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AN EXPOSITION OF THE PARABLE
In Matthew 13:3-8 Jesus gave the Parable of the Sower. It is a simple story that explains a great spiritual truth – why most people are never converted. Then Christ explained this parable in verses eighteen through twenty-three.
A “sower” went out and sowed seed. I do that every few years in my yard. I go out and throw seed on my lawn. That’s what farmers did when they sowed seed in a field. In the parable the seed fell on four kinds of soil. Some of the seed fell on the road that ran alongside the field. The birds came and ate it up. Some of the seed fell on rocky places that did not have much earth. It sprang up quickly but, because there was not much earth, the sun scorched it and it withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. But the other seeds fell on good ground where it produced a crop. Notice what Jesus said at the end of this parable, “Who hath ears to hear, let him hear” (Matthew 13:9). This is a very important parable, and I hope your ears are open to hear what it says. It speaks of four kinds of soil, that represent the four kinds of people who hear the Gospel.
First, there is the sower and the seed. Look at verse three.
“Behold, a sower went forth to sow” (Matthew 13:3).
The original sower was Jesus Himself. After He ascended back to Heaven, the sower is the preacher, who gives out the Gospel. The sower sows “seeds” (v. 4). The seeds are “the word of the kingdom” (v. 19), or simply “the word” (Mark 4:14); or, as Luke has it, “The seed is the word of God” (Luke 8:11). I think we can say, very simply, that this is the Gospel message. The Apostle Peter said,
“Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever”
(I Peter 1:23).
Then, there is the first kind of soil. Look at verse four.
“And when he sowed, some seeds fell by the way side, and the fowls came and devoured them up” (Matthew 13:4).
Jesus explained what that means in verse nineteen.
“When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart. This is he which received seed by the way side” (Matthew 13:19).
Note several things in that verse. First, Christ said this kind of person did not understand what they heard. Second, it says that Satan, “the wicked one,” catcheth it away “from their heart.” The word “heart” is important. In each case, concerning the four kinds of hearers, it is the condition of their hearts that is compared to the soil. The heart of each person who hears the Gospel is compared to the soil receiving the farmer’s seed. In this case, the heart is as hard as a roadside. So, when the Gospel is preached, Satan snatches away the word, like birds quickly eating seed that falls on the hard ground of a roadside. In Mark’s gospel we read,
“When they have heard, Satan cometh immediately, and taketh away the word that was sown in their hearts” (Mark 4:15).
This is a description of people who come to the church service, hear the Gospel, but it is snatched away from their hearts “immediately” by Satan. Or, it also describes those who have been coming to church for a long time, but remain unconverted. Each Gospel sermon is “immediately” snatched away after they hear it. I spoke to one such person after the sermon recently. This was a very intelligent but unconverted person. Although the text of the sermon was very simple, and although that text had been repeated over and over in the sermon, this person could not remember the very simple words of the text, and could not even remember the subject of the sermon. The soil by the roadside represents that kind of person’s heart.
“When they have heard, Satan cometh immediately, and taketh away the word that was sown in their hearts” (Mark 4:15).
“This is he which received seed by the way side”
The second kind of person is the one whose heart is like soil which is not deep. Look at verse five.
“Some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth: And when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away”
Jesus explained what that means in verses twenty and twenty-one.
“But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon [at once] with joy receiveth it; Yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth [endures] for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended” (Matthew 13:20-21).
Luke puts it,
“They on the rock are they, which, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, which for a while believe, and in time of temptation fall away” (Luke 8:13).
These are the stony ground types. Look again at verse five,
“Some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth…” (Matthew 13:5).
There is a shallow amount of earth, but right underneath there is a sheet of rock.
This pictures those who quickly and happily receive the Gospel. That’s where the trouble begins. They receive it “with joy” (Matthew 13:20). “These have no root” (Luke 8:13). They have no root in Christ, I think, because they receive the Gospel “with joy.” But that is not the right way to receive Christ. We are to receive Him with seriousness, not with a happy-go-lucky attitude. There is no sorrow for sin, indeed, no real conviction of sin. It represents an emotional “decision for Christ,” not a genuine work of conversion. Therefore, when trouble, persecution and temptation comes they “fall away” (Luke 8:13). They were never converted in the first place. Look back at verse six. This describes them.
“And when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away” (Matthew 13:6).
“[He hath] not root in himself (Matthew 13:21). They were never rooted and grounded in Christ in the first place, never truly converted. Dr. John Gill said concerning tribulation, persecution (Matthew) and temptation (Luke), “These try men’s principles and professions, and whether the truth of grace is in them or no; and where it is not in any person, by and by he is offended; at the cross; he shrinks back from it, does not care to take it up, and follow Christ; but…falls away and comes to nothing.” That is the sad end of the person with a heart of stony ground. Jesus warned against having such a heart when He said,
“Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able” (Luke 13:24).
They “sought” to enter in, but they did not “strive” to enter in. At last they felt the Christian life too hard, and "withered away."
The third kind of ground is that in which the seed falls among thorns. In Matthew 13:7 his description is given,
“And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprung up, and choked them” (Matthew 13:7).
Jesus explained the thorny soil [hearts] of this class of professing Christian in verse 22.
“He also that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful”
We know from verse six that the professing Christian with a heart choked by the “thorns of this world” will also come to nothing, never having been converted any more than the first two. He hears the word, but the seed of the Gospel is choked out by the care [worry] of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches. Worry about his everyday life, the deceptive concern for more money than is necessary, choke the word.
“The care of this world” often comes to a person after he is married and has a family. His overzealous care of it chokes out his Christian profession. Money deceives him. The accumulation of material things, including, as Luke specifies, the “pleasures of this life,” also play a part in ruining his professed Christianity, and he brings “no fruit to perfection” (Luke 8:14). Dr. J. Vernon McGee says concerning this kind of person, “With these folk the world crowds out the word of God. The Devil got the wayside folk, and the flesh took [out] the rocky-ground folk, but [it is] the world [that] chokes out the word for this class of hearers. The cares of the world move in.” This may come with the responsibility of marriage, or the responsibility of raising children. He now stumbles over the common cares of life that all Christians experience. But in his case, the word is “choked” in his heart, and he “becometh unfruitful.” He was never converted. John Trapp said, “Yet, because the plough had not gone so low as to break up the roots…their hearts [remained] fastened to earthly [things], they proved also unfruitful. See how far a man may go, and yet be never the nearer [to salvation] after all. [They] were nearer to the nature of the good ground, than that on the highway, and yet fell short of heaven.”
The older commentators, like Matthew Poole; Matthew Henry; John Gill; John Trapp; John Peter Lange; and Jamieson, Fausset and Brown declare that the thorny ground people were never converted. For instance John Trapp said of Matthew 13:22 (the thorny ground people), “These thorny-ground hearers though they stood out persecutions, and shrunk not in the welting [persecution] as the stony ground did, yet, because the plough had not gone so low as to break up the roots, whereby their hearts were fastened to earthly contents, they proved also unfruitful. See how far a man may go, and yet be never the nearer after all. The stony and thorny ground were nearer to the nature of the good ground, than that on the highway, and yet fell short of heaven.”
That is the conclusion of the old commentators. Dr. J. Vernon McGee followed these older commentators when he said that all three of the first types of soil represent unconverted people. Dr. McGee said, “These three types of soil do not represent three types of believers – they are not believers at all! They have heard the word, and only professed to receive it.” This older interpretation is, I think, the correct view. The newer commentators of the twentieth century tend to think that the thorny ground people are actually saved.
Why would these modern commentators think that the older commentaries were wrong, and that the thorny ground people were saved, even though Jesus plainly said,
“Some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprung up, and choked them” (Matthew 13:7)?
It is my belief that these commentators have been deceived by the fruits of decisionism so that they believe the false view that there are two kinds of Christians spoken of here – carnal Christians (thorny ground) and spiritual Christians (good ground), and that both are saved. This type of thinking came in through the modern idea of carnal and spiritual Christians, which has its roots in the decisionism of the late nineteenth century. Before the inroads of decisionism, it was clear to the old commentators that the thorny ground people were unconverted. As so many unconverted people flooded into the churches through the superficial methods of decisionist evangelism, these commentators bent their interpretation to include the great crowds of so-called “carnal” Christians that flowed into the churches in an unconverted condition. I believe that is the reason this false view of thorny ground people as “Christians” came into most modern commentaries. It was the result of a shallow and superficial view of conversion, brought about by the prevailing use of decisionist methods in evangelism, starting in the time of C. G. Finney (1792-1875).
But we stand with the old commentators of a better age who said, like John Trapp, concerning those on thorny ground, that they “fell short of heaven.” That seems to me to be the best interpretation in the light of what Jesus said about those who received the seed among the thorns. Jesus said that in them the word is choked, “and he becometh unfruitful” (Matthew 13:22).
The commentary on “unfruitful’ is in John 15:2, 6, “Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away…and cast them into the fire, and they are burned” (John 15:2, 6). That is a clear statement and a plain comment on thorny ground people.
The fourth kind is that in which the seed falls on good ground. Please read verse twenty-three.
“But he that received seed into the good ground is he that heareth the word, and understandeth it; which also beareth fruit, and bringeth forth, some an hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty” (Matthew 13:23).
The “good ground” refers to the “honest and good heart” (Luke 8:15) – that is, a heart that has truly been renewed by the new birth. “He that heareth the word” refers to those who are truly converted and, thus, have true faith. “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17). “And understandeth it.” Mark says, “receive it.” The converted person receives the Gospel not merely as doctrine to be learned, but actually comprehends the Gospel and comes to Christ. Luke adds “keep it” – that is, retains it. The Gospel makes a lasting impression on his heart. Commenting on the parable as given in Luke 8:4-15, Dr. McGee said,
The seed is [Christ’s] Word. The birds are the symbol of the Devil. The “rocky places” are those who receive the Word of God in the enthusiasm of the flesh. Trouble and persecution dampen the interest. For a time fleshly hearers of the Word manifest great interest and zeal, but a little trouble reveals their lack of true faith. Only some of the seed falls on good ground and brings forth a full harvest. These are the hearers who are genuinely converted (J. Vernon McGee, Th.D., Thru the Bible, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1983, volume IV, p. 281).
Dr. Warren Wiersbe also gave the older view of the parable. Let his comments on it sum up the teaching Christ gave:
It is important to note that none of these first three hearts underwent salvation. The proof of salvation is not listening to the Word, or having a quick emotional response to the Word, or even cultivating the Word…the proof of salvation is fruit, for as Christ said, “Ye shall know them by their fruits” (Warren W. Wiersbe, D.D., Meet Yourself in the Parables, Victor, 1979, p. 27).
(END OF EXPOSITION)
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