Luke 8:4
And when much people were gathered together, and were come to him out of every city, he spake by a parable:
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(4) And when much people were gathered . . .—The narrative is less precise than that in St. Matthew. It is possible that the parable may have been repeated more than once.



Luke 8:4 - Luke 8:16

Luke is particular in dating this parable as spoken at a time when crowds resorted to Jesus, and the cities of Galilee seemed emptied out to hear Him. No illusions as to the depth or worth of this excitement beset Him. Sadly He looked on the eager multitudes, because He looked through them, and saw how few of them were bringing ‘an honest and good heart’ for the soil of His word. Just because He saw the shallowness of the momentary enthusiasm, He spoke this pregnant parable from a heavy heart, and as He tells us in His explanation of it to the disciples {ver. 10}, uses the parabolic garb as a means of hiding the truth from the unsusceptible, and of bringing it home to those who were prepared to receive it. Every parable has that double purpose of obscuring and revealing. The obscuring is punitive, but the punishment is meant to be remedial. God never cheats men by a revelation that does not reveal, and the very hiding is meant to stimulate to a search which cannot be vain.

The broad outstanding fact of the parable is tragic. Three failures and one success! It may be somewhat lightened by observing that the proportion which each ‘some’ bears to the whole seed-basketful is not told; but with all alleviation, it is sad enough. What a lesson for all eager reformers and apostles of any truth, who imagine that they have but to open their mouths and the world will listen! What a warning for any who are carried off their feet by their apparent ‘popularity’! What a solemn appeal to all hearers of God’s message!

I. Commentators have pointed out that all four kinds of soil might have been found close together by the lake, and that there may have been a sower at work within sight.

But the occasion of the parable lay deeper than the accident of local surroundings. A path through a cornfield is a prosaic enough thing, but one who habitually holds converse with the unseen, and ever sees it shining through the seen, beholds all things ‘apparelled in celestial light,’ and finds deep truths in commonplace objects. The sower would not intentionally throw seed on the path, but some would find its resting-place there. It would lie bare on the surface of the hard ground, and would not be there long enough to have a chance of germinating, but as soon as the sower’s back was turned to go up the next furrow, down would come the flock of thievish birds that fluttered behind him, and bear away the grains. The soil might be good enough, but it was so hard that the seed did not get in, but only lay on it. The path was of the same soil as the rest of the field, only it had been trodden down by the feet of passengers, perhaps for many years.

A heart across which all manner of other thoughts have right of way will remain unaffected by the voice of Jesus, if He spoke His sweetest, divinest tones, still more when He speaks but through some feeble man. The listener hears the words, but they never get farther than the drum of his ear. They lie on the surface of his soul, which is beaten hard, and is non-receptive. How many there are who have been listening to the preaching of the Gospel, which is in a true sense the sowing of the seed, all their lives, and have never really been in contact with it! Tramp, tramp, go the feet across the path, heavy drays of business, light carriages of pleasure, a never-ending stream of traffic and noise like that which pours day and night through the streets of a great city, and the result is complete insensibility to Christ’s voice.

If one could uncover the hearts of a congregation, how many of them would be seen to be occupied with business or pleasures, or some favourite pursuit, even while they sit decorously in their pews! How many of them hear the preacher’s voice without one answering thought or emotion! How many could not for their lives tell what his last sentence was! No marvel, then, that, as soon as its last sound has ceased, down pounce a whole covey of light-winged fancies and occupations, and carry off the poor fragments of what had been so imperfectly heard. One wonders what percentage of remembrances of a sermon is driven out of the hearers’ heads in the first five minutes of their walk home, by the purely secular conversation into which they plunge so eagerly.

II. The next class of hearers is represented by seed which has had somewhat better fate, inasmuch as it has sunk some way in, and begun to sprout.

The field, like many a one in hilly country, had places where the hard pan of underlying rock had only a thin skin of earth over it. Its very thinness helped quick germination, for the rock was near enough to the surface to get heated by the sun. So, with undesirable rapidity, growth began, and shoots appeared above ground before there was root enough made below to nourish them. There was only one possible end for such premature growth-namely, withering in the heat. No moisture was to be drawn from the shelf of rock, and the sun was beating fiercely down, so the feeble green stem drooped and was wilted.

