The Parable of the Sower and Man's Responsibility
We are currently inundated with the religious belief and teaching that man is passive in his salvation. "Man's salvation is wholly of God and of grace to the point that man is an acted upon being, totally passive in his salvation," we are told. I recently had the opportunity to listen to a psychologist of a well known prison speak as to why religion in the case of prison reform is often ineffective. He said words to the effect, "The common teaching that man has no personal responsibility in his religion and salvation and that God does it all takes away from man any necessary growth and maturity and is ineffective in seriously changing lives." (The converse extreme is that man can save himself by meritorious works and receive the glory, such is also patently false (Eph. 2: 8-10.) While the Parable of the Sower is a famous Bible text and often mentioned even by those who deny man's participation in his salvation, one of the real messages of the parable appears to be totally missed: man's responsibility. The parable is recorded in Matthew 13: 3-9, Mark 4: 3-9, and Luke 8: 4-8. It is explained by Jesus in Matthew 13: 18-23, Mark 4: 14-20, and Luke 8: 11-15. Please consider the Parable of the Sower as presented by Matthew:
"3: And he spake many things unto them in parables, saying, Behold, a sower went forth to sow; 4: And when he sowed, some seeds fell by the way side, and the fowls came and devoured them up: 5: Some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth: 6: And when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away. 7: And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprung up, and choked them: 8: But other fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold. 9: Who hath ears to hear, let him hear" (Matt. 13).
Allow me to say that God provides the spiritual "life germ" (the word, Lk. 8: 11), but man himself determines the success of the "word of the kingdom" (Matt. 13: 19). The teaching of the irresistible, direct operation of the Holy Spirit separate and apart from the word and man's involvement is shown to be false (see addendum). Jesus presents four types of hearers: The way side hearers (Matt. 13: 4, 19); the stony ground hearers (Matt. 13: 5, 6, 20, 21); the thorny ground hearers (Matt. 13: 7, 22); and the good ground hearers (Matt. 13: 8, 23). One basic truth often overlooked in the parable is the fact that the soil types were in place before the seed or word was presented. Hence, man is responsible for his own heart and God is not going to deny the free moral agency of man to arbitrarily change man's heart. It is vitally important that we appreciate the role of the seed of the kingdom, God's word. Just as in the vegetable kingdom, no life can exist without the seed; thus it is in the spiritual kingdom. The word of God is indispensable relative to the commencement and maintaining of spiritual life (Jas. 1: 18-27). In the case of the way side hearer, the devil "takes away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved" (Lk. 8: 12, cp. Rom. 10: 17). However, the work of the devil also is not irresistible and apart from the will of man (see Jas. 4: 7). Let us now consider man's responsibility as seen in the case of all four soil (heart) types:
The Way side hearer. In the case of the way side hearer (the trodden down soil), we see that man is responsible for the initial act of hearing the faith producing word (Matt. 13: 19, cp. Jas. 1: 19). What man hears must also be the truth, not a mixture of truth and error (Jas. 1: 21, I Pet. 2: 1, 2). False teachers have even sought to strip man of the duty of hearing and producing faith, claiming that faith itself is directly supplied by God, without man's participation. The Parable of the Sower refutes such teaching and exposes it as spurious. Man also is amenable for understanding the word and for not allowing the devil to "snatch away the word" (Matt. 13: 19; Lk. 8: 12).
The stony ground hearer. In the instance of the stony ground hearer, man is seen as responsible for not only receiving the word, but also for receiving it with joy (Matt. 13: 20, cp. Jas. 2: 19, Acts 2: 41, KJV). The stony ground hearer must allow for depth of reception and must also have the endurance to remain faithful (Matt. 13: 21, Jas. 1: 21; Matt. 13: 21). God has the "power" to keep the Christian from falling, but the Christian must "keep himself in the love of God" (Jude 24, 21). To denude man of his duties is to create a situation in which it is impossible for man to be saved (cp. Phili. 2: 12, 13)!
