The Pulpit Commentary

Matthew 13:1-58 (Matthew 13:1-58)

(a) , Matthew 13:1-23 , also in Mark and Luke, except some characteristic enlargements in verses 10-17. The section contains the parable of the sower and its interpretation, together with a statement of our Lord's reasons for teaching by parables. This is so nearly akin to the fundamental lesson of the first parable, that we cannot be surprised that the two should be recorded together. They seem, indeed, to have formed the nucleus of the whole collection.

(b) Verses 24-35, of which verses 31, 32 alone are found both in Mark and Luke. Verses 34, 35 also are represented in Mark, besides some expressions occurring in verses 24-30. This part contains the parables of the tares, the mustard seed, and the leaven, and a statement flint our Lord spoke in parables to the multitudes, together with a passage from the Old Testament illustrating his doing so.

(c) Verses 36-52. A series wholly peculiar to our Gospel, containing matter addressed to the disciples alone (the explanation of the parable of the tares, and the three parables of the treasure, the pearl, and the dragnet), ending with a special promise to disciples as such.

It is far more natural to see in the parables a summary by our Lord of certain principles which are always at work, i.e. "the ideas and laws, not the actual facts, of the Church's history". Thus we have the leading thoughts of the dissemination and reception of the kingdom of God (the sower), the obstacles to its success that exist even within its borders (the tares), its external and internal influence (the mustard seed and the leaven), the need for making it a personal possession, cost what it may, especially as it is worth all else (the treasure and the pearl), and the necessity of personal holiness if the benefit of being within it is not to be lost.

- The Pulpit Commentary

Matthew 13:18-23 (Matthew 13:18-23)

The explanation of the parable of the sower. Parallel passages: Mark 4:13-20 ; Luke 8:11-15 . Observe that after the preceding verses St. Matthew's readers would the more easily catch the lesson of the parable.

- The Pulpit Commentary

Matthew 13:23 (Matthew 13:23)

Which also; who verily (Revised Version, ὃς δή ), the particle giving exactness, to the relative (see Dr. Moulton's note at the end of Winer, § 53). Some; ὃ μεν (Westcott and Hort). Neuter, and so the Vulgate. Nominative, the thought refers to the seed as such (cf. Matthew 13:8 ). An hundred fold, some sixty, some thirty . "100 longius absunt a 60, quam 60 a 30. Habenti dabitur " (Bengel). The reason of the difference in the produce of the good ground is not stated, but, according to the tenor of the whole passage since Matthew 13:3 . this lay in a difference already existing within this good ground. Into the question of the ultimate cause of some men being in a better state of preparedness to receive Divine truths than others, our Lord does not enter. Prevenient grace is not always to be insisted upon in practical exhortation.

- The Pulpit Commentary

Matthew 13:1-23 (Matthew 13:1-23)

The parable of the sower.

I. THE CIRCUMSTANCES .

1 . The time. It was the day, St. Matthew says (the order in St. Luke is different), on which our Lord had cast the devil out of the blind and dumb man; the day on which the Pharisees had so fiercely accused him of intercourse with Satan; when his own mother and brethren had feared for his safety, and sought to guide and regulate his work; when, as appears from St. Luke ( Luke 11:37 ), a Pharisee had invited him in no friendly spirit to his house, and there the disagreement had been so great, the antagonism so marked and intense, that the scribes and Pharisees, in their bitter anger, pressed vehemently upon him, catechizing him with wrathful and ensnaring questions, to find, if possible, an opportunity for accusing him. "The same day went Jesus out of the house, and sat by the seaside." After all that fury of opposition he was quiet and collected. In the holy calm of his soul he was able to think of others, able to teach them on that very day of strife. It is a blessed thing to be enabled by the grace of God to turn from the cares and conflicts of life to holy meditation, and to find rest for our troubled soul in communion with God.

2 . The audience. Multitudes followed him, excited probably by the startling events of the day. They longed to hear again the great Teacher who had held his ground against those famous rabbis, and had convicted them of hypocrisy and envy and falsehood. Many, doubtless, came from curiosity, some from better reasons. The Lord would lose no opportunity of saving souls. Wearied as he must have been, he went into a boat and sat down to preach to them, the whole multitude standing on the beach of fine white sand that borders the lake.

