Or, the Word of the Kingdom to be Diversely Received According to the Moral Condition of Hearers.
Sitting in a boat on the Sea of Galilee near the shore, on which a great multitude was assembled to hear Him, Jesus said:—
Behold! the sower ὁ σπεἰρων—the man whose function it was to sow, or the sower of my parable. went forth to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell by the wayside, and the fowls came and devoured them. And other seeds fell upon the rocky places, ἐπἰ τά πετρώδη—not soil mixed with loose stones (which might be good), but soil resting on a rocky substratum a little below the surface. where they had not much earth, and forthwith they sprang up, because they had no deepness of earth; and when the sun was up they were scorched, and because they had not root they withered away. And other fell upon the thorns; and the thorns sprang up and choked them. And other fell upon the good ground, and brought forth fruity some δ μὲν, δ δὲ, δ δὲ—in this case, in that, and in a third case. an hundredfold, some δ μὲν, δ δὲ, δ δὲ—in this case, in that, and in a third case. sixty fold, and some δ μὲν, δ δὲ, δ δὲ—in this case, in that, and in a third case. thirtyfold. Who hath ears, let him hear.—Matt. 13:3-9.
Christ's hearers would have no difficulty in understanding the letter of this parable. At their side, as modern travellers who have been on the spot tell us, they might see an agricultural scene which would enable them to comprehend all the details of the picture at a glance. They would know perfectly what was literally intended by the four kinds of ground distinguished in the parable: that the way-side signified the hard-trodden path running through the cornfield; that the rocky places signified that part of the field where the soil was shallow, and the rocky stratum below came near the surface; that the thorns denoted, not thorn bushes actually growing in the field at the time of sowing, but soil with thorn seeds latent in it, which in due course sprang up, disputing possession with the grain; and that the good ground meant that portion of the field which was free from all the faults of the other parts, and was at once soft, deep, and clean. They would know also that the fate of seed falling upon these different places respectively would be just such as described in the parable: that the seed falling on the hard path would never even so much as germinate, but either be picked up by the birds or trodden under foot; that the seed falling on shallow soil, with rock immediately beneath, might germinate, and even spring up rapidly for a short while, but for want of sap and depth of earth must inevitably wither under the heat of the sun, and so come to nothing; that the seed which fell on soil full of thorn or thistle seeds might not only germinate and spring up, but continue to grow with vigour till it reached the green ear—the fault of the ground not being poverty, but foulness—but would never ripen, being choked, smothered, and shaded by the overgrowing thorns; and finally, that seed which fell on good, generous soil, soft, deep, and clean, could not fail, under the genial influences of fostering sap beneath and of a bright sun above, to yield a bountiful harvest, richly rewarding the husbandman's pains.
But what might the spiritual meaning of the parable be? Why did Jesus speak this parable? What did He mean to teach? These questions His hearers were not able to answer. That the parable was designed to teach something, that it meant more than met the ear, they would of course understand; for common sense would teach them that Christ was not likely to describe a sowing scene for its own sake, and the closing words, "Who hath ears, let him hear," was a hint at a hidden meaning that could not fail to be understood even by the most obtuse. It is even possible that the people standing on the shore had a shrewd suspicion that the preacher was speaking about themselves, and describing the various sorts of hearers of the word of the kingdom who were mingled together in that great crowd, and the correspondingly diverse issues of the preaching of the word. But beyond that point we may be sure their comprehension did not go. They might have a dim impression that the various sorts of soil signified spiritual states; but they could not discriminate the spiritual soils on which the word of the kingdom fell, as they could at once and with ease apprehend the literal points of the parable. How should the multitude at large understand what even the disciples, the twelve, and others who had been constantly in Christ's company, failed to understand? That even they were puzzled, the record informs us. When they were alone, we are told, the disciples asked their. Master what might this parable be. One of the Evangelists gives the question thus: "Why speakest Thou unto them in parables?"—meaning, in such a parable as this of the Sower. The two forms of the question convey a pretty definite idea of the state of mind of those who put it. It was a state intermediate between perfect knowledge and total ignorance. They did not know clearly the meaning of the parable, else they would not have asked for an interpretation; they were not totally ignorant of its meaning, else they would not have asked, "Why speakest Thou unto them in parables?" They knew enough to be surprised that their Master addressed such a parable to the eagerly-listening multitude—a parable not setting forth any truth concerning the kingdom, like that of the Precious Pearl, which teaches the incomparable value of the kingdom—but animadverting on the various classes of hearers. That, as we believe, was the cause of surprise: not the general fact of teaching in a new way (viz. in parables) taken abstractly and by itself, but that fact taken in conjunction with the peculiar character of the parable by which the new method was inaugurated.
If such was indeed the feeling in the minds of the disciples, we cannot wonder at their question. For even now we who understand the parable, as they could not before it was explained to them, are constrained to ask ourselves the question, Why spake Jesus such a parable as that of the Sower to the crowd of people assembled on the shore of the Sea of Galilee—a parable in which the Speaker preached not to the people, but at them, or over their heads; not about any important truth of the kingdom, but about the reception truth was likely to meet with; not glad tidings to men, but very sombre, depressing tidings concerning men in their relation to the gospel? One could at once understand how such a parable as this might at any time have been spoken to the disciples; because to them it was given "to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven," and specially because it was desirable that they, as the future apostles of the kingdom, should know what reception they were to meet with, to prevent disappointment when they learned by experience, as their Master had already learned, that the effect of the word was conditioned variously by the moral state of the hearer. Antecedently to experience, men of sanguine temper, ardently devoted to the kingdom, might anticipate a very different result, and expect the intrinsic excellence of the doctrine to insure in all cases a harvest of beneficent effects. A warning to the contrary was therefore by no means superfluous. But was it not wasting a precious opportunity thus to speak to the common people? and if the Preacher must speak in parabolic form, why not utter an "evangelic" parable, reserving didactic parables for the twelve, and prophetic parables for unbelieving hostile Pharisees and Sadducees? We put the question strongly, because we wish to force ourselves and our readers to reflect and go in quest of an answer; believing that the answer, when found, will lend greatly enhanced interest to the parable, and help us to understand its import, and may even lead to discoveries as to the design and what we may call the psychological genesis of the whole parabolic teaching of our Lord.
Without doubt, then, to answer our question at once, the reason why Jesus spoke such a parable as that of the Sower, and such other parables as these of the Tares and the Net, in the hearing of the multitude is to be sought in the moral situation of the hour. Travellers and interpreters have been at great pains to explain the physical situation—the natural surroundings of the Speaker that day when He began to open His mouth in parables. And this is well, though it is possible to have too much of it, leading to a sentimental style of treating the parables which is rather tiresome and unprofit able. The moral situation is undoubtedly the principal thing to be determined; for we cannot believe that Christ was led to speak as He did by merely picturesque influences, any more than we can believe that He then and there opened His mouth in parables from a merely intellectual liking for that symbolic manner of expressing thought. The motive must have come from the spiritual composition and condition of the crowd. Jesus must have lifted up the eye of His mind, and seen, not a literal field, with the characteristics described in course of being sown with grain, but a spiritual field with analogous characteristics, which had been sown with the seeds of Divine truth by Himself,—even that very crowd which was assembled before Him. But have we any evidence that the spiritual condition of that crowd was such as this hypothesis requires? We have. First there is the statement made by Jesus Himself, in reply to the question of His disciples, which presents a very gloomy picture of the spiritual condition of the people: "For this people's heart is waxed gross," etc. When Jesus said that, He did not merely quote a prophetic commonplace in a haphazard, pointless way, without meaning to imply that it had any very definite applicability to the multitude before Him. He believed, and He said, that in the case of that very multitude the spiritual state described by the prophet Isaiah was very exactly fulfilled or realized. Matt. 13:14. Καὶ ἀναπληροῦται. The ἀνά is intensive. Then, secondly, there is the great historical melancholy fact of the Capernaum crisis recorded in John vi., in which the Galilean revival came to a deplorable end: "From that time many of His disciples went back and walked no more with Him." And, finally, the minute particulars of information supplied by the Evangelists as to the circumstances amid which Jesus spake our parable, show that the Galilean enthusiasm is at its height, and therefore that the crisis, the time of reaction, must be near. Matthew tells us that so great were the multitudes who gathered together unto Jesus that He was obliged to go into a ship in order to escape pressure, and have a position from which He could be seen and heard of all. Mark says: "And He began again to teach by the seaside,"—implying eagerness in the people thereabouts to hear; and he characterises the audiences not merely as great, but as very great. ὄχλος πλεἵστος (ch. 4:1). Luke informs us that the congregation assembled was composed of people coming "out of every city," Ch. 8:4. τῶν κατὰ πόλιν ἐπιπορευομένων πρὸς αὐτόν—that is, from all the towns and villages by the shores of the lake.
The crisis, then, is approaching, and it is in view of that crisis Jesus speaks the parable of the Sower. He sees it coming, and is sad, and He speaks as He feels. The present enthusiasm, because He knows how it is likely to end, gives Him no pleasure,—it rather causes Him trouble. He wishes to be rid of it. We might almost say He speaks the parable for that end; using it, as He used the mystic sermon on the Bread of Life, in the synagogue at Capernaum, as a fan to separate wheat from chaff. At the least, we may say He speaks the parable to foreshadow the end. The parable is a prelude to the sermon, uttered to satisfy the Speaker's sense of truth; to throw hearers back on themselves in self-examination; to warn disciples against being imposed on by fair appearances, and cherishing romantic expectations doomed to bitter disappointment; and to insure in all ages, for an 'enthusiasm of humanity' not blind to the weakness of human nature, a respect which it is impossible to accord to a shallow philanthropy without moral insight.
