Matthew Henry on True Faith and Fruitfulness

This excerpt is Matthew Henry’s comments on the Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13:3-9 and 18-23.

Let us therefore compare the parable and the exposition.

  1. The seed sown is the word of God, here called the word of the kingdom (v. 19): the kingdom of heaven.  This word is the seed sown, which seems a dead, dry thing, but all the product is virtually in it.  It is incorruptible seed (1 Pet 1:23).
  2. The sower that scatters the seed is our Lord Jesus Christ, either by himself, or by his ministers; see v. 37.  Preaching to a multitude is sowing the corn; we know not where it must light [land or fall]; only see that it must be good, that it be clean, and be sure to give it seed enough.
  3. The ground in which this seed is sown is the hearts of the children of men, which are differently qualified and disposed.  Man’s heart is like soil, capable of improvement, of bearing good fruit; it is a pity it should lie fallow.  As it is with the earth; some sort of ground, take ever so much pains with it, and throw ever so good seed into it, yet it brings forth no fruit to any purpose; while the good soil brings forth plentifully: so it is with the hearts of men, whose different characters are here represented by four sorts of ground, of which three are bad, and but one good.  The number of fruitless hearers is very great, even of those who heard Christ himself.

[i] The highway ground, v. 4-19.  They had pathways through their cornfields (ch. 12:1), and the seed that fell on them never entered, and so the birds picked it up.

First, what kind of hearers are compared to the highway ground; such as hear the word and understand it not.  They take no heed to it, take no hold of it; they do not come with any design to get good.  They mind not what is said, it comes in at one ear and goes out at the other, and makes no impression.

Secondly, How they come to be unprofitable hearers.  The wicked one, that is, the devil, cometh and catcheth away that which was sown. — Such mindless, careless, trifling hearers are an easy prey to Satan; who is the great thief of sermons.  If we break not up the fallow ground, by preparing our hearts for the word, and if we cover not the seed afterwards, by meditation and prayer; if we give not a more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, we are as the highway ground.

[ii] The stony ground.  Some fell upon stony places (v 5-6), which represents the case of hearers who receive some good impressions of the word, but they are not lasting, v 20-21.  It is possible we may be a great deal better than some others, and yet not be so good as we should be.

First, How far they went.  1.  They hear the word; they turn neither their backs upon it, nor a deaf ear to it.  Hearing the word will never bring us to heaven.  2.  They are quick in hearing, forthwith it sprung up (v.5), it sooner appeared above ground than that which was sown in the good soil.  Hypocrites often get the start of new Christians in the shows of profession, and are often too hot to hold.  He receiveth it straightway, without trying it; swallows it without chewing, and then there can never be a good digestion.  3.  They receive it with joy.  There are many that are very glad to hear a good sermon, that yet do not profit by it.  Many taste the good word of God (Heb 6:5), and say they find sweetness in it, but some beloved lust is rolled sweetly under the tongue, which it would not agree with, and so they spit it out again.  4.  They endure for awhile.  Many endure for awhile, that do not endure to the end, they did run well, but something hindered them (Gal 5:7).

Secondly, How they fell away, so that no fruit was brought to perfection.  They have no root in themselves, no settled, fixed principles in their judgments, no firm resolution in their wills.  It is possible these may be the green blade (first shoot) of a profession [of faith], where yet there is not the root of grace.  Where there is not a principle, though there be profession, we cannot expect perseverance.  Those who have no root will endure for awhile.

Times of trial come, and then they come to nothing.  When tribulation and persecution arise, because of the world, he is offended.  After a fair gale of opportunity usually follows a storm of persecution, to try who have received the word in sincerity, and who have not.  It is wisdom to prepare for such a day.  When trying times come, those who have no root are soon offended; they first quarrel with their profession, and then quit it.  Persecution is represented in the parable by the scorching sun (v. 6); the same sun which warms and cherishes that which was well rooted, withers and burns up that which wanted root.  Trials which shake some, confirm others, Phil 1:12.  Observe how soon they fall away; a profession taken up without consideration is commonly let fall without it: “Lightly come, lightly go”

(iii) The thorny ground: Some fell among thorns.  This went further than the former, for it had root.  Prosperity destroys the word in the heart, as much as persecution does; and more dangerously, because more silently: the stones spoiled the root, the thorns spoil the fruit.

Now what are these choking thorns? – – –

The cares of this world.  Care for another world would quicken the springing of this seed, but care for this world chokes it.  Worldly cares are fitly compared to thorns.  They are entangling, vexing, scratching, and their end is to be burned, Heb 6:8.  These thorns choke the good seed.  Worldly cares are great hindrances to our profiting by the word of God.  They eat up that vigour of soul which should be spent in divine things.  Those who are careful and cumbered about many things, commonly neglect the one thing needful.

The deceitfulness of riches.  Those who, by care and industry, have raised estates, and from whom the danger that arises from care seems to be over are apt to promise themselves that in riches which is not in them; to rely upon them, and this chokes the word as much as care did.  It is not so much riches, as the deceitfulness of riches, that does the mischief.  We put our confidence in them, and raise our expectations from them, and then it is that they choke the good seed.

(iv). The good ground (v. 18).  Others fell into good ground, and it is pity but that good seed should always meet with good soil, and then there is no loss; such are good hearers of the word, v. 23.

Now that which distinguished this good ground from the rest, was, in one word, fruitfulness.  He does not say that this good ground has no stones in it, or no thorns; but there were none that prevailed to hinder its fruitfulness.  Saints, in this world, are not perfectly free from the remains of sin; but happily freed from the reign of it.

The hearers represented by the good ground are:

First, intelligent hearers; they hear the word and understand it; they understand not only the sense and meaning of the word, but their own concern in it; they understand it as a man of business understands his business.

Secondly, Fruitful hearers, which is an evidence of their good understanding: which also beareth fruit.  We then bear fruit, when we practice according to the word, and we do as we are taught.

Thirdly, Not all alike are fruitful; some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.  Among fruitful Christians, some are more fruitful than others: where there is true grace, yet there are degrees of it; all Christ’s scholars are not in the same form.  But if the ground be good, and the fruit right, those who bring forth but thirtyfold, shall be graciously accepted of God, and it will be fruit abounding to their account.

Lastly, He closes the parable with a solemn call to attention (v. 9), Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.  The sense of hearing cannot be better employed than in hearing the word of God.  Some are for hearing sweet melody: there is no melody like that of the word of God; others are for hearing new things (Acts 17:21): no news like that.

Henry, Matthew, 1960, “Matthew Henry’s Commentary in One Volume” edited by Leslie F. Church, publ. Marshall, Morgan and Scott, Ltd, copyright 1960; Copyright 1961 Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan.