"Sow in the morn your seed,
At eve hold not your hand,
To doubt and fear give no heed,
Broadcast it o'er the land.
You cannot toil in vain—
Cold, heat, and moist, and dry,
Shall foster and mature the grain
For garners in the sky.
And duly shall appear
In beauty, verdure, strength,
The tender blade, the stalk, the ear,
And the full corn at length."

"Listen to what the parable of the sower means." Matt. 13:18; Mark 4; Luke 8.

In the preceding chapter, our attention was directed to two classes in the Parable of the Sower—the Wayside and Stony-ground hearers. We shall proceed to consider the two remaining soils our Lord here describes—the Thorny and the Good ground.

The third class He speaks of are the THORNY-GROUND HEARERS. "Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants." "The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful."

The Seed, you observe here, takes root—it penetrates more deeply than in either of the preceding cases. The soil was no longer the superficial layer on the top of the rock; if justice had been done to it, the result must have been an ample produce. But the good seed was "strangled" by rival occupants. Thorns were there—not thorns already grown and covering the surface, but old uneradicated roots, which, at the insertion of the seed, may have shown no vestige above ground, but which, before long, began to push upwards in their former strength. Being the stronger of the two, indigenous to the soil—old possessors—they soon proved more than a match for the tiny stalks of grain, strangling them with their prickly branches; (literally, "they went in between the wheat, and choked it.")

The evil was twofold: the thorns drew that nutriment from the soil which otherwise the germinating seed would have appropriated. There was room for one, but not for both. The sap that would have sent its vivifying juices up the stalk of corn, expended itself mainly on the stronger rival. The corn plant grew up, therefore, a dwarfed and sickly thing from the exhausted and impoverished soil.

But there was another evil entailed by these thorny occupants of the ground—they hid the sunlight. Their thick bristling boughs (thicker than the thorns in our country) interrupted and intercepted the two great supports of vegetable life—air and sunshine. Thus, though some of the corn stalks shot up, struggling into existence in spite of these impediments, what did it matter? The ear was hollow—the fruit worthless. The reaper's sickle passed them by untouched. They were but mockeries of his toil; they would only encumber his barn; or, if mixed with other grain, injure and detract from its quality.

Here is the third picture of the hearers of the word. The Seed of immortal truth finds deep lodgment in their memories and hearts. The great requirements of the soul—the great questions of eternity are, for a while at least, no superficial matters. They feel the momentous interests at stake. They sit in breathless and arrested solemnity under the proclamation of the gospel They like faithful preaching. They are not as the former class, who would take offence at bold statements; who warn their ministers to lower their standard lest they leave their church; who try to cajole their spiritual teachers into that greatest snare—preaching smooth things.

They relish the full and gracious unfolding of the plan of Redemption. Christ crucified they are willing to take as the sole "power of God unto salvation." But soon a great and crying evil develops itself at the very root of their spiritual being. Unmortified habits and tastes and propensities, for a while muffled and concealed, begin to manifest their presence and power in the soil of the heart. Religion springs up—but, look! it is a dwarfed and mangled thing; for side by side with it there are old and vicious principles and practices. These, like the Thorns, are of spontaneous growth—natural to the heart; while the Word, like the corn-seed, is an exotic. The newborn principle has no chance with the old veteran owners of the soil; spiritual things have to wage an unequal conflict with those of the earth, earthy; and what is the result?—the life of godliness is eaten out and consumed—the soul "brings forth no fruit to perfection"—Satan's devices within the heart are more mischievous and more fatal than his troop of birds from outside—and "the last state of this man is worse than the first."

Our Blessed Lord leaves us in no doubt as to what is meant by these thorns. He tells us they are "the worries of this life, and the deceitfulness of wealth." These monster impediments have been rightly regarded as the two great, though diverse causes, of spiritual declension and decay—and both in equal antagonism to the soul's progress.

"The Cares of the world"—the poor man's birthright of poverty—the weekly and daily struggle with oppression and scarcity—living, as he often does, from hand to mouth—an unprovided morrow forecasting its dark shadows upon him, and blinding his soul to its nobler destinies—with so many things to be anxious and troubled about in this world, that the one thing needful is kept in abeyance and thrust into a corner. His family—his house-rent—his trade—his merchandise—his daily toil—these are the bristling thorns that are overmastering better thoughts, and better times, and better resolutions. When he started on his journey—fresh from a mother's prayers—the precious seed seemed to have taken thorough root; but life, with its feverish anxieties and cankering cares, has eaten out the memory of a parent's sacred words and admonitions. The footpath to the place of prayer is choked with entangling weeds. It was once a well-beaten path, but the thorn and the nettle, in wild luxuriance, tell the too truthful story of a knee unbent—prayer neglected—God forgotten!

