By J.R. Miller
Matthew 13:1-9; 18-23
Jesus was always teaching. On this particular day His pulpit was a fishing boat, from which He spoke to the multitudes standing on the shore. Perhaps there was a sower somewhere in sight, walking on his field, carrying his bag of grain and slinging his seed broadcast. The sight may have suggested the parable.
"Behold, a sower went forth to sow." Christ Himself is the great Sower--but we all are sowers--sowers of something. Not all who sow, scatter good seed; there are sowers of evil--as well as of good. We should take heed what we sow, for we shall gather the harvest into our own bosom at the last. "Whatever a man sows, that shall he also reap"--that, and not something else (Galatians 6:7).
In the parable the seed is good--it is the Word of God. The soil likewise is good--it is all alike, in the same field. The difference is in the condition of the soil.
The first thing that strikes us in reading the parable, is the great amount of waste of good there seems to be in the world. On three parts of the soil--nothing came to harvest. We think of the enormous waste there is in the Lord's work, in the precious seed of Divine truth which is scattered in the world. What comes of all the sermons, of all good teaching, of the wholesome words spoken in people's ears in conversation, of wise sayings in books? What waste of effort there is whenever ever men and women try to do good! Yet we must not be discouraged or hindered in our sowing. We should go on scattering the good seek everywhere, whether it all grows to ripeness or not. Even the seed that seems to fail--may do good in some way other than we intended and thus not be altogether lost.
The wayside is too hard to take in the seed that falls upon it. There are many lives that are rendered incapable of fruitfulness in the same way. They are trodden down by passing feet. Too many people let their hearts become like an open common. They have no fence about them. They shut nothing out. They read all sorts of books, have all kinds of companions, and allow all manner of vagrant thoughts to troop over the fields. The result is that the hearts, once tender and sensitive to every good influence, become impervious to spiritual impressions. They feel nothing. They sit in church, and the hymns, the Scripture Word and exhortations, the appeals and the prayers fall upon their ears--but are not even heard! Or, of they are heard, they are not taken into the mind or heart--but lie on the surface.
"The birds came." The birds always follow the sower, and when a seed lies within sight--they pick it up. The wicked one "snatches away that which has been sown." So nothing comes of the seed which falls on the trodden wayside.
The lesson at this point is very practical. It teaches our responsibility for the receiving of the truth which touches our life, in whatever way it is brought to us. When we read or listen--we should let the word into our heart. We should give attention to it. We should see that it is fixed in our memory. "Your word have I hid in my heart," said an old psalm writer (Psalm 119:11).
The next kind of soil on which the seed fell was stony--only a thin layer of soil over a hard rock. There is none of the fault of the trodden wayside here. The seed is readily received and at once begins to grow. But it never comes to anything. The soil is too shallow. The roots get no chance to strike down. The grain starts finely--but the hot sun burns up the tender growths because they lack depth of rooting.
There are many shallow lives. They are very impressionable. They attend a revival service and straightway they are moved emotionally and begin with great earnestness. But in a few days the effect is all worn off. Life is full of this impulsive zeal or piety which starts off with great glow--but soon tires. Many people begin a holy book, read a few chapters, and then drop it and turn to another. They are quick friends, loving at first--but it is soon over.
One of the pictures of the crucifixion represents the scene of Calvary after the body of Jesus had been taken down and laid away in the grave. The crowd is gone. Only the ghastly memorials of the terrible day remain. Off to one side of the picture is a donkey nibbling at some withered palm branches. Thus the artist pictures the fickleness of human fame. Only five days before, palms were waved in wild exultation as Jesus rode into the city.
The goodness of too many people lacks root. The resolves of too many lack purpose. The intentions of too many lack life and energy. There are many shallow lives--in which nothing good grows to ripeness. What this soil needs--is the breaking up of the rock. What these shallow lives need--is a thorough work of penitence, heart-searching and heart-breaking, the deepening of the spiritual life.
The third piece of soil in which the seed fell was preoccupied by thorns whose roots never had been altogether extirpated. The soil was neither hard nor shallow--but it was too full. The seed began to grow--but other things were growing alongside of it, and these, being more rank than the wheat and growing faster, choked it out.
Jesus tells us what these thorns of the parable stand for. They are the cares, riches and pleasures of this world. CARES are worries, frets, and distractions. Many people seem almost to enjoy worrying. But worries are among the thorns which crowd out the good. Martha is an illustration of the danger of care (see Luke 10:40, 41). There are plenty of modern examples, however, and we scarcely need to recall such an ancient case as hers.
RICHES, too, are thorns which often choke out the good in people's lives. One may be rich and his heart yet remain tender and full of the sweetest and best things. But when the love of money gets into a heart--it crowds out the love of God, and the love of man, and all beautiful things. Judas is a fearful example. The story of Demas also illustrates the same danger. A godly man said to a friend: "If you ever see me beginning to get rich, pray for my soul."
The PLEASURES of the world are also thorns which crowd out the good. It is well to have amusements--but we must guard lest they come to possess our heart. We are not to live to have pleasures; we are to have pleasures, only to help us to live.
The fourth piece of soil was altogether good. It was neither trodden down, nor shallow, nor thorny; it was deep plowed and clean. Into it the seed fell and sank and grew without hindrance. By and by a great harvest waved on the field.
This is the ideal for all good farming. The farmer must have his field in condition to receive the seed and to give it a chance to grow. That is all the good seed needs. This is the ideal, too, for all hearing of the Word of God. If only we give it a fair chance in our life--it will yield rich blessing.