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The Parable of the Soils

  PART I: THE PATTERN PARABLES

           CHAPTER 1  PARABLE OF THE SOILS

                                    Introduction

               The  Parable  of the  Soils is  found  in all three  of
         the synoptic  Gospels: Matthew 13:1-23; Mark 4:1-20;
         and Luke
         8:4-15.

               This parable is a pattern or key to the other  parables
         of Jesus, since  Jesus explains  this parable  in detail. [R.
         C. Trench, NOTES ON THE PARABLES OF OUR LORD,
         Popular Edition
         (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1948), pp. 16, 29-33].
 
 

The Story
              The Parable of  the  Soils is sometimes  called  The
         Parable of the Sower.  It deals with the inner
         transformation of an individual when he hears the
         Word of God:

                   Again  Jesus  began to teach by the lake.
                   The crowd  that  gathered around him  was
                   so large that  he got into a boat and sat
                   in it out on  the  lake,  while  all  the
                   people  were  along  the  shore   at  the
                   water's edge.  He taught them many things
                   by  parables,  and  in his teaching said:
                   "Listen!  A farmer went out  to  sow  his
                   seed.    As  he  was scattering the seed,
                   some fell along the path, and  the  birds
                   came   and ate it up.  Some fell on rocky
                   places,  where it  did  not  have    much
                   soil.  It sprang up  quickly, because the
                   soil was shallow.  But when the sun  came
                   up,  the  plants  were scorched, and they
                   withered because they had no root.  Other
                   seed fell among thorns, which grew up and
                   choked the plants, so  that  they did not
                   bear grain. Still other seed fell on good
                   soil.  It came up, grew and produced    a
                   crop,  multiplying thirty, sixty, or even
                   a hundred times."
                        Then Jesus said,  "He  who  has ears
                   to hear, let him hear."
                        When  he  was  alone, the Twelve and
                   the others around him asked him about the
                   parables.  He told them,  "The  secret of
                   the kingdom of God has been given to you.
                   But to those  on  the  outside everything
                   is said in parables so that,

                         "`they may be ever seeing but
                               never perceiving,
                          and ever hearing but never
                                understanding;
                       otherwise they might turn and be
                                  forgiven!'"

                       Then  Jesus  said to them, "Don't you
                   understand  this parable?   How then will
                   you  understand  any parable?  The farmer
                   sows  the word.   Some  people  are  like
                   seed  along  the  path, where the word is
                   sown.   As  soon  as they hear it,  Satan
                   comes  and  takes  away the word that was
                   sown in them.  Others, like seed sown  on
                   rocky  places, hear the word  and at once
                   receive it with joy.  But since they have
                   no  root, they  last only a  short  time.
                   When trouble or persecution comes because
                   of the  word,  they  quickly  fall  away.
                   Still  others,  like  seed   sown   among
                   thorns, hear the word;  but  the  worries
                   of  this  life,  the  deceitfulness    of
                   wealth  and the desires for other  things
                   come  in  and  choke the word, making  it
                   unfruitful.    Others,  like seed sown on
                   good soil, hear  the   word,  accept  it,
                   and produce a crop--thirty, sixty or even
                   a hundred times what was sown.      (Mark
                   4:1-20, New International Version).

              The setting is a natural amphitheater.  Jesus sat  in  a
         boat and the people sat on the shore.  The  water carried the
         voice of Jesus  to the  people    who  lined    the    gently
         sloping  shoreline.

              There  may have been  a farmer  sowing  grain    in  the
         distance  when  Jesus  called out, "Look! A farmer was sowing
         seed and some of the seed fell on the hard-packed soil by the
         road."

             Thus Jesus began with  a familiar  event to teach  a
         truth  that would  affect the destiny of  billions of people.
         Hence, Jesus placed  an unknown spiritual truth  alongside  a
         known  earthly  truth in order to teach a new spiritual truth
         to those who would listen.   If one chose to harden his heart
         and not receive more spiritual understanding, he  would never
         understand the truth.


                      The Interpretation

         THE  FIRST  SOIL  WAS A HARD-PACKED SOIL.  It represented the
         person with a hardened heart.    The  Word  of  God  did  not
         penetrate  and was consequently stolen by Satan.   The person
         represented here never had saving  faith,  since    "...faith
         cometh  by hearing  and hearing by the word of God."  (Romans
         10:17).