The other and opposite cause of strangling the seed is the "Deceitfulness of wealth." The Poor man's spiritual life is choked with needless cares—poverty staring him in the face with its real or imagined evils. The Rich man is endangered and imperiled by the Deceitfulness of wealth.

But mistake us not—there is no necessary deceitfulness in Riches themselves. It would be a harsh thing if God poured affluence into a man's lap, and all the while was pouring a curse! It is not the mere fact of a man being a millionaire—having bags of gold in his possession—that brings him under the category of a Thorny-ground Hearer. When Christ says, "How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God," He means those who trust in riches—who make riches their idol—and clutch their gold as if it were the gate of heaven. The poor, lowly, miserable beggar, who has his hoarded pence sewed up in the rags he wears, or the rags he sleeps on, is destroying his soul as much with these "choking thorns" as the lordly Miser with his coveted thousands. The Wagon we have already spoken of, as crushing under its grinding wheels the seed scattered on the wayside, is as much a mammon-load whether a poor man sits hugging his bags of copper, or a wealthy king sits trembling amid his chests of gold.

"The Greek word for riches is not riches absolutely as possessed, but riches desired." Avarice is a quality of mind—a base principle of earth-born souls common to rich and poor—to the Dives and the Lazarus—in the extremes of society—to the man eating his crust of bread, and the man wearing his purple and fine linen. But however this love of gold may develop itself, (whether in hurrying to be rich, or in the cursed ambition that, like a raging fever, has seized all men to pretend to be people of style and greatness beyond their rank—amassing only for personal aggrandizement and selfish extravagance)—when a man whose soul has been once fired with better things—who was once feelingly alive to his spiritual necessities, and once drank in greedily the truths of the gospel—when that man surrenders himself to the tyranny of these lusts, allowing them to twist their roots round the very nerves and sinews of his being, either for the wretched pleasure of living miserly, or living and dying a prodigal spendthrift—what more appropriate description could be given of the ruinous deceitfulness of these riches than this, that the good seed "fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up and choked it?"

What a living protest have we in these "Thorny ground hearers"—this third class in the parable, against the great crying sin of our day—the rock on which vessels freighted with immortality are weekly wrecked and foundering! Men of promise and high aspirations—men even of religious training and religious profession—become seized with the accursed thirst for gold—bartering health, morals, principle, social ties, life itself, in this demon-scramble. The cold-blooded murders, and villain plunderings of the street and the highway, perpetrated by the dregs of society, are not one whit more heinous in the sight of God, than are the polished counterparts of social and individual baseness, where the betrayal of high trust, or the delirium of wild speculation, has embittered the widow's tears, defrauded the orphan of his bread, and left happy firesides stripped and desolate. Well did He who knew the human heart denounce "covetousness" as "idolatry."

Depend upon it, God will visit our land and our time with judgment, if this usurping Dagon is not hurled from its throne. It is this mammon-spirit which, in the case of all ancient nations, formed the first symptom of decadence and decrepitude—the first impelling wave which rose to a wild deluge of ruin. God keep us from the verge of this engulfing whirlpool, and tune our lips more to the music and spirit of the prayer of honest, contented, unostentatious frugality—"Give me neither poverty nor riches—feed me with food necessary for me!"

And as the Deceitfulness of wealth is common alike to poor and rich, so would I add, that "the Worries of this life" must by no means be considered as spiritual hindrances peculiar to the poor. Alas! in every rank, in every station, these distracting, disquieting solicitudes are a injurious enemy of the soul's welfare. It is no light thing thus to allow the heart to be unduly engrossed with these earthly cares. Christ Himself includes them in a catalogue of great sins. Were you never struck with these words? "Be careful," says He, "or your hearts will be weighed down with careless ease and drunkenness." And what follows? is it the mention of some other low and groveling lust? Hear what He says, "careless ease and drunkenness, and filled with the worries of this life. Don't let that day catch you unaware."

