Reading: Matthew 13:2-9,17-23.
Where this parable ends we begin, that is, by being reminded that
the thing which matters more than all else is fruitfulness - the
thing which we must continuously keep before our own hearts. That
fact will at once be a sifting truth, for we shall have to judge
everything which we have and which we know according to the
measure of real spiritual fruitfulness. The glory of the Father is
definitely bound up with the amount of fruit borne by His
children. The glory of the Father is bound up with the
fruitfulness of our life.
Fruitfulness a Matter of Spirit and Life
Fruitfulness is related to the Word of God. What are the
properties of that Word? "The words that I speak unto you, they
are spirit, and they are life." These are not abstract elements.
What is said about the Word is said about the Lord Jesus - He is
"a life-giving spirit". The Word is Christ mediated to the life.
Fruitfulness is a matter of Christ as Spirit and Life finding
increase in us through the Word, so that He becomes Spirit and
Life to us, and through us to others. It is Christ living in us,
expressing Himself through us. It is the increase of the living
Various things are said in relation to this. Even this may be in
different measures and degrees; the hundred-fold, sixty, thirty.
The hundred-fold is where Christ is all and in all. But there may
be sixty-fold, very good; thirty-fold, good. But the Lord would
have it a hundred-fold. How can that be? What leads to the
hundred-fold? What leads to fruitfulness, or the increase of the
Lord as Spirit and Life? That brings us again to the seed sown.
Before we go further with that, let us remind ourselves of a
further principle that obtains; it is that these Gospels only
give truth in an illustrative way and in a germinal form. You have
to look to the Epistles for the explanation of things here, and
for the full development. We should never take hold of something
in the Gospels and strain to try, from itself and its context, to
get its full meaning. If you do, you will find yourself landed
into considerable difficulties. But if you will recognise the fact
that here you have truth in seed form, intimated, suggested, but
not developed, not analysed, not opened up, just given to you, you
will look later into the day of the Holy Spirit activities in
relation to the truth for the development of these germ things.
It is so in the end of these parables, you will find that you
dare not press the thing too closely. In a parable certain very
definite things are being just referred to, and they are being
We have here four kinds of ground mentioned, and on the Lord's
own authority we know that these represent four conditions of
heart and life, conditions for the increase of Christ as Spirit
and Life through the Word.
Unbelief is Ruled Out
There is one thing which has to be remembered before you approach
the four kinds of ground, and that is that there is a kind of
ground which does not obtain here; a fifth ground, which is ruled
out altogether. You notice what the Lord says about the reason for
speaking in parables. Referring to a word in the prophets, He says
quite distinctly that He speaks in parables because certain people
had closed their eyes and refused the light, and therefore they
were not going to be given straightforward truth any more. It
would be only those people who had not so deliberately closed
their eyes who would be brought into the secrets of the Kingdom.
God has secrets, but He is not disclosing His secrets to certain
people. Those secrets are reserved for others. The context makes
that perfectly clear, that the ground which is not allowed into
this realm is the ground of positive unbelief. So we need not deal
with that at all. There is no hope for that; the door is closed.
The Word will not be given there, and there is no hope, therefore,
of even the thirty-fold in that direction. The Lord is not even
sowing His seed in that realm of positive unbelief.
So we come on to the ground where such a thing as definite
unbelief is set aside, and we find ourselves in a realm where it
is not a question at all of will not have the Word. But
even when you have got past that, you find yourself presented with
many difficulties, and the people who are represented by the three
grounds here are not the people who positively refuse to have the
Word, who miss a thing of God because they will not
believe. They miss it because of other things. It is not the: Will
not! It is very largely in the realm of: Cannot - what it is that
can and does, and what it is that cannot and does not.
1) The Darkened Heart
"And as he sowed, some fell by the way side, and the birds came
and devoured them." What is that? In explaining this the Lord says
that "the evil one snatcheth away that which hath been sown." Why?
What is the occasion for this? Here is an illuminating word: "When
any one hears the word... and understands it not, then
comes the evil one and snatcheth away...". It is a matter of a
lack of understanding providing the enemy with the ground for his
work against the Word. But, of course, the rejoinder might be: Is
that the responsibility of the individual? Yes! Now you want to
follow through to the Epistles and see that a truth is merely
hinted at here, and for its fuller unfolding you have to look at:
"The god of this age hath blinded". Again: "Having the
understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God". The
enemy has provided his own ground in the natural life for his own
work and here you have a darkened heart, a heart unenlightened.
