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1. And he began again to teach by the seaside: and there was gathered
unto him a great multitude--or, according to another well-supported
reading, "a mighty" or "immense multitude."
2. And he taught them many things by parables, and said unto them in his doctrine--or "teaching."
Parable of the Sower (Mr 4:3-9, 13-20).
Mr 4:3, 14. THE SOWER, THE SEED, AND THE SOIL.
3. Hearken; Behold, there went out a sower to sow--What means this? See on Mr 4:14.
4. And it came to pass, as he sowed, some fell by the wayside--by the
side of the hard path through the field, where the soil was not broken
5. And some fell on stony ground, where it had not much earth--"the rocky ground"; in Matthew (Mt 13:5), "the rocky places"; in Luke (Lu 8:6), "the rock." The thing intended is, not ground with stones in it which would not prevent the roots striking downward, but ground where a quite thin surface of earth covers a rock. What means this? See on Mr 4:16.
7. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up, and choked it, and it yielded no fruit--This case is that of ground not thoroughly cleaned of the thistles, &c.; which, rising above the good seed, "choke" or "smother" it, excluding light and air, and drawing away the moisture and richness of the soil. Hence it "becomes unfruitful" (Mt 13:22); it grows, but its growth is checked, and it never ripens. The evil here is neither a hard nor a shallow soil--there is softness enough, and depth enough; but it is the existence in it of what draws all the moisture and richness of the soil away to itself, and so starves the plant. What now are these "thorns?" See on Mr 4:19.
8. And other fell on good ground, and did yield fruit, &c.--The goodness of this last soil consists in its qualities being precisely the reverse of the other three soils: from its softness and tenderness, receiving and cherishing the seed; from its depth, allowing it to take firm root, and not quickly losing its moisture; and from its cleanness, giving its whole vigor and sap to the plant. In such a soil the seed "brings forth fruit," in all different degrees of profusion, according to the measure in which the soil possesses those qualities. See on Mr 4:20.
9. And he said unto them, He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.
After this parable is recorded the Evangelist says:
10. And when he was alone, they that were about him with the twelve--probably those who followed Him most closely and were firmest in
discipleship, next to the Twelve.
13. Know ye not this parable? and how then will ye know all parables?--Probably this was said not so much in the spirit of rebuke, as to call their attention to the exposition of it which He was about to give, and so train them to the right apprehension of His future parables. As in the parables which we have endeavored to explain in Mt 13., we shall take this parable and the Lord's own exposition of the different parts of it together.
14. The sower soweth the word--or, as in Luke (Lu 8:11), "Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God." But who is "the sower?" This is not expressed here because if "the word of God" be the seed, every scatterer of that precious seed must be regarded as a sower. It is true that in the parable of the tares it is said, "He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man," as "He that soweth the tares is the devil" (Mt 13:37, 38). But these are only the great unseen parties, struggling in this world for the possession of man. Each of these has his agents among men themselves; and Christ's agents in the sowing of the good seed are the preachers of the word. Thus, as in all the cases about to be described, the sower is the same, and the seed is the same; while the result is entirely different, the whole difference must lie in the soils, which mean the different states of the human heart. And so, the great general lesson held forth in this parable of the sower is, that however faithful the preacher, and how pure soever his message, the effect of the preaching of the word depends upon the state of the hearer's heart. Now follow the cases. See on Mr 4:4.
15. And these are they by the wayside, where the word is sown; but, when they have heard, &c.--or, more fully (Mt 13:19), "When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart." The great truth here taught is, that hearts all unbroken and hard are no fit soil for saving truth. They apprehend it not (Mt 13:19) as God's means of restoring them to Himself; it penetrates not, makes no impression, but lies loosely on the surface of the heart, till the wicked one--afraid of losing a victim by his "believing to salvation" (Lu 8:12) --finds some frivolous subject by whose greater attractions to draw off the attention, and straightway it is gone. Of how many hearers of the word is this the graphic but painful history!
