The same day went Jesus out of the house, and sat by the sea side.
Jesus had wrought many splendid miracles, lie was himself the greatest Wonder. It is not surprising that he should have been followed by crowds. For convenience in addressing the multitude on this occasion, he entered a boat, and stood out from the beach. As he was about to open his mouth in parables, perhaps this action was parabolic. The pious Quesnel remarks, "We see here a representation of the Church, which consists of people united with their pastors. These, being more exposed to violent tossings and storms, are, as it were, in a ship, while those continue at ease on the shore. Foremost among the parables uttered is that of the sower (see Mark 4:13). It is afterwards interpreted, Let us view it -
I. AS TO THE SOWING. Under this head we have:
1. The seed.
(1) This is the saving truth of God. In the interpretation it is styled the Word of the kingdom" (ver. 19; see also Mark 4:14).
(2) That truth, like a seed, has a body. The earlier enshrinement of the saving truth was the letter of the Sinai covenant. This is called "the body of Moses" (see Jude 1:9). Now it comes to us in the Law from Zion. This is also called "the Word of the Lord from Jerusalem (cf. Isaiah 2:3; Luke 24:47).
(3) The truth, like a seed, has a germinant principle. It is a living thing. The Spirit of God is the life of the Word. In the energy of the Spirit it is that the Law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul."
2. The Sower.
(1) "The Sower is the Son of man." So we have the interpretation in the corresponding parable of the tares (see ver. 37). The Son of man is the Word in person. The character of the Sower belongs to him, as he is the Author of all truth.
(2) The Son of man sows the Word of the kingdom by his servants.
(a) Apostles. These were immediately commissioned.
(b) Ministers. He provided for a succession of labourers separated to this great work.
(c) Disciples. A dispensation of the gospel is committed to every believer.
(3) As the Sower the Lord is gone forth. He has sown the truth in every age of the world. He carries the gospel into every land. He inseminates his truth in the mind of every child of man (John 1:9).
3. The soil.
(1) This is the heart of the hearer. The interpretation makes this also plain.
(2) He that made the seed made also the soil; and the Word and the heart are corelated. In the Bible there is food forevery faculty of the mind. It has science for the reason. It has poetry for the imagination. It has history for the understanding. It has prophecy for the anticipative faculties. It has doctrines for the faith. It has promises for the hope. It has assurances for the love.
(3) But the soil of the heart should be prepared for the reception of the seed of truth.
(a) It should be ploughed and harrowed and crushed with conviction and grief and sorrow for sin.
(b) It should also be weeded and cleaned by a thorough reformation and amendment.
(c) It should be dressed by the holy excitements of faith and hope.
(4) The reception depends upon the recipient. There are various kinds of reception. There are various degrees of reception.
II. AS TO THE YIELD.
1. The seed is wasted on the trampled soil.
(1) The allusion is to the beaten footpaths in cornfields. When the seed falls upon such a surface it cannot sink. It is therefore liable to be trodden underfoot (cf. Luke 8:5). It is also liable to be carried away by the birds. In his 'Travels in Palestine,' Buckingham has the following: "We ascended an elevated plain where husbandmen were sowing, and some thousands of starlings covered the ground, as the wild pigeons do in Egypt, laying a heavy contribution on the grain thrown into the furrows, which are not covered by harrowing as in Europe."
(2) The careless and unawakened are here described. They "hear the Word of the kingdom, but understand it not" (see ver. 19); i.e. they do not lay it to heart. The defect is moral. Note: Satan has diminished power where the truth is understood in the heart.
(3) Understanding in the sense of intellectual apprehension is important. What our Lord means is to "understand with the heart," or to receive the truth in love. Note: The love of the truth is the soil suitable to the reception of the seed of the kingdom.
(4) The love or goodness received from the Lord through parents and otherwise in early life is often so trampled upon by the practical errors of later years that the heart becomes hardened into unconcern for eternal life.