So we account for the utterance of the parable of the Sower, and of at least some others of the group contained in Matt. xiii. But can the same or a similar account be given of the parabolic teaching of Christ in general? A remark of Jesus to His disciples reported by Mark seems to imply that it can: "Know ye not this parable? and how then will ye know all the parables?" The remark, taken by itself, might be understood to mean that men who could not comprehend so simple a parable would be still more at a loss with other parables, spoken or to be spoken, more difficult of comprehension. But, taken along with the reference going before to the words of Isaiah, it seems rather to signify that the parables in general are to be regarded as associated more or less with the mood of mind which these prophetic words express. And close observation of the parables recorded in the Gospels shows that this is really to a large extent the case. It will be found, on inspection, that very many of the parables are of an apologetic or defensive character. The position of Christ when He uttered them was that of one found fault with, misunderstood, or despairing of being understood; conscious of isolation, and saddened by the lack of intelligence, sympathy, and faith on the part of those among whom He exercised His ministry. Such seem to have been the psychological conditions under which the mind of the Saviour betook itself to parable-making. The question why He spoke in parables as a public teacher is a wide one, to which a full answer is not given in the Gospels. Doubtless temperament and the genius of race had something to do with it; and a certain class of writers would emphasise such causes. But while they may be admitted to have been joint causes, we do not believe they were sole causes. There is not only a parabolic temperament and a parabolic genius that delights to wrap thoughts up in symbolic envelopes; but there is, moreover, a parabolic mood, which leads a man now, rather than then, to present his thoughts in this form. It is the mood of one whose heart is chilled and whose spirit is saddened by a sense of loneliness, and who, retiring within himself, by a process of reflection frames for his thoughts forms which half conceal, half reveal them,—reveal them more perfectly to those who understand, hide them from those who do not: forms beautiful, but also melancholy, as the hues of the forest in late autumn. If this view be correct, we should expect that speaking in parables would not form a feature of the initial stage of Christ's ministry. And such, accordingly, was the fact. Jesus opened His mouth first, not in parables, but in plain speeches; or if He used parables previously, it was only such as were common among Jewish teachers: figures meant to enliven moral commonplaces, like that of the wise and foolish builders at the close of the Sermon on the Mount. He uttered beatitudes before He uttered similitudes, and He uttered similitudes because the beatitudes had not been understood or appreciated. In His own words, as reported by the first Evangelist, Jesus began to speak in parables because His hearers, seeing, saw not, and hearing, heard not, neither did they understand. They had seen His miracles, and had been led by them to form false conceptions of His mission; they had heard His teaching on the mount and elsewhere, and had formed erroneous ideas of the kingdom; and therefore now He wraps His thoughts in forms by which those who do see shall be enabled to see more clearly, and to him who hath light shall come a still higher measure of illumination, and those, on the other hand, who see not shall be made still more blind, simply mystified and perplexed as to what the strange Speaker might mean.
Such, doubtless, were the results in many instances of Christ's parabolic teaching: some who so far already understood Him were led into a clearer comprehension of His mind; others who understood Him not were conducted into deeper darkness. Take, e.g., the parables which contain the apology for loving sinners. One who understood the motive of Jesus in frequenting the company of sinners would get a most instructive glimpse into the heart of the Son of Man on hearing those charming, pathetic parables of the Lost Sheep the Lost Coin, and the Lost Son. But what effect would these beautiful poetic parables have on the mind of unsympathetic, hostile Pharisees? Not to make them comprehend at last the true spirit of a much misunderstood and calumniated man, but to harden them into more intense antipathy,—the very beauty and poetry and pathos of the sayings making them hate more bitterly one with whom they were determined not to be pleased. Such were the results in that case, and doubtless in many others. But were these results—was the latter result, that is to say—intended? Did Jesus Christ, the Saviour of men, speak parables that blind men might be made blinder, and deaf men deafer, and hard hearts harder? According to the report of what He said to the disciples in answer to their question "Why speakest Thou in parables?" given by two of the Evangelists, we may seem forced to the conclusion that He did. For while Matthew makes Him say, "Therefore speak I to them in parables, because they seeing, see not"—suggesting the thought that the parabolic mode of instruction was adopted that men who saw not might see at least a little, since they had failed to see on any other method, Mark and Luke ascribe to Him the sentiment, "To others (I speak) in parables, in order that seeing, they might not see, and nearing, they might not understand." Some critics, deeming the two accounts irreconcilable, prefer Matthew's as the more correct, and regard the aim ascribed to Christ by the other two Evangelists simply as "the hypochondriac construction put upon His words in Gospels written in a pessimistic spirit by men despairing of the Jewish people." But that the two points of view are not mutually exclusive may be inferred from the fact that even Mark, who puts the darker view most strongly, winds up his record of Christ's parabolic teaching by the lake-side with a reflection which plainly implies that the design of that teaching was not to produce blindness, but, if possible, vision. "And with many such parables spake He the word unto them, as they were able to hear it." And we may lay it down as a fixed principle that what is implied in Mark's reflection is the truth. The direct primary aim of all Christ's teaching was to illuminate human minds and to soften human hearts. Such was both the aim and the tendency of His parabolic teaching in particular. The parable of the Prodigal Son, e.g., was surely both fitted and intended to enlighten the minds of even scribes and Pharisees as to the motive of the Speaker in associating with the sinful, and to soften their hearts into a more kindly tone of feeling towards Himself! But, on the other hand, that very parable might have just the opposite effects on minds full of prejudice and on hearts full of bitterness, and produce a more complete misunderstanding and a more inhuman and pitiless antipathy. And in uttering the parable Jesus could not but be aware of the possibility of such a result, and yet might utter it with that possible result consciously in view. Nay, we can conceive Him erecting the possible and undesirable result into the position of an end, and saying, "I speak such and such parables in order that they who see not may become more utterly blind." Only we must be careful not to misunderstand the temper in which such words might be spoken by Jesus, or by any true servant of God. No true prophet could utter such words in cold blood as the expression of a deliberate purpose. All prophets desire to illumine, soften, and save, not to darken, harden, and destroy; and without entering into the mystery of Divine decrees, we may add, God sends His prophets for no