It is the type of emotional hearers, who are superficially touched by the Gospel, and too easily receive it, without understanding what is involved. They take it for theirs ‘with joy,’ but are strangers to the deep exercises of penitence and sorrow which should precede the joy. ‘Lightly come, lightly go,’ is true in Christian life as elsewhere. Converts swiftly made are quickly lost. True, the most thorough and permanent change may be a matter of a moment; but, if so, into that moment emotions will be compressed like a great river forced through a mountain gorge, which will do the work of years.

Such surface converts fringe all religious revivals. The crowd listening to our Lord was largely made up of them. These were they who, when a ground of offence arose, ‘went back, and walked no more with Him.’ They have had their successors in all subsequent times of religious movement. Light things are caught up by the wind of a passing train, but they soon drop to the ground again. Emotion is good, if there are roots to it. But ‘these have no root.’ The Gospel has not really touched the depths of their natures, their wills, their reason, and so they shrivel up when they have to face the toil and self-sacrifice inherent in a Christian life.

III. The third parcel of seed advanced still farther.

It rooted and grew. But the soil had other occupants. It was full of seeds of weeds and thorns {not thorn bushes}. So the two crops ran a race, and as ill weeds grow apace, the worse beat, and stifled the green blades of the springing corn, which, hemmed in and shut out from light and air, came to nothing.

The man represented has not made clean work of his religion. He has received the good seed, but has forgotten that something has to be grubbed up and cast out, as well as something to be taken in, if he would grow the fair fruits of Christian character. He probably has cut down the thorns, but has left their roots or seeds where they were. He has fruit of a sort, but it is scanty, crude, and green. Why? Because he has not turned the world out of his heart. He is trying to unite incompatibles, one of which is sure to kill the other. His ‘thorns’ are threefold, as Luke carefully distinguishes them into ‘cares and riches and pleasures,’ but they are one in essence, for they are all ‘of this life.’ If he is poor, he is absorbed in cares; if rich, he is yet more absorbed in wealth, and his desires go after worldly pleasures, which he has not been taught, by experience of the supreme pleasure of communion with God, to despise.

Mark that this man does not ‘fall away.’ He keeps up his Christian name to the end. Probably he is a very influential member of the church, universally respected for his wealth and liberality, but his religion has been suffocated by the other growth. He has fruit, but it is not to ‘perfection.’ If Jesus Christ came to Manchester, one wonders how many such Christians He would discover in the chief seats in the synagogues.

IV. The last class avoids the defects of the three preceding.

The soil is soft, deep, and clean. The seed sinks, roots, germinates, has light and air, and brings forth ripened grain. The ‘honest and good heart’ in which it lodges has been well characterised as one ‘whose aim is noble, and who is generously devoted to his aim’ {Bruce, The Parabolic Teaching of Christ, p. 33}. Such a soul Christ recognises as possible, prior to the entrance into it of the word. There are dispositions which prepare for the reception of the truth. But not only the previous disposition, but the subsequent attitude to the word spoken, is emphasised by our Lord. ‘They having heard the word, hold it fast.’ Docilely received, it is steadily retained, or held with a firm grip, whoever and whatever may seek to pluck it from mind or heart.

Further, not only tenacity of grasp, but patient perseverance of effort after the fruit of Christian character, is needed. There must be perseverance in the face of obstacles within and without, if there is to be fruitfulness. The emblem of growth does not suffice to describe the process of Christian progress. The blade becomes the ear, and the ear the full corn, without effort. But the Christian disciple has to fight and resist, and doggedly to keep on in a course from which many things would withdraw him. The nobler the result, the sorer the process. Corn grows; character is built up as the result, first of worthily receiving the good seed, and then of patient labour and much self-suppression.

These different types of character are capable of being changed. The path may be broken up, the rock blasted and removed, the thorns stubbed up. We make ourselves fit or unfit to receive the seed and bear fruit. Christ would not have spoken the parable if He had not hoped thereby to make some of His hearers who belonged to the three defective classes into members of the fourth. No natural, unalterable incapacity bars any from welcoming the word, housing it in his heart, and bringing forth fruit with patience.

