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7. The Parable of the Sower From the Salvation Viewpoint

– Chapter 7 –

The Parable of the Sower From the Salvation Viewpoint

Matthew 13:1–9

Montreal, July 23, 1978


1 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. 2 And great crowds gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat down. And the whole crowd stood on the beach. 3 And he told them many things in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. 5 Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, 6 but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. 7 Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8 Other seeds fell on good soil and pro­duced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9 He who has ears, let him hear.” (Matthew 13:1–9, ESV)

We continue our exposition of the teaching of the Lord Jesus by returning to the Parable of the Sower, this time from a different angle and with a different approach. Matthew’s presentation of the parable has three parts: first the parable itself; then a discussion with the disciples on the meaning of parables in general; and lastly an explanation of the parable. I will follow the Lord Jesus’ sequence quite precisely, as it is found in Matthew.

Part 1: Salvation is God’s gift to man

The Parable of the Sower contains such great riches that one message or even two messages cannot exhaust it. Being a foundational parable, it sums up most effectively and most beautifully in a nutshell the Lord Jesus’ whole teaching on salvation.

I seek to bring out some of the riches in this parable by dividing my message into two parts. In the first part, I will expound the fact that salvation is God’s gift. In the second part, we will see how this gift becomes available to us through faith. That is to say, we will examine what faith is, then explain what faith means in terms of commitment.

Look at this beautiful parable of the Lord Jesus. Is it not remark­able that he can say so much in the scope of one parable? Just expounding it is a task that challenges every preacher who tries to bring out its riches.

The seed is the Word of God, a gift

The Lord Jesus says that the seed which is sown is the Word of God. The sower is the preacher, and is the Lord Jesus in the first instance. The soil into which the seed is sown is the heart of man. All this is clear. What more can we learn from the parable?

First, we notice that the seed is given freely as a gift. The seed falls upon the soil as a gift to that soil. The ground does not earn the seed nor is it deserving of the seed.

The seed is spoken of as the Word of God, but what is the Word of God? In the first in­stance, it is God’s message. What kind of message? The message of salvation. It is the message of the kingdom of God. God’s salvation is given to us through His Word — the seed — as a free and unmerited gift, just as the soil receives the seed as a gift, not having worked for it. Notice how this Word comes to us in the form of parables.

The Old Testament depicts the Word as light: “Your Word is a lamp to my feet, a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105). Because the Word is light, it is meant to reveal, not hide. Light does not hide things but reveals things. This point is made clear in Mark 4:21–23, which appears immed­iately after the Parable of the Sower. There Jesus says that the lamp is set on a stand. It is not hidden, in order that all who come into the house can see. The same point is found in Luke 8:16–17, again imme­diately following the Parable of the Sower, where the Lord Jesus says that the light is designed to reveal, not to hide. What­ever is hidden, is hidden in order to be revealed. The parables don’t conceal salvation but reveal it.

The seed — the Word of God — is a mystery

The parables — the Word, the seed — are also spoken of as a secret, as we see in Matthew 13:11,

And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. (ESV)

Notice that the secret is “given”. Here the Greek word mystērion is translated “secrets” or, in older translations, “mystery”. In the Bible, many things are described as mystery. The Word of God is said to be a mystery in Colossians 1:25–26. The gospel is called “the mystery of the gospel” in Ephesians 6:19. Christ is spoken of as a mystery in Colossians 2:2, “the mystery of God which is Christ.”

What is a mystery? In the Bible, a mystery is not just some­thing that is hard to understand, but something impossible to under­stand until God reveals it to you. That is why it is called a mystery.

Think back to when you were not a Christian, and you found the gospel a mystery. When you listened to the gospel, did it make any sense to you? You could not understand it; it was a mystery to you. It was concealed from you until God revealed its meaning to you, as your heart opened to God. God revealed it to you so that you may understand it, receive it, know it, and make it your own.

Christ is a mystery. Can you understand him? Certainly not! That is why he is called “the mystery of God.” Until God reveals Christ to you, there is no way for you to know that he is the Christ whom God had sent.

The Word of God, too, is a mystery. Have you ever tried reading it? Then you will know it is a mystery. You go to a Bible study and you wonder, “What does this Bible study passage mean? I understand the words in English. I also understand the words in Chinese. I might even under­stand the words in Hebrew and Greek. But having read the words, I don’t under­stand what they mean! It is a mystery.”

