Luke 8:5
Utilize introduction to dwell on the plain assertions of vers. 10-17. However deep their real theological meaning, however mysterious their significance in respect of the sovereign conduct of the world and the judgment of mankind, the statements are plain. The deep, unfathomable fact underlying the quotation from Isaiah (vers. 14, 15) is not altogether free from offering some analogy to the subject of the sin against the Holy Ghost (see our homily, supra), "not to be forgiven, in this world nor in the world to come." In the very pleasantest paths of the gospel the inscrutable meets us, and stands right across our way; yet not at all to destroy us, but to order knowledge, faith, and reverence. It is plain, from the express assertion of Christ, that it is to be regarded by us as some of the highest of our privilege, to have authoritative revelation of matters that may be called knowledge in "things present or things to come," which may be nevertheless utterly inscrutable. The absolutely mysterious in the individual facts of our individual life, and for which, nevertheless, the current of that life does not stand still, may stand in some sort of analogy to these greater phenomena and greater pronouncements of Divine knowledge and foreknowledge. The promise is not to be found - it were an impossible promise to find - that the marvels of Heaven's government of earth should be all intelligible to us, or should be all of them oven uttered in revelation. But some are uttered; they are written, and there, deep graven, they lie from age to age, weather beaten enough, yet showing no wear, no attrition, no obliteration of their hieroglyphic inscription - hieroglyphic not for their alphabet, but confessedly for their construction, and the vindicating of it. Note also, in introduction, that the seven parables related in this chapter, a rich cluster, certainly appear from internal evidence (alike the language of the evangelist, ver. 3; that of the disciples in their question, ver. 10; and that of Christ himself, vers. 9, 13) to have been the first formally spoken by Christ. Of the beginning of parables, therefore, as of the beginning of miracles, we are for some reason specifically advised. Notice -

I. THE PERFECT NATURALNESS, FAMILIAR HOMELINESS, EXQUISITE APTNESS, OF THE MATERIAL OUT OF WHICH THE STRUCTURE OF THIS PARABLE IS MADE. Seed and soil; Sower and sowing; and, to throw moving life into the picture, the touch thrown in of the sower "going forth" to sow.

II. THE SPECIFIC SUBJECT OF THIS PARABLE - AN ILLUSTRATION OF THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN, i.e. THE WILL OF GOD "DONE IN EARTH AS IT IS IN HEAVEN." Such an illustration might be given very variously. The view might be taken from many a point of vantage, and as the kingdom should be found growing or grown at many a date. This Christ might have given from all his stores of knowledge, and his true gift, true possession, of foresight. He might have shown it in the early days of martyrs; be might have shown it when Constantine proclaimed it the kingdom of Europe, and something beside; he might have shown it as Christendom projects it now; or he might have shown it even as glimpses - so strange are they that we are frightened to fix our gaze on them - are flashed before our doubting vision in the wonderful Book of the Revelation. But that which Jesus did really choose to give was one of a more present, practical character. It was, as one might suppose from very first glance, an illustration of sowing time. The sowing time of God's truth, God's will, God's love and grace, in the midst of a hard, and unprepared, and shallow, and ill-preoccupied world - with nevertheless some better, some more promising material, in it.

III. THE ILLUSTRATION ITSELF IN DETAIL. It consists of the statement of the ways in which men would act on the "hearing" of the "Word of God." Four leading ways are described.

1. That of the man who is said (in Christ's own interpretation of his parable) "not to understand" the Word spoken; i.e. he has no sympathy with it, he possesses no instinct for it, finds awakened within him no response whatever. This is the man whose receptive state amounts to nothing. As the trodden path (all the more trodden and more hard as it is comparatively narrow) across the ploughed field is approached again and again by the bountifully flinging hand of the sower, as he paces the acres, even it receives of the good seed, but its callous surface finds no entrance for it, offers it no fertilizing or even fertilized resting place, and yet others, who at least better know its value, for whatsoever reason, see it, seize it, and bear it off.

