THE PARABLES of JESUS CHRIST EXPLAINED
BY THE REV. J. CLOWES, M.A.
LATE RECTOR OF ST. JOHN’S COLLEGE, MANCHESTER, AND FELLOW OF TRINITY COLLEGE, CAMBRIDGE.
Whoso readeth let him understand.—Matt. xxiv. 15.
A NEW EDITION.
PRINTED AT D. BATTEN’S OFFICE, CLAPHAM COMMON.
THE PARABLE OF THE SOWER
And he spake many things to them in parables, saying, Behold, a sower went forth to sow; and when he sowed, some seeds fell by the way-side, and the birds came and devoured them up: some fell upon, stony places, where they had not much earth; and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no depth of earth; and when the sun was up, they were scorched; and, because they had no root, they withered away: and some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprung up and choked them: but others fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit, some an hundred-fold, some sixty-fold, some thirty-fold. Who has ears to hear, let him hear. Matthew 13:3-10
The Sower is the Son of Man, or Jesus Christ, in His Divine Humanity. He is called the Sower, because the seed sown is the Eternal Truth, or the Word of God, and all Truth, properly so called, is from Jesus Christ, who on that account calls Himself the Truth.
By sowing, when spoken of Jesus Christ, is to be understood the insemination and implantation of His Divine Truth, or Word, in the understandings and lives of men; this is effected by man’s hearing, or reading, the Word of God, by his meditating on what he hears or reads, but, above all, by the application of what he hears, or reads, to the purpose of reforming his life, by separating from himself all evil ends and purposes, and by loving, thinking, and doing those good things which the Word of God teaches to be good.
Mankind, then, differ in the way of receiving and admitting the Eternal Truth, and this difference is described in the parable to be four-fold, which four-fold reception is distinguished in the parable, first by some seed falling by the way-side; secondly, by some falling upon stony places, where they have not much earth; thirdly, by some falling among thorns; and, lastly, by some falling into good ground.
The first distinction, described by some seed falling by the way-side, includes all those who receive the Word of God, or the Eternal Truth, without affection.
Every one receives the Word of God without affection who hears it, and reads it, and yet is not interested in what he hears and reads, having his affections immersed merely in the things of time and of sense, without any elevation to the great things of Eternity.
The second distinction, described by the seeds which fell upon stony places, where they have not much earth, includes all those who hear, or read, the Word of God, and imbibe its truth, yet not from a genuine affection for that truth, but from some external affection which regards only the gain and glory of this world: thus they love the truth, not for its own sake, but for the sake of their own temporal interests, which they think to advance and secure by means of the knowledge of truth.
The third distinction, described by the seeds which fell among thorns, includes all those who hear, or read, the Word of God, without any desire to remove the cravings of evil, and who thus are desirous to become intelligent in heavenly knowledge, but not for the purpose of purifying and reforming their own hearts and lives in the sight of God.
The last distinction, described by the seeds which fell into good ground, includes all those who receive the Word of God, and its Eternal Truths, with a genuine and devout affection, at the same time applying them to the purposes for which they are given, namely, the purification, reformation, and regeneration of their hearts and lives in the sight of God.
Let us now consider the effects of these different receptions of the Word of God in the minds of men.
The first effect is described in these words. The birds came and devoured them up.
By the birds, in this passage, are to be understood all false persuasions of doctrine and of life, which always occupy the minds of those who are destitute of affection for the Eternal Truth; and by devouring up the seeds of truth is to be understood, that where the Word of God is received without affection it cannot produce its proper fruits, because it is liable to be perverted and destroyed by false persuasions, which occupy the natural mind of every man before he admits with affection the light of the Eternal Word.
The next effect of a wrong reception of the Word of God, is described in these words, Forthwith they sprung up, because they had no depth of earth; and when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away.
This is to denote, that where the Eternal Truth is received from an affection not genuine, that is to say, from an affection grounded in worldly gain or glory, in that mind an appearance is presented of the growth of truth, but then it is a growth in the memory and understanding only, and not in the will, or love; therefore, it is said, because they have no depth of earth, for the earth, in this case, relates to the will, or love, and its depth has relation to the inmost principle of each.
