In Luke 8 Jesus is teaching the parable of the sower to a multitude of people. There are four soils in this parable, and the seed is the Word of God. Luke 8:11. After He finishes the parable, the disciples ask Him the meaning. He then explains that the four soils are four hearts- the first, a hard heart, the second one is a heart that receives the Word with joy, but withers when trials and persecutions come. The third heart is choked by the thorny worries and cares of the riches of this world, never producing any fruit. And the fourth heart is a good heart, the heart that wants to understand (Matthew 13:13) the Word, producing much fruit.
There is some discussion over this parable, especially the two middle hearts. Perhaps I am just not seeing correctly, but there seems to be a dilemma I have not read or heard about before. The dilemma I see is between the theology of Calvinism and the teaching of this parable. There seems to be a glaring issue when trying to align this parable with the Calvinistic teaching on God’s sovereignty and man’s total inability to choose Him. For those who believe man cannot choose anything but evil, and that man is so dead that he is actually unable to turn to the Lord, there should be some recognition of a dilemma in Jesus’ parable. Let me explain further.
The first heart is clearly a representation of lost mankind. To many who call themselves Calvinists this first heart would represent dead men ‘at the bottom of the ocean’ unable to even reach out to Christ at any level. The fourth heart is the heart that produces good fruit. And to the man who holds to Calvinist teachings, this heart would be the man who has been regenerated by the Spirit of God. This is the heart which Jesus swam to the bottom of the ocean for, reviving and bringing him from death to life. Not that I believe that God must revive us before we can believe, but I can understand how someone could use these two soils to further their reformed, Calvinistic theology. But here is the dilemma.
If the reformed, Calvinistic perspective is true, then why even bother adding the second or third soil to the parable? If men are so dead that they cannot do anything other than choose evil, and if all men truly cannot understand anything regarding the Gospel of God, then what place do soils two and three have?
Soil 2: For some to receive the Word with gladness (Mark 4:16), then turn away when trials and tribulations come seems to imply that they are not truly saved. Even though lost and dead in their sins, they are able to receive the Word, albeit with wrong intentions, i.e. to make their lives more comfortable. Or would you say that they were saved, but then simply turned away? If so, the Calvinist would have to admit that God has sovereignly allowed some to actually receive the Word only to force/cause them to turn away during persecutions and trials. Would this not be a strange action by the God which the Bible declares is love?
Soil 3: Then there is the third soil which is filled with the worries and cares of this world. This man again receives the Word, but doesn’t seem to turn away from the old nature. Much like Lot, he moves back into Sodom instead of fleeing it. Again the question is this- Has God sovereignly predestined and regenerated this man to receive the Word of God, then causing them to keep the worries so much as to choke the fruit of the Word from ever being produced? And if these are true, born-again believers which God has sovereignly regenerated, then why not sovereignly sanctify them to keep from having any thorns at all?
Soil 1: Lastly, there is the dilemma of the first heart, the heart that is so hard that the seed never enters and Satan comes to snatch away the Word. In Matthew 13:19, Jesus reveals that this heart is hard because it does not understand. Now to many Calvinists, this would be that all men cannot understand without God regenerated them. Most Calvinists would say that men not only do not want to understand, but that they cannot understand. Although the Bible does say men, in general, don’t want to understand, no where does it teach that they are not able to at least understand that God is the Creator and that they are in need of the Savior. See Romans 2:14-15. Are the first three hearts representations of sinful men? If so, then what is the point of drawing a distinction between soil 1,2, and 3? And if soil 1 is the only unregenerate man in this parable, then are soils 2 and 3 sovereignly regenerated hearts that have been caused to later reject or choke the Word? Would not both of these be strange conclusions?
Frankly, if our theology doesn’t fit the Word of God, we need to throw out our theology! It will only benefit us and those we seek to teach. Why couldn’t it be as simple as this- When Jesus began to teach this parable there was a multitude of people who gathered, including His disciples. I’m sure the Lord knew that the multitude consisted of a variety of hearts. Some had soil 1. Others had soil 2. Still others had soil 3, and a few had soil 4. Jesus told His disciples, “For this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.” Matthew 13:15. Two notes: First, Jesus says the people closed their eyes themselves. God did not make them do it. Secondly, He says every one of them has the option at anytime of seeing, hearing, and understanding so as to be converted and healed. It truly reads as though all have the option of receiving the Word, however after hearing, some will refuse, others will hear wrongly, and others will never yield to the Word, even though they have heard.
This parable seems to make much more sense when taken in light of man’s ability to at least be able to hear the truth of God’s Word and respond. When the reader starts with man’s ability to respond to God’s invitation, the parable of the sower seems to serve as a warning both for the hearer to be careful he receives the true Gospel and after receiving, to take care in correctly teaching it to others.
When dilemmas arise within our understanding of the Scriptures, it might mean we need to pray for deeper and clearer understanding. Or it might simply mean we are attempting to mingle the ideas of men with the Word of God. May we always desire the Truth of God’s Word over any of man’s teachings!
“I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live: That thou mayest love the LORD thy God, and that thou mayest obey his voice, and that thou mayest cleave unto Him: for He is thy life, and the length of thy days…” Deuteronomy 30:19-20a
“And if it seem evil unto you to serve the LORD, choose you this day whom ye will serve…” Joshua 24:15
“And ye shall seek Me, and find Me, when ye shall search for Me with all your heart. And I will be found of you, says the LORD.” Jeremiah 29:13 and 14a