The Many and Diverse Soils of the Human Soul
In the previous article I made reference to the Parable of the Sower and focused on Satan’s strategy for subverting gospel proclamation. Perhaps we would do well to look more closely at this parable. Before doing so, I encourage you to carefully read Mark 4:1-20. Continue reading . . .
In the previous article I made reference to the Parable of the Sower and focused on Satan’s strategy for subverting gospel proclamation. Perhaps we would do well to look more closely at this parable. Before doing so, I encourage you to carefully read Mark 4:1-20.
Some say the focus is the sower, some say it is the seed, while others point to the soil. They are all right! Together they illustrate the breaking in of God’s kingdom in this present age in advance of its glorious appearance at the end of history.
In other words, the kingdom of God is coming into the world just like seed sown by a farmer. In spite of Satan’s opposition and the hardness of human hearts, the kingdom is gradually bearing fruit among God’s chosen. The kingdom is here now, yielding fruit, but the final harvest is yet to come. Contrary to the expectations of the Jews, the kingdom displays only moderate success, much as the farmer’s seed only partially takes root and yields a crop. The kingdom does not force itself upon people; it must be willingly received.
Thus the kingdom is both present and future. It is present, bearing its fruit, even as the seed sown by the farmer yields its fruit. It is also future, to be revealed and consummated in glory, even as the full harvest of the farmer’s crop is yet to come.
But is there any other significance in the details of the parable? Yes, but only because Jesus himself interprets them for us.
The sower = Christ (or anyone who proclaims the word of the gospel)
The seed = the word of the kingdom / the gospel
The soils = the hearts of men and women
The birds = Satanic/demonic opposition
Thorns = worry and deceit of world and wealth.
It isn’t important that there were 4 soils; could as easily have been 3 or 7. I’ve been greatly helped in my understanding of this parable by D. A. Carson who has pointed out that we can’t conclude from the fact that only 1 of 4 produced fruit that Christians will always be a minority in the world. The meaning wouldn’t change if the reason for the failure of the seed was different: rodents could have eaten the seed instead of birds; an unseasonable cloudburst could have washed it away instead of it being scorched by the sun; tender shoots of grain could have been crushed under foot instead of being choked by thorns.
Clearly, though, Jesus wants us to consider what kind of soil our hearts prove to be. He is issuing to us a challenge concerning how we hear the word of the Gospel and how we respond to it. There are here 4 kinds of people, 4 kinds of response to the gospel of the kingdom (the terminology used to identify them is not mine).
First, there is the person who responds somewhat indifferently to what is preached (v. 15). They may hear, listen, yet understand nothing. The human heart can be so pounded and beaten down by the traffic of sin that it is like spiritual concrete, impervious and insensitive to the gospel. Before they know it, Satan has come and taken the seed away. No matter how well or effectively or long or short or powerfully I may preach, this person is unaffected.
Second, verses 16-17 describe the kind of individuals who “convert” at a revival meeting, a retreat, a camp. Wherever fervor is high and the gospel is portrayed as promising health, wealth, ease, and popularity, people will “believe”. This is epidemic today. Enthusiastic but shallow; no deep consideration of the gospel and its implications; no counting of the cost; quick, euphoric, but false; it soon fades. Beware of so-called “conversions” that are all smiles and no repentance, no brokenness over sin, no humility.
There is no root in this kind of “belief”. External pressures, trials, troubles, persecution, expectations that aren’t fulfilled, soon bring this person back to reality. Like the sun beating down on a rootless plant, the shallowness of the soil is manifest. Notice that they “immediately” receive it with joy (v. 16) they endure “for a while,” and then “immediately” fall away. The time between these two may be years; many spend years in church until something doesn’t go their way or life turns sour. They expect God to deliver them from every trial and when he doesn’t they abandon their profession of faith. The gospel that he thought was the key to prosperity and popularity has now brought hardship, trial, and persecution.
Third, there is the kind of person who finds the demands of the gospel all too inconvenient and intrusive to the lifestyle they prefer (vv. 18-19). These are the people who profess faith in Jesus so long as it is convenient and comfortable and fulfilling. Momentary fervor, soon replaced by thirst for more money, concern for reputation, etc. Fashion, career, prestige, etc. are like weeds that will ultimately choke off any hope of spiritual life. Being a follower of Jesus is ok so long as there’s enough time for it. But if it should get in the way of extra time at the lake or a couple more rounds of golf or whatever else it is that you consider so indispensable in your life, well, so much the worse for following Jesus.
Finally, we read in v. 20 of the sort of person who, when they hear and receive the word, invest their lives in it; they not only embrace it as intellectually credible but also as spiritually satisfying. They are invested in the truth of Christianity such that they sacrifice everything to build upon it and entrust their lives to it, both now and for eternity. The proof of their conversion is their perseverance in bearing fruit.
Like the soils before them, they experience tribulation and persecution. They have “cares” and concerns in this world. They face the daily deceitfulness of riches and wealth. They are tempted to abandon the faith to gain more stuff and to advance in their careers. They know what it’s like to suffer loss for the sake of their relationship to Jesus. They struggle with a desire for other things. They don’t always resist temptation successfully. Their faith falters on occasion. They have their doubts.
But at no time do they abandon their confidence in Christ. At no time do they walk away from the hope of the gospel for the sake of money or fame or safety. Christ is their treasure, their only hope, and the one in whom alone they have vested their eternal destiny.