The former paragraph began with an account of Christ’s industry in preaching (Luke 8:1); this begins with an account of the people’s industry in hearing, Luke 8:4. He went into every city, to preach; so they, one would think, should have contented themselves to hear him when he came to their own city (we know those that would); but there were those here that came to him out of every city, would not stay till he came to them, nor think that they had enough when he left them, but met him when he was coming towards them, and followed him when he was going from them. Nor did he excuse himself from going to the cities with this, that there were some from the cities that came to him; for, though there were, yet the most had not zeal enough to bring them to him, and therefore such is his wonderful condescension that he will go to them; for he is found of those that sought him not, Isa. 65:1.
Here was, it seems, a vast concourse, much people were gathered together, abundance of fish to cast their net among; and he was as ready and willing to teach as they were to be taught. Now in Luke 8:4-21 we have,
I. Necessary and excellent rules and cautions for hearing the word, in the parable of the sower and the explanation and application of it, all which we had twice before more largely. When Christ had put forth this parable, 1. The disciples were inquisitive concerning the meaning of it, Luke 8:9. They asked him, What might this parable be? Note, We should covet earnestly to know the true intent, and full extent, of the word we hear, that we may be neither mistaken nor defective in our knowledge. 2. Christ made them sensible of what great advantage it was to them that they had opportunity of acquainting themselves with the mystery and meaning of his word, which others had not: Unto you it is given, Luke 8:10. Note, Those who would receive instruction from Christ must know and consider what a privilege it is to be instructed by him, what a distinguishing privilege to be led into the light, such a light, when others are left in darkness, such a darkness. Happy are we, and for ever indebted to free grace, if the same thing that is a parable to others, with which they are only amused, is a plain truth to us, by which we are enlightened and governed, and into the mould of which we are delivered.
Now from the parable itself, and the explication of it, observe,
(1.) The heart of man is as soil to the seed of God’s word; it is capable of receiving it, and bringing forth the fruits of it; but, unless that seed be sown in it, it will bring forth nothing valuable. Or care therefore must be to bring the seed and the soil together. To what purpose have we the seed in the scripture, if it be not sown? And to what purpose have we the soil in our own hearts, if it be not sown with that seed?
(2.) The success of the seeding is very much according to the nature and temper of the soil, and as that is, or is not, disposed to receive the seed. The word of God is to us, as we are, a savour of life unto life, or of death unto death.
(3.) The devil is a subtle and spiteful enemy, that makes it his business to hinder our profiting by the word of God. He takes the word out of the hearts of careless hearers, lest they should believe and be saved, Luke 8:12. This is added here to teach us, [1.] That we cannot be saved unless we believe. The word of the gospel will not be a saving word to us, unless it be mixed with faith. [2.] That therefore the devil does all he can to keep us from believing, to make us not believe the word when we read and hear it; or, if we heed it for the present, to make us forget it again, and let it slip (Heb. 2:1); or, if we remember it, to create prejudices in our minds against it, or divert our minds from it to something else; and all is lest we should believe and be saved, lest we should believe and rejoice, while he believes and trembles.
(4.) Where the word of God is heard carelessly there is commonly a contempt put upon it too. It is added here in the parable that the seed which fell by the way-side was trodden down, Luke 8:5. They that wilfully shut their ears against the word do in effect trample it under their feet; they despise the commandment of the Lord.
(5.) Those on whom the word makes some impressions, but they are not deep and durable ones, will show their hypocrisy in a time of trial; as the seed sown upon the rock, where it gains no root, Luke 8:13. These for awhile believe a little while; their profession promises something, but in time of temptation they fall away from their good beginnings. Whether the temptation arises from the smiles or the frowns, of the world, they are easily overcome by it.
(6.) The pleasures of this life are as dangerous and mischievous thorns to choke the good seed of the word as any other. This is added here (Luke 8:14), which was not in the other evangelists. Those that are not entangled in the cares of this life, nor inveigled with the deceitfulness of riches, but boast that they are dead to them, may yet be kept from heaven by an affected indolence, and the love of ease and pleasure. The delights of sense may ruin the soul, even lawful delights, indulged, and too much delighted in.
