Mark 4:1-12, 24-25
Luke 8:1-10, 18
1. And on the same day Jesus went out of the house, and sat down near the sea.2. And great multitudes were gathered to him, so that he entered into a ship, and sat down, and the whole multitude was standing on the shore.3. And he said many things to them by parables, saying, Lo, one who was sowing, some seeds fell near the road, and the birds came and devoured them.5. And some fell on stony places, where they had not much earth, and immediately they sprang up, because they had not depth of earth.6. But when the sun rose, they were burnt up, and because they had not a root, they withered away.7. Others again fell on thorns, and the thorns grew up, and choked them.8. And others fell on good soil, and yielded fruit: some a hundred-fold, some sixty-fold, some thirty-fold.9. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.10. And the disciples approaching said to him, Why dost thou speak to them by parables? 11. But he answering, said to them, To you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given, 12. For whosoever hath, it shall be given to him, and he shall be rendered more wealthy; and whosoever hath not, even that which he hath shall be taken from him.13. For this reason I speak to them in parables, because seeing, they do not see, and hearing, they do not hear nor understand.14. And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah, which saith, With the ears you shall hear, and shall not understand, and seeing, you shall see, and shall not perceive.15. For the heart of this people hath become gross, and with their ears they have heard heavily, and their eyes they have shut, lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with the heart, and be converted, and I should heal them.16. But your eyes are blessed for they see; and your ears, for they hear.17. Verily, I say to you, That many prophets and righteous men have desired to see the things which you see, and have not seen them, and to hear the things which you hear, and have not heard them.
1. And again he began to teach near the sea, and a great multitude was gathered to him, so that, entering into a ship, he sat on the sea, and the whole multitude was near the sea on land.2. And he taught them many things by parables, and said to them in his doctrine: 3. Hear, lo, a sower went out to sow.4. And it happened while he was sowing, some fell closer to the road; and the fowls of heaven came and ate them up.5. And some fell on stony places, where it had not much earth, and immediately it sprang up, because it had not depth of earth.6. And when the sun had risen, it was scorched; and because it had not a root, it withered.7. And some fell among thorns; and the thorns grew, and choked it, and it did not yield fruit.8. And some fell on good soil, and yielded fruit springing up and growing, and produced some thirty, and some sixty, and some a hundred.9. And he said to them, He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.10. And when he began to be alone, those who were around him, with the twelve, asked him about the parable.11. And he said to them, To you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God, but to those who are without all things are done by parables: 12. That seeing, they may see and may not perceive, and hearing, they may hear and may not understand, lest at any time they may be converted, and their sins may be forgiven them. -- (A little after,) 24. And he said to them, Observe what you hear: with what measure, the same admeasurement shall be made to you, and it shall be added to you who shall hear.25. For to him who hath it shall be given; and he that hath not, even that which he hath shall be taken away from him.
1. And it happened afterwards, and he was traveling through each city and village, preaching and proclaiming the glad tidings of the kingdom of God; and the twelve were with him, 2. And likewise some women, who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases, Mary, who is called Magdalene, out of whom had gone seven devils, 3. And Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod's steward, and Susanna, and many others, who assisted him out of their property 4. And while a very great multitude was assembling, and while they were crowding to him out of each city, he said by a parable: 5. One who sowed went out to sow his seed, and while he was sowing, some fell near the road, and the fowls of heaven ate it up.6. And some fell on a rock, and when it was sprung up, it withered, because it hath not moisture.7. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns springing up along with it, choked it.8. And some fell on a good soil, and, springing up, produced fruit a hundred-fold. Saying these things, he exclaimed, He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.9. And his disciples asked him, saying, What was this parable? 10. But he said, To you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest by parables; that seeing, they may not see, and hearing, they may not understand. -- (A little after,) 18. Consider then how you hear. For whosoever hath, it shall be given to him; and whosoever hath not, even that which he thinketh that he hath shall be taken from him.
