What happened to the seed of the Gospel that was planted in your heart? Is it bringing forth a harvest for righteousness, or has it disappeared?

Many of our Lord’s parables were left for interpretation to those who in spiritual matters had seeing eyes and hearing ears. But the parable of the sower (Matt. 13:1–9, 18–23) was explained in detail, not only for the disciples but for all who down through the ages have desired an explanation of the world situation and of what happens when the Gospel is preached.

In this graphic story our Lord tells of the dangers that beset all to whom the Gospel is preached—the attacks of Satan and the various kinds of erosion of faith—and also of the blessings that proceed from the believing and faithful heart.

The seed is, of course, the Gospel of God’s redeeming work in Christ, and the different kinds of ground are the hearts and minds of men to whom the Gospel is preached.

This parable, like the rest of the Bible, teaches that there is a vast difference in the ultimate destinies of the souls of men, and that there is a sense in which we are directly and personally responsible for accepting or rejecting the grace of God.

Strange to say, some have interpreted this story as proof that one-fourth of those who hear the Gospel are saved. Jesus was speaking, not about percentages, but about four kinds of hearts.

The hard ground. Some who hear the Gospel are spiritually obtuse—not through ignorance, but through a willful indifference to the good news. Satan snatches away the seed, leaving the hardened, barren heart as it was before. (One wonders in passing why, when Jesus spoke so specifically about the person and work of the devil, so many deny that he exists.)

The Apostle Paul also describes the hardened heart and offers an explanation: “Even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the likeness of God” (2 Cor. 4:3, 4).

This condition is unrelated to intelligence. The unintelligent and unsophisticated can grasp spiritual truth and accept it, and the wise and prudent of this world may be spiritually blind. Thank God for the fact that the good seed cannot be snatched away from the humbled and softened heart that turns to him in simple faith!

The rocky soil. This is the heart of the person who weighs the benefits of the goodness and mercy of God against the temporary discomfort of becoming an alien in a hostile world, against the demands of the Christian life and the suffering it sometimes entails, and, after the Weighing, turns back to the world. In such a person the seed is lost; something else takes its place.

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The Apostle Paul, after suffering untold trials, persecutions, and personal loss, evaluated the choice in these words: “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom 8:18).

God never promised his children freedom from trouble—only the grace to bear it. He never promised freedom from persecution; in fact, Scripture says that “all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12). But always we are assured of his grace.

Jesus, speaking of the one whose heart is like rocky soil, said, “When tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away” (Matt. 13:21b). Can you “take it” for Christ? There are tens of thousands in the world today who stand as good soldiers of Jesus Christ, suffering for his name’s sake. They put you and me to shame—we who have never suffered anything but rather have ridden on the wave of a popular religion without depth.

Thorns. Ah, here we are on truly dangerous ground—more dangerous than tribulation or persecution, because the danger is so pleasant to take.

The normal pressures of everyday life can choke the seed of the Gospel into unfruitfulness if “doing” and “being” take precedence over the things that will last for eternity. Economic success, affluence, the pleasant sense of material sufficiency, the “delight in riches” of which our Lord speaks, can destroy the Gospel’s effect.

To forget that man does not live by bread alone is to suffer a perilous lapse. Letting tangible things take precedence over the unseen but real blessings of God is a sure way to spiritual oblivion—and how many follow that course!

When the affairs of this world loom above those of God’s Kingdom, man stands on the brink of disaster. Paul says, “We look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4:18).

A man may revel in every comfort and luxury this world can afford, only to have them all vanish in the reality of God’s eternity. He who says to his soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; take your ease—eat, drink, be merry,” will one day hear God say, “Fool!”

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The good soil. When the seed of the Gospel falls on good ground, a tremendous change takes place. A man hears the word, and the Holy Spirit enables him to understand it. What once seemed foolish to him becomes the most wonderful thing in the world. He hears the word as God’s truth, believes, and obeys. The Bible describes the process: “Man believes with his heart and so is justified, and he confesses with his lips and so is saved” (Rom. 10:10).

That is only the beginning. The harvest is seen in a transformed life and in a consistent witness to others, so that a person’s salvation, his newness in Christ, is multiplied in the lives of others who also hear and believe.

Remember who told this story and gave its interpretation: the Lord of History, the God of Glory, the Creator and Preserver of all; the One who is, who was, and who is to come!

He who is wise will beware of the dangers that surround him—the “spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places,” the diversions and cares of the world, those urges and tendencies to do evil that are ever within us.

Surely we will be wise to search our own hearts and lives to see what has priority. The seed of the Gospel has been sown in our hearts; what has happened to it? The first seed described in the parable was destroyed by the devil, the second by the world, and the third by the flesh. Have the world, the flesh, and the devil had their way in our hearts and destroyed what should have changed our lives for now and for eternity?

The Holy Spirit gives life. It is he who takes the seed of the Gospel and brings forth an abundant harvest in the lives of those who believe and obey.

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