The Parable of the Sower
by Martin Luther (1483-1546)
|The following sermon is taken from volume II of, The Sermons of Martin Luther, published by Baker Book House (Grand Rapids, MI). It was originally published in 1906 in english by Lutherans In All Lands (Minneapolis, MN), in a series titled The Precious and Sacred Writings of Martin Luther, vol. 11. The original title of this sermon appears below. This e-text was scanned and edited by Shane Rosenthal; it is in the public domain and it may be copied and distributed without restriction. Original pagination from the Baker edition has been kept intact for purposes of reference.|
THE DISCIPLES & THE FRUITS OF GOD'S
LUKE 8:4-15: And when much people were gathered together, and were come to him out of every city, he spake by a parable: A sower went out to sow his seed: and as he sowed, some fell by the way side; and it was trodden down, and the fowls of the air devoured it. And some fell upon a rock; and as soon as it was sprung up, it withered away, because it lacked moisture. And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprang up with it, and choked it. And other fell on good ground, and sprang up, and bare fruit an hundredfold. And when he had said these things, he cried, He that hath ears to hear, let him hear. And his disciples asked him, saying, What might this parable be? And he said, Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God: but to others in parables; that seeing they might not see, and hearing they might not understand. Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. Those by the way side are they that hear; then cometh the devil, and taketh away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved. They on the rock are they, which, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, which for a while believe, and in time of temptation fall away. And that which fell among thorns are they, which, when they have heard, go forth, and are choked with cares and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to perfection. But that on the good ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience..
SECTION I. THE NATURE OF THE WORD SPOKEN HERE.
1. This Gospel treats of the disciples
and the fruits, which the Word of God develops in the world. It does not
speak of the law nor of human institutions; but, as Christ himself says,
of the Word of God, which he himself the sower preaches, for the law bears
no fruit, just as little as do the institutions of men. Christ however sets
forth here four kinds of disciples of the divine Word.
SECTION II. THE DISCIPLES OF THIS WORD.
2. The first class of disciples are those who hear the Word but neither understand nor esteem it. And these are not the mean people in the world, but the greatest, wisest and the most saintly, in short they are the greatest part of mankind; for Christ does not speak here of those who persecute the Word nor of those who fail to give their ear to it, but of those who hear it and are students of it, who also wish to be called true Christians and to live in Christian fellowship with Christians and are partakers of baptism and the Lord's Supper. But they are of a carnal heart, and remain so, failing to appropriate the Word of God to themselves, it goes in one ear and out the other. Just like the seed along the wayside did not fall into the earth, but remained lying on the ground in the wayside, because the road was tramped hard by the feet of man and beast and it could not take root.
3. Therefore Christ says the devil cometh
and taketh away the Word from their heart, that they may not believe
and be saved. What power of Satan this alone reveals, that hearts, hardened through a worldly mind and life, lose the Word and let it go, so that they never understand or confess it; but instead of the Word of God Satan sends false teachers to tread it under foot by the doctrines of men. For it stands here written both that it was trodden under foot, and the birds of the heaven devoured it. The birds Christ himself interprets as the messengers of the devil, who snatch away the Word and devour it, which is done when he turns and blinds their hearts so that they neither understand nor esteem it, as St. Paul says in 2 Tim 4:4: "They will turn away their ears from the truth, and turn aside unto fables." By the treading under foot of men Christ means the teachings of men, that rule in our hearts, as he says in Mt 5:13 also of the salt that has lost its savor, it is cast out and trodden under foot, of men; that is, as St. Paul says in 2 Ths. 2:11, they must believe a lie because they have not been obedient to the truth.
