The Parable of the Sower
“And he began again to teach by the sea side: and there was gathered unto him a great multitude, so that he entered into a ship, and sat in the sea; and the whole multitude was by the sea on the land. And he taught them many things by parables, and said unto them in his doctrine, Hearken; Behold, there went out a sower to sow: And it came to pass, as he sowed, some fell by the way side, and the fowls of the air came and devoured it up. And some fell on stony ground, where it had not much earth; and immediately it sprang up, because it had no depth of earth: But when the sun was up, it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up, and choked it, and it yielded no fruit. And other fell on good ground, and did yield fruit that sprang up and increased; and brought forth, some thirty, and some sixty, and some an hundred. And he said unto them, He that hath ears to hear, let him hear. And when he was alone, they that were about him with the twelve asked of him the parable. And he said unto them, Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables: That seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them. And he said unto them, Know ye not this parable? and how then will ye know all parables? The sower soweth the word. And these are they by the way side, where the word is sown; but when they have heard, Satan cometh immediately, and taketh away the word that was sown in their hearts. And these are they likewise which are sown on stony ground; who, when they have heard the word, immediately receive it with gladness; And have no root in themselves, and so endure but for a time: afterward, when affliction or persecution ariseth for the word’s sake, immediately they are offended. And these are they which are sown among thorns; such as hear the word, And the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in, choke the word, and it becometh unfruitful. And these are they which are sown on good ground; such as hear the word, and receive it, and bring forth fruit, some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some an hundred.” (Mark 4:1-20)
Of all the parables spoken by our Lord during his earthly ministry, none is so widely known and so little heeded as the parable of the sower. The parable itself is easily comprehended. Everyone is familiar with the work of a farmer. He plows his fields, sows his seeds, tends his plants, and gathers in his crop. And every farmer knows that much of the seed sown is lost forever, bears no fruit, and is profitable for nothing. Yet, very few people appear to understand the spiritual implications of this well-known parable.
This parable is of universal application. So long as the Kingdom of God is in this world, so long as sinners gather as local churches to worship God in the name of Christ, hoping for grace and eternal life in him, this parable will be applicable. In it our Lord Jesus Christ teaches us plainly that the vast majority of those who hear the gospel of the grace of God preached, even the vast majority of those who profess faith in him after hearing the gospel, are unregenerate, lost, and perish under the wrath of God. “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear” the parable of the sower.
The sower is the gospel preacher. Gospel preachers are like farmers sowing wheat. They broadcast the Word of God upon the ground, upon the hearts of eternity bound men and women. This is not a careless, thoughtless process. The preacher, if he is indeed a faithful, gospel preacher, has his heart in his work. He is not indifferent to those to whom he preaches, or indifferent to their response. God’s servants care deeply for the souls of men. They sow in hope of harvest (Psalms 126:5; Ecclesiastes 11:1; Isaiah 55:11). The sower is the servant of God, who faithfully sows the seed of the gospel in hope of a great harvest.
The seed sown is the Word of God, the gospel of the grace of God revealed in Holy Scripture. — “The sower soweth the word” (v. 14). We recognize, preach, and rejoice in the glorious sovereignty of our God, especially in the salvation of his elect. Yet, we recognize that God almighty has chosen to use specific means for the accomplishment of his purposes. — “It pleased God, by the foolishness of preaching, to save them that believe.” — “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.” That is Bible language. God declares that he saves sinners through the utility of the Word (James 1:18; 1 Peter 23-25).
God has chosen to save his elect through, or by means of the faithful exposition of the Scriptures. And the Word of God is faithfully expounded and preached only when the gospel of Christ is faithfully expounded and preached. Rolland Hill was exactly right when he said, “Any sermon that does not contain the ‘Three R’s’ (Ruin by the Fall, Redemption by the Blood, and Regeneration by the Holy Spirit) ought never to have been preached.”
God’s servants are not just preachers. They are gospel preachers. They do not just preach. They preach the gospel. The sower is the gospel preacher. The seed sown is the Word of God, the gospel of Christ.
The results of gospel preaching are always exactly according to the purpose of God. We randomly preach the gospel to all who will hear us; but the results are not random. When God almighty sends forth his Word, his Word always accomplishes his purpose (Isaiah 55:11). It either produces life and faith in Christ, or it produces judicial blindness and hardness of heart (2 Corinthians 2:14-16).
“And he said unto them, Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables: That seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them” (vv. 11-12).
Here, the Lord Jesus is quoting from the prophecy of Isaiah.
“And he said, Go, and tell this people, Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not. Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed” (Isaiah 6:9-10).
