Sexagesima Sunday 1857
"Who hath believed our report? And to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?" Isaiah 53:1
Prophet Isaiah laments that no one believes his report, for those people to whom he preached were so hardened that they did not care to hear God's Word when it was preached so that it came against the intellect. And all the prophets of that time lament that the people of that time have not believed what was preached by the prophets. Not until after the death of the prophets did some begin to believe that the prophets had rightly preached, when they saw that the prophesies of the prophets were fulfilled. So also in the Saviours time, not many believed that His preaching was right. And when Luther began to preach repentance to the papists, not many believed his preaching and doctrine to be right, but they considered him to be a wild spirit. But after Luther's death his doctrine became spread more broadly. So all spiritual teachers have had reason to ask as the prophet Isaiah asked: "Who hath believed our report?" We have noticed that not until they are on their deathbed do some believe our preaching, and most of them have then had to confess that it has been preached rightly. But this confession has not helped them when they have not believed before. Some have believed our preaching for a while, but when the temptations of this world have come, they have ceased to believe; nor has this believing helped them, but it became a greater condemnation when death began to squeeze the heart. Some believe the preaching to be right, but do not do accordingly. They postpone their repentance from year to year and from day to day, until it is too late. And then they must say: "They are not acceptable to me." Some feel that they are not able to believe so much that they would become free. Therefore we must ask as Prophet Isaiah: "Who hath believed our report? And to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?"
We do not know who will finally believe our preaching. But as the prophets have preachad although none have believed their preaching, so we must also preach although no one would believe anymore. For we are convinced of this, that once that time will come that men must believe, when their eyes are opened to see that it has been rightly preached, that the way to Heaven has been shown to them. And Oh! that they would believe here in the time of grace, before the door of grace is closed.
Now when we today shall attempt to explain the Saviour's preaching of the four kinds of ground, we pray that the great Author and Finisher of faith would grant us the right understanding, that each one would come to understand of which ground he is. Those few souls who have ears to hear have, without a doubt, understood that in that great field into which the Lord of seeds has sown the blessed seed, there are many kinds of ground, in which the greater part of the sown saed becomes lost. It is unknown if He will even receive His seed in return when frost has damaged the field. Pray, you husbandmen, that the great Lord of seeds, who has sown the good seed, would protect the field, so that the seeds would begin to sprout and bear fruit; and that, while men sleep, the enemy would not have occasion to sow so many thistles that they would choke the wheat, for now it can be seen that thorns and thistles choke the field so that there are no longer many kernels of wheat left. And even those seeds which have come up in a few places this year, may be so poor that they will not sprout, even though they would be sown. And Thou, Lord of the seed, protect us, that all seed would not be lost. Protect the field from frost, snow storm and tempest, so that those few kernels of wheat which you have saved for seed would sprout and bear fruit that the seed would not run out, for if the seed of all runs out, then we are all lost. Hear, Thou Lord of the seeds, the sighs of the poor husbandmen. Our Father and so forth.
The Gospel: Luke 8: 4-15
We heard from our holy gospel which was read, that the Saviour preached to the people about the four kinds of ground, but the people understood nothing from that whole parable. Neither did the disciples understand what this parable was, but they had the desire to understand the mysteries of the Kingdom of God, and therefore they asked the Saviour what the spiritual meaning of this parable was. If, in that great multitude which was gathered then, there would have been someone who believed that in that parable was the word of God, then without a doubt one of them would have asked what the spiritual significance of this parable is. But we understand that sorrowless people do not consider such parables to be anything other than mere prattle and tales in which there is no truth or the word of God. Only the disciples had a desire to know and understand what this parable would be, and to them Jesus also explained this parable. When now Jesus Himself has explained this parable to His disciples, with the guidance of this explanation we want to more broadly explain the most weighty parts which pertain to true Christianity, when we, through God's grace, at this holy moment speak about the four kinds of ground.
The first consideration: What kind of people are they whose hearts are as a trodden down road, where the blessed seed is entirely lost?
The second consideration: What kind of people are they whose hearts are as a rock where the blessed seed withers away?
The third consideration: What kind of people are they whose hearts are as a field where thorns choke the field?
The fourth consideration: What kind are they whose hearts are as the good ground?
While considering this Heavenly field, all true husbandmen should pray the Lord of seeds that some kernel would fall upon good ground, and that it would bear blessed fruit.
The first consideration: What kind of people are they whose hearts are as a trodden down road, where the blessed seed is not able to sprout?
According to the Saviour's explanation, they are such people who hear, then comes the devil and takes away the word out of their heart, lest they should believe and be saved. Here we hear that the devil, who is compared to a bird, takes away the Word from the hearts of the sorrowless, so that in that manner the Word of God effects nothing in such a heart from which the devil takes away the Word. In this place the devil is compared to a bird of the heavens which flies around the world and devours the seed which is sown by the wayside. Those seeds are first trodden down, that is, the vain thoughts which fly to and fro trample and tread down God's field. Such a person, whose thoughts fly around the world, has no time to listen intently to God's Word. And who is it who makes them fly? It is none other than the devil who makes these thoughts fly around the world even while the Word of God is preached. An awakened person often feels how the devil wants to make the thoughts fly around the world during the sermon, but a sorrowless person does not feel that the devil takes away the Word out of his heart, for he sits deaf and dumb in God's house. The Word of God goes as a hum over the head or in one ear and out through the other, so that nothing remains from the whole sermon, not in the memory nor the intellect nor the understanding, much less in the conscience or the heart, where nothing at all adheres. How can the conscience of the sorrowless awaken when the devil takes away the Word from his heart as soon as it is preached? The black birds of heaven pluck out and peck that blessed seed as soon as it is sown. A sorrowless person has not come into the house of the Lord for that reason that he would now listen intently so that he might receive some enlightenment for his soul from it, but as in the Saviour's time the greatest part had come to peer, so even now the greatest part of the sorrowless gather in the church to peer and to show off their finery. They have not come with that mind that with heartfelt desire they would receive the Word. They have not come with that mind that the Word would be able to effect an awakening of conscience or true repentance, but the greatest part has just happened to come. Some have come to mock and laugh, some have come to watch where they should take ahold of, as the Pharisees in the Saviour's time. It is therefore no wonder that the devil takes away the Word from their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved.
The second consideration: What kind are they whose hearts are as a rock, where the blessed seed withers because of lack of moisture? The Lord of seeds Himself has explained this place in this way: they are such people who when they hear, receive the Word with joy; and these have no root, which for a while believe and in time of temptation fall away. This place pertains to those who in the first awakening receive the Word with joy, as we have seen happen here also. Many have received the Word with joy when the gospel was preached to them so that the Word became living. All who are concerned over their souls, all sorrowful and penitent ones, receive the Word with joy when the gospel of the Crucified Saviour is preached to them. The Word becomes living in their hearts and they come into joy. It has now been seen and heard here that with many it has gone so, that they have believed for a while but in time of temptation they have fallen away. The Saviour says in the parable that they lacked moisture, and in the explanation He says that they have no root. With moisture is understood a heartfelt sorrow, which that sinful woman had, who came and wept upon the feet of Jesus in the house of Simon the Leper. Some of the awakened have not had this heartfelt sorrow over sin, but only a fear of death which has driven them to receive the gospel's sermon of faith with joy. But such faith is not enduring because of the other reason, that they have no root. According to our mind this should be understood in this way; their conscience has not truly awakened, or even if it once has awakened, nevertheless this awakening of the conscience was not enduring, so that they would have remained watching and striving against the world and their own flesh. Therefore they have not had such moisture or such grief as the disciples, who wept and lamented after the Saviour's death. Nor have they such kind of root and awakening of conscience as Paul, David, and Luther. We can also surmise whether the Saviour, in this place, meant such people who are outwardly soft, but whose hearts inwardly are as hard as rough and stony ground. Seeds sprout even there when the gospel of Christ is preached, for such people also receive the Word with joy, but in the time of temptation they fall away. Their heart is not a broken heart; it is hard underneath although outwardly it is soft. Such kind of people surely weep when it is preached sweetly, but also laugh when light-mindedness is ruling. And if some Christian begins to delve deeper into their hearts, egoism rises and then they say: "That wild spirit would spoil the work of the Holy Spirit in me." But when the Saviour says: "for a while they believe", then we also must believe that He means such kind of people who have truly awakened and who have received the preaching of the gospel with joy, but they have no moisture, or such a heartfelt sorrow as did David, the disciples, and other penitent ones. Nor have they any root, or such an awakening of conscience which reveals itself in watchfulness, self-denial, and striving against sin. Therefore, in time of temptation they fall away. There are many such examples here who have, for a while, believed and during time of temptation have fallen away. And what is it that caused them to fall? Nothing other than adultery, love of the world, and worldly-mindedness, worldly honor, egoism, and greed. Oh! if these wretches would recognize, in the time of grace, what a miserable condition they are in! "Remember from whence thou art fallen, and do the first works!"
The third consideration: What kind of people are they whose hearts are as a field where thorns choke the wheat? The Lord of seeds Himself has explained this place in this way: "And they which fell among thorns are they, which, when they have heard, go forth, and are choked with cares and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to perfection." Here is painted before our eyes such people who observe the outward customs of Christianity and confess faith, but the heart is so fastened to the world that in no way do they become free from the world. Not only sorrow of the world, which worketh death – sorrow of the world is as a nightmare upon them and presses them to the ground — but also riches or worldly goods are on their mind night and day. First they want to gather worldly possessions and only then make repentance. And the third sin which prevents them from penitence and believing is the pleasures of this life, as marriage and other similar things. The pleasures of this life prevent the young from true Christianity, and the cares of the world keep the poor from coming to a knowledge of salvation. The wealthy, because of their riches, do not become free from the world. But all of these pretend to have concern over their souls’ salvation; they are not openly sorrowless, as those who drink, swear, commit adultery, and fight, but they are such who imitate the customs of Christianity, for in this field where the thorns choke the wheat, there is straw, but the ear is no more than a husk. They have the outward customs of Christianity, but in the heart there is no truth nor true penitence, even though they go to the meetings, and there are many of those even here who pretend to have concern over the salvation of the soul, but the soul’s salvation has not become a matter of the heart. Oh! In how many places has the blessed seed been lost, and how little does the Lord of seeds receive for His troubles! When we first behold that great multitude of the world, whose heart is as a trodden down road in whom God's Word effects nothing, not even so much that one would stop in the race of sin and begin to have sorrow over his soul, and secondly we behold those who for a while believe and in time of temptation fall away, and thirdly those who because of cares of the world, riches and pleasures of this life are choked by thorns, then not many persons or souls remain who truly bear fruit for the kingdom of Heaven. The Lord of seeds is not able to gather many kernels of wheat into His garner at harvest time. Now is still such a time when the sorrow of the world forces itself powerfully into the hearts of the Christians. And although the angel of death stands with a drawn sword over the nation as David saw Him standing with a drawn sword in Heaven, and as John saw this same angel of death sitting upon a pale horse, just the same people are able to live in sorrowlessness and open ungodliness, by which they mock their Creator. But when death comes, surely they then feel their misfortune, but then the time has become too late. They must finally condemn themselves and confess that they have been upon a poor road. But it does not help any more to cry and knock when the door of grace has been closed, as many a dying one has lamented in these times: "God no longer hears my prayers." Consider now, all sorrowless, fallen ones and those choked with the cares, riches and pleasures of this life, how short a time of grace you have and how long eternity is, and how preciously redeemed souls become lost because of your sorrowlessncss, because of your ungodliness, and because of your obstinacy. In today's gospel, the Saviour has painted before your eyes the condition of each and every one, so that you might recognize yourselves and see which field you are in. But when the devil takes the Word out of the heart as soon as it is preached, then there is no hope that such ones would awaken, until possibly in death, when the time of grace is no more, nor the grace of penitence, as it has happened to many dying ones even this year, that the grace of penitence was not given to them, who through a sudden death have been snatched away from the world into eternity. O, Jesus, help us to avoid wrong roads!
The fourth consideration: There is yet a fourth part of the great field which is called the good ground, where the blessed seed yields fruit an hundredfold. But this place is not to be understood so, that a fourth part of the people will become saved, for neither in the apostles' time has a fourth part of the people become Christians, nor have yet now a fourth part come into the outward doctrine of Christianity, and much fewer are those who truly become saved. But we believe nevertheless that there is yet found one part in God's field which truly bears fruit, and they are truly penitent and believing who, according to the Saviour's explanation, hear the word and treasure it in an honest and good heart, and bring forth fruit with patience. It is remarkable that they bring forth fruit with patience, and we also know that patience is necessary before the right fruit comes. In this evil world one must have much patience before the Christianity becomes enduring. Many, through impatience, have lost the right fruit of faith. Many have lamented that impatience had spoiled their faith, and it is true that many have lost their faith through impatience. But our hope is that there are yet some souls who bear fruit in patience. There are yet some, though few, souls who bear the cross of Jesus with patience. And those few souls who bear fruit in patience should now pray the great Cross-Bearer that He would come to help them and strengthen their members when they begin to be weary, that He would pour out a few drops of grace from the wine of the Holy Ghost when their knees begin to faint under the burden of the cross, that they henceforth would be able to bear fruit for the kingdom of Heaven in patience, that they would be able to war and strive in their most precious faith until the end, and finally enjoy the fruit of patience in the kingdom of Heaven where all suffering ends, where the Lord wipes their tears away and gives them the crown of life. There the few souls who herein have borne fruit for the kingdom of God in patience, can enjoy the fruit from the tree of Life which is in the paradise of God, now and forever. Amen.