THE SOWER AND THE SEED
"Oft as Your word, O God, is cast,
Like seed into the ground,
Let the rich dews of heaven descend,
And righteous fruits abound.
Let not the ever-watchful foe
This holy seed remove,
But give it root in every heart
To bring forth fruits of love.
Let not the world's deceitful cares
The living Word destroy,
But let it yield a hundredfold
Of peace and faith and joy."
"Behold, a farmer went out to sow his seed." Matthew 13;
Mark 4; Luke 8
We have until now been engaged mainly in witnessing our
Lord's miracles of power, or in listening to His utterances of
mercy and compassion on the shores of the Galilean Sea. We have, in the
present chapter, a remarkable specimen of a favorite method, which often and
again on subsequent occasions He adopted, in unfolding the mysteries of His
kingdom—that is, teaching BY PARABLE.
The Treasure-house of Creation is taken to
interpret the doctrines of Grace—Pictures hung in the outer world, and on
which the eye of Jew and Gentile had gazed a thousand times, unconscious of
their containing any spiritual suggestions, are transferred by Him to the
walls of the Gospel Temple, and there pointed to by the Lord of both
kingdoms as illustrators of Divine truths. The hills and fields, the corn
and trees, the flowers and waters, are employed as exponents of heavenly
verities. The ordinary lessons of His kingdom, indeed, and especially
warnings to the obdurate and impenitent, are still to be conveyed in the old
familiar vehicle of plain unvarnished language. He arrays the startling
judgment truths of the preceding chapter, in Matthew, in no mystic drapery.
He attempts no proverb when exposing the guilt of hypocrites and announcing
their doom. But when He would unfold the "secrets" of His kingdom, He puts
"apples of gold in pictures of silver." He adopts a cycle of parabolic
emblems to instruct His Church until the end of time.
The first Four were spoken from a fishing-boat to
a vast throng assembled by the seaside. The remaining three were
uttered immediately afterwards to the disciples in a private house in
Capernaum. Beautiful is the unity, and most natural the sequence, of these
seven vivid similitudes, in that parable-chapter—beginning with the
incipient act of the Kingdom, the "Sower sowing the Seed," and ending with
the emptying of the Draw-net—fetching the Redeemed multitudes, at the time
of consummation, home to the heavenly shore.
It is the opening one of the series, the Parable of
the Sower, which alone we shall consider, as a specimen of the others.
"Is there anything on the spot to suggest the image thus conveyed?" "So,"
says a recent traveler, "I asked, as I rode along the track under the
hillside by which the Plain of Gennesaret is approached. So I asked at the
moment, seeing nothing but the steep sides of the hill alternately of rock
and grass. And when I thought of the Parable of the Sower, I answered that
here, at least, was nothing on which the Divine teaching could fasten; it
must have been the distant corn-fields of Samaria or Esdraelon on which
Christ's mind was dwelling. The thought had hardly occurred to me when a
slight recess in the hillside, close upon the plain, disclosed at once in
detail, and with a conjunction which I remember nowhere else in Palestine,
every feature of the Great Parable. There was the undulating corn-field
descending to the water's edge! There was the trodden pathway running
through the midst of it, with no fence or edge to prevent the seed from
falling here and there on either side of it, or upon it; itself hard with
the constant tramp of horse and mule and human feet. There was the good rich
soil which distinguishes the whole of that plain, and its neighborhood, from
the bare hills elsewhere descending into the lake, and which, where there is
no interruption, produces one vast mass of corn. There was the rocky ground
of the hillside protruding here and there through the corn-fields, as
elsewhere through the grassy slopes. There were the large bushes of
thorn—that kind of which tradition says the Crown of Thorns was
woven—springing up, like the fruit trees of the more inland parts, in the
very midst of the waving wheat."
As we have good reason to infer that, in the closing
parable of the series, the figure of a draw-net was suggested by the
sight of some Gennesaret fishermen discharging their cargo at the moment on
the shore, so the Parable we are now to consider was probably suggested by
what the eye of our blessed Redeemer beheld as He then gazed from the
fishing boat along the fertile plain.