How can an unenlightened heart, a darkened heart, one with the
understanding darkened, respond to the Word of the Lord? It cannot
be! Then what is required? What is it that opens the
understanding, and, having once opened the understanding,
destroys the power and the work of the enemy, the blinder, the
If positive unbelief does not come in here, that does not mean
that anybody without positive unbelief is capable of grasping the
revelation of Christ, it means that specific faith is necessary.
You may not be in a carnal state which says: I will not. You may
be in a natural state, which simply says: I cannot. But while the
carnal is a hopeless state, the natural is barren and unfruitful.
Here something specific is necessary. It is the hearing of faith.
"The word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith
in them that heard." It is one thing to hear the Word of the Lord;
it is quite another thing to exercise faith in relation to that.
Of the Thessalonians Paul said that they received the Word as the
Word of God, and not the word of man. There was a definite
exercise of faith with regard to the Word. And when faith is
definitely exercised, something happens if it is the Word of God.
Test it by faith. Open your heart to it, and do not question it in
your mind; test it in your heart by faith, and it will prove
It is not enough just to be free from positive unbelief. It is
necessary not to be just as we are without unbelief of a positive
character, in a passive state, expecting that something may happen
to us through the Word. It will not! It does not! There has to be
an exercise of faith in relation to the Word, in relation to the
Lord Jesus as the End of the Word, the Object of the Word. That
faith produces the enlightenment, and destroys the darkening,
blinding work of the enemy. The situation is quite clear. Here is
a darkness, but it is not just a darkness which has occurred. Here
is a blindness, but that is not just because it has come about.
That is positively the work of a darkener, a blinder. It
originated through unbelief and what is natural unbelief in the
heart. But it may not be deliberate, positive, definite unbelief,
such as characterised the Jews in Christ's time. It may be just
the natural state of: "I cannot!", not: "I will not!" Then Christ
is presented through the Word, and we do not have to remain in a
passive attitude towards that. We have to say: "Now, here in this
way Christ is presented as being such-and-such; I definitely
exercise faith in Him as such, as through His Word; I take up a
positive attitude towards this; I become inwardly active in
relation to it." And in that way the enemy's blinding activity is
destroyed through faith. It is our natural inability to take in
the Word which gives the enemy his ground of snatching it away.
A natural inability to take it in does not end our
responsibility. Our responsibility does not end when we say:
"Well, naturally I cannot". Our responsibility begins there. Are
we going definitely to exercise ourselves over this matter, to
reach out to the Lord? Are we in an inwardly active or passive
condition concerning what is being presented? Upon that so much
We may have presented to us the most glorious things about the
Lord Jesus, and yet there be no fruit. We have heard them; we go
away, and there is no fruit. There is no spirit and life in an
increased measure. Why? We have been content with hearing, and
presently when we look round for what we have heard, it has gone;
it is no longer with us. If we recall the phrases, the ideas, the
thing itself is not there as it was. Now, what lies between the
thing being presented to us with all its possibilities, and the
fruit of it becoming a reality in our lives? It is an action of
faith in relation to it. Passivity here in a natural state gives
the enemy all the ground that he wants to frustrate the ends of
God. If all the Lord's people, whenever there had been presented
to them something more of this, would act in faith in relation to
that presentation, there would be wonderful results.
So the darkened heart, unenlightened, remaining passive in the
presence of the presentation of Christ, is seen here in utter
barrenness, even when all the possibilities of fruitfulness have
been brought near.
2) The Shallow Heart
"And others fell upon the rocky places... and because they had no
root they withered away." "And he that was sown upon the rocky
places, this is he that heareth the word, and straightway with joy
receiveth it; yet has he not root in himself, but endureth for a
while; and when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the
word, straightway he stumbleth." What have we here? It is not that
aspect of the natural state represented by the darkened heart. It
is another aspect of the natural state. It is called "rocky".
Although it may seem that this is an improvement upon the
previous one, the end is just the same. The real and abiding
increase of Christ does not come upon it. Here is a condition
which is, in the long run, just as unfruitful. To put it the other
way, here is a condition which makes fruitfulness impossible.
What is required here? Surely brokenness of heart. If it is hard,
if it is rocky, if there is no depth - and this reality of Christ
has to be planted right down into the very depths of our being,
then the necessity is for brokenness. Ah! but that is cost, that
is paying the price, that represents an estimate of the value of
Christ above our own interests, our own comfort. It means what
Paul meant - and here you see the germ of a great truth - "that I
may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the
fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable to His
death...". Even Paul, at the end of his life, recognised and
accepted the principle that an increase of the knowledge of Christ
could only be by an increase in the knowledge of fellowship in His
sufferings and a deepening of conformity to His death.
Do we understand the Lord in His breaking up, shattering
providences? The Lord can only get His ends through breakings. At
best there is in these natural lives of ours a place beyond which
the Lord cannot go until He has done some breaking. The depths of
natural capability may even vary in this matter, but in the
ultimate issue, the fulness of the Lord's desire can only be
reached by a breaking deeper than nature, a getting down deeper
than our own capacity. It is the creating of capacity by breaking
through to the depths. The Lord has got to create capacity for
Himself. How true it was: "I have many things to say unto you, but
ye cannot bear them now." The Lord had to reserve a great deal to
the day when they were broken men. One reason for their inability
to receive from the Lord what He wanted to give them was that they
were so sure of themselves. Peter said: "I will never forsake
thee", "I will die with thee." "Alright Peter, that is the limit
of your ability to receive what I want you to have, and because of
that very thing you cannot follow Me!" But afterwards Peter was so
broken and shattered that he could follow, and he saw.
So there has to be a breaking, and that means willingness to be
broken. It is enlargement of capacity. "No root in himself", no
depth of soil. They are words resultant from the work of the 'I'.
The Lord judges the whole, knowing what is in man, and says: "You
are not broken enough yet; you have not come to the place where
you have learned inwardly the limits of your capacity. You may
assent to it mentally, but you have to come to the place where you
cannot, and you know it, brokenly so and in a deep, humble
dependence..." it is all of the Lord. The shallow and unbroken
heart is here.
3) The Divided Heart
"And others fell upon the thorns; and the thorns grew up, and
choked them." "And he that was sown among the thorns, this is he
that heareth the word; and the care of the world, and the
deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh
What is this? It is a divided heart. It is a heart which would
reach out to the Lord; a heart which has desires; a heart which
has very good intentions. So has every seed! You notice how the
seed and the man are made to blend in this parable. "He that is
sown...". Suddenly you find yourself carried into a place where it
is not the seed that is sown, but he that is sown.
You find yourself in a complex. The Lord has changed His word. The
fact that He makes that change means this: that the seed and the
man become one in responsibility. The seed can do nothing apart
from the man, even as the man can do nothing apart from the seed.
They have now been joined in mutual responsibility. What is true
of the seed as to its result, represents what is true of the man.
The result, so far as the seed is concerned is the result of what
the seed has found in the man.
The seed here has found intentions which correspond to itself.
The seed is full of good intentions. The seed is full of good
motives. The seed is full of good desires. The man is full of good
desires, but there you stop. And with all the good intentions, and
all the good motives, and all the good desires, and perhaps all
the good possibilities - if the Word can only have its way - there
are other things which weigh. The word "tribulation" is used:
"when tribulation or persecution ariseth". "Tribulation" there is
the "tribulum", the heavy weight. Other things are weighing on the
mind and on the heart. Whether it be weights of concern,
preoccupation, trouble, or whether it be the deceitfulness of
riches - that is, the subtle, imperceptible grip upon the heart of
possessions, things of this world - whatever it be, these things
are taking such a place as to divide the heart with this far more
important matter. And they are challenging the end of God in the
life. So the heart is divided. It has its desires. It has its
longings. It has its intentions. But if you get the figure very
accurately here, you will see that the seed was not sown among
thorns. What the original does say, and what is clear if you
notice, is that it was sown upon thorns. It does not mean
that the thorns had grown before the seed was sown and that the
seed happened to fall among grown thorns. It means that the
thorns' seed was there as well as the good seed. It also sprang
up, and also grew, but it grew ahead of the other thing and got
the advantage, the upper hand. The thorns were there, perhaps yet
unseen, not manifested, but they were there. In the life there
were other concerns which were hidden, other interests which
This is a very testing word. It is just possible for us to have,
secretly hidden almost, if not altogether unperceived by
ourselves, things which are weighing against the challenge of the
fulness of Christ. We would say, if it were put to us, that
nothing whatever would weigh with us against the fulness of
Christ, but things do! The fact is that secretly in the
heart there are considerations which are not standing against the
bold presenting of the fulness of Christ, but standing against the
costly way of reaching it. There is the fulness of Christ, but
there is a way to be gone. There is a way of letting this world
go. Do we say: "This world has already gone for us"? Yes, in a way -
forms of pleasure, amusement, and all that we call "the world";
and yet, is not what Christian people think of us also a worldly
element? Is it not Christian public opinion? Is it not in its very
essence and nature the same thing as worldly public opinion? If
you and I are going to hold our hand from going on with the Lord
in some way because of what will be said in certain directions,
though those directions be in the direction of Christians, what is
the difference in that in principle from any man caring what the
world thinks about it? We are using this as an illustration. There
may be a secret, subtle hold of things upon us, as to amount to
hesitating before we will take a further step which would involve
us in having to let them go, lose more popularity, lose more
acceptance, lose more of the opportunities which men could give
us. It is a divided heart.