Luke 8:4-15. And when much people were gathered together — To be instructed by his discourse, as well as to see, or be healed by, his miracles; and were come to him — In crowds; out of every city — In that part of the country; he spake by a parable — Having first, for greater conveniency of being better heard and less incommoded by them, entered into a ship, where he sat, and from thence taught them. A sower went out to sow, &c. — See this parable explained at large in the notes on Matthew 13:3-23; and Mark 4:3-20.

8:4-21 There are many very needful and excellent rules and cautions for hearing the word, in the parable of the sower, and the application of it. Happy are we, and for ever indebted to free grace, if the same thing that is a parable to others, with which they are only amused, is a plain truth to us, by which we are taught and governed. We ought to take heed of the things that will hinder our profiting by the word we hear; to take heed lest we hear carelessly and slightly, lest we entertain prejudices against the word we hear; and to take heed to our spirits after we have heard the word, lest we lose what we have gained. The gifts we have, will be continued to us or not, as we use them for the glory of God, and the good of our brethren. Nor is it enough not to hold the truth in unrighteousness; we should desire to hold forth the word of life, and to shine, giving light to all around. Great encouragement is given to those who prove themselves faithful hearers of the word, by being doers of the work. Christ owns them as his relations.See the parable of the sower explained in the notes at Matthew 13:1-23. Lu 8:4-18. Parable of the Sower.

(See on [1596]Mr 4:3-9, [1597]Mr 4:14-20.)

Ver. 4-15. We have had this parable, See Poole on "Matthew 13:1", See Poole on "Mark 4:1". See the notes on both these chapters.

And when much people were gathered together,.... To Jesus, as he was by the sea side, the sea of Galilee, or Tiberias:

and were come to him out of every city; of Galilee, to hear him preach, and see miracles:

he spake by a parable; the following things.

{1} And when much people were gathered together, and were come to him out of every city, he spake by a parable:

(1) The same gospel is sown everywhere, but does not everywhere yield the same fruit, and this is only due to the fault of men themselves.

Luke 8:4-15. See on Matthew 13:1-23; Mark 4:1-20. The sequence of events between the message of the Baptist and this parabolic discourse is in Matthew wholly different.

συνίοντος δέ] whilst, however, a great crowd of people came together, also of those who, city by city, drew near to Him. τῶν κ.τ.λ. depends on ὄχλου πολλοῦ, and καί, also, shows that this ὄχλος πολύς, besides others (such, namely, as were dwelling there), consisted also of those who, city by city, i.e. by cities, etc. “Ex quavis urbe erat cohors aliqua,” Bengel.

ἐπιπορεύεσθαι, not: to journey after (Rettig in the Stud. u. Krit. 1838, p. 486), but to journey thither, to draw towards. Comp. Bar 6:62; Polyb. iv. 9. 2. Nowhere else in the New Testament; in the Greek writers it is usually found with an accusative of place, in the sense of peragrare terram, and the like.

διὰ παραβ.] by means of a parable. Luke has the parable itself as brief and as little of the pictorial as possible (see especially Luke 8:6; Luke 8:8); the original representation of the Logia (which Weiss finds in Luke) has already faded away.

Luke 8:5. The collocation ὁ σπείρων τοῦ σπεῖραι τὸν σπόρον has somewhat of simple solemnity and earnestness.

μέν] καί follows in Luke 8:6. See on Mark 9:12.

καὶ κατεπατ.] not inappropriate, since the discourse is certainly of the footpath (in opposition to de Wette), but an incidental detail not intended for exposition (Luke 8:12).

Luke 8:7. ἐν μέσῳ] The result of the ἔπεσεν. See on Matthew 10:16; and Krüger, ad Dion. Hal. Hist. p. 302.

συμφυεῖσαι] “una cum herba segetis,” Erasmus.

Luke 8:9-11. τίςαὕτη] namely, κατὰ τὴν ἑρμηνειαν, Euthymius Zigabenus.

