A traveller in the Holy Land was riding slowly along the western edge of the Sea of Galilee. He was approaching the Plain of Gennesaret and, as he rode, he meditated on the parables of Jesus. The rocky shore at that point did not suggest anything that could be supposed to give rise to a parable like that of the sower, which was known to have been spoken from a fishing boat in the lake to a crowd assembled on the beach. But scarcely had the traveller turned his thoughts to that parable when a slight change of view opened up at once what he describes as “every feature of the great parable”.
There was a cornfield before him descending to the water’s edge. There was a beaten footpath leading through the midst of it, where no fence prevented grain from falling on either side as it was sown. The path was made hard by the constant tramp of horse and mule and wayfaring men. Moreover, there was rich soil there in abundance, producing a waving mass of corn. There was rocky ground also visible amid the grain, as well as on distant grassy slopes, and there were large bushes of thorn springing up in the very midst of the waving wheat. Then countless flocks of birds of all kinds were hovering in the region, such as no doubt devoured the seed which fell by the wayside.
Here, then, we see the scenery of the parable beautifully presented to the eye. The Holy Land has changed few of its habits since the Saviour was in our world. (2) The same pathways are trodden and the same practices continued. In some respects it is as if eighteen centuries were scarcely more than as many years.
But what does the parable mean? Jesus himself explained it. The sower is the Saviour – or it may be anyone who is employed to proclaim God’s message of mercy to man. The Word of God is compared to seed. It is called the good seed. It is a thing that grows. It bears fruit, and that fruit is one great design of all that Jesus taught. He said, “Herein is My Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit”.
But when Jesus sowed – when he preached and wished men to be holy – some seeds fell by the wayside. It could not be covered there, for there was no earth to cover it; and the birds which hovered around soon devoured it all. Now that represents the man who hears the Word of God but does not understand it. The heart is beaten hard by this world and sin. There is no place for the seed to take root there – no, not an inch. As well expect grain and a harvest on the highway as the fruits of righteousness in a soul all covered over with the hard and stony influence of sin. To expect a crop to grow on a path that is thus beaten would only prove our foolishness, and it is just as vain to expect any good from a heart which the world has trodden till even the truth of God produces no effect. Satan, the wicked one, snatches it utterly away – and man then becomes a wicked one himself.
Next, some of the sower’s seed fell upon stony places – that is, where the soil was very thin, for the rocks were near the surface and sometimes rose above it. Here the seed quickly sprang up. If there were heat and a little moisture, it would spring up almost in a night – so conducive to growth is the sunshine at some seasons in the Holy Land. But though the seed sprang up, it did not continue springing. Nay, it soon withered away. The brilliant sun at noon parched it and it died.
Now Jesus explains that to mean the hearers of His word who seem to welcome it with great joy for a while. They are delighted with it. They make much talk and loud profession regarding it, but that soon passes away. The seed was never in the heart. It had not reached the conscience or the understanding and, after all their promising appearance, such souls are dead and withered still. They bear no fruit unto holiness. When trial or persecution comes, they turn away from the Saviour; and who would not ask, Lord, is it I? Lord, is it I? “He that is of God, heareth God’s word.” Do I?
Further, some of the sower’s seed fell among thorns. In the parable it means the kind of thorn of which Christ’s crown, when He was crucified, was made. These thorns choked the seed. It could not grow there; it was dwarfed and died. And so when the truth of God is sown in any heart, the cares of the world soon banish it again. The truth is overshadowed, overlaid and destroyed. Who ever saw a man who was busy grasping at this world’s goods, and making money his god, really prospering in his soul? Nay, he is pierced through with many sorrows, and every one of them is unto death.
But some of the seed from the sower’s basket and hand fell upon good ground; it sprang up there; the moisture nourished it; the sun ripened it. First, there was the blade, then there was the stalk, then the ear, then the ripe grain, and, last of all, the harvest. Now Jesus explains that to mean the men who welcome God’s word, who lay it up in their heart, who love it, who try to obey it, and who pray for the Holy Spirit to sanctify them through God’s truth, for His word is truth. That is the teaching of Jesus, and the soul is happy which produces even only thirtyfold in this manner; that soul is happier still which produces sixtyfold; and that soul is happiest of all which produces a hundredfold. If we begin in early youth – that is, in the seed-time of life – to prepare for this, then, before we are old, if we live till then, we may hope that God’s good and Holy Spirit will enable us to produce the hundredfold. To such the hoary head is like a crown of glory. But how poor and piteous is that heart which produces only thorns and briars!
1. Taken, slightly edited, from Tweedie’s book, Parables of Our Lord. This article is based on Matthew 13:1-23.
2. Note that the book was published in 1865.