other purpose, whatever the foreseen effects of their labour may be. But a prophet like Isaiah may nevertheless feel as if he were sent, and represent himself as sent, for the opposite purpose. And when he does so it is not in the way of expressing direct aim or deliberate intention, but in irony, and in the bitterness of frustrated, despairing love. Baffled love in bitter irony announces as its aim the very opposite of what it works for, and it does so in the hope of provoking its infatuated objects to jealousy, and so defeating its own prophecy. "I go," says Isaiah in effect, "to prophesy to this people, that hearing they may understand not, and seeing may perceive not, that I may make their hearts fat, and their ears heavy, and their eyes dim, lest they see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their hearts, and convert and be healed;" and he goes forth to fulfil these strange ends by using means fitted and designed to produce just the opposite effects, warning them of the consequences of persisting in evil ways, and preaching unto them a gospel of rest for the weary with such plainness, emphasis, and iteration, as to expose himself to the mockery of drunkards, who said: "With this prophet it is 'precept upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, there a little,'—wearisome iteration of lessons fit only for children." Isaiah 28:9-12. The words in the original are at once a clever caricature of elementary teaching for children, and an imitation of the thick, indistinct speech of an intoxicated person: Ki tsav-la-tsav, tsav-la-tsav; kav-la-kav, kav-la-kav; zeēr-shàm, zeēr-shàm. In the light of these observations we can understand in what spirit Jesus appropriated to Himself the harsh terms in which the prophet expressed his Divine mission, and how we are to view His parabolic teachings. He served Himself heir to Isaiah's commission in the ironic humour of a love that yearned to save, and was faithful to its purpose even to death. He spoke parables,—one now, another then; here a little, there a little,—if by any means He might teach men the truth in which they might find rest to their souls. The parables were neither deliberate mystifications, nor idle intellectual conceits, nor mere literary products of aesthetic taste: they were the utterances of a sorrowful heart. And herein lies their chief charm: not in the doctrine they teach, though that is both interesting and important; not in their literary beauty, though that is great; but in the sweet delicate odour of human pathos that breathes from them as from Alpine wild flowers. That He had to speak in parables was one of the burdens of the Son of Man, to be placed side by side with the fact that He had not where to lay His head.
We proceed now to the interpretation of our parable. Christ's own interpretation was as follows:
Hear ye then the parable of the sower. In the case of every one hearing the word of the kingdom and not understanding it, cometh the wicked one and catcheth away that which has been sown in his heart. This is the one sown by the wayside. But the one sown upon the rocky places is he who heareth the word and anon with joy receiveth it. But he hath not root in himself but is only temporary, πρόσκαιρος. and when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, straightway he is made to stumble. And the one sown among the thorns is he who heareth the word, and the care of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful. And the one sown upon the good ground is he who heareth the word and understandeth it, who accordingly δἡ, expressive of self-evident result. See p. 36. bringeth forth fruit and produces now an hundredfold, now sixty, now thirty.—Matt. 13:18-23.
The parable, according to this authoritative interpretation, Is meant to teach that among those to whom the word of the kingdom is spoken are diverse classes of hearers—four at least—corresponding to the four sorts of ground on which the seed falls. A record of observation in the first place, it is, moreover, a prophetic picture of the future fortunes of the kingdom. In relating under a parabolic veil His own sad experience, Jesus forewarned His disciples what they had to expect when they were called on as apostles to sow the word of the kingdom. They should find among their hearers classes of persons of which these sorts of ground were the types. Now, the matter of chief importance here is, to form just conceptions of these classes, that the moral lesson may come home to all. Many interpreters grievously offend here. Greswell, e.g., makes the wayside hearer one characterised by an absolute hardness, whose state of mind "may be the most deplorable to which human frailty is exposed and the most horrible to which human wickedness is liable to be reduced,— the last stage in a long career of depravity, and the judicial result of perseverance in obstinate wickedness with impunity and impenitence." This is surely to confound weakness and wickedness, and so to render the parable useless for the purpose of warning to a very common class of hearers. We must remember, in the quaint words of a wiser expositor, that "the trodden path is after all not a rock," and generally give heed to the remark of a greater than either: "In order that the admonitions of the parable may benefit us the more, it must be kept steadily in view that no mention is made therein of despisers of the word, but only of those in whom appears a certain measure of docility." Doubtless there were 'wayside' hearers in the crowd to whom the parable was addressed; yet all present had come with more or less desire to hear Christ preach, and learn at His lips the doctrine of the kingdom.
We shall best learn to discriminate accurately the different classes of hearers by giving close attention to the manner in which they are respectively characterised by our Lord.
I. The wayside hearer hears the word, but does not understand it,—or, to use a phrase which expresses at once the literal and the figurative truth, does not take it in. "Our language is capable in this instance, like the Greek, of expressing by one phrase equally the moral and the material failure: 'Every one that hears the word of the kingdom and does not take it in (μὴ συνιἑντος).'" Arnot, 'The Parables of our Lord,' p. 52. Thoughtlessness, spiritual stupidity, arising not so much from want of intellectual capacity as from preoccupation of mind, is the characteristic of the first class. Their mind is like a footpath beaten hard by the constant passage through it of "the wishes of the flesh and the current thoughts" So Mr. M. Arnold renders the Apostle Paul's phrase τὰ θελήματα τῆζ σαρκὸς καὶ τῶν διανοιῶν (Eph. 2:3). Vide 'Literature and Dogma,' p. 202 concerning common earthly things. For a type of the class we may take the man who interrupted Christ while preaching on one occasion, and said: "Master, speak to my brother, that he divide the inheritance with me." He had just heard Christ utter the words, "And when they bring you into the synagogues, and unto magistrates and powers," and these suggested to him the topic on which his thoughts were habitually fixed—his dispute with his brother about their patrimony. And so it happened to him according to the parable. The truth he had heard did not get into his mind, hardened as it was like a beaten path by the constant passage through it of current thoughts about money; it was very soon forgotten altogether, caught away by the god of this world, who ruled over him through his covetous disposition. It may be regarded as certain that there were many such hearers in the crowd by the lake,—men in whose minds the doctrine of the kingdom merely awakened hopes of worldly prosperity,—who, as Jesus afterwards told them, laboured for the meat that perisheth, not for the meat that endureth unto everlasting life. Such were they who "received seed by the wayside."
2. He that received seed into stony places, on the other hand, is he that heareth the word and anon with joy receiveth it. The characteristic of this class is emotional excitability, inconsiderate impulsiveness. They receive the word readily with joy; but without thought. The latter trait is not indeed specified, but it is clearly implied in the remark concerning the effect of tribulation, persecution, or temptation on this class of hearers. They had not anticipated such experiences, they did not count the cost, there was a want of deliberation at the commencement of their religious life, and by implication a want of that mental constitution which ensures that there shall be deliberation at all critical periods of life. It is this want of deliberation that is the fault of the class now under consideration, not the mere fact of their receiving the word with joy. Joy by itself does not define the class; for joy is characteristic of deep as well as of shallow natures. Absence of joy in religious life is a sign, not of depth, but of dulness. The noble, devoted heart that attains to high measures of faithfulness has great rapturous passionate joy in connection with its spiritual experiences. But the joy of the good and honest heart is a thoughtful joy, associated with and springing out of the exercise of the intellectual and the moral powers upon the truth believed. The joy of the stony ground hearer, on the contrary, is a thoughtless joy coming to him through the effects of what he hears upon the imagination and the feelings. Joy without thought is his definition.
Of course a religious experience of this character cannot last: it is doomed to prove abortive. For tribulation, persecution, temptation in some form, will come, not to be withstood except by those whose whole spiritual being—mind, heart, conscience—is influenced by the truth; and even by them only by the most strenuous exertion of their moral energies. A man who has been touched only on the surface of his soul by a religious movement, who has been impressed on the sympathetic side of his nature by a prevalent enthusiasm, and has yielded to the current without understanding what it means, whither it tends, and what it involves,—such a man has no chance of persevering under the conditions of trial amidst which the divine life has to be lived in this world. He is doomed to be πρόσκαιρος, a temporary Christian, to be scandalised by tribulation, to apostatise in the season of temptation. For he hath not root in himself, in his moral personality, in the faculties constituting personality—the reason, conscience, and will—which remain hard, untouched, unpenetrated by the fibres of his faith; his root is in others, in a prevalent popular enthusiasm; his religion is a thing of sympathetic imitation. He is not only πρόσκαιρος in the sense of being temporary, but likewise in the sense of being a creation of the time, a child of the Zeitgeist. He comes forth as a professor of religion "at the call of a shallow enthusiasm, and through the epidemic influence of a popular cause." And this fact largely explains his temporariness. When the tide of enthusiasm subsides, and he is left to himself to carry on single-handed the struggle with temptation, he has no heart for the work, and his religion withers away, like the corn growing on rocky places under the scorching heat of the summer sun.
If a type of this class is sought for in the Gospel records, it may be found in the man who said unto Jesus, "Lord, I will follow Thee whithersoever Thou goest," and to whom Jesus replied, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have roosts, but the Son of man hath not where to lay His head." The reply clearly implies that this would-be disciple was under some sudden impulse proposing to follow Christ, without considering what the step involved. He had received the word of the kingdom with joy, and came to offer himself as a disciple in a spirit of romantic enthusiasm, without the smallest idea what he was undertaking, utterly unaware of the hardships of disciple life. But what need to point to the scribe as if he were a solitary instance of inconsiderate profession! Was not the crowd by the lake to which the Parable of the Sower was spoken full of such professors? There was a great religious enthusiasm—what in these days might be called a 'great revival'—in Galilee, and there were many in that crowd who had come under its influence. Infected by the spirit of the time, they followed Jesus, by whose preaching of the kingdom the movement had been created, whithersoever He went; delighted to hear Him speak, feeling as if they could never hear enough of the precious words which fell from His lips. But alas! their religion consisted largely in sympathy with their fellows, and in vague romantic dreams concerning the kingdom that was coming; and so when the time of disenchantment came, and they learnt that their dreams were not likely to be realised, they "went back and walked no more with Him." How often has the same tragedy been repeated in the history of religious movements of a popular character! It is persons whose spiritual natures resemble the rocky ground who are chiefly influenced by such movements. Others of deeper character and more promise may be touched in small numbers, but these are sure to be touched in large numbers. And so it comes to pass that the melancholy history of many hopeful religious movements is this: many converts, few stable Christians; many blossoms, little fruit coming to maturity.
