Luke 8:8
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 other fell on good ground.
Here consider, as in the former —

1. The soil, good ground: where first, how it comes to be good: secondly, how it is known to be good, namely, by hearing with honest and good hearts.

2. The success of the seed in it — fruitfulness.

1. For the measure, or plenty — an hundredfold.

2. For the continuance, or constancy — with patience.Of these in their order. And first, how the ground doth come to be good. Answer: It is called good, non a priori, because the Word finds it so; but a posteriori, because by the Word it is made so. Every man's heart by nature is a stiff ground, a barren and cursed earth (Ephesians 2.).

2. But as stiff and bad ground becomes good by good husbandry and manuring, so do our hearts by the husbandry of the Good Husbandman. He alone changeth the heart.

I. It is called a good heart in two respects.

1. As emptied of bad qualities.

2. As well qualified by grace.(1) It is emptied of bad qualities, being clean contrary to all the bad disposition of the three former kinds of ground. So as being contrary to all the other, it receives willingly, retains constantly, and perseveres fruitfully unto the end.(2) It is well qualified by grace, as in our text.

(a)God hath made it of a cursed and barren earth, good ground.

(b)It hears the Word beyond the other. The former heard it, but without desire, this hears with study to learn, and industry to understand.

(c)It keepeth the Word in memory, mind, and practice; the other heard, but kept nothing, because there was no fit place to keep it in.

(d)It brings fruit. In the other was some care to hear, but here is a care of fruitfulness.

(e)It is careful to proceed in grace, to double and increase the measure of fruits, from thirty to sixty, and so to a hundredfold: but the other soon fall from their measure.

(f)It hath obtained by grace an invincible fortitude against temptations and trials, so as no fears or forces shall remove them from the study of piety and fruits of grace; for they bring forth fruits with patience, as the other did not.

II. So it is called an honest heart. As good is a general word, excluding evil qualities, and including good; so honest also is a general word, and put for the whole approved disposition of the soul, containing both civil and religious honesty. Here for our further direction in so weighty a business we will consider three things.

1. Means, whereby to attain a good and honest heart.

2. Marks, to know when it is so.

3. Motives to the attaining of such a heart.The means are generally two.

1. Let us see our defect in nature, that our hearts are not good by nature, but stiff and stubborn as the stiffest ground.

2. Let us therefore seek a supply by grace.This grace is twofold —

1. Of action.

2. Of acceptation.The grace of action is threefold —

1. Preparation.

2. Of new creation.

3. Of irrigation.But because all this grace of action is imperfect in this life, therefore that our hearts may become truly good and honest, there needs also the grace of acceptation. The best ground is good but in part, and no man can say his heart is clean, but much evil and guile will cleave unto it. Yet, where God hath begun a good work, and beholds a constant purpose of good, resolving against all sin, and to please Him in all things, He is pleased to behold only the work of His own finger, and to see us only in our Head, in whom He beholds us all fair and good, imputing His goodness to us, and covering our remainders of evil in Him. He esteems us according to that we are coming to, not by that we have attained. These are the means whereby our hearts become good. Now of the marks whereby they may be known so to be. These marks, because they are many, we will in general reduce them to seven heads, and consider this good heart.

1. In respect of God.

2. Christ.

3. The Spirit of God.

4. The ordinances of God.

5. Itself.

6. Good duties.

7. Sin and evil.In respect of God, it hath five excellent properties. First, It desires nearer union with God daily, and all things shall set it nearer unto God. For it knows that everything is so much the more good as it approacheth unto the chief good. Secondly, If it seek God it will "seek Him with the whole heart" (Psalm 119:10), which is a sound conformity of the inward and outward man, directed in the service of God according to the truth of the word. Thirdly, A good heart will only and wholly stand to God's approbation in that it doth or doth not. Fourthly, A good heart resteth and rejoiceth in God as in the best and only portion (Psalm 73:25). Fifthly, A good heart aims at the glory of God in all things. "In all his parts" (1 Corinthians 6:20) — in his body, because it is His, and in his spirit, because He is a Spirit. In respect of Christ it hath five other excellent qualities. First, It preferreth Christ before a thousand worlds (Philippians 3:8). Secondly, A good heart rejoiceth more in Christ and His love than in worldly joys. Thirdly, A good heart, seeing that Christ hath given Himself wholly unto us, gives itself wholly to Him. Fourthly, A good heart prepares a room in it for Christ to dwell in (Ephesians 3:17). Fifthly, A good heart conforms itself to Christ, and will walk as He gave example. For it knows the Scripture hath set Him out, not as a Redeemer only, but as a pattern of good life and imitation. It looks unto the Spirit of God; in four kinds of notes.