23. And turning to his disciples, he said to them privately, Blessed are the eyes that see the things which you see.24. For I say to you, That many prophets and kings have desired to see the things which you see, and have not seen them; and to hear the things which you hear, and have not heard them.
What I have here introduced from Luke belongs, perhaps, to another time; but I saw no necessity for separating what he has placed in immediate connection. First, he says that the twelve apostles preached the kingdom of God along with Christ; from which we infer that, though the ordinary office of teaching had not yet been committed to them, they constantly attended as heralds to procure an audience for their Master; and, therefore, though they held an inferior rank, they are said to have been Christ's assistants. Next, he adds, that among those who accompanied Christ were certain women, who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases, such as Mary Magdalene, who had been tormented by seven devils To be associated with such persons might be thought dishonorable; for what could be more unworthy of the Son of God than to lead about with him women who were marked with infamy? But this enables us more clearly to perceive that the crimes with which we were loaded before we believed, are so far from diminishing the glory of Christ, that they tend rather to raise it to a higher pitch. And, certainly, it is not said, that the Church which he elected was found by him to be without spot and blemish, but that he cleansed it with his blood, and made it pure and fair.
The wretched and disgraceful condition of those women, now that they had been delivered from it, redounded greatly to the glory of Christ, by holding out public manifestations of his power and grace. At the same time, Luke applauds their gratitude in following their Deliverer, and disregarding the ridicule of the world. Beyond all question, they were pointed at with the finger on every side, and the presence of Christ served for a platform to exhibit them; but they do not refuse to have their own shame made generally known, provided that the grace of Christ be not concealed. On the contrary, they willingly endure to be humbled, in order to become a mirror, by which he may be illustriously displayed.
In Mary, the boundless goodness of Christ was displayed in an astonishing manner. A woman, who had been possessed by seven devils, and might be said to have been the meanest slave of Satan, was not merely honored to be his disciple, but admitted to enjoy his society. Luke adds the surname Magdalene, to distinguish her from the sister of Martha, and other persons of the name of Mary, who are mentioned in other passages, (John 11:1; 19:25.)
Luke 8:3. Joanna, the wife of Chuza It is uncertain whether or not Luke intended his statement to be applied to those women in the same manner as to Mary To me it appears probable that she is placed first in order, as a person in whom Christ had given a signal display of his power; and that the wife of Chuza, and Susanna, matrons of respectability and of spotless reputation, are mentioned afterwards, because they had only been cured of ordinary diseases. Those matrons being wealthy and of high rank, it reflects higher commendation on their pious zeal, that they supply Christ's expenses out of their own property, and, not satisfied with so doing, leave the care of their household affairs, and choose to follow him, attended by reproach and many other inconveniences, through various and uncertain habitations, instead of living quietly and at ease in their own houses. It is even possible, that Chuza, Herod's steward, being too like his master, was strongly opposed to what his wife did in this matter, but that the pious woman overcame this opposition by the ardor and constancy of her zeal.
Matthew 13:2. And great multitudes were gathered together to him. It is not without good reason that the Evangelists begin with informing us that, a vast multitude had assembled, and that when Christ beheld them, he was led to compare his doctrine to seed That multitude had been collected from various places: all were held in suspense; all were alike eager to hear, but not equally desirous to receive instruction. The design of the parable was to inform them, that the seed of doctrine, which is scattered far and wide, is not everywhere productive; because it does not always find a fertile and well cultivated soil. Christ declared that he was there in the capacity of a husbandman, who was going out to sow seed, but that many of his hearers resembled an uncultivated and parched soil, while others resembled a thorny soil; so that the labor and the very seed were thrown away. I forbear to make any farther inquiry into the meaning of the parable, till we come to the explanation of it; which, as we shall find, is shortly afterwards given by our Lord. It may only be necessary, for the present, to remind the reader, that if those who ran from distant places to Christ, like hungry persons, are compared to an unproductive and barren soil, we need not wonder if, in our own day, the Gospel does not yield fruit in many, of whom some are lazy and sluggish, others hear with indifference, and others are scarcely drawn even to hear.
9. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear. These words were intended partly to show that all were not endued with true understanding to comprehend what he said, and partly to arouse his disciples to consider attentively that doctrine which is not readily and easily understood by all. Indeed, he makes a distinction among the hearers, by pronouncing some to have ears, and others to be deaf. If it is next inquired, how it comes to pass that the former have ears, Scripture testifies in other passages, that it is the Lord who pierces the ears, (Psalm 40:7,)and that no man obtains or accomplishes this by his own industry.
10. The disciples approaching said to him. From the words of Matthew it is evident, that the disciples did not merely look to themselves, but wished also to consult the benefit of others. Being unable to comprehend the parable, they concluded that it would be as little understood by the people; and, therefore, they complain that Christ employed language from which his hearers could derive no profit. Now though parables are generally found to illustrate the subject of which they treat, yet the uninterrupted course of a metaphor may lead to obscurity. So then Christ, in delivering this parable, intended to wrap up, in an allegory, what he might have said more plainly and fully, without a figure. But now that the exposition is added, the figurative discourse has greater energy and force than if it had been simple: by which is meant, that it is not only fitted to produce a more powerful impression on the mind, but is also more clear. So highly important is the manner in which any thing is said.
11. To you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven From this reply of Christ we learn, that the doctrine of salvation is proclaimed by God to men for various purposes; for Christ declares that he intentionally spoke obscurely, in order that his discourse might be a riddle to many, and might only strike their ears with a confused and doubtful sound. It will perhaps be objected, that this is inconsistent with that prophecy,
I have not spoken in secret, nor in a dark corner: I said not in vain to the seed of Jacob, Seek me,
or with the commendations which David pronounces on the Law, that it
is a lamp to the feet, and that it giveth wisdom to little children (Psalm 119:105,130.)
But the answer is easy: the word of God, in its own nature, is always bright, but its light is choked by the darkness of men. Though the Law was concealed, as it were, by a kind of veil, yet the truth, of God shone brightly in it, if the eyes of many had not been blinded. With respect to the Gospel, Paul affirms with truth, that it is hidden to none but to the reprobate, and to those who are devoted to destruction, whose minds Satan hath blinded, (2 Corinthians 4:3,4.) Besides, it ought to be understood, that the power of enlightening which David mentions, and the familiar manner of teaching which Isaiah predicts, refer exclusively to the elect people.
Still it remains a fixed principle, that the word of God is not obscure, except so far as the world darkens it by its own blindness. And yet the Lord conceals its mysteries, so that the perception of them may not reach the reprobate. There are two ways in which he deprives them of the light of his doctrine. Sometimes he states, in a dark manner, what might be more clearly expressed; and sometimes he explains his mind fully, without ambiguity and without metaphor, but strikes their senses with dulness and their minds with stupidity, so that they are blind amidst bright sunshine.
Such is the import of those dreadful threatenings, in which Isaiah forewarns, that he will be to the people a barbarian, speaking in a foreign and unknown language; that the prophetical visions will be to the learned a shut and sealed book, in which they cannot read; and that when the book shall be opened, all will be unlearned, and will remain in amazement, through inability to read, (Isaiah 28:11; 29:11.) Now since Christ has purposely dispensed his doctrine in such a manner, that it might be profitable only to a small number, being firmly seated in their minds, and might hold others in suspense and perplexity, it follows that, by divine appointment, the doctrine of salvation is not proclaimed to all for the same end, but is so regulated by his wonderful purpose, that it is not less a savor of death to death to the reprobate than a life-giving savor to the elect, (2 Corinthians 2:15,16.) And that no one may dare to murmur, Paul declares, in that passage that whatever may be the effect of the Gospel, its savor, though deadly, is always a sweet savor to God.
To ascertain fully the meaning of the present passage, we must examine more closely the design of Christ, the reason why, and the purpose for which, these words were spoken. First, the comparison is undoubtedly intended by Christ to exhibit the magnitude of the grace bestowed on his disciples, in having specially received what was not given indiscriminately to all. If it is asked, why this privilege was peculiar to the apostles, the reason certainly will not be found in themselves, and Christ, by declaring that it was given to them, excludes all merit. Christ declares that there are certain and elect men, on whom God specially bestows this honor of revealing to them his secrets, and that others are deprived of this grace. No other reason will be found for this distinction, except that God calls to himself those whom he has gratuitously elected.
12. For whosoever hath, it shall be given to him. Christ pursues the subject which I have just mentioned; for he reminds his disciples how kindly God acts towards them, that they may more highly prize his grace, and may acknowledge themselves to be under deeper obligations to his kindness. The same words he afterwards repeats, but in a different sense, (Matthew 25:29;) for on that occasion the discourse relates to the lawful use of gifts. But here he simply teaches, that more is given to the apostles than to the generality of men, because the heavenly Father is pleased to display in perfection his kindness towards them.
He does not forsake the work of his own hand,
Those whom he has once begun to form are continually polished more and more, till they are at length brought to the highest perfection. The multiplied favors which are continually flowing from him to us, and the joyful progress which we make, spring from God's contemplation of his own liberality, which prompts him to an uninterrupted course of bounty. And as his riches are inexhaustible, so he is never wearied with enriching his children. Whenever he advances us to a higher degree, let us remember that every increase of the favors which we daily receive from him flows from this source, that it is his purpose to complete the work, of our salvation already commenced. On the other hand, Christ declares that the reprobate are continually proceeding from bad to worse, till, at length exhausted, they waste away in their own poverty.
And he that hath not, even that which he hath shall be taken from him. This may appear to be a harsh expression; but instead of saying, that what the ungodly have not is taken from them, Luke softens the harshness and removes the ambiguity by a slight change of the words: and whosoever hath not, even that which he thinketh that he hath shall be taken from him. And indeed it frequently happens, that the reprobate are endued with eminent gifts, and appear to resemble the children of God: but there is nothing of real value about them; for their mind is destitute of piety, and has only the glitter of an empty show. Matthew is therefore justified in saying that they have nothing; for what they have is of no value in the sight of God, and has no permanency within. Equally appropriate is the statement of Luke, that the gifts, with which they have been endued, are corrupted by them, so that they shine only in the eyes of men, but have nothing more than splendor and empty display. Hence, also let us learn to aim at progress throughout our whole life; for God grants to us the taste of his heavenly doctrine on the express condition, that we feed on it abundantly from day to day, till we come to be fully satiated with it.
The manner in which Mark introduces this sentence has some appearance of confusion. Consider, says our Lord, what you hear; and then, if they make due progress, he holds out the expectation of more plentiful grace: it shall be added to you that hear Lastly, follows the clause which agrees with the words of Matthew, but is inserted in the middle of a sentence which I expounded under the seventh chapter of Matthew; for it is not probable that they are here placed in their proper order. The Evangelists, as we have remarked on former occasions, were not very exact in arranging Christ's discourses, but frequently throw together a variety of sayings uttered by him. Luke mixes this sentence with other discourses of Christ spoken at different times, and likewise points out a different purpose for which Christ used these words. It was that they might be attentive to his doctrine, and not permit the seed of life to pass away unimproved, which ought to be cordially received, and take root in their minds. |Beware,| he says, |lest what has been given be taken away from you, if it yield no fruit.|
13. For this reason I speak by parables. He says that he speaks to the multitude in an obscure manner, because they are not partakers of the true light. And yet, while he declares that a veil is spread over the blind, that they may remain in their darkness, he does not ascribe the blame of this to themselves, but takes occasion to commend more highly the grace bestowed on the Apostles, because it is not equally communicated to all. He assigns no cause for it, except the secret purpose of God; for which, as we shall afterwards see more fully, there is a good reason, though it has been concealed from us. It is not the only design of a parable to state, in an obscure manner, what God is not pleased to reveal clearly; but we have said that the parable now under our consideration was delivered by Christ, in order that the form of an allegory might present a doubtful riddle.
