Mark 4:1. And he began again to teach by the sea side: and there was gathered unto him a great multitude, so that he entered into a ship, and sat in the sea; and the whole multitude was by the sea on the land.
You can easily picture that scene, — the Master sitting down in the vessel, with a little breathing space of water between himself and the crowd, and then the multitude on the rising bank, standing one above another, and all gazing upon the Teacher who sat down and taught them. It ought to reconcile any of you who have to stand in the crowd here when you remember that the hearers all stood in those days, and only the preacher sat down.
Mark 4:2-3. And he taught them many things by parables, and said unto them in his doctrine, Hearken; Behold, there went out a sower to sow:
He did not go out to show himself, to let people see how dexterous he was at the art of sowing seed; but he “went out to sow.” And every true preacher should go out with this one design, — to scatter broadcast the good seed of the kingdom, and to try to obtain for it an entrance into the hearts of their hearers.
Mark 4:4. And it came to pass, as he sowed, some fell by the way side, and the fowls of the air came and devoured it up.
He could not help that; it was not his fault, but the fault of the way side and of the fowls. So, when the Word of God is denied entrance into men’s hearts, if it be faithfully preached, the preacher shall not be blamed by his Master; the fault shall lie between the hard heart that will not let the seed enter in and the devil who came and took it away.
Mark 4:5. And some fell on stony ground, where it had not much earth; and immediately it sprang up, because it had no depth of earth:
Persons with shallow characters are often very quick in receiving religious impressions, but they also lose them just as quickly. Those who are hasty and impulsive are as easily turned the wrong way as the right way.
Mark 4:6-8. But when the sun was up, it was scorched; and because it had no root,. it withered away. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up, and choked it, and it yielded no fruit. And other fell on good ground, and did yield fruit that sprang up and increased; and brought forth, some thirty, and some sixty, and some an hundred.
Thank God for that! There were three failures, but there was one success; or, perhaps we might more correctly say, three successes. There were three sorts of ground that yielded nothing, but at last the sower came to a piece of soil that had been well prepared, and therefore was good ground, which yielded fruit, though the quantity varied even there: “some thirty, and some sixty, and some an hundred.”
Mark 4:9. Had he said unto them, He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.
Some people have ears, but they have not “ears to hear.” They have ears, but they close them to that which they ought to hear. When a man is really willing to listen to the truth, then may God help him to listen with all his heart, and spiritually!
Mark 4:10-12. And when he was alone, they that were about him with the twelve asked of him the parable. And he said unto them, Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables: That seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them.
This judicial blindness had happened to the Jews; they had so long closed their eyes to the light that, at last, God closed them, and they were blinded. They had refused to heed so many messages sent to them from the great God that, at last, this sentence was pronounced as the punishment of their sin, — that they should die in their sins, and that even the preaching of the Word by the mouth of the Lord Jesus himself, should be of no use to them. That is one of the most awful judgments that can ever happen to anyone, when God puts a curse even on a man’s blessings; and when the gospel, which should be a savour of life unto life, becomes a savour of death unto death.
Mark 4:13. And he said unto them, Know ye not this parable? and how then will ye know all parables?
“For this is one of the simplest of them all; if you do not understand this parable, what will you understand?”
Mark 4:14-15. The sower soweth the word. And these are they by the wayside, where the word is sown; but when they have heard, Satan cometh immediately, and taketh away the word that was sown in their hearts,
There is always a bird where there is a seed lying on the road, and there is always a devil where there is a sermon heard, but not received into the heart. “Satan cometh immediately.” He is very prompt; we may delay, but the devil never does: “When they have heard, Satan cometh immediately, and taketh away the word that was sown in their hearts.”
Mark 4:16-17. And these are they likewise which are sown on stony ground; who, when they have heard the word, immediately receive it with gladness; And have no root in themselves, and so endure but for a time: afterward, when affliction or persecution ariseth for the word’s sake, immediately they are offended.
These are the people that trouble and grieve the hearts of earnest ministers; and there are some revivalists who never go to a place without getting quite a lot of persons to come forward and say that they are converted. Why, I know a town where, according to the accounts that were put forth by certain preachers, there were so many professed converts every night that all the people in the town must have been converted, and a good many more from the surrounding villages; but nobody can find them now. Were they converted, then? I think not; but that is the style in which much has been done by some whom I might name. Yet there is some good even in their work. The sower in the parable is not blamed because his work was so evanescent; how could he prevent it? As the soil was so shallow, the apparent result was very quick, and the disappointment was equally quick. I do trust, dear friends, that you will never be satisfied with temporary godliness, with slight impressions, soon received and soon lost. Beware of that is not the work of the Holy Ghost. There must be a breaking up of the iron pan of the heart, there must be a tearing out of the rocks that underlie the soil; or else there will be no harvest unto God.
Mark 4:18-19. And these are they which are sown among thorns; such as hear the word, And the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in, choke the word, and it become unfruitful.
The seed cannot grow in such soil as that. The man is too busy, or he is wholly taken up with pleasure; the women are too proud of themselves, or even of the clothes that cover them. How can there be room for Christ in the inn when it is crowded with other guests?
Mark 4:20. And these are they which are sown on good ground; such as hear the word, and receive it, and bring forth fruit, some thirty fold, some sixty, and some an hundred.
