This parable is in all three of the synoptic gospels. Matthew 13, Mark 4 and Luke 8. The Parable of the Sower (also known as the Parable of the Four Soils) is found in Matthew 13:3-9; Mark 4:2-9; and Luke 8:4-8. After presenting this parable to the multitude, Jesus interprets it for His disciples.
Matthew 13:1-23(HCSB) On that day Jesus went out of the house and was sitting by the sea.2 Such large crowds gathered around Him that He got into a boat and sat down, while the whole crowd stood on the shore.
3 Then He told them many things in parables, saying: “Consider the sower who went out to sow. 4 As he was sowing, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and ate them up. 5 Others fell on rocky ground, where there wasn’t much soil, and they sprang up quickly since the soil wasn’t deep. 6 But when the sun came up they were scorched, and since they had no root, they withered. 7 Others fell among thorns, and the thorns came up and choked them. 8 Still others fell on good ground and produced a crop: some 100, some 60, and some 30 times what was sown. 9 Anyone who has ears should listen!”
Why Jesus Used Parables
10 Then the disciples came up and asked Him, “Why do You speak to them in parables?”
11 He answered them, “Because the secrets of the kingdom of heaven have been given for you to know, but it has not been given to them.12 For whoever has, more will be given to him, and he will have more than enough. But whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him. 13 For this reason I speak to them in parables, because looking they do not see, and hearing they do not listen or understand. 14 Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled in them, which says:
You will listen and listen,
yet never understand;
and you will look and look,
yet never perceive.
15 For this people’s heart has grown callous;
their ears are hard of hearing,
and they have shut their eyes;
otherwise they might see with their eyes
and hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts
and turn back—
and I would cure them.
16 “But your eyes are blessed because they do see, and your ears because they do hear! 17 For I assure you: Many prophets and righteous people longed to see the things you see yet didn’t see them; to hear the things you hear yet didn’t hear them.
18 “You, then, listen to the parable of the sower: 19 When anyone hears the word about the kingdom and doesn’t understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is the one sown along the path. 20 And the one sown on rocky ground—this is one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy. 21 Yet he has no root in himself, but is short-lived. When pressure or persecution comes because of the word, immediately he stumbles. 22 Now the one sown among the thorns—this is one who hears the word, but the worries of this age and the seduction of wealth choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful. 23 But the one sown on the good ground—this is one who hears and understands the word, who does bear fruit and yields: some 100, some 60, some 30 times what was sown.”
What we have done in the American Church is move from evaneglism to salesmanship, we stopped making disciples and started selling a product. We dumb down the gospel, make programs, make our worship sound sensual and man centered. One thing to notice about this parable, 100% of the seeds went out but 66% of the soils did not produce fruit.
The Parable of the Sower concerns a sower who scatters seed, which falls on four different types of ground. The hard ground “by the way side” prevents the seed from sprouting at all, and the seed becomes nothing more than bird food. The stony ground provides enough soil for the seeds to germinate and begin to grow, but because there is “no deepness of earth,” the plants do not take root and are soon withered in the sun. The thorny ground allows the seed to grow, but the competing thorns choke the life out of the beneficial plants. The good ground receives the seed and produces much fruit.
“Now the preacher of the gospel is like the sower. He does not make his seed; the seed is given him by his Master. It would not be possible for a man to make the smallest seed that ever germinated upon the earth, much less that celestial seed of eternal life. What the minister has to do, is to go forth in his Master’s name and scatter precious truth. If he knew where the best soil was to be found, he might limit himself to that which had been prepared by the Holy Spirit with the plow of conviction. But not knowing men’s hearts, it is his business to preach the gospel to every creature—to throw a handful on that hard heart over there, and another handful on that overgrown heart, which is full of cares and riches and pleasures of this world. He has to leave the fate of the seed in the care of the Master who gave it to him, for he understands that he is not responsible for the harvest, he is only responsible for the care, the fidelity, and the integrity with which he scatters the seed, right and left with both his hands.”
