William Bacon Stevens, 1857
"Then he told them many things in parables, saying: "A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop — a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown."
"Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, multiplying thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times."
"A farmer went out to sow his se ed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds of the air ate it up. Some fell on rock, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown." When he said this, he called out, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear."
"Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is the seed sown along the path. The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places 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. 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. But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown."
"The farmer sows the word. Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them. Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful. Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop — thirty, sixty or even a hundred times what was sown."
"This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God. Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. Those on the rock are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away. The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life's worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature. But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.
The many mighty works which our Savior did in and around Capernaum, drew together large multitudes to see and hear Him. Some, like the Scribes, and Pharisees, and Herodians, mingled with His audience "to entangle Him in His talk;" others came to bring their maimed or diseased friends to be healed; others, impelled by curiosity, grouped around Him to see the wondrous miracles which He performed; while few assembled to listen to His words of heavenly wisdom, or to be instructed in the things concerning the Kingdom of God.
Knowing the hearts of all men, He was aware of these varying dispositions in His hearers, and distinguished in each the motive which led them to His teaching. Accordingly, He addressed to them a parable which met their several cases, and illustrated their different receptions of His truth.
So great, however, was the crowd, that, in order to avoid the press, Jesus was compelled to get into a ship, and push out a little from the land, while His audience sat down upon the sea-shore; which, gently rising from the beach, made a fine natural amphitheater, where each could see and hear.
How picturesque the scene which meets the eye of the mind! The dense crowds of the people, mingling all ranks and classes; the turbulent Galilean; the restless Gadarene; the sanctimonious Pharisee; the brisk Scribe; the dark-browed Herodian — all clustered in waiting silence on the borders of the lake. To the right was the town of Capernaum, with its busy market and toll-booths, where the clay cottage of the fisherman leaned against the stone walls of the palace. Behind Him lay the Sea of Galilee, dotted with boats passing to and fro between Tiberias, Gennesaret, Dalmanutha, and Capernaum. Around Him were the bronzed-faced sailors, leaning upon the tackling of their ship, with their nets dragging at its side. And there He stood . . .
a fishing-boat His pulpit;
the sloping banks of Tiberias His temple;
the rippling waves and rustling winds His choir;
preaching the doctrines He had brought from Heaven, and speaking, "as never any man spoke," of the things which make for our eternal peace.
But hark! He waves His hand to command silence; the shifting multitude stand still; the hum of voices is hushed, for Jesus opens His lips, and truths such as earth never heard before, leap from his tongue with an eloquence as simple and majestic as His own character.
The truths were divine — the illustrations earthly; perhaps his eye at that very moment caught the form of some Galilean farmer, traversing his newly ploughed field, and casting his seed about him on the right hand and on the left:
some falling upon the still standing thorns;
some upon the rocky ledge;
some on the beaten footpath; and
some into the upturned furrows —
while birds hovered behind him to pick up the uncovered seed which lay scattered upon the rock or the wayside.
Taking this scene as His text, He uttered the simple yet exquisite parable of the Sower, wherein He designed to represent the different soils of the human heart, and the different receptions and results which the seed of the Gospel meets with, as it is sown broadcast over the world.
Our Savior here distinguishes several kinds of hearers who attend upon the Gospel ministry; and in some one or other of these four classes — does every man in Christendom find his true position. The causes of this diversity are skillfully analyzed, and the results of such kinds of hearing, are distinctly classified in his exposition of the parable, which, in answer to their request, He subsequently made to His disciples.
Let us, then, as little children, sit at the feet of Jesus, while he unfolds to us this beautiful parable. His mild eye invites inquiry, and we look up and ask, "Lord, who are meant by the WAYSIDE hearers?" He replies, "When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it — the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is the seed sown along the path."
The peculiar wording of the parable, as recorded by Luke, intimates a subdivision of this class of wayside hearers into:
the indifferent, who allow the birds of the air to pick up and devour the seed;
and the infidels, who treat it with contempt and tread it under foot.
Of this latter class we shall not speak — as no infidels will probably read these pages. Of the former, "the indifferent," we desire to give a few marks and warnings.
The wayside path is a public thoroughfare, beaten smooth and hardened by the feet of travelers, so that seed dropped there cannot sink in — but is speedily picked up by the birds, or trodden down by men.