τοῖς δὲ λοιποῖς ἐν παραβ.] but to the rest the mysteries of the kingdom of God are given in parables, that they, etc. What follows, viz. ἵνα βλέποντες μὴ βλέπωσι κ.τ.λ., is the contrast to γυῶναι.

ἔστι δὲ αὕτη ἡ παραβολή] but what follows is the parable (according to its meaning).

οἱ δὲ παρὰ τὴν ὁδόν] to complete this expression understand σπαρέντες, which is to be borrowed from the foregoing ὁ σπόρος. But since, according to Luke 8:11, the seed is the Gospel, a quite fitting form into which to put the exposition would perhaps have been τὸ δὲ παρὰ τὴν ὁδὸν τούτων ἐστίν, οἳ κ.τ.λ. Luke 8:14-15 come nearer to such a logically exact mode of expression.

Luke 8:13. Those, however, (sown) upon the rock are they who, when they shall have heard, receive the word with joy; and these, indeed, have no root, who for a while believe, etc.

Luke 8:14. But that which fell among the thorns, these are they who have heard, and, going away among cares, etc., they are choked. The οὗτοι (instead of τοῦτο) is attracted from what follows (Kühner, ad Xen. Mem. i. 2. 42), as also at Luke 8:15.

ὑπὸ μεριμνῶν κ.τ.λ.] a modal limitation to πορευόμενοι, so that ὑπό marks the accompanying relations, in this case the impulse, under which their πορεύεσθαι, that is, their movement therefrom (that is, their further life-guidance), proceeds, Bornemann in loc.; Bernhardy, p. 268; Ellendt, Lex. Soph. II. p. 881. The connecting of these words with συμπνίγ. (Theophylact, Castalio, Beza, Elsner, Zeger, Bengel, Kuinoel, de Wette, Ewald, Schegg, and others) has against it the fact that without some qualifying phrase πορευόμενοι, would not be a picturesque (de Wette), but an unmeaning addition, into which the interpreters were the first to introduce anything characteristic, as Beza, Eisner, Wolf, Valckenaer: digressi ab audito verbo, and Majus, Wetstein, Kuinoel, and others: sensim ac paulatim (following the supposed meaning of הלךְ, 2 Samuel 3:1, and elsewhere). Comp. Ewald, “more and more.”

τοῦ βίου] belongs to all the three particulars mentioned. Temporal cares (not merely with reference to the poor, but in general), temporal riches, and temporal pleasures are the conditioning circumstances to which their interest is enchained, and among which their πορεύεσθαι proceeds.

συμπνίγονται] the same which at Luke 8:7 was expressed actively: αἱ ἄκανθαι ἀνέπνιξαν αὐτό. Hence συμπνίγονται is passive; not: they choke (what was heard), but: they are choked. That which holds good of the seed as a type of the teaching is asserted of the men in whose hearts the efficacy of the teaching amounts to nothing. This want of precision is the result of the fact that the hearers referred to were themselves marked out as the seed among the thorns.

κ. οὐ τελεσφ consequence of the συμπνίγ., they do not bring to maturity, there occurs in their case no bringing to maturity. Examples in Wetstein and Kypke.

Luke 8:15. τὸ δὲ ἐν τ. κ. γῇ] sc. πεσόν, Luke 8:14.

ἐν καρδίᾳ κ.τ.λ.] belongs to κατέχουσι (keep fast, see on 1 Corinthians 11:2), and ἀκούσαντες τὸν λόγ. is a qualifying clause inserted parenthetically.

καλῇ κ. ἁγαθῇ] in the truly moral meaning (comp. Matthew 7:17), not according to the Greek idea of εὐγένεια denoted by καλὸς κἀγαθός (Welcker, Theogn. Proleg. p. xxiv. ff.; Maetzner, ad Antiph. p. 137; Stallbaum, ad Plat. Rep. 8, p. 569 A). But the heart is morally beautiful and good just by means of the purifying efficacy of the word that is heard, John 15:3.

ἐν ὑπομονῇ] perseveringly. Comp. Romans 2:7. A contrast is found in ἀφίστανται, Luke 8:13. Bengel well says: “est robur animi spe bona sustentatum,” and that therein lies the “summa Christianismi.”