3. He that received seed among the thorns is so described as to suggest the idea of a double-minded man—the ἀνὴρ δίψυχος of St. James. This man is neither stupid, like his brother nearer of the first class, nor a mere man of feeling, like those of the second class. He hears in the emphatic sense of the word, hears both with thought and with feeling, understanding what he hears and realising its solemn importance. The soil in his case is neither hard on the surface nor shallow; it is good soil so far as softness and depth are concerned. Its one fault (but it is a very serious one) is that it is impure: there are other seeds in it besides those being sown on it, and the result will be two crops struggling for the mastery, with the inevitable result that the better crop will have to succumb. This man has two minds, so to speak,—we might almost say he is two men. His will is divided—not decided for good and against evil, but now on one side, now on the other; serving God to-day, serving mammon to-morrow; very religious, and also very worldly. Such he is at the beginning, though not very obviously; such he will be more manifestly in the after course of his religious career; such he will be to the end. To the end, we say; for it is not this man's nature to begin with enthusiasm and by and by to leave off. He is too grave, too serious, too strong-natured a man, to be guilty of such levity. What he begins he will go through with. He will not apostatise, as a rule (for there may be exceptions); he will keep up a profession of religion till he dies. His leaf will not wither,—it will continue growing till it reach the ear; but the ear will be green when it should be ripe. Only in this sense is it said of him that "he becometh unfruitful." He bringeth forth fruit, but he bringeth "no fruit to perfection." Luke 8:14. Καὶ οὐ τελεσφοροῦσιν. Vide Robertson of Brighton on this point: 'Sermons,' first series, on the Parable of the Sower. The whole sermon is instructive. He never attains to ripeness in his personal character. Any one can see that he is a misthriven Christian, a man not victorious over the world, but defeated by the world in one form or another,—by carking care, by the vanity and pride of wealth, by some form of selfish or sensual indulgence, such as inordinate affection for things lawful, sloth, or excessive use of stimulants. All these forms of worldliness are referred to in the records: Matthew specifies the care of the world (μέριμνα τοὺ αἰῶνος) and the deceit of riches (ἡ ἀπάτῃ τοῦ πλούτου); Mark to these adds the desires concerning other things (αἱ περὶ τὰ λοιπὰ ἐπιθυμίαι). Luke also gives these categories: cares, riches, and pleasures of life (ὑπὸ μεριμνῶν καὶ πλούτο καὶ ἡδονῶν τοῦ βίου). You may hope for his salvation notwithstanding; nevertheless you pronounce him a spiritual failure. He is unfruitful also in his Christian activity, unfruitful in the sense of bringing no fruit to perfection. He busies himself, probably, in good works; perhaps takes a prominent part in devotional meetings, and appears duly on philanthropic and religious platforms. But his influence is zero, or worse—mischievous; for honest men know him, and it gives them a disgust to see such as he figuring as promoters of any good work or as patrons of any worthy cause.
It may be asked, Who has a chance of bringing forth fruit unto perfection, for what character is free from thorns? But the question is not, who is free from evil desires, or from temptation to inordinate affection? but what attitude you assume towards these. There are roots of bitterness in every man, which, if allowed to grow up, will trouble and defile him. But the attitude of the double-minded man towards these roots is very different from that of the single-minded man. The former never makes up his mind to be resolutely against evil, and to bring to bear all his moral energy to put it down; the latter, on the contrary, does make up his mind to this, and abides habitually of this mind. The singleminded man adopts as his principle the motto, "Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and food and raiment shall be added unto you;" and in adopting and acting on this principle he becomes a perfect man, and brings forth fruit unto perfection. For the perfect man in Scripture does not mean the faultless man, but the man of single mind, who loves God above all else; and the fruit of such a man's life, though not absolutely corresponding to the ideal, will be acknowledged by all competent judges to be good, his character noble, his work such as shall stand.
Of the thorny ground hearer, the man of divided mind and double heart, we have an example in him who came to Jesus and said, "Lord, I will follow Thee; but first let me go bid them farewell which are at home at my house." Apparently a most reasonable request; but Jesus discerned in it the sign of a divided heart, and therefore replied: "No man having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God." The example is all the more instructive that the man's temptation arose, not from lust after forbidden pleasure, but from inordinate affection for things lawful. How natural, how excusable that hankering after home and household! Yet just such hankerings, and nothing worse, are in many instances the thorns which, springing up, choke the word and render it unfruitful. How many men are wasting their lives at home, who might go forth to a life of abundant fruitfulness in mission fields, were it not for an attachment like that of John Mark for fathers or mothers, or native land!
4. He that received seed into the good ground is he that heareth the word and understandeth it. The description is intended to express the idea of a perfect hearer, and for that purpose seems inadequate. For the perfect hearer ought to have all the good characteristics of a hearer of the previous class, and over and above, that which he lacks—a pure will, a single mind. Now, even the thorny ground hearer understands the word, and is impressed by it, and only comes short by not giving to that to which the word relates, the kingdom of God, its proper place of supremacy. It does not therefore sufficiently distinguish a hearer of the last class to say of him that he hears and understands, or even that he hears with understanding and feeling. The authors of the Authorized version betray a certain consciousness of this fact in their rendering of the clause relating to the fruitfulness of the fourth class—"which also beareth fruit"—as if the words were meant to express an additional characteristic of the class; while in truth they express the sure, necessary result of the characteristics already specified. We naturally turn to the other Evangelists, to see whether the apparent defect is supplied in their accounts. For the 'understandeth' of Matthew, Mark gives 'receive,' Mark 4:20: παραδέχονται. and Luke, 'keep'; Luke 8:15: κατέχουσιν. and these are important words, but neither do they bring out fully the characteristic distinction of the perfect hearer. For the thorny ground hearer also receives the truth, takes it into his mind and heart; and he not only receives it, but retains it; his only fault is that he does not receive and retain it alone, but allows the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things to enter into and abide in his heart alongside of the truth. The precise distinction of the perfect hearer, on the other hand, is this,—that he does receive and retain the word alone in his mind. He is characteristically single-minded and whole-hearted in religion. The kingdom of God has the first place in his thoughts, and everything else only the second. His motto is taken from the words of the Psalmist: "Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me." He loves God, and seeks the kingdom of God in accordance with the high requirement, "with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might." St Bernard has some excellent remarks on this requirement in his 'Sermons on Canticles.' Discoursing on the duty of loving Christ "dulciter, prudenter, fortiter," he goes on to say: "Zelum tuum inflammet charitas, informet scientia, firmet constantia. Sit fervidus, sit circumspectus, sit invictus. Nec teporem habeat, nec careat discretione, nec timidus sit. Et vide ne forte tria ista tibi et in lege tradita fuerint, dicente Deo: Dilige Dominum Deum tuum ex toto carde tuo, et ex tota anima tua, et ex tota virtute tua, Mihi videtur amor quidem cordis ad zelum quemdam pertinere affectionis, animæ vero amor ad industriam seu judicium rationis; virtutis autem dilectio ad animi posse referri constantiam vel vigorem. Dilige ergo Dominum Deum tuum toto et pleno cordis affectu; dilige tota rationis vigilantia et circumspectione; dilige et tota virtute, ut nec mori pro ejus amore pertimescas."