The Parable of the Sower

“But that on the good ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the Word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience.” —Luke 8:15

THE lessons taught by Jesus were intended to reveal marvelous heavenly truths. In order that we might understand these truths, Jesus employed simple illustrations which touch our everyday life. Such is the lesson in the Parable of the Sower. Everyone at some time or another, even the city dweller, becomes exposed to the growth of plants from seed. This amazing, yet commonplace, event may go unnoticed by us in the humdrum of life, even though all life is a miracle. The study in nature of the development of life from the lowly seed makes us aware of God’s character—his power, justice, wisdom, and love. This is also true in the Parable of the Sower, where Jesus, by illustration, tells of God’s seeking the development and growth of new creatures in Christ Jesus. Here, too, God’s character is in evidence.

The Parable of the Sower is found in three of the Gospels: Matthew 13:3-8, Mark 4:3-8, and Luke 8:5-8. The accounts, except for slight variations, are similar. The account in Matthew 13:3-8 reads as follows: “And He spake many things unto them in parables, saying, Behold, a sower went forth to sow; and when he sowed, some seeds fell by the wayside, and the fowls came and devoured them up: 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. And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprung up, and choked them: but other fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold.”

Unlike some parables that need searching and studying of other scriptures to insure a proper interpretation and understanding of the meaning, this parable was interpreted by Jesus for his disciples. The interpretation is given in each of the Gospel accounts, and it is clear that the interpretation was given to his disciples only.

The account in Matthew contains the most background information. Jesus came to sit by the sea when a large multitude gathered unto him. The multitude was so large that he went into a ship offshore so that he could speak to all of them while they gathered on the shore. Thus it was that he gave the lesson on the Parable of the Sower. After he had given this illustration, the disciples came to Jesus and asked why he spoke to the people in parables. The answer given by Jesus is not understood by many sincere, good people; it can be understood only by the spirit-begotten, who are acquainted with God’s plan. His answer was, “Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.” (Matt. 13:11) And then (quoting from Isaiah 6:9,10) Jesus said: “Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand. And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive: for this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.” (Matt. 13:13-15) But to his disciples Jesus said, “Blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear.”—Matt. 13:16

This parable was spoken to all the people, but only the Lord’s disciples heard the interpretation. Would it have mattered if the people, who went away, had heard the interpretation, too? We can safely conclude that it would not have mattered. The reason is plain. Since the printing of the Bible and its distribution into many lands, worldwide, many people have read the parable, and the interpretation, too. They have not understood it, nor have their lives been affected by the reading.

Jesus also said on that occasion, “For verily I say unto you, That many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them.” (Matt. 13:17) Why weren’t righteous men and prophets permitted to see and hear? The simple answer is that it was not time to sow the seed for the New Creation. Also, as we delve into this subject, we learn that God’s Holy Spirit has to be imparted to those whose eyes and ears are to be opened. It is God’s Holy Spirit that opens the eyes and ears of Christians today. Hence they are called blessed. But as we know, the Holy Spirit could not be given until Jesus died and provided the ransom. Yet if it were possible for all people who read the Bible to understand the interpretation of this parable, they would recognize that during the Gospel Age the hearers of God’s Word are divided into four classes.

In the natural picture, the sower of any kind of seed cherishes the hope of that seed becoming a living plant. So also in this parable. The sower of the seed is God, and the seed is called “the Word of the kingdom” in Matthew 13:19 and “the Word of God” in Luke 8:11. The new “life” which God wants to bring forth in this Gospel Age—like any life in the natural realm—needs three essentials: air, water, and food. These ingredients are as essential to plant life as to animal life. Animals need air first and can live only minutes without it. They need water next and can live only days without it. They can survive for the longest period (weeks) without food, but without food they would also eventually die. Thus these essential ingredients of life form a definite part of the lessons in the parable.

The parable might be appropriately called “the Parable of the Four Soils” because the seed fell on four different soils. These soils are representative of different heart conditions possessed by the hearers. The first type of soil was called the “wayside.” The first essential for a soil to be useful is aeration. The soil needs to be porous (in a broken-up condition—as a plowed field) so that the seed can lodge in one of the pores or crevices. Otherwise the seed will never germinate. The seed that fell by the wayside never started to grow. Instead, it became food for the birds.

The wayside in the parable is the same as a pathway or roadway. Beaten paths have odd ways of starting. In many cities the main arteries which seem to come from all directions, with strange twists and turns, toward the heart of the city, were often, in the beginning, cow paths. These were trails used to bring the cows into the barns after grazing in the fields. Many of our highways follow old Indian or scout trails. Once a trail is started, it is so easy and natural to follow that same trail that it is rare for anyone to start a new one. And as many walk along a trail, they tread underfoot the small beginnings of vegetation so that it cannot grow. All of us have seen places where the whole area is covered with weeds and vegetation which are growing profusely, except where people have walked to take a shortcut across the field.

