from WL Worcester (H Blackmer, ed.), 
The Sower.  Helps to the Study of the Bible in Home and Sunday School
(Boston: Massachusetts New-Church Union, n.d.)

Table of Contents


Lesson 6

Mark 4:1-34: Parables by the Seaside

The Story


The Lord was sitting in a boat, teaching the people who sat and stood upon the shore. He spoke to the people in a parable. That is, He told them a sort of story which had in it many lessons. As they looked from the seashore over the grain fields, He told them how a sower, or farmer, went out to sow. The seed that he sowed was all good seed, the sun and showers came to it all alike, but the seed did not grow all alike. Some of the seeds fell upon the paths where the ground was trodden hard, and it could not cover itself with soft earth, so the birds, saw it and ate it up. Some of the seeds fell upon places where there was only a little earth covering the big rocks, and when the sun shone it soon got warm and came up quickly, but because the rock was there it could not put its roots down deep into the ground to get moisture, and so it soon dried up. Some of the seeds fell where there were thorny weeds already started, and when the seeds began to grow the stronger thorns took the food from their roots and crowded the little plants so that they could not bring forth any fruit. But some of the seeds fell upon the good, soft, deep ground where there were no weeds, and they grew fine and strong, and some of the plants had thirty kernels, some of them had sixty kernels, and some had a hundred.

After He had told this story He said, "Who hath ears to hear, let him hear." Read verses 1-9.

By this last verse the disciples knew that it was an important story, but still they did not understand it, and it must have troubled them; for when they were alone, that is, when the multitude had gone, they asked the Lord about the parable. The Lord was pleased to have them ask, and said, "Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of heaven," which meant that to all who ask the Lord's help He can make things plain. But from those who do not go to Him for help the precious things of the kingdom of heaven are covered up by the parables or stories, lest they should despise them.

The Lord told His disciples the meaning of this parable. The seed was the word of God which He was teaching them, and which He teaches us in the Bible, telling us how to feel and think and do what is right, and also about Himself and the heavenly home. He told them that different people hear these words in different ways. Some bear fruit and some do not.

Read another parable in verses 26-29. We can plant seed in the garden, and we can gather the fruit, but who makes the seed grow? Only the Lord can do that, and He works night and day while we sleep and wake. We cannot see or know how He does it. It is the same with ourselves. There is a little for us to do, obeying what the Lord tells us is right, and night and day while we sleep and while we are busy with work and play the Lord is making our spirits strong and beautiful and ready for heaven.

One other parable, about the little mustard seed which grows to be a great tree. In Palestine the mustard grows very large, above your head as you ride on horseback. The Lord told the parable to remind us what great things will grow from little beginnings, from little things that we learn out of the Bible, and from little beginnings that we make in doing right. All that one learns, and all the beginning that anyone makes in this world is like a little tiny seed in the ground, but it will grow, and great strength and beauty and happiness will come from it in heaven. The Lord told the disciples the meaning of the parable of the sower and of the other parables, and He helps us to see, if we really want to see, their meaning. Read verses 30-34.


We are standing on the shore, where the Sea of Galilee meets the plain of Gennesaret. We see the farmers at their work, loosening the ground, or scattering the seed, or gathering the harvest. But listen; the Lord is speaking of these very things. "Behold, there went out a sower to sow"; and He tells of some seed by the wayside, some in stony ground, some among thorns, and some in good ground. When the Lord spoke of these common things they had a deeper meaning.

Who were like the beaten paths where the seed did not sink in at all? Those who did not attend to what the Lord was saying; their minds were busy and satisfied with other things; His words could take no root at all in such minds, and bad thoughts snatched them away, as the birds picked up the grain. Who were like the shallow, stony ground? Those who were interested in what they heard, but only as something to think about. They had no patience to do what the Lord said, when it was a little hard to do it. And the thorny ground? This was like those who listened and resolved to obey the Lord's words, but selfish and evil plans took up their minds and the good things were crowded out. The good ground was like those who "in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience." But it is time to read the parable, and its meaning, as the Lord told it to the disciples. Read verses 1-20.

Who makes the seeds grow that we plant in our gardens? The Lord makes then grow; we cannot do it. And so the Lord makes the seeds of heavenly life grow in us. There are some things that we must do in the garden; we must plant the seeds and water them, and pull up the weeds; but does it help the seeds any for us to dig them up to see how they get along? Do we have to sit and watch them all the time? Would it do any good for us to keep awake at night to watch them? When we have done our part, we must leave the rest for the Lord to do, and we must be trustful while He does it silently and often in ways that we cannot see. It is the same with the heavenly life in ourselves. We need not be anxious nor think that we have to do it all. The Lord makes the angel in us grow silently as we sleep and rise, and try to do right in working and playing. Read verses 26-29.

The Lord compared the kingdom of God to a little mustard seed to show how great the increase in heavenly life will be. This world is like the ground; heaven is like the air and sunshine. If we learn and try to do here even a little of what is right, it will grow into a great deal of usefulness and happiness there. Read verses 30-34.

1. Will you please show me, with a map or pictures, where the Lord spoke the parables by the seaside?

2. Tell me one of the parables that the Lord spoke to the people on the shore. Who was the sower? What was the seed? Where were the different kinds of ground?

3. What did the Lord say about a candle or lamp? What did He say about mustard seed?

4. Why did the Lord speak in parables?

Spiritual Study


Read verses 11, 12. The meaning is, "lest they should be converted, and should then turn back to their evil ways." For the Lord guards against our learning more of heavenly things than we are able to keep faithfully, for if we know them and still do wrong, the wrong is more serious. One excellence of a parable is that everyone sees only so much as he is prepared to see. (P. 260; A. 301, 302)

Thirty-fold, sixty-fold, and a hundred-fold mean different degrees of fruitfulness. A hundred-fold describes the most full and perfect heavenly character. Sixty, like six, suggests a week of labor, and means the heavenly character which results from faithfulness in temptation. Thirty, which is half of sixty, means faithfulness in some temptations. (A. 2276, 2636, 3306)

"Candle" (verse 21) means "lamp," and we think of one of the little shallow cuplike lamps, filled with olive oil, with a hole for the wick at the pointed end opposite to the handle. The Lord's teaching is like a lighted lamp to make dark and doubtful things plain. But the light is given to us to use - to do what it shows is right, and to share it with others. This is putting the light on a stand. If we make no use of knowledge, or use it selfishly, we soon forget it. No matter how learned we are, if we do not practice what we know, we shall forget it all in the other world and be densely stupid. Does this help you to understand verses 21-25? (H. 349)

The parable of the seed growing silently is a beautiful lesson not to be anxious and self-trustful in regard to our spiritual progress, but to remember that if we do our part the rest is cared for by the Lord, in rest and in activity, in dark times and bright. (A. 9587, 5212)

The sharp taste of the mustard seed seems to suggest the selfishness that is in our first little efforts for heavenly life; but the Lord can bring great things from beginnings so small and imperfect. The birds of the air are here the free, happy developments of heavenly affection and thought which will come by and by. Notice the different meaning of the birds in the parable of the sower. (A. 55, 1940)

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