—Sermo xx. 4. He is wholly given up, devoted, to the kingdom; for him, as for the Preacher, to "fear God and keep His commandments" is "the whole of man." Ecclesiastes 12:13, literally translated. St. Bernard says: "Propter temetipsum, Deus, fecisti omnia, et qui esse vult sibi et non tibi, nihil esse incipit inter omnia. Deum time, et mandata ejus observa: hoc est omnis homo. Ergo si hoc est omnis homo, absque hoc nihil omnis homo."—Sermo xx. 1. That the perfect hearer must be a man of this sort, we know from the nature of the case; for nothing short of this will yield the result desired; and we further know from the whole teaching of our Lord, which throughout sets forth single-minded, whole-hearted devotion to the kingdom as the cardinal virtue of all genuine citizens. The only question is whether we can by fair exegesis bring the idea of such a man out of the interpretation of the parable given by Christ, or whether we do not rather bring the idea with us and put it into His words. Now, we admit that, so far as the words to which we have as yet adverted are concerned, such an allegation might plausibly be made. The idea of single-minded devotion cannot be taken out of the words 'understand,' 'receive,' 'retain.' At most we can only justify ourselves for putting that idea into them by the consideration that they are meant to discriminate the perfect hearer from the one going before, and can do so only when they are so emphasised as to imply that nothing but the seed of truth is received and retained. But what is lacking in these words is supplied in a phrase given by the third Evangelist, to which we have not yet adverted. In the case of the perfect hearer the word is received and retained in a noble and good heart. Here is what we have been in quest of—a perfectly definite and adequate characteristic of the class of hearers who attain unto real and abundant fruitfulness. It is worthy of notice that the remarkable expression occurs in the Gospel of Luke, the Evangelist of the Gentiles, to whom it would be no objection that the phrase was one in familiar use among the Greeks to denote the beau-ideal of manhood,—the man in all respects as he ought to be. It is not assuming too much to suppose that Luke was acquainted with the Attic sense of the phrase, and that he attached to it, as used by himself in this place, a meaning akin to the idea of καλοκαγαθία as understood by the Greeks. In any case we are justified, even by New Testament usage, in taking out of the expression the idea of a man whose aim is noble and who is generously devoted to his aim. The epithet καλός has reference to aims or chief ends, and describes one whose mind is raised above moral vulgarity, and is bent, not on money-making and such low pursuits, but on the attainment of wisdom, holiness, righteousness. The epithet ἀγαθὄς denotes generous self-abandonment in the prosecution of such lofty ends—large-heartedness, magnanimous, overflowing devotion. Of the use of the former epithet in the sense explained we have an instance in the eulogium pronounced by Jesus on the act of anointing performed by Mary of Bethany. "She hath wrought," He said, "a noble work (ἔργον καλὸν) upon me." Mary's act had been blamed as wasteful, and such it was when tested by vulgar utility. Jesus defended it by calling it noble as distinct from useful in the obvious vulgar sense, and holding it up as worthy to receive throughout the whole world an admiration to which only noble things are entitled. Of the use of the latter epithet in the sense explained we have an instance which possesses peculiar weight, as occurring in the Acts of the Apostles. We refer to the character given to Barnabas in connection with the part he took in the new movement which had commenced at Antioch. Barnabas had been sent by the Church at Jerusalem to see, and, if he approved, to assist in the work; and it is reported of him that when he came and had seen the grace of God he was glad, and exhorted them all that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord. Then to explain his conduct, the author, Luke, our Evangelist, adds: "For he was a good man (ἀνὴρ ἀγαθὸς), and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith." His goodness manifestly consisted in a generous sympathy, free from all mean narrow suspicion, with the cause of Gentile evangelisation. He believed the work to be of God, though it was a strange, startling, unlooked-for phenomenon; and he entered into it with his whole heart. If we desire still further light as to the idea attached by Luke to the epithet 'good,' we have but to recall to our recollection two other facts recorded by him concerning Barnabas: the sale of his estate for the benefit of the Church, and his generous recognition of Paul—first as a convert, when he was still an object of suspicion and fear, and then as the fit man to carry on the work at Antioch when he abode in his native city, inactive and eager for an opportunity of service. A good man, in Luke's vocabulary, meant a man capable of self-sacrifice for the kingdom of God—a man of large, expansive sympathies, and magnanimously trustful and generous in his relations to his brethren—one who could forget himself and his personal interest to serve God, or to help a new struggling cause, or a friend in time of need. And the man who in a noble and good heart hears and retains the word is just such an one as Barnabas. He is a man devoted to the kingdom of God with his whole heart and soul and mind, who could part with all for its sake, who could even at Christ's bidding, though with a keen pang, leave the dead to bury the dead, even were the dead his own father. That ἀγαθὸς bears the meaning assigned to it in the text in the New Testament appears from Luke 23:50, where Joseph of Arimathea is called ἀνὴρ ἀγαθὸς καὶ δίκαιος. The latter epithet is explained by the clause following: "he had not consented to their counsel and deed;" the former was shown to belong to him by his generous act in burying Jesus. A similar distinction between these words is taken in Rom. 5:7, though Jowett denies it The same distinction is made in the ' Clementine Homilies,' xviii. 1-3. Both Simon Magus and Peter agree that the words denote different attributes, only Simon maintains they are incompatible. Peter defines ἀγαθὺς thus: ἐγώ φημί ἀγαθόν εἴναι τὸν παρεκτικὸν = largitor, giver. Eusebius, 'Theophania,' Book iv. cap. 33, referring to this parable, and to the souls that bring forth fruit, describes the latter as men whose heart is pure and whose mind is devoted, which is just our idea of the two epithets κάλος and ἀγαθὸς. The words of Eusebius are: οἱ δὲ ἐναντίως ἐκείνοις διακείμενοι, καθαρᾷ ψυχᾷ καὶ προαιρέσει γνησ᾿ᾳ τὸν σωτήριον ὑποδεξάμενοι σπόρον, κ. τ. λ.