The apostle Paul tells us essentially the same thing in Romans 3:3-4 and 2 Corinthians 2:14-16. Man’s unbelief does not in any way, or to even the slightest degree alter the purpose of God. Rather, even the willful unbelief of the reprobate fulfills God’s sovereign purpose
“For what if some did not believe? shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect? God forbid: yea, let God be true, but every man a liar; as it is written, That thou mightest be justified in thy sayings, and mightest overcome when thou art judged” (Romans 3:3-4)
“Now thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the savour of his knowledge by us in every place. For we are unto God a sweet savour of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish: To the one we are the savour of death unto death; and to the other the savour of life unto life. And who is sufficient for these things?” (2 Corinthians 2:14-16)
Faith in Christ is the gift of God. The seeing eye, the hearing ear, and the believing heart are from the Lord. Faith is not something men muster from within. Faith is the gift and operation of God’s free grace in Christ. If you believe, it is because “unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ to believe on his name.”
To those who will not believe, the Word of God is both blinding and binding. None are so blind as those who will not see. And none are so hardened as those who are gospel hardened. When men and women willfully despise the gospel of the grace of God, when they resolutely harden themselves to the Word preached, the very Word, which they despise, becomes the instrument by which they are bound over to everlasting judgment (Proverbs 1:23-33).
Some who hear the gospel receive it as seed sown by the wayside. — “And these are they by the way side, where the word is sown; but when they have heard, Satan cometh immediately, and taketh away the word that was sown in their hearts” (v. 15).
Some come to the house of God and hear the gospel preached with no concern for their souls, glory of God, or eternity. They go to church because they have to, or because it is the respectable thing to do, or because they think it is their duty to do so. But they really have no interest in what is going on there. They try their best not to hear a word the preacher says, or at least not to be bothered by what he says. All the time he is preaching, they try to think about something else. Unless God intervenes and does something for them, the gospel they hear will profit them nothing. Before they get out the door, the old black crow of hell will have snatched away the seed from their hard hearts. They are wayside hearers.
Others are described by the Lord Jesus as stony ground hearers.
“And these are they likewise which are sown on stony ground; who, when they have heard the word, immediately receive it with gladness; And have no root in themselves, and so endure but for a time: afterward, when affliction or persecution ariseth for the word’s sake, immediately they are offended” (vv. 16-17).
There are many stony ground hearers. The preaching of the gospel makes very quick, but only temporary, impressions upon them. Their religion is all superficial, just a flash in the pan, nothing else. Like burning briars in a fire, they may crackle and pop, and make a lot of noise, but they produce nothing. They appear enthusiastic. They talk a good game. They are sometimes moved to tears. They may even speak about inward conflicts, hopes, desires, struggles, and fears. But they lack one thing. They have no root. The root of the matter is not in them. Like seed sown in unprepared soil, the Word of God takes no root in them, because there is no work of the Holy Spirit in their hearts: — No conviction. — No repentance. — No faith in Christ.
The stony ground hearer may endure for a while; but he will not last. His religion is like Jonah’s gourd. It springs up in a night and is gone in a night. He is like cut flowers that look pretty and smell nice for a while, but soon wither and die. He has no root. Christ is not in him, and he is not in Christ. A little trial, affliction, or temptation will be too great for the stony ground hearer to endure. Any persecution or opposition because of the offense of the gospel will destroy him.
John Trapp said, of the stony-ground hearers, “They stumble at the cross, and fall backwards. These are prosperity proselytes, holy day servants, political professors, and passive Christians.”
Others are described in this parable as thorny ground hearers.
“And these are they which are sown among thorns; such as hear the word, And the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in, choke the word, and it becometh unfruitful” (vv. 18-19).
The wayside hearer has no interest at all in the things of God. He could care less who Christ is and what he did. The stony ground hearer is more impressive. He makes a big splash, but does not last very long. The thorny ground hearer is something else.
The thorny ground hearer assents to the gospel, approves of it, and is moved by it. He appears to make a good start and appears to go a long way in religion. He feels much, experiences much, and may even do much that appears to be truly spiritual. He may even know much; but he has a basic, fundamental, underlying problem. It is a problem that may lie under the surface, hidden from every eye but God’s. It may even be hidden from his own eyes. But it will eventually destroy him. The problem is worldliness. The world still holds his heart. He loves the world.
Yet, it is written, “If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15). Sooner or later those who love the world will choose the world. The sad fact is that though they willfully choose the world and turn from Christ, they are so thoroughly justified in their own minds that what they are doing is right that they never even realize they have done it, until they wake up in hell.
If you are one of these thorny ground hearers, the Lord Jesus plainly warns you that one of three things will eventually destroy your soul: Either “the cares of this world” (even legitimate cares), or “the deceitfulness of riches” (materialism), or “the lusts of other things” (fame, recognition, acceptance, position, power, sensuality, pleasure) will eventually choke out the influence of the Word of God, by which you are now restrained.
Beware of religion without Christ! You may think, “All is well with my soul. No one could ever feel what I feel and experience what I have experienced and yet be lost.” You ought to think again! False faith is a strong delusion, a delusion by which, in this parable, one in four who profess faith in Christ are dragged down to hell! Nothing is so hardening and so damning as false faith.
· False faith may be greatly enlightened and knowledgeable of the gospel (Hebrews 6:4).
· False faith may greatly reform the outward life, as it did the lives of the Pharisees.
· False faith may speak very well of Christ, as the Jews did.
· False faith may confess personal sin like King Saul.
· False faith may humble itself in sackcloth and ashes with Ahab.
· False faith may repent in tears with Esau and Judas.
· False faith may diligently perform religious works with Saul of Tarsus.
· False faith may be very generous and charitable, like Ananias and Sapphira.
· False faith may tremble under the Word with Felix.
· False faith may experience great things in religion (Hebrews 6:1-4).
· False faith may enjoy great religious privileges with Lot’s wife.
· False faith may preach, perform miracles, and cast out devils, like those mentioned by our Lord.
· False faith may attain high office in the church like Diotrephes.
· False faith may walk with great preachers like Demas.
· False faith may even be peaceful and carnally secure to the end, like the five foolish virgins.
The true believer is that person who receives the gospel as seed sown in good ground. — “And these are they which are sown on good ground; such as hear the word, and receive it, and bring forth fruit, some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some an hundred” (v. 20). The good ground is a regenerate heart, a heart prepared by God the Holy Spirit to receive the Word of grace. The fallow ground of the heart has been broken up by the deep cutting, sharp plow of the law. The hard clods have been broken by the heavy harrow of conviction, beaten to pieces by the thunderous rain of God’s wrath, and at last softened by the sweet dew of heaven.
The Word of God sown in the regenerate heart, the heart prepared by the grace and power of God to receive it, brings forth fruit unto God. Some bear fruit more rapidly and more plentifully than others; but all bear fruit from God. The fruit they bear is the fruit of the Spirit, not the works of self-righteousness, the works of the flesh (Galatians 5:16-23).
What kind of hearer are you? What kind of hearer am I? — A wayside hearer? — A stony ground hearer? — A thorny ground hearer? — A good ground hearer?
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 Robert Hawker’s comments on this same parable and our Savior’s explanation of it in Matthew 13:3-23 are so helpful that I give them to you in their entirety. — “Very happily for the Lord’s people, Jesus hath not left this parable of the sower to our interpretation, but hath given it himself, and which therefore supersedes all the labors of his servants. And so plain and clear is our Lord’s explanation of it, that a little child, under grace, may understand it. I detain not the Reader to add to what Jesus hath here said, but only to observe upon it what a beautiful vein of instruction runs through the whole of it.
When the Lord Jesus compares himself to a Sower, and the seed he soweth to the Gospel of his kingdom, we enter at once into the blessedness of apprehension concerning the whole purport of salvation. But when Jesus speaks of the devil, under the figure of the fowls of the air, catching away that which was sown in the heart, it should be remembered, that it is the ministry of the word, and not the grace of the Lord Jesus that is thus rendered unprofitable. The heart is sometimes put for the memory; as in the instance of Mary. And she kept all these sayings in her heart; that is, in her memory. Luke 2:51. So that by the devil’s catching away the word from them that understand it not, (See also what is meant in scripture of the want of understanding. Job. 28:28.) means not that he taketh away what was sown of grace in the heart, for grace implanted by the Lord can never be taken away, but that he causeth the graceless hearers to forget what they heard. In them, as well as all others of the unprofitable hearers, as children not of the kingdom, is fulfilled that striking prophecy of Isaiah, which, from its vast importance, is quoted no less than six times in the New Testament; namely, in this Chapter, verses 14, 15. Mark 4:1. Luke 8:10. John 12:40. Acts 28:26. Rom. 9:8.
In like manner, concerning the sun arising on the stony-ground hearers, we are not to suppose that our Lord meant the Sun of righteousness, for he ariseth not to scorch, but to warm, and with healing in his wings. But by the sun being up, is meant the sun of persecution, the drying, scorching heat of what the Church complained of, Song 1:6. the anger of men.
The persons here spoken of were never rooted in Christ, and therefore no dews of heaven to water them; and moreover the seed is said not to have fallen into the ground, but upon stony ground. And those men who, from hence, have argued of the possibility of falling from grace, should first have observed, that they never were in grace. It is impossible to lose that we never had. An union with Christ, brings after it a communion in Christ. These stony-ground hearers never had root, and, as such, could not do otherwise than wither away.
To the same purport is what is said concerning the seed sown among thorns, It is not supposed that the characters here alluded to, are the openly profane, and such as are inattentive to divine things, but rather such as make much profession. They have received conviction in the head, of the importance of salvation, but from never having felt it in their heart, and no saving grace having passed upon them, this world’s riches are preferred to the riches of eternity, and their hearts, like ground over-run with thorns, and wholly unfruitful.
By the good ground, into which the seed is cast, is meant an heart renewed, and made good by sovereign grace, for every man’s heart by nature is evil. And the different product from hence, is also wholly from the same grace, and not man’s improvement. But it is blessed for the soul of that man, whose increase is but of the lowest kind, that all is of the same quality, though not of the same quantity. The drop of dew on the blade of grass is as truly water as the ocean. And an union with Christ makes the blessed, the humblest soul as much as the highest. For it is all of Jesus, and from Jesus, and to Jesus, all the glory.”