The seed sown is the word of God, here called the word of the kingdom (Matt. 13:19): the kingdom of heaven, that is the kingdom; the kingdoms of the world, compared with that, are not to be called kingdoms. The gospel comes from that kingdom, and conducts to that kingdom; the word of the gospel is the word of the kingdom; it is the word of the King, and where that is, there is power; it is a law, by which we must be ruled and governed. This word is the seed sown, which seems a dead, dry thing, but all the product is virtually in it. It is incorruptible seed (1 Pet. 1:23); it is the gospel that brings forth fruit in souls, Col. 1:5, 6.
The sower that scatters the seed is our Lord Jesus Christ, either by himself, or by his ministers; see Matt. 13:37. The people are God’s husbandry, his tillage, so the word is; and ministers are labourers together with God, 1 Cor. 3:9. Preaching to a multitude is sowing the corn; we know not where it must light; only see that it be good, that it be clean, and be sure to give it seed enough. The sowing of the word is the sowing of a people for God’s field, the corn of his floor, Isa. 21:10.
The ground in which this seed is sown is the hearts of the children of men, which are differently qualified and disposed, and accordingly the success of the word is different. Note, Man’s heart is like soil, capable of improvement, of bearing good fruit; it is pity it should 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; its operation is upon conscience, it is to light that candle of the Lord. Now according 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 sort of ground, take ever so much pains with it, and throw ever so good seed into it, yet it brings forth no fruit to any purpose; while the 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. Note, The number of fruitless hearers is very great, even of those who heard Christ himself. Who has believed our report? It is a melancholy prospect which this parable gives us of the congregations of those who hear the gospel preached, that scarcely one in four brings forth fruit to perfection. Many are called with the common call, but in few is the eternal choice evidenced by the efficacy of that call, Matt. 20:16.
Now observe the characters of these four sorts of ground.
The highway ground, Matt. 13:4-10. They had pathways through their corn-fields (Matt. 12:1), and the seed that fell on them never entered, and so the birds picked it up. The place where Christ’s hearers now stood represented the characters of most of them, the sand on the sea-shore, which was to the seed like the highway ground.
Observe First, What kind of hearers are compared to the highway ground; such as hear the word and understand it not; and it is their own fault that they do not. They take no heed to it, take no hold of it; they do not come with any design to get good, as the highway was never intended to be sown. They come before God as his people come, and sit before his as his people sit; but it is merely for fashion-sake, to see and be seen; they mind not what is said, it comes in at one ear and goes out at the other, and makes no impression.
Secondly, How they come to be unprofitable hearers. The wicked one, that is, the devil, cometh and catcheth 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 is the great thief of sermons, and will be sure to rob us of the word, if we take not care to keep it: as the birds pick up the seed that falls on the ground that is neither ploughed before nor harrowed after. If we break not up the fallow ground, by preparing our hearts for the word, and humbling them to it, and engaging our own attention; and if we cover not the seed afterwards, by meditation and prayer; if we give not a more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, we are as the highway ground. Note, The devil is a sworn enemy to our profiting by the word of God; and none do more befriend his design than heedless hearers, who are thinking of something else, when they should be thinking of the things that belong to their peace.
The stony ground. Some fell upon stony places (Matt. 13:5, 6), which represents the case of hearers that go further than the former, who receive some good impressions of the word, but they are not lasting, Matt. 13:20, 21. Note, It is possible we may be a great deal better than some others, and yet not be so good as we should be; may go beyond our neighbours, and yet come short of heaven. Now observe, concerning these hearers that are represented by the stony ground,
First, How far they went. 1. They hear the word; they turn neither their backs upon it, nor a deaf ear to it. Note, hearing the word, though ever so frequently, ever so gravely, if we rest in that, will never bring us to heaven. 2. They are quick in hearing, swift to hear, he anon receiveth it, euthys, he is ready to receive it, forthwith it sprung up (Matt. 13:5), it sooner appeared above ground than that which was sown in the good soil. Note, Hypocrites often get the start of true Christians in the shows of profession, and are often too hot to hold. He receiveth it straightway, without trying it; swallows it without chewing, and 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. 3. They receive it with joy. Note, 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, much less into it, as into a mould. Many taste the good word of God (Heb. 6:5), and say they find sweetness in it, but some beloved lust is rolled under the tongue, which it would not agree with, and so they spit it out again. 4. They endure for awhile, like a violent motion, which continues as long as the impression of the force remains, but ceases when that has spent itself. Note, 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
Secondly, How they fell away, so that no fruit was brought to perfection; no more than the corn, that having no depth of earth from which to draw moisture, is scorched and withered by the heat of the sun. And the reason is.
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: nothing firm that will be either the sap or the strength of their profession. Note, (1.) 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 derive not from him, they depend not on him. (2.) Where there is not a principle, though there be a profession, we cannot expect perseverance. Those who have no root will endure but awhile. A ship without ballast, though she may at first out-sail the laden vessel, yet will certainly fail in stress of weather, and never make her port.
Times of trial come, and then they come to nothing. When tribulation and persecution arise because of the word, he is offended; it is a stumbling-block in his way which he cannot get over, and so he flies off, and this is all his profession comes to. Note, (1.) After a fair gale of opportunity usually follows a storm of persecution, to try who have received the word in sincerity, and who have not. When the word of Christ’s kingdom comes to be the word of Christ’s patience (Rev. 3:10), then is the trial, who keeps it, and who does not, Rev. 1:9. It is wisdom to prepare for such a day. (2.) When trying times come, those who have no root are soon offended; they first quarrel with their profession, and then quit it; first find fault with it, and then throw it off. Hence we read of the offence of the cross, Gal. 5:11. Observe, 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. Observe how soon they fall away, by and by; as soon rotten as they were ripe; a profession taken up without consideration is commonly let fall without it: “Lightly come, lightly go.”
The thorny ground, Some fell among thorns (which are a good guard to the corn when they are in the hedge, but a bad inmate when they are in the field); and the thorns sprung up, which intimates that they did not appear, or but little, when the corn was sown, but afterwards they proved choking to it, Matt. 13:7. This went further than the former, for it had root; and it represents the condition of those who do not quite cast off their profession, and yet come short of any saving benefit by it; the good they gain by the word, being insensibly overcome and 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 spoiled the root, the thorns spoil the fruit.
Now what are these choking thorns?
First, 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 good in their place to stop a gap, but a man must be well armed that deals much in them (2 Sam. 23:6, 7); they are entangling, vexing, scratching, and their end is to be burned, Heb. 6:8. These thorns choke the good seed. Note, Worldly cares are great hindrances to our profiting by the word of God, and our proficiency in religion. They eat up that vigour of soul which should be spent in divine things; divert us from duty, distract us in duty, and do us most mischief of all afterwards; quenching the sparks of good affections, and bursting the cords of good resolutions; those who are careful and cumbered about many things, commonly neglect the one thing needful.
Secondly, The deceitfulness of riches. Those who, by their care and industry, have raised estates, and so the danger that arises from care seems to be over, and they continue hearers of the word, yet are still in a snare (Jer. 5:4, 5); it is hard for them to enter into the kingdom of heaven: they are apt to promise themselves that in riches which is not in them; to rely upon them, and to take an inordinate complacency in them; and this chokes the word as much as care did. Observe, It is not so much riches, as the deceitfulness of riches, that does the mischief: now they cannot be said to be deceitful to us unless we put our confidence in them, and raise our expectations from them, and then it is that they choke the good seed.
The good ground (Matt. 13:18); Others fell into good ground, and it is pity but that good seed should always meet with good soil, and then there is no loss; such are good hearers of the word, Matt. 13:23. Note, Though there are many that receive the grace of God, and the word of his grace, in vain, yet God has a remnant by whom it is received to good purpose; for God’s word shall not return empty, Isa. 55:10, 11.
Now that which distinguished this good ground from the rest, was, in one word, fruitfulness. By this true Christians are distinguished from hypocrites, that they bring forth the fruits of righteousness; so shall ye 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,
First, Intelligent hearers; they hear the word and understand it; they understand not only the sense and meaning of the word, but their own concern in it; they understand 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: whereas Satan, who is a thief and a robber, comes not in by that door, but climbeth up another way.
Secondly, Fruitful hearers, which is an evidence of their good understanding: which also beareth fruit. Fruit is to every seed its own body, a substantial product in the heart and life, agreeable to the seed of the word received. We then 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.
Thirdly, Not all alike fruitful; some a hundred-fold, some sixty, some thirty. Note, 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; all Christ’s scholars are not in the same form. We should aim at the highest degree, to bring forth a hundred-fold, as Isaac’s ground did (Gen. 26:12), abounding in the work of the Lord, John 15:8. But if the ground be good, and the fruit right, the heart honest, and the life of a piece with it, those who bring forth but thirty-fold 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.
© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible