this view agrees what Schanz says on the subject.
46Mark 4:25. - Cf. Matthew 13:12, Luke 8:18. Neander writes "Whosoever in reality has made to himself a living possession of the truths which he has heard, to him shall more be ever given. But he that has received it only as something dead and outward, shall lose even that which he seems to have, but really has not."
47Mark 4:26-29. - The same distinguished theologian last quoted writes on this passage: "Christ intended to impress upon the disciples that their duty was to preach the word (not to make it fruitful). . . . If they only preach the word and do nothing further to it, it will by its own efficacy produce in men a new creation which they must behold with amazement (verse 27). No words could have more effectually . . . rebuked the tendency to ascribe too much to human agencies, and too little to the substantive power of the word itself" (p. 346 f. Cf. Trench, "Parables," p. 290).
48Mark 4:33. - Cf. Mark 6:34, and see, of course, Matt. 13, etc., for such parables. Reference may be made here to the "Lectures on Matthew," p. 279 f.
And he taught them many things by parables, and said unto them in his doctrine,
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.
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 when he was alone, they that were about him with the twelve asked of him the parable.
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:
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?
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.
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.
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?
For there is nothing hid, which shall not be manifested; neither was any thing kept secret, but that it should come abroad.
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.
For he that hath, to him shall be given: and he that hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he hath.
And he said, So is the kingdom of God, as if a man should cast seed into the ground;
And should sleep, and rise night and day, and the seed should spring and grow up, he knoweth not how.
For the earth bringeth forth fruit of herself; first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear.
But when the fruit is brought forth, immediately he putteth in the sickle, because the harvest is come.
And he said, Whereunto shall we liken the kingdom of God? or with what comparison shall we compare it?
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:
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.
But without a parable spake he not unto them: and when they were alone, he expounded all things to his disciples.
And the same day, when the even was come, he saith unto them, Let us pass over unto the other side.
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.
And there arose a great storm of wind, and the waves beat into the ship, so that it was now full.
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?
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.
And he said unto them, Why are ye so fearful? how is it that ye have no faith?
And they feared exceedingly, and said one to another, What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?