Luke 8:7
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 among thorns.
These are not thoroughly worldly persons, who pay no heed at all to the Word of God; nor yet are they persons who trust to their own feelings and impulses, and what are called religious impressions, for strength to stand in the evil day, and to endure tribulation for the sake of Christ; but they are those who set themselves to accomplish the task which our Lord says is impossible, of serving God and Mammon, of making, as it has been said, the best of both worlds. They cannot seek God with their whole heart, because their heart is always occupied, in part at least, with some other object. God and the things of God are acknowledged by them as having a claim on their time and thoughts, but it is only the spare time, only the thoughts of (so to say) idle moments, that they can afford to give up in response to this claim. Whatever home the Word of God can find for itself in vacant spaces of mind and heart it is welcome to occupy; whatever influence it can exercise within the narrow limits which other things do not fill, they do not grudge it; but it can by no means be permitted to interfere with more pressing interests, or to assert anything like a free right of entry into all the concerns of life. It is not at all, I think, that, like those represented by the shallow soil, they grasp eagerly at the sweet and comforting portions of the Word's teaching, set aside all that is more stern and terrible, and so live really under the influence of that part of the Word which they have gladly received until they wake to the conviction that what they have received is only a part, and that the time has come when the choice lies between giving up the part received and receiving in addition the part set aside, and then have not sufficient earnestness to take the harder and better course, and so fall away altogether. Rather it would seem they do from the first recognize both sides of the teaching — the sweetness of the promises, and the awfulness of the threatenings; but at the same time there is something which prevents them from fully appreciating either the one or the other; something which hinders them from really using all their energies that they may avoid the threatened woe and attain the promised blessedness. And this something is the hold upon their hearts which is already established by cares, riches, pleasures, delights of the world. Thus they feel some desire to escape the future punishment of sin, but the desire of being free from present cares lies deeper, and if it comes to a question between voluntary endurance of cares here for the sake of happiness hereafter, and self indulgence now with the risk of misery in the future, they choose the latter, because they see the things temporal more clearly than the things eternal,, and what they see most clearly they rank most highly. Thus also they wish to enjoy the glories of heaven, but they wish also to have all they can of the enjoyments of earth, and if they -must forego one for the sake of ensuring the other, they will most readily forego that which they wish for most feebly, because its excellence and desirableness is least real to them, and this again will be the distant glory which is discerned by faith only, not the present enjoyment which forces itself upon the notice of their senses.