3 . His mode of teaching. He spake in parables; now, it seems, for the first time. The parable was a bright, lively way of presenting truth, best suited for the dull understanding of the listeners. It would excite their interest; it would rivet their attention; it would stimulate them to think. The parables of Christ have sunk deep into the very heart of the Church. Perhaps they have been especially blessed to the simple and the unlearned; but they have been a rich store of spiritual teaching for all Christian people, the most educated as well as the ignorant; they have given us many precious sayings, current now in daily life; they have coloured our language. Another advantage in the use of parables at that time was that the parable would give the Lord's enemies no opportunity for their malicious accusations. They might perceive (as in Matthew 21:45 ) that he spake of them, or with reference to their doctrine; but they could find no ground for a charge of heresy. We shall meet with another reason for the introduction of this mode of teaching in verses 13-15.

II. THE STORY .

1 . The call for attention. "Behold," the Lord said; in St. Mark there is the further preface, "Hearken." It is the Lord who speaks. We must listen; we must give him the attention which he claims. His words are simple, but they are full of spiritual instruction. Meditate on them; pray over them. They will throw a light on the dark mysteries of human life; they will guide us on our way to God.

2 . The incidents. They were taken from the commonest details of daily life. The Lord's hearers might see them any day at sowing time. Perhaps they were to be seen at that very moment. It may well be that the Lord, sitting on the raised prow of the boat, could see the corn land descending, as we are told it does, to the water's edge. He saw, it may be, the sower as he went forth to sow. He could see the hard-trodden pathway running through the midst, with no fence to prevent the seed from falling on it. He could see the countless birds hovering over the rich Plain of Gennesaret. He could see the rocky ground of the hillside protruding here and there through the cornfield. He could see the large bushes of thorns springing up, as they do now, in the midst of the wheat. "He could see the good rich soil, which distinguishes the whole of that plain and its neighbourhood from the bare hills elsewhere descending into the lake, and which, where there is no interruption, produces one vast mass of corn". And he saw in these common sights a happy illustration of the varied effects of that Word of everlasting life which he came to preach. Happy are those who see in earthly things the shadows of heavenly realities, who walk by faith, not by sight.

3 . The enforcement. "Who hath ears to hear, let him hear." The Lord had bespoken attention at the beginning; he enforces that requirement again. He had shadowed forth solemn truths in those simple words; he would have men ponder them in their hearts. But; not all would do so, he knew. All had listened with the outward ear; but to many it was simply a story, a story and nothing more. They would not penetrate into its real meaning; they had not ears to bear. But "who hath ears to hear, let him hear." Let him whose heart God hath opened weigh well these holy words, for they relate to the most momentous issues in our earthly life.

III. THE CONVERSATION WITH THE DISCIPLES .

1 . Their question. It was the first time, it seems, that the Lord had taught by parables. His disciples were struck by the change in his mode of teaching. When the multitude had departed and they were alone ( Mark 4:10 ), they asked him, "Why speakest thou unto them in parables?" Men who are in earnest will be inquirers after truth.

2 . The Lord ' s answer.

IV. THE INTERPRETATION .

1 . The seed. It is the Word of God. Even the weightier words of men are seeds germinant with a living power; they strike root in the heart, and produce, sometimes noxious weeds and poisonous fruit, sometimes good and fruitful growths. How much more is this true of the living Word of God! The Lord Jesus himself was the Sower. Others, in their measure, have been sowers—his apostles, evangelists, and pastors—but, in the first and highest sense, the Lord himself. He had been sowing now for many months. His holy words had taken root in some faithful hearts; many had heard listlessly without serious thought; some, like the Pharisees, had rejected the Word with scorn and anger. He is the Sower, and in a true and deep sense he himself is the Seed. He soweth the Word, and he is the Word. The spoken word will not live in the hearts of the hearers without his grace, his presence. Christians are born again of incorruptible seed—"by the Word of God, which liveth and abideth forever" ( 1 Peter 1:23 ; comp. also 1 John 3:9 ). That incorruptible seed is the grace of Christ, Christ's presence, Christ himself abiding in the heart by his Spirit. His grace lives in the soul, growing, spreading through the heart, filling it with a new life, transforming him in whom the seed abideth into the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ. The Word soweth the Word. He is both Sower and Seed, as he is both Priest and Sacrifice.

2 . The wayside. Some hear, but do not heed; they do not send their thoughts forth to meet the Word. It falls upon their ears; it does not excite their attention; it does not reach their hearts. And that for two reasons.

3 . The stony places. Here and there in the field the rock rose to the surface; there was a thin covering of earth lying on a sheet of rock. The seed could not sink in; it sprang up quickly because it had no deepness of earth. But when the sun was up it was scorched; it had no moisture, no root, and it withered away. The heart was as hard as in the first case; it was utterly selfish, it had no capacity of real self-denial. But it had an appearance of softness. There was an outside of feeling, or what seemed like feeling; there was quickness of apprehension, a lively interest in novelties, a liking for excitement . But there was no depth, no real conviction, no truth of love. Underneath that outside of seeming life there lay the heart unchanged, unconverted, hard and cold as rock. Such persons are easily excited; they receive the Word with joy. But it is only the external beauty of religion, its attractiveness, its poetry, that charms them; they like religious excitement just as they like other forms of excitement. But they have not counted the cost; they have looked only on the fair side of religion, not on its severer aspect. They have never thought deeply of the sharpness of the cross, of their own danger, of the sacrifices which the cross demands. That premature joy is often a bad sign; it often means that there is no sense of sin, no genuine sorrow and contrition for the past. Such a one has no perseverance; he dureth for a while, but only for a while. The novelty wears off; perhaps trouble comes, or sickness and pain. The sun kindles into more vigorous life the deeply rooted plants; it scorches those that have no depth. So it is with affliction; it refines and strengthens the true disciple who is rooted in Christ; it offends the superficial Christian. The religion of excitement and outward form will not help us in sickness and in the hour of death; we want something deeper. The root of the plant is not seen; it is hidden in the earth. So is the true life of the Christian. It is rooted in Christ, hidden with Christ in God. Such a man doth not fall away in time of temptation; his heart is fixed, trusting in the Lord. He does not need novelty and excitement. The old story of the love of Christ is ever new to him. Nothing can separate him from the love of Christ, neither tribulation nor distress; for he dwelleth in Christ, and Christ in him.

4 . The thorns. In this case the soil is good; the seed sinks deep; all promises well. But there were thorn roots left in the ground. The thorn bushes had been burnt or cut off, but the roots remained. And so the thorns sprang up with the wheat and absorbed its nourishment, and grew above it, taking away its light and heat. It did not wither, it still grew; there were stalk and leaves and ear; but the ear was empty; there was no fruit. The Lord is thinking of men, not superficial and thoughtless like those described last, but men of character, men of depth and thought and power, men of earnestness and stability. But, alas! there are thorn roots. Such a man might have been a great saint; he becomes only a great merchant, or a great writer, or a great statesman. He never casts aside his profession of religion. He is upright, moral, attentive to the outward ordinances of worship. But he brings no fruit to perfection; and that because of the thorn roots. He had not by diligent self-examination and anxious prayer weeded out the tendencies to worldliness which lie in every heart. They grew up, and acquired daily more height and strength. The soil was good, the thorns grew thick and strong and high. He met with great successes; he prospered in his undertakings; his engagements became more and more numerous. His cares increased. The cares of this world little by little filled his heart, leaving him no time, he supposed, for thought and self-examination and prayer. He grows rich; his riches become a snare; they draw him further from Christ. The love of money, the root of all evil, becomes a tyrant passion; it rules his heart. Or, it may be, the pleasures of this life allure him with their deceitful glitter; and he fritters away in frivolous gaieties the talents that might have raised him high in the service of Christ. All the time he keeps up the respectabilities of a religious profession; his life is decent and fair to look upon. There are leaves, but no fruit. The thorns have choked the wheat. The cares and pleasures of life have filled the heart that should have been given to Christ. He has no time, no thought, no real love, for the things that belong to his peace. He beareth no fruit. The fruit of holy thoughts, holy words, and holy deeds; the blessed fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, long suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance;—he hath none of these things. He might have been a saint of God; but, alas! he hath gained the world, he hath lost his soul.

