Biblically Categorizing the Shallow and Divided Heart Hearer
By Richard Allen – September 18, 2023
This may sound like a strange title for our next Study in the Parable of the Soils. But often, I fear that we just ratchet through important portions of Scripture without considering the context. To those who have studied this parable diligently, several things are clear: There is only one portion of Soil that represents a truly saved Christian, the Last Portion of Soil that we usually refer to as the Good Ground Hearer. That means that the other three Soils (Hearts) represent those who are not saved. The First Portion of Soil, that is the Hard-Hearted Hearer, is clearly a man or woman who does not understand the Word of the Kingdom, and rejects it outright. So, between the First Portion who doesn’t even consider or grasp the message of the kingdom, and the Last Portion, one who receives the Word and Bears Fruit, are two portions of Soil that I call – FRUITLESS PROFESSORS!
“Who are the two portions of Soils Jesus describes in the ‘Rocky, Shallow Hearted Hearer,’ and the ‘Thorny, Divided Heart Hearer?’ “ Who are they? Does either continue to profess Christ? Do they remain in the visible Church, making a show of faith? These are all good questions that I hope to answer. Whatever else they may be, these two portions of Soil are Fruitless Professors! Here’s how the Gospel of Matthew explains the Rocky Ground Hearer:
“As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away” (Matthew 13:20-21).
Many years ago, reading “All the Parables of the Bible” by Herbert Lockyear, this Bible scholar explained that at the time of Jesus, farming was done mostly by hand or with the use of oxen or other beasts of burden, to pull a plow. But when a Sower (farmer) encountered a large rock often just below the surface, they did not have the means to remove or break up such large rock formations. So the rock was left in place, and the farmer plowed around it. The wind and weather would often coat these large slabs of stone with a thin layer of soil. In this environment any seed falling on it might quickly sprout and appear to grow for a time, like seed sown on the actual furrows prepared for planting. But this thin soil lacked the moisture to sustain plant life. We need to understand that for most plants, the root growth below ground is often twice the growth that appears on the surface. Each plant must set up a healthy root system below ground to sustain and nourish the growth above ground. Jesus described this root system in the heart:
“And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: the ones who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy. And they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away” (Mark 4:16-17).
Let me observe that these “Rocky Ground” or “Shallow-Hearted” Christians appear in our Churches and stay for a while, then they disappear from view. No doubt, some are still being worked on by the Holy Spirit and do eventually come to saving faith, even years later after their “rock-like impenitent hearts” have been broken up. But what I want us to notice is that for the majority of those Rocky Ground Hearers, they only abide for a while because their Hearts are still just as hard and inhospitable to the Word of God as the Hardened Path in the first portion of Soil that Jesus spoke of. Though their conversion is shallow and doesn’t abide, for a while they do make a profession of faith with great joy. But since the Soil, or their Hearts are unchanged, they have “no affections for, or submission to the Word of the Kingdom!” They may make an immediate “leafy show,” but in the end THEY ARE FRUITLESS PROFESSORS! The reason I’ve titled this Blog “The Fruitless Professor” – Part 1, there is another segment of Soil, the “Thorny Ground Hearer,” in which the seed finds some reception in the Heart, but the Word of the Kingdom has to compete with “Riches and the Cares of this World” for Sun and Nutrients so that it NEVER BEARS FRUIT TO GOD! I think it’s appropriate to mention a portion of Scripture that best explains the FRUITLESS PROFESSOR:
“For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned” (Hebrews 6:4-8).
This portion of Scripture often gets confused with discussions on “The Unpardonable Sin,” which is questionable at best. The immediate context of this passage is Hebrews 5:11 – 6:3, where the writer to the Hebrews sternly warns the Hebrews who have “professed faith” that they need to mature and continue to grow up and become fruitful Christians. The underlying warning is: ‘do not return to Judaism’ or ‘neglect so great a salvation’ that you have in Jesus Christ. We need to understand there are several stages in the growth of any plant: 1.) Successful planting and germination, 2.) Root growth and establishment in the Soil, 3.) Upward growth toward the sun and becoming a healthy plant that can support bearing fruit, and 4.) Producing fruit for a bountiful harvest. If there is any disruption or failure in any of these four stages, the plant is FRUITLESS and of NO VALUE TO THE SOWER! In the first Soil Jesus gives an example of an unsuccessful planting and germination. The seed never TOOK ROOT OR GERMINATED! Now here in the second Soil Jesus gives us an example of seed that germinated but was not successfully established IN THE HEART!
What is most interesting in the passage in Hebrews 6 is the language the writer uses in verses 7-8, stating that: “Land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned.” It’s clear that those immature believers who need milk, not solid food (Hebrews 5:12), were FRUITLESS IN THEIR FAITH. Yes, they had drunk the rain that fell on it, but produced no crop – or even thorns, was “worthless and near being cursed” (Hebrews 6:8).
The writer to the Hebrews actually alludes to both the Rocky Ground Hearer and the Thorny Ground Hearer, neither produced a “crop useful for those for whose sake it is cultivated” (Hebrews 6:7). While the metaphors are similar in both the Parable of the Soils and Hebrews Chapter 6, there are some limitations to the comparison. What is clear from our Lord’s own mouth is, that those who are just “hearers of the word” and not “doers of the word” (James 1:22-25) DON’T PRODUCE FRUIT TO GOD! So I want to ask the next question: Why did the Rocky Ground Hearer’s Heart not have much depth or Root in Himself? What exactly does that mean? Are some people better than others? It’s here that considering the rest of Scripture will give us a better answer. As I showed in Study #3 Parable of the Soils, in our natural state the human heart is inhospitable to the Word of God! “None are righteous, none seek God” (Romans 3:11). We don’t understand God’s Word, it makes no sense to us that “He is now calling all men to repent (Acts 17:30).
Here I’d like to paraphrase my wife Cathy, who is a master gardener. “Just planting the seeds is not enough. Plants need lots of water and sunshine.” I believe that the water is a metaphor for the Holy Spirit’s work in our Hearts! Without the Spirit (Living Water) germinating the Word of the Kingdom (the seed), the Word will never grow roots deep in our Hearts (affections). Jesus used the water metaphor with the Samaritan Woman at the Well in John 4:
“But whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:14).
Jesus spoke to many people during His earthly pilgrimage. And He has spoken to thousands of men and women throughout the past two millennia through the Church and His Scriptures. Yet, there have never been grand scale conversions or major changes in human behavior, Why? Because WITHOUT THE SPIRIT OF GOD, THE WORD PRODUCES NO FRUIT! Zero, Zip, Nada! While I’m not giving my final conclusions here for the Parable of the Soils, it should be clear that for the four Stages of Plant Growth to occur, the Real Master Gardener, Jesus, does all of the due diligence that any Farmer (Sower) today does to prepare the Soil. To my gardener wife, choosing the right location to place your plants, that is, where there is adequate sunlight and preparation of the soil, including plowing, cultivating, weeding and / or removal of any rocks or impediments to growth, is critical to a Harvest. And then she still waters the saplings daily to maximize growth. The same rules that apply in gardening are true in promoting a Spiritual Harvest!
In closing, I would like to reference Jesus’ warning that the sun would scorch and kill any plant that didn’t have roots. How ironic, the very sun that is necessary for “photosynthesis,” that is helping plants convert sunlight into sugar and produce Fruit – is the same sun that causes an “unhealthy” plant with no root system, to wither and die. In Jesus’ explanation, He makes it clear that the sun in the Parable of the Soils represents Tribulation or Persecution because of the Word:
“And they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away” (Mark 4:17).
How can that be? Is Jesus saying that we NEED Tribulation or Persecution for our faith in order to grow? The answer is, YES! I don’t want anyone to overthink this. Jesus isn’t saying that we all have to be burned at the stake, imprisoned or fired from our jobs – JUST IN ORDER TO GROW! But the Word in the hands of God the Holy Spirit will make changesin our life. Changes that cause us to move from “who we once were, to who Christ is now remaking us to be.” And Change brings movement, and movement always causes friction. Often the worst persecution that we receive is in our own home, and from those who love us in human terms. We’ll talk more of this in the following week as we look at the “Thorny Ground Hearer,” but Scripture is clear:
“Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12).
Soli Deo Gloria!