"The worries of this life" everyone must have. It would be an idle mockery to say, "Bury your cares! Cares and religion are incompatible. Let your family shift for themselves. Take no thought of tomorrow." This would be presumption; not faith. It would be fatalism, not trust. It would be the argument for the selfish isolation of the hermit's cell—the sinful ignoring of life's duties—the denial of the common debt due to the vast brotherhood of man. But be on your guard against excess of care, or unlawful care. It is the attribute of the worldly—the unregenerate—that they "mind earthly things." They are grovelers. Their souls "cleave to the dust," instead of soaring heavenwards. They are content with the prodigal's portion in the far country, when they might have been guests at their Father's ample table and joyous home.

You will carefully observe that the great evil of the Thorny ground Hearers was, that they were content to let the seed fall in an unprepared heart. By a blunder in spiritual husbandry, they had neglected to root out latent principles of evil, which afterwards rose with giant growth, and crushed and mangled every stalk of spiritual promise. The contending thorns and seed illustrate, by parabolic figure, a former saying of Christ, "No man can serve two masters;" "You cannot serve God and mammon." I repeat what I have already said—no soil has sufficient sap to mature both thorns and grain—the presence and growth of the one must inevitably alienate the vital juices and nutriment that would otherwise have contributed to the strength and growth of the other. It can bear wheat, or it can bear thorns, but it has not the productive power to bear the two. So it is in the spiritual field. You cannot have your crop of sin and your fruits of righteousness. You cannot live both for time and eternity. By seeking to retain both worlds, you lose both.

See that every root of bitterness likely hereafter to spring up and trouble you be eradicated; all idle frivolities—all guilty pleasures—all occupations of doubtful propriety likely to dislodge God from the heart. By indulging in these, you are willfully stripping yourselves of gospel blessings. You are shackling yourselves so as to be unable to stoop to the joyous fountain gushing at your feet, and to partake of its living stream.

When you go to prayer, the key has gathered over it the rust of worldliness. It can no longer fit the lock. You kneel in your closets; but, the wheels of devotion, like those of Pharaoh's chariots, are taken off, or drag heavily. And then, what is the inevitable result? "A divided will, a half service, ever ends in the prevalence of evil over good." The half-hearted believer—the border Christian—the loiterer between the kingdoms of light and darkness—spoken of in this third class, cannot linger long where he is; darkness gets the better of light—conscience gets more and more drugged and stupified—the upspringing seed goes from weakness to weakness—the latent thorny corruptions from strength to strength!

Now, in all these three classes of soils in the parable we have hitherto considered, there is a seeming and apparent progress to something better—a nearer approach to the character of a true believer. But it is in semblance, not in reality. The guilt of the three may rather and more truthfully be taken in an inverse ratio from the order stated here—the deep-rooted corruption of the heart manifesting itself with greater intensity at each advancing step. The beaten road—then the rocky ground—then, in spite of great promise and great privilege, the choking thorns. "The climax is apparently from bad to better. The first understand not. The second understand and feel. The third understand, feel, and practice. But in real order it is from bad to worse. Less dreadful is the state of those who understand not the word, and lose it immediately, than that of those who feel it, receive it with joy, and in time of trial fall away. Less dreadful, again, this last, than that of those who understand, feel, and practice, but are fruitless and impure." (Alford)

We pass on now to the fourth and last class of Hearers.
"Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown."
We may take the explanation of this as given by Luke: "The seed on the good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop."

We are arrested here by the question, What is the good heart? Is there anything in the natural soil of the human spirit entitled to be called honest or good? Is there any natural aptitude in the soul of man for receiving the seed of the kingdom?

We answer, unhesitatingly, None, independent of the grace of God, and the vivifying, transforming, regenerating power of His Spirit. "The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned." The preparation of the heart is from the Lord. "The soil is made receptive by a granted receptive power." It is His rain which softens the hardened path. It is His hammer which splinters the rock in pieces. It is His ploughshare which uproots the strangling thorns, and converts the wilderness into a well-watered garden.

Moreover, the term "good" we are to take in a comparative and qualified sense. Alas! even after the Spirit of God has been at work, and the heart has been renewed, how much of the old man still remains! How much of nature still mingles with better purposes! "What will you see in the Shulamite? The company of two armies." The two opposing antagonist forces of grace and corruption—the thorn still struggling to its old mastery, and the power of God alone keeping it down.

There are two special characteristics here given of this good heart—
I. It is HONEST. The man is serious, when he seats himself in his pew and listens to the words of eternal life. It is no mere pleasant song he hears to beguile the passing hour. It is the great question of questions—the theme which overshadows his whole eternity, and, makes all things here—his business, his trade, his wealth his family—look little indeed, poor trifles, in comparison with these peerless eternal realities!

Let us seek to be serious. Earnestness is the great secret of success in worldly things. A man with no great natural gifts—not above mediocrity in intellect—if his soul be set upon some object or attainment, evincing earnestness, a fixedness of purpose, unity of action, and concentration of thought—will secure the golden prize. From the boy mastering his task, to the hero taking a city, or the astronomer finding his planet, a dogged earnestness of purpose will eventually lead to triumphant results. So with spiritual things. "This ONE thing I do," is the great motto and maxim of the conquering Christian. Honestly yield yourselves up to this heavenly seed. "Keep it," as it is here said: do not allow the soiling contacts of the world to stifle its growth, but seek to "go on to perfection."

2. A second characteristic of the "good heart" here mentioned is, that "by persevering it produces a crop."

It is not sentimental emotion—lively frames, excitable feelings—but it is living action, abiding permanent principle. It is one thing to feel—another to act. A touching story in a newspaper-column—a historical incident a thousand years old—a spectacle of misery or poverty, seen in walking along the streets—any or all of these may make me feel; but it is another thing to relieve need, to prove the good Samaritan, to bind up the wounds of the sufferer, and fill the mouths of the perishing. Unless feeling be thus expanded and developed into action, it is a useless thing. A man can weep over a romance novel, who never gave a farthing to an orphan, or who would see his fellow drowning and refuse to help him. So in spiritual things, a man may feel the truths of God's Word—the story of Redeeming love may fill his eye—he may listen with a glowing heart to denunciations of selfishness, to pictures of the beauties of holiness, and the happiness of doing good—and yet it may all evaporate in mere sentiment, and he may go out of church the icicle he entered it, thawed for the moment into tears, but these congealed and frozen again, when he passes from the region of idealism into the realities of life.

Let it not be so with you. Let others "think" religion, or theorize on religion, or talk about religion, be it yours to live religion. It is not creeds, or party, or churchmanship that will save you. All the dogmatic theology of Christendom and its schools, will not save you. A dry, orthodox creed, or confession of faith, could as little insure the salvation of a soul, as a rule in Algebra, or a problem in Mathematics. Bring forth fruit! Be holy—love God! Open the drooping leaves of your renewed natures to the gladsome sunlight. In one word—"Do those things which are pleasing in His sight."

This is the need—the crying demand of our age—a living Christianity—Epistles of Christ that may be "known and read of all men." Presumptuous scoffers are there, who would dare to allege that the Bible is an antiquated book—that its age is past and gone—that it was well enough for the world or the Church in its infancy—but the refinements of the present era demand something higher and better. Vain dreamers! Christians, if you who value your Bibles and prize their priceless worth, know that something better, something nobler, cannot be given; remember too, there is one volume (not a substitute, but an all important supplement), which you can produce to silence the gainsayer—the volume of your Life—a volume read by worldly and scoffing eyes, that scorn to read the Word of God. They can despise God's blessed Revelation as an impotent and antiquated story, but they cannot resist the mighty eloquence of a pure, holy, Christ-like, heavenly walk!

Scorning the base compliances of the world; at war with its selfishness; diffusing a kindly glow of love, and charity, and peace, and amiability all around: Yes, here is Christianity! No pulpit figment—no barren theory—no worn-out dream of an age long gone by; but an active, living, influential principle; a life hid with Christ in God; the glorious, imperishable, indestructible seed, taking root in heaven-born natures, and bringing forth fruit "in some thirty, sixty, or a hundred times what was sown."

From the entire Parable let us gather a lesson to Ministers and People—to the Sowers and the Soil.

The SOWERS—How vast their responsibility! God's accredited Servants, going forth Sabbath after Sabbath, bearing the precious seed—seeking with all fidelity to keep back nothing of the Truth of God—to lay bare all heart deceptions—to denounce every spurious soil which mocks the good seed and imperils eternity. If desirous to be true to our great mission, woe be to us if we rest satisfied with any man-made religion; any wretched compromise of hollow profession; anything short of aiming at the salvation of souls. One soul really saved, is worth ten thousand merely MORALIZED!

The ambassadors of Christ, indeed, may not scorn, but exult in the title of the upholders of Virtue—the stern and uncompromising denunciators of national and individual immorality. But at the same time, would we repudiate the idea that we are but Conservators of the public peace, commissioned to watch the floodgates of crime, to repress, whether in its more polished or debasing forms, hydra-headed vice, and to enforce the claims and extol the happiness of virtue. This would be a poor petty installment of the great debt we are commissioned by our Heavenly Master to discharge. No! Our work is the sowing of Gospel seed—the free proclamation of a free Salvation, through the Blood of Jesus; regeneration and sanctification through the Spirit of Jesus. All else will be inadequate to renew a man's nature and raise his soul from the ruins of the fall.

We might preach to the drunkard forever on his drunkenness, or to the thief on his pilfering, or to the covetous on the baseness and peril of fostering a mammon-spirit. We might possibly make them reformed people, but we would not make them saved men. Moreover, being a mere change of habit, not of principle, we could have no security for its permanency; it would be but the lopping down of the thorns, only to spring again, to shoot aloft their stems in wilder luxuriance and strength than ever. It is not single fruits we ask to be manifested, or single thorns we wish extirpated; for "if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature." He has new motives, new aims, new principles of action.

Seek for the promised aids of the Holy Spirit to effect a radical change in your hearts; that by what Chalmers happily called "the expulsive power of a new affection," "all old things may pass away, and all things become new." Thus will your minds, Sabbath after Sabbath, be prepared and made receptive for the good seed of the word. That word is "quick and powerful," and can convert into a fruitful soil for the visits of Jesus, what was once as a hardened footpath, trodden by Satan and swept by his legion emissaries.

Yes! this is our comfort and consolation, that the word we preach is not the word of Man, but the word of God. It is altogether independent of man. However weak and unworthy the instrument, it is God's appointed ordinance. Often, when in conscious weakness and feebleness, we utter its wondrous truths—when at times, as every minister of the gospel must feel, we are pressed down by lack of faith and lack of zeal, our work dimmed and clouded by human sin and human frailty and infirmity; or, what is equally felt, often when inculcating solemn lessons which we have most urgent need ourselves to learn, demanding tears of contrition which we need ourselves first to weep—oh, what a comfort to fall back on the assurance that "the word of God is not bound!" That it is not of him who preaches or him who speaks, or of him who hears, but "of God who shows mercy."

Often it is a coward heart that sounds the trumpet in battle—stirring the courage and nerving the arm of thousands. The Sun in yonder heavens, that dispenses light to its circling planets, is said itself to be a cold and frigid mass. The Sower scattering the grains from his side may be enfeebled by age and disease, need and poverty—but yet the seed thus scattered by a decrepit hand takes root in the thankful and well-cultured soil, and produces food for hundreds.

So, thanks be to God, the Church of Christ is independent of the mere Instrument. The sound of salvation—the light of truth—the seed of the gospel—is independent of US! "The excellency and the power are altogether of God." There may be no Paul to plant, no Apollos to water, but He is able from stammering lips and feeble tongues to "give the increase."

And if there be a word to the Sower there is also a word to the SOIL. O that we would bear in mind that each successive sowing increases our responsibility! We are invested, so to speak, each Sabbath with a new responsibility. On account of each Sermon we hear, we have incurred new obligations—we have heard fresh warnings; and listened to fresh entreaties. Oh! in the great diary of Heaven, while the fact of our meeting is thus inserted, "Behold a sower went forth to sow"—the appended entry in the book of God, regarding every heart, will either be "This day salvation," or, "This day condemnation, has come to this house!"

Break up your fallow ground! God does not in the text irremediably give up and surrender the three worthless soils. The very utterance of the parable seems to imply that the most hardened ground might yet become soft, and the most obdurate reclaimed!

But see, oh, see to it, that you are not self-deceived. The startling fact in this parable, that out of four diverse soils ONE only was sound and good, ought surely to lead us to deep heart-searchings, to scrutinize our motives and character, and ascertain what, on the Great Day of reckoning, would be our standing-place before God.

Do not go to the sanctuary merely to listen and not to practice—to hear what is preached, to criticize it, or laud it, or condemn it—to give the ear and the lip during the brief Sabbath hour to God; and the soul during the week, to the world. A few passing resolutions, and then to lapse again into sin—the victim of a deeper ruin than before. Ah! my brother, it may seem a small matter to you now, this scorning of offered mercy—this cold indifference to the perils and prospects of eternity. You may afford now to smile at these pleadings as idle tales; to let the seed lie rejected on the hardened footpath—the footpath once softened, it may be, by a father's prayers and watered by a mother's tears. But wait until you come to stand on the verge of the dreadful precipice—about, in an unexpected moment, to take the final leap into a neglected eternity—and say, at what value will you estimate your neglected Sabbaths THEN?