"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 seed!"

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 text.

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 present world!"

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 called fighting.

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 sunlight.

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 earth.

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."