These beaten paths, or the wayside in the parable, represent the standard, fixed courses of our societies, with their accepted philosophies. All these pathways are policed constantly by Satan and his cohorts (pictured by the birds which ate the seed that fell by the wayside). Or the seed gets trodden underfoot and dies (as in the Luke account). The hearts of the largest of the four classes are represented by this wayside soil, or the nonunderstanding class described by the prophet in Isaiah 6:9,10.

This is the interpretation given by Jesus. Matthew 13:19 says: “When anyone 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 wayside.” Mark 4:15 says, “And these are they by the wayside, where the Word is sown; but when they have heard, Satan cometh immediately, and taketh away the Word that was sown in their hearts.” Note the similarity of the language used in Luke 8:12 (when compared with Isaiah 6:9,10) which says: “Those by the wayside are they that hear; then cometh the Devil, and taketh away the Word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved.”

Since the picture of the wayside soil conveyed by our Lord is that of a class which cannot understand or appreciate the Word of God, we should not be surprised at the failure of God’s Word being understood in spite of the voluminous work of the Bible Societies in making so many Bibles available worldwide. The reason is that there is too much interference from the fixed (beaten-path) philosophies of life. Some examples of these can be expressed tersely as:

“Get the most out of life.”
“Fight for your rights.”
“Survival of the fittest.”
“Science knows all.”
“Enjoy yourself. It’s later than you think.”

Then too, there is selfishness, which is used so well by Satan. He is quickly available to counteract any tendency toward an appreciation of God’s Word. The hearts of mankind are hard-packed with selfishness and greed. Hence it has been suggested that the only way in which these hearts can be prepared for the kingdom of God is by having them plowed by the plowshares of trouble; and this God will do.

The germination of the seed can be associated with the power of God. It would appear that God’s power has failed in the situation pictured by the wayside soil. But not so. The Parable of the Sower is a Gospel-Age picture. Not all are called to be members of the church class. In the next age “the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.” (Hab. 2:14) “And they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord.” (Jer. 31:34) God’s power will be used to pour out his Spirit upon all flesh (Joel 2:28), and the Word of God will then take effect in the hearts of men.

Continuing with the interpretation of the parable, we read in Matthew 13:20, “But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the Word, and anon with joy receiveth it.” Here Jesus refers to a second class of hearers, whose hearts are represented by “stony places.” In this soil there is pictured a class with a good attitude. The central theme of God’s Word—the ransom merit of Christ—is no stumbling block. These rejoice in God’s Word. In the natural picture, the soil is aerated and the seed germinates. Although the seed gets a foothold, it cannot get enough water (the next essential to growth) because the soil is stony, and it will not hold water. As a consequence, when the hot sun begins to shine, the young, tender plant becomes scorched, withers, and, having no root, dies. In nature this happens frequently. Rain which falls on stony ground either runs off or drains quickly to very low depths. But for the time that the water is available, all the roots seek the moisture and grow close to the surface. In good soil, the moisture is soaked up and drains slowly to lower depths, and the roots follow the moisture down, growing deep into the soil. An important rule for watering growing plants is not to use small, frequent doses of water, but rather to use large, less frequent, doses; for, even in good soils, roots can grow close to the surface. Notice how the parable stresses these points about the “stony places,” mentioning the lack of “deepness of earth” and “lacking moisture.”

Matthew’s account continues the interpretation: “Yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the Word, by and by he is offended.” (Matt. 13:21) Mark’s account has similar language: “And these are they likewise which are sown on stony ground; who, when they have heard the Word, immediately receive it with gladness; and have no root in themselves, and so endure but for a time: afterward, when affliction or persecution ariseth for the Word’s sake, immediately they are offended.” (Mark 4:16,17) Luke’s account is similar but is more informative: “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) This type of soil represents the hearts of many sincere believers who appreciate God’s Word up to a point in their lives but may never reach the place where consecration takes place. Hence, their possible standing before God in receiving His Word disappears. Jesus makes it clear that these cannot endure the necessary trials. They cannot understand God’s justice as manifested in the permission of evil. This class has the concept that God’s children should receive only blessings from him. They know of God’s power and expect it to be manifested on their behalf. But if they understood the Scriptures, they would know that tribulations and persecutions are necessary for Christian growth, just as the sun is essential for plant growth. The Apostle Paul and Barnabas said, “We must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.”—Acts 14:22

Although in the stony places God’s power was manifest in that the seed germinated and grew (whereas in the wayside soil God’s power never had a chance to be manifest), yet the hot sun (like God’s justice, which can be severe) caused the plant to die. For the true Christian of the Gospel Age, to endure trouble and persecution is to learn of God’s justice. Those who successfully endure the trials and persecutions are like those in the illustration who have depth of soil—soil that is rich in food and capable of holding much moisture.