The Word of God is a mystery. Intelligent people can read the Bible, yet not understand it. Ask a professor of mathema­tics, or medicine, or astronomy, or whatever discipline, to read a parable. He may read it, but he will not understand it. It is not because he is stupid, but because he cannot under­stand the parable until God reveals it to him. It is the mystery of the Word of God.

This is very important for understanding salvation. I am sure that every time you read the Bible, the fact it is a mystery will dawn on you because you don’t understand it, right? Try read­ing Colossians or Ephesians. And if you are up to it, try reading Revelation. I am sure you will be utterly convinced that the Word of God is a mystery! There is no way for you to under­stand it until God reveals its meaning to you.

I remember reading the book of Revelation many times as a young Christian, and I kept scratching my head because I could not make head or tail of it. Absolutely nothing! I consoled my­self that at least I could partially under­stand the letters written to the seven churches. I could go that far. But once you get past Revelation chapter 3, you are in deep waters, and the whole thing is a mystery! But God can open the mystery to you.

I remember how, when I was having a time of rest in Switzerland, I opened the book of Revelation before God, and said, “Lord God, teach me, I beg of You. Let Your Spirit reveal to me what this means.” And when I read Revelation again, I was amazed that I was beginning to understand it! The light began to dawn on me, and the riches started to come forth. It was so incredible! All the things in God’s Word are a mystery, so it is God’s gift to you that you understand it.

Therefore anyone who boasts in his exceedingly good knowledge of the Bible is not fit to serve God. He has not yet understood that if he understands anything at all, it is because the Spirit of God has revealed it to him. As people listen to my expositions, some say to me, “We have never heard such ex­positions.” I say to you, I have nothing whatsoever to be proud of. Nothing! If there is something I have seen, it is because God has revealed it to someone who is utterly unworthy. I am not saying this out of humility but because it is the plain truth. The moment I think I am clever, or think I can give an exposition better than others, God will say, “I have finished with you. You are no longer of use to Me because you think you are somebody.” The Word of God is a mystery, and it is God’s gift to me that I understand it.

We read in Matthew 13:11, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven.” The disciples were not entitled to know the secrets of God, nor could they say to God, “Look at me, I am so good! So it’s time for You to tell me Your secrets.” Oh no! None of us becomes good enough to be told the secrets of God. It is utterly of grace, and grace means that you did not earn it or deserve it; it is God’s gift to you. Anyone who has walked with God will know grace; and I preach utterly of grace.

The seed — the Word of God — brings life

Notice how beautifully the Lord Jesus speaks of the Word of God as a seed. That is because a seed has life in it. A stone has no life, but a seed has life. The sure thing you can say about a seed is that it has life in it, and once the seed is implanted into the ground, it brings life to that piece of ground. The ground will become fruitful because the seed is in it.

Observe that this Word of God conveys life to us. The ground has no life of its own. I have no life of my own in my soul. I am dead without the grace of God. It is beautiful that the ground should be compared to the heart. The ground is mud. What is mud? As we often picture it, it is dirt and filth. That is my heart. Our hearts are often so dirty, aren’t they? But God plants the seed in my heart, and transforms this dirt, this unrighteousness, this filth, into some­thing productive by His power. That is the amazing transforming power of grace.

Now all this has to do with salvation, and salvation is about life. When the Word of God comes into your life, it brings God’s life into your soul so that you become a new person, a new creature. The unrighteousness of your heart is trans­formed into fruitful ground for the propagation of God’s Word to bless others. We see this in 1 Peter 1:23, “You are born again not of corruptible seed but of the incorrupt­ible seed, namely, God’s Word.” The Word of God is compared to seed because it has God’s life and transforming power in it, causing you to be born again. It brings salvation to your soul as God’s gift to you, assuming that you are willing to accept it.

Let us summarize this first point and remember that the seed is the Word of God; the seed is a gift; the seed is a mystery; the seed is life.

