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Print Version Main Index : Commentaries : JFB Commentary : Mark Index : Chapter 4

Mark, Chapter 4
Chapter 3 | Chapter 5
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      1. And he began again to teach by the seaside: and there was gathered unto him a great multitude--or, according to another well-supported reading, "a mighty" or "immense multitude."
      so that he entered into a ship--rather, "the ship," meaning the one mentioned in Mr 3:9. (See on Mt 12:15).
      and sat in the sea; and the whole multitude was by the sea on the land--crowded on the seashore to listen to Him. (See on Mt 13:1,2.)

      2. And he taught them many things by parables, and said unto them in his doctrine--or "teaching."

      Parable of the Sower (Mr 4:3-9,13-20).


      3. Hearken; Behold, there went out a sower to sow--What means this? See on Mr 4:14.

      First Case: THE WAYSIDE. (Mr 4:4,15).

      4. And it came to pass, as he sowed, some fell by the wayside--by the side of the hard path through the field, where the soil was not broken up.
      and the fowls of the air came and devoured it up--Not only could the seed not get beneath the surface, but "it was trodden down" (Lu 8:5), and afterwards picked up and devoured by the fowls. What means this? See on Mr 4:15.

      Second Case: THE STONY or rather, ROCKY GROUND. (Mr 4:5,16).

      5. And some fell on stony ground, where it had not much earth--"the rocky ground"; in Matthew (Mt 13:5), "the rocky places"; in Luke (Lu 8:6), "the rock." The thing intended is, not ground with stones in it which would not prevent the roots striking downward, but ground where a quite thin surface of earth covers a rock. What means this? See on Mr 4:16.

      Third Case: THE THORNY GROUND. (Mr 4:7,18,19).

      7. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up, and choked it, and it yielded no fruit--This case is that of ground not thoroughly cleaned of the thistles, &c.; which, rising above the good seed, "choke" or "smother" it, excluding light and air, and drawing away the moisture and richness of the soil. Hence it "becomes unfruitful" (Mt 13:22); it grows, but its growth is checked, and it never ripens. The evil here is neither a hard nor a shallow soil--there is softness enough, and depth enough; but it is the existence in it of what draws all the moisture and richness of the soil away to itself, and so starves the plant. What now are these "thorns?" See on Mr 4:19.

      Fourth Case: THE GOOD GROUND. (Mr 4:8,20).

      8. And other fell on good ground, and did yield fruit, &c.--The goodness of this last soil consists in its qualities being precisely the reverse of the other three soils: from its softness and tenderness, receiving and cherishing the seed; from its depth, allowing it to take firm root, and not quickly losing its moisture; and from its cleanness, giving its whole vigor and sap to the plant. In such a soil the seed "brings forth fruit," in all different degrees of profusion, according to the measure in which the soil possesses those qualities. See on Mr 4:20.

      9. And he said unto them, He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.

      After this parable is recorded the Evangelist says:

      10. And when he was alone, they that were about him with the twelve--probably those who followed Him most closely and were firmest in discipleship, next to the Twelve.
      asked of him the parable--The reply would seem to intimate that this parable of the sower was of that fundamental, comprehensive, and introductory character which we have assigned to it (see on Mt 13:1).

      Reason for Teaching in Parables (Mr 4:11,12,21-25).

      11, 12. And he said unto them, Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them, &c.--See on Mt 13:10-17.

      13. Know ye not this parable? and how then will ye know all parables?--Probably this was said not so much in the spirit of rebuke, as to call their attention to the exposition of it which He was about to give, and so train them to the right apprehension of His future parables. As in the parables which we have endeavored to explain in Mt 13:1-58, we shall take this parable and the Lord's own exposition of the different parts of it together.

      14. The sower soweth the word--or, as in Luke (Lu 8:11), "Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God." But who is "the sower?" This is not expressed here because if "the word of God" be the seed, every scatterer of that precious seed must be regarded as a sower. It is true that in the parable of the tares it is said, "He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man," as "He that soweth the tares is the devil" (Mt 13:37,38). But these are only the great unseen parties, struggling in this world for the possession of man. Each of these has his agents among men themselves; and Christ's agents in the sowing of the good seed are the preachers of the word. Thus, as in all the cases about to be described, the sower is the same, and the seed is the same; while the result is entirely different, the whole difference must lie in the soils, which mean the different states of the human heart. And so, the great general lesson held forth in this parable of the sower is, that however faithful the preacher, and how pure soever his message, the effect of the preaching of the word depends upon the state of the hearer's heart. Now follow the cases. See on Mr 4:4.

      15. And these are they by the wayside, where the word is sown; but, when they have heard, &c.--or, more fully (Mt 13:19), "When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart." The great truth here taught is, that hearts all unbroken and hard are no fit soil for saving truth. They apprehend it not (Mt 13:19) as God's means of restoring them to Himself; it penetrates not, makes no impression, but lies loosely on the surface of the heart, till the wicked one--afraid of losing a victim by his "believing to salvation" (Lu 8:12)--finds some frivolous subject by whose greater attractions to draw off the attention, and straightway it is gone. Of how many hearers of the word is this the graphic but painful history!

      16. And these are they likewise which are sown on stony ground, &c.--"Immediately" the seed in such a case "springs up"--all the quicker from the shallowness of the soil--"because it has no depth of earth." But the sun, beating on it, as quickly scorches and withers it up, "because it has no root" (Mr 4:6), and "lacks moisture" (Lu 8:6). The great truth here taught is that hearts superficially impressed are apt to receive the truth with readiness, and even with joy (Lu 8:13); but the heat of tribulation or persecution because of the word, or the trials which their new profession brings upon them quickly dries up their relish for the truth, and withers all the hasty promise of fruit which they showed. Such disappointing issues of a faithful and awakening ministry--alas, how frequent are they!

      18. And these are they which are sown among thorns; such as hear the word,

      19. And the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in--or "the pleasures of this life" (Lu 8:14).
      choke the word, and it becometh unfruitful--First, "The cares of this world"--anxious, unrelaxing attention to the business of this present life; second, "The deceitfulness of riches"--of those riches which are the fruit of this worldly "care"; third, "The pleasures of this life," or "the lusts of other things entering in"--the enjoyments in themselves may be innocent, which worldly prosperity enables one to indulge. These "choke" or "smother" the word; drawing off so much of one's attention, absorbing so much of one's interest, and using up so much of one's time, that only the dregs of these remain for spiritual things, and a ragged, hurried, and heartless formalism is at length all the religion of such persons. What a vivid picture is this of the mournful condition of many, especially in great commercial countries, who once promised much fruit! "They bring no fruit to perfection" (Lu 8:14); indicating how much growth there may be, in the early stages of such a case, and promise of fruit--which after all never ripens.

      20. And these are they which are sown on good ground; such as hear the word, and receive it, and bring forth fruit, some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some an hundred--A heart soft and tender, stirred to its depths on the great things of eternity, and jealously guarded from worldly engrossments, such only is the "honest and good heart" (Lu 8:15), which "keeps," that is, "retains" the seed of the word, and bears fruit just in proportion as it is such a heart. Such "bring forth fruit with patience" (Mr 4:15), or continuance, "enduring to the end"; in contrast with those in whom the word is "choked" and brings no fruit to perfection. The "thirtyfold" is designed to express the lowest degree of fruitfulness; the "hundredfold" the highest; and the "sixtyfold" the intermediate degrees of fruitfulness. As a "hundredfold," though not unexampled (Ge 26:12), sis a rare return in the natural husbandry, so the highest degrees of spiritual fruitfulness are too seldom witnessed. The closing words of this introductory parable seem designed to call attention to the fundamental and universal character of it.

      21. And he said unto them, Is a candle--or "lamp"
      brought to be put under a bushel, or under a bed? and not to be set on a candlestick?--"that they which enter in may see the light" (Lu 8:16). See on Mt 5:15, of which this is nearly a repetition.

      22. For there is nothing hid which shall not be manifested, &c.--See on Mt 10:26,27; but the connection there and here is slightly different. Here the idea seems to be this--"I have privately expounded to you these great truths, but only that ye may proclaim them publicly; and if ye will not, others will. For these are not designed for secrecy. They are imparted to be diffused abroad, and they shall be so; yea, a time is coming when the most hidden things shall be brought to light."

      23. If any man have ears to hear, let him hear--This for the second time on the same subject (see on Mr 4:9).

      24. And he saith unto them, Take heed what ye hear--In Luke (Lu 8:18) it is, "Take heed how ye hear." The one implies the other, but both precepts are very weighty.
      with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you--See on Mt 7:2.
      and unto you that hear--that is, thankfully, teachably, profitably.
      shall more be given.

      25. For he that hath, to him shall be given; and he that hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he hath--or "seemeth to have," or "thinketh he hath." (See on Mt 13:12). This "having" and "thinking he hath" are not different; for when it hangs loosely upon him, and is not appropriated to its proper ends and uses, it both is and is not his.

      Parable of the Seed Growing We Know not How (Mr 4:26-29).

      This beautiful parable is peculiar to Mark. Its design is to teach the Imperceptible Growth of the word sown in the heart, from its earliest stage of development to the ripest fruits of practical righteousness.

      26, 27. So is the kingdom of God, as if a man should cast seed into the ground; and should sleep, and rise night and day--go about his other ordinary occupations, leaving it to the well-known laws of vegetation under the genial influences of heaven. This is the sense of "the earth bringing forth fruit of herself," in Mr 4:27.

      28. For the earth bringeth forth fruit of herself; first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear--beautiful allusion to the succession of similar stages, though not definitely marked periods, in the Christian life, and generally in the kingdom of God.

      29. But when the fruit is brought forth--to maturity
      immediately he putteth in the sickle, because the harvest is come--This charmingly points to the transition from the earthly to the heavenly condition of the Christian and the Church.

      Parable of the Mustard Seed (Mr 4:30-32).

      For the exposition of this portion, see on Mt 13:31,32.

      33. And with many such parables spake he the word unto them, as they were able to hear it--Had this been said in the corresponding passage of Matthew, we should have concluded that what that Evangelist recorded was but a specimen of other parables spoken on the same occasion. But Matthew (Mt 13:34) says, "All these things spake Jesus unto the multitude in parables"; and as Mark records only some of the parables which Matthew gives, we are warranted to infer that the "many such parables" alluded to here mean no more than the full complement of them which we find in Matthew.

      34. But without a parable spake he not unto them--See on Mt 13:34.
      and when they were alone, he expounded all things to his disciples--See on Mr 4:22.


      The time of this section is very definitely marked by our Evangelist, and by him alone, in the opening words.

      Jesus Stills a Tempest on the Sea of Galilee (Mr 4:35-41).

      35. And the same day--on which He spoke the memorable parables of the preceding section, and of the thirteenth chapter.
      when the even was come--(See on Mr 6:35). This must have been the earlier evening--what we should call the afternoon--since after all that passed on the other side, when He returned to the west side, the people were waiting for Him in great numbers (Mr 4:21 Lu 8:40).
      he saith unto them, Let us pass over unto the other side--to the east side of the lake, to grapple with a desperate case of possession, and set the captive free, and to give the Gadarenes an opportunity of hearing the message of salvation, amid the wonder which that marvellous cure was fitted to awaken and the awe which the subsequent events could not but strike into them.

      36. And when they had sent away the multitude, they took him even as he was in the ship--that is, without any preparation, and without so much as leaving the vessel, out of which He had been all day teaching.
      And there were also with him other little ships--with passengers, probably, wishing to accompany Him.

      37. And there arose a great storm of wind--"a tempest of wind." To such sudden squalls the Sea of Galilee is very liable from its position, in a deep basin, skirted on the east by lofty mountain ranges, while on the west the hills are intersected by narrow gorges through which the wind sweeps across the lake, and raises its waters with great rapidity into a storm.
      and the waves beat into the ship--kept beating or pitching on the ship.
      so that it was now full--rather, "so that it was already filling." In Matthew (Mt 8:24), "insomuch that the ship was covered with the waves"; but this is too strong. It should be, "so that the ship was getting covered by the waves." So we must translate the word used in Luke (Lu 8:23)--not as in our version--"And there came down a storm on the lake, and they were filled [with water]"--but "they were getting filled," that is, those who sailed; meaning, of course, that their ship was so.

      38. And he was in the hinder part of the ship--or stern.
      asleep on a pillow--either a place in the vessel made to receive the head, or a cushion for the head to rest on. It was evening; and after the fatigues of a busy day of teaching under the hot sun, having nothing to do while crossing the lake, He sinks into a deep sleep, which even this tempest raging around and tossing the little vessel did not disturb.
      and they awake him, and say unto him, Master--or "Teacher." In Luke (Lu 8:24) this is doubled--in token of their life-and-death earnestness--"Master, Master."
      carest thou not that we perish?--Unbelief and fear made them sadly forget their place, to speak so. Luke has it, "Lord, save us, we perish." When those accustomed to fish upon that deep thus spake, the danger must have been imminent. They say nothing of what would become of Him, if they perished; nor think, whether, if He could not perish, it was likely He would let this happen to them; but they hardly knew what they said.

      39. And he arose, and rebuked the wind--"and the raging of the water" (Lu 8:24).
      and said unto the sea, Peace, be still--two sublime words of command, from a Master to His servants, the elements.
      And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm--The sudden hushing of the wind would not at once have calmed the sea, whose commotion would have settled only after a considerable time. But the word of command was given to both elements at once.

      40. And he said unto them, Why are ye so fearful?--There is a natural apprehension under danger; but there was unbelief in their fear. It is worthy of notice how considerately the Lord defers this rebuke till He had first removed the danger, in the midst of which they would not have been in a state to listen to anything.
      how is it that ye have no faith?--next to none, or none in present exercise. In Matthew (Mt 8:26) it is, "Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith?" Faith they had, for they applied to Christ for relief: but little, for they were afraid, though Christ was in the ship. Faith dispels fear, but only in proportion to its strength.

      41. And they feared exceedingly--were struck with deep awe.
      and said one to another, What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?--"What is this?" Israel has all along been singing of JEHOVAH, "Thou rulest the raging of the sea: when the waves thereof arise, Thou stillest them!" "The Lord on high is mightier than the noise of many waters, yea, than the mighty waves of the sea!" (Ps 89:9 93:4). But, lo, in this very boat of ours is One of our own flesh and blood, who with His word of command hath done the same! Exhausted with the fatigues of the day, He was but a moment ago in a deep sleep, undisturbed by the howling tempest, and we had to waken Him with the cry of our terror; but rising at our call, His majesty was felt by the raging elements, for they were instantly hushed--"WHAT MANNER OF MAN IS THIS?"

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