Parables of Jesus in the Gospel of Luke: the Four Types of Soil and the Honest and Good Heart
The parable of the sower and the seed (Luke 8:4-18) is a beloved and well-known parable appearing in all three synoptic gospels. So important is this parable that the Lord Himself undertakes to explain the parable, lest there be any misunderstanding. The sower is the Lord Himself and the seeds are the words of the gospel which are sown into men’s hearts. Whether the divine life proclaimed through the gospel takes root or not and becomes fruitful depends on the condition of the recipient’s heart. While the parable is familiar by virtue of repetition, each gospel has its own distinctives and that is certainly true in Luke’s gospel. Consider the vivid and accurate diagnoses that Luke uses to describe the four different types of hearts. I pay particular attention to the final condition, where Luke is most distinctive. Luke is a physician of course and possesses a particular insight; we might consider the portions below to be a spiritual cardiology exam for our hearts.
The first type of soil — “beside the way”
The seed that falls beside the way is “trampled underfoot” (8:5). This indicates that there is a lot of traffic on this ground. If one’s heart is busy with much worldly traffic, then one’s heart will be like a well trodden dirt path — hardened and impenetrable. The result is that the seed cannot get through, and “the devil comes and takes away the word from their heart, so that they would not believe and be saved” (v. 12).
The second type of soil — “on the rock”
The seed is able to penetrate this type of soil, but only superficially. The seed cannot compete with the hidden rocks beneath the surface. Rocks may signify all manner of subterranean blockages — hidden sins, personal desires, self-seeking, self-pity — anything that is hidden and hinders the growth of the seed is a rock that must be dislodged. Luke characterizes this heart as lacking two crucial items for the growth of a seed: there is “no moisture” (v. 6) to help the seed grow, and there is “no root” (v. 13) for the seed to endure. Thus, these are ones “who believe only for a while, and in time of trial they draw back” (v. 13).
The third type of soil –”in the midst of the thorns”
The seed that falls into this type of soil not only penetrates but grows. Yet the seed does not grow alone; something nefarious “grows with it” (v.7). These are thorns, whose growth suggests a competition with the growth of the seed. The thorns are the “anxieties and riches and pleasures of this life” (v.14). The seed eventually cannot compete with the thorns; such ones “are utterly choked” by the emergence of the thorns. These ones do not perish, but due to the thorns they “do not bring any fruit to maturity” (v. 14).
The fourth type of soil — “the good earth”
Matthew describes the good earth as “he who hears the word and understands, who by all means bears fruit and produces, one a hundredfold, and one sixtyfold, and one thirtyfold” (Matt. 13:23). Mark uses substantially similar language (Mark. 4:20). But Luke is particular:
But that which is in the good earth, these are those who in a noble and good heart hear the word and hold it fast and bear fruit with endurance” (Luke 8:15)
What does it mean to have a “noble and good heart”? The word “noble” is frequently translated “honest” (as in the KJV). The “honest and good heart” is a phrase that is peculiar to Luke and unique in the whole New Testament.
But here is a predicament: how can any of us fallen sinners claim to have an “honest and good heart”? Our hearts are anything but honest and good. Here we attest to and affirm Jeremiah 17:9:
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?
This excerpt from Watchman Nee’s classic book, What Shall This Man Do?, reconciles this brilliantly:
[T]he point in the parable of the sower is not that the man who receives the Word is a perfectly honest man in God’s eyes, but that he is honest towards God. Whatever is in his heart, he is prepared to come to God frankly and openly with it. Of course, it is a fact, and it remains a fact, that the heart of man is “deceitful above all things,” but it is still possible for a man with a deceitful nature to turn honestly to God. A dishonest man can come to God and say honestly to Him, “I am a sinner; have mercy on me!” In the realm of desire towards God he can be true.
Thus, the honest and good heart is not referring to a congenital condition within man, but fallen man’s acknowledgement of his actual condition before the Lord. A dishonest man can honestly confess his dishonesty to God and be saved. The gospels are full of these accounts of salvation. But the gospels are also full of the accounts of dishonest men who continued to be dishonest before God and could not be saved. Consider the two criminals hanging on the cross. One blasphemed, but the other responded:
Do you not even fear God, since you are in the same judgment? And we justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for what we did, but this Man has done nothing amiss. (23:40-41)
This dying thief was saved at the end of a criminal life because he possessed an honest and good heart toward the Lord.
Watchman Nee, in the same chapter of What Shall This Man Do? concludes:
This gives me the confidence to state unequivocally that there is not one other condition necessary to being saved except that of being a sinner and being honest enough to say so to the Lord.
Excerpts above taken from chp. 3 of Watchman Nee, What Shall This Man Do? (Living Stream Ministry, 1993).
Posted on March 18, 2012, in Bible Studies, Christianity and tagged beside the way, Bible Studies, good earth, good heart, gospel, gospel of Luke, honest heart, noble heart, rocky places, thorny heart. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.