The seed characterizes Jesus

When you ponder for a moment, you will real­ize that all these terms are also used to describe the Lord Jesus himself. He is called “the mystery,” as we have seen in Colossians 2:2. Jesus is “the life” in John 14:6, “I am the way, and the truth and the life.” Then Jesus is God’s gift to us, as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 9:15, “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift.” Or John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son” — Jesus is the gift. In Galatians 3:16, Jesus who is the Christ is called the “seed” in KJV, NASB, NIV. In the Greek text, the word “seed” refers to a human seed, which is why RSV trans­lates it here as “offspring,” meaning descendant. This reminds us of Genesis 3:15 which says that the seed of the woman will crush the serpent on the head. In the parable of the sower, “seed” refers to the seed of a plant; both human seed and plant seed are spoken of as “seed”.

We now see that the seed is the Word of God, also called “the word of the kingdom” (Mt. 13:19). God’s salvation is given to us through His Word, the seed. Likewise, this mess­age of salvation is in the seed, Jesus Christ. That is why Paul says, “We preach Christ crucified” (1 Cor. 1:23).

How does a seed bring forth life? By dying. How does Jesus bring forth life? By being crucified. It’s easy to understand why he is called the seed. In fact, Jesus speaks of himself as the seed in John 12:24, “Except the seed falls to the ground and dies, it abides alone. But if it dies, it brings forth much fruit.” Isn’t that wonderful!

The Lord Jesus is the seed, God’s gift to us, the mystery of God; and through him, we receive God’s life. I say to you again, the only reason I am a Christian is that I have exper­ienced God’s un­bounded love for me in Jesus Christ. I am not inter­ested in churches or church dogmas.

If anything, the church tends to exhaust us. Someone once said to me, “Christians are not only not extraordinary, they are not even ordinary!” They are supposed to be the light of the world, but what do we see? Most of the time we see darkness, not light. Despite the problems of the church, des­pite my weak­nesses, despite my shame over the people who call themselves “Christians,” and despite being disgusted with myself for not giving God more, what keeps me going as a Christian? Nothing but the glory and the beauty of God — that He loves me, that He has given me not merely blessings but has given me His Son in order to forgive me and to reconcile me to Himself!

Have you ever thought of giving your son to somebody? What would you think if somebody says to you, “I love you so much that I will give you my beloved son”? That person must really love you with unlimited love. Yet God reaches out to someone as unworthy as I, and says, “Here is My Son, I give him to you.”

And the Spirit of God opened my eyes to see the self-giving beauty of Jesus Christ, with the glory of God shining in his face (2 Cor. 4:6). Remember, Christ is a mystery, so you cannot understand him in your own wisdom. If God had not opened my eyes to see something of Christ’s glory, I would never have seen it.

How then am I to preach Christ? How do I share about his glory? Only the eyes that have seen that glory understands it, as in the case of the apostle Paul, who saw it on the road to Damascus.

How would you describe Jesus Christ? I can speak of him as God’s mystery, or as God’s life given to me, but I cannot say, “Here is life. Look at it.” You cannot see life as a physical object, you cannot smell it, you cannot hear it, you cannot touch it, you cannot taste it. Some people say they won’t believe in anything they can’t see. You can see the outward manifesta­tions of life, but you cannot see life itself. If I give you a seed and say, “Inside the seed is life,” and if you cut the seed with a knife, and say, “I’m going to look at life,” will you see life?

You cannot see life as a physical object, but you can experience life. That is what you and I can do. I cannot exper­ience life for you. I can only tell you how to experience it. You have to let the Spirit of God reveal Christ to you, then the fire will begin to burn in your heart. Nothing so kindles the fire in a person’s heart as the vision of God’s holy love manifested by His gift of Jesus Christ. It is beyond my power to give you the vision of “the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ,” to let the fire of devotion burn in your heart. I can only tell you the path that will lead you to it.

And when you arrive there, you will see the glory of God in Christ. You will no longer want to talk about the personal cost, you will no longer want to talk about personal sacrifice, because there is nothing you can offer to God that is even worth talking about.

I have constantly wrestled with the question: How to bring people to a vision of that glory? Christ is God’s indescribable gift to us. It has been given to you. Have you received it?

Part 2: Salvation is available to us through a commitment of faith

This takes me to the second part of my message. God has freely given His seed to everyone. Salvation in Christ is God’s gift to humankind, and salvation is found only in Christ, for there is no salvation apart from him. God doesn’t give you an object called “life”; he doesn’t give you an object called “salvation.” All of God’s gifts are found only in Christ. Life is in the seed alone. Salvation is only in Christ (2 Tim. 2:10). Nowhere else can you find it. But now, seeing that God has freely given salvation, and that God has so loved the whole world, why is the world not saved? John 3:19 tells us, “they loved darkness rather than light.” The problem is that God’s gift is free, but not every heart is willing to take it. Anyone who wants to get salvation without Christ, or have Christ only as a means of getting to salvation, doesn’t even know what salvation is.

We hear a lot about faith, that we are saved by faith. I sometimes delibe­rately avoid using this word “faith” because it is so overworked that nobody actually knows what it means. We are certainly “justified by faith,” but whatever does faith mean? I have heard all kinds of definitions being given. The most frequently quoted is Hebrews 11:1, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the confidence of things not seen.” What does it tell you? I fear it has told you nothing, and I mean this in a specific sense. Faith is the confidence of things not seen, but faith itself is not seen either. So what is not seen becomes the assurance of what is not seen! What does that tell us? If you try to analyze this in terms of logic, you will find it to be a meaningless statement. It will simply end up saying that you believe whatever you happen to believe. To a person who doesn’t have faith, that is not a definition, for it tells him absol­utely nothing.

Hebrews 11:1 is simply telling you what is the effect of faith on you. It is not a definition of faith in its essence. The one who has faith under­stands what faith is because he already has faith. He knows what it is because he has faith, and has the assurance of the things not seen. Because I have faith, I have confidence in the things hoped for.

Saving faith is like staking your life on a strong man

What then is faith? Faith is illustrated in various ways by preachers. Charles Spurgeon, the English Baptist preacher, illus­trates it in the following way as do many preachers. A child is standing at a window, and the house is on fire. The only recourse for the child is to jump from the window. Down below is a strong man with outstretched arms who says, “Jump, I will catch you.” So the child, seeing the flames approaching from behind, places his life into his own hands: he takes the courage to jump, and leaps into the arms of the strong man below, who catches him. This is an illustration of faith.

How does faith come into all this? What is the illustration telling me? It tells me that faith is the attitude of the child who trusts the strong man, and therefore jumps out the window into his arms. What is meant by trust here? You may say that trust in this case is driven by the fear of the flames, yet the trust is in the strong man, and the strong man is meant to represent the Lord Jesus.

The reason I use the word “commitment” rather than “trust” is that “trust” is far too weak; it doesn’t express an attitude of total commit­ment. The child is doing much more than trusting the strong man, if we are to use this as an illustration of a genuine act of Biblical faith. If the strong man fails to catch him, the child will be dead or crippled. Biblical faith is a trust in which one stakes his own life. You don’t stake any­thing by simply believing that Jesus, the Lamb of God, died for you. What have you staked? That is why I am concerned about the misuse of the word “faith.”

Robert Laidlaw, the one who wrote the popular tract The Reason Why, uses an utterly distasteful argument which Dietrich Bonhoeffer in The Cost of Discipleship would call “cheap grace”. Laidlaw’s argument goes like this: If you believe that Jesus died for you and you are wrong, you lose nothing; but if you are right, you gain eternal life. You cannot lose either way since you stake absolutely nothing, right?

Suppose somebody gives you a free Lotto Canada or Lotto Quebec lottery ticket. If your ticket happens to be drawn, you may win a million dollars. But if you win nothing, you would not lose anything either, because the ticket was given to you as a free gift, right? So it doesn’t matter if you got nothing, because you staked nothing. If you win, you gain everything; if you lose, you lose nothing. So either way, you have nothing to lose. Is receiving a free Lotto Canada ticket tantamount to faith? Laidlaw says faith costs you absolutely nothing. You have everything to gain, and nothing to lose. But where is the faith? Is receiv­ing a free Lotto ticket comparable to a child’s jumping out the window?

I have heard evangelists preach salvation as: “Jesus is God’s gift to you.” But receiving Jesus in response to this kind of gospel is not faith. If you accept Jesus, and he turns out to be false, you won’t lose any­thing, will you? So it’s a good bet! But if he turns out to be true, you’ve hit the jackpot, my friend! You’ve got eternal life! That is even better than win­ning a million dollars from Lotto Canada, for you can’t buy eternal life with a million dollars. Is receiving Jesus in the way you receive a free Lotto ticket something that you would call “faith”? That is not faith. That is just taking a chance. In fact, it’s not even taking a chance because it costs you absolutely nothing one way or the other. If you had to pay for the lottery ticket, at least you stand to lose the cost of the ticket.