1. In respect of spiritual assurance.

2. Spiritual worship.

3. Spiritual graces.

4. Spiritual growth.A good and honest heart looks to the ordinances of God, and so hath many excellent qualities. In two general respects —

1. In respect of Christian religion itself.

2. In respect of the means by which it is upheld, and these are three —

1. The Word and sacrament.

2. The Sabbaths and assemblies.

3. The pastors and ministers.A good and honest heart hath many marks in respect of itself — as the Scriptures ascribe many properties unto it without which it cannot be good.

1. Newness.

2. Softness.

3. Cleanness.

4. Singleness.

5. Fruitfulness.

6. Watchfulness.Marks of a good heart in respect of good duties. It considereth, first, that it is God's new workmanship created to good works (Ephesians 2:10). Marks of. a good heart in respect of sin. It knoweth, first, that nothing is properly hated of God but sin, as being directly against His law and His image, who is a God hating iniquity; and as God Himself is the chief and absolute good, so only sin is the chief and absolute evil. Hence —

1. It sees the misery of sin, and groans under the burden.

2. It truly repents for sin.

3. It seeks pardon.

4. It feareth and watcheth all sin to come, as it hateth and shameth for all sin past.As nature shuns and fears all serpents, even little ones as well as great, so grace shuns all sins, and hates them, being the spawn of the Serpent. First, it knows all are hateful to God, all prejudicial to the soul, as one hole in a ship, or one swine in a garden, or one fly in the apothecary's box is enough to spoil all; therefore it watcheth all. Secondly, Seeing small sins are commonly harbingers to greater, it dares not venture on the smallest. Thirdly, It knows that the way to avoid final defection, or backsliding, is to fear staying a little. Fourthly, It fears the show, the taste, the occasions, the first appearances of sin, lest from the broth, it easily fall to the flesh. Fifthly, It fears and hates his own sins more than all other men's, and not as it is said of Anthony, "He hated the tyrant, not tyranny." "I hate that I do" (Romans 7:15). Sixthly, It hates and fears his own inward sins as much as the outward; wisely damming the fountain and well-head, and stocking up the root. Seventhly, It hates and fears the repetition of sin, and much more shakes off the habit of it, lest he should suddenly grow to expertness in the trade. Lastly, It hates and mourns for other men's sins, and stops them when he can (Psalm 119:136). "And now tell you weeping" (Philippians 3:18). Yea, the sins of others against God more smite a good heart with sorrow than their own sins can an evil.

5. It retains and still renews a full purpose of not sinning, so as though it sin, the conscience can testify that it is carried against the settled purpose of it.

(Thomas Taylor, D. D.)

l: —

I. WHAT IS THE RIGHT RECEPTION OF THE GOSPEL? The answer may be given in a word. It is the reception of it into the mind and heart as the remedy for sin. This involves —

1. The recognition of sin. An honest heart is one that ackowledges its wrong. There is no honesty in any of us denying that we are sinful before God and sinners against Him.

2. The acceptance of the remedy offered.


1. The whole character is changed.

2. A change in the whole life. If a brackish fountain has suddenly lost its bad qualities, the change will be discovered in the sweetness of the stream that flows from it.

III. There is, then, A GREAT RESPONSIBILITY in preaching, hearing, and possessing the Word of God. Our responsibility is to God. That a field has soils of various kinds, may be a matter of no interest to any one else; but to the frugal farmer it is a matter of great interest. To the passing traveller it would occasion no anxiety to know whether all was hard as the wayside; or all a light soil on a broad undivided rock; whether thorns and thistles had intertwined their noxious roots over all its surface; or whether it would give bread to the sower, and return thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold to the reaper. But to the industrious labourer this was a matter of the first moment.

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

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