(7.) It is not enough that the fruit be brought forth, but it must be brought to perfection, it must be fully ripened. If it be not, it is as if there was no fruit at all brought forth; for that which in Matthew and Mark is said to be unfruitful is the same that here is said to bring forth none to perfection. For factum non dicitur quod non perseverat—perseverance is necessary to the perfection of a work.
(8.) The good ground, which brings forth good fruit, is an honest and good heart, well disposed to receive instruction and commandment (Luke 8:15); a heart free from sinful pollutions, and firmly fixed for God and duty, an upright heart, a tender heart, and a heart that trembles at the word, is an honest and good heart, which, having heard the word, understands it (so it is in Matthew), receives it (so it is in Mark), and keeps it (so it is here), as the soil not only receives, but keeps, the seed; and the stomach not only receives, but keeps, the food or physic.
(9.) Where the word is well kept there is fruit brought forth with patience. This also is added here. There must be both bearing patience and waiting patience; patience to suffer the tribulation and persecution which may arise because of the word; patience to continue to the end in well-doing.
(10.) In consideration of all this, we ought to take heed how we hear (Luke 8:18); take heed of those things that will hinder our profiting by the word we hear, watch over our hearts in hearing, and take heed lest they betray us; take heed lest we hear carelessly and slightly, lest, upon any account, we entertain prejudice against the word we hear; and take heed to the frame of our spirits after we have heard the word, lest we lose what we have gained.
II. Needful instructions given to those that are appointed to preach the word, and to those also that have heard it. 1. Those that have received the gift must minister the same. Ministers that have the dispensing of the gospel committed to them, people that have profited by the word and are thereby qualified to profit others, must look upon themselves as lighted candles: ministers must in solemn authoritative preaching, and people in brotherly familiar discourse, diffuse their light, for a candle must not be covered with a vessel nor put under a bed, Luke 8:16. Ministers and Christians are to be lights in the world, holding forth the word of life. Their light must shine before men; they must not only be good, but do good. 2. We must expect that what is now done in secret, and from unseen springs, will shortly be manifested and made known, Luke 8:17. What is committed to you in secret should be made manifest by you; for your Master did not give you talents to be buried, but to be traded with. Let that which is now hid be made known; for, if it be not manifested by you, it will be manifested against you, will be produced in evidence of your treachery. 3. The gifts we have will either be continued to us, or taken from us, according as we do, or do not, make use of them for the glory of God and the edification of our brethren: Whosoever hath, to him shall be given, Luke 8:18. He that hath gifts, and does good with them, shall have more; he that buries his talent shall lose it. From him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath, so it is in Mark; that which he seemeth to have, so it is in Luke. Note, The grace that is lost was but seeming grace, was never true. Men do but seem to have what they do not use, and shows of religion will be lost and forfeited. They went out from us, because they were not of us, 1 John 2:19. Let us see to it that we have grace in sincerity, the root of the matter found in us; that is a good part which shall never be taken away from those that have it.
III. Great encouragement given to those that prove themselves faithful hearers of the word, by being doers of the work, in a particular instance of Christ’s respect to his disciples, in preferring them even before his nearest relations (Luke 8:19-21), which passage of story we had twice before. Observe, 1. What crowding there was after Christ. There was no coming near for the throng of people that attended him, who, though they were crowded very so much, would not be crowded out from his congregation. 2. Some of his nearest kindred were least solicitous to hear him preach. Instead of getting within, as they might easily have done if they had come in time, desiring to hear him, they stood without, desiring to see him; and, probably, out of a foolish fear, lest he should spend himself with too much speaking, designing nothing but to interrupt him, and oblige him to break off. 3. Jesus Christ would rather be busy at his work than conversing with his friends. He would not leave his preaching, to speak with his mother and his brethren, for it was his meat and drink to be so employed. 4. Christ is pleased to own those as his nearest and dearest relations that hear the word of God and do it; they are to him more than his mother and brethren.