What Exactly is the Good Soil /Honest Heart that Jesus Spoke of?
By Richard Allen – October 30, 2023
I am very thankful that my readers have stuck with me these past six weeks as we’ve worked our way through the Parable of the Soils. At the outset in week #1, I posed several questions to aid our study and, hopefully, to help us make a “deeper dive” into the Parable of the Soils. Jesus himself told us, that if we understand this parable, it will be key to understanding all parables (Mark 4:13). So, in order to begin thinking critically, I asked four questions at the start. I think we have answered two of them, Question #1 and Question #2, and partially answered Question #4. These next two weeks we’ll try to answer Question #3 – “Why then are men’s hearts (Soils) different?” To review, here are the four questions I asked:
Why did some of the seed fall on Hard, Rocky even Thorny Soil? Did the Sower intend to sow his seed on unfertile ground or was it incidental?
Do “some people have better hearts than others which are more receptive to the Word of the Kingdom?”
If the Four Soils are explained to be the condition of Men’s hearts, who or what made them (i.e. men’s hearts) so different?
Is the Sower completely “passive” in planting, cultivating and tending his crops?
Regarding Question #1 – “Why did the Seed (Word) fall on different types of Soil?” As I’ve
pointed out, just like the experience of farmers in Jesus’ day (with which His hearers were familiar), the Sower (Farmer) did not intentionally throw seed on the “Hard Soil” of the hardened path that was used to bring his cart and seed into his field. Neither did he intentionally sow valuable seed on “Rocky” or “Thorny” Soil. Again, while all three of these portions of Soil ended up with seed on them, that was not the Sower’s intent. We must remember that Jesus is telling us this Parable of the Soils from a human perspective, not from the Divine Viewpoint. In human terms, some people appear to be “hardened paths” with hard hearts for much of their life, totally resistant to the Word of God. But then, God stirs their hearts and minds through His Providential Means, and they suddenly become receptive to the Word of the Kingdom and believe.
Likewise, other people are “shallow” believers attending Church for a while, then fall away, often for years. But God, through the power of His Spirit, wakes them up from their half-hearted belief, bringing them to full repentance and faith. I’ve also known Believers who were divided in their affections, with no evidence of any spiritual life or conversion. Then God uses circumstances in their lives to wake them up from their sleep of unbelief by pruning and weeding their hearts, and they become fruitful and vibrant Christians. Again, Jesus is not explaining the Spirit’s work or His timing in changing hearts by the New Birth (regeneration). Rather, Jesus is explaining what fruit (or lack of) these types of Soil (hearts) ultimately will produce. The Spirit’s process of “bringing men to life and faith,” is still a mystery (John 3:6-8).
I also believe we’ve answered Question #2 as to whether “some people have better hearts than others,” or that their “hearts are more receptive to the Word of the Kingdom.” The clear teaching of Scripture is that the hearts of all men and women “are not good and honest,” nor are they “receptive to the Word.” None of mankind understands, nor do they seek God (Romans 3:10-18). To say differently would be to stand the entire teaching of the Scriptures on its head. Those who are saved, are so because they have been convinced that they are “poor sinners saved by grace alone,” and that “nothing good dwells within them.” They give all Glory to God for “changing their hearts.” As the hymnwriter of Amazing Grace stated: “I once was lost, but now I’m found, was blind, but now I see!” Yes, the hymn writer, John Newton, ascribes all the Glory for our being saved to Grace, which is just another way of ascribing our Salvation to God: “The Salvation of the Righteous is from the Lord” (Psalm 37:39). Even our awakening to sin is by God’s grace: “Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved.” To answer Question #4: “Is the Sower completely “passive” in planting, cultivating and tending his crops?” The obvious answer is, No way! God is instrumentally active in our Salvation from beginning to end! We’ll have more to say on this shortly.
Allow me to use Biblical terms here regarding Salvation: “Who gives us sight?” and “Who draws us to Christ by teaching our ‘hearts to fear?’ ” Or to speak even more plainly using an inference from the Parable of the Soils: “Who then is it that ‘plows up the hardened soil of our hearts’ to make them receptive to the Word of God?” Does anyone believe that we are able in our unbelief to stir up our hearts on our own? Do people who are really lost, realize that they’re lost by their own wisdom or power? Or does it take the powerful intervention by a supernatural being to bring this about? These questions set the stage for us to answer Question #3: “Who or what makes the Soils of men’s hearts different? If you haven’t guessed already: “It is God Himself who makes the hearts of fallen men and women receptive to the Word of the Kingdom. God alone makes us different! It was this very question that brought St. Augustine to saving faith in God alone as he wrestled with a verse in 1 Corinthians that asked this very question:
“For who makes you different from somebody else, and what have you got that was not given to you? And if anything has been given to you, why boast of it as if it were something you had achieved yourself?” (I Corinthians 4:7).
