Matthew 13:3
The object of this parable is to explain the causes of the failure and success of the gospel. It might have been supposed enough to proclaim the kingdom. Why does this fail? It fails, says our Lord, because of the nature of the soil. This soil is often impervious, often shallow, often dirty.

I. "SOME SEEDS FELL BY THE WAYSIDE, AND THE FOWLS CAME AND DEVOURED THEM." The spiritual analogue is said to be in him "who heareth the Word, but understandeth it not. The beaten footpath and the cart track have their uses, but they grow no corn. The seed may be of the best quality, but for all purposes of sowing you might as well sprinkle pebbles or shot. So there is a hearing which keeps the Word entirely outside. It does not even enter the understanding. It rouses no inquiry, provokes no contradiction. You have occasion sometimes to mention a fact to a friend which should alter all his purpose, but you find he has not taken it in. So, says our Lord, there are hearers who do not take in what is said; their understanding is impervious, impenetrable. They hear because this has come to be one of the many employments with which they fill up their time, but they have never considered why they should do so, or what result they should look for. Or there may be a slowness and cold frostiness of nature which prevents the seed from fructifying. The proposals made suggest nothing to the wayside hearer. In some cases the seed apparently lost for years is quickened and brings forth fruit, but in this case never.

II. THE SECOND FAULT IS SHALLOWNESS. The sprinkling of soil on the surface of the rock, where the seed quickly springs, and for the same reason quickly decays. There is not depth of soil for any time to be spent in rooting. The shallow hearer is distinguished by two characteristics - he straightway receives the Word, and he receives it with joy. The man of deeper character receives it with seriousness, reverence, trembling, foreseeing the trials he will be subjected to. But while these are pondering the vastness of the revelation and the majesty of the hope, and striving to forecast all the results in and upon them, hesitating because they would receive the Word for eternity or not at all, the superficial man has settled the whole matter out of hand, and he who yesterday was known as a scoffer is today a loud-voiced child of the kingdom. These men are almost certainly taken to be the most earnest; you cannot see the root, and what is seen is shown in greatest luxuriance by them. But the same nature which made them susceptible to the gospel and quickly responsive makes them susceptible to pain, suffering, hardship, and easily defeated. When consequences have to be faced they give way. The question of how these shallow natures can be saved hardly falls within the parable, but it may be right to say a man's nature may be deepened by the relationships and conflicts of life. Much deepening of character is effected in passing through life.

III. THE THIRD FAULT IS WHAT IS TECHNICALLY KNOWN AS DIRT. The soil can only support a certain amount of vegetation, and every living weed means a choked blade of corn. This is a picture of the preoccupied heart, the rich vigorous nature occupied with so many other interests that only a small part is available for giving effect to Christ's ideas. Their interest is real, but there are so many other cares and desires that the result is scarcely discernible. The good crop is not the one with the greatest density of vegetation, but where all is wheat. Most soils have a kind of weed congenial, and the weeds here specified are the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches," the former being merely the poor man's species of the latter Among rich and poor alike you will find many who would be left without any subject of thought and any guiding principle in action, if you took from them anxiety about their own position in life. It is not enough to put aside distracting thoughts. Cutting down the thorns won't do; still less holding them aside till the seed be sown. It is vain to hope for the only right harvest of a human life if your heart is sown with worldly ambitions, a greedy hasting to be rich, an undue love of comfort, a true earthliness of spirit. One seed only must be sown in you, and it will produce all needed diligence in business as well as all fervour of spirit. There is one important distinction between material and moral sowing. Man is possessed of free will, the power of checking to some extent natural consequences. Therefore the gospel is to be preached to every creature, and we may be expected to bring to the hearing of it a soft, deep, clean soil of heart - what Luke calls "an honest and good heart." There will be differences of crop even among those who bring good hearts, but wherever the Word is held fast and patiently cared for, there the life wilt produce all that God cares to have from it. But even the honest heart is not enough unless we keep the Word. The sower must be at pains to cover in the seed and watch that it be not taken away. So the hearer loses his labour unless his mind goes back on what he has heard, and he sees that he has really got hold of it. We have all heard all that is necessary for life and godliness; it remains that we make it our own, that it secures a living root in us and in our life. We must bear it in mind, so that all that comes before us may throw new light on it and give it further hold on us. - D.

And He spake many things unto them in parables.
Jesus did not confine Himself to the mere announcement or proof of a doctrine. But by means of words, He often presented to His hearers a moral picture — flashed upon the mind's eye a whole scene of truth with such vividness and power that it could not be well perverted or forgotten. We should imitate His pointed, emotional preaching.


1. It imitates the style of Christ's painting, and is part of His gospel.

2. It meets a want in our nature. It appeals to man's perceptive facilities. God has met this want in the natural world.

3. It adds point and force to the argument. Reasoning and illustration are both essential.

4. Men who have deeply moved the human heart have used it. Poets, advocates, orators, etc. And shall the children of this world be wiser, etc.? Inspiration is full of it.