5 . The good ground. The honest and true heart is the good ground. Such a heart offers no hindrance to the growth of the Divine seed, to the gracious inworking of the Holy Spirit of God. The soil is deep; there are no thorn roots; or rather they have been extirpated by diligent care. The heart is thoughtful and serious; evil passions and covetous desires have been subdued by the grace of God. Such men bring forth fruit with patience. They go on from strength to strength in patient continuance of well doing. They differ from one another in their natural gifts, in their opportunities; also in the degree of their devotion, their self-denial. But all bring forth the fruit of holy living, "some an hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty." "One star differeth from another star in glory;" but all are bright, shining with the reflected glory of the Sun of Righteousness.

6 . General reflections.

LESSONS .

1 . Hearken! it is the Lord's voice. His disciples must listen with solemn attention.

2 . Blessed are they who hear the Saviour's voice. The saints of the Old Testament had not our privileges; let us value them.

3 . Pray for an honest and good heart. God can soften the hard hearted; he can make the frivolous thoughtful; he can turn men from the cares of the world to the holy love of Christ. Pray always; despair not.

- The Pulpit Commentary

Matthew 13:1-23 (Matthew 13:1-23)

The beginning of parables.

Utilize introduction to dwell on the plain assertions of Matthew 13:10-17 . However deep their real theological meaning, however mysterious their significance in respect of the sovereign conduct of the world and the judgment of mankind, the statements are plain. The deep, unfathomable fact underlying the quotation from Isaiah (verses 14, 15) is not altogether free from offering some analogy to the subject of the sin against the Holy Ghost (see our homily, supra ) , "not to be forgiven, in this world nor in the world to come." In the very pleasantest paths of the gospel the inscrutable meets us, and stands right across our way; yet not at all to destroy us, but to order knowledge, faith, and reverence. It is plain, from the express assertion of Christ, that it is to be regarded by us as some of the highest of our privilege, to have authoritative revelation of matters that may be called knowledge in "things present or things to come," which may be nevertheless utterly inscrutable. The absolutely mysterious in the individual facts of our individual life, and for which, nevertheless, the current of that life does not stand still, may stand in some sort of analogy to these greater phenomena and greater pronouncements of Divine knowledge and foreknowledge. The promise is not to be found—it were an impossible promise to find—that the marvels of Heaven's government of earth should be all intelligible to us, or should be all of them oven uttered in revelation. But some are uttered; they are written, and there, deep graven, they lie from age to age, weather beaten enough, yet showing no wear, no attrition, no obliteration of their hieroglyphic inscription—hieroglyphic not for their alphabet, but confessedly for their construction, and the vindicating of it. Note also, in introduction, that the seven parables related in this chapter, a rich cluster, certainly appear from internal evidence (alike the language of the evangelist, verse 3; that of the disciples in their question, verse 10; and that of Christ himself, verses 9, 13) to have been the first formally spoken by Christ. Of the beginning of parables, therefore, as of the beginning of miracles, we are for some reason specifically advised. Notice—

I. THE PERFECT NATURALNESS , FAMILIAR HOMELINESS , EXQUISITE APTNESS , OF THE MATERIAL OUT OF WHICH THE STRUCTURE OF THIS PARABLE IS MADE . Seed and soil; Sower and sowing; and, to throw moving life into the picture, the touch thrown in of the sower "going forth" to sow.

II. THE SPECIFIC SUBJECT OF THIS PARABLE AN ILLUSTRATION OF THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN , i.e. THE WILL OF GOD " DONE IN EARTH AS IT IS IN HEAVEN ." Such an illustration might be given very variously. The view might be taken from many a point of vantage, and as the kingdom should be found growing or grown at many a date. This Christ might have given from all his stores of knowledge, and his true gift, true possession, of foresight. He might have shown it in the early days of martyrs; be might have shown it when Constantine proclaimed it the kingdom of Europe, and something beside; he might have shown it as Christendom projects it now ; or he might have shown it even as glimpses—so strange are they that we are frightened to fix our gaze on them—are flashed before our doubting vision in the wonderful Book of the Revelation. But that which Jesus did really choose to give was one of a more present, practical character. It was, as one might suppose from very first glance, an illustration of sowing time . The sowing time of God's truth, God's will, God's love and grace, in the midst of a hard, and unprepared, and shallow, and ill-preoccupied world—with nevertheless some better, some more promising material, in it.