         THE SECOND SOIL CONSISTED OF AN EXTREMELY THIN LAYER OF  SOIL
         OVER  A SOLID ROCK.  The person represented here received the
         Word in a "soulish," superficial  way  and  immediately  fell
         when  under pressure.

         THE  THIRD   SOIL WAS  GOOD, BUT  WAS  INFESTED WITH  THORNS.
         The person represented here was  a genuine Christian, but  he
         allowed  legitimate concerns as well as materialistic  values
         to take precedence over the Word of God.  Thus, there was not
         a complete Christlike transformation in his being.
                      Luke's account is as follows:

                   The   seed  that fell among thorns stands
                   for those who hear, but as  they  go   on
                   their  way  they  are  choked  by  life's
                   worries,  riches  and pleasures, and they
                   do not mature.   (Luke  8:14,  New Inter-
                   national Version).

         Ralph  Earle  calls  this  troublesome  trio,  "Life's Three
         Greatest Threats."  The word "worries" (or cares,  anxieties)
         is   translated from the Greek  word  MERIMNON,  which  means
         "to be drawn in different directions."  [Ralph  G.  Turnbull,
         gen. ed.,   PROCLAIMING  THE  NEW  TESTAMENT  (Grand  Rapids:
         Baker  Book House, 1961), THE GOSPEL OF LUKE, by Ralph Earle,
         ThD, p. 40].   There are many  legitimate concerns that  pull
         us  apart in  this  age  of  anxiety:  the   responsibilities
         involved with employment, government, school, family, church,
         friends, community, finances, health, etc.   One  must  learn
         to say a polite "No" to some expectations.

              The  hunger  for  riches and material "security"  can be
         enslaving.    Money  and    material  things   are   amoral--
         covetousness  is  the culprit (1 Timothy 6:10; Exodus 20:17).
         Jesus warns against trying to serve God and  mammon  (riches)
         in  Matthew    6.  God will take care of us when we place him
         first.  God is our security.

         Pleasures  can also be our enemies.  The  relentless  pursuit
         of pleasure characterizes our age.  Pleasures  are  basically
         good,  if    practiced  in  the  right  context.  Sex between
         husband and wife is God-ordained.  Eating is both a  pleasure
         and  necessary,  but  must be  done  in  balance.  Recreation
         also is  necessary,  but  must  be  balanced  with  work  and
         service.  Fellowship is  good--for  instance  a  father  must
         spend  time  with his children and wife first--instead of too
         much time at work or "with the boys."

         THE  FOURTH  SOIL  WAS  GOOD IN VARYING DEGREES.  The persons
         represented here  were Christians who opened their  hearts to
         the  Word  of  God  in  varying degrees and were  transformed
         correspondingly.  Jesus is the primary sower, the soil is the
         human  heart and  the Word of God  is first an abstract  Word
         that becomes an incarnate  word.  To say it another way,  the
         Word  is form and when  superimposed upon a  malformed human,
         that human  becomes a new Christlike being.

            Jesus teaches us that the  place of the  Bible is not on a
         fireplace mantel, coffee table, bookshelf, etc., but  in  the
         human heart.  THE BEST TRANSLATION OF THE WORD OF  GOD  IS  A
         HUMAN BEING.  God abstracted his  essential nature and placed
         it in a book as a means to reproduce  himself  in  the  human
         heart.    The Holy Spirit superintends the process from start
         to finish.  The  purpose of the  abstract  Word  of God is to
         transform the individual into the image of  Christ.  Once one
         understands God's purpose relative to the Word of God, he can
         cooperate  in the process.
 

                    A Christian Epistemology

              In  the    Parable  of  the  Soils,  Jesus  teaches  the
         importance  of WHAT and HOW one hears. Using these scriptures
         along with other selected scriptures, a basic outline  for  a
         Christian epistemology can be constructed.

             Ideally,  the    whole  Word   of God would  be received.
         Jesus said, "...  Take care WHAT  [italics mine]  you  listen
         to."    (Mark 4:24a, New  American Standard Bible).   He also
         said, "Therefore take care HOW [italics mine] you listen...."
         (Luke  8:18, New American Standard Bible).  In this case, the
         Word of God would be received into the body (through the eye,
         ear,  or    touch  gates);  into    the  soul  (through   the
         conscious,  then  through the preconscious, then through  the
         unconscious); and into the heart or spirit (the deepest level
         of understanding).

              Another  possibility  would be the reception of the Word
         on  a  mere intellectual   plane.    The    Word  would  stop
         somewhere   in the mind and go no deeper.  In  this case, the individual
         would not have saving faith.   John Wesley warned of the danger of
         "mental assent" being substituted for faith.

         Then there are some who  immediately  "turn off"  the  Gospel
         either   mentally  or  by  actually  doing something physical
         like switching channels on a television set to avoid the Word
         of God.

              Tragically, there are those who completely avoid contact
         with    the  Gospel.    They  have made  a foolish  choice to
         reject Christ and have learned how to  minimize  exposure  to
         the truth of God's Word.

              Some substitutes  for the Word  of God are mentioned  in
         the  Bible.  One  is human reason and  mere sense perception.
         Reason and sense  perception are both  good.    However,  the
         Word of God must transcend them.  One biblical example of the
         taking  of the Word  of God above human  reason    and  sense
         perception is the case of Joshua and Caleb in Numbers 13-14.

              Another substitute for the Word can  be  the  traditions
         of men:

                   Then some Pharisees and teachers  of  the
                   law  came  to  Jesus  from  Jerusalem and
                   asked, "Why do your disciples  break  the
                   tradition    of the elders?   They  don't
                   wash their hands before they eat!"

                        Jesus replied, "And why do you break
                   the  command  of  God  for  the  sake  of
                   your  tradition?    For God said,  `Honor
                   your father and mother' and  `Anyone  who
                   curses  his  father or mother must be put
                   to death.' But you  say  that  if  a  man
                   says   to his father or mother, `Whatever
                   help  you  might otherwise have  received
                   from  me  is a gift devoted to God,'he is
                   not  to   'honor  his  father'  with  it.
                   Thus  you nullify the word of God for the
                   sake  of  your tradition. You hypocrites!
                   Isaiah was right when he prophesied about
                   you:

                       "These people honor me with their
                                     lips,
                       but their hearts are far from me.
                           They worship me in vain;
                         their teachings are but rules
                               taught by men.'"

                   (Matthew   15:1-9,   New    International  Version). 

              Many  traditions that  religious people  have  inherited
         are  not  scriptural.   Their sources may be rationalistic as
         cited above, or traditions  may  stem    from  ignorance  and
        superstition.    However, it would not be proper to throw out
         all tradition.  The proper way to deal with tradition  is  to
         hold on to the best understanding of God's Word that we have.
         However, we  must  constantly revise   our  understanding  of
         the  Word  of God according to new light that the Holy Spirit
         gives.

              Another substitute for the Word can be the  philosophies
         of men:

                   See  to  it that no one takes you captive
                   through hollow and deceptive  philosophy,
                   which  depends on human tradition and the
                   basic principles  of  this  world  rather
                   than  on  Christ.  (Colossians  2:8,  New
                   International Version). 

                       For  the  message  of  the  cross  is
                   foolishness to those who  are  perishing,
                   but  to  us who are being saved it is the
                   power of God.  For it is Written:

                       "I will destroy the wisdom of the
                                     wise;
                     the intelligence of the intelligent I
                               will frustrate."

                        Where is the wise man?  Where is the
                   scholar?  Where  is  the  philosopher  of
                   this  age?   Has not God made foolish the
                   wisdom of the world?  For  since  in  the
                   wisdom  of  God  the  world  through  its
                   wisdom did not know him, God was  pleased
                   through   the  foolishness  of  what  was
                   preached to save those who believe.  Jews
                   demand  miraculous  signs and Greeks look
                   for  wisdom,   but   we   preach   Christ
                   crucified:  a stumbling block to Jews and
                   foolishness to  Gentiles,  but  to  those
                   whom   God  has  called,  both  Jews  and
                   Greeks, Christ the power of God  and  the
                   wisdom  of  God.   For the foolishness of
                   God is wiser than man's wisdom,  and  the
                   weakness  of  God  is stronger than man's
                   strength.  (1  Corinthians  1:18-25,  New
                   International Version).

              We all have a guiding philosophy or theology.    It  may
         not  be  systematized   and   written  in   philosophical  or
         theological language, but  it  is  there  nonetheless.    The
         important thing is to continually upgrade it with the Word of
         God.

               At  the  extreme  end  of  the substitute  spectrum  is
         the position most  opposed to the  Word of God: doctrines  of
         demons.    The  world  is filled with many voices, religions,
         philosophies and ideologies.  Some of them  are  inspired  by
         demons:

                        The  Spirit  clearly  says  that  in
                   later  times  some will abandon the faith
                   and follow deceiving spirits  and  things
                   taught  by  demons.   Such teachings come
                   through   hypocritical    liars,    whose
                   consciences  have  been  seared as with a
                   hot  iron.    (1   Timothy   4:1-2,   New
                   International Version).

              Keep in  mind that some may have been    brought  up  in
         beliefs  that  were  inspired  by    demons,  but who haven't
         rejected  Christ.  They can be delivered from wrong beliefs.
              Probably  the  most  common  predicament  of  Christians
         today is the position  of having a  "curious mixture" of  the
         Word of God and other content.

              It is also common to hold part of the Word of God on  an
         intellectual level and part on a heart (spirit) level.

              As  wrong beliefs are purged and  the  Word  of  God  is
         internalized,  at least two things  begin to happen:  (1) the
         self is actually conformed more and more into the likeness of
         Christ and (2)  the self-image is corrected.  As  a result of
         both of  these, self-esteem begins to  make  a  corresponding
         rise.   Then,   the  Christian's  prayer  life  becomes  more
         effective  and  his  work  for  the   Master   becomes   more
         productive.
 

                Internalizing the Word of God
 

              Here are nine practical steps to help internalize    the
         Word  of  God.  The  first  step  is  to  reestablish a right
         relationship  with God.  Confess all  known sin to God.  Then
         make  things  right    with  people.     After we  clear  our
         conscience, then we must choose to obey God as  a  lifestyle.
         This  means  walking  in  the light of God's Word as the Holy
         Spirit illuminates his Word.

              The second  step is to pray in the  Spirit in order that
         the heart might be further prepared to receive the Word.  The
         third step is to quiet  the body and mind.  Involved in  this
         would  be to perform all mundane duties possible so that  the
         mind  is  undivided.    Since  psychomotor  functions tend to
         distract, it would be  better to sit or lie   down.    It  is
         important  to  rid  ourselves  of  both internal and external
         distractions before, during and  after  Bible    reading  and
         meditation.  A  good  time for Bible reading would be shortly
         before going to sleep.

              The fourth step is to read the Word.  It is good to read
         a small portion carefully.  (There is a time  to  read  large
         portions  quickly,  but  not  for  this  exercise).  Some key
         scriptures should be memorized.

              Step  five involves meditation.  Christian meditation is
         not "emptying" the mind (to let the devil write on  it),  but
         rather  it is filling the mind with the Word and allowing the
         Holy Spirit to give us understanding of it.

             The sixth  step is actually  receiving the    Word  into
         our heart.  Some may think that they have done this  when the
         Word is still on the  intellectual level.   How do we know if
         we  have internalized a particular truth of the Word  of God?
         We have internalized a truth when we automatically ACT on it!
         The  seventh  step  is  to  think   God's   thoughts   (Word)
         consciously as a practice.

              The  eighth step is to practice speaking God's  thoughts
         consciously.  The ninth step is to practice acting out  God's
         thoughts consciously.
 

                         Central Truth
 

                          IT IS OF UTMOST IMPORTANCE
                       TO RECEIVE THE WORD OF GOD ALONE
                             INTO THE HUMAN HEART.
 

                          Conclusion
 

              There  is  hope  for  us  all.  If we  take care HOW and  WHAT we hear,

              ...the    hard  soil   may  again become  soft--the
              shallow soil deep--the  soil    beset  with  thorns
              clear.    For the heavenly seed, if acted on by the
              soil, also  reacts  more  mightily  upon  it  (Jer.
              xxii.  29).   (Trench, NOTES ON THE PARABLES OF OUR
              LORD, p. 33).    END