16. And these are they likewise which are sown on stony ground, &c.--"Immediately" the seed in such a case "springs up"--all the quicker from the shallowness of the soil--"because it has no depth of earth." But the sun, beating on it, as quickly scorches and withers it up, "because it has no root" (Mr 4:6), and "lacks moisture" (Lu 8:6). The great truth here taught is that hearts superficially impressed are apt to receive the truth with readiness, and even with joy (Lu 8:13); but the heat of tribulation or persecution because of the word, or the trials which their new profession brings upon them quickly dries up their relish for the truth, and withers all the hasty promise of fruit which they showed. Such disappointing issues of a faithful and awakening ministry--alas, how frequent are they!
18. And these are they which are sown among thorns; such as hear the word,
19. And the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and
the lusts of other things entering in--or "the pleasures of this life"
20. And these are they which are sown on good ground; such as hear the word, and receive it, and bring forth fruit, some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some an hundred--A heart soft and tender, stirred to its depths on the great things of eternity, and jealously guarded from worldly engrossments, such only is the "honest and good heart" (Lu 8:15), which "keeps," that is, "retains" the seed of the word, and bears fruit just in proportion as it is such a heart. Such "bring forth fruit with patience" (Mr 4:15), or continuance, "enduring to the end"; in contrast with those in whom the word is "choked" and brings no fruit to perfection. The "thirtyfold" is designed to express the lowest degree of fruitfulness; the "hundredfold" the highest; and the "sixtyfold" the intermediate degrees of fruitfulness. As a "hundredfold," though not unexampled (Ge 26:12), is a rare return in the natural husbandry, so the highest degrees of spiritual fruitfulness are too seldom witnessed. The closing words of this introductory parable seem designed to call attention to the fundamental and universal character of it.
21. And he said unto them, Is a candle--or "lamp"
22. For there is nothing hid which shall not be manifested, &c.--See on Mt 10:26, 27; but the connection there and here is slightly different. Here the idea seems to be this--"I have privately expounded to you these great truths, but only that ye may proclaim them publicly; and if ye will not, others will. For these are not designed for secrecy. They are imparted to be diffused abroad, and they shall be so; yea, a time is coming when the most hidden things shall be brought to light."
24. And he saith unto them, Take heed what ye hear--In Luke
it is, "Take heed how ye hear." The one implies the other, but both
precepts are very weighty.
25. For he that hath, to him shall be given; and he that hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he hath--or "seemeth to have," or "thinketh he hath." (See on Mt 13:12). This "having" and "thinking he hath" are not different; for when it hangs loosely upon him, and is not appropriated to its proper ends and uses, it both is and is not his.
Parable of the Seed Growing We Know Not How (Mr 4:26-29).
This beautiful parable is peculiar to Mark. Its design is to teach the Imperceptible Growth of the word sown in the heart, from its earliest stage of development to the ripest fruits of practical righteousness.
26, 27. So is the kingdom of God, as if a man should cast seed into the ground; and should sleep, and rise night and day--go about his other ordinary occupations, leaving it to the well-known laws of vegetation under the genial influences of heaven. This is the sense of "the earth bringing forth fruit of herself," in Mr 4:27.
28. For the earth bringeth forth fruit of herself; first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear--beautiful allusion to the succession of similar stages, though not definitely marked periods, in the Christian life, and generally in the kingdom of God.
29. But when the fruit is brought forth--to maturity
Parable of the Mustard Seed (Mr 4:30-32).
For the exposition of this portion, see on Mt 13:31, 32.
33. And with many such parables spake he the word unto them, as they were able to hear it--Had this been said in the corresponding passage of Matthew, we should have concluded that what that Evangelist recorded was but a specimen of other parables spoken on the same occasion. But Matthew (Mt 13:34) says, "All these things spake Jesus unto the multitude in parables"; and as Mark records only some of the parables which Matthew gives, we are warranted to infer that the "many such parables" alluded to here mean no more than the full complement of them which we find in Matthew.
Mr 4:35-5:20. JESUS CROSSING THE SEA