It is not the initially divided heart, which, on the one hand, is
in the world, and on the other hand wants to be Christian; but all
the way through to the end we shall find the challenge along this
very line as to the dividedness of heart. On specific issues again
and again there will be two sides; one the call, the other the
cost; one the end, the other what must go to reach the end. The
divided heart represents somewhere, somehow, in some degree, an
unconsecrated heart. When you come to the man of Philippians 3 you
come to the man who says: "One thing I do, forgetting the things
which are behind...". There is no divided heart there.
4) A Spirit Renewed Heart
This is the positive side. What is the good ground? What is the
prepared heart? Obviously it is that which is without any of the
things which have gone before, or, to put it on the positive side,
it embraces all those things which were lacking in the other
three. It is a heart enlightened through the exercise of faith. It
is a heart broken and open to the Lord through deep work in the
secret place. It is a heart wholly for the Lord, undivided,
It is a Holy Spirit renewed heart: "Be ye transformed", said the
apostle, "by the renewing of your mind"; the renewing of the Holy
The Distinction Between the Three and the One
One, two, and three represent degrees of what we are going to
call "upon-ness". Number four represents inwardness. We may settle
it once and for all that if a thing only comes "upon" us we are
not going to have fruit, neither hundred, sixty or thirty-fold. If
we begin to take truth upon us, we are going to have a bad time.
On that side you have calamity, tragedy, misery, and there is no
fruitfulness. On the other hand, supposing you had an intellectual
power of grasping truth without transmitting it to your nervous
system, that you could cope with it intellectually, you are no
more fruitful in that realm than in the other. Spirit and life are
different things altogether from either the emotional or
intellectual taking on of truth. Barrenness will be the result of
Some come to the barrenness because of that awful conscious
inability to grasp, to understand, to come into the truth which
has come on them. Others come to the cold, icy, stony barrenness
of a merely intellectual grasp of the truth, and they think they
have got it, and it is still a wilderness so far as spirit and
life are concerned.
Let us go to the Lord and say: "Lord, that is something presented
to me naturally - I may understand it in a measure, and be able to
take it on mentally, or naturally - I cannot grasp it, do not
understand. I ask You definitely, as I hold this thing before You
Lord, to make that thing live in my heart." I open my heart to the
truth. I say: "Lord, I want with all my heart to be in all that
You want me to be in, to know all of Christ that I should know.
But the only way in which that can be is that my spirit is renewed
by the Holy Spirit, and I now in faith count on You to do that,
and I wait and hold on like that, that that shall be done." Take
that attitude towards truth; otherwise there will only be a barren
The way into Life is the way of the renewed spirit, the renewed
understanding, the renewed, enlightened, quickened heart. Ask the
Lord for that. That is why Paul in his prayer did not pray that
they might have the eyes of their intellect enlightened. Paul was
surrounded by crowds of people who had the eyes of their intellect
enlightened, and he saw the tragedy of that. He prayed that the
eyes of their heart might be enlightened. Ask the Lord for that.
Seek that. That is the way of fruitfulness.
The measure in which we are prepared to pay the price, and to
forsake the ground of the divided heart, the unbroken heart, the
darkened heart, will be the measure in which the fruit is borne in
us. A hundred-fold? Yes! But how utter that means in our going on
with the Lord! Sixty-fold is quite good, but speaks of a
reservation somewhere. Thirty-fold is good, but it is less than
half of that which the Lord would have, less than half of that
which we could have. The measure is the measure of Christ; but the
measure of Christ is the measure of our capacity for Him; and the
measure of our capacity is the measure in which these things which
make fruitfulness impossible are forsaken; and the measure in
which, going on with Him, things become inward.
The more you have of Christ, the more inward the life is. You may
have a measure of Christ upon a certain level, or in a certain
realm, towards the outside, a mere objective apprehension. You get
another measure, and there is a mixture between the objective and
the subjective apprehension. But when you get the fulness of
Christ it will all be inward. It will all be Christ in your heart.
That will mean that you have come to the place where nothing
outside matters. All things which are supposed to represent Christ
on the outside, all evidences, all proofs, all systems, have gone,
and you have Christ in fulness. That is where Paul was at the end.
Everything on the outside went. All they in Asia turned from him,
and so on. But he had come to the place where it was all inside.
Christ was the fulness within.