We can realize the spectacle—(at that season and spot so
natural)—a Sower in early spring scattering his handfuls of grain in the
upturned furrow. Birds from sea and mountain are screaming around his head,
tracking his steps and picking up the stray grains which the harrow had
missed, or which had been tossed on the hardened foot-road. It was a fertile
text for His opening similitude—"behold, a farmer went out to sow his
Before proceeding to the parable itself, let us advert
for a moment to the Sower and the Seed. We cannot for an
instant hesitate in determining that the Sower was, in the first instance,
Christ Himself, and the Seed those great gospel truths which
He came from heaven to implant in the hearts of man. Moreover, from the
diverse soils, spoken of in the Parable, on which the seed was cast, it is
evident that one of the fundamental lessons intended to be therein set forth
is—that God sows everywhere—that He wills that "all should
come to the knowledge of the truth." As in that wondrous and beautiful
Panorama of natural scenery stretching before the Savior's eye in the land
of Gennesaret, there was every variety of soil, from the mountain
sward and the thin rocky layer to the loam of the valley, so, in the
world of human hearts and homes, was there every variety of condition and
rank, disposition and character.
But the Sower was to "sow beside all waters"—He, the
glorious Sun, was to shine alike on palace and cottage—on rich and poor—on
learned and despised. The gospel was to be preached to every creature!
No waste so barren as to forbid the Spiritual Husbandman's labor—no
rocky heart so hard as to be passed despairingly and unheeded by. If the
scattered seed, thus so extravagantly cast, bore no produce, the fault was
not God's—the shortcoming rested not with the Sower but with the ungracious
soil of the human heart. He would have none to perish unwarned; His gospel
is preached "as a witness to all nations;" mighty to save, in the
case of those who meekly and lovingly receive it, but through the perversity
of those who reject it, mighty also to condemn.
While Jesus, however, is the Great Sower, He has
confided the scattering of the seed—the preaching of His holy word—to human
instrumentality. "It has pleased God by the foolishness of preaching
to save those who believe."
This parable forms a picture of every congregation of
Christ's people, gathered on His own Day, throughout the world. The living
and breathing souls gathered within the walls of the sanctuary, constitute
the four diverse soils in the human Landscape—the Hardened footpath;
the Rocky covering; the Thorny ground; the Honest soil.
The Servant of God—the spiritual Husbandman—in His name scatters the
seed, all in ignorance where it falls, how it is received, what is rooted,
what is lost, what is rejected, what is germinating! He cannot tell
what is the result. But another there is who CAN—who does!
Yes! it is a solemn view to take of this great
reality—that as we are assembled in the house of prayer, Christ Himself is
gazing upon us! He, the Great Sower and Master Husbandman (no longer in His
garb of humiliation on the shores of an earthly lake, but from His throne in
glory), is gazing down on the multitudes of immortal beings gathered Sabbath
after Sabbath in His house of prayer. We may think little of the
solemnity of such meetings; we may view with indifference the scattering of
this Sabbath seed. He does NOT! As the Sabbath-bell tolls, He
hushes the songs of ministering seraphim; echoing his old Gennesaret text in
their hearing—as if souls lost or souls saved were the result of every
sanctuary convocation, "behold, a farmer goes out to sow!"
Let us, attend, then, in their order, to the FOUR
different classes of hearers specified by our Blessed Lord in this parable.
We shall speak of the first two in the present chapter, and reserve the
consideration of the two latter for a subsequent one. Observe, in all the
four, it is the same Sower, the same Seed, the same Season.
The effects alone are different, arising from the diverse soil
and condition of the human heart.
I. There are the WAYSIDE HEARERS. "As he was
scattering the seed, some fell by the path; it was trampled on, and the
birds of the air ate it up."
Some corn seeds are here represented as falling on the
hard beaten path in the center of the field used by foot-passengers, or
where the wagons of traffic or the carts of the husbandmen were in the habit
of going. It was crushed under the feet of the one, or bruised under the
wheels of the other.
Significant picture this, of the hearts of many hearers!
The seed of the Word is scattered by the preacher's hand, but it falls on
hearts hard as the beaten pavement. Around, furrows may be opening and
inviting its entrance, but no crevice is there, in these adamant souls! The
proclamation of the law in its terrors, or the gospel with its blessings, is
like the winter winds or the summer sun, beating on the graves of the
churchyard: the dead hear not the one and feel not the other. This first
class of Hearers come, indeed, to the House of God. They hear the
Word; they are church-goers if they are nothing else. They must have
a religion of some kind. To be churchless, would compromise them in society;
it would brand them in the world of fashionable profession. They must come,
because others come. The trumpet-peal of custom is their
Sabbath-bell. They could not enjoy their sins and follies but for this
miserable blinder to the world, this wretched opiate to their consciences.
But, as to all that is spoken or heard (if heard at all), they are utterly
callous. They do not perceive the yawning chasm of their souls' deep
necessities. They have no depressing consciousness of their lost condition,
or of the magnitude of unseen eternal realities. As they sit in their pews,
their thoughts are all in the world; they fold their arms and lapse into one
of its dreamy reveries. Imagination becomes the hard-beaten footway of the
Up comes the wagon of Pleasure, filled with the
withered, faded garlands of last week's follies and gaieties, its lusts and
sins, and the anticipations of fresh ones!
This wagon past, another presents itself: it is that of
Business, lumbering along with its noisy, deafening wheels. The past
week's gains and losses, its happy hits, its vexatious blunders, its clever
tricks and successful advantage-takings; perhaps, conjoined with these, the
daring ventures and wild schemes of a desperate future—on it comes, these
dizzy wheels of traffic crushing underneath them all thoughts of the
soul, of holiness, of death, of judgment, of eternity!
This wagon past, in some adjoining pew a fevered brain
sees yet another toiling up the hardened road, heavier laden still than the
others! It is Mammon with his smoking team, pushing on with his bags
of gold, fearful of every rut in the way lest it may jolt his treasure, and
leave some glittering coin rolling in the dust. And yet, though a wagon-load
heaped high, all his thoughts are on filling it higher still, though this
only increases the chances of jolting and loss! Yet on it comes; the
precious seed is scattered, but the iron wheels grind it to powder,
pulverizing into dust that which is of value infinitely greater than
thousands of such gold and silver!
These wheels, observe, every time they pass, are making
harder still the way, lessening the chance of the seed germinating, giving
to the heart more of the consistency of the rock and granite than before.
Oh! how many hearts thus become, in the very sanctuary, a beaten
thoroughfare for worldly schemes, and pleasures, and pursuits, and
interests, and devices. They have no serious views about God or
religion. They do not feel that they stand in any relation to the seed sown.
If the truth were spoken plainly out, it is an intrusion, all this
preaching, and praying, and church-going. If it were not for 'appearance
sake', they would be done with it.
Their Religion at best is a mere piece of formality, a
grand illusion. If you speak to them of holiness, they will say, "It is all
a pretense." If you speak to them of conversion, they will call it an
enthusiast's or fanatic's dream. If you speak to them of death and hell,
they will turn uneasy on their seats, and say, "We don't want to hear of
such things just now." In one word, they have no personal interest or
concern in all that is spoken—"As a deaf adder, they hear not;" and amid a
thousand other things that may be flitting to and fro in the chambers of
their memory, God is really and truly "not in all their thoughts."
At times, indeed, in spite of themselves, the barbed
arrow will strike them; conscience will speak and their spirits
tremble, and who knows but that despised seed, lying forgotten on the
surface of their adamant heart, might in due time grapple with the ungenial
soil and spring up.
But, another Foe is at hand. If the foot of
business or the wheels of worldliness fail to mutilate and crush,
there is a great "counter-worker" of the Sower, who in the parable is
represented as casting his dark shadow over the moral landscape. "Then comes
the Wicked One, and catches away that which was sown in his heart."