Think again of Spurgeon’s illustration of the child who jumps out the window, staking his life on the man who catches him. Now that is faith. That kind of faith is total commitment because you have staked your life. Have you staked anything when you accepted Jesus whom God sent as your Savior? If Jesus turns out to be false, what did you lose? I think for the majority of you, you would lose nothing. You go to church every Sunday, and it is a good experience. Singing songs has a calming effect on you. You meet lots of nice people in church even if you think they are deluded. So what do you lose? Nothing. You’ve still got your job. Your salary is not reduced when you become a Christian. In fact, because you are a Christian, the manage­ment knows that you are trustworthy, so you may get a raise and a promo­tion. Being a Christian brings every advantage to you. Even if the gospel turns out to be false and you have been a Christian all your life, what will you lose? Nothing. You still have your house, your car, and your job. You now have much better friends than worldly friends — friends who will stand by you when you are in trouble. So what have you staked as a Christian? Nothing.

Another illustration: Staking your life on a plank

Let me use another illustration which is often used by preachers. I am sure you have heard this illustration before. A missionary describes his experiences in India. He is travel­ling to a particular place, and has to cross over a deep gorge by walking on a plank. He looks down and sees a river below. Now this plank is held with ropes, and is swaying in the wind. So the missionary says, “No way! I’m not crossing!” But the natives assure him that the plank is trust­worthy, so they go back and forth on the plank completely at ease. But the missionary says, “I am a six-foot-tall Westerner. I am taller and heavier than you. The fact that you can walk across is no evidence that I can go across, because the plank can take your weight but not mine.” So he refuses to cross the plank. Then the people say, “Okay, we will cross two together on the plank because two together would surely be heavier than you.” So two of them walk on the bridge together. Left without excuse, this mission­ary plucks up his courage and goes across on the plank in fear and trembling. He inches his way across the plank and reaches the other side.

This is an illustration of faith. He put his faith in the plank. At first he didn’t trust the plank. But after seeing a multitude of wit­nesses — as in Hebrews 12:1, “so great a cloud of wit­nesses” — he plucked up his courage and took the step of faith to cross the plank.

Does that not illustrate the same point as the child who stakes his life by jumping into the arms of the strong man? If the plank cannot hold his weight, he stands to lose his life. He loses everything if his faith is wrong. Faith is not faith in the Biblical sense unless you stake everything, even your life, on it. If the plank doesn’t hold his weight, he is going to go down in utter destruction. Now that is a definition of faith. But the faith preached by evangelists today, which does not involve commit­ting oneself totally or staking one’s life, is not faith in the Biblical sense. A faith that is like receiving a lottery ticket as a gift — you may win some­thing but you will lose nothing — is not Biblical faith. I would like you to get this very clear.

Faith is total commitment

Preaching the gospel the way Robert Laidlaw presents it in his tract — “Believe that Jesus is God’s gift to you, and you will have eternal life; but if it turns out to be false, you will lose nothing” — is a travesty of Biblical teach­ing. It is a disgrace! I am ashamed of it! Even worse, it is a lie! If you are not totally committed to Christ, you will seek in vain the gift of salvation which is given to those with faith. You are justified by faith, which is total commitment as we see in the illustrat­ion used by Spurgeon and the illustration of the missionary. That is the Biblical understanding.

In Hebrews chapter 11, you will not see any faith that resem­bles the Lotto Canada type. Every example of faith in Hebrews 11 is an example of total commitment. Abraham staked everything on God’s Word. He went forth, not knowing where God wanted him to go. He staked his life, his family, his career, everything, on it. When God said, “Go!” he went. That is total commitment.

By faith, Moses counted the riches of Egypt as nothing. He turned his back on Egypt, and went out to be identified with the people of God. He lost everything. He staked his life.

The list of examples of faith in Hebrews 11 ends with these words in verse 33:

… who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions.

If faith doesn’t work, the lions will get you, not you get the lions. If you lack faith, it is not you who will conquer king­doms, but the kingdoms will conquer you. We read Hebrews 11 with our eyes closed and think that salvation is a matter of, “I believe that God sent Jesus to die for me. It costs me nothing. And if it is wrong, I lose nothing.” That is a wrong understanding of faith.

Only the totally committed are saved

Let us look at the Parable of the Sower again. In this parable, there are two groups of people. The first group has three cate­gories of the unsaved. The second group has three categories of the saved.

In the second group, the three categories of the saved differ in the degree of fruitfulness: they bring forth fruit thirtyfold, sixtyfold, and a hundredfold.

In the first group, the three categories of the unsaved are: (i) the seed that falls on the hard path; (ii) the seed that falls on the rocky ground — they believe and accept the Word of God but have no root; and (iii) the seed that receives the Word of God but is choked by the thorns (the world). Category (i) con­sists of unbelievers whereas categories (ii) and (iii) consist of believers. Hence, in this parable, the unsaved can even include believers.

Christians insist that the unsaved are unbelievers, not believers. How amazing! Jesus’ thinking is clearly not our thinking. On the contrary, in the parable, categories (ii) and (iii) of the unsaved are believers, not unbelievers. Both received the Word of God. One received it with joy but had no root and fell away; the other received the Word of God but is choked by the cares of the world.

There are three things we can say about total commitment in regard to this parable.

1. Total commitment requires openness to God’s Word

The first point is that commitment requires openness. The soil must be open to receive the seed. After the soil has been ploughed, it is open. But in the case of seed falling on hard ground, the ground is not open but closed. The seed cannot penetrate the ground, so the birds eat it.

Commitment or faith is openness to the Word of God, an openness to God Himself. Is your heart open to God’s Word? I have the confidence that your hearts are open to God’s Word, because if you were not, I don’t see why you would be in church now. So I have the confidence that at least you have fulfilled the first stage: your hearts are open to God’s Word. This is essential yet not enough.

2. Total commitment: God’s Word totally possesses your heart

What is the second step? It is this: Having entered into the soil, the seed must gain total possession of the soil, that is, the Word of God must gain total possession of your heart. This didn’t take place for two categories of the unsaved group (the shallow soil and the soil with thorns), so they perished despite having received the Word of God.

Does the Word of God have total possession of your heart? Or is there some rock underneath, a certain hardness of heart that limits God, and says to Him, “You’ve come far enough in my life, but go no farther. I am willing to be religiously respect­able, but not to be a religious fanatic like those in the full-time training. They studied mathematics, chemistry, computer science, or whatever, and throw everything away. They are nuts! They are fanatics! As for me, I draw the line here. I am wise. I take the zhong dao (中道, the mean). I have the right balance — not too far to one side, not too far to the other.”

My friend, if you draw a line, you will end up with nothing! If you tell God, “You are Lord of my life but don’t come further,” then He is not your Lord at all. Either He is Lord of all or He is not Lord at all. Have you drawn a line in your life?

You might not have drawn any line in your life, yet allow the cares of this world to dominate your life. You are preoccupied with the world. If you say to God, “You are my Lord, but I am concerned with many interests in this world,” then you will end up like the seed that fell in the soil among the thorns, and got choked.

These two categories of the unsaved failed because al­though the commitment is there, it is not total. Jesus is saying that unless the seed gains total possession of the soil — with no line drawn, with no anxiety or preoccupation regarding worldly affairs — you cannot survive.

So firstly, we need to be open to God and His Word, which is true of all of you here. But secondly, ask yourself whether you are able to say, “Lord, take all of my life, all of my heart, such that there is no place in my life where you are not Lord.” I wonder how many of you — and how many preachers — can honestly say that.

F.B. Meyer (1847–1929) was a great preacher whose ministry was towards the end of the 19th century and at the beginning of the 20th century. He wrote many exceedingly good books of great value that are well worth read­ing. He confides that when he was the pastor of a church that he was ministering, all that happened was that the church died in his hands. It had no life. He went before God and said, “Lord, what’s wrong with me?” The Lord said, “What’s wrong with you is that you’ve got rocks in your life. You have drawn a line. I am not totally Lord of your life.” Then he suddenly realized it: “That’s true. I belong to the category of people of good topsoil but there are rocks underneath! I didn’t allow God to go beyond this in my life. I stopped Him right at that point.” And God said to F.B. Meyer, “I can’t use you because you have closed part of your life to Me.” So he knelt before God and said, “God, here is all my life. Here are the keys to every room in my house. No room is closed to You. I beg of You, take down the whole door so that you won’t even have to use the keys anymore.” And he said that God did exactly that. God took down the door and put a win­dow in its place, through which His light shone into every room of his life. From that time on, God used F.B. Meyer mightily.