III. THE ILLUSTRATION ITSELF IN DETAIL . It consists of the statement of the ways in which men would act on the "hearing" of the "Word of God." Four leading ways are described.

1 . That of the man who is said (in Christ's own interpretation of his parable) "not to understand" the Word spoken; i.e. he has no sympathy with it, he possesses no instinct for it, finds awakened within him no response whatever. This is the man whose receptive state amounts to nothing. As the trodden path (all the more trodden and more hard as it is comparatively narrow) across the ploughed field is approached again and again by the bountifully flinging hand of the sower, as he paces the acres, even it receives of the good seed, but its callous surface finds no entrance for it, offers it no fertilizing or even fertilized resting place, and yet others, who at least better know its value, for whatsoever reason, see it, seize it, and bear it off.

2 . That of the man who "anon with joy receives" the Word. But it is a vapid and shallow joy. It does not last, it does not grow; its very root withers. The coating of hardness is not, as in the callous pathway, visible to the eye at first, for it is just concealed and covered over by a slightest layer of earth, just below which the hardness is not simply like that of "rock," but it is rock itself. There is nothing that has such a root wherewith to root itself as the Word of God, and this needs deep earth. Not the birds of the air, not Satan and his evil emissaries, take this seed away, before ever it could show a symptom of its own vital force, at any rate; this has shown its vitality, and has detected, discovered, and laid ruinously bare to sight the unsustaining, because itself unsustained, power to feed life, of that other element, that other essential in the solemn matter.

3 . That of the man "who hears the Word, but the cares of this world, and the [seductive] deceitfulness of riches, and the [crowding] desires of other things," i.e. other things than the Word, "choke that Word, and it becometh unfruitful," or, if not unfruitful altogether, "it bringeth no fruit to perfection." It is the seed, still the good seed, lost, wasted, mocked of its glorious fruit, because that same liberal, scattering, Sower's hand has not grudged it, to earth, that is all the while attesting its own richness, quality, force, by what is growing out of it, but is untilled, undressed, unweeded—thorns, briers, brambles, and all most precocious growths suffered to tyrannize and usurp its best energies! How often have men moralized, and justly, that the cleverness of the sinner, and his wisdom in his generation, and his dexterity and resources when pushed to the last extremities, would have made the saint, and the eminent saint, had his gifts, instead of being so prostituted, so miserably misdirected, been turned in the right direction, fixed on the right objects! But short far of flagrant vice, true it is that the absorbing things and the seductive things and the crowding competition of desires of things of this world, have, millions of times untold, choked the Word. No room, no time, no care, no energy, has been left for the things of eternal value, immortal wealth, present holiness.

4 . That of the man who "heareth, and understandeth, who also beareth fruit;" or again, "who in an honest and good heart, having heard the Word, keeps it, and brings forth fruit with patience." It is the seed, that pricelessly good seed, which now at last has found its appropriate earth. It falls not on the hard pathway; it falls not on the treacherous, deceptive, depthlessness, all radiant with light and sun though it be; it falls not on the soil bearing at the same time incontestable evidence of two things—its own power to grow, and its own doomed state to grow the things "whose end is to be burned." It fails "into the good ground." We are in the presence of the mystery, not of "who made us to differ," but of how and why he who made us to differ, did so. The practical part of the question is plain forevery one who has an eye to see. Every man must give account of himself at the last; and every one must now prepare for that account. What sign of "goodness," what slightest germ of "goodness," what instinct, as it may seem, and power of "goodness," any man's heart, passing thought, life may just suggest— if it be but like a suggestion—must be reckoned with now, improved now, solemnly consecrated now, and the mystery will still for the present be left mystery. But the facts and the results and the blessedness will speak for themselves. And the kingdom of heaven be receiving its fairer and fairest illustration, instead of its darker and darkest illustrations. That kingdom will be the more a "coming" kingdom.—B.

- The Pulpit Commentary

Matthew 13:3-23 (Matthew 13:3-23)

Parable of the sower.

The object of this parable is to explain the causes of the failure and success of the gospel. It might have been supposed enough to proclaim the kingdom. Why does this fail? It fails, says our Lord, because of the nature of the soil. This soil is often impervious, often shallow, often dirty.