All converts are not equally good. I am afraid that, in our churches, there is a large number of the thirty-fold people. We are glad to have them, but they are not very brilliant Christians. Oh, for some sixty-fold converts, —some who are fit to be very leaders in the Church of God! And when we get up to a hundred-fold, — when it is not merely one hundred percent, but one hundred gathered for every one sown, — then are we indeed rejoiced. When everything that is good is multiplied over, and over, and over, and over, and over again, a hundred for one, and when each one of that hundred bears another hundred, that is the blessing we long to see. This hundred-fold seed has in it the capacity for almost boundless multiplication; at the first sowing, we get a hundred-fold return; but what comes of the next sowing, and the next, and the next? God send us this style of wheat. May we have a great quantity of it!
Mark 4:21. And he said unto them, Is a candle brought to be put under a bushel, or under a bed? and not to be set on a candlestick?
So this wheat, then, is meant to be sown; the Word of God is intended to be spread. “Is a candle brought to be put under a bushel, or under a bed?” If it were put under a bed, it would set the bed on fire; and so, if you have true grace in your heart, there is nothing that can smother its light; the fire and the light together will force their way out.
Mark 4:22-23, For there is nothing hid, which shall not be manifested; neither any thing kept secret, but that it should come abroad. If any man have ears to hear, let him hear.
Tell out, then, what God has told to you; and let everybody hear from you the truth as you yourself have heard it. See the compound interest that there is to be in this blessed trading for Christ.
Mark 4:24-25. And he said unto them, Take heed what ye hear: with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you: and unto you that hear shall more be given. For he that hath, to him shall be given: and he that hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he hath.
When the gospel is not received, when a man refuses it, it becomes a positive loss to him. There is a way by which it so works that, what a man thought he had, disappears. Some have been made worse by the preaching of that Word which ought to have made them better. May it not be so with any one of us!
Mark 4:35-36. And the same day, when the even was come, he saith unto them, Let us pass over unto the other side. And when they had sent away the multitude,–
Telling them that Christ would give them no more instruction that day, and that they had better go back to their homes. There are some preachers who have great gifts of dispersion, it does not take them long to scatter a congregation; but I expect that Christ’s disciples found it to be no easy task to send away the crowds that had been listening to their Master’s wondrous words. But, “ when they had sent away the multitude,”-
Mark 4:36. They took him even a he was in the ship. And there were also with him other little ships.
Christ was Lord High Admiral of the Galilean lake that night, and he had quite a little fleet of vessels around his flagship.
Mark 4:37. And there arose a great storm of wind,–
Our friend, John Macgregor, “Rob Roy,” tells us that the lake is subject to very sudden and severe storms; it lies in a deep hollow, and down from the surrounding ravines and valleys the air comes with a tremendous rush seldom experienced even upon a real sea; for this was, of course, only a lake though sometimes called a sea. I have been told that, on some Scotch lochs, the wind will occasionally come from three or four quarters at once, lifting the boat bodily out of the water, and sometimes seeming to lift the water up towards heaven, with the boat and all in it; so was it, that night, when “there arose a great storm of wind,”-
Mark 4:37. And the wave beat into the ship, so that it was now full.
No doubt they baled out the boat with all their might, and did their best to prevent it from sinking, yet “ it was now full of water.” But where was their Lord and Master, and what was he doing while the storm was raging?
Mark 4:38. And he waves in the hinder part of the ship, asleep on a pillow:
He was quite at home upon the wild waves,-“Rocked in the cradle of the deep,”-for winds and waves were but his Father’s servants, obeying his commands. “He was in the hinder part of the ship, asleep on a pillow;” doubtless weary and worn with the labours of the day. We do not always think enough of the weariness of Christ’s human body. There was not only the effort of preaching, but his preaching was so full of high thought, and the expressions he used were so pregnant with meaning, that it must have taken much out of him to preach thus from the heart, with intense agony of spirit, and with his brain actively at work all the while. Remember that he was truly man as well as the Son of God, and that what he did was of so high an order, not to be reached by any of us, that it must have exhausted him and therefore he needed sleep to refresh him; and there he was wisely taking it, and serving God by sleeping soundly, and thus preparing himself for the toil of the following day.
Mark 4:38-39. And they awake him, and say unto him, Master, carest thou not that we perish? And he arose, and rebuked the wind,–
It was boisterous and noisy, and he bade it obey its Master’s will;
Mark 4:39. And said unto the sea, Peace, be still.
Can you not almost fancy that you can hear that commanding voice addressing the raging, roaring, tumultuous winds and waves?
Mark 4:39. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.
Not only was the wind quieted, and the sea hushed to slumber, but a deep, dead, mysterious calm transformed the lake into a molten looking glass. When Christ stills winds and waves, it is “a great calm.” Did you ever feel “a great calm”? It is much more than ordinary peace of mind; it is to your heart as if there were no further possibilities of fear. Your troubles have so completely gone that you can scarcely recollect them. There is no one but the Lord himself who can speak so to produce “a great calm.” Master, we entreat thee to speak such a calm so that for those of us who need it.
Mark 4:40. And he said unto them,-
When he had calmed the winds and the waves, he had to speak to another fickle set, more fickle than either winds or waves: “and he said unto them,”-
Mark 4:40-41. Why are ye so fearful? how is it that ye have no faith? And they feared exceedingly,–
They went from one fear to another, but this time it was the fear of awe-a hallowed dread of what might happen to a ship which had “oh a mysterious Person on board. Though there was probably in their minds no fear of death, it seemed to them a fearsome thing to live in the presence of One who had such power over the raging elements.” They feared exceedingly,-
Mark 4:41. And said one to another, What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?
Blessed God-man, we worship and adore thee!