What is your life like? How many doors of your life are closed to God?

3. Total commitment: Accept trials, tribulations, persecution

The third thing essential to commitment is the thing essen­tial to the seed: the sun. Without light, nothing will grow. I already pointed out that the parable uses three different Greek words to speak of suffering: trials, tribulations, and persecution. These are compared to the sun whose sunlight promotes the growth of the seed.

I am often asked, “How can I know that I am totally committed? Do I know this by the fact that I have entered full-time service?” My answer is, “Not in the least.” As I mentioned, there are pastors who are not totally committed, as F.B. Meyer, this great preacher, shared with us. Here is a pastor who went through Bible college and semin­ary, yet was not totally com­mitted. I would like to know how many people in Bible colleges are totally committed to God. When I visited Prairie Bible Institute, I spoke to the students there and challenged every one of them. I wanted to know how much God was Lord in their lives. Don’t think that by becoming a preacher, you are totally com­mitted to God. Not necessarily so.

So how can you know you are committed? It is seen in how you react to the sun. That is the test! You will notice that in this parable, the sun destroys the plant that has no root, yet the other plants grow exceedingly well in sunlight. Have you noticed how a flower turns towards the sun? It opens up as the sun comes out. And when the sun disappears, the flower closes again. It shows forth its whole beauty as the sun rises. So does the true Christian. But the seed that has no root — whose com­mitment is weak, inadequate, or non-existent — will be wiped out.

The sun that brings life, prosperity, and spiritual growth to one plant, also brings destruction to another. Isn’t that remark­able? We read in this beautiful parable of the Lord Jesus that when the sun rose, the plants in the shallow ground withered and died. But those in the good soil grew abun­dantly — thirty­fold, sixty­fold, a hundredfold. The sun brings forth life. When difficulty or persecution arises, that is the time we will see whether a person is a true Christian or a false Christ­ian. When a trial comes to you, you can tell whether you are a totally committed Christian or not.

I always think back to the time we preached the gospel in Wales, in the sixties. There the seed of God’s Word had been scattered decades earlier, in 1904, and brought forth tremen­dous fruit in the mighty Welsh Revival. So mighty was the moving of God’s Spirit that the whole place was transformed. Whether in buses or on the streets, everyone was singing hymns to God. Imagine walking down Sainte-Catherine Street in Montreal, with everybody singing praise to God! That was what happened during the Welsh Revival. But today the whole place is dead.

An incident that impressed itself deeply on my mind was the time we went from door to door to witness for Christ. One dear brother knocked on a certain door, and when he explained the purpose of his visit, the door was soundly slammed in his face. Yet when he came back to us, his face was beaming with joy. So I thought he had a great time of witnessing. I asked, “What happened to you?” He said “Hallelujah! I just had the door slammed in my face!”

That struck me because all the others would rejoice only if people listened with great attention and courtesy, even offering biscuits and a cup of tea. But here was someone who rejoiced because the door was slammed in his face! He counted it such joy to suffer for God. I said to myself, here is somebody whom God is going to use, because he radiates when the sun shines upon him. When persecution comes, he shines with joy. He said, “Do you know what I said to the lady when she slammed the door in my face? I shouted through the door, ‘Dear lady, I love you so much! I will be praying for you.’”

Wow! I think he has a more powerful witness than those who go around waving their Bibles. Imagine getting the door slammed in your face, yet you say, “I love you!” That kind of Christian has commitment!

Charles Wesley, that great servant of God who lived in the 1700s, wrote detailed journals that we can read today. As he went about preaching, he was often beaten: his clothes were torn, his hair was pulled, his face was punched. Yet all that we read in his journals are expressions of love and warmth. There is not the slightest bitterness towards those who perse­cuted and tormented him, but only love. He thanked God for the privilege of suffering. That is a man of God!

During China’s Cultural Revolution, many of our brothers and sisters stretched out their hands to be taken away by the police, and they said, “Thank-you, I am unworthy of such a privilege!” The police must have thought bemusedly, “You thank me for handcuffing you?” They rejoiced that the sun was shining upon them. Thanks be to God!

Look at the apostle Paul who says, “We rejoice in our suffer­ings” (Romans 5:3). Do you now see why he is totally com­mitted? He staked everything on God, and is ready to lose all. That is faith!

How then do you know whether you have total commit­ment? The next time everything goes wrong for you, the next time your parents turn against you, the next time your friends turn against you, the next time you lose your job because as a Christian you didn’t want to cheat at taxes, see whether you are totally committed, whether you rejoice and say, “Hallelujah! What a privilege to live for God!” Or will you say, “See what is happening to me? Being a Christian has cost me my job! That is the problem with being a Christian!”

Your commitment will be tested by the sun that shines. It tested my commitment. Many times I have been penniless in serving God, and I would say to myself, “Hallelujah! Now I know what it feels to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, who had nowhere to lay his head, and didn’t even have a coin in his pocket.” When somebody asked Jesus, “Should we pay taxes?” he had to get a coin from someone in order to ask the question, “Whose inscription is this on the coin?” If he had a coin in his own pocket, he would have just pulled it out. Oh, it is good to be Jesus’ disciple, to imitate him in serving and living for God!

I stake my life on God. When I went to England to be trained in God’s work, I had no money. I was not allowed to work, and did not want to work illegally. So I com­mitted my cause to God. If my God is not real, I would have literally starved in the gutter. But my God proved Himself. Only the one who stakes his life on God will experience His power. No one else will experience His power.

God’s gift of justification is given to us freely, but in receiving that gift, in receiving that seed into my life, I stake my life on this gift of God. And if God is not real — God forbid! — it will cost me everything. But I know whom I have believed, which is why I stake my life on Him. And because I stake my life on Him, I know whom I have believed. So the cycle goes on. When you stake your life on God, you’ll see His power manifested, therefore you trust Him even more. And because you trust Him even more, you’ll stake even more on Him.

The quality of commitment determines the fruitfulness

One final point: In this rich parable that is before us, there are some who bear fruit thirtyfold, some sixtyfold, some a hundred­fold. If all of us are totally committed, why is there a difference in the yield?

Every person can be totally committed, but it doesn’t mean that the quality of that com­mitment is the same. It may be equally total yet not equal in quality. Let us return to the illustration of faith in terms of crossing a deep gorge on a plank. Anyone who walks on the plank is totally committed because if the plank breaks, he loses his life. But the quality of that commitment can be different. The missionary may have com­mitted himself totally to the plank, but was there joy in that commit­ment? No. Although he was totally com­mitted, there was fear, hesitation, and trembling. The quality of his commit­ment was not the same as the commitment of those who walked across the plank with joy and singing. Both staked their lives totally on that plank to support them, but the quality of their commitment was different.

The child escaping a fire may jump from the top floor with great hesitation, crying and trembling, or he may jump with utter confid­ence, with no fear and trembling. Both jumped, yet their attitudes were different.

I have seen the difference in quality among those who are totally committed. I have seen those who have given up everything to follow Christ, but they go through life groan­ing, “I have given up everything for God, and look at what I have to endure!” You cannot deny that they have committed every­thing to God, but what is quality of their lives? Why do they bother to do it if they complain about it? There are others who commit totally to God with joy, even radiance!

Think again of the illustration of the plank. If I walk on it trembling all the way across, will it encourage others to cross too? They will be very hesitant. But if you see someone striding across with great con­fidence, you will say, “Oh, that’s great, I’ll cross over too.” Do you see that your witness depends on the quality of your commitment?

We see the quality of Paul’s commitment as he stakes everything and rejoices in tribulation. Those who see him will say, “The God of the apostle Paul is wonderful! Paul regards the cost as nothing.” But another person forever mutters about the cost. He trembles on the plank, thinking: “I made it, but at a high cost to myself!” No wonder others will think, “If that is the case, I don’t think I am going to cross.”

Do you see the difference? The one who crosses the plank with confidence will inspire many others to cross with con­fidence. But the one who crosses with hesitation may prevent others from crossing, or cause them to cross with hesitation. Transposing this illustra­tion to the picture of fruitfulness, the yield — thirtyfold, sixtyfold, a hundred­fold — will depend on the quality of the witness. May we not only have a totally committed faith, but also one of such quality, such radiance, such power, that others can see God’s glory in us! 


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