Luke 8:4-8. Parable of the sower (Matthew 13:1-9, Mark 4:1-9).

4-15. The Parable of the Sower.

. when much people were gathered together] Rather, were coming together. Our Lord, though ready at all times to utter the most priceless truths even to one lonely and despised listener, yet wisely apportioned ends to means, and chose the assembling of a large multitude for the occasion of a new departure in His style of teaching.

and were come to him out of every city] Rather, and (a multitude) of those throughout every city resorting to Him. A comparison of this Parable and the details respecting its delivery, as preserved in each of the Synoptists (Matthew 13:2-13; Mark 4:1-20), ought alone to be decisive as to the fact that the three Evangelists did not use each other’s narratives, and did not draw from the same written source such as the supposed Proto-Marcus of German theorists. The oral or written sources which they consulted seem to have been most closely faithful in all essentials, but they differed in minute details and expressions as all narratives do. From St Matthew (Matthew 13:1) we learn that Jesus had just left “the house,” perhaps that of Peter at Capernaum; and therefore the place which He chose for H is first Parable was probably the strip of bright hard sand on the shore of the Lake at Bethsaida. Both St Matthew and St Mark tell us that (doubtless, as on other occasions, to avoid the pressure of the crowd) He got on one of the boats by the lake-side and preached from thence.

by a parable] St Luke here only reports the Parable of the Sower and its interpretation. St Mark adds that of the seed growing secretly (Mark 4:26-29), and that of the grain of mustard seed (30-32; Luke 13:18-21). St Matthew (Matthew 13:24-53) gives his memorable group of seven Parables: the Sower, the Tares, the Mustard Seed, the Leaven, the Hid Treasure, the Pearl, the Drag-net. This is no doubt due to subjective grouping. Our Lord would not bewilder and distract by mere multiplicity of teachings, but taught “as they were able to hear it” (Mark 4:33). ‘Parable’ is derived from paraballo ‘I place beside’ in order to compare.

A Parable is a pictorial or narrative exhibition of some spiritual or moral truth, by means of actual and not fanciful elements of comparison.

It differs from a fable by moving solely within the bounds of the possible and by aiming at the illustration of deeper truths; from a simile in its completer and often dramatic development, as also in its object; from an allegory in not being identical with the truth illustrated. The moral objects which our Lord had in view are explained below (Luke 8:10), but we may notice here the unapproachable superiority of our Lord’s Parables to those of all other teachers. Parables are found scattered throughout the literature of the world. They abound in the poems and sacred books of later religions (Sir 1:25, “Parables of knowledge are in the treasures of wisdom,”) and they have been frequently adopted in later days. But “never man spake like this Man,” and no Parables have ever touched the heart and conscience of mankind in all ages and countries like those of Christ. “He taught them by Parables under which were hid mysterious senses, which shined through their veil, like a bright sun through an eye closed with a thin eyelid.” Jer. Taylor. For Old Testament parables see 2 Samuel 12:1-7; Ecclesiastes 9:14-16; Isaiah 28:23-29. St Luke is especially rich in Parables. The word ‘parable’ sometimes stands for the Hebrew mashal ‘a proverb’ (Luke 4:23; 1 Samuel 10:12; 1 Samuel 24:13); sometimes for a rhythmic prophecy (Numbers 23:7) or dark saying (Psalm 78:2; Proverbs 1:6); and sometimes for a comparison (Mark 13:28).

Luke 8:4. Τῶν κατὰ πόλιν) out of every city there was some body of men.—ἐπιπορευομένων) Ἐπὶ is to be referred to the multitude of the people.

