Sowing the Seed: Reflections on Lithuania
Harry R. Osborne
Jesus spoke in clear terms about the task of sowing the seed and its effect upon those with differing kinds of hearts. In the parable of the sower, He said this:
Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow. And it happened, as he sowed, that some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds of the air came and devoured it. Some fell on stony ground, where it did not have much earth; and immediately it sprang up because it had no depth of earth. But when the sun was up it was scorched, and because it had no root it withered away. And some seed fell among thorns; and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no crop. But other seed fell on good ground and yielded a crop that sprang up, increased and produced: some thirty fold, some sixty, and some a hundred (Mk. 4:3-8).
After Jesus had spoken this parable to the disciples, they did not understand its intended meaning and application. Thus, Jesus gave the following explanation to them:
The sower sows the word. And these are the ones by the wayside where the word is sown. And when they hear, Satan comes immediately and takes away the word that was sown in their hearts. These likewise are the ones sown on stony ground who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with gladness; and they have no root in themselves, and so endure only for a time. Afterward, when tribulation or persecution arises for the word's sake, immediately they stumble. Now these are the ones sown among thorns; they are the ones who hear the word, and the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things entering in choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful. But these are the ones sown on good ground, those who hear the word, accept it, and bear fruit: some thirty fold, some sixty, and some a hundred (Mk. 4:1420).
The parable as given and explained by Jesus presents three ingredients in the process of teaching.
First, there is the seed which is the word of God. That word always has the power to save (Rom. 1:16). That power is undimmed by time or circumstances (1 Pet. 1:22-25). Hence, the seed of God's word is a constant in this process - as constant as the God who gave it.
Second, there is the sower who is the teacher of God's word. The sower has the responsibility to teach that truth to "every creature" just as Christ commanded in the first century (Mk. 16:15; 1 Pet. 3:15). The sower is not responsible for the reaction to the seed, but he is responsible to sow it (1 Cor. 3:5-9). Thus, the sower should also be a constant in this process. He is not to pick and choose beforehand who will or will not receive the word of God - he is simply to preach it to all within his reach.
Third, there is the hearer. The one variable in the process as Jesus designed it is the heart of the hearer. Obedience or disobedience will be chosen by the hearer based upon the preparation and suitability of the heart.
Regarding the Sower
No doubt, we mentally know these facts about the sower. The question is this, do we believe them to the point that we act in such a way that conforms to Christ's design? Are we the kind of sowers we should be? Are we spreading the seed of God's word as widely as we can or are we excusing ourselves from that obligation by deciding that various people will not obey the truth before we ever tell them about it? I must be the first to confess that I have done too much of the latter and not nearly enough of the former. The trip to Lithuania taught me some valuable lessons along that line.
My mind goes to a young man named Ardvetis who served as my interpreter during several studies. When I met Ardvetis, it was our first full day in Vilnius. He was in the English department of Vilnius State University where we had gone to locate interpreters. He was a rather unkempt looking fellow who came across as a rebel of sorts. He manifested an interest in working as an interpreter so we took down his name and phone number. We then asked him if he had read the Bible and whether he was interested in studying it. He shrugged his shoulders and replied that he had not read the Bible, nor was he much interested in it since he did not believe in God.
Within two weeks, I had used him in interpreting for me in several classes. After one of them, he told me he would like to ask me a few questions. It was cold and getting dark so I thought he would probably want to stay only a few minutes. By the time we finished, we had discussed the Bible for over two and a half hours and I had to leave so that I could catch a trolley bus home before they ceased running for the night. If we had eliminated him from hearing the truth by our first meeting, it would have been a tragic mistake. Ardvetis has since come to believe in the God of the Bible and my prayer is that he will one day obey the Gospel. We had many other similar cases.
Regarding the Soil
We are also well aware of the facts regarding the differing soils for the seed, the varying hearts of men. However, we sometimes fail to get the application of the principles. For instance, we sometimes think of ourselves as failures when the one we teach does not obey the truth. We have not failed when we teach the whole counsel of God and the hearer does not obey. The failure is the hearer's who has not properly prepared his own heart. Sometimes we are tempted to assure the favorable response of the hearer by altering the message in a way which eliminates or minimizes the factors we perceive as "negative"' elements. In both cases, our problem stems from a failure to see that the response to the message is not our responsibility, but the hearer's. We must simply preach the word in its fullness, thus meeting our obligation.
The various soils were there in Lithuania. Some would come by our table on the square and wave their hands in disgust when they saw that we were offering Bible literature. Some older Catholics would react with anger when they saw that we stood opposed to Roman Catholicism.
Others were ready to hear at first, but unwilling to obey in the end. One lady named Margreta was especially memorable. She saw the need to be baptized rather quickly, but delayed and then began to make excuses to avoid action. Ultimately, she decided that she really had been baptized when she was in the water every day preparing to deliver her oldest child in a water birth. (I had never heard that one before!)
Jonas was a young man who had a heart choked by the cares and pleasures of the world. He wanted to be baptized, but he could not bring himself to give up alcohol and stealing. The young lady I baptized, Jurgeta, turned out to be of the same heart though over different concerns. After her baptism, her family and her Catholic priest turned her against the truth and back to religious error.
But the parable of Jesus did not end with those who refused. There are always those with good and honest hearts who will hear and obey the gospel. It was a true joy that changes your life to see people hungering for the truth who have never heard it before. I am convinced that there are many in Lithuania who will let the word sink into their honest hearts and will obey if they are granted time. Leslie and I were watching the video tape made by Steve Wallace while in Vilnius and I told her the story of several who seem so deeply interested in God's word.
You Cannot Improve upon the Seed
More than anything, it was clear that packaging the truth in less "offensive" and more "positive" terms did not help, but actually hurt! When we began teaching, we tried to lay a good foundation. We showed that the Bible was the sole authority to guide us in serving God. Very few had any problem with that, at least in principle.
Yet, when we started to apply that principle to show the error of the Catholic Church, the Pentecostals, the Jehovah's Witnesses, and others, many of those in the various groups did not like it at first. However, the more plain and forceful we became in opposing error, the more we had people wanting to hear what we were saying. I am more convinced than ever that people will hear and heed the word of God if we will only have the courage to preach it clearly and fully, Attempts to take away the conflict between it and the religious error around us will mask the truth from honest hearts who are seeking it.
Some brethren today do not want denominational churches to be named from the pulpit and their error exposed. But people who are honestly seeking the truth in those denominations want to hear the differences between truth and error explained so that they may obey the truth. Failure to teach the whole counsel of God masks the very truth which is able to purify their souls (1 Pet.1:22). Let us through off the cloak of timidity which dulls the sword of the Spirit and boldly proclaim the saving truth of our glorious Savior!
Guardian of Truth XXXVI: 18, pp. 550-551