Luke 8:6
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.







And some fell upon a rock
It is evident that there is a very considerable difference between the persons whose state is signified by the shallow soil and those who are represented by the hard field-path. By those the Word of God is not received at all — merely heard with the outward ears, and in no true sense understood; by these the Word is not only received, but received with joy. The persons now in question do not simply listen to the Word of God with pleasure and admiration, as the worldly man does, because of the outward graces in which its expression is clothed. No I their joy is a joy of the heart — they understand that which they hear, in a sense in which the worldly man understandeth it not. Its inner meaning — its spiritual beauty — is not hidden from them, as from him. They are able to discern and to appreciate it as a revelation of God, and the excellence, the purity, the righteousness, the loveliness of that which is revealed find in their hearts a powerful attraction. They listen to the gospel story and, far from only enjoying it as a beautiful story, they feel themselves drawn "with cords of a man, with bands of love," by Him of whose love and labour for them the story tells. Nor does the effect of the Word end there. They not only understand, they not only feel, but they act. The love of Christ constrains them — constrains them to break away from evil habits, to exercise self-denial, to follow in many ways that which they see to be good. What more, you may ask, could be expected or desired? Is not this the very result which the Divine Sower looks and longs for? Is not this proof which cannot be gainsaid that the Divine seed has taken good root, and is fulfilling the purpose of its sowing? How can this soil be classed as unfruitful when it is actually bearing so goodly a crop? Alas 1 the Sower Himself answers our questions. It is all good while it lasts; but it endures but for a time, and all trace of it is gone long before the reapers go forth to gather in the harvest. Then they find no more fruit here than on the path, and they carry no sheaves hence, for all its past promise, to add to the store in the Master's barn.

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

The wayside had suggested incapacity for fruitage, resulting from a misapplication of the moral and intellectual faculties, the consequence of which was indifference to sacred things. The stony ground illustrates another and equally disastrous condition of irreligion, produced by an entirely different cause. Here the soil is good. In fact, in such places it is often of superior quality, produced by the rotting of leaves and other refuse matter in the moisture which cannot soak into the ground, But it has no depth. The seed which falls on this rich warm mould is rapidly quickened and soon germinates, shooting up with a green luxuriance that gives promise of speedy and abundant returns. The roots are thrown out all along the surface, but they can take no firm hold on the soft and yielding material, and the tap-root, which ought to penetrate deep into the subsoil to give support to the plant and find a never-drying source of moisture, is bruised and turned aside by the underlying stones against which it strikes, while the very rapidity and luxuriance of growth soon exhausts the scanty materials which nourish it. The warm sunshine which ought to give life and vigour becomes a source of injury instead, and the wilted plant droops, dies, and is forgotten long before the harvest season comes. Now we know perfectly well that such ground is far from useless; that if the proper treatment be applied it is often the most profitable, for these are just the conditions which we select or produce artificially for forcing. We want rich and rapid growth, and we know how to obtain it. Every gardener knows what special care must be bestowed upon the hot-bed to prevent the loss of all his labour. The hot, damp, shallow soil receives greedily the proffered seed, and with a marvellous quickness develops the germ. But the most assiduous attention is demanded, for these hotbed plants are far more delicate than those beside them from the same seed. They must he mulched and watered, the sunshine must be courted, but shaded off as it grows too warm, the cold air must be carefully excluded, but often discreetly admitted, and the least relaxation of all this diligence means destruction. A. sash left open, a mat removed, a single watering forgotten, and the plants wither and droop. The very same soil, if deeply dug, thoroughly drained, and well fertilized, will become permanently strong and productive. Surely we are only too familiar with the application in all its various degrees. We see all about us people in every stage and character of irreligion who were once, to some extent at least, professedly pious. It is fearful to contemplate how many such there are, and how very difficult it is to reawaken them to any interest in religion. The facility with which great numbers of persons may be made to acknowledge the influence of religious emotion is familiar to us all, and a little observation will also make us familiar with the startling disproportion of those numbers to the comparatively few who persevere. Nothing could be further from the truth than to accuse such persons of hypocrisy, for emotional characters are almost always sincere. It is precisely because their minds are so receptive, their feelings so readily impressed by eloquent and earnest appeals, that we find them yielding so readily and accepting the assurance of God's love with a gladness as real as it is demonstrative. But they have no depth of character, and their very shallowness causes a rapid and laxuriant development of practical religion. The drunkard is suddenly reformed; the profane swearer becomes frequent in prayer; the brawler grows peaceable and patient under insult. But one after another the old evil habits of life get the better of them, and their last state is worse than the first, because religion has become to them an experimental failure; the glowing faith which believed conversion an accomplished fact has given way to disappointment, and the man has lost all confidence in the reformatory influence and efficacy of religious belief and effort. Now if we bear in mind this warning lesson of the Master, we shall always become watchful and careful when we see any unexpectedly prompt and promising yielding to religious influence or exhortation. Beware of the quick fertility of the stony ground.