Verses 4-15. - The parable of the sower, and the Lord's interpretation of it. Verse 4. - And when much people were gathered together, and were come to him out of every city, he spake by a parable. A great change, it is clear, took place in our Lord's way of working at this period. We have already (in the note on ver. 1) remarked that from henceforth he dwelt no longer in one centre, his own city Capernaum, but moved about from place to place. A new way of teaching was now adopted - that of the "parable." It was from this time onward that, when he taught, he seems generally to have spoken in those famous parables, or stories, in which so much of his recorded teaching is shrined. Hitherto in his preaching he had occasionally made use of similes or comparisons, as in Luke 5:6 and Luke 6:29, 48; but he only began the formal use of the parable at this period, and the parable of the sower seems to have been the earliest spoken. Perhaps because it was the first, perhaps on account of the far-reaching nature of its contents, the story of "the sower" evidently impressed itself with singular force upon the minds of the disciples. It evidently formed a favourite "memory" among the first heralds of the new faith. It is the only one, with the exception of the vine-dressers, one of the latest spoken, which has been preserved by the three - Matthew, Mark, and Luke. It is identical in structure and in teaching in all the three, which shows that they were relating the same story. It differs, however, in detail; we thus gather that the three did not copy from one primitive document, but that these "memories" were derived either from their own recollections or at least from different sources. Now, what induced the Master thus deliberately to change the manner of his teaching? In other words, why, from this time forward, does he veil so much of his deep Divine thought in parables? Let us consider the attitude of the crowds who till now had been listening to him. What may be termed the Galilaean revival had well-nigh come to an end. The enthusiasm he had evoked by his burning words, his true wisdom, his novel exposition of what belonged to human life and duty, was, when he left Capernaum and began his preaching in every little village (ver. 1), at its height. But the great Heart-reader knew well that the hour of reaction was at hand. Then the pressure of the crowds which thronged him was so great that, to speak this first parable, he had to get into a boat and address the multitude standing on the shore (Matthew 13:2); but the moment was at hand which St. John (John 6:66) refers to in his sad words, "From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him." It was in view of that moment that Jesus commenced his parable-teaching with "the sower." As regards the great mass of the people who had crowded to hear his words and look on his miracles, the Lord knew that his work had practically failed. At the first he spoke to the people plainly. The sermon on the mount, for instance, contains little, if anything, of the parable form; but they understood him not, forming altogether false views of the kingdom he described to them. He now changes his method of teaching, veiling his thoughts in parables, in order that his own, to whom privately he gave the key to the right understanding of the parables, should see more clearly, and that those who deliberately misunderstood him - the hostile Pharisee and Sadducee, for instance - should be simply mystified and perplexed as to the Teacher's meaning; while the merely thoughtless might possibly be fascinated and attracted by this new manner of teaching, which evidently veiled some hidden meaning. These last would probably be induced to inquire further as to the meaning of these strange parable-stories. Professor Bruce, who has very ably discussed the reasons which induced Christ at this period of his ministry to speak in parables, says there is a mood which leads a man to present his thoughts in this form. "It is the mood of one whose heart is chilled, and whose spirit is saddened by a sense of loneliness, and who, retiring within himself by a process of reflection, frames for his thoughts forms which half conceal, half reveal them - reveal them more perfectly to those who understand, hide them from those who do not (and will not) - forms beautiful, but also melancholy, as the hues of forest in late autumn. It' this view be correct, we should expect the teaching in parables would not form a feature of the initial stage of Christ's ministry. And such accordingly was the fact." As regarded the men of his own generation, did he use the parable way of teaching almost as a fan to separate the wheat from the chaff? "That he had to speak in parables was one of the burdens of the Son of man, to be placed side by side with the fact that he had not where to lay his head" (Professor Bruce, 'Parabolic Teaching of Christ,' book 1. ch. 1.). And when much people were gathered together, and were come to him out of every city. The impression of the witness who told the story to Luke and Paul evidently was that at this period of the Lord's ministry vast crowds flocked to listen or to see.. St. Matthew expresses the same conviction in a different but in an equally forcible manner. Only the Lord knew how hollow all this seeming popularity was, and how soon the crowds would melt away. He spake by a parable. Roughly to distinguish between the parable and the fable: The fable would tell its moral truth, but its imagery might be purely fanciful; for instance, animals, or even trees, might be represented as reasoning and speaking. The parable, on the contrary, never violated probability, but told its solemn lesson, often certainly in a dramatic form, but its imagery was never fanciful or impossible. Luke 8:4Out of every city (κατὰ πολίν)

City by city.

Were come (ἐπιπορευμένων)

The present participle denoting something in progress. They kept coming. Rev., resorted.

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