Satan the arch-robber—Apollyon "the Destroyer," is keeping his
watchful eye on the scattered seed. If the wagon passes it unscathed, he has
other means at hand for preventing its growth.
As our Lord, in looking towards the sower in Gennesaret,
probably saw a flock of motley birds circling around him, and darting down
to secure every stray grain which lay exposed on the road; so Satan, the
"Prince of the power of the air," lets loose on the soul, birds of prey that
pick up every spiritual seed. Some grains may have fallen into the ruts of
memory, others into the sacred crevices of conscience; but a horde of
winged thoughts, evil desires, corrupt passions, idle trifles, come
sweeping down suddenly, and leave the heart bared and forsaken!
The corn grains of impression may be lying on the heart
of the hearer when the parting blessing is pronounced, and he rises from his
seat to retire from the House of God. But crossing the threshold, the old
familiar world is there again, with its blue, or hazy, or wintry sky, as the
case may be. There has been enough of serious talk in church. In five
minutes or less, he is back again to the old starting-point—the absorbing
topics of the day. These seem now invested with all-engrossing reality. If
some stray grain be still left, it is not allowed long to linger; any
startling thought, any rousing or solemn impression is erased like the
rippled sand-marks by the first rising tide.
Ah, how great are the devices—the "depths
of Satan!" He has been studying that heart of man, with its beaten footways,
for 6000 years! Every year he is profiting by past experience. How terrible
to think that he makes the very House of God his whispering-gallery; that
into its sacred precincts—the very Holy of holies—or into the secret chamber
of devotion—sweep his accursed legions to rob the soul of the Salvation so
dearly purchased and so freely offered!
Do not be ignorant of his devices! He employs thoughts;
wandering, flighty, winged fancies, as his Birds of prey—in themselves
apparently harmless, but potent enough to pillage the heart of its best
treasures. It matters not to him what the instrumentality is, if he only
succeeds in abstracting the mind from grander realities—if the thoughts of
Eternal realities be only kept in abeyance.
Beware of a wandering heart in the Sanctuary,
leaving the seed to fall neglected and uncared for! If Israel of old left
the manna ungathered when it fell, it melted away; it was shriveled in the
sun's rays; the day's supply was forfeited, and nothing could compensate for
the loss. Seek to remember, Sabbath after Sabbath, as you take your places
in the courts of the Lord, that you cannot leave as you entered; that the
seed then sown must have a bearing on your eternity; that the gospel then
preached must be either the "savor of life unto life," or "of death unto
death!" "Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do
what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is
like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself,
goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like." "This, then, is he
who received seed by the wayside."
II. We turn now to the second class spoken of in the
parable: The STONY-GROUND HEARERS. "And some fell," says Luke,
"upon rocky soil, and as soon as it was sprung up, it withered away,
because it lacked moisture." The parallel passage in Matthew is,
"Other seeds fell on shallow soil with underlying rock. The plants sprang up
quickly, but they soon wilted beneath the hot sun and died because the roots
had no nourishment in the shallow soil."
By what is here called "stony places," we are not
to understand fragments of loose rock or stone, into the crevices or
interstices of which the seed fell; for if so, it might have found its way
to the soil below, and in spite of the impediments and darkness that
obstructed and dwarfed its growth, it might have struggled upwards to
the air and sunlight, and gathered strength by the very difficulties it had
to encounter. By "stony places," our Lord intends rather one of those
manifold rocks abutting into the plain of Gennesaret and fringing its
rich corn-fields, on which there was a thin layer or deposit of soil,
sufficient to conceal the naked stone, but not sufficient to afford
nutriment to bring the seed to perfection. The present, however, is unlike
the previous description of the Wayside-seed. There, the grain was
either trampled under foot, or carried away by marauding birds. But here,
it springs up; and moreover, it does so "quickly," "with joy." There
is a marvelously rapid growth. While in the rich soil around, the
germinating seed has not burst its clod, and no flush of green is visible,
the grain on the rocky knoll is shooting upwards with premature vigor, and
giving promise of speedy perfection.
