THE SOWER AND THE SEED
"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
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
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
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
"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
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
"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
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
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
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?