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

Here a new and startling thought is brought out, which leads our minds into a different and most suggestive channel. The Master's mind recurs to the great germ-principle, and teaches us that God's Word is not the only seed that is sown broadcast over the world; that the controlling application of God's fundamental laws covers evil as well as good, and that all through this vast globe of nature there are seeds which never fell from the hand of the Divine Husbandman, quick with the same mysterious germ of life, subject to the same law of germination and development under like conditions, and bound by the same inexorable necessity to reproduce themselves after their kind, but noxious in character, waging ceaseless and destructive warfare against the good, and promising an inevitable harvest of sorrow and death. Remembering, now, that all life is governed by this same law of the germ, we may go for our first illustration to what we call "animate nature," where the seed is found under the form of the egg. Walking by the waterside we find two eggs on the shore, so nearly similar in size, and shape, and colour, that an unpractised eye would scarcely distinguish one from the other. The same white, brittle shell, every section of which is some modification of the arch, equally the strongest form to resist external violence and the weakest against pressure from within. Break this shell and we find in each a similar living membrane, an air-chamber for the support of the young animal, a yolk for its nourishment suspended by twisted ligaments and protected by an envelope of glairy albumen, with the germ-vesicle containing potentially the future young as yet indistinguishable by any human power. We submit these almost exactly similar eggs to the requisite conditions of time and heat until the breaking shell reveals the developed young, and lo! the marvellous difference! From the one, a bird of pure and beautiful plumage, serviceable to man in its every part, an ornament to nature and fitted to walk the land, to float on the crested wave, or to cleave the light air with its sweeping pinions as it soars toward heaven. From the other a scaly monster of loathsome form and frightful aspect, fitted to live only in slime and mire, and destined only to destroy its fellow-creatures. These results, we know, will be invariable, nor can any power reverse or modify them. Thus we learn how exact are the analogies between moral and physical nature. Experience teaches us, further, how full is all soil of the seeds of noxious weeds, and the parable shows us how equally full is our moral nature of the germs of deadly sins and cares which choke out every growth of good. So true is this in the physical world, and so absolutely impossible is it to detect the germs of life prevailing everywhere, that science has even dreamed of spontaneous life as the only solution of the mystery. Prepare your ground, however carefully, for the seeding, it will be green with unwelcome growths long before your grain has sprouted. Let a drop of purest water remain exposed for a few hours, it will swarm with animalculae and microscopic vegetables. Make anywhere an artificial pond, and in process of time it will contain fish and water-plants, but rarely of useful kinds. The air we breathe is full of the infinitesimal spores of deadly maladies, ready to germinate and produce their lethal fruit; but who ever heard of an atmosphere quick with the seeds of health? Under the same great law, then, the soul of man, his moral nature, the moral atmosphere in which he lives, must be full of those evil germs which bring forth the "thorns" of the parable. So evident has been this truth to all human experience, that men have believed in a dual source of life — the Ormuzd and Ahriman of the Persian mythology, the God and Demiurge of the Gnostic philosophy, the one the creator of evil, the other of the good. But whence come these seeds of evil? How is it that these germs of destruction so pervade all nature? Science has but recently demonstrated that they are not, in the physical world, of spontaneous origin. The water which so rapidly devolopes life becomes utterly lifeless when heated to boiling and absolutely excluded from the air. There is one series of processes familiar to us which gives the clue to all the rest, because it shows how God works in creation by the instrumentality of the law of germination. In the barren depths of ocean one of the lowest forms of animal life, the coral polyp, multiplies itself into unnumbered millions, exuding from its body the stony substance which slowly reaches to the surface and forms a reef. This catches the floating seaweed and the drifting pieces of wreck, which decay in the sunshine and form a soil. Some nut or fruit, protected by its hard covering, is borne by the waves from a far-off shore and cast upon the new-formed island, and sprouting there, in process of time produces a tree, which in turn produces others like itself. The falling leaves and rotting stems increase the depth of the soil. The wearied sea-birds seek shelter from the storm, and soon form a colony. Then other birds are driven there, and drop the seeds of their food, and man comes in his vessels and leaves behind him other germs of animal and vegetable life. Thus, in the course of centuries, a great and populous island comes into being. Were our opportunities and our faculties sufficient to the task, we could doubtless in the same way trace out the most mysterious of these phenomena, and learn how in thousands of simple, but unsuspected ways the seeds are carried and planted. The squirrel buries his winter store of nuts and acorns, only a small part of which are consumed; and in a few seasons the growth is entirely changed, and the grassy plain becomes a forest; the swift-winged pigeon is slain by the hawk miles away from his feeding ground, and the undigested seeds in his crop are scattered, and shoot into plants hitherto unknown there. But in the moral world there is another and a darker agency at work to disseminate the germs of evil, as it snatches away the seed which falls by the wayside; for we learn from the parable of the tares among the wheat that "an enemy hath done this." There is an evil being of great power and malignant purpose who fills man's heart with the deadly seeds of worldly cares and sorrows, and who well knows that the richest and mellowest soil is the best for his objects.

(Robert Wilson, M. D.)

I. WHY LUSTS ARE COMPARED TO THORNS. Carnal lusts are fitly compared to thorns in five respects.

1. There are some flowers, and some show on thorns, small fruits, and many pricks; so whatever appearance these lusts make, no good fruit riseth of them, but many pricks and sorrows by them in the end. Thorns pierce the body, lusts the mind.

2. Thorns are everywhere armed, and ready to wound and tear him that, meddling with them, doth not carefully fence himself; so they that nourish the cares of the world, or addict themselves to pleasure or profits, pierce themselves through with many sorrows.

3. As a thorn held softly pricks not nor hurteth, but when it is held hard and crushed, it easily draweth blood; so a man may use this world, as not using it, without danger, and hold softly the profits and pleasures of this life; but grip them, and fasten on them, there is certain hurt.

4. Thorns and briars are the dens and receptacles of serpents and poisonful worms and creatures; so are these unmortified desires the harbours of infinite noisome sins, which shall creep as thick into the soul as the frogs into Pharaoh's lodgings. As Israel, not content with God's daily allowance, but out of a covetous and distrustful desire, against God's commandments, saved some of the manna till morning, but it was all full of worms, and stunk; so do fleshly minds, by nourishing unlawful lusts, turn manna into worms.