But, the discerning eye of the Husbandman knows
better! It is an unhealthy vitality; it cannot strike its fibers downwards
into the adamant stone: "It has no depth of soil"—no root, no
moisture. The underlying rock, by the heat which it retains, may warm the
superincumbent soil, and thus act as a rapid stimulant to the seed. But,
soonest green, it is soonest decayed; it is stalk-growth, nothing more. The,
blazing sun sends down its fiery rays, the mushroom plant droops, and
withers, and dies!
This is a truthful picture of a new, and, at first sight,
a more promising set of Hearers. "He that received the seed into
stony places, the same is he that hears the word and immediately with joy
receives it: yet has he no root in himself, but endures for a while, for
when tribulation or persecution arises for the word's sake, by and by he is
offended." "The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places," says
Luke, "is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But
since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or
persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away."
They represent that class of hearers in our churches who
are susceptible to strong and lively emotions. Not like the preceding
class, who are careless and apathetic, they enjoy a preached Gospel.
They are easily stirred under its urgent messages. As the ambassador of
Christ scatters his seed, and discourses of man's responsibility—the
certainty of judgment—the awfulness of the second death—their spirits thrill
under the startling averments; resolutions of new obedience are formed—they
leave the church with a tear in their eye and the iron in their soul. But
then, it is all surface work—superficial, shallow impression. It has
sprung up under the stimulating heat of excitement, and expends itself in
emotional feeling. The underlying proud rocky heart, apparently
more influenced and impressed, is really harder than the beaten
footpath representing the former class. The roots have taken no vital
grasp—they are spreading—and straggling along the upper layer of
profession—they have no hold on the inner deeps of the man's being—the heart
remains unconverted as before.
They are the class spoken of by the prophet Ezekiel, "So
they come pretending to be sincere and sit before you listening. But they
have no intention of doing what I tell them. They express love with their
mouths, but their hearts seek only after money. You are very entertaining to
them, like someone who sings love songs with a beautiful voice or plays fine
music on an instrument. They hear what you say, but they don't do it!" In
one word, theirs is a religion of smiles and sunbeam—a summer walk, all
prosperous so long as no dreary cloud sweeps across their landscape. But
when trial comes—when they are brought to know the great truth,
"no cross, no crown"—that the Religious life is no sailing down the
current, but a breasting of the waters—a denial of self—a struggle with
corruption—a parting with loved sins; when brought face to face with some
strong temptation, the grappling with some vile temper, the resistance of
some viler lust—ah! whenever this Sun of trial and tribulation rises,
the precocious promise turns out to be a mockery. Their soul shrivels into
the old lifeless thing it always was. Their Religion is based on no solid
principle: it is like the fretful treacherous ocean—the ruffle is only on
the surface, underneath is the deep calm of death!
Of this class we have many Scripture examples. Take one.
Demas had been a faithful disciple of Paul; he had loved his noble
master; he had enjoyed his faithful preaching; he had accompanied him in his
journeys, and taken a share in the proclamation of his gospel. But in later
times, Persecution arrests the apostle in his labors. Old and infirm, he is
cast into the prison in the Roman capital. If ever he needed the hand and
voice of earthly friendship, it was now—to smooth his pillow of straw
and speak peace to his downcast spirit! But Demas (faithful in prosperity)
turns traitor and coward in adversity. The sun of trial and fierce
tribulation arises "for the word's sake."—The leaves of a lifetime
fail. Scorched and withered and blighted, his lonely master has to utter
through sorrowing tears, "Demas has forsaken me, having loved this
Beware of this superficial Religion—this Religion
of frames and feelings and strong impulses. Nothing that is superficial
lasts. The superficial house will soon totter to its foundations: the
superficial book will fret its little hour before its author and
itself are consigned to oblivion: the superficial student may acquire
a surface-talk on everything, and be full of youthful promise; but when
launched into the world, he will soon find that nothing will stand but the