14. And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah. He confirms his statement by a prediction of Isaiah, that it is far from being a new thing, if many persons derive no advantage from the word of God, which was formerly appointed to the ancient people, for the purpose of inducing greater blindness. This passage of the Prophet is quoted, in a variety of ways, in the New Testament. Paul quotes it (Acts 28:26) to charge the Jews with obstinate malice, and says that they were blinded by the light of the Gospel, because they were bitter and rebellious against God. There he points out the immediate cause which appeared in the men themselves. But in the Epistle to the Romans (11:7) he draws the distinction from a deeper and more hidden source; for he tells us, that the remnant was saved according to the election of grace, and that the rest were blinded, according as it is written. The contrast must there be observed; for if it is the election of God, and an undeserved election, which alone saves any remnant of the people, it follows that all others perish by a hidden, though just, judgment of God. Who are the rest, whom Paul contrasts with the elect remnant, but those on whom God has not bestowed a special salvation?
Similar reasoning may be applied to the passage in John, (12:38;) for he says that many believed not, because no man believes, except he to whom God reveals his arm, and immediately adds, that they could not believe, because it is again written, Blind the heart of this people. Such, too is the object which Christ has in view, when he ascribes it to the secret purpose of God, that the truth of the Gospel is not revealed indiscriminately to all, but is exhibited at a distance under obscure forms, so as to have no other effect than to overspread the minds of the people with grosser darkness. In all cases, I admit, those whom God blinds will be found to deserve this condemnation; but as the immediate cause is not always obvious in the persons of men, let it be held as a fixed principle, that God enlightens to salvation, and that by a peculiar gift, those whom He has freely chosen; and that all the reprobate are deprived of the light of life, whether God withholds his word from them, or keeps their eyes and ears closed, that they do not hear or see.
Hearing you shall hear. We now perceive the manner in which Christ applies the prediction of the prophet to the present occasion. He does not quote the prophet's words, nor was it necessary; for Christ reckoned it enough to show, that it was no new or uncommon occurrence, if many were hardened by the word of God. The words of the prophet were,
Go, blind their minds, and harden their hearts, (Isaiah 6:10.)
Matthew ascribes this to the hearers, that they may endure the blame of their own blindness and hardness; for the one cannot be separated from the other. All who have been given over to a reprobate mind (Romans 1:28) do voluntarily, and from inward malice, blind and harden themselves. Nor can it be otherwise, wherever the Spirit of God does not reign, by whom the elect alone are governed. Let us, therefore, attend to this connection, that all whom God does not enlighten with the Spirit of adoption are men of unsound mind; and that, while they are more and more blinded by the word of God, the blame rests wholly on themselves, because this blindness is voluntary. Again, the ministers of the word ought to seek consolation from this passage, if the success of their labors does not always correspond to their wish. Many are so far from profiting by their instruction, that they are rendered worse by it. What has befallen them was experienced by a Prophet, to whom they are not superior. It were, indeed, to be wished, that they should bring all under subjection to God; and they ought to labor and strive for that end. But let them not wonder if that judgment, which God anciently displayed through the ministration of the Prophet, is likewise fulfilled at the present day. At the same time, we ought to be extremely careful, that the fruit of the Gospel be not lost through our negligence.
Mark 4:12. That seeing, they may see, and not perceive. Here it may suffice to state briefly what has already been fully explained, that the doctrine is not, strictly speaking, or by itself, or in its own nature, but by accident, the cause of blindness. When persons of a weak sight come out into sunshine, their eyes become dimmer than before, and that defect is in no way attributed to the sun, but to their eyes. In like manner, when the word of God blinds and hardens the reprobate, as this takes place through their own depravity, it belongs truly and naturally to themselves, but is accidental, as respects the word.
Lest at any time they should be converted. This clause points out the advantage that is gained by seeing and understanding It is, that men, having been converted to God, are restored to his favor, and, being reconciled to him, enjoy prosperity and happiness. The true end for which
God desires that his word should be preached is, to reconcile men to himself by renewing their minds and hearts. With respect to the reprobate, on the other hand, Isaiah here declares that the stony hardness remains in them, so that they do not obtain mercy, and that the word fails to produce its effect upon them, so as to soften their minds to repentance.
