“And He began again to teach by the sea side: and there was gathered unto Him a great multitude, so that He entered into a ship, and sat in the sea; and the whole multitude was by the sea on the land. And He taught them many things by parables, and said unto them in His doctrine” (Mark 4:1-2).
The parable of the sower is probably the most well known of all the parables. It is easy to understand the truths illustrated by Christ in this story. The teaching it contains applies to all who hear the word of God regardless if they are saved or unsaved. This parable depicts four types of hearer and their response.
The wicked way
“Hearken; Behold, there went out a sower to sow: And it came to pass, as he sowed, some fell by the way side, and the fowls of the air came and devoured it up … And He said unto them, Know ye not this parable? and how then will ye know all parables? The sower soweth the word. And these are they by the way side, where the word is sown; but when they have heard, Satan cometh immediately, and taketh away the word that was sown in their hearts” (Mark 4:3-4, 13-15).
There will always be those who hear God’s word but pay no attention to it. They may be religious and respectable but they reject the plain teaching of the Scriptures and consider preaching to be the ramblings of fools and fanatics. While the word is being taught they have their minds on other matters, and leave the service knowing no more of Christ than when they came in.
There is hardly a church in the world that does not contain several of such people. Sunday after Sunday they allow Satan to steal the truth from them. They have no faith or feelings towards God in their hearts. They appear to be totally ignorant of the fact that Jesus died on the cross as the sacrifice for their sin. If they should die in this state, they would find themselves eternally lost. This is a sad, but true, fact.
The weedy way
“And some fell on stony ground, where it had not much earth; and immediately it sprang up, because it had no depth of earth: But when the sun was up, it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away … 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 4:5-6, 16-17).
There are those who quickly respond to the truth, yet there is no real depth to their conviction. They get excited, and often put others to shame, about what they have heard. As quickly as they spring up they fade away. In this case the Holy Spirit has not been allowed to do His perfect work in their lives, so when affliction and difficulties arise they vanish as speedily as the dew on the grass, “For your goodness is as a morning cloud, and as the early dew it goeth away” (Hosea 6:4) … “If thou faint in the day of adversity, thy strength is small” (Proverbs 24:10). They are as showy as cut flowers that soon die because they have no root.
Too many believers are careless about their true condition before God. They think that they have all the bases covered if they attend church, sing hymns and say ‘Amen’ during the preacher’s sermon. They flatter themselves by thinking that they have grace in their hearts. If the “old things” have not “passed away” then they are deceiving themselves (2 Corinthians 5:17). They may have feelings, emotions, joy, hopes and desires. But they are still in their sin and on the road to destruction until they truly obey God’s word.
The worldly way
“And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up, and choked it, and it yielded no fruit … 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” (Mark 4:7, 18-19).
This type of person actually makes an effort to obey what they hear. They are convinced that the Scriptures are true and attempt to live accordingly. Their consciences are affected by the sermon, but something causes them to stop short of full commitment. In the vast majority of such cases it is the love of the world that holds them back, “For Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world” (2 Timothy 4:10) … “But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition” (1 Timothy 6:9). They have potential but never bring any fruit to perfection.
These are the saddest of all the types Jesus presents in this parable, for they are always on the verge of the Promised Land and never receive the blessings of Canaan because they are unwilling to cross the Jordan. Without a change of heart they will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven, “Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God” (James 4:4).
The wonderful way
“And other fell on good ground, and did yield fruit that sprang up and increased; and brought forth, some thirty, and some sixty, and some an hundred” … “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 4:8, 20).
Those who hear and thoroughly obey God’s word will see the greatest result in their lives. Sin will be hated, mourned over, resisted and renounced. Christ will be truly loved, trusted in, followed and obeyed. Holiness will be apparent in everything they do and say. Such a mighty work of the Holy Spirit in the soul cannot be hidden. Jesus said, “I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing” (John 15:5).
In many churches there are the few who have this level of commitment to the Lord, but if the whole congregation endeavoured to live after this fashion, revival would be experienced. Such people will be greatly blessed. Where there is visible repentance, visible faith and visible holiness, visible fruit will be in abundance.
“And He said unto them, He that hath ears to hear, let him hear. And when He was alone, they that were about Him with the twelve asked of Him the parable. And He said unto them, Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables: That seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them” (Mark 4:9-12).
What type of hearer are we? Never forget that there are three ways of hearing that produce nothing to profit the soul. There is only one way to be a blessed hearer, “But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed” (James 1:25).
“The vast majority of those who hear the word of God, receive the seed as by the highway side. Of those who do not lose it by the birds, receive it as on stony places. Many of those who receive it in better soil, often suffer the thorns to grow up, and choke it: so that few even of these endure to the end, and bear fruit unto perfection: yet in all these cases, it is not the will of God that hinders, but their own voluntary perverseness” (edited: John Wesley, Notes on the New Testament).