The Prevalence of Hard-Hearted Soil

James Montgomery Boice
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The first parable in Matthew 13 deals with the beginnings or origins of the kingdom. Here it is compared to a farmer sowing seed. “A farmer went out to sow his seed . . .” (Matt. 13:3 NIV). Not all of Christ’s parables are explained. In fact, most are not. But this one is (vv. 18–23), and the explanation that Jesus gives is our starting point. The seed is the gospel of the kingdom, and the soil is the human heart (v. 19). The emphasis is on the various kinds of hearts and how they reject or receive Christ’s message.

The Root of Our Hardness of Heart

The first type of soil represents the hard heart, of which there are many today as well as in Christ’s time. It is described as soil along the path (v. 4). Such ground has been trampled down by the many feet that have passed that way over scores of years. Because the soil is hard, the seed that falls there merely lies on the path and does not sink in, and the birds (which Christ compares to the devil or the devil’s workers) soon snatch it away. What is it that makes the human heart hard? There can be only one answer: sin. Sin hardens the heart, and the heart that is hardened sins even more.

That type of person is described in the first chapter of Romans. He or she begins by suppressing the truth about God that may be known from nature (vv. 18–20), plunges inevitably into spiritual ignorance and moral degradation (vv. 21–31), and eventually comes not only to practice the sins of the heathen but to approve them as well (v. 32). Here we see both halves of the circle; sin leads to a rejection of God and God’s truth, and the rejection of God’s truth leads to even greater sin. What is it that leads such a person to reject the truth of God in the first place? According to Paul, it is a determined opposition to the nature of God Himself, which the apostle describes as human “ungodliness and unrighteousness” (Rom. 1:18).

Virtually all of God’s attributes…are offensive to the natural man

Virtually all of God’s attributes—whether sovereignty, holiness, omniscience, immutability, or even the divine love—are offensive to the natural man, if properly understood. So rather than repent of sin and turn for mercy to a God who is altogether sovereign, holy, knowing, and unchangeable, men and women suppress what knowledge they have and refuse to seek out that additional knowledge that could be the salvation of their souls.

People Love Sin

Recently I heard a conversation between two women in which one asked, “Why is America in such a declining moral state today?”

Her friend replied, “Because the people love sin.” I cannot think of anything more profound than that. That is the message of Romans 1 in five words. People love sin. Sin hardens their hearts. Therefore, they will not receive the gospel of the kingdom of God when it is preached to them.

The opposition of the unregenerate heart to God’s sovereignty is particularly evident in these kingdom parables, for kingdom means rule, and rule is the same as sovereignty. When Jesus came preaching the kingdom of God, He came preaching God’s right to rule over the minds and hearts of all people. But that is precisely what the people involved did not want. Adam did not want it. He had great freedom, but he was offended by God’s unreasonable and arbitrary (so he judged) restriction in the case of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If God exercised His sovereignty at that point, it was here that Adam would rebel. So he did—and fell, carrying the race with him. That spirit of rebellion against the sovereign God works itself out in history until eventually the Lord Jesus Christ Himself comes to earth and the response of His people is: “We will not have this man to rule over us.”

So it is also today. That is probably the greatest reason for the rejection of the gospel of God’s grace in Jesus Christ at this or any other time in history. I heard of a man who said, “I believe that Jesus is the Son of God and that He died for sinners. But I guess I just don’t want to give Him my life. I want to make my own decisions.”

For Further Reading:

The Parables of Jesus

by James Montgomery Boice

“Some sections of the Bible give us grand theology. Some move us to grateful responses to God. But the parables break through mere words...

book cover for The Parables of Jesus