4. Thus all heretics, fanatics and sects
belong to this number, who understand the Gospel in a carnal way and explain
it as they please, to suit their own ideas, all of whom hear the Gospel
and yet they bear no fruit, yea, more, they are governed by Satan and are
harder oppressed by human institutions than they were before they heard
the Word. For it is a dreadful utterance that Christ here gives that the
devil taketh away the Word from their hearts, by which he clearly proves
that the devil rules mightily in their hearts, notwithstanding they are
called Christians and hear the Word. Likewise it sounds terribly that they
are to be trodden under foot, and must be subject unto men and to their
ruinous teachings, by which under the appearance and name of the Gospel
the devil takes the Word from them, so that they may never believe and be
saved, but must be lost forever; as the fanatical spirits of our day do
in all lands. For where this Word is not, there is no salvation, and great
works or holy lives avail nothing, for [it is] with this, that he says:
"They shall not be saved," since they have not the Word, he shows
forcibly enough, that not their
works but their faith in the Word alone saves, as Paul says to the Romans: "It is, the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth" (Rom 1:16).
5. The second class of hearers are those who receive the Word with joy, but they do not persevere. These are also a large multitude who understand the Word correctly and lay hold of it in its purity without any spirit of sect, division or fanaticism, they rejoice also in that they know the real truth, and are able to know how they may be saved without works through faith. They also know that they are free from the bondage of the law, of their conscience and of human teachings; but when it comes to the test that they must suffer harm, disgrace and loss of life or property, then they fall and deny it; for they have not root enough, and are not planted deep enough in the soil. Hence they are like the growth on a rock, which springs forth fresh and green, that it is a pleasure to behold it and it awakens bright hopes. But when the sun shines hot it withers, because it has no soil and moisture, and only rock is there. So these do; in times of persecution they deny or keep silence about the Word, and work, speak and suffer all that their persecutors mention or wish, who formerly went forth and spoke, and confessed with a fresh and joyful spirit the same, while there was still peace and no heat, so that there was hope they would bear much fruit and serve the people. For these fruits are not only the works, but more the confession, preaching and spreading of the Word, so that many others may thereby be converted and the kingdom of God be developed.
6. The third class are those who hear and
understand the Word, but still it falls on the other side of the road, among
the pleasures and cares of this life, so that they also do nothing with
the Word. And there is quite a large multitude of these; for although they
do not start heresies, like the first, but always possess the absolutely
pure Word, they are also, not attacked on the left as the others with opposition
and persecution; yet they fall on the right side,
and it is their ruin that they enjoy peace and good days. Therefore they do not earnestly give themselves to the Word, but become indifferent and sink in the cares, riches and pleasures of this life, so that they are of no benefit to any one. Therefore they are like the seed that fell among the thorns. Although it is not rocky but good soil; not wayside but deeply plowed soil; yet, the thorns will not let it spring up, they choke it. Thus these have all in the Word that is needed for their salvation, but they do not make any use of it, and they rot in this life in carnal pleasures. To these belong those who hear the Word but do not bring under subjection their flesh. They know their duty but do it not, they teach but do not practice what they teach, and are this year as they were last.
7. The fourth class are those who lay hold of and keep the Word in a good and honest heart, and bring forth fruit with patience, those who hear the Word and steadfastly retain it, meditate upon it and act in harmony with it. The devil does not snatch it away, nor are they thereby led astray, moreover the heat of persecution does not rob them of it, and the thorns of pleasure and the avarice of the times do not hinder its growth; but they bear fruit by teaching others and by developing the kingdom of God, hence they also do good to their neighbor in love; and therefore Christ adds, "they bring forth fruit with patience." For these must suffer much on account of the Word, shame and disgrace from fanatics and heretics, hatred and jealousy with injury to body and property from their persecutors, not to mention what the thorns and the temptations of their own flesh do, so that it may well be called the Word of the cross; for he who would keep it must bear the cross and misfortune, and triumph. field,
8. He says: "In honest and good hearts."
Like a field that is without a thorn or brush, cleared and spacious, as
a beautiful clean place: so a heart is also cleared and clean, broad and
spacious, that is without cares and avarice as to temporal needs, so that
the Word of God truly finds lodgment there. But the field is good, not only
when it lies
there cleared and level, but when it is also rich and fruitful, possesses soil and is productive, and not like a stony and gravelly field. Just so is the heart that has good soil and with a full spirit is strong, fertile and good to keep the Word and bring forth fruit with patience.