The demand that the kingdom be put first could not be stated in stronger terms than it was in the reply of Jesus to the disciple who asked permission to discharge the last office to a deceased parent. And the man who can comply with the hard requirement therein expressed may be taken as the type of the fruitful hearer, as the man who volunteered to become a disciple may be taken as the type of the stony ground hearer, and the man who desired leave to go and bid farewell to his friends as the type of the thorny ground hearer.
That such a man should be fruitful is not to be wondered at; any amount of fruitfulness may be expected of him—thirty, sixty, even an hundred fold. The fruitfulness of such a hearer Jesus regarded and represented as a matter of course. Such is the force of the words rendered so feebly in the Authorized version, "which also beareth fruit." The words mean "who of course, certainly, without fail, heareth fruit." Matt. 13:23: δς δὴ καρποφορεῖ. The rendering of the R. V., "who verily," is better, but not satisfactory. Passow finds the key to all the meanings of δὴ in δῆλος, regarding the two words as derived from the same root. Hartung ('Partikel-lehre') derives δή from ἤδη, whom Meyer and Morrison follow, the former rendering δς δὴ "and this was the one who," the latter "who at length." Besides this place in Matthew and thai in 1 Cor. 6 referred to above, the particle occurs in three other places in the New Testament—in Luke 2:15, Acts 13:2, Acts 15:36. In the first of these the A. V. and the R. V. both render δὴ now. The shepherds say one to another," Let us now go even unto Bethlehem." In the second they both leave it untranslated; in the third the A. V. reads 'again,' the R. V. now. The best rendering in all three cases, that which brings out the emotional colouring, is come,—"come, let us go to Bethlehem;" "come, separate for me Barnabas and Saul;" "come, let us visit the brethren in every city where we preached." The particle also occurs combined with ποῦ in Heb. 2:16, when both in A. V. and R. V. it is rendered 'verily'; not happily, for verily conveys the idea of a very solemn assertion, whereas what is said is of the nature of a truism thrown in to relieve the argument. The meaning is: "For, you see, it is not of angels he taketh hold." The Greek particle δή conveys the idea that the result is one which hardly needs to be specified, and which any one might anticipate. We have a similar use of the word by Paul in the well-known text "Ye are not your own, for ye are bought with a price, therefore (δή) glorify God in your body." To glorify God the apostle considered the self-evident duty of men who have been redeemed by Christ; and he was impatient at the very thought of any Christian needing to be told what was his duty.
Such, then, are the four classes of hearers pointed at in the parable of the Sower: the spiritually stupid, without thought or feeling in relation to the kingdom, in whom the seed of truth does not even germinate; the inconsiderately impulsive, whose feelings are easily moved, in whom the truth germinates and springs up, but quickly withers away; those who receive the truth into both mind and heart, but not as the one supremely important thing to which everything else must be subordinated, in whom the seed germinates, springs up, and continues to grow even to the green ear, but never ripens; and lastly, those who receive the doctrine of the kingdom with their whole heart, soul, and mind, in whom the truth takes root, grows, and in due season produces an abundant harvest of ripe fruit.
Whence these differences between hearers? and how far is it possible that one may pass from one class of hearers to another? Such questions Christ does not answer. He would teach one thing at a time: the fact of the difference in hearers, and the corresponding difference in the result of hearing. It is no part of an expositor's duty to discuss these questions, though in omitting to do so he is not to be regarded as denying their importance. Specially interesting is the question, whence the noble and good heart,—a topic on which some have expatiated at great length, though in some instances proceeding on a mistaken understanding of what is signified thereby. There can be little doubt what answer the Evangelist, to whom we owe the preservation of the striking phrase, would have given to the question. We may learn this from the manner in which he relates the history of Lydia, who may be associated with Barnabas as a good sample of the fourth class of hearers. Luke describes Lydia as one "whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul." The fact about Lydia was, not that up till then she had been peculiarly unsusceptible; the contrary is implied in the very fact of her, a Gentile by birth, being present at the meeting, worshipping God as a proselyte. The fact rather was that she was distinguished by a peculiar openness and receptivity of mind. She brought that openness with her to the meeting,—it was manifest in her very countenance while Paul spoke,—and the historian tells us where she got it. It was from the Lord.