The seed that fell among thorns fell into good, rich soil. The seed germinated; it grew through the benefit of water and the sun and the food in the soil; but the thorns grew faster and choked the young, tender plant. Though it did not die, it bore no fruit. The thorns took the moisture, the food, and the sunlight and deprived the young plant so that its growth was stunted, and it had a full task to continue existing.

The parable interpretations were continued by Jesus as recorded in Matthew 13:22: “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.” And Mark 4:18,19, “And these are they which are sown among thorns; such as hear the Word. And the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in, choke the Word, and it becometh unfruitful.” And Luke 8:14, “And that which fell among thorns are they, which, when they have heard, go forth, and are choked with cares and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to perfection.”

The class whose hearts are represented by this type of soil are very logically selected by God. They have great capacity for good, vigorous Christian growth. They are teachable, energetic, zealous, capable of good works. But the wisdom of this world beckons, and it interferes with the acquisition of the wisdom of God. If God’s wisdom were permitted to have a proper course, it would lead the way to sacrifice. Instead, the foolishness of this world stunts the growth of this class. The ambitions of the world consume so much time that these individuals give themselves more to the pursuit of such things as money-making, the honor of men, recreation, an active social life, or civic duties. In general, this class cannot let go of the things of this world. As a consequence, they are pictured as unfruitful.

This is the same class described by the Apostle Paul as those building on a proper foundation but with wrong materials: wood, hay, and stubble. (I Cor. 3:10-15) In the Parable of the Sower, it seems that Jesus, too, had in mind a class like this who would be influenced by the world, who would spot their robes and need to wash them in the blood of the Lamb. And they use some of their energy (like the nourishment in a rich soil) in the wrong way. Instead of using all their energy in the service of God and the building of Christian character, they waste some of it on the world. This class fails to fully understand God’s wisdom, though they have experienced his power and understand his justice by accepting the ransom and making a consecration to God. This failure slows their development, so that as a class they don’t die (cease to exist), but eventually are saved.

In the lesson of this parable it is not intended to carry every illustration to an extreme. The lesson Jesus gives is that the thorns will interfere with fruit-bearing. The cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, the lusts of other things, and the pleasures of this life are pictured by the thorns. We know that these are contrary to the Holy Spirit, being a part of the spirit of this world, and tend to draw the Christian away from God.

“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.” (Matt. 13:23) Mark’s account says, “And these are they which are sown on good ground; such as hear the Word, and receive it, and bring forth fruit, some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some an hundred.” (Mark 4:20) But only the Luke account describes the “good ground” as “an honest and good heart.” “But that on the good ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the Word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience.” (Luke 8:15) This fourth class mentioned by Jesus, whose hearts are pictured by the soil that is so productive in bringing forth fruits, is the spirit-begotten, church class. As in the parable, the seed, representing the Word of God, germinates, grows, develops roots, takes up the soil’s nourishment, and brings forth fruit in varying amounts, up to one hundredfold. So also the Word of God in a good and honest heart will develop a character-likeness of Jesus, our Lord.

However, is there anything that might interfere with the successful growth and development of the seed which fell into “good ground”? Several answers might be given: the failure to get moisture (lack of study of God’s Word); the failure to provide nourishment (loss of zeal for God); the growth of thorns (encroachment of the world).

It should be noted that both the third and fourth classes have hearts pictured by soil that can sustain good, vigorous growth. The one soil had thorns which were already growing. The other did not. All soils have undesirable seeds in them, lying dormant, ready to germinate and sprout forth. In the cultivation of a garden, there are two ways in which undesirable plants can be prevented from growing. One is to encourage the growth of the desirable plant through cultivation with proper care. Good, vigorous growth of the desirable plant will shade the ground and prevent sunlight from encouraging the growth of weeds. The other is to “weed” the garden daily by taking out the weeds by the roots. What is the illustration? The worldly cares, aims, and ambitions which reside within us all, as dormant seeds of thorns, need to be choked out of existence by continual, active, energetic service for God. Or else, if they should sprout, they need to be rooted out by sacrificial living. If we are faithful in attending to these tasks, the seed which God has planted will grow and bring forth fruit, up to as much as one hundredfold.

The plants growing all around us in God’s wonderful natural realm are marvelous miracles. Jesus used these very well as lessons. But the true seed, the Word of God, which develops into the new creature in Christ Jesus, is the greatest miracle of all. Paul helped to plant many such seeds and was abundantly used of the Lord in such a ministry. But he never wanted us to forget a most important fact in this development and growth, when in I Corinthians 3:6 he said, “I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase.” To God be the honor and glory always, and forever!

Dawn Bible Students Association
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