The Parable of the Sower.

Matthew 13.

1888 19 There is so much instruction in the scripture, that I find it impossible, in giving a few hints on any portion of the text of it, to attempt to bring out the breadth and length of its various applications. Indeed, as flowing from God, and bearing continually the impress of the fulness of His character, I constantly find, in opening (under God's mercy) any particular passage at different times and under different circumstances, that it presents itself in bearings so entirely different, that, although not in reality inconsistent, they could not be thought, by one untaught of God, to be drawn from the same passage. It is this which so strongly marks and contrasts the word of God with any human writings. While these are the expressions of a judgment formed on results, or the imperfect discussion of unascertained thought, the writing of God is the expression of the full perfectness of the divine mind, bearing upon that which diversified it (while in itself intrinsically the same), according to the infinitely various reflection of that on which it expresses itself. This was true intrinsically in Christ, in whom dwelt all fulness; and the scriptures are the divine expression of that fullness.

This leads us to remember how one ought to lean upon the Spirit for the right use of scripture, and also in speaking on it, for He alone knows its right and suitable application. We also learn why the best commentators must be so entirely imperfect, or I would say, we see the evil of the best commentators. For they cannot express the applicable power of the divine mind in the circumstances of the person reading, but merely what their mind has received out of it at the time of writing. But this may not be at all what the individual or church needs, or the Spirit would give at another time: and this too, on the supposition that every comment is right as far as it goes, — is a part of the divine mind in the scripture. Hence the poverty of understanding, and the systems also into which men have fallen, and hence also, partly, that divisions in the church have been established as they are.

I have been led into this, by attempting to offer some thoughts on the parable of the sower, given by our Lord in Matt. xiii., a parable on which so many lectures have been given, differing perhaps in many important applications, yet all, where the mind of Spirit was, acknowledging the same general truths, and not interpreting the parable inconsistently. Nor is this by any means confined to this passage. The Lord has led me to speak of this, I am conscious, with most different applications at different times, and perhaps in each, only bringing out small portions of the divine mind. In writing the following remarks, I am but doing the same thing, yet I think in a view neither unimportant nor uninteresting as far as it goes. I could not attempt here to use it as I might in addressing others, but merely to afford the view itself, with any casual scriptural confirmation of it.

It is most important for us to remember, that all that which is the power of death in the unbeliever is the hindrance and blight of the fruit-bearing power of the believer's life, to which the energies afforded in the divine persons apply themselves. This is brought out into full light in the graciousness of God, with its specific remedy, in this parable. There is the case of the fowls of the air, the stony ground, the sowing among thorns, and in the good ground, thirty, sixty, and a hundred fold. The first of these, we know, is the power of Satan, the power of death. There is no life in the soul. When the word of it is sown in the unbroken heart, the devil takes it away as soon as it is sown. He holds it in unremoved death. The word is the power of life. "Of His own will begat He us by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of first fruits of His creatures." It is indeed the lie of the devil, by which he brought in death, and holds men in it, in which he is a murderer; so on the other hand, by the truth of God are we made alive.

But there is one (Himself indeed the WORD) who is specifically the quickening power, even the Son of God. "The last Adam is a quickening spirit." He then who vindicates from this state of death, and makes alive, is the Son of God. The Son of man sows the seed, but it is the Son of God who quickens. "For this purpose the Son of God was manifested that he might destroy the works of the devil." It is the special distinctive character of His Sonship, that He quickens with divine power, as indeed none else could. Compare John 5:21, 24, 26. This is most explicit, and no one acquainted with scripture can have failed to recognise the power of life in the Son of God as distinctly representing His quickening character. He declares Himself, "I am the Resurrection and the Life," and this is by His word, "Lazarus come forth." The results of this we shall not now follow; but we have the Son of God, by the word, destroying the works of the devil in the state and power of death. This is the first case of the parable. That which is in Him is the opposite power, which overcomes the evil case mentioned, and a man brings forth thirty fold, for being really alive he must increase and bring forth fruit.

But there is another case put, not so apparently desperate, but equally destructive, — the receiving the word into shallow ground. There was no root. It was received superficially; it speedily "sprang up because it had no deepness of earth"; it had no searching process of power in which it entered into the conscience, and quickened the inner man. It rested in the natural affections and understanding, which are, after all, the flesh. It is received merely by the natural feelings, and therefore immediately acts, and with joy, since it reaches not the conscience. And the same natural feelings were of course as speedily acted on by trouble and persecution, and "immediately they are offended" (compare Mark iv.). This then is all merely the flesh and comes to nothing, To this we know how uniformly the Spirit is opposed. "The flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary the one to the other." "They that are after the flesh mind the things of the flesh, and they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit." "If ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds," etc. It needs not to multiply the passages of scripture to show the opposition of these two. But we must observe that we have here, in the Spirit, the antagonist power which overcomes the flesh; and, assuming a man to be alive, it still does so. "The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit." Hence we know that this case is still the natural man, and that the things of the Spirit are what he has never received, though affections or intellect may have been moved or delighted with the marvellous plan of redemption. But the same point holds good in a believer; that is, we find when men do not walk in the Spirit, of course they are profitless and low in their state. It is in mortifying the flesh by the Spirit, that the fruits of the Spirit find comparatively free growth — it produces sixty fold. This then is the contrast here — the flesh and the Spirit; and we find in it, that the fairest form of the flesh, the apparently joyful reception of the word of the kingdom, whether it be in affection or intellect, comes to nothing; whatever it may be occupied on, it is but "the desires of the flesh and of the mind."

The third case, compared with scripture, is equally, I think, clear. The hindering power is declared directly, "the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things" (compare Mark iv., Luke viii.). Now the world and the love of it we continually find opposed to the Father. "All that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world." "Love not the world, neither the things of the world; if any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him." The hatred of the world to the Son showed that it was not of the Father; and the children were not of this world any more than the Father, as allied to Him, even as Christ the Son was not of the world.

Every one familiarly and spiritually acquainted with the Gospel of St. John, must have noticed the opposition between the world and the Sonship of Christ, one being associated with the Father, and the other directly opposed to the glory of the Father in the great question of that Sonship in which it alone was known. Our Lord thus concludes the whole presenting of His work and His people to the Father — "O righteous Father, the world hath not known Thee, but I have known Thee, and these have known that Thou hast sent Me." The whole chapter illustrates the question. Now we shall hence well understand the opposition between the two, and how "He who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us out of this present evil world," closes that statement by saying, "And I have declared unto them Thy name, and will declare it, that the love," etc.

But in the believer, even when not only quickened, but in the Spirit, exercising himself to mortify the deeds of the body, who recognises at once the evil of the flesh (though we are little aware how subtly and widely its beguiling and deceiving influence is spread, how fair a form inbred selfishness may assume), and in whom, in an ordinary sense, the flesh is habitually in a measure mortified — how often do we find the world holding a prevailing power and recognised title over the judgment or habit, and the fruitfulness, comparatively speaking, utterly marred. "Herein is My Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit, so shall ye be My disciples." Let us recognise then à priori, that is, from scripture (excluding the consideration of the circumstances in which the lie of this world has power over our mind), that the world is a positive hinderer of fruitfulness, the much fruit in which the Father is glorified; and for this plain reason, that our sonship, our inheritance, the kingdom is not recognised. The devil as he acts on us by the flesh — "the lust of the flesh," "good for food," or "of the eyes," and the like, is the god and prince of this world; and the Spirit in them that are quickened, where not dimmed and darkened by the spirit of this world, is not only the power of the difference of the carnal and spiritual nature, but bears witness that we are sons and heirs. Thus, at liberty, we cry by it, "Abba, Father," and the fruits are an hundred fold, where we are free from the system in which we are fettered. The energy of the kingdom is there, the savour of the kingdom is there, the stamp of the Father of glory, and hence, in deadness to the world, power over it. The whole stamp of nature is different: we are not of the world as Christ is not of the world. Accordingly as we find the Lord the true vine, so we find the Father the husbandman, purging the branches that they may bring forth more fruit. We may be isolated indeed, but isolated sons, upon whom the glory of the Father shines in hope, and the power of inward association — the sons of God, though in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation. In a word, the children of God — the God Who hath called us to "His own kingdom and glory," the living God — is our distinguishing title; and as the Jews were affianced to Jehovah, we are called to be "perfect as our Father which is in heaven is perfect."

I cannot pursue this subject farther here, though I may touch on it, with the Lord's permission, at a, future time. As regards the explanation of the parable, I would say a few words more. The inseparableness of the evils, as well as of the gracious agents of covenant remedy, is not in question; the devil, the world, and the flesh, are too intimately associated to need explanation of our distinct consideration of them; and I believe more intimately than people are commonly aware of. Of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit, I need not speak; but while we have spoken of them in operation as to profit, we must not forget their unity in every act. Whether in creation or anything else, they invariably act in one, and as invariably, as far as I see, in the same order, that is by the Son, through the energy of the Spirit.

Another remark is necessary. Although we have looked at the love of the world as hindering the full characteristic fruitfulness of the children of God, and the knowledge and love of the Father as the contrasted character, we must remember that this knowledge in principle is the position of every believer. "I write unto you, little children, because ye have known the Father;" nor could we otherwise put all believers under this responsibility. But I believe it will be found that the measure of the fruitfulness of the life that is in them much depends on their exercise in the truths here noticed and dwelt on; and that the character of their fruitfulness also much depends on their deeper and fuller apprehension of the one or the other; and that the apprehension of the Father in the full development of the Sonship glory attaches quite a new character to the whole course of the Christian's life. This is our proper calling; and while we must watch against the neglect of distinct reference to the Son as administering the power of the kingdom against the "wicked one" — to the Spirit, as overcoming or detecting the workings and deceitful powers of the flesh — to the Father in contrast with the love of the world, a defective apprehension of the principle of heavenly glory will somewhere or other break down the efficiency of our christian service. The fulness of all was in our Lord; the fulness of all help in them is our practical responsibility — the enjoyment of fellowship with them our privilege.

And here it may be remarked that ill-proportioned Christianity, I believe, continually springs from the power of Satan, through neglect of, or hindering, the special power of one or another of the Persons, while indulgence of any of the evils is apt to throw us into the hands of Satan. And here is the wisdom of ministering to sick souls, for the source of the evil may be one, its manifestation may be another. How blessed to be able to refer to covenant assurance of a threefold Almighty help for the several difficulties one evil may bring! A believer will be healthful and strong against the enemy, in proportion as he has just reference to all. I do not say that a believer's progress is from knowing the Son, to the Spirit and the Father — far from it; but I believe the manifestation of the power and glory of their work will gradually unfold itself, even as the quickening by the Son will make the believer discern well the operations of the Spirit against the flesh, and both of these find their full development in the manifestation of the Father's glory, in the consciousness (if he grow healthful) that His kingdom is not of this world. In some cases of unusual energy of divine life, we see by God's calling all these apprehensions promptly developed and the man consequently abundantly exercised, and his service great, corresponding to the knowledge received of the Son in the kingdom, as in the apostles Peter and Paul; but I must not outstep the practical part of the subject.

I am quite conscious, indeed particularly so, of the imperfection of these remarks. But I feel the importance of the subject deeply; and the basis of the view has been given. They are open to the correction or fuller application of those more versed in divine life — the wondrous and blessed grace of a developed covenant, the bright witness of the Son, and of the Father, and of glory; the grace in which they minister to the necessities of those who have no help in themselves, while they are the growingly understood and adored objects alike of communion and worship, separating from all that is not of themselves. I feel too, that in speaking thus, I am treading on holy ground, but ground which our God in His mercy has opened to us and on which we are set to walk; freed from every fear, unless of not justly estimating it, by the redemption that is in Christ Jesus; cleansed from all that could offend by His blood; and acquainted with the boundless love which has brought us these by it, while never reaching it, never able to be filled with it, knowing that it has reached even to us and filled us with its own fulness.

Let us only also remember, that the indulgence in one of these seemingly remote evils brings in the power of the others, for God is not there. Thus Solomon's indulgence of the world brought in the indulgence of the flesh, and the consequence was the direct power of Satan in the idolatrous worship of his wives. We might mention similar instances, but I close for the present. Only one thing it is important to remark; it is not either by speculation or knowledge these things are obtained, though they may be ministered. "We are sanctified unto obedience." The spirit of obedience is the great secret of all the present and practical blessings of the believer; for the Spirit is not grieved, and so becomes the minister of the grace and knowledge both of the Father and of the Son; and the poorest, simplest, believer walking thus, enjoys the blessings of the covenant faithfulness both of the Father, and the Lord, and the Spirit, to the blessed purposes of love in which we stand, and of divine glory. J. N. Darby.

[This was a very early paper of the author, who later on would probably have expunged "covenant" in connection with the subject before us. — Ed. B.T.]