I am staying in Central Portugal for the duration of the Summer. Here the days are sunny and baking hot. Yesterday I found myself in the field planting out tomato, courgette and chilli plants that have become pot bound and need the extra nutrients and space of open soil. With hoe and shovel I began to dig. The soil is very heavy with clay and under the hot sun has become like concrete. Nevertheless I was determined to win the contest between man (or woman) against fallow ground. It reminded me much of Adam’s sadness at having to leave the sublimity of the Garden of Eden and as the punishment was given for his rebellion, ‘in sorrow and toil [you shall] eat of the fruits of it all the days of your life. Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth for you, and you shall eat the plants of the field. In the sweat of your face shall you eat bread until you return to the ground‘, yet God in His mercy had a plan all along to make a way for humanity to be restored.
Work out your salvation
As I was digging by the sweat of my brow, along came a mechanical digger. We are building a tank to contain water from the well at the bottom of the land. With ease and within minutes this digger was unearthing years of hard-baked clay soil into a sizable hole. It caused me to think about how we in our own strength try to be ‘good’ and ‘righteous’ before God, but if I may compare God to that mechanical digger, it pales into insignificance. Only by Christ’s death on the cross can we be made right. Yet I don’t believe this means we may sit back with ease. We are to work out our salvation in fear and trembling as it says in Phil 2:12 (work out (cultivate, carry out to the goal, and fully complete) your own salvation with reverence and awe and trembling (self-distrust, with serious caution, tenderness of conscience, watchfulness against temptation, timidly shrinking from whatever might offend God and discredit the name of Christ)). We are to strive for perfection, even if it’s by sweat, toil and tears (Heb 6:1). For narrow is the way and few be they that enter in. But we only reach this perfection by dependence on the Holy Spirit, not by dependence on our flesh (Gal 3:3). For that profits nothing, like the hoe against the digger.
In Jesus’ days on earth, He had much to say about farming. Like here in Central Portugal many were growers of their own vegetables and rearers of their own meat (Yesterday I witnessed our neighbour select his dinner from the chicken-pen and holding it up by the neck motioned that he was about to cut its throat). Not something we are too used to in Littleborough. Thankfully he is an extremely friendly neighbour or I may have cause for concern. This being the culture in Jesus’ day He would often use farming analogies to get His message across.
A farmer goes into the field and sows some seeds
The Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13 is probably one of the best known of them. A farmer goes out into the field and sows some seeds. Some fall by the path, where birds eat them. Some fall in stony places where they did not have enough earth and the sun scorched them. Some fall among thorns which were subsequently choked by them. But others fell on good soil and grew and produced varying amounts of crops.
Henry says – Parables enabled common actions to be spiritualised that we might meditate with delight on the things of God even when our hands are busiest in the world. That we may be led to have our hearts in heaven and that the Word of God shall talk to us with familiarity, (Prov. 6:22 when you roam they (words of wisdom) will lead you).
Our Saviour used parables to reduce messages to the capacities of the people, and in their own language. The disciples asked Him why He spoke in parables. To this question Christ answers to make the things of God more plain and easy to understand. Thus the gospel would be a savour of life to some, and of death to others. A parable is a shell that keeps good fruit for the diligent, but keeps it from the slothful. The mysteriousness of gospel truth should quicken us in our enquiries after it and searches into it.
The more we converse with Him
It is graciously given to the disciples of Christ to be acquainted with these mysteries. Knowledge is the first gift of God, and it is a distinguishing gift (Prov. 2:6 For the Lord gives wisdom, From His mouth come knowledge and understanding). It was given to the apostles, because they were Christ’s constant followers and attendants. The nearer we draw to Christ, and the more we converse with Him, the better acquainted we shall be with gospel mysteries.
In this parable is a promise to him that has true grace and uses what he has. He shall have more abundance, (Prov. 4:18 the path of the just is like the shining sun, that shines ever brighter unto the perfect day). Here is a threatening to him that has not, that has no desire of grace, that makes no right use of the gifts and graces he has. He has not root, no solid principle. He has, but uses not what he has. From him shall be taken away that which he has or seems to have. His leaves shall wither, his gifts decay.
This is reference to the two sorts of people Christ had to do with. Some were willingly ignorant and as such are amused by the parables (Matt. 13:13 hearing, they do not hear). They had shut their eyes against the clear light of Christ’s preaching, and therefore were now in the dark. Though seeing Christ in person, they did see His glory. There are many that see the gospel light, and hear the gospel sound, but it never reaches their hearts. Because they are resolved to be ignorant, they shut their learning senses. Their eyes they have closed because they loved darkness rather than light, (John 3:19). It is just with God to deny His grace to those who have often refused the proposals of it, and resisted the power of it.
Blessed are your ears that hear
Others were effectually called to be the disciples of Christ, and were truly desirous to be taught of Him. They were instructed, and made to improve greatly in knowledge, by these parables, especially when they were expounded. By them the things of God were made more plain and easy, more intelligible and familiar, and more apt to be remembered (Matt. 13:16 Your eyes see, your ears hear). They saw the glory of God in Christ’s person. They heard the mind of God in Christ’s doctrine. They saw much, and were desirous to see more, and thereby were prepared to receive further instruction with grace with it.
Christ speaks of this as a blessing; “Blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear. It is your happiness, and it is a happiness for which you are indebted to the peculiar favour and blessing of God.” True blessedness is as a result of the right understanding of the mysteries of the kingdom of God. The hearing ear and the seeing eye are God’s work in those who are sanctified, they are the work of his grace (Prov. 20:12).
Let us compare the parable and the explanation Christ gave. The seed sown is the Word of God, here called the Word of the kingdom (Matt. 13:19). The kingdom of heaven is the true kingdom. Where there is a kingdom there is law and power which we must be governed by. This Word of God is the seed sown, which seems a dead, dry thing, but all the life is vitally in it. It is incorruptible seed (1 Pet. 1:23). It is the gospel that brings forth fruit in souls (Col. 1:5-6).
We are God’s husbandry
The sower that scatters the seed is our Lord Jesus Christ, either by Himself, or by His ministers. The people are God’s husbandry, his tillage. Preaching to a multitude is sowing the corn. We know not where it falls. The sowing of the Word is the sowing of a people for God’s field.
The ground in which this seed is sown is the hearts of the children of men. Man’s heart is like soil, capable of bearing good fruit. It is a pity for it to lie fallow, or be like the field of the slothful, (Prov. 24:30). The soul is the proper place for the Word of God to dwell, and work and rule in. Yet as we are, so the Word is to us: Recipitur ad modum recipientis—The reception depends upon the receiver. As it is with the earth. Some ground however much you prepare it and throw good seed into it, yet it brings forth no fruit to any purpose. While good soil brings forth plentifully. So it is with the hearts of men, whose different characters are here represented by four sorts of ground, of which three are bad, and but one good.
The number of fruitless hearers is very great, even of those who heard Christ Himself. Many are called but in few in number is that eternal choice evidenced with the efficacy of that call, Matt. 20:16.
There were four sorts of ground. The pathways through the corn-fields (Matt. 12:1), and the seed that fell on them never entered the soil, and so the birds picked it up. Such people come before God as His people come, and sit before His as His people sit. But it is merely to see and be seen. What is said comes in one ear and goes out at the other, and makes no impression. The devil, comes and catches away that which was sown. Such mindless, careless, trifling hearers are an easy prey to Satan, who, as he is the great murderer of souls, so he will be sure to rob us of the Word, if we do not take care to keep it.
Break up your fallow ground
As the birds pick up the seed that falls on the ground that is not ploughed or hoed. If we do not break up the fallow ground, by preparing our hearts for the Word, and humbling ourselves, by giving it our own attention and do not cover the seed afterwards, by meditation and prayer, then we are as the pathway.
The stony ground – some fell upon stony places (Matt. 13:5, 6), which represents the case of hearers that go further than the first, who receive some good impressions of the Word, but they are not lasting, (Matt. 13:20). It is possible we may be a great deal better than some others, and yet not be so good as we should be. We may go beyond our neighbours, and yet come short of heaven.
They hear the Word – they do not turn their backs upon it, nor a deaf ear to it. But this if we rest in it will never bring us to heaven. Hypocrites often appear as true Christians in the shows of profession at the start, and are often too hot to hold. He receives it straightway and swallows it without chewing. But then there can never be a good digestion. Those are most likely to hold fast that which is good, that prove all things, (1 Thess. 5:21). They may even receive it with joy. There are many that are very glad to hear a good sermon, that yet do not profit by it. They may be pleased with the Word, and yet not changed and ruled by it. The heart may melt under the Word, and yet not be melted down by the Word as into a mould. Many endure for awhile, that do not endure to the end, and so come short of the happiness which is promised to them only that persevere (Matt. 10:22). They did run well, but something hindered them, (Gal. 5:7).
Prepare for such a day
No fruit was brought to perfection. They had no depth of earth from which to draw moisture, and so was scorched and withered by the heat of the sun. The reason being they have no root in themselves, no settled, fixed principles in their judgments, no firm resolution in their wills, nor any rooted habits in their affections. It is possible there may be the green blade of a profession, where yet there is not the root of grace. Hardness prevails in the heart, and what there is of soil and softness is only in the surface. Inwardly they are no more affected than a stone. They have no root, they are not by faith united to Christ who is our Root. They do not depend on Him.