So you should be asking: “How does this tie in with the Parable of the Soils?” Even though we believers are subjects of God’s work in “Regeneration” (i.e. the New Birth as explained in John 3:8), it’s the work of God the Holy Spirit alone who accomplishes this transformative work. Actually, we know almost nothing about “how” the Spirit operates in bringing us to life. Just like the healing power of God working in someone who’s sick, they’ll know nothing of “how God accomplished their healing,” but they do realize “that they have been healed!” Regeneration, or the New Birth, is something we experience as recipients of God’s work in us! It’s not something that we initiate! That is the work of the Holy Spirit! Let me tell you how God opened my eyes to the miracle of the New Birth many years ago.
First, as I studied the verses in this Parable, I realized that the verse that gave me the most trouble from the Parable of the Soils was Luke 8:15, where Jesus, explaining the parable says:
“As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience” (Luke 8:15).
Having really grasped the meaning of many, many, passages in the New Testament that teach that “there are none righteous, no not one” (Romans 3:10), and “the heart is deceitful and desperately wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9). I couldn’t imagine that some people had better hearts than others – that some people were left “untouched by the fall.” The Old Testament had already convinced me that even those whom God called and worked through, had fickle, depraved and dishonest hearts. But there I was, wrestling with a verse where the Lord Himself taught that this good portion of soil represented those who, upon hearing the Word, held it fast in an honest and good heart!” Since I believed many other verses that proclaimed that we are all fallen and unable to seek God in our natural state, the only answer I was left with was: “Something miraculous must have happened to change those hearts (i.e. Soil), to make them receptive to the Word of the Kingdom.” From the context of the Parable of the Soils, no answer is given to resolve this dilemma. Jesus was merely proclaiming the result of the seed (Word) landing on four types of soil. I also knew Jesus was deliberately obscuring His message to those “to whom it had not been given to hear, see or understand” (Matthew 13:11). But He didn’t want His Children, those who had eyes to see, to be in the dark. I am convinced that He wants us to understand what He was saying! Though I referred to the commentaries I had, none addressed this dilemma satisfactorily.
Many years ago, while still fairly unskilled in unpacking the Scriptures, I still had a clear sense that the Scriptures themselves were all connected, especially core Gospel Truths from both New and Old Testaments. When reading, I made a regular attempt to cross reference every verse I read in the New Testament using the Reference Column. Looking at the Reference Column in my King James Bible for the three Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke), it didn’t take long to realize there was an almost parallel passage in Jeremiah Chapter four that sounded very similar to what Jesus was describing as He explained the Parable of the Soils. Here’s the passage from Jeremiah:
“If you return, O Israel, declares the Lord, to me you should return. If you remove your detestable things from my presence, and do not waver, and if you swear, ‘As the Lord lives,’ in truth, in justice, and in righteousness, then nations shall bless themselves in him, and in him shall they glory.’ For thus says the Lord to the men of Judah and Jerusalem ‘Break up your fallow ground, and sow not among thorns. Circumcise yourselves to the Lord; remove the foreskin of your hearts, O men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem; lest my wrath go forth like fire, and burn with none to quench it, because of the evil of your deeds” (Jeremiah 4:1-4).
As I sat and pondered Jeremiah 4:1-4, it sounded like the Prophet was admonishing Israel to return to the Lord, which I understood to mean genuine repentance. Jeremiah likens this change of mind (the Biblical meaning of repentance), to “Breaking up hardened ground, and not sowing seed among thorns.” Whereas Jesus described the nature of the four portions of Soil in His parable, and “how they had received the seed,” the Prophet seems to be telling Israel to “plow up their hardened, unfertile soil, and take care not to sow their seed among thorns.” What could Jeremiah possibly mean? The next phrase was even more troubling: “Circumcise yourselves to the Lord; remove the foreskin of your hearts.” Since I was starting to understand how Hebrew Scriptures often repeated a phrase, saying the same thing in a different way, I rightly understood that “plowing up hardened ground was the same as circumcising the foreskin of our hearts.”
At least I knew I was on the right track. Jeremiah was clearly using the same “Soil / Heart” metaphor that Jesus was. I also realized that I wasn’t sure what circumcision of the heart meant. It was a phrase that was repeated several times in both Old and New Testaments, so first, I needed to know what it meant. Turns out, this was the key to understanding the Parable of the Soils. More to come in Parable of the Soils Study #8: “The Circumcision of the Heart!”
Soli Deo Gloria!