THE PARABLE OF THE SOWER
J. C. Ryle
1 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.
2 And he taught them many things by parables, and said unto them in his doctrine,
3 Hearken; Behold, there went out a sower to sow:
4 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.
5 And some fell on stony ground, where it had not much earth; and immediately it sprang up, because it had no depth of earth:
6 But when the sun was up, it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away.
7 And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up, and choked it, and it yielded no fruit.
8 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.
9 And he said unto them, He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.
10 And when he was alone, they that were about him with the twelve asked of him the parable.
11 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:
12 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.
13 And he said unto them, Know ye not this parable? and how then will ye know all parables?
14 The sower soweth the word.
15 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.
16 And these are they likewise which are sown on stony ground; who, when they have heard the word, immediately receive it with gladness,
17 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.
18 And these are they which are sown among thorns; such as hear the word,
19 And the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of otherthings entering in, choke the word, and it becometh unfruitful.
20 And these are they which are sown on good ground; such as hear the word, and receive it, and bring forth fruit, some thirty-fold, some sixty, and some an hundred.
These verses contain the parable of the sower. Of all the parables spoken by our Lord, none is probably so well-known as this. There is none which is so easily understood by all, from the gracious familiarity of the figures which it contains. There is none which is of such universal and perpetual application. So long as there is a Church of Christ and a congregation of Christians, so long there will be employment for this parable.
The language of the parable requires no explanation. To use the words of an ancient writer, ” it needs application, not exposition.” Let us now see what it teaches.
We are taught, in the first place, that there are some hearers of the Gospel whose hearts are like the way-side in a field.
These are they who hear sermons, but pay no attention to them. They go to a place of worship, for form, or fashion, or to appear respectable before men. But they take no interest whatever in the preaching. It seems to them a mere matter of words, and names, and unintelligible talk. It is neither money, nor meat, nor drink, nor clothes, nor company;
– and as they sit under the sound of it, they are taken up with thinking of other things. It matters nothing whether it is law or Gospel. It produces no more effect on them than water on a stone. And at the end they go away, knowing no more than when they came in.
There are myriads of professing Christians in this state of soul. There is hardly a church or chapel where scores of them are not to be found. Sunday after Sunday they allow the devil to catch away the good seed that is sown on the face of their hearts. Week after week they live on, without faith, or fear, or knowledge, or grace, – feeling nothing, caring nothing, taking no more interest in religion than if Christ had never died on the cross at all. And in this state they often die and are buried, and are lost for ever in hell. This is a mournful picture, but only too true.
We are taught, in the second place, that there are some hearers of the Gospel whose hearts are like the stony ground in afield.
These are they on whom preaching produces temporary impressions but no deep, lasting, and abiding effect. They take pleasure in hearing sermons in which the truth is faithfully set forth. They can speak with apparent joy and enthusiasm about the sweetness of the Gospel, and the happiness which they experience in listening to it. They can be moved to tears by the appeals of preachers, and talk with apparent earnestness of their own inward conflicts, hopes, struggles, desires, and fears. Bu unhappily there is no stability about their religion. They have no root in themselves, and so endure but for a time. There is no real work of the Holy Ghost within their hearts. Their impressions are like Jonah’s gourd, which came up in a night and perished in a night. They fade as rapidly as they grow. No sooner does ‘affliction and persecution arise for the Word’s sake,’ than they fall away. Their goodness proves as ‘the morning cloud, and the early dew’ (Hosea 6. 4). Their religion has no more life in it than the cut flower. It has no root, and soon withers away
There are many in every congregation which hears the Gospel, who are just in this state of soul. They are not careless and inattentive hearers, like many around them, and are therefore tempted to think well of their own condition. They feel a pleasure in the preaching to which they listen, and therefore flatter themselves they must have grace in their hearts. And yet they are thoroughly deceived. Old things have not ye passed away.
There is no real work of conversion in their inward man. With all their feelings, affections, joys, hopes, and desires, they an actually on the high road to destruction.*
We are taught, in the third place, that there are some hearers of the Gospel whose hearts are like the thorny ground in a field.
These are they who attend to the preaching of Christ’s truth, and to a certain extent obey it. Their understanding assents to it. Their judgment approves of it. Their conscience is affected by it. Their affections are in favour of it. They acknowledge that it is all right, and good, and worth) of all reception. They even abstain from many things which the Gospel condemns, and adopt many habits which the Gospel requires. But here unhappily they stop short. Something appears to chain them fast, and they never get beyond a certain point in their religion. And the grand secret of their condition is the world. ‘The cares of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things,’ prevent the Word
having its full effect on their souls. With everything apparently that is promising and favourable in their spiritual stale, they stand still. They
* All who wish to understand the character of the ‘stony-ground hearers’ should study the treatise of Jonathon Edwards, On the Religious Affections. Few Christians, who have not looked into the subject, have any idea of the lengths to which a person may go in religious feelings, while he is at the same time utterly destitute of the grace of God