He spake many things unto them in parables - Parable, from παρα, near, and βαλλω, I cast, or put. A comparison or similitude, in which one thing is compared with another, especially spiritual things with natural, by which means these spiritual things are better understood, and make a deeper impression on an attentive mind. Or, a parable is a representation of any matter accommodated, in the way of similitude, to the real subject, in order to delineate it with the greater force and perspicuity. See more on this subject at the conclusion of this chapter. No scheme, says Dr. Lightfoot, of Jewish rhetoric was more familiarly used than that of parables; which, perhaps, creeping in from thence among the heathens, ended in fables.
It is said in the tract Sotah, chap. 9. "From the time that Rabbi Meri died, those that spake in parables ceased." Not that this figure of rhetoric perished in the nation from that time; but because he surpassed all others in these flowers, as the gloss there from the tract Sanhedrin speaks. "A third part of his discourses was tradition; a third part allegory; and a third part parable." The Jewish books every where abound with these figures, the nation inclining by a kind of natural genius to this kind of rhetoric. Their very religion might be called parabolical, folded up within the covering of ceremonies; and their oratory in their sermons was like to it. But is it not indeed a wonder, that they who were so much given to and delighted in parables, and so dexterous in unfolding them, should stick in the outward shell of ceremonies, and should not have brought out the parabolical and spiritual sense of them? Our Savior, who always spoke with the common people, uses the same kind of speech, and very often the same preface which they used, To what is it likened? See Lightfoot in loco. Though we find the basis of many of our Lord's parables in the Jewish writings, yet not one of them comes through his hands without being astonishingly improved. In this respect also, Surely never man spoke like this man.
Under the parable of the sower, our Lord intimates,
2. That this would be a general case in preaching the Gospel among men.
In parables - The word “parable” is derived from a Greek word signifying “to compare together,” and denotes a similitude taken from a natural object to illustrate a spiritual or moral subject. It is a narrative of some fictitious or real event, in order to illustrate more clearly some truth that the speaker wished to communicate. In early ages it was much used. Pagan writers, as Aesop, often employed it. In the time of Christ it was in common use. The prophets had used it, and Christ employed it often in teaching his disciples. It is not necessary to suppose that the narratives were strictly true. The main thing - “the inculcation of spiritual truth” - was gained equally, whether it was true or was only a supposed case. Nor was there any dishonesty in this. It was well understood no person was deceived. The speaker was not “understood” to affirm the thing “literally narrated,” but only to fix the attention more firmly on the moral truth that he presented. The “design” of speaking in parables was the following:
1.To convey truth in a more interesting manner to the mind, adding to the truth conveyed the beauty of a lovely image or narrative.
2.To teach spiritual truth so as to arrest the attention of ignorant people, making an appeal to them through the “senses.”
3.To convey some offensive truth, some pointed personal rebuke. in such a way as to bring it “home” to the conscience. Of this kind was the parable which Nathan delivered to David 2 Samuel 12:1-7, and many of our Saviour‘s parables addressed to the Jews.
4.To “conceal” from one part of his audience truths which he intended others should understand. Thus Christ often, by this means, delivered truths to his disciples in the presence of the Jews, which he well knew the Jews would not understand; truths pertaining to them particularly, and which he was under no obligations to explain to the Jews. See Mark 4:33; Matthew 13:13-16.
Our Saviour‘s parables are distinguished above all others for clearness, purity, chasteness, importance of instruction, and simplicity. They are taken mostly from the affairs of common life, and intelligible, therefore, to all people. They contain much of “himself” - his doctrine, life, design in coming, and claims, and are therefore of importance to all people; and they are told in a style of simplicity intelligible to the child, yet instructive to people of every rank and age. In his parables, as in all his instructions, he excelled all people in the purity, importance, and sublimity of his doctrine.
A sower went forth to sow - The image here is taken from an employment known to all people, and therefore intelligible to all.
Nor can there be a more striking illustration of preaching the gospel than placing the seed in the ground, to spring up hereafter and bear fruit.
Sower - One who sows or scatters seed - a farmer. It is not improbable that one was near the Saviour when he spoke this parable.
Some seeds fell by the way-side - That is, the hard “path” or headland, which the plow had not touched, and where there was no opportunity for it to sink into the earth.
Stony places - Where there was little earth, but where it was hard and rocky, so that the roots could not strike down into the earth for sufficient moisture to support the plant.
When the sun became hot they of course withered away. They sprang up the sooner because there was little earth to cover them.
Forthwith - Immediately. Not that they sprouted and grew any quicker or faster than the others, but they were not so long in reaching the surface. Having little root, they soon withered away.
Among thorns - That is, in a part of the field where the thorns and shrubs had been imperfectly cleared away and not destroyed.
They grew with the grain, crowded it, shaded it, exhausted the earth, and thus choked it.
Into good ground - The fertile and rich soil.
In sowing, by far the largest proportion of seed will fall into the good soil; but Christ did not intend to teach that these proportions would be exactly the same among those who heard the gospel. Parables are designed to teach some “general” truth, and the circumstances should not be pressed too much in explaining them.
An hundred-fold - That is, a hundred, sixty, or thirty “grains” for each one that was sowed an increase by no means uncommon. Some grains of wheat will produce twelve or fifteen hundred grains. The usual proportion on a field sown, however, is not more than twenty, fifty, or sixty bushels for one.
Who hath ears - This is a proverbial expression, implying that it was every man‘s duty to pay attention to what was spoken, Matthew 11:15.
The birds of the air, the lilies of the field, the sower and the seed, the shepherd and the sheep—with these Christ illustrated immortal truth. He drew illustrations from the facts of life, facts of experience familiar to the hearers—the hid treasure, the pearl, the fishing net, the lost coin, the prodigal son, the houses on the rock and on the sand. In His lessons there was something to interest every mind, to appeal to every heart. Thus the daily task, instead of being a mere round of toil, bereft of higher thoughts, was brightened and uplifted by constant reminders of the spiritual and the unseen. UL 167.5Read in context »
“The sower went forth to sow” (R.V.). In the East the state of affairs was so unsettled, and there was so great danger from violence that the people dwelt chiefly in walled towns, and the husbandmen went forth daily to their labor outside the walls. So Christ, the heavenly Sower, went forth to sow. He left His home of security and peace, left the glory that He had with the Father before the world was, left His position upon the throne of the universe. He went forth, a suffering, tempted man; went forth in solitude, to sow in tears, to water with His blood, the seed of life for a world lost. COL 36.1
His servants in like manner must go forth to sow. When called to become a sower of the seed of truth, Abraham was bidden, “Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will show thee.” Genesis 12:1. “And he went out, not knowing whither he went.” Hebrews 11:8. So to the apostle Paul, praying in the temple at Jerusalem, came the message from God, “Depart; for I will send thee far hence unto the Gentiles.” Acts 22:21. So those who are called to unite with Christ must leave all, in order to follow Him. Old associations must be broken up, plans of life relinquished, earthly hopes surrendered. In toil and tears, in solitude, and through sacrifice, must the seed be sown. COL 36.2Read in context »
The parable of the gospel sower, which Christ presented before His hearers, contains a lesson that we should study. Those who preach present truth and scatter the good seed will realize the same results as the gospel sower. All classes will be affected more or less by the presentation of pointed and convincing truth. Some will be wayside hearers. They will be affected by the truths spoken; but they have not cultivated the moral powers, they have followed inclination rather than duty, and evil habits have hardened their hearts until they have become like the hard, beaten road. These may profess to believe the truth; but they will have no just sense of its sacred, elevated character. They do not separate from the friendship of the lovers of pleasure and corrupt society; but they place themselves where they are constantly tempted, and may well be represented by the unfenced field. They invite the temptations of the enemy and finally lose the regard they seemed to have for the truth when the good seed was dropped into their hearts. 3T 111.1
Some are stony-ground hearers. They readily receive anything new and exciting. The word of truth they receive with joy. They talk earnestly, with ardor and zeal, in reference to their faith and hope, and may even administer reproof to those of long experience for some apparent deficiency or for their lack of enthusiasm. But when they are tested and proved by the heat of trial and temptation, when the pruning knife of God is applied, that they may bring forth fruit unto perfection, their zeal dies, their voices are silent. No longer do they boast in the strength and power of truth. 3T 111.2Read in context »