Matthew 13:4

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.

Some seeds fell by the wayside, and the fowls came and devoured them up.
The birds devour the truth we neglect to cover. Let us study these birds: —

1. The first belongs to the heron species, having long legs, a long bill, broad strong wings, and an eye keen as an eagle's, yet filmy at times, which causes serious mistakes. This is the bird of intellectual scepticism. It delays your acceptance of the truth with all kinds of questions.

2. There is another bird. of dirty and ruffled feathers, a nondescript, but a hearty eater of the seed dropped by the wayside. It is evil associations. They neutralize the influences of the Spirit of God.

5. There is the muscular bird with curved beak that holds like a vice. It is a moth eater of the falcon order, and ravenous, evil habits, and belongs to a large family.

4. There is a bird of bad odour. Carrion drops from feather and from bill. It i; of the buzzard tribe. Let us call it the inconsistencies of Christian professors.

5. There is a dull and heavy bird, not easily seared away, of the booby order. It is religious indecision. All these hinder our salvation.

(T. E. Brown, D. D.)

The truth described as a "seed." There are manifold facilities about the emblem on which we may dwell. The seed has a germinating power in itself that leads to endless reproduction. So has every true word. Then man is but the soil. If you are to get Divine desires in the human heart, they must be sown there: they are not products of the soil. Again, man's part is accurately described as a simple reception, not passive, but a co-operation. Then these different kinds of soil are not unalterably different: it is an acquired disposition, not a natural characteristic that is spoken of.

I.The beaten path.

II.The lost seed.

I. Let us think about THAT TYPE OF CHARACTER WHICH IS HERE SET FORTH UNDER THE IMAGE OF "THE WAYSIDE." It is a heart trodden down by the feet that have gone across it; and because trodden down, incapable of receiving the seed sown. The seed falls upon, not in it. Point out ways in which the heart is trodden down.

1. By custom and habit. The process of getting from childhood to manhood is a process of getting less impressible.

2. The heart is trodden down by sin. It is an effect of sin that it uniformly works in the direction of unfitting men to receive God's love. Every transgression deprives us, in some degree, of power to receive God's truth, and make it our own.

3. The heart is trodden down, so far as receiving the gospel is concerned, by the very feet of the sower. Every sermon an ungodly man hear, which leaves him ungodly, leaves him harder by the passage of the Word once more across his heart.

II. THE LOST SEED. Satan's chosen instruments are those light, swift-winged, apparently innocent flocks of flying thoughts, that come swooping across your souls, even whilst the message of God's love is sounding in your ears.

(A. Maclaren D. D.)

Every transgression deprives us, in some degree, of power to receive the Divine word of God's truth, and making it our own. And these demons of worldliness, of selfishness, of carelessness, of pride, of sensuality, that go careering through your soul, my brother, are like the goblin horseman in the old legend; wherever that hoof-fall strikes, the ground is blasted, and no grass will grow upon it any more for ever!

(A. Maclaren D. D.)

A. Maclaren D. D. .
The best way of presenting before you what I mean will be to take a plain illustration. Suppose a little child, just beginning to open its eyes and unfold its faculties upon this wonderful world of ours. There you get the extreme of capacity for receiving impressions from without, the extreme of susceptibility to the influences that come upon it. Tell the little thin; some trifle that passes out of your mind; you forget all about it; but it comes out again m the child weeks and weeks afterwards, showing how deep a mark it has made. It is the law of the human nature that, when it is beginning to grow. it shall be soft as wax to receive all kinds of impressions, and then that it shall gradually stiffen and become hard as adamant to retain them. The rock was once all fluid, and plastic, and gradually it cools down into hardness. If a finger-dint had been put upon it in the early time, it would have left a mark that all the forces of the world could not make nor can obliterate now. In our great museums you see stone slabs with the marks of rain that fell hundreds of years before Adam lived; and the footprint of some wild bird that passed across the beach in those old, old times. The passing shower and the light foot left their prints on the soft sediment; then ages went on, and it has hardened into stone; and there they remain and will remain for evermore. That is like a man's spirit; in the childish days so soft, so susceptible to all impressions, so joyous to receive new ideas, treasuring them all up, gathering them all into itself, retaining them all for ever. And then, as years go on, habit, the growth of the soul into steadiness and power, and many other reasons beside, gradually make us less and less capable of being profoundly and permanently influenced by anything outside us; so that the process from childhood to manhood is a process getting less impressible.

(A. Maclaren D. D. .)


1. The wayside hearers are such as are unploughed, unbroken up by the cutting energy of the law.

2. It is trampled upon by every passer by. The want of "understanding" lies in this: that they do not see their own connection with the Word.

II. WHAT IS THE SEED? No matter where the seed fell, in itself it was always good; that which fell on the wayside was the same ,us that which fell on good ground. Thus the blame of man's condemnation is in himself. The seed is the Word of God.


1. The hardness of the ground.

2. The active agents of evil which were near at hand snatched it away. You give no advantage to the devil which is not immediately seized by him.

(P. B. Power, M. A.)

Christ is the living seed, and the Bible is the husk that holds it. The husk that holds the seed is the most precious thing in the world, next after the seed that it holds.

(W. Arnot.)

Falling only upon the external senses, they are swept off by the next current; as the solid grain thrown from the sower's hand rattles on the smooth hard roadside, and lies on the surface till the fowls carry it away.

(W. Arnot.)

if the seed is good, and the ground well prepared, a very poor and awkward kind of sowing will suffice. Seed flung in anyn fashion into the soft ground will grow: whereas, if it fall on the wayside,it will bear no fruit, however artfully it may have been spread. My latimer was a practical and skilful agriculturist. I was wont, when very young, to follow his footsteps into the field, further and oftener than was convenient for him or comfortable for myself. Knowing well how much a child is gratified by being permitted to imitate a man's work, he sometimes hung the seed-bag, with a few handfuls in it, upon nay shoulder, and sent me into the field to sow. I contrived in some way to throw the grain away, and it fell among the clods. But the seed that fell from an infant's hands, when it fell in the right place, grew as well and ripened as fully as that which had been scattered by a strong and skilful man. In like manner, in the spiritual department, the skill of the sower, although important in its own place, is, in view of the final result, a subordinate thing. The cardinal points are the seed and the soil. In point of fact, throughout the history of the Church, while the Lord has abundantly honoured His own ordinance of a standing ministry, He has never ceased to show, by granting signal success to feeble instruments, that results in His work are not necessarily proportionate to the number of talents employed.

(W. Arnot.)

The proposals made to the wayside hearer suggest nothing at all to him. His mind throws off Christ's offers as a slated roof throws off hail. You might as well expect seed to grow on a tightly-braced drum-head as the Word to profit such a hearer; it dances on the hard surface, and the slightest motion shakes it off.

(Marcus Dods.)

May it not be possible to do as the farmer would do, if he had some piece of field across. which men and animals were constantly passing? May we not pray for ability to put some sort of hurdles across, to prevent the mere animal portion of our life, whether of pleasure or business, or of our own animal passions, from crushing the spiritual life, and prevent us from giving earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip.

(Robert Barclay.)

"How is it, my dear," inquired a schoolmistress of a little girl, "that you do not understand this simple thing? .... I do not know, indeed," she answered, with a perplexed look; " but I sometimes think I have so many things to learn that I have not the time to understand." Alas! there may be much hearing, much reading, much attendance at public services, and very small result; and all because the Word was not the subject of thought, and was never embraced by the understanding. What is not understood is like meat undigested, more likely to be injurious than nourishing.

(C. H. Spurgeon.)

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