What Kind of Soil Are You? (The Hardened Ground Hearer)
This is the first of four meditations on the parable of the soils also known as the parable of the sower found in the synoptic Gospels.
The seed is the word of God that is proclaimed or taught. It is the Scripture with its life giving message. The seed is always sown on the heart. The heart is the center of your person. It is the unique combination of what one believes/thinks and what one wants/desires. One who is hardened ground is one whose heart is not receptive to the seed that is sown and this primarily means that one does not understand the meaning or import of the Word that was spoken or heard.
John Gill comments on the hardened ground hearer.
He is one that is careless and inattentive, negligent and forgetful; has some slight notions of things as he hears, but these pass away as they come; his affections are not at all touched, nor his judgment informed by them, but remains as stupid (dull), and as unconcerned as ever; his heart is not opened to attend to, and receive the word, but continues hard and obdurate; and is like the common and beaten road, that is trodden down by everyone, and is not susceptible of the seed, that falls upon it.
Whenever the Word is sown the evil one is present. He shows up in church and at Bible studies and in one’s own personal time of Bible reading and meditation. He shows up and is on the lookout especially for those who are not understanding or perceiving what they are hearing. He is at work in those hearts to snatch the seed away.
The problem is not with the seed or the word that is proclaimed or taught. The problem is with the one who does not understand. Yet according to Jesus those who do not understand are culpable before God for their lack of apprehension or failure to grasp the importance and meaning of the Word or the Gospel message.
The problem again is not one of intelligence but of one suppressing the truth that is known about God due to the fact that in the heart one has come to prefer one’s own rule to God’s rule. This is what everyone does apart from God’s transforming grace. An alcoholic who gets behind the wheel of a car in one sense does not have a clue about what he is doing. He has no apprehension or comprehension but that one is still held responsible for driving in that condition and for any accidents which occur. Men and women live their entire lives under the influence of hearts that cannot really tolerate God’s rightful claim over their lives. We all do some pretty creative thinking and readjustment of our view of reality so as to live under this influence and escape the truth. This is the natural and predisposed stance of our hearts. What we think is shaped by earthly values rather than eternal ones and what we want is the promotion of our own agenda rather than God’s. Thus we are under the influence of idolatrous attachments and commitments and it is from this stance that we receive the word sown onto our hearts – such a stance blinds us to the meaning and import of the word so that when it is heard it is not understood.
Remember the Gospel is God’s command for people to turn from their rebellion and self-centered focus and come home to him and be assured that because of what Jesus Christ has done they will be forgiven and restored to a right relationship with God. The Gospel is God’s gracious lever to bring us back into willing submission to our Creator. There are also all kinds of implications that we should be able to grasp from this word of grace and command to repent and trust in Christ. So as long as we live under the influence of sin’s rebellious and deceptive power in our lives our hearts will remain hardened and not receptive to the word that is sown and yet we are accountable to God to receive the word.
Even those who are good soil (in that God has determined by grace to work in their hearts so that they become receptive ground), may demonstrate lack of real understanding and perception to the word that is sown. This means that if you are indeed a genuine believer in Jesus in whose heart grace has been planted then you must be concerned to be sure that you understand what you hear from the word. If you persist in such hardness of heart then this will be evidence that you really do not know Christ. So you must always be careful how you hear the word. He who has hears let him hear – let him pay attention. Let him seek God’s divine aid to really understand the word and its meaning. Otherwise when the word is sown on your heart, because you do not understand – because it does not penetrate deeply into your heart, the evil one comes and snatches it away. The word brings none of its life giving grace and power into your heart. One who continues to hear the word in this manner remains under God’s judgment and is held accountable for living under the influence of such a self-centered and rebellious heart that is hardened to the sowing of the Word – what kind of soil are you?
What do you do with what you hear? How often do other interests or concerns fill your mind as you hear the word? How quickly does the word vanish from your thinking and heart? How easily and quickly do lesser concerns come flooding in as soon as the last hymn is sung and the benediction pronounced? What is the nature of the conversation that you have with others at the close of the worship service? The evil one will use a variety of means to snatch the word from the heart of those who hear it but do not understand its meaning and import. The evil one comes to church too, to prey on those who lack perception and understanding of the word. Perception means that you understand its truth and meaning but also see how it applies to your life too. There should be an eagerness to understand, to perceive the meaning of the word.
So you need to come as active listeners and prayerful listeners of the Word that is sown. Stir your heart to this task and seek God’s help. Come praying for understanding, illumination. Come eager to hear. Be aware that the understanding of the word must be given to you by the Spirit. It is not simply a matter of brain power. Failure to grasp the meaning of the Word should cause concern in your heart. By prayer seek understanding and appreciation for the word from the Father. The stakes are high.
The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them for they are spiritually discerned. 1 Corinthians 2:14.