In times of trial they come to nothing. When tribulation and persecution arise because of the Word, he is offended and so he flies off, and this is all his profession comes to. It is wisdom to prepare for such a day. When trying times come, those who have no root are soon offended and throw it off. Hence we read of the offence of the cross, (Gal. 5:11).
Persecution is represented in the parable by the scorching sun, (Matt. 13:6). The same sun which warms and cherishes that which was well rooted, withers and burns up that which wanted root. As the word of Christ, so the cross of Christ, is to some a savour of life unto life, to others a savour of death unto death. The same tribulation which drives some to apostasy and ruin, works for others a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. Trials which shake some, confirm others, (Phil. 1:12).
Worldy cares are great hindrances
The thorny ground – Some fell among thorns. This went further than the former, for it had root. The good they gain by the Word was soon overborne by the things of the world. Prosperity destroys the Word in the heart, as much as persecution does and more dangerously, because more silently. The stones spoil the root, the thorns spoil the fruit.
These choking thorns are the cares of this world. Care for another world would quicken the springing of this seed, but care for this world chokes it. Worldly cares are fitly compared to thorns, for they came in with sin, and are a fruit of the curse. They are entangling, vexing, scratching, and their end is to be burned, Heb. 6:8. These thorns choke the good seed. Worldly cares are great hindrances to our profiting by the Word of God, and our proficiency in faith. They eat up that vigour of soul which should be spent in divine things. They divert us and distract us from duty and quench the sparks of good affections. Those that are careful and cumbered about many things, commonly neglect the one thing needful.
Additionally the deceitfulness of riches. Those who, by their care and industry, have raised estates in this world. It is hard for them to enter into the kingdom of heaven. They are apt to rely upon their riches and this chokes the Word. It is not so much riches, as the deceitfulness of riches that does the mischief. They cannot be said to be deceitful to us unless we put our confidence in them, and raise our expectations from them and then they choke the good seed.
God’s Word shall not return empty
Yet some fall on good ground (Matt. 13:18). When good seed meets with good soil then there is no loss, of such, are the good hearers of the Word, Matt. 13:23. God has a remnant by whom the Word is received to good purpose, for God’s Word shall not return empty, (Isa. 55:10-11). It is fruitfulness that distinguishes this good ground from the rest. By this true Christians are distinguished from hypocrites, that they bring forth the fruits of righteousness, so shall you be My disciples, John 15:8. He does not say that this good ground has no stones in it or no thorns, but there were none that prevailed to hinder its fruitfulness. Saints, in this world, are not perfectly free from the remains of sin, but happily freed from the reign of it.
The hearers represented by the good ground are intelligent hearers. They hear the Word and understand it. They understand not only the sense and meaning of the Word, but of their own concern in it – as a man of business understands his business. God in his Word deals with men as men, in a rational way, and gains possession of the will and affections by opening the understanding.
Fruitful hearers, which is an evidence of their good understanding, also bears fruit. We bear fruit, when we practise according to the Word, when the temper of our minds and the tenour of our lives are conformable to the gospel we have received, and we do as we are taught.
Bring forth fruit
Among fruitful Christians, some are more fruitful than others. Where there is true grace, yet there are degrees of it. Some are of greater attainments in knowledge and holiness than others. But if the ground be good, and the fruit right, the heart honest, and a life to match, those who bring forth less fruit shall be graciously accepted of God, and it will be fruit abounding to their account, for we are under grace, and not under the law.
Adapted from the Matthew Henry Commentary
For we are fellow workmen (joint promoters, labourers together) with and for God; you are God’s garden and vineyard and field under cultivation, [you are] God’s building, 1 Corinthians 3:9.
Seek first the Kingdom Seek first the Kingdom of God May that always be the theme of our prayers. May we transform the prayers for our needs Into prayers regarding God’s affairs. We can be sure that all our needs will be added If this is what we do. If we would ask first that the Lord receive His He would cause us to receive ours too. He knows our every thought Our unuttered prayers For His is a God Who truly cares. What a sweet experience then for us That of continuously answered prayer. We need never cry out ‘where are You’? For You most assuredly will be there. By the late Andrew Feakin (passed away 16th March 2019)
Prayer: Father, I pray you break up any fallow ground in my heart. Let the Word of Your good seed be firmly planted in me that I be used to bear fruit for You hundred-fold and more. In the name of Christ I pray. Amen.
Parable of the Sower!
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