9. Here we see why it is no wonder there are so few true Christians, for all the seed does not fall into good ground, but only the fourth and small part; and that they are not to be trusted who boast they are Christians and praise the teaching of the Gospel; like Demas, a disciple of St. Paul, who forsook him at last (2 Tim. 4:10); like the disciples of Jesus, who turned their backs to him (John 6:66). For Christ himself cries out here: "He that hath ears to hear, let him hear," as if he should say: O, how few true Christians there are; one dare not believe all to be Christians who are called Christians and hear the Gospel, more is required than that.
10. All this is spoken for our instruction,
that we may not go astray, since so many misuse the Gospel and few lay hold
of it aright. True it is unpleasant to preach to those who treat the Gospel
so shamefully and even oppose it. For preaching is to become so universal
that the Gospel is to be proclaimed to all creatures, as Christ says in
Mk. 16:15: "Preach the Gospel to the whole creation;" and Ps.
19:4: "Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words
to the end of the world." What business is it of mine that many do
not esteem it? It must be that many are called but few are chosen. For the
sake of the good ground that brings forth fruit with patience, the seed
must also fall fruitless by the wayside, on the rock and among the thorns;
inasmuch as we are assured that the Word of God does not go forth without
bearing some fruit, but it always finds also good ground; as Christ says
here, some seed of the sower falls also into good ground, and not only by
the wayside, among the thorns and on stony ground. For wherever the Gospel
goes you will find Christians. "My word shall not return unto me void"
SECTION IV. WHY CHRIST CALLS THE DOCTRINE CONCERNING THE DISCIPLES AND THE FRUITS OF THE WORD A MYSTERY.
19. But what does it mean when he says:
"Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God",
etc.? What are the mysteries? Shall one not know them, why then are they
preached? A "mystery" is a hidden secret, that is not known: and
the "mysteries of the kingdom of God" are the things in the kingdom
of God, as for example Christ with all his grace, which he manifests to
us, as Paul describes him; for he who knows Christ aright understands what
God's kingdom is, and what is in it. And it is called a mystery because
it is spiritual and secret, and indeed it remains so, where the spirit does
not reveal it. For although there are many who see and hear it, yet they
do not understand it. just as there are many who preach and hear Christ,
how he offered himself for us; but all that is only upon their tongue and
not in their heart; for they themselves do not believe it, they do not experience
it, as Paul in 1 Cor. 2:14 says: "The natural man receiveth not the
things of the Spirit of God!" Therefore Christ says here: "Unto
you it is given", the Spirit gives it to you that you not only hear
and see it, but acknowledge and believe it with your heart. Therefore it
is now no longer a mystery
to you. But to the others who hear it as well as you, and have no faith in their heart, they see and understand it not; to them it is a mystery and it will continue unknown to them, and all that they hear is only like one hearing a parable or a dark saying. This is also proved by the fanatics of our day, who know so much to preach about Christ; but as they themselves do not experience it in their heart, they rush ahead and pass by the true foundation of the mystery and tramp around with questions and rare foundlings, and when it comes to the test they do not know the least thing about trusting in God and finding in Christ the forgiveness of their sins.
20. But Mark says (4:33), Christ spake therefore to the people with parables, that they might understand, each according to his ability. How does that agree with what Matthew says, 13:13-14: He spake therefore unto them in parables, because they did not understand? It must surely be that Mark wishes to say that parables serve to the end that they may get a hold of coarse, rough people, although they do not indeed understand them, yet later, they may be taught and then they know: for parables are naturally pleasing to the common people, and they easily remember them since they are taken from common every day affairs, in the midst of which the people live. But Matthew means to say that these parables are of the nature that no one can understand them, they may grasp and hear them as often as they will, unless the Spirit makes them known and reveals them. Not that they should preach that we shall not understand them; but it naturally follows that wherever the Spirit does not reveal them, no one understands them. However, Christ took these words from Is. 6:9-10, where the high meaning of the divine foreknowledge is referred to, that God conceals and reveals to whom he will and whom he had in mind from eternity.