I. " SOME SEEDS FELL BY THE WAYSIDE , AND THE FOWLS CAME AND DEVOURED THEM ." The spiritual analogue is said to be in him "who heareth the Word, but understandeth it not. " The beaten footpath and the cart track have their uses, but they grow no corn. The seed may be of the best quality, but for all purposes of sowing you might as well sprinkle pebbles or shot. So there is a hearing which keeps the Word entirely outside. It does not even enter the understanding. It rouses no inquiry, provokes no contradiction. You have occasion sometimes to mention a fact to a friend which should alter all his purpose, but you find he has not taken it in. So, says our Lord, there are hearers who do not take in what is said; their understanding is impervious, impenetrable. They hear because this has come to be one of the many employments with which they fill up their time, but they have never considered why they should do so, or what result they should look for. Or there may be a slowness and cold frostiness of nature which prevents the seed from fructifying. The proposals made suggest nothing to the wayside hearer. In some cases the seed apparently lost for years is quickened and brings forth fruit, but in this case never.

II. THE SECOND FAULT IS SHALLOWNESS . The sprinkling of soil on the surface of the rock, where the seed quickly springs, and for the same reason quickly decays. There is not depth of soil for any time to be spent in rooting. The shallow hearer is distinguished by two characteristics—he straightway receives the Word, and he receives it with joy. The man of deeper character receives it with seriousness, reverence, trembling, foreseeing the trials he will be subjected to. But while these are pondering the vastness of the revelation and the majesty of the hope, and striving to forecast all the results in and upon them, hesitating because they would receive the Word for eternity or not at all, the superficial man has settled the whole matter out of hand, and he who yesterday was known as a scoffer is today a loud-voiced child of the kingdom. These men are almost certainly taken to be the most earnest; you cannot see the root, and what is seen is shown in greatest luxuriance by them. But the same nature which made them susceptible to the gospel and quickly responsive makes them susceptible to pain, suffering, hardship, and easily defeated. When consequences have to be faced they give way. The question of how these shallow natures can be saved hardly falls within the parable, but it may be right to say a man's nature may be deepened by the relationships and conflicts of life. Much deepening of character is effected in passing through life.

III. THE THIRD FAULT IS WHAT IS TECHNICALLY KNOWN AS DIRT . The soil can only support a certain amount of vegetation, and every living weed means a choked blade of corn. This is a picture of the preoccupied heart, the rich vigorous nature occupied with so many other interests that only a small part is available for giving effect to Christ's ideas. Their interest is real, but there are so many other cares and desires that the result is scarcely discernible. The good crop is not the one with the greatest density of vegetation, but where all is wheat. Most soils have a kind of weed congenial, and the weeds here specified are "the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches," the former being merely the poor man's species of the latter Among rich and poor alike you will find many who would be left without any subject of thought and any guiding principle in action, if you took from them anxiety about their own position in life. It is not enough to put aside distracting thoughts. Cutting down the thorns won't do; still less holding them aside till the seed be sown. It is vain to hope for the only right harvest of a human life if your heart is sown with worldly ambitions, a greedy hasting to be rich, an undue love of comfort, a true earthliness of spirit. One seed only must be sown in you, and it will produce all needed diligence in business as well as all fervour of spirit.

There is one important distinction between material and moral sowing. Man is possessed of free will, the power of checking to some extent natural consequences. Therefore the gospel is to be preached to every creature, and we may be expected to bring to the hearing of it a soft, deep, clean soil of heart—what Luke calls "an honest and good heart." There will be differences of crop even among those who bring good hearts, but wherever the Word is held fast and patiently cared for, there the life wilt produce all that God cares to have from it. But even the honest heart is not enough unless we keep the Word. The sower must be at pains to cover in the seed and watch that it be not taken away. So the hearer loses his labour unless his mind goes back on what he has heard, and he sees that he has really got hold of it. We have all heard all that is necessary for life and godliness; it remains that we make it our own, that it secures a living root in us and in our life. We must bear it in mind, so that all that comes before us may throw new light on it and give it further hold on us.—D.

- The Pulpit Commentary

Matthew 13:18-23 (Matthew 13:18-23)

The Sower.

(See ante on Matthew 13:1-9 .)—J.A.M.

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