2. That of the man who "anon with joy receives" the Word. But it is a vapid and shallow joy. It does not last, it does not grow; its very root withers. The coating of hardness is not, as in the callous pathway, visible to the eye at first, for it is just concealed and covered over by a slightest layer of earth, just below which the hardness is not simply like that of "rock," but it is rock itself. There is nothing that has such a root wherewith to root itself as the Word of God, and this needs deep earth. Not the birds of the air, not Satan and his evil emissaries, take this seed away, before ever it could show a symptom of its own vital force, at any rate; this has shown its vitality, and has detected, discovered, and laid ruinously bare to sight the unsustaining, because itself unsustained, power to feed life, of that other element, that other essential in the solemn matter.

3. That of the man "who hears the Word, but the cares of this world, and the [seductive] deceitfulness of riches, and the [crowding] desires of other things," i.e. other things than the Word, "choke that Word, and it becometh unfruitful," or, if not unfruitful altogether, "it bringeth no fruit to perfection." It is the seed, still the good seed, lost, wasted, mocked of its glorious fruit, because that same liberal, scattering, Sower's hand has not grudged it, to earth, that is all the while attesting its own richness, quality, force, by what is growing out of it, but is untilled, undressed, unweeded - thorns, briers, brambles, and all most precocious growths suffered to tyrannize and usurp its best energies! How often have men moralized, and justly, that the cleverness of the sinner, and his wisdom in his generation, and his dexterity and resources when pushed to the last extremities, would have made the saint, and the eminent saint, had his gifts, instead of being so prostituted, so miserably misdirected, been turned in the right direction, fixed on the right objects! But short far of flagrant vice, true it is that the absorbing things and the seductive things and the crowding competition of desires of things of this world, have, millions of times untold, choked the Word. No room, no time, no care, no energy, has been left for the things of eternal value, immortal wealth, present holiness.

4. That of the man who "heareth, and understandeth, who also beareth fruit;" or again, "who in an honest and good heart, having heard the Word, keeps it, and brings forth fruit with patience." It is the seed, that pricelessly good seed, which now at last has found its appropriate earth. It falls not on the hard pathway; it falls not on the treacherous, deceptive, depthlessness, all radiant with light and sun though it be; it falls not on the soil bearing at the same time incontestable evidence of two things - its own power to grow, and its own doomed state to grow the things "whose end is to be burned." It fails "into the good ground." We are in the presence of the mystery, not of "who made us to differ," but of how and why he who made us to differ, did so. The practical part of the question is plain forevery one who has an eye to see. Every man must give account of himself at the last; and every one must now prepare for that account. What sign of "goodness," what slightest germ of "goodness," what instinct, as it may seem, and power of "goodness," any man's heart, passing thought, life may just suggest - if it be but like a suggestion - must be reckoned with now, improved now, solemnly consecrated now, and the mystery will still for the present be left mystery. But the facts and the results and the blessedness will speak for themselves. And the kingdom of heaven be receiving its fairer and fairest illustration, instead of its darker and darkest illustrations. That kingdom will be the more a "coming" kingdom. - B.







Some fell by the wayside.
This first kind of soil is the only one of the four mentioned in which nothing came of the sowing. In this alone there is a combination of causes which renders any good result impossible. Three causes are shown:

1. Before the sowing the soil was incapable of receiving the seed, for it was beaten hard by constant traffic.

2. After the seed had fallen upon it men trod it under foot and crushed out its life.

3. That which remained upon the surface the birds devoured.The connection between the three is obvious. Had the soil not been trodden hard beforehand, neither would the after-treading have destroyed the seed, nor would the birds have found it lying ready. Hid in the bosom of the earth, it would have been safe from both. It is the picture of a thoroughly worldly man — not what would commonly be called a wicked man, not a man whose life is a scandal to the society in which he moves, by reason of the grossness of his vices, or the profane or ribald licence of his conversation, but simply one who may be in all outward and social respects without a speck or flaw in his character — nay, who may even be scrupulous in performing all such external acts of religion as the world is pleased to account marks of respectability and good taste, but who is withal simply incapable of receiving any wholesome impression from the ministry of the Word of God, because he has given up his whole heart and mind to worldly things, and heart and mind under their unopposed influence have become completely hardened. Such a man hears the Word. It is beautiful to him, it is pleasant to him, just as, and in no other way, than some history, or poem, or fiction, written by the hand, inspired by the genius of a fellow-man, is pleasant or beautiful. As the work of God's hand, the revelation of God's mind, he never for a moment recognizes it; as the voice of God's Spirit speaking to and bearing witness with His own spirit he never for a moment thinks of it or feels it. And this because there is drawn over his heart and mind and spirit — over all that part of his being in which exists most fully the image of God and the counterpart of the Divine mind — that hard, callous covering of worldliness which is the common road of all that is unprofitable and vain, but is like armour of proof against the entrance of aught that is good and holy into the soil beneath.

(C. S. Turner, M. A.)

If the farmer wish to throw into one his separated fields, and make the old roadway part of his productive soil, he knows that the very causes of its hardness have added some fertilizing elements, and that only deep and thorough tillage is needed to accomplish his purpose. But he carefully chooses the time to put in the plough. He does not begin his work when the frost has bound the land in its icy fetters, nor when the drought and heat have reduced it to stony hardness. But meantime he is diligently removing the fences and clearing away, as opportunity may offer, the obstructions which have accumulated. And then some day, when he sees it softened by gentle showers, which the shading clouds have allowed to soak into its bosom, he ploughs deep and harrows thoroughly, and lo, the work is done I In the same way must we deal with this indifference to religion. If we attack such a man when his heart is cold and careless, or when some angry spirit of controversy warms him into resistance, we shall meet only disappointment. In fact, we are sure to be disappointed if we attack him at all. We must wait patiently and watch closely. We must gently and quietly remove as we may the barriers which most frequently we have ourselves erected about him. So long as we keep him fenced out from the companionship and familiar intercourse of pious people, we can make no impression upon him. It was not John the Baptist, but Jesus the Christ who was the friend of publicans and sinners. If we seek the society of such people, and show interest and pleasure in their company, at first they may be shy, but we shall soon see that pass. If we are careful not to obtrude our religion upon them they will always be careful not to make their irreligion offensive to us. And then some time, when the clouds of sorrow have overshadowed them, and the gentle rain of kindly sympathy has softened the hard crust of reserve, God gives us our opportunity, and we may drop the rich seed of His saving truth into the deep furrows which lie open in the mellowed soil. Who knows but that when the harvest season comes, we may trace the old roadway all through the burdened field by the line of heavier sheaves which it has ripened!

(R. Wilson, M. D.)

I. THE KIND OF SOIL.

1. As a highway lieth careless, neglected, unbounded, common, not several, but is trodden and beaten with the feet of all sorts of passengers, so these hearers' hearts are not closed and made several for the seed of God's Word, and for heavenly things, but lie common and open to all temptations and suggestions of Satan, to the covetous and carnal desires of earthly things, which eat up heavenly; to vain wandering, idle cogitations and thoughts, all which make a thoroughfare and beaten path in the heart.

2. As in an highway if any seed fall, no man looks to cover it, no man respects it, as looking for no good at all of it, but leaves it to be trodden of beasts, and eaten up of birds: so with these hearers, when the Word is preached, they hear it carelessly, without all attention, or affection, they care not to understand it, never cover it by meditation, nor receive it further than by giving it the hearing; they expect no good from it; let errors and lusts come and tread it down, let the devil by suggestions and tentations devour it up; they care neither to understand, nor receive, nor remember it.

3. As highway ground can neither receive nor cover the seed, or if it should, it is so hard and padded, that it cannot afford it the least rooting, at least to come unto fruit, the crop will never fill a man's hand: even so these hearers, like hard and paved earth, continually trodden and trampled with wandering thoughts, and fruitless cogitations, and tentations of the devil, hear the Word sometimes, but without heart, mind, affection. A little seed may lie on the superficies or top of their brain, or tongue, or may make a little show on the outside, but nothing of it gets within them, nor takes any root, and consequently yields no fruit of faith, of God's fear, of piety or Christian conversation.

II. CAUSES OF UNFRUITFULNESS.

1. Inward. Their own disposition: they tread the seed under foot; that is, despise and undervalue it. It is the careless hearer who understands not, nor attains. The careless hearer is the worst hearer of all, as this first ground is the worst ground of all. The other two are bad both, yet they gave the seed some cover, and receive it in; but these hold it out, and leave it where they found it.

2. Outward. The malice of the devil (see ver. 12). Where are three things to be considered:

(1)The description of this malicious person, both by his name and by a similitude.

(2)The exercise of his malice: "he cometh."

3. The end of his coming; threefold:

(1)To steal the Word.

(2)To hinder faith.

(3)To bereave men of salvation.

(Thomas Taylor, D. D.)

This part of the parable is founded on the principle that attention is the first claim of the gospel. The gospel claims attention from us —

I. AS TRUTH By a mental law, truth and the mind can have no connection but through the medium of attention.

1. The attention is voluntary.

2. Attention is under the law of habit.

3. An obligation rests on man to exercise and improve this power. For we know that some of the highest obligations of life involve a right exercise of attention.

II. AS A SYSTEM OF TRUTH HAVING PECULIAR DIFFICULTIES TO THE HUMAN MIND. For it includes —

1. Spiritual facts as its basis and its end. The difficulties of life have been the occasion of making all the greatness the world has ever witnessed in men.

2. Painful truths; being a direct, unqualified attack upon cherished desires and confirmed habits.

3. The doctrines of the gospel are contested truths. And the contest, our Lord informs us, is first begun by another party before man takes it up. Some find insuperable difficulties in particular doctrines. Others are prejudiced against the principles for being so much better than those who profess to believe them. And he has taught another class in his school to look within themselves for illumination.

III. As TRUTH or SUPREME IMPORTANCE.

1. It is God's special revelation in human language. It is God's Word, addressed to all men, and to every man. Then, by everything sacred and decent, by every consideration of propriety and of duty, every human being should listen to the Word of God. And again we are bound to give such attention, because the Scriptures —

2. Fully and strongly exhibit our duties; the chief of which are those we owe to God. They also fully exhibit our duty to man.

3. God here treats of life and death eternal. This is the sum.

(E. N. Kirk, D. D.)

They hear the Word as a man hears in a dream. They do not attend to it. It is a mere sound that has no meaning in it to them. If you ask them, "What think ye of Christ? "they reply by saying that they have not thought at all. He is not personal to them at all. It is a common thing to meet men and women who have been church-goers all their lives, and who tell you with the blandest manner, when you speak to them about their souls, that they have never really given the matter any serious thought. No impression of truth has been made upon their hearts. They are indifferent to it all, though keenly alive to and intelligent concerning a score or a hundred earthly interests. They are sometimes called "gospel-hardened," but this is a great mistake. They are world-hardened. They are like the mill-owner who had given half the money required to build a stately church upon the services of which he attended, and who, when asked what he thought of the sermon of dedication, to which he had been outwardly listening, said: "The fact is, I did not hear what the pastor was saying. I could not help thinking all through the service, as I looked at the spacious proportions of this edifice, if it was a cotton mill how many spindles I could set up in it." The man was mill-hardened. A lady confessed to me once that, during the sermon, though she heard the words of it and understood the theme as I discussed it, she had been planning for a dinner party that she was to give during the week. Here was a heart society-hardened. I knew another man who acknowledged that during the sermon he had been mentally making a note of the men whom he noticed in the congregation, and arranged in his own mind how and when he would see them in order to induce them to take out policies in a great life insurance company, of which he had recently been made the local agent. Thus do men harden their hearts and become wayside hearers.

(G. F. Pentecost.)

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