(Robert Wilson, M. D.)

I. THE KIND OF SOIL. A kind of bad hearers, compared to stones, or stony ground.

1. For the natural hardness, which cannot be broken nor softened.

2. For their coldness: not warmed with the heat of the sun of righteousness, nor the Spirit of God, but abide cold as stones.

3. For their heaviness: a stone will not easily be removed out of his place, his proper centre is the earth.

4. For their unprofitableness, and resistance of the fruits of the earth: for as stoniness of ground by the curse upon man's sin became very noisome to the fruits of the earth, so the stoniness of heart, a part of the curse, more hinders fruits of grace than any stony ground can hinder seed cast into it.

5. As stony ground and common stones are little esteemed, but rejected of men; so this stony ground is as little respected of God. Yet herein our hard hearts are worse than stones: they increase not their hardness; but ours is daily increased by wilfulness and perverseness.

II. Now to the success OF THE SEED in this stony ground: and first, the hopeful and commendable, in the beginning — "it sprung up." Which implies that of Matthew 13:20, "He which heareth the Word, and incontinently with joy receiveth it." Where we have four things considerable.

1. This bad ground receiveth the Word: wherein they go beyond the former hearers, who only heard the Word, but left it as soon as they heard it; let the devil, or any devouring bird eat it and take it from them, they care not.

2. This bad ground receives it "incontinently" (saith Matthew), when God speaks they will hear, and without delays or excuses willingly receive when God proffers.

3. These bad hearers, and stony ground receive it with joy.

4. This stony ground brings up the seed sown.(1) Is rises to external obedience and reformation of many, perhaps most things.(2) The seed springeth up to an outward profession, as those that hope to be saved by it, and so to an outward fellowship and communion with the saints in the Word, sacraments, and many other godly exercises, both public and private.(3) It springeth up in the stony ground to a kind of faith, which hath in it not an enlightening only, but a taste of the heavenly gift and the powers of the world to come, by which they are partakers of the Holy Ghost; that is, something they have so like true sanctification that both themselves and others may think them truly sanctified. Some of the Israelites tasted of the fruits of the land of Canaan, and did thereby perceive what a good land it was and desired part in it, and conceived good hope of enjoying and possessing it, yet never enjoyed it, but perished in the wilderness. Learn hence how far a bad hearer may go in Christianity. A man may hear the Word with diligence, receive it with joy, believe with some assurance, grow up to high place in the profession of religion, bring forth fruits of commendable obedience, and all this while be bad ground and in damnable estate. Having spoken of the success of this seed cast into the stony ground, in the commendable hopes it gave in the beginning; now we proceed to the lamentable and doleful success in the conclusion with the reason of it, both in the words now read unto you.

1. "It withered away."

2. "Because it lacked moisture."First, of the withering of these glorious professors, then of the causes. This withering is a falling away, but not all at once, but by little and little, as a leaf loseth his greenness and flourish, and withers by degrees. For the word implieth the manner of their falling. Neither is it a falling away in part, or for a time, as the disciples and Peter in the time of Christ's passion; but a final falling away from all their graces, from which falls is no return or rising. Here consider four things:

1. How men wither away in grace.

2. The danger of withering.

3. Notes of a man withering.

4. The use and application of all.For answer to the first: Men, even great professors in the Church, wither four ways.

1. In judgment.

2. In affection.

3. In practice.

4. In the use of the means.The second is the danger of such withering: Which we shall clearly see in four particulars.

1. In respect of God they are most hateful, seeing they can find nothing more worthy forsaking than the good way, and esteem everything better worth keeping than God's image and graces.

2. In respect of the Church: They bring scandal to the weak, and the scorn of the wicked upon themselves and all professors.

3. In respect of the sin itself: None more dangerous. For first, relapses, we say, are far more dangerous than first diseases. Secondly, Satan returning, comes with seven more wicked spirits than himself, and so he is for ever held under the power of Satan. Thirdly, this sin is commonly punished with other sins, which is God's most fearful stroke, to which He seldom gives up His own. Fourthly, it is in the degrees of the sin against the Holy Ghost, and easily brings a man into that estate that there may be left no sacrifice for his sin.

4. In respect of the judgment that awaits and overtakes this sin. The judgment is certain. The third general thing proposed is: Notes of a man withering in grace.And these are six.

1. A resting in a common and general hope of a good estate, without desire or endeavour to seek marks of certainty or special assurance in himself, As a foolish tradesman hopes his estate is good enough, and bears his creditors in hand it is so; but he is loath to cast up his books or come to a particular view of it. No surer argument of a man decaying.