First of all, then, I am to address myself to those hearts which are like the path—“4 As he was sowing, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and ate them up.” There are many of you who did not come here this morning to get a blessing. You did not intend to worship God, or to be affected by anything that you might hear. You are like the highway which was never intended to be a fruitful field. If a single grain of truth should fall into your heart and grow it would be a miracle, as great a wonder as for the seed to grow upon the hardly-trampled wayside. You are the path hearer. If the seed, however, shall be cleverly scattered, some of it will fall upon you and rest for a while upon your thoughts. It is true you will not understand it, but nevertheless if it would be placed before you in an interesting style, it will stick for a short little season. Until some more exciting entertainment would attract you, then you may talk the language of which you once heard. But even this small benefit is brief, for in a very short season you will forget what manner of person you are. I would want to be able to hope that the words spoken to you would penetrate the soil, but we cannot hope it, for the soil of your heart is so well beaten by continual traffic, that there is no hope of the seed finding a lasting and living roothold down its roots. There is too much traffic in your soul to let the good seed remain uncrushed. Matthew 13:19 When anyone hears the word about the kingdom and doesn’t understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is the one sown along the path. The foot of Satan is always passing over your heart, with his herd of blasphemies, lusts, lies, and vanities. Then the chariots of pride roll along it, and the feet of greedy ambition tread it till it is hard as steel. Crowds pass and repass; in fact, your heart is in an exchange, continually passing across your heart are the busy feet of the merchants, that make merchandise with the hearts of men. You are buying and selling, but you think very little that you are selling the truth, and that you are buying your soul’s destruction; you are busy here and there, but you are negligent of that internal, precious thing, your spirit, your heart. You have no time, you say, to think of the Word of God. The road of your heart is such a crowded interstate, that there is no room for this seed to spring up. If it did begin to germinate, some rough foot would crush the small tender sprout before it could grow into anything. There have been times with you when the seed has lain long enough to begin to germinate, but just then there was some place of amusement open, and you entered there, and as with an iron shovel, the spark of life that was in the seed was crushed out; it had fallen in the wrong place; there was too much traffic there for it possibly to grow. 
We have marked this hard road-side path, let us now describe what becomes of the good word, when it falls upon his heart. It does not grow, it would have grown if it had fallen on right soil, but it is in the wrong place, and it remains as dry as when it fell from the sower’s hand. Its life lies asleep, the life-germ in the gospel hides itself, and it lies upon the surface of the heart, but never enters into it. The word has not time to quicken in the souls of such casual hearers of it. It lies there an instant, but it never begins to strike its root, or to take the slightest effect. But we say, why do men come to hear if the word is never made useful to them, and never enters the heart? That has often puzzled me; there are some of our hearers who would not be absent on the Sunday for all the world, and who seem to be quite delighted to come up with us to worship, but yet the tear never trickles down their cheek, their soul never seems mounting up to heaven on the wings of praise, nor are they truly convicted of sin. Spurgeon says of these hearts “Do they ever think about the wrath to come, or the future state of their souls? Their heart is iron; the minister might as well preach to a heap of stones as preach to them. What brings these senseless sinners here? Shall we talk to brows of brass and hearts of steel? Surely we are as hopeful of converting lions and leopards as these untamed, unmoved hearts.” 
- The second set of hearers. Matthew 13:5-6(HCSB) Others fell on rocky ground, where there wasn’t much soil, and they sprang up quickly since the soil wasn’t deep.6 But when the sun came up they were scorched, and since they had no root, they withered. You can easily picture that piece of rock sticking out in the middle of the field. By some disruption of nature, it has been thrust upwards into the middle of the plain, and of course the seed falls there as it does everywhere else. We have hearers who cause us more pleasure and yet more subsequent pain than many of you would believe. None but those who love the souls of men can tell what hopes, what joy, and what bitter taste of our expectations to the ground these stony places have caused us. We have a class of hearers whose hearts inwardly are very hard, but outwardly they are apparently the softest and most impressable of men. While other men see nothing in the sermon, these men weep. It is but an ordinary sermon to the most of the hearers, but these men are affected to tears. Whether you preach the terrors of the law or the love of the Cross, they are stirred the same in their souls, and the liveliest of impressions are apparently produced. They are not the sturdy enemies of God who clothe themselves in steel, but they seem to bare their breasts, and lay them open, and say to the minister, “Cut here; here is a naked breast for you. Here aim your arrows. They shall find a home here.” Rejoiced in heart, we shoot our arrows there, and they appear to penetrate; but there is a secret armor worn underneath the flesh which blunts every arrow, and though it stays awhile, it falls away, and no work is done. We read of this character under this language— 5 Others fell on rocky ground, where there wasn’t much soil, and they sprang up quickly since the soil wasn’t deep.6 But when the sun came up they were scorched, and since they had no root, they withered. And then Jesus explains it in verse 20-21 20 And the one sown on rocky ground—this is one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy. 21 Yet he has no root in himself, but is short-lived. When pressure or persecutioncomes because of the word, immediately he stumbles. “Have we not seen many people who receive the word with joy? They have no deep convictions,but they leap into Christ on a sudden, and profess an instantaneous faith in him, and that faith too has all the appearance of being genuine. When we look at it, the seed has really sprouted. There is a kind of life in it, there is the real small plant. We thank God, and bow our knees, and clap our hands—there is a sinner saved, there is an heir of heaven. But our joy is premature—they sprang up on a sudden, and received the word with joy, because they had no depth of earth, and from that very cause which quickened their reception of the seed they withered away when the sun rose with his heat. These men we see every day in the week. They often come to join the Church; they tell us a story of how they heard us preach on such-and-such an occasion, and oh the word was so blessed to them, they never felt so happy in their lives! They hate the things they once loved. Everything has become new to them and this is all of a sudden. We enquire when the good work began. We find it began when it ended, that is to say, there was no previous work, no ploughing of the soil, but on a sudden they sprang from death to life and out of condemnation into grace, as a man standing on the edge of a river might leap into the flood Still we are very thankful for these men. We cannot deny that there seems to be every appearance of grace. Perhaps we receive them into the Church; but in a week or two they are not so regular as they used to be at a place of worship. We gently ask simple questions to find out how they are doing spiritually. Another week and we lose them altogether. The reason is that they have been exposed to a little opposition, and they have gone back to their old ways.
They use flattery and fluff to make everyone around them think they are genuine, but when the heat comes on them to truly change they cut and run. They find another place of Worship to start the process all over again or they go back to their old ways. They cannot stand under the furnance of affliction.
If it is bad to be like the path hearer, it is not much better to be like the rock hearer. And yet this second class of hearers certainly give us more joy than the first. There is a sort of people who always come round a new minister; These type of people who are easily moved, and if he preaches earnestly they feel it, and they “love” him, and they gather round him with flattery But time, that proves all things, proves them. They seemed to be made of good and true metal, but they are put in the fire, they are tested, they are proved, they are consumed in the furnace. 1 Peter 1:6-7(HCSB) 6 You rejoice in this, though now for a short time you have had to struggle in various trials 7 so that the genuineness of your faith—more valuable than gold, which perishes though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. I have looked at these when I have been preached, and I have often thought, “There, that man one of these days will come out from the world, I am sure he will.” But these years we have preached to them, counseled them and they are the same as they always were. Are those years of wasted efforts? are those years of warnings rejected and offers to repent refused?
III. The third set of people have thorny hearts. Matthew 13: 7(HCSB)Others fell among thorns, and the thorns came up and choked them. Now this was good soil. The two first characters were bad; the path was not the proper place, the rock was not an ideal situation for the growth of any plant, but this is good soil, for it grows thorns. A soil that will grow thorns, will surely grow seed. Wherever the thorn will spring up and flourish, the seed would flourish as well. This was the right rich and fertile soil; it was no marvel therefore that the sower planted there often, and threw handful after handful upon that field. He will be happy in a month or two when he visits the spot. The seed has sprung up. Also, there’s a suspicious little plant down there of about the same size as the sprout. “Oh!” he thinks, “that’s not much, the plant will outgrow that; when it comes up it will choke these few thistles that have unfortunately mixed with it.” Mr. Sower you do not understand the force of evil, or you would not dream! He comes again, and the seed has grown, there is even some small evidence that there may be fruit, but the thistles, the thorns, and the briars have become intertwisted with one another, and the poor plant can hardly get a ray of sunshine. It is so entangled with branches it has an absence of sunlight, it looks yellow and has a shallow hue. Still it lives; it perseveres in growing, and it does seem as if it would bring forth a little fruit, but it never comes to anything. With it the reaper never fills his arm. There is the sign of fruit, but there is no reality in it, it brings forth no fruit.