Matthew 13:15. Lest I should heal them In the word healing, Matthew, as well as the Prophet, includes deliverance from every evil; for a people afflicted by the hand of God is metaphorically compared by them to a sick man. They say that healing is bestowed, when the Lord releases from punishment. But as this healing depends on the pardon of sins, Mark describes appropriately and justly its cause and source, lest they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them For whence comes the mitigation of chastisements, but because God has been reconciled to us, and makes us the objects of his blessing? Sometimes, no doubt, after removing our guilt, he continues to punish us, either with the view of humbling us the more, or of making us more cautious for the future. And yet, not only does he show evidences of his favor by restoring us to life and health; but as punishments usually terminate when the guilt is removed, healing and forgiveness are properly introduced together. It must not, however, be concluded, that repentance is the cause of pardon, as if God received into his favor converted men, because they deserved it; for conversion itself is a mark of God's free favor. Nothing more is expressed than such an order and connection, that God does not forgive the sins of any but those who are dissatisfied with themselves.
Matthew 13:16. But blessed are your eyes. Luke appears to represent this statement as having been spoken at another time; but this is easily explained, for in that passage he throws together a variety of our Lord's sayings, without attending to the order of dates. We shall, therefore, follow the text of Matthew, who explains more clearly the circumstances from which Christ took occasion to utter these words. Having formerly reminded them of the extraordinary favor which they had received, in being separated by our Lord from the common people, and familiarly admitted to the mysteries of his kingdom, he now magnifies that grace by another comparison, which is, that they excel ancient Prophets and holy Kings This is a far loftier distinction than to be preferred to an unbelieving multitude. Christ does not mean any kind of hearing, or the mere beholding of the flesh, but pronounces their eyes to be blessed, because they perceive in him a glory which is worthy of the only-begotten Son of God, so as to acknowledge him as the Redeemer; because they perceive shining in him the lively image of God, by which they obtain salvation and perfect happiness; and because in them is fulfilled what had been spoken by the Prophets, that those who have been truly and perfectly taught by the Lord (Isaiah 54:13) do not need to learn every man from his neighbor, (Jeremiah 31:34.)
This furnishes a reply to an objection that might be drawn from another saying of Christ, that
blessed are they who have not seen, and yet have believed, (John 20:29;)
for there he describes that kind of seeing which Thomas desired in consequence of his gross apprehension. But that seeing, of which Christ now speaks, has been enjoyed by believers in every age in common with the Apostles. We do not see Christ, and yet we see him; we do not hear Christ, and yet we hear him: for in the Gospel we behold him, as Paul says,
face to face, so as to be transformed into his image, (2 Corinthians 3:18;)
and the perfection of wisdom, righteousness, and life, which was formerly exhibited in him, shines there continually.
Luke 10:24. Many Prophets and Kings have desired to see. The condition of the Church, at the present day, is justly pronounced to be preferable to that of the holy fathers, who lived under the Law; because to them was exhibited, under shadows and figures only, what is now openly manifested in the shining face of Christ. The veil of the temple being rent, (Matthew 27:51,) we enter by faith into the heavenly sanctuary, and are freely permitted to approach to God. Although the fathers were satisfied with their lot, and enjoyed a blessed peace in their own minds, yet this did not prevent their desires from extending farther. Thus, Abraham saw the day of Christ afar off, and rejoice, (John 8:56,) and yet longed to enjoy a nearer view, but did not obtain his wish. Simeon spoke the sentiments of all, when he said, Now thou sendest thy servant away in peace, (Luke 2:29.) And indeed it was impossible that, under the burden of that curse by which the human race is crushed, they should be otherwise than altogether inflamed with the desire of a promised deliverance. Let us therefore learn, that they breathed after Christ, like hungry persons, and yet possessed a serene faith; so that they did not murmur against God, but kept their minds in patient expectation till the full time of revelation.