2. An opinion of sufficiency, that he hath grace enough, he will seek no more because he pleaseth himself in his present measure; and he that careth not to increase his stock wastes of the principal. And not to go forward is to go backward.

3. A comparing of a man's self with those that are of lower and inferior graces or means.

4. A shunning or slighting of God's ordinances; a willing excommunicating himself from the assemblies when he list. That man's strength is abating who falls from his meals. He must eat that must live. And the plant that would not wither must draw moisture daily. Or, if using public means diligently he neglect private, he is on the withering hand.

5. Secret sins ordinarily committed, not bewailed, not reformed.

6. Hatred of God's children, and the way of just men, whether open or secret.What be the means to keep us from withering?

1. Get sound judgment, to discern the truth from error. If we would not fall we must be grounded on the foundation of the prophets and apostles; by private reading, meditating and conferring of the Scriptures, which notably begets and confirms soundness of judgment; and by prayer, which obtains the spirit who is called the spirit of judgment. The lamp fails without oil.

2. Sound persuasion of the truth thou professest; that thou mayest not please thyself that thou hearest the truth from the mouth of the preacher; or hast it in thy Bible at home; no, nor content thyself that thou hast it in thy mouth or discourse, but that thou hast the experience of it in thine heart.

3. Sound affection and love to the truth upholds from withering in it, when the wise Christian esteems the pearl worth selling all to buy it. Love anything better than grace, thou art gone. Demas loves the world better, and easily forsakes the truth. How many lights in the beginning of their profession have been extinct by the world coming upon them.

4. Sound conscience; to which is required —

(1)sincerity;

(2)tenderness.Now the marks to know a hard heart are these:

1. When God's Word makes no impression or gets not within the heart to renew or reform the man, though sometimes it may scratch the outside and restrain him.

2. Neglect, or light over-passing the works of God's mercy or justice, upon himself or others.

3. Unfeelingness of hardness, and unwillingness to feel it; no mislike of it, no desire to understand the danger of it.

4. For the maintaining their estate, credit, and favour in the world, or their lusts and pleasures, to oppose and dislike such doctrines, courses, and persons as have the word on their sides.

5. Out of resolution of following a man's own present course, whatsoever persuasion or doctrines he hears to the contrary, to fly occasions and companies which might touch or work upon his conscience.

6. Habits and customable sins, which make the heart as a pathway. A soft heart smites itself for once sinning and for small sinning.

(Thomas Taylor, D. D.)

Here is a case of great promise in the commencement. We should here take a distinct view of the nature of courage. The common notion of it is, indifference to danger. But that does not distinguish this noble principle from rashness. It properly refers to that quality of mind by which the higher sentiments overrule the dread of suffering. These sentiments are such as patriotism, philanthropy, integrity, sense of duty, and sense of right. The opposite state of mind is that which places the escaping from suffering above every consideration. And it is a person governed by that principle that is pointed out by this part of the parable. This habit of placing comfort before goodness equally facilitates the beginning and the ending of his religious life; for —

I. IT PREVENTS HIM FROM EVEN UNDERSTANDING THE THEORY OF THE GOSPEL, AND MUCH MORE FROM TRULY ACCEPTING ITS PROVISIONS. Imagine a person awakened by the law of God to an apprehension of danger; of guilt in his sight, and consequent exposure to the Divine wrath. If he would regard the testimony of God, he would find more in his case than the exposure to suffering. But such is the operation of selfishness in the human heart, that often where this sense of danger is irresistibly urged home, there is still such a magnifying of suffering as the great evil, that the attention shall be fully absorbed by that. The first consequence is —

1. He neither sees that Christ comes to save him from sin; nor that he is a sinner.

2. He misapprehends the atonement, or the ground of Christ's death. This must make a superficial Christian.

3. He fails also to see the work of the Holy Spirit, and his own obsolute dependence on that Spirit for renewal and sanctification. There lies in that heart the deep, dead, broad rock of impenitence and pride. Into its compact substance no root of conviction, of repentance, of faith, of love, ever penetrated. The very thing he has bargained for is an easy service. Christ gives peace; and it is peace he wants, and not trouble. He can accordingly sail in smooth seas, and live well in fair weather with his religion. But —

II. HE CAN DO NO BETTER WITH THE PRACTICE OF THE GOSPEL THAN WITH ITS THEORY; for —

1. It requires him to struggle with sin in his own heart. The work to which Christ calls us is a progressive conquest over spiritual evils in ourselves.

2. His conflict with the world. Men of superficial religion are generally very much perplexed to know what the Scriptures mean by "the world," against which they speak so severely.

(E. Kirk, D. D.)

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