"Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ." - Jerome

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Parable of the Sower: Some Thoughts.

The parable of the sower (Matthew 13:1-23)

Mat 13:18-23 "Hear then the parable of the sower:
[SOIL 1] When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path.
[SOIL 2] As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away.
[SOIL 3] As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.
[SOIL 4] As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty."

1) Seeds on the Path

The seed never takes root. The seed touches the hearer, but is immediately taken away, forgotten. The hearer is apathetic. They sit under the preached Word and think about what's for lunch. WHY NO FRUIT?: “Never understood.” Never considered. Though details of life, finances, stories, their own self-interests are worthy of their thought and mental energies, the importance of the words of their Creator and God are things of indifference.

2) Seeds on the rocky ground

The person takes hold of the word “immediately” and with “joy.” This may be an emotional conversion. Emotion is not bad. This phrase of receiving with joy is used elsewhere positively. Yet here, it is not directed emotion. They have no root in them. Most commentators like to play on Christ being called “the root” and point out, Christ is not the root of this person's emotion or point out there is nothing but the emotion to sustain it. WHY NO FRUIT?: Hardship. Trial. The acceptance of the word was based on a false premise. It was excepted in emotion, therefore when the happy times are gone, so is the supposed faith. It is not rooted in truth, but shallow. This is a man of the moment.

3) Seeds among the thorns

This is one that hears, but this is no barren field. There exists something there already: thorns. WHY NO FRUIT: The plant is choked out. The interesting thing is the last soil was plagued by hardship, but this is plagued by “the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches.” Not bad times, but good times. Not pain, but pleasure. What was there before survives, but what is planted latter loses out.

4) Seeds on good soil

This one hears, believes, and does care to actually listen, understand and consider the message, has no shallow merely emotional reaction, no previous growth of thorns that is not uprooted. This bears fruit, though not the same for every plant. Some 30, some 60, some 100.

Lesson for the disciples:

The seed will drop and different responses follow. The disciples have seen this when Jesus teaches. They have seen this when they were commissioned to teach on their own. The fact is now lodged in their minds. Now that they know this, they are to learn why.

Paul tells us that the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation. If one does not believe, the disciples would be tempted to doubt the message. Maybe something else will sell. Look at the big churches, Osteen, etc. maybe their message is better because they have larger responses. No. Non-reception is no indication of the truth of the message and the faithfulness of the disciples in preaching it.

The disciples were commissioned with a very specific job. Their job was to preach the message. Their job was not to make people believe. Their faithfulness and success was not based on the number of people that believed. Their success was determined on their faithfulness to scatter the seed, know and preach the message.

Martin Luther on the parable of the sower:
“Here we see why it is no wonder there are so few true Christians, for all the seed does not fall into good ground, but only the fourth and small part; and that they are not to be trusted who boast they are Christians and praise the teaching of the Gospel; ... All this is spoken for our instruction, that we may not go astray, since so many misuse the Gospel and few lay hold of it aright. True it is unpleasant to preach to those who treat the Gospel so shamefully and even oppose it...What business is it of mine that many do not esteem it? It must be that many are called but few are chosen. For the sake of the good ground that brings forth fruit with patience, the seed must also fall fruitless by the wayside, on the rock and among the thorns; ... For wherever the Gospel goes you will find Christians. "My word shall not return unto me void" (Is. 55:11).”

Did you read and understand that middle sentence? “What business is it of mine that many do not esteem it?” Luther knew his job. Not the response, but the message.

LESSON: Preach the Gospel, share the gospel, knowing that the response is not our job.

In explaining this, I am going to try and maintain two truths explained here in tension. So let me explain both before judging.

Lets also answer the difficult question: Which of the soils are saved?

A perspective from an article in a Christian periodical: “The Lord divides the responsiveness of people in four categories. One group rejects Christ and never comes to faith. A second group comes to faith and then later falls away from Christ. A third group comes to faith and maintains their Christian profession till the end, but have limited fruitfulness in their Christian life. And a fourth group maintains their Christian profession to the end and bring forth much mature fruit.”

Their conclusion: “The first group is lost, the last three soils are saved.”

The justification of saying this?

The last three soils "received" or believed in the narrative. If salvation is by faith, then those who believe are saved.

Then we must ask: is it Biblical to say one can believe in a sense and not be saved? Don't we believe in salvation by faith alone? If one can believe and not be saved, does one then argue for salvation by works?


Jas 2:19 You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe--and shudder!

Demons believe. Are they saved? Of course not.

James speaks of a dead faith and that “that faith will not save you.” The opposite of dead non-saving faith is living saving faith. Our theology and how we view the world requires us to have a category of false profession, of dead non-saving belief. Of a person that has something of a faith, but is not finally saved. James says, there is a type of faith that “will not save him.” It is not true saving faith. This is the faith of demons, and juxaposed to the faith of the saints.

How do you tell the difference between the faith of demons and the faith of the saints? What is the evidence?

Matt 12:33 "Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit."