5. As thorns and briars are at last good for nothing but fuel for fire; so these thickets of lusts, and pursuit after the profits and pleasures of this life, are the proper fuel of the fire of the great day, and prepare the ground itself (which all worldlings are), without timely repentance, as fuel for the fire of hell, which is unquenchable.

II. THESE BAD HEARERS ARE APTLY COMPARED TO THORNY GROUND. For as a thorny and weedy soil chokes and kills at length such seeds as come up hopefully; so a heart, stuffed with unmortified affections, at length resists and chokes the seed of God's Word, that it shall not prosper to the salvation of that hearer in the harvest; for —

1. These thorns supplant the Word, and unroof it again, as thorns, to root themselves, undermine the seed below.

2. These thorny corruptions hinder the comfortable heat and shine of the sun from the heart, namely, the sweet beams and influence of the spirit of grace, which cannot come so sweetly and freely to the heart to cherish the growth and work begun, as thorns hinder the sun from plants.

3. Thorns draw away the moisture which should preserve the plants in their growth and greenness; even so these inward lusts draw the heart from means of moisture and grace; they sometimes give a man leave to hear, but as they prevail and take up the heart, there shall be little time allowed to remember, meditate, or apply that which is heard, and as small leave to bring things into practice.

III. THORNS AND LUSTS OF ANY SORT, SUFFERED TO GROW IN THE HEART, DO SOON OVERGROW THE WORD OF GOD, AND SUFFER IT NOT TO PROSPER. For as the husbandman, who suffers thorns and weeds to choke his seed coming up, loseth his harvest; even so that man loseth his part in the gospel that cherisheth lusts and disordered desires in his heart, together with the gospel. Hence the Apostle James (James 1:21) telleth us that if we would hear the Word so as it may be ingrafted in us, we must first east away, or put off as an old rag, "the superfluity of maliciousness and filthiness," that is, the abundance of carnal affections, looseness of life, pride, disdain, wrath, contention, earthly pleasures, vanity, evil speaking of Divine doctrine, &c.; and in the next verse shows that with these lusts men may be hearers of the Word, but never doers till they be weeded out; they will at length overgrow it. Reasons:

1. Ill weeds, we say, spring apace; good seeds or herbs not half so fast. We shall see a bramble grow more in seven months than an oak in seven .years. So our text — the thorns grow up with the seed, but choke it by overgrowing.

2. Our grounds are fit and prepared to produce thorns rather than bring up the good seed. Our hearts are the natural mother to lusts, but a step. mother to seeds of grace. For there lies in our nature a sea of evil lusts lurking; our own original lust is a fountain, and an inordinate disposition to all evil. From which fountain issue innumerable streams of actual lusts, which are the innumerable motions of the soul, contrary to every commandment of God; all which, in their several armies and bands, issue out against God and His Word, as the Philistines still warred against Israel. Now, our ground being so apt to weeds, they will soon overgrow the Word, if but a little neglected.

3. A part of the curse on man's sin is that the earth should bring forth thorns and thistles. The earth should have brought them forth, if man had not sinned; but they should not have been so noisome and hurtful to man and the fruits of the earth. Even so it is a part of the curse of our sin that there should grow up such noisome lusts (as thorns) in the ground of our hearts, as do far more hinder the growth of grace in our hearts, and choke the seed of the Word sown ill our souls, than all the weeds and thorns in the world can choke the seeds and fruits of the earth. Lusts are still remaining in the best, but not now as a curse, but only, as the Canaanites, to keep them humble.

4. The reign of lust cannot but thrust down the reign of the Word; for, first, that the Word may reign, it must be understood, but thorns hinder the light of the sun from the seed. One thorn is enough to darken the eye of the understanding. Secondly, that the Word may reign, it must first renew. But there can be no new creature, till the old man be put off, with his lusts (Ephesians 4:22, 23). Thirdly, that the Word may reign, it must be obeyed when it commands, and be expressed in the fruits of holiness. But lusts unsubdued oppose themselves, and hinder the motions when they should come into practice, and the Lord's plant becomes fruitful only on that condition, that the Father purge it (John 15.).. Again, how can a man walk on cheerfully in his way that hath a thorn sticking m his foot? No less do these thorns cast men back in their way of obedience. These superfluities of lusts and inordinate desires are as dead branches, that must be lopped off before fruit can be expected.

(Thomas Taylor, D. D.)

We are now introduced to another character, which we may denominate — the compromising. They strike hands with the gospel, but with the world at the same time. Some are willing to suffer for their soul's good, who are still unwilling to relinquish each rival to Christ. The case has these prominent features — there is, under the hearing of the gospel, a partial suppression of worldliness. But the worldly desires gain an ultimate victory over the gospel.

I. THE PARTIAL SUPPRESSION OF WORLDLINESS IN HEARING THE WORD.

1. The attention of the mind is, for the time, diverted from the world. Human consciousness follows the will and sensibilities. It takes no cognisance of deep, underlying principles in the heart. They may be master-principles, giving to the character its every distinctive feature, and shaping the whole current of action; and yet, under particular circumstances, they shall be to the soul's consciousness, annihilated. This law of the mind is of the first magnitude; and yet human history is filled with the delusions which men practise on themselves by overlooking it. Now, men may have no consciousness that they are governed by a love of the world, and may readily embrace the hopes of the gospel, under an impression of their entire sincerity and earnestness in doing it, while at the same time their hearts cling to the created sources of enjoyment, with a tenacity strong as the desire of happiness and dread of misery can make it. The first reason of this temporary ascendancy of the gospel, and of their delusion in regard to its completeness, is the strong impression which is, for the time, made on the sensibilities. It may come in various forms. One is — a temporary disgust with the world. This has deceived thousands; for this very disgust derives its acuteness from the strength of that affection which is disappointed. The man who has calmly looked behind every mask the world wears, long recognized the hollowness of its pretensions, and the falseness of its promises, is the very farthest from any paroxysm of disgust. He has been accustomed to consider a thorn a thorn, and if by any inattention he leaned his hand upon it, and it pierced him, he only reproaches himself for his heedlessness, and walks thereafter more guardedly. But here are your romancers, whose gravest occupation in youth was the day-dream. They studied the world through their fancies and their favourite writers. And on some dark day a storm arises, and lightnings strike the cherished tree on which grew their heart's fondest hopes. In an instant its blossoms wither; its leaves are scattered; its shattered trunk alone remains. And to the heart's moanings there is no response but sullen thunder, howling wind, and roaring floods. Such has the world become in one day to some that most fondly cherished, most devoutly worshipped it. Now the love of the world, as a principle, may remain entirely unshaken by all this violence.

2. The gospel is taken up without reference to its opposition to the world. Men do regard themselves as religious who never formed one definite idea as to the peculiar spirit of the gospel and its unworldly features. There are thorns in the ground which will yet effectually choke every religious sentiment and purpose.

II. THE ULTIMATE TRIUMPH OF THE WORLD OVER THE GOSPEL. "He also that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the word; and the care of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word; and he becometh unfruitful.

1. The feebleness of the religious principle. It sprung from transient causes. If these causes had been made merely occasions it would have been well. But it remained a thing of impulse, and did not become a matter of principle. He should have struck the blow that would have emancipated him from the world.

2. The strength of the worldly principle. There is a care which becomes us, as endowed with forethought. The poor feel it, the rich feel from it. Itself a sin, it begets sin. It fills the mind with so many vain desires, perplexing thoughts, and wicked purposes, that God's Holy Word can find no permanent entertainment there. Then an innumerable host of interests, objects, and passions are included under the phrase — the lust of other things. But we have gone far enough to see this principle established — that the mastery of one worldly desire over the human heart will effectually neutralize all the power of the gospel. The evidence of it is in the fact that the prevalence of that desire proves the complete delusion of the soul on a vital point. And every indulgence of the desire strengthens the soul's aversion to God.

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

Our thorns sometimes appear like flowers. Our worldly cares seem quite legitimate, our sins appear pleasant, our earthly graspings necessary; but there is not a single thing that hinders the reception and supremacy of the truth within us that will not become a thorn to pierce us. The rose of our sinful delights will wither, and we shall find that our hearts have nourished thorns. All these evil growths must be destroyed, brethren; the high towering thorns of pride that cast their shadow upon all tender springings of violet-like virtues; the creeping, entangling thorns of lusts; the glossy-leaved thorns of deceit, so smooth to the eye and yet so stinging to the touch; the long, bare spiney thorns of malice; the short stubbed thorns of worldly worry, and the sharp-hooking thorns of covetousness — all must be rooted out of us if the truth is to spring up into the pleasant foliage of moral beauty and the sweet fruit of gracious deeds.

(W. O. Lilley.)

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