(5) The seed that falls into such a heart is carried away by the devil, whose agents are compared to the "birds of the air." To forget the Creator, whom we were taught to "remember" in our youth, is one of the temptations of early manhood. Thoughts of light pleasures or of vain philosophy "catch away" that which pious hands have sown. The careless heart is the devil's thoroughfare.
2. The seed is wasted on superficial soil.
(1) The "rocky places where they had not much earth" are places where the rock lies under the scanty surface (see Luke 8:6). Such places represent the heart of the hearer who will at once receive the Word with gladness, but "having no root in himself, but dureth for a while" (vers. 20, 21).
(2) The seed which quickly germinates in the slight but genial soil comes to a weak maturity quickly under favourable conditions. "In Palestine, during the seed time in November, the sky is generally overspread with clouds. The seed then springs in stony places. But when the sun dissipates the clouds, having outgrown its strength, it is quickly dried away" (Rosenmuller). Note: What is swallowed without manducation is not perfectly digested. The ready hearer is not always the best fruit bearer (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:21). Many endure "for a season," but not "to the end" (cf. Matthew 10:22; Galatians 5:7).
(3) The failure is "because they have no root in themselves." They have no fixed principles in their judgments. They have no rooted habits in their good affections. "The lack is not in the soil, but in careful husbandry (Trench). The shallow are often the first to receive the good, as they are also to receive the evil; but they are fickle and unreliable.
(4) If Nature has her zephyrs, dews, and tempered sunshine, so has she her floods, tempests, and Scorching heats. So has providence its tribulations and persecutions." No heavenly plant can be reared without these. The plant that cannot endure them must perish.
3. The seed is wasted that falls among thorns.
(1) The soil here is neither deficient nor barren. That which can nourish briars can nourish something better. There are those who want not capacity, but culture. Not only must the wheat be sown; the thorns also must be rooted out. There are studious and exemplary persons who do not examine themselves in order to eradicate the evils of their neglected hearts.
(2) The neglect of the briar is fatal to the wheat. The overgrowth of "the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches" is often more disastrous than "tribulations and persecutions." Grace is more needed in prosperity than in adversity.
(3) "The deceitfulness of riches" is a significant phrase. It suggests:
(a) That riches promise more than they give.
(b) That men are readily deluded by them.
How plausible is the suggestion to one who is "making haste to be rich," that it is prudent to make provision for the future! They do not reflect that it is still more prudent to make provision for the future life. How plausible, that to increase wealth is to increase ability to do good! The effect upon the disposition to do good is left out of the question. The appetite for accumulating becomes more voracious and the liberality more stinted as men become more wealthy.
(4) Luke's version adds, "the pleasures of this life." Riches encourage the pursuit of these by furnishing the means for their gratification. Luke adds, "the lust of other things," such as desires after honour, distinction, show, and the praise of men.
(5) These things, so esteemed among men, are by Christ described as "briars," "thorns," "weeds."
4. But the Sower has encouragement.
(1) Some of the seed of the kingdom finds its way into "good and honest hearts" (see Luke 8:15) - hearts prepared by Divine grace (see Acts 16:14). Ground made good by ploughing weeding, and dressing.
(2) Note the gradation in respect to growth.
(a) In the careless and unawakened the effect is nil.
(b) The superficial readily accept the truth, profess it, but, discovering that the cross must go before the crown, renounce the crown to avoid the cross. "Swift to come, swift to go."
(c) In the third class the Word sinks deeper, and gives more promise by abiding "persecutions and tribulations." They fail before the subtle power of the world. Note: We may be better than our neighbours and yet fall short of heaven.
(d) But the fourth class receive the Word, retain it, and come to fruitfulness. The fruit-bearers are the genuine disciples (see John 15:8).
(3) Note now the gradation in respect to fruit bearing. The return is in tens - three tens, six tens, ten tens. Tithes of produce are the Lord's. Our riches are what we bring to God. Ten, including under it all units, the factors of all values, was by the ancients taken as a symbol of richness and fulness. As there are degrees of fruitfulness, so will there be degrees of reward. - J.A.M.
Parallel VersesKJV: The same day went Jesus out of the house, and sat by the sea side.