deep, the solid, the real. So it is with the religious Life. No
evanescent emotions dare come in place of real heart-change. Do not allow
mere impressions to evaporate before they issue in saving conversion. The
impressions made by a rousing sermon are no more real Religion,
than the hearing of a salvo of artillery on a review-day might be
That is real religion which can be carried with you
into your families—your business—the coarse contacts and toiling drudgeries
of life—that can stand unscathed in the whirlwind of temptation, trial only
leading you nearer God—like the flower long imprisoned in the dark dungeon,
but whose roots are watered by some hidden kindly spring, and which, when
the iron doors are opened, turns its leaves joyously and lovingly to the
This our age has in it, we fear, much affinity with the
second class spoken of in the Parable. Surface-work—in all
things, is its distinguishing characteristic. Frivolous gaieties are too
often the layer on which its very religion grows. Souls—selfish souls
covered over with the wreck and debris of worldliness—come and sit in
our churches to get their share of the Sabbath-seed. Saturday evening has
closed over scenes of giddy pleasures. Weary and jaded, they come to a new
scene of mental excitement, to indulge in a new class of feverish emotions
in the house of God. The reaction is not displeasing. Heart-sick, it may be,
with the week's frivolities, wearied in body and mind—they sit with
complacency to hear of their sins; they heave some sighs over their follies;
they feel that they have been mocked in their pursuit of pleasure, and as
they listen to the sublime lessons—the hopes—the promises—the joys of the
Gospel—a tear starts in their eye, and a pang visits their souls. The Seed
of promise seems for the moment to have taken root and sprung. But soon
Monday treads on the heels of Sabbath-hours and Sabbath-resolutions. From
the ballroom to the church, from the church to the ballroom. The world's
sun is up again in the horizon. The giddy soul rushes afresh, headlong into
temptation. Amid the smiles and frowns of that withering world the sickly
leaves pine and die!
Seek to avoid anything and everything that tends to
foster this life of cold indurating selfishness—the life of Pleasure
which is a life of death. This life of mere Sabbath religion
and weekly godlessness is one of dreadful peril. It deceives the
soul. It makes you believe there is a merit in coming to church, and in
sowing the seed on the rock of weekly selfishness, though it withers before
evening has gathered around you its shadows.
Better, you may say, a withered stalk than none at
all. Better these few Sabbath sighs and tears and pious excitement than
treading the seed under foot, and denying it all entrance into the memory or
heart. Oh! has it come to this, that a few pitiful sighs and tears and
emotions on Sunday, are to purchase absolution for a week's frivolity and
sin—as if, by wearing this garment of Sabbath sackcloth, you could, with
greater impunity, during the week, wear "the garment spotted by the flesh?"
You are thereby only throwing a sop to an accusing conscience. You are
ruining the Good Seed, which might have been cast with advantage on other
and kindlier soil. You are resting satisfied with the husk and shell of
Religion, despising its kernel. You are blinding your own eyes to the fact
which the great Harvest-time of the world will force on you, that you are
contenting yourself with "a name to live while you are spiritually dead."
It is a terrible thing thus to be sowing to the wind
and reaping the whirlwind—to be forfeiting and abusing opportunities,
and causing the very Ordinances of God to aggravate alike your guilt and
condemnation. Even your very afflictions will be unsanctified. If the
Seed had sunk into a good soil, when the sun of trial pours down its
rays, its heat would nourish and foster it. But that seed, falling on "a
rock-bed of selfishness"—on the thin layer of soil besprinkling a godless
heart—look! when affliction arises, the heat only scorches and burns,
embittering the pangs of the evil day. Like fabled Icarus soaring aloft on
his waxen wings—borne upwards for a time on the breezes of prosperity—when
you come to face the fiery Sun—the wings melt, and you fall powerless to the
Reader! while the hypocrite's hope shall perish, seek to
be so rooted in the faith—grounded in the love of Christ, that when the
great trial-hour shall come—when the branch shall be stripped of its
verdure—"the beautiful rod" broken and, as in the vision of the Apocalypse,
"all the green grass burnt up"—it may be yours exulting, in the precious
seed that has fallen deep into your hearts, to say, "The grass withers, the
flower fades, but the Word of our God shall stand forever."