This is the same thing James says. The distinguishing outer quality is the fruit. If there is fruit, it is saving faith. If there is no fruit, there is no saving faith. And this is what is difficult in saying, because then it sounds like works are required. Don't we believe in “faith alone”? That's something I have struggled with. Because we know Paul says it is not by works, but faith apart from works. I think it would help to remind ourselves of the pure free gracious offer of the gospel, and where works come in. A good way to think about salvation is by two different aspects:

Payment and Renewal
Purchase and Renovation
Justification and Sanctification.

The work of God in our lives is two fold. Some call it the duplex gratia. It is essential to distinguish these two, but not to separate them. One: God redeems us by the merits of Christ, no works of our own. Two: God changes us by the Spirit, causing us to do works consistent with New Life. The work God does in us is not payment. The payment is not dependent on our works. Justification is an event with no work from us. [The Catechism calls it an act of God Q33]. Sanctification is a process, done to us resulting in us doing good works. As Ephesians 2:10 says, “we are God's workmanship created for good works” - the Catechism calls this a work of God Q35].

Another way it has been described is that we are saved by faith alone, but the faith that saves is never alone. For God NEVER Justifies a sinner, without also beginning the work of Sanctification. Paul says all who God justifies, He also glorifies, (Romans 8:30) and sanctification is not an option along that course, and sanctification bears fruit, evidencing the goodness of the tree.


Now follow me with another truth we must keep in tension. I will illustrate this with an example:
Let me give two models:

The First is called a Christian. That person is involved with other Christians. They even teach others true things about Christ and have a long time they profess to be a Christian. This persons profession is dealing in finances and eventually, with the cares of this world the person gives up their Christianity instead seeking money without really understanding that he can't have both. [Sounds like a Soil 3 person, caught up in the deceitfulness of riches, the soil that seems to have the most hope of accompanying Soil 4 in salvation]

The Second is called a Christian. That person does the same as the first, is involved with other Christians and is bold and teaches others about Christ. This person even seems a little over zealous. Then, when a troubling time comes, the person can't stand it and out loud, something the first person didn't really do, says “I never was a Christian.” [Sounds like a Soil 2 person, coming on tribulation]

Who was the first person I described? The person that looked like soil three, the one we hold out hope for, is Judas Iscariot. The second person, the one that looks like soil two, that we have little hope for? That's Peter.

The next parable in the text is of the wheat and tares. When good crop grows up with bad, servants ask if they should uproot the tares (the bad) out of the field of good (the wheat). The Master replies:

Mat 13:29 But he said, 'No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them.

Tares and wheat look very similar. It is very hard to tell the difference. In identifying someone as good, they may be bad, and in identifying one as bad, they may be good. Our job is not to be the final judges of the genuineness of someone's faith. We are poor fruit inspectors.


The lesson of the parable is to spread the message indiscriminantly, not to be an expert on who is which soil. We may perceive someone looks like the other soil. Our job then is not to infallibly cast judgments on their eternal state, but work to bring them back. We are commanded to comfort or rebuke a brother in trial or sin, (personally, and as the church with church discipline) BECAUSE we don't know. If they were saved as soil 2 or 3, why bother? Also on the other side, if they can be certainly judged as lost as soil 2 or 3, why bother? This is the reason we place people under church discipline and even excommunicate them from the church, to let them know the seriousness of their situation, to give an opportunity for the Spirit to work and renew the Peters of the world to repentance, bringing them to a place of repentance.

Ultimately, the only One that can guarantee a good soil, a prepared place for the gospel is God by His Spirit. As William Cowper wrote ina hymn on the parable of the sower:

Father of mercies we have need
Of thy preparing grace;
Let the same hand that gives the seed,
Provide a fruitful place.

What is the difference between those that hear and those that don't?

1Co 4:7 For who makes you to differ? And what do you have that you did not receive? And if you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive?

The message, not the response is our job. The One that gives growth, that makes the one who hears to differ from those that do not, is God, not us.


Demian Farnworth said...

I think you ended this nicely...tying in the OTHER parable Jesus told about who makes the seed grow. Sometimes I wish that parable would've come first in Mark (though chronologically it could've). But motivates us to get off our rump.

Andrew said...

The problem with the theory that it is a "dead faith" is that the following verse is, : "Therefore a man is justified by works and not by faith alone", if you can deal with this premise I would be very impressed.

But luckily if Reformation theology is correct on faith alone, God will still accept me as a plant now strangled (because of the alleged indelible grace of justification I received by faith alone as a Protestant)

Jared Nelson said...

My "theory" is James' words:

Jas 2:17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

jgerrie said...

Could you please tell me where the first indented Luther quotation is from? Also, do you think that Luther's idea about teaching the Gospel not being "our job" which be why he (and Calvin) was able to happily work with the state in providing education to the young. That is to say, training in the scriptures, music and theology of the Church is not proselytization, but simply the cultivation of the ground (i.e. cultural process) in which real trust in God might develop in the lives of some?