The thorny ground hearer. Worry, the deceitfulness of riches, and the pleasures of this life all serve as instruments by which the word is choked and prevented from producing the needed fruit (Matt. 13: 22). Worry or excessive concern should not be a part of the life of the Christian. I say this because God has provided an outlet, prayer (Phili. 4: 6). The saved should recognize riches for what they are, often deceitful. Those who live simply to be rich, it is they who are among the most deceived (I Tim. 6: 6-11). The pleasures of this life have led many astray and have prevented the word of the kingdom from maturing (Lk. 8: 14). We read thus regarding Demas: "For Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world, and is departed unto Thessalonica " (2 Tim. 4: 10).
The burden of the Parable of the Sower is not simply to articulate these above truths, but to show man's role in these matters. God does not do it all, Jesus' death has not rendered man without responsibility, and the Holy Spirit does not irresistibly and miraculously work on man.
The good ground hearer. In the case of the way side, stony ground, and thorny ground hearers, we see failure and the neglect of responsibility. All of God's provisions and opportunities were rendered to no avail because these people fail to responsibly act. However, in the case of the good ground hearer, we see success (Matt. 13: 8). The good ground hearers are those who hear, understand, and receive the word with joy. It is they who refuse the efforts of the devil to prevent the word from producing faith and fruit. They have depth of reception that lasts and is able to withstand worry, the deceitfulness of riches, and the pleasures of this life. They, the good ground hearers, are fruitful and produce "an hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty" (Matt. 13: 33).
Indeed, there are multitudinous lessons and truths set forth in the Parable of the Sower. Jesus is the original sower and all his people are sowers of the seed of the kingdom (Acts 8: 4). The word of God is indispensable as, "the seed is the word of God" (Lk. 8: 11). This seed contains the spiritual life germ that is essential to salvation. This is why throughout Acts in the recorded instances of salvation, the word was taught (see Acts 2: 14-47). The word is called, "the word of the kingdom" because it is the word that prepares and allows entrance into God's Kingdom (cp. Col. 1: 13, yes, God's Kingdom is in the world today). The people of Jesus' day could readily relate to the rich and spiritual teaching of the Parable of the Sower. However, the paramount lesson of the Parable of the Sower appears to go unnoticed. I am referring to the basic lesson of man's responsibility.
Just think and consider with me for a moment: If God has done it all to the point that man has no part in his salvation, how then could we even begin to understand and appreciate the Parable of the Sower, in view of the above sound deductions and points? The essential teaching of the parable is that the man with a good heart is able to receive the word with joy and exercise all his responsibilities, it is he who is the good ground hearer and a success. Man's salvation is a partnership between God and man (Eph. 2:8-10). Man can talk all day about what God has done, but if man does not exercise his personal duties, man will not benefit one particle from all of God's provisions. This is the basic lesson found in the Parable of the Sower. Moreover, beloved, you and I find ourselves somewhere in the parable, either as the way side, stony ground, thorny ground, or good ground hearer. The question is, which group represents you and me and how are you and I making use of our responsibilities?" (To study related material click on, "The Gospel of Jesus Christ.")
Addendum: Augustine's teaching that only those arbitrarily predestined to be saved before the world was created can be saved also strips man of any responsibility in his salvation. According to this doctrine, those thus appointed have nothing to do to obtain salvation and cannot loose their salvation. This doctrine was popularized about twelve centuries later by John Calvin and is now known as Calvinism. Notwithstanding, the scriptures teach "whosoever believeth" and that salvation can be forfeited (Jn. 3: 16; 2 Pet. 2: 20-22). Moreover, the Parable of the Sower clearly shows that those of the parable not saved, it was their own fault. The word was available to them, but they failed to exercise their own responsibility in regards to the word. There is not a hint that they could not have been saved had they really desired it. The fact that the soil was pre-existent to the word does not offer any hope for Calvinists, either. If God does it all, even to the point of directly providing the faith, then the Parable of the Sower would be meaningless.