The sun, as applied in the Holy Scriptures, is used both in a good and bad sense, according to the subject treated of; and in a good sense, it relates to the Lord Himself, and to the Divine Love and Wisdom which proceed from Him; but in a bad sense, it is applied to denote the destructive principle of self-love, when it is exalted in the human mind above the love of God and Heaven. By the seeds being scorched, then, is to be understood, that where the truth is not received with a genuine affection, or for its own sake, in that mind it is withered and destroyed by the influence of self-love, which will not allow it to take its proper root, and bear its proper fruits; therefore, it is added, because they had no root, they withered away, to teach the important lesson, that where self-love is predominant it is impossible that the Eternal Truth should gain a place in the natural mind of man, so as to produce all its blessed and saving effects.
The third effect of a wrong reception of the Word of God, is described in these words. The thorns sprung up and choked them.
By the thorns are to be understood the cravings of evil, which Jesus Christ, in his explanation of the parable, calls the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, by which are meant, all those anxieties, concerns, and affections of the merely external man, who prevail over the better desires of the internal man; and by choking the seed of truth, is to be understood, all that suffocation of the pure knowledge of God, and of His Holy Word, which must of necessity take place in that mind, where the appetites of the body, and the cravings of animal life, are suffered to exalt themselves above the higher interests to man’s spiritual and eternal life; therefore it is added, by Jesus Christ, that such a mind becomes unfruitful, because the fruitfulness of heavenly truth can only be found in its effects upon the natural man, by purifying his ends of life, and forming him to every good thought, word, and work; in case, therefore, that the operation of heavenly truth is resisted by the natural mind, it is impossible there can be any fruitfulness of truth in the natural man.
The fourth effect resulting from the reception of the Eternal Truth is described in these words, It brought forth fruit, some an hundred-fold, some sixty-fold, some thirty-fold.
By fruit is to be understood, all the good of love and charity, that is to say, of love towards God, and charity towards our neighbour; and by bringing forth this fruit is to be understood, that this good of love and charity manifests itself in the natural man in all good thoughts, words, and works, of a holy and useful life, agreeably to those words of Jesus Christ, where He says, Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in Heaven: (Matt. 5:16). and in another place, If you know these things, happy are you if you do them (John 13:17). It is, therefore, said in the parable, that other seed fell into good ground, to denote that the reception of truth, in this case, was an interior reception, or, a reception in the inner man; that is to say, in the will, or love, as well as in the understanding and memory. Therefore, Jesus Christ, in explaining this reception of the Eternal Truth, says, He that receives seed into good ground is he that hears the Word and understands it, to instruct us, that a right and profitable reception of the Eternal Truth is a reception both in the will, signified by hearing, and in the intellect, signified by understanding; and to instruct us yet further, that all fruitfulness of the Holy Word is the result of this two-fold reception, or what may be properly called the heavenly marriage of good and truth, and not from the single reception of either of those principles separate from the other.
The distinctions expressed in the parable by hundred-fold, sixty-fold, and thirty-fold, are intended to express the different degrees of fruitfulness of the Eternal Truth in human minds, which will ever depend upon the degree in which good and truth are united, or in which the will and understanding are conjointly affected. As, therefore, in some cases, this conjunction may be less perfect than in others, in like manner it is to be supposed, that the fruitfulness will vary, and this agreeably to the distinctions here mentioned of an hundred-fold, sixty-fold, and thirty-fold.
Jesus Christ concludes this parable by saying, He that has ears to hear, let him hear; teaching us by these words, that He intended his instruction only for those who were in a disposition to receive it, and not for those who were in no disposition. For by those who have ears to hear He meant to describe all sincere and upright minds, which are desirous, both’ to receive and profit by the lessons of the Eternal Wisdom, therefore He says of these, let them hear, in other words, let them understand and receive, because to them it is given, to know the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven, inasmuch as they are in a right state of mind to profit, by those mysteries: whereas, to others it is not given, since others are not in a state to profit by them, and, therefore, if such mysteries were made known to them, they would but profane and defile them, and thus increase their condemnation, agreeably to those words of Jesus Christ, This is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil (John 3:19).
The general instruction then to be derived from this parable is, that men ought to be very careful in hearing, or reading, the Word of God, to note the affection from which they hear and read, and to see that this affection be pure and genuine, resulting from the love of truth, for its own sake, and not for any earthly ends of temporal gain and glory. We learn, yet further, from this parable, that the Eternal Truth can never produce its full fruitfulness in the mind and life of man until it operates conjointly on his will and understanding, that is to say, on his love and thought; but that when it is attended with this double operation, it forms in man the true heavenly marriage, by virtue whereof he has eternal conjunction with Jesus Christ and His kingdom, and through that conjunction is formed to every good thought, word, and work.