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§ 129. The Parable of the Sower.312312   Matt., xiii., 1-9; Mark, iv., 1-9; Luke, viii., 4-8.Christ’s Explanation of the Parable to the smaller Circle of his Disciples.

The time intervening between Christ’s return to Galilee in November, and his journey to Jerusalem to attend the feast of the Passover in the following March or April, was spent in scattering the seeds of the kingdom more widely among the people of that country. Probably many of the events recorded by the first three Evangelists belong to this period.

Perhaps, also, it was during this period that he took occasion, as he walked by the shores of Genesareth, to offer Divine truth to the gathered crowds around him, in the form of a parable suggested by the labours of the peasants who were sowing their fields around. He exhibited vividly to their minds, under the figure of the seed, the object of his proclamation, the dispositions of mind with which it must be received in order to accomplish that object, and the hindrances with which it is wont to meet in human nature.

It is not to be supposed that Christ uttered this parable (which refers solely to the operations of the word proclaimed by him) as an isolated speech; indeed, it is distinctly intimated (Mark, iv., 2) that an exhortation or warning to his hearers preceded it.

He divides his hearers into two principal classes, (I.) those in whom the word received is unfruitful, and (II.) those in whom it brings forth fruit. In the first class, again, he distinguishes (a) the totally unsusceptible, and (b) those to whom the word, indeed, finds access, but yet brings forth no fruit. Of these last, again, there are two subdivisions.


(a.) The totally Unsusceptible.

The seed, which does not penetrate the earth at all, but remains upon the surface, and is trodden or devoured by birds, corresponds to the relation of the Divine word to the wholly worldly, who, utterly unsusceptible, reject the truth without ever comprehending it at all.

(b.) The partially Susceptible.

(1.) The Stony-ground Hearers.—Under the figure of the stony ground, in which the seed shoots up quickly, but withers as soon, for want of earth and moisture, he depicts that lively but shallow susceptibility of spirit which grasps the truth eagerly, but receives no deep impressions, and yields as quickly to the reaction of worldly temptations as it had yielded to the Divine word. Faith must prove itself in strife 189against the world without, as well as within; but the mind just described never appropriates the truth in such a way as to obtain power to resist.

(2.) The Word Choked among Thorns.—The seed which germinates and takes root, but is stifled by the thorns that shoot up with it, figures the mind in which the impure elements of worldly desire develope themselves along with the higher life, and at last become strong enough to crush it, so that the received truth is utterly lost.


When seed is sown into good ground, it is variously productive ac cording to the fertility of the soil. So the fruitfulness of Divine truth, when once appropriated, depends upon the degree in which it penetrates the whole interior life and all the powers of the spirit, stamping itself upon the truth-inspired course of life.

With what perfect simplicity are the profoundest truths in regard to the growth of religious life unfolded in this parable! So vivid an impression was made upon a woman in the throng, that she exclaimed, “Blessed is the womb that bare thee, and the breast that gave thee suck.”313313   Luke, xi., 27. We shall give our reasons, further on, in placing these words in this connexion. But Christ rejected this external veneration, and said, as if with prophetic warning against that tendency to fix religious feeling upon the outward, which in later times so sadly disfigured true Christianity, “No, rather blessed are they that hear the word of God and keep it;” with obvious reference to the parable, which illustrated the faithful reception and use of the Divine word.

After the dispersion of the multitude, the smaller circle of disciples gathered about Christ and asked a further explanation of the parable.314314   Matt., xiii., 18-23; Mark. iv.. 10-25; Luke, viii., 9-18. He told them that to them it should remain no longer a parable;315315   Cf. p. 105they might clearly apprehend the truth which was only offered in a veil to the stupid multitude. After unfolding its import, he taught them that the truth then veiled in parables was to become a light for all mankind; that they were to train themselves to be his organs in diffusing it; but that, in order to this, they must ever grow in the knowledge of his truth by a faithful employment of the means that he had given them. “No man, when he hath lighted a candle, covereth it with a vessel, or putteth it under a bench; but setteth it on a candlestick, that they which enter in may see the light. (So, also, the truth, destined to be a light for all mankind, must not be concealed, but diffuse its light on all that seek to enter the kingdom of God.) For there is nothing hid that shall not be known and come abroad. (And he adds warningly to his disciples), 190Take heed, therefore, how ye hear; for whosoever hath, to him shall be given; and whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he seemeth to have. (Every thing depends upon the spirit in which the truth is received and put to use.)”

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