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“And it came to pass afterward, that He went throughout every city and village, preaching and showing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God: and the twelve were with Him. And certain women, which had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities, Mary, called Magdalene, out of whom went seven devils, and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others, which ministered unto Him of their substance. And when much people were gathered together, and were come to Him out of every city, He spake by a parable: A sower went out to sow his seed: and as he sowed, some fell by the way side; and it was trodden down, and the fowls of the air devoured it. And some fell upon a rock; and as soon as it was sprung up, it withered away, because it lacked moisture. And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprang up with it, and choked it. And other fell on good ground, and sprang up, and bare fruit an hundredfold. And when He had said these things, He cried, He that hath ears to hear, let him hear. And His disciples asked Him, saying, What might this parable be? And He said, Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God: but to others in parables; that seeing they might not see, and hearing they might not understand. Now the parable is this: The seed is the Word of God. Those by the way side are they that hear; then cometh the devil, and taketh away the Word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved. 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. 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. 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 8:1-15.
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This parable of the Sower and the Seed should be both a warning and an encouragement to all who endeavor to labor in the gospel: a warning against the folly of taking at face value every profession of faith in Christ, but an encouragement when many who profess prove unreal, as we remember that even when the divine-human Preacher was the Sower of the gospel seed there were many who heard in vain and who never brought forth fruit unto perfection. It is our business to sow under all circumstances (Eccles. 11:6), knowing that the seed is incorruptible (1 Pet. 1:23), and that, though many give but momentary thought to the message, it will accomplish the purpose of God (Isa. 55:11), and that all who hear in faith will be saved (John 5:24).
The Word tests as well as saves. Where the heart is occupied with other things—such as the cares of this world or the deceitfulness of riches—there will be little appreciation of that message which speaks of another scene altogether and of riches that can never pass away. Where possible, the preacher is to break up the fallow ground and sow not among thorns (Jer. 4:3). On the other hand, he is to be instant in season and out of season (2 Tim. 4:2) even though this involves some seed falling upon hard, unprepared hearts, only to be devoured by the birds of the air, fit pictures of Satan and his demon host, who are ever on the alert to hinder the progress of the gospel, because they know that if men believe the message they will be saved. It is well, too, for those who profess faith in Christ to test themselves and make sure that their’s is a faith that works by love and not mere empty credulity.
The first three verses of this portion of Scripture serve as an introduction to that which follows and give us the circumstances of Christ’s setting forth the truth of God in this parable form. We are told that the Lord Jesus went about preaching and showing the gospel. He was declaring the gospel by word of mouth; He was showing the gospel by manifestation of the marvelous things that were accomplished in those who believed. That is what God is doing today.
The word of the truth of the gospel is likened to a seed because it is a living thing. It is the means God uses to produce the new birth (Jas. 1:18). The Holy Spirit causes it to fructify in the heart of the believer and so it produces fruit unto life eternal. This is not true of the proclamation of mere human theories or doctrinal systems. The preaching of the Christ has power. It is the dynamic of God unto salvation to all who believe (Rom. 1:16).
Oh, what a wonderful testimony this brings before men and women. It is our privilege not only to preach the gospel but also to show forth the power of it in redeemed lives. Here is the testimony of some who had been healed of evil spirits. They had been actually under the power of demons who had controlled and spoken and acted through them. The Lord had set them free. Mary Magdalene is mentioned first, “out of whom went seven devils.” The word should be demons—“out of whom went seven demons.” There is only one devil. We do not know what kind of a woman she was. There is no reason to believe that she was an unchaste woman. A great many people have tried to identify her with the woman spoken of in Luke 7, but there is no proof of this. She had been a demon-controlled woman, and she found deliverance when Jesus set her free. Then we read of Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward, who gladly turned her back upon her place in society to become a simple, humble follower of the Lord Jesus Christ. Susanna and many others also became followers of Him, and ministered unto Him of their substance. Our Lord was a carpenter and doubtless helped to support His mother until the day when He went forth to carry out His Father’s ministry. From that time on He deigned to be sustained by the gifts of those who followed Him.
When the Pharisees came one day and asked, “Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar?” instead of drawing out a coin from His pocket, He had to ask for someone to show Him a penny. He entered into our poverty in order that He might sympathize with us. He and His disciples needed food and clothing. Where did the money come from? These dear devoted women ministered unto Him of their substance. Judas was trusted to handle the money for the group as they went about doing their work of ministry.
“And when much people were gathered together, and were come to Him out of every city, He spake by a parable.” It was down by the seaside as we are told in the 13th chapter of Matthew. “A sower went out to sow his seed.” Perhaps even as He talked they could see a sower on one of the hillsides. Jesus drew His illustrations from incidents of everyday life. That is why they live, and that is why they appeal still to human hearts today.
“A sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell by the way side; and it was trodden down, and the fowls of the air devoured it.” That is a picture readily understood. A sower going out to sow, scattering precious seed as he goes up and down through the field. A great portion seems to be lost and does not bear fruit. “And it was trodden down, and the fowls of the air devoured it.” The people might even see the fowls following the sower. “Some fell upon a rock, and as soon as it was sprung up, it withered away because it lacked moisture.” There were many such folk on the Palestine hillsides. “Some fell among thorns.” And the thorns sprang up with it, and choked it. “And other fell on good ground, and sprang up, and bare fruit an hundredfold.” One little seed produces one hundred seeds! What a wonderful miracle that is! Men talk of the impossibility of miracles, but all around us there are miracles. Everywhere in nature we see wonderful evidences of the power of God. “And when He had said these things, He cried, He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.” It is so possible to hear something with the outward ear but never to get it in the heart. That is the way many people listen to sermons. They hear words, but no impression is made upon the heart and conscience. If the Word of God is proclaimed, we need to listen and take it in.
When they were alone, away from the crowd, the disciples put the question to Him as to what the parable meant. They did not understand just what it was that He was telling them. “And His disciples asked Him, saying, What might this parable be? And He said, Unto you it is given to know-the mysteries of the kingdom of God: but to others in parables; that seeing they might not see, and hearing they might not understand.” Now that seems perhaps a little bit strange. First He tells them that they shall know if they want to know. If you want to know the gospel, you may know it. If you will only come to Him in faith, He will give you understanding. He who comes to Christ with an honest heart shall know. The mysteries of the kingdom of God are sacred secrets which the Lord delights to reveal to honest souls.
This refers to God’s ways with men since His Son has been rejected. He is now making known secrets hitherto unrevealed; things kept secret from the foundation of the world. In Matthew’s Gospel the term “kingdom of heaven” is used, and there only. It is never mentioned by that name in any other part of the Bible. It is Heaven’s rule over the earth, to be manifested openly when our Lord returns, but now only recognized by those who are Spirit-taught. The present phase of the kingdom is the sphere of Christian profession—that which we call Christendom. In this sphere many are unreal; so these will be gathered out of His kingdom when our Lord returns (Matt. 13:41). They will then be devoted to judgment.
Our Lord used parables in order to arouse the attention of men. They would want to know the meaning if they were really interested. But of the great majority He said. “Seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not understand.” So the Lord Jesus used this parabolic teaching in order to make clear things that He wanted them to understand and to challenge them. But where there was no exercise of soul the parables would only serve to harden them.
To the disciples He explains all. “The seed is the Word of God.” Let us be clear about this. We are to give God’s Word, not our own thoughts and imaginations. The seed is the Word and those who are children of God should sow the seed. What about the different classes of hearers? “Those by the way side are they that hear; then cometh the devil, and taketh away the Word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved.” They
undefinedlisten casually, pay attention for a few months and then become occupied with other things. “Then cometh the devil, and taketh away the Word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved.” You remember Paul’s words to the Philippian jailor, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.” People say that it is too simple; that it is too easy a way. One cannot be saved just by believing the gospel. But even the devil knows that you can! Notice what it says, “Those by the way side are they which hear; then cometh the devil, and taketh away the Word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved.” We are told that “he that believeth on Him hath everlasting life.” Do you object to this? Stop and think what has transpired that you might have everlasting life by believing. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” You see you cannot separate the last part from the first part of that verse. God has already given His only Son to settle the sin question. “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up.” The Son of Man had to be lifted up on the cross in order that you might be saved. The devil knows this, and that is why he tries to take the Word away from you. That is why we who are servants of God are so eager to have you trust Christ at once because we know how the devil will bring in other things to try to get you not to believe. “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.” It is not always a good sign when people seem to receive the Word with joy. A dear friend of mine told me of a young woman who was frivolous and careless all during a meeting one evening. When he returned the next night someone came up and said, “You remember that girl who was in the service last evening; well, she has found peace at last.” The preacher inquired, “Did she ever find trouble?” The servant of God must present to the people the truth of God so that they may see their need of repentance, then judging themselves in the sight of God, He gives peace when they believe the Word. But when people receive the Word only with joy, it is often like the soil in which seed is sown which is just barely covering the top of the rocks. It is generally an evidence of shallowness when people who have known no real exercise about their sins profess to receive the message of the gospel with gladness. God’s way is to wound that He may heal (Deut. 32:39). Men need to see their need in order to appreciate the remedy. It is a great mistake to try to lead souls to make a profession of faith in Christ who have never known what it is to face their sins in the presence of God. This is the root-cause of much of the falling away after so-called “revivals,” where many, under emotional stress, or over-persuasion, have made a profession of faith, but with no conscience-exercise or repentance.
“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.” They have heard and really been quite concerned, but they are so occupied with the cares and pleasures of this life that they bring no fruit to perfection. These are people who have been interested to some extent in the gospel message, but are far more interested in the things of this life such as pleasure-seeking, money-making, and similar things. Many of these objects may be innocent enough in themselves, but if you become so occupied with them that you forget your responsibility to God, you will be sorry all through eternity that you did not put the things of the Lord first.
“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.” An honest and good heart! Does not the Bible say that the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked? What then is meant by a good and honest heart? It means one who knows he is wrong but by the grace of God is going to get right, a person who says, “I know I have been wrong and occupied with the wrong things, but I am going to face these things and acknowledge my sins and confess them to God.” When a man takes that stand, then he is honest before God.
When a man condemns himself and says, “I have sinned,” then the rest is easy. At last he has reached the place where God can justify him.
The four classes of hearers are found wherever the gospel is preached. Some pay no attention and the devil plucks away the good seed. Some give apparent heed, but there is no realization of their guilty condition before God. They accept the gospel mentally, even gladly, but soon give evidence that there was no conscience-exercise. Others are seriously perturbed and appear to be earnest believers, but the things of this world are soon seen to be far more important in their eyes than spiritual realities. A fourth group face their true condition before God, confess their sinfulness and acknowledge their guilt. Trusting in Christ they enter into peace, a peace that abides, and the fruits of which are seen in the life.
The seed is the same in each instance. It is the attitude of the hearer that is different. Some are utterly careless, others effervescent and easily moved, but vacillating. Others again are in earnest to begin with, but allow other interests to crowd out spiritual things. Then there are those who are seeking to know God and are ready to receive His Word when it is presented to them. These bear fruit to perfection, and so glorify the Father. Fruit-bearing is the proof of spiritual life. If there be no fruit, profession is a mere sham, as the after-experience will soon make manifest.