This parable, spoken by Jesus to a diverse multitude of people, has been found a subject of difficulty, in particular, to those of the Arminian, or man-centered persuasion, and those who hold to a Calvinistic, or God-centered doctrine.
'Right off the bat'; some may read this statement and immediately see my bias, and assume that this is a Calvinist work, i.e., that I myself am a Calvinist: I do admit, that since my conversion, and even somewhat before, maybe, I have been brought up with the Calvinist doctrine, and have been persuaded most of my Christian life of the veracity of the so-called 'TULIP doctrine'. The Total depravity of man, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace, and the Perseverance of the saints, are points with which I can agree almost whole-heartedly; but in several instances, I would probably have to disagree with Calvin's intent in his phraseology. For this reason, among others, would rather say that I believe in 'Sovereign Grace', i.e., that it's all of God, and none of us. I believe that man, from the beginning, is given the responsibility to choose the good over the evil, but that, when left to himself, will always choose selfishly,in other words, wrongly. As I have often quoted though, from Ezekiel 36:25-27; when God graciously provides man with a new heart, and puts a new spirit within him, His own Holy Spirit, in fact: He causes us to walk according to His statutes!
I think that most of the first group of believers, and possibly even some of the second, would look at the 'parable of the sower', and say that this is indicative of the free will of man as opposed to the sovereign ( but gentlemanly ) will of God. They might say something like, 'God sows His seed of the Gospel everywhere, and to all men; but He leaves it up to them, whether or not to accept this Seed'. A Calvinist, on the other hand, might agree that God propagates His Gospel to all men everywhere; but that only those that brought forth fruit, i.e., those of whom it was spoken, 'but others fell on good ground, sprang up, and yielded a crop a hundredfold', were chosen by God, and elect before the foundation of the world'.
First off; we'll look at Jesus' explanation of the seeds that 'fell by the wayside'. He explained to His disciples that this referred to those that 'hear; then the devil comes and takes away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved'. Prior to this explanation; Jesus quoted from Isaiah 6, telling His disciples why He spoke in parables.
9 And He said, “Go, and tell this people: ‘ Keep on hearing, but do not understand; Keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’ 10 “ Make the heart of this people dull, And their ears heavy, And shut their eyes; Lest they see with their eyes, And hear with their ears, And understand with their heart, And return and be healed.”
God seems here, to be telling Isaiah to intentionally deceive His people! Who then is this 'devil' that would come, in verse 11 of Luke chapter 8, and take away the word of God? Assuming that this 'devil' is the same 'Satan' that we know from the Old Covenant Scriptures; we can easily see that Isaiah was acting the part of a 'Satan' to his people. In Matthew 16:23 and Mark 8:33; it it recorded that Jesus once called Peter Satan! Whether Jesus meant to rebuke Peter by comparing him with the fallen spiritual being known as Satan, or whether He was saying that Peter was being adversarial; this was a pretty harsh statement!
We know, from the Hebrew Scriptures, that God has, in time past, used the selfish actions of evil men, or even spirits, to accomplish His will; so, do you think that He employs the same means still?
James, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, said that a man 'is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed'. In context; James is speaking of the various temptations that we often go through, especially as Christians, saying that we cannot and must not attribute them to God, but rather to ourselves! Too often; I think that even we, as Christians, and for the most part, those of the Arminian persuasion, have attributed these temptations to a fallen spiritual being named Satan. When Jesus said, in Luke 8:11 above, that 'then the devil comes and takes away the word out of their hearts'; He was speaking, and still speaks, not of this supposed fallen spiritual being named Satan: but rather, of ourselves, who are ' drawn away by our own desires and enticed'.
The next group of people that Jesus talks about in verse 13, 'the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, who believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away.', I think, are pretty much the same as those first mentioned, but described in a slightly different manner. I think that Jesus perfectly describes what I call a 'Sunday Christian' in describing this group. Many people will show much emotion when they are first 'saved' ( I hate to make this distinction: but more often than not, these are Arminians ); but when they leave 'church' on Sunday afternoon or evening, they revert to their old ways, run with the same crowd, and soon find more and 'better' excuses to stay away from 'church'!
For the 'ones that fell among thorns' in verse 14; Jesus uses much the same imagery as in the previous verse. These hear the Word, and maybe even receive it for a time; but when they re-enter the mission-field, or the world at large, they are consumed by worries about their families, their jobs, and with other matters which Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:25-34 that we should not be worried about.
Jesus now describes those who 'fell on the good ground' as those who, having received the Word, are willing and able to apply it to their lives outside of the 'church' setting, who obey Jesus command in Matthew 6:33 to 'seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you'.
I don't mean to imply that God does not bless those who are self-centered, or worry unduly about family, friends, or their jobs ( not necessarily in that order ), because all of us, even the most spiritual of Christians, worries or stresses unduly about certain things, most of which we have no control over. As to being outside of the 'church' setting; I simply meant outside ( maybe away from would be a better word ) the gathering of the local body of believers in a specialized building, sanctified for that purpose. We, as Christians, of course, are never outside the 'Church'; and so, should always strive to act within the 'Church' setting, and never as if we are outside it!
I must admit that I, at times, am ' less than the least of all the saints', for I don't seek His Kingdom as I should, or always act as a member of His Church, or even that I belong to Him, and am part of His 'new creation' ( see also Isaiah 65:17-25, Galatians 6:15 ); but I must always and forever remind myself that it is what Christ has done, and not what I do!
I pray this little study edifies those that read it and, as always; that you will be a 'Berean' and 'search the Scripture daily to see if these things are so'!
In God's service, for His glory,
In His Kingdom, and by His grace,