Now we have this class very largely among us. We have the gentlemen and ladies who come up to hear the word, and they understand what they hear too. They are not ignorant and unenlightened men and women, who cast away what they have heard. We are not throwing pearls before swine when we preach to them, but they collect and treasure up the words of truth; they take them home; they think them over; they come, they come, they come again. They even go the length of making a profession of faith. The seeds seems to bud, and bloom and blossom, it will soon come to perfection. Be in no hurry, these men and women have a great deal?? see after; they have the cares of a large concern; their establishment employs so many people; do not be deceived about their godliness—they have no time for it. They will tell you that they must live; that they cannot neglect this world; that they must anyhow look out for the present, and as for the future, they think they will be able to take care of that in the sweet by-and-bye. They continue to attend, and that poor little dwindled sprout keeps on growing: and now they have got rich, they have all that heart can wish now. They have no cares now; the money is in the bank, they live in the subdivison; they do not have to ask, “Where shall the money come from to pay the next bill;” or “how they shall be able to provide for the family.” No, now they have too much instead of too little, for they have their riches. “Well but,” says one, “they might spend their riches for God; they might be talents that they could put out at interest.” Oh! no, it is not that; their riches are deceitful. Now they have to entertain many friends, now they must ho respectable, now they must think about becoming members of the country club, now they must have all the deceitfulness which riches can possibly give them. Yes, but they begin to spend their riches, so they have surely got over that difficulty. They give largely to the cause of Christ, they are generous in the cause of charity; now that little sprout will grow, will it not? No, for now behold the thorns of pleasure. Their liberty to others involves liberty to themselves; they take pleasure in what they have, but at the same time these pleasures become so tall and so big that they choke the plant, and the good grains of gospel truth cannot grow because they have this pleasure, that entertaining party, so they cannot attend to the things of God, because the pleasures of this world choke the seed.
- Now for the last character, the good ground. The ground was good; not that it was good by nature, but it had been made good by grace. The Holy Spirit had plowed it; he had stirred it up with the plow of conviction, and there it lay in ridge and furrow as it should. And when the Gospel was preached, the heart received it, for the man said, “That’s the Christ I want. Mercy!” said he, “it’s just what a needy sinner requires. A refuge! God help me to fly to it, for a refuge I want.” So that the preaching of the gospel was the thing to give comfort to this disturbed and plowed soil. The seed fell down; it sprung up. In some cases it produced a fervency of love, a largeness of heart, a devotedness of purpose, like seed which produced a hundredfold. The man became a mighty servant for God, he spent himself and was spent. He took his place in the ranks of Christ’s army, stood in the hottest of the battle, and did daring deeds which few could accomplish,—the seed produced a hundredfold. It fell in another heart of like character;—the man could not do the most, still he did much. He gave himself, just as he was, up to God, and in his business he had a word to say for the business of the world to come. In his daily walk, he quietly adorned the doctrine of God his Savior,—he brought forth sixtyfold. Then it fell on another, whose abilities and talents were but small; he could not be a star, but he would be a glow-worm; he could not do as the greatest, but he was content to do something, even though it were the least. The seed had brought forth in him tenfold, perhaps twentyfold. Is there one who prays within himself, “O Lord save me; God be merciful to me a sinner?” The seed has fallen in the right spot! God never sets a man longing for mercy and salvation without intending to give it.
Jesus’ explanation of the Parable of the Sower highlights four different responses to the gospel. The seed is “the word of the kingdom.” The hard ground represents someone who is hardened by sin; he hears but does not understand the Word, and Satan plucks the message away, keeping the heart dull and preventing the Word from making an impression. The stony ground pictures a man who professes delight with the Word; however, his heart is not changed, and when trouble arises, his so-called faith quickly disappears. The thorny ground depicts one who seems to receive the Word, but whose heart is full of riches, pleasures, and lusts; the things of this world take his time and attention away from the Word, and he ends up having no time for it. The good ground portrays the one who hears, understands, and receives the Word—and then allows the Word to accomplish its result in his life. The man represented by the “good ground” is the only one of the four who is truly saved, because salvation’s proof is fruit. To summarize the point of the Parable of the Sower: “A man’s reception of God’s Word is determined by the condition of his heart.” A secondary lesson would be “Salvation is more than a superficial, albeit joyful, hearing of the gospel. Someone who is truly saved will go on to prove it.” May our faith and our lives exemplify the “good soil” in the Parable of the Sower.
What a solemn thought it is—to think of these great Sunday gatherings these many years, coming and going, coming and going, and so many yet unsaved! How many out of these millions of people every Sunday hear with deaf ears, are not moved in their souls, but continue as they were, dead in trespasses and in sins! Oh, believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, lest now, even while you are here, God’s wrath should burn, and his swift justice overtake you:—
“Come, guilty souls, and flee away,
To Christ, and heal your wounds;
This is the welcome gospel-day,
Wherein free grace abounds.”