This, the first of our Lord’s parables, was uttered under very painful circumstances. The Jewish leaders, after much previous evil behaviour, had just gone to the length of attributing His power to Beelzebub (Matthew 12). They could hardly go further than this in wickedness. Leaders and people were in such a condition of alienation from God that the blessings promised to Israel could not possibly be brought in at that time.
From that point the Saviour commenced to use the enigmatical form of speech, which was intelligible enough to the pious minority, while utterly obscure to the profane mass. Like the cloud in Moses’ day, which stood between Israel and the Egyptians, the parables were light to the one and darkness to the other.
The Saviour likened Himself to a sower of seed (Matt. 13:3–8). This marks a new departure in the ways of God with man. During the earlier ages of the world’s history God had been seeking fruit from man (from Israel especially), as He was well entitled to do. But He sought it in vain, flesh being incorrigibly evil. Every succeeding dispensation only served to bring this out the more vividly. Man violated his conscience, set at nought the testimony of God’s works, trampled underfoot His law, and slew the prophets who remonstrated with him concerning his evil. It only remained to murder the Father’s well-beloved Son in order to fill the cup of human iniquity to the full. God no longer looks for fruit from man; His present action is to sow the good seed of the gospel, and so produce His own fruit. This work has been proceeding ever since the Son of God came to earth.
But the human heart is not always responsive to the good seed of God’s Word. The Lord shows in His parable that on this account the greater part of that which is sown becomes wasted. Men hear, but do not profit by what they hear. Four classes of hearers are indicated, the Saviour’s own interpretation making the meaning clear beyond dispute.
- There are first the wayside hearers. Here we have the careless folk who listen but heed not, their minds being too indifferent to permit of their becoming interested. As the birds catch up seed sown by the wayside, so Satan removes from these even the remembrance of the things which have been spoken. The preacher may be admired, but his message passes away.
- Then there are the rocky-ground hearers. They are perhaps the most disappointing of all. They respond immediately to the Word preached, and so cause much rejoicing to those who seek their good; but having no depth, as soon as difficulties arise, they throw their confession of Christ to the winds. These are the impressionable folk. They readily weep when the Saviour is presented to them; but it is mere sentiment, both conscience and heart being unaffected.
- The third class are the thorny-ground hearers. Good seed has no chance in a bed of thorns. These are the encumbered folk, and they include both rich and poor. The rich man is too full of his property and possessions to give deep attention to spiritual concerns, and the poor man is too burdened with the anxieties of life. In both cases, earthly affairs being put first, the soul is lost. The last class are the good-ground hearers.
These, having experienced the action of God’s harrow in their conscience, have learned their guilt and wretchedness, and have put their whole trust in the Saviour who died for their sins and rose again. In these only is there permanence, though even amongst the true-hearted ones the fruit varies in measure — some thirty, some sixty, and some a hundredfold.