II. THE KIND OF MORAL PAINTING TO BE USED. Great condensation, is essential to a good picture of truth. Deep emotion. The vastness of our work is enough to make an angel weep.

(W. W. Newell.)

1. To convey truth in a more interesting manner to the mind. adding to the truth conveyed the beauty of a lively image or narrative.

2. To teach spiritual truth so as to arrest the attention of ignorant people, making an appeal to them through the senses.

3. To convey some offensive truth, some pointed personal rebuke, in such a way as to bring it home to the conscience (2 Samuel 12:1-7, and many of our Saviour's parables addressed to the Jews).

4. To conceal from one part of His audience truths which He intended others should understand (Mark 4:53; Matthew 13:15-16.)

(A. Barnes D. D.)

Christ's habit, therefore, was not so much to tell what things were, as to draw pictures of them and mention some familiar thing they were like; as a boy really knows more about the earth when told that it is shaped like a big cricket-ball, than when taught to say that it is an oblate spheroid with a polar diameter of 8,000 miles. Thus Christ was continually telling, in an easy way, what this and that was like (drawing pictures). which is to say that He taught by parables. "and without a parable spake He not unto them."... A truth felt is more than a truth stated. Christ was continually dropping hints that led His disciples forward into a new surmise; kept treading down their horizon; did not let their opinions go to seed. He knew how to talk with them in such a way as to make them feel that what He did not tell them was considerably more than what He did tell them.

(C. H. Parkhurst, D. D.)

1. As a means of attracting attention.

2. To prevent His auditors from being repelled by a too sudden revelation, either of His purpose or of His message.

3. To stimulate inquiry.

4. To test the character of His hearers.

(U. M. Taylor, D. D.)

Behold, a sower went forth to sow.
The Clergyman's Magazine.
Four kinds of soil:

1. The impenetrable.

2. The superficial.

3. The preoccupied.

4. The prepared.Observation:

1. The seed is the same in every case; the difference is in the kinds of soils.

2. The parable is Christ's answer to the objection, If the gospel be from God, why is it not more effective? The answer is, that, like any other remedy, much will depend on the way in which it is used.

(The Clergyman's Magazine.)

Where is the fault of failure?

1. It does not lie in God, the sower. God does not predestinate men to fail. He willeth not the death of a sinner.

2. The cause of failure is not in any impotency of truth. The old thinkers accounted for it by the depravity of matter. Once acknowledge freewill in man, and the origin of evil does not lie in God.

3. The fault might be solely in the soil of the heart.


1. The first of these is want of spiritual perception. There are persons whose religion is all outside, never penetrates beyond the intellect. Conceptions of religious life, which are only conceptions outward, having no lodgment in the heart, disappear. Fowls of the air devoured the seed. This is a picture of thought dissipated, and no man can tell when or how it went.

2. A second cause of failure is want of depth of character. This stony ground is the thin layer of earth upon a bed of rock. Shallow soft is like superficial character. There is easily-moved susceptibility. A pleasant, sunny religion would be the life to suit them. The superficial character is connected with the hard heart; beneath the thin surface lies the bed of rock. It is among those of light enjoyment we must look for stony heartlessness.

3. Once more impressions come to nothing when the mind is subjected to dissipating influences, and yieids to them — "Some fell among thorns." Two classes of dissipating influences distract such minds. The cares of this world. Martha was "cumbered with much serving." The deceitfulness of riches dissipate. Weeding work painful.


1. An holiest and good heart. Earnest sincerity.

2. Meditation is a second requisite for perseverance. They keep the Word which they have heard. Must not confuse reverie with meditation. Truth is dwelt on till it receives innumerable applications; it is done in silence.

3. The third requisite is endurance — "They bring forth fruit with patience." There is an active and passive endurance, bearing pain without complaining; and under persecution. It is also the opposite of that impatience which cannot wait. We are disappointed if the harvest does not come at once.

(F. W. Robertson, M. A.)

1. The careless hearer.

2. The temporary hearer.

3. The worldly-minded hearer.

4. The sincere hearers of the Word.

(1)They understand it;

(2)They receive it;

(3)They retain it:

(4)They practise it.

(G. Burder.)

St. Paul's Cathedral Sermons.
1. The unlimited method of the sower's work; the indiscriminate manner in which the seed is cast upon the ground. His care not limited to a single spot. The overflowing bounty, the merciful providence of God towards all classes.

2. The impediments to growth are to be found not in natural defects or incapacities, but in self-induced hindrances and wilful indisposition to listen to the truth.In the gospel history these hearers are to be discovered:

1. The Sadducees, who denied the resurrection. Infidelity is a sad hardener of the heart.

2. Those of our Lord's disciples of whom mention is made that they went back, and walked no more with Him. The varieties of soil does not describe varieties of heart as formed by nature, but the condition which the heart and mind assume, as men either neglect or employ the means of grace. They represent, not the physical but the moral condition of the human mind. Human and Christian society is divided into various classes of every variety of feeling and conduct; but the motive of good or ill is in the heart.

(St. Paul's Cathedral Sermons.)

I. THE SOWER. Jesus Christ Himself; through all the dispensations of dreams, angels, prophets: at last He came Himself with the seed of the kingdom.


1. Ordinary seed is covered with an outward coat. The life principle is hidden away from observation. So we find Christ in appearance like a man. The words you hear are but the outward covering; there is an inward life. There are those who split hairs about Christianity; they know the outward form, but not the vital principle. Others ignore the outward form, and say Christianity is wholly spiritual. Both necessary.

2. The life-giving property is not in the soil, but in the seed. You may enrich the soil as you will, but without seed you can have no life. Scientists have given up the idea of spontaneous generation. There is no salvation apart from the indwelling Christ.

3. Where life is there is power. Sow pebbles, but they have no power to reach a harvest. The Word powerful because living.

4. Every seed brings forth after its kind. You cannot sow wickedness and reap religion.


1. The wayside hearer.

2. The stony-ground hearer. The emotional hearer.

3. Among the thorns — the double-minded hearer.

4. Good soil — the man who hears aright.

(G. F. Pentecost.)


1. Our Lord first of all means Himself. His work chiefly was sowing the seeds of Divine truth in the minds of men. The reaping began on the day of Pentecost.

2. Then by the sower is meant our Lord's apostles and the seventy disciples whom He sent cut to preach the gospel, and all ministers of His Word.

3. All Christian people are sowers. By our words and actions we are sowing some kind of principle in the minds of others; we cannot help it.

II. THE SEED. God's Word.

1. It is sometimes rather more the word of man than the Word of God — the Word of God mingled with the Word of man.

2. It may be one part of the Word of God to the exclusion of another, grace to the exclusion of works.

3. Christ is in an emphatic sense the Word of God; so we are to sow the Word concerning Christ.

III. THE GROUND. What does the ground mean? — the heart rather than the head, the affections rather than the intellect. A cold, feelingless man cannot effect much as regards religious truth.


(H. S. Brown.)

Why, there was a time, I suppose, when the very fruitfullest fields of England were something like either the stony places or the thorny places in this parable. I have recently seen in the distant parts of these islands, and in one of the most rugged parts of the West of Scotland, ground which I saw four or five years ago, when the present proprietor came into possession of it; and that ground — well, I cannot say there was anything on it like a wayside, for there was not a wayside within miles of it — but still, it was chiefly stones, and gorse, and heather, and all sorts of stuff; but the application of culture, skill, some capital, and so on, has made it very decent land indeed, and it is yielding something now for the support of man and beast. There is nothing fatalistic in this parable, nothing to drive to despair the man who feels he is bad, and wishes to be a true Christian, and nothing to encourage in sin the man who has no desire after good things. God's grace can do for the heart, be what it may, what man's skill has done a thousand times for the land that he cultivates.

(H. S. Brown.)

I. THE AGENT. The hearts of men and women are Christ's spiritual husbandry.

1. Christ is the principal sower, the master sower; ministers are His servants (2 Corinthians 6:1).

2. Christ sows His own by creation. Ministers have no seed of their own; their doctrine and word belong to Christ.

3. Christ is a most wise and skilful sower; He hath a perfect knowledge of all sorts of ground.

4. Christ is a universal sower.

5. Jesus Christ is an efficacious sower. He can cause the seed to take root; but so cannot a minister.

II. His ACTION. Jesus Christ may be said to go forth in three ways:

1. In His own person.

2. In the ministry of His servants.

3. To sow His seed by the Spirit.


(B. Keach.)

1. They, like seedsmen, must sow the seed in its proper season (2 Corinthians 6:2),

2. They must sow their seed, let it be what weather it will, a time of peace, or a time of persecution.

3. They must sow no seed of their own, but Christ's doctrine (Deuteronomy 22:9).

4. They must sow all Christ's seed.

5. Constantly, as long as seed-time lasteth (Ecclesiastes 11:6).

6. They sow, but the whole success is of God.

1. Seed springs not out of the ground naturally; it must first be sown. The heart must first have the seed of grace infused.

2. Seed, let it be of wheat or barley, is the choice, st of each sort respectively. True grace is of an excellent nature.

3. Until seed is sown there will be no increase. So the heart must take in the Word by faith.

4. Seed sometimes which is sown lies a considerable time in the ground before it springs up, or visibly appears; it must have time to take root.

5. Clods of earth, being not broken, oftentimes obstruct the springing up of the seed, or it is from thence it appears not to have taken root so soon as in some other ground; so likewise, through the power of Satan's temptations and corruption of the heart, the Word is for a time hindered.

6. A husbandman observes the proper time and season of sowing his seed.

7. Men are not sparing in sowing their seed, but scatter it plentifully, though they expect not all to take root.

8. A husbandman soweth his seed on what ground he pleaseth; some he lets lie barren. There are nations to whom the gospel is not sent.

9. That the earlier seed is sown the better it is rooted; so with the Word sown in the hearts of young people.

(B. Keach.)

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