Of many a human heart may it be said, it is a wayside path, where all thoughts travel; where evil imaginations, and sinful feelings, and corrupt desires meet and exchange salutations; where the "lusts of the eye" stand peering at the corners of the street; where the "lusts of the flesh" look in at the windows of her house, "which is the way to Hell, going down to the chambers of death;" where the "pride of life" flaunts its train and trappings, that it may excite the buzz of admiration, or the homage of the vulgar.
The heart of such a man is trodden down and made hard like a wayside, by overrunning thoughts and sins. When he enters the house of God — his heart is thronged with evil imaginations; when he bows in prayer — his spirit prays not; when he stands up to sing God's praise — his soul only sends back echoes of earthly ditties; and when the minister broadcasts "the seed of the word," it falls upon his affections as upon a wayside — to be either trodden under foot by negligence, or else picked up by the evil one, who comes like the birds of the air to snatch away the newly dropped grain of gospel grace.
How many ostensible worshipers of God there are who, Sunday after Sunday, sit under the broadcastings of the Sanctuary, and yet heed them not, because of the pre-occupancy of their thoughts and affections by the great adversary of souls! The word reaches only the outward ear, it never vibrates on the tympanum of the soul. On these wayside hearers, the word of God has no effect at all, and herein they differ from the three remaining classes:
in one of which it has at least a momentary effect;
in another it has an imperfect effect; and
in the last a good and productive result.
But on this class, it is entirely devoid of benefit.
Once their hearts were susceptible and tender; once they were stirred with the story of a Savior's love and death; or trembled at the threatenings of a sin-hating God. Whence then this change? Whence this stony-heartedness, this hardened wayside soul? They have resisted the strivings of the Spirit again and again; they have stifled the oft recurring convictions of sin; they have not sought to understand the truth — they have even affected to disbelieve it; they have allowed other and worldly impressions to overpower their minds, and have yielded to the hostile influences of sin, which, like hovering birds, have waited to catch up and bear away the seed as fast as it fell upon their hearts! This course, persisted in for a series of years, while, at the same time, all the outward duties of life, and all the external requirements of religion, have been perhaps attended to, has conspired to make them gospel-hardened — and no pleadings of Divine love can rouse them, no thunders of Sinai break up their indifference.
The one prominent characteristic here is heedlessness — a total inattention to truth, a complete negligence of the means of grace, a continued carelessness concerning their souls, and a total thoughtlessness about God, and Christ, and the Holy Spirit. Such a process inevitably lays waste the soil of the heart, beats it down, hardens it, and makes it barren of all spiritual life.
Of all mournful spectacles, this is among the most mournful; for, combined with a seeming respect for the Gospel, and a high-toned morality, and an honorable discharge of life's duties — there is . . .
a willful resistance to the Holy Spirit;
a deliberate rejection of the blessed Savior;
a hardened impenitence towards Almighty God;
and for such men, though they may flourish on earth — there is reserved the fearful and eternal punishment of an insulted God!
But our inquiring glance is again directed to the Savior, and we ask, "Lord, who are designated by the STONY-ground hearers?" "The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places," he replies, "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."
The several Evangelists, in recording this parable, have a slight variation here: Matthew says, "rocky places," Mark, "stony ground," Luke, "rock." The idea designed to be conveyed by each is, however, one and the same, namely, a rock with a superficial covering of earth, just enough to fructify the seed, and give it a temporary germination, not enough to allow it deepness of root, and consequent permanence and fruit.
Just so, there are many hearts which are, indeed, stony — but which are yet coated over with a thin layer of sensibilities and emotions, just enough of soil to start the seed of the word into vegetation — but not enough to give it depth of root or perfectness of growth.
A great multitude of those who attend the ordinances of grace have delicate and excitable natures.
Their minds are, to a certain extent, interested,
their imaginations are pleased,
their sensibilities are touched, and,
at times, they seem powerfully affected by the truth.
Their feelings are all quickened into excitement,
they listen with intense interest,
tears start to their eyes at the story of the Savior's love and death,
they resolve to break off from their sins, and turn to God, to abandon their evil companions, and to unite themselves with the Church. The gospel seed has fallen upon the thin soil, it has taken root — but before long some mirthful associate, some irreligious jester, some scheme of pleasure, or some plan of business — calls off their minds; and the seed which began to germinate so rapidly for good — perishes as soon as the hot sun of persecution is up, because "it has no root."
Much of the religion of the world is the product of mere emotion, acted upon by an excited imagination. It is a piety springing up from the thin soil of morality, which lies upon the top of man's rock-like heart.
Such "rocky-ground hearers" may, for some time, appear well, especially if the seed has fallen into some cleft of amiability. But let persecutions arise, let tribulations sweep over the Church — and their slender stalks of grace are uprooted, and lie withered and destroyed. Or . . .
let such be exposed only to the minor persecutions of ungodly friends and relatives,
let them be ridiculed and despised,
let them be avoided and neglected,
let the tribulations through which every child of God must pass as he travels heavenward, come upon them
— and "in the time of testing they fall away," being soon "offended" at a religion which exposes them to such trials. And, rather than bear the taunts of men — they dare the frowns of God, and so return to the world which they once promised to renounce!
In the wayside hearers, the seed is caught up by the wicked one. But in the rocky-ground hearers, the seed takes root, springs up, and is then wilted by the scorching sun. In the one case Satan "caches away that which was sown, lest they should believe and be saved." In the other case, he brings to bear outward and inward trials consequent on a shallow reception of the truth, compared here to the scorching rays of the sun, or to the burning desert wind, which began to blow when the sun was up. Had the plant been rooted deeply enough — that heat would have furthered its growth and hastened its ripening. Just so, these tribulations would have furthered the growth in grace of the true Christian, and ripened him for Heaven. But, as the heat scorches the blade which has 'no depth of earth' and has sprung up on shallow ground — so the troubles and afflictions which would have strengthened a true faith — cause a faith which was merely temporary to fail. So, having no "root in himself," or inward root, he "but endures for a while," "and in time of testing falls away."
There is great emphasis in the words, "having no root in himself." Such people have . . .
no deeply rooted convictions of sin,
no deeply rooted sense of the need of a Savior,
no deeply rooted resolves of abandonment of their iniquities,
no deeply rooted faith in the Lord Jesus,
no deeply rooted principles of a Christian life.
And where these radical elements are lacking — there everything will be loose, shifting, and superficial.
Only those who are rooted and grounded in Christ — whose hope, whose faith, whose love, whose joy, like so many roots, strike down deep into the gospel soil, and entwine around the very heart of Jesus, drawing thence their life-sap, and circulating it through all the arteries of the soul — can bear the storms of adversity, the sun of persecution — and so endure unto the end.
Beware against trusting to these shallow impressions;
beware of this mere surface religion;
beware of these slight and transient resolves of reform, which, like "the morning cloud" and "the early dew," soon vanish away.
But listen! Christ is describing the THORNY-ground hearers, and says they are such "as hear the Word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful."
Here we have a good soil, and depth of soil — but a soil in which are already planted the germs or roots of evil. Consequently, when the seed of the Word is sown in it, it springs up indeed — but the thorns spring up with it and choke it, so that it "becomes unfruitful."
This applies to the nominal members of the church: "Those who do not quite cast off their profession, and yet come short of any saving benefit by it; the good they gain by the Word — is insensibly overcome and overborne by the things of this world."
This, then, is the picture of one in whose heart grace is struggling for existence against . . .
the cares of this world,
the deceitfulness of riches,
and the lusts of other things.
The originals of this portrait are to be found in every Sunday congregation. They are punctual in their accustomed place in the house of prayer; they maintain a devout appearance; the seed is received into their hearts, it takes root, it springs up — but alas! side by side with the upshooting blade of grace — is the choking thorn-stalk, drawing its life-sap from the same soil, and by its speedier, ranker growth, impoverishing that soil, to the damaging of the tender sproutings of the good seed.
Instead of pausing at the first appearance of these thorns, and plucking them up by the roots; instead of bestowing a careful husbandry upon the soil, watching the gospel seed, and rooting up everything that would choke its growth — they allowed . . .
the concerns of business,
the plans of wealth,
the schemes of ambition,
the love of feastings, parties, amusements,
and the cares and anxieties of life —
to grow up unchecked, until they . . .
overtopped the plants of grace,
sucked out the strength of the affections,
impoverished the soul, and
left the good seed to become choked, and "bring no fruit to perfection."
Several things are mentioned here as choking the work of grace in the heart:
1. The cares of this world— namely, those feverish anxieties, active energies, fruitful plans, fretting worries, perplexing aims, connected with providing for the needs of our worldly existence. Everything in fine, that hinges upon the question, "What shall we eat, and what shall we drink, and with what shall we be clothed?" These cares must necessarily take up a large portion of our time. Our physical necessities, our social relations, our public responsibilities — demand much and earnest attention. Inattention to them is sinful, and directly violates the precepts of the Bible. The curse is upon the earth, and the brow of man must sweat with labor to force from it a precarious subsistence. All this is granted.
But because these duties of self-support and family support are so important — shall we make them paramount? Because we must live on this earth for a little while, shall we adopt the epicurean maxim, "Let us eat and drink — for tomorrow we die," and center all the interests of life in a mere animal existence? Is the body alone to engage attention? Have we no higher aims than what center in flesh and blood?
Here then lies the defect in this class of thorny-ground hearers — they do not keep the things of time and sense in subordination to spiritual and eternal things. They do not regard the needs of the soul and its care, as the first object to be attended to — watching against whatever encroaches on it, or is detrimental to its interests. But, on the contrary, they are so careful of the interests of business and daily life — that they check even the sproutings of grace itself, lest it should interfere with success in worldly schemes.
True religion will never prevent a due attention to legitimate business and necessary cares of this life. And these, on the other hand, will never interfere, when duly regulated, with the strict performance of our religious duties. The moment that the cares of this life, be they what they may —
crowd out humble, frequent, heartfelt prayer, or
make the reading of God's Word distasteful, or
make the duties and services of the Christian's daily life irksome
— that moment must the man take his stand, and either root out the thorns, or allow the thorns to choke the soul!
2. Another enemy of the Christian life is found in "the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things, coming in and choking the Word, making it unfruitful."The deceitfulness of riches prepares the way for a whole retinue of soul-strangling lusts! Observe, here, it is not riches — but the deceitfulness of riches. Riches themselves are God's gift — are valuable in their legitimate use; but they become deceitful when we . . .
put our confidence in them,
rest our happiness in them,
trust our hopes to them, and
regard them as the chief good of our existence.
"Those who would be rich," says Paul, "fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition!" How earnestly should we take heed to a warning so solemn and so sobering as this!
That riches are deceitful, we all know. They promise much comfort — but he who has the most money has the least enjoyment of it.
They cannot heal disease;
they cannot ward off evils;
they cannot restore the unbalanced mind;
they cannot heal family feuds;
they cannot give peace to the burdened conscience;
they cannot purchase an entrance into Heaven.
They take to themselves wings and fly away:
the tempest wastes them,
the fire burns them,
the ocean wrecks them!
They are yours today — tomorrow you may but clutch at their shadow.
Yet, though we all assent to these truths in our minds — the great aim of the majority is to get rich! And when that desire seizes upon the soul, like Aaron's rod, it swallows up all other aims, and becomes the ruling passion! Then the labor is to get money; then is heard the horse-leech cry of avarice, "Give! give!" Then are the sympathies for the poor, and the sensibilities to sorrow, seared — lest gold should ooze out through those tender channels. Then is mammon erected into an idol, and worshiped with more than Eastern devotion. Then is the man consecrated to lucre, "filthy lucre;" and he takes more delight in the company of Bunyan's Mr. Muck-rake, talking of gains and bargains — than in associating with the godly, communing about God and Heaven.
"It is easier," says Christ, "for a camel to go through the eye of a needle — than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." It is a fearful thing when the lust for wealth gets headway in the soul. It must be narrowly watched — and immediately checked: for if we do not guide our wealth into channels of benevolence, and baptize it for Christ and His Church — it will drive us into spiritual unfruitfulness, and ruin our immortal souls!
Especially in these days, is this warning needed. The vast increase of the precious metals by the discoveries in Australia and California; the remarkable unfoldings of mercantile and commercial wealth through the many new avenues of trade and the use of the steam engine; the rapid development of the agricultural and industrial resources of our country by the building of railroads, canals, telegraphs; the wonderful stimulus imparted to all branches of trade and all the pursuits of men, by the inventions and science and energy of the present century — have had, in some respects, a very sad moral influence, and have done much to keep the Church in a comparatively lethargic state.
Everything, now, is excitement and hurry! The long-established methods of trade are found too slow and quiet; dashing operations, bold schemes, hazardous adventures — are rife on every side. The game of business is deeply, and very seldom fairly, played. Young men are inveigled into courses that, a few years ago, would have been denounced with horror. Clerks are taught the tricks of trade and the artifices of decoying, to the utter destruction of their moral sensibilities. And consequent upon this, are habits of wasteful expenditure, of dissipation, of dishonesty, of rash speculation, of ruin.
In social life, this deceitfulness of riches manifests itself in personal and household display, in . . .
building sumptuous dwellings,
furnishing them with gorgeous furniture,
giving luxurious balls and parties,
dressing in costly garments,
aiming to dazzle and outshine at the fashionable watering-places,
an affectation of cultivated manners, bolstered up by a smattering of foreign travel, picked up from Murray's Guide Books, during a three-months' tour in Europe.
These things are grievous thorns, growing up in the heart — choking the plants of Divine grace! The man who yields to their influence at all, soon becomes entirely absorbed. There is so much of rivalry, of jostling, so much to excite and spur on effort — that a course of social extravagance, once entered upon, progresses with an ever accelerating speed, until the majority are landed in bankruptcy and disgrace!
Nor is this great evil confined to what are termed the upper classes. The grades of lower society are ever striving to climb upwards; and they toil up the rounds of the social ladder, deeming no position on it beyond their reach, and ready to make any sacrifice to attain their desire. Hence they ape the manners and habits of the wealthy, seek to pursue a course which will recommend them to their notice, and the whole burden of their daily toil is to secure a standing in fashionable circles!
Is it possible, with such processes as these going on in the soul — for the seed to bring forth fruit? What has the religion of Christ to do with such scenes of luxury, prodigality, and heartless sociality? What has the Spirit of God to do with the struggling after rank and name and wealth that so occupy the heart?
There is as much incompatibility between worldliness and spirituality — as between fire and water. One must, of necessity, destroy the other. This is no new truth, though the present times enforce it with new emphasis. Long ago the Searcher of Hearts declared,
"You cannot serve both God and Mammon."
"Whoever will be the friend of the world — is the enemy of God."
"He who is not with Me — is against Me."
"He who takes not up his cross and follow after me, cannot be my disciple."
"Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness."
You must, therefore, take your stand in this matter. If you prefer that your heart should bring forth thorns — fit only for the burning of Hell — yield to the influences of the world, and they will spring up with rank luxuriance, and cover your moral nature with the brambles of iniquity!
Go on and enjoy the pleasures of sin! Say to your soul, "Take your ease — eat, drink, and be merry!" Shut down the window of your heart that looks out upon eternity, and curtain it around with the painted tapestry of present delights. And then, throttling conscience and hoodwinking reason, cajole yourselves that all is well for time and for eternity. Lull yourself with these opiates of the deceiver — until death shall break the spell, and you wake up — a lost spirit amidst eternal burnings!
If these inevitable outcomes to such a course are too fearful for you to risk — then, in the name of Christ, and in the power of the Holy Spirit, and through the given grace of Almighty God — set about the work of plucking up these thorns, and of cultivating these sproutings of the true seed. Address yourselves to watchfulness, and prayer, and self-examination, and careful culture of your souls. And, distrusting your own strength, rely only on the Divine aid, to enable you to labor with unrelaxing diligence and unsleeping vigilance in the effort to "work out your salvation with fear and trembling — for it is God that works in you, both to will and to do of his good pleasure."
Under these three classes, namely, the wayside hearers, the stony-ground hearers, the thorny-ground hearers — may be ranked all who sit under the ministry of the gospel, who are yet out of Christ.
And here observe that the failure in each of these cases to bring forth fruit, was not any defect in the seed sown, nor in the sower who scattered it, nor in the sun and rain and dew which visited all alike. The difficulty was not so much outside the man — as within him. In one case — there was no receptive power; in another — there was no deepness of soil; and in the third — there was pre-occupancy of the ground by the rank and choking thorns. Man's ruin is in every instance self-produced — and the consciousness of this, will be one of the most fearful elements of his everlasting woe.
But we once more look up to our Divine teacher, and say, "Tell us, Lord, we beseech you, who are the GOOD-ground hearers?" And He responds in those cheering words, that they are those who, "hear the word and understand it. They produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown."
Though the Scriptures positively declare that "there is none that does good — no, not one," yet there are those, speaking after the manner of men, who may be said to have "an honest and good heart." That is, they receive the truth without questionings and disputings; they do not twist and cavil at the word; they treat it honestly, and act upon it with simple-minded sincerity, and a desire to profit.
Such people, when they hear the word, give it their attention, and hence, applying their hearts to wisdom, "understand it," recognize it as God's word, and embrace it as suited to their needs — thus forming a contrast to the wayside hearers, who understood not the word of the Kingdom, and consequently did not believe it. But this understanding of the truth can only result from the teaching of the Spirit; because "the natural man," says Paul, "receives not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned." The fact, therefore, of their understanding the word — proves that the Holy Spirit has been at work in their hearts, making them receptive of truth, and enlightening their minds, making them to comprehend the truth.
The spirituality of this work is still further evinced by the additional mark mentioned by our Lord, that such "having heard the word, keep it;" do not allow Satan to "catch it away," as the birds picked up the seed dropped upon the wayside — but "keep it" in their memories, pondering it over in careful, prayerful meditation; "keep it" in their hearts, as the counselor and the guide of their lives; hiding it there, that they may not sin against God.
There is much force in the word here translated "keep it." It means, to occupy, to dwell in, and in classical usage is applied to the "tutelary gods," who had an abiding place in every household, and as, among the heathen, no family or individual was considered safe without the guardianship of one or more of these tutelary gods dwelling in their halls or rooms — so should no Christian feel himself safe from the evil influences of his great adversary, without having the seed of the word occupy and dwell in his soul; not to be an occasional visitor, not a temporary tenant — but permanently abiding there in full, undisturbed possession.
Our Christian character does not depend so much on our hearing the word — as on our keeping the word. It will not benefit us to have it pass through the mind — it must dwell there. It must be kept there with a jealous guarding and a scrupulous care, as the greatest treasure confided to our hands.
The necessary result of this indwelling of the "good seed" in the "good ground" is, that it will be productive. But the seed will not fructify equally in all, nor will the soils produce a like amount of harvest. There are circumstances of . . .
idiosyncrasies of character,
intellectual advantages —
which are ever operating upon the soil of the heart, increasing or lessening its fertility. Consequently some bring forth thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown.
Our own experience testifies to the truth of this. We see one Christian fertile in the graces of the Spirit, abundant in fruit, rejoicing in hope. And we see another, who manifests but little increase, producing but small results. But in all cases there is some increase. Fruit production is the absolute condition and requirement of the Christian life. This alone evidences that we have received the seed, that we have kept the seed, and that the soil is good. And while the ratio of increase is variable — the increase itself is the necessary exponent of Christian vitality.
This fruit manifests itself in two ways:
First, in a growth in grace, whereby our hearts become more and more conformed to the image of God's dear Son, through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
And secondly, by increasing efforts for the extension of the Redeemer's kingdom.
But this inner and outer work of the soul are so interlaced that they cannot be separated. Where there is a growth of holiness in the heart — there is always found deeper love for Christ; and where that exists — there of necessity springs up a love for the souls for whom Christ died, and a desire to labor for and with Christ in so bringing men to the truth, as that our blessed Savior "shall see of the travail of His soul, and be satisfied."
But this fruit, says our Lord, is brought forth "by persevering." Perseverance is that grace which enables one to bear afflictions, calamities, and oppositions — with constancy and calmness of mind, and with humble submission to Almighty God. It is an essential element of Christian character, and as such is much insisted on by the Apostles John, and James, and Peter, and Paul, as well as by Christ himself.
Lack of perseverance is the mark of an unbalanced mind and uncurbed will. It is a dangerous trait even in a worldly character, because it leads to rash and hasty measures, and produces a chafed and irritated spirit. Much more then must it be adverse to godliness of heart, and to all productive efforts in the cause of Christ. With what truth might the Apostle say to us as to the Hebrews, "You have need of perseverance!" And with what earnestness would he repeat to us, what he urged upon them, "run with perseverance the race set before you!" For, unless we persevere with unshaken steadfastness, enduring patiently the reproach and opposition of the world, stemming with even mind and submissive will, the difficulties which lie before us —
we cannot bring forth fruit,
we cannot glorify God,
we cannot secure "the prize of our high calling in Christ Jesus."
In gathering up into a few closing reflections the teachings of this parable, we remark:
first, that we are personally responsible for every particle of the seed of the word sown in our hearts;
secondly, that no "wayside" hearer can be saved;
thirdly, that no "stony-ground" hearer can be saved;
fourthly, that no "thorny-ground" hearer can be saved;
and lastly, that only the fruit-producing hearer can enter into the kingdom of Heaven.
Reader! In which class are you?