The Fourth Soil

Courtesy of
Courtesy of

Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, multiplying thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times.” – Mark 4:8 (NIV)

This past weekend, I planted grass seed in some of the bare spots on my lawn that had emerged over the winter. I didn’t simply drop the seed over the bare spots. First, I took a planting tool to scratch furrows into the soil it make it more receptive to the seed.   Secondly, I dug out weeds that had started to grow in the bare spots that could have choked out the emerging grass.   Lastly, I mixed in specially formulated lawn soil. The lawn soil received some its nutrient density from compost, the by-product of dying organic material. The bag of lawn soil been exposed to air, so the soil had become rock-like. I literally had to take a hammer to pulverize it back into the consistency of dirt.

This exercise got me thinking about one of the parables of Jesus. There is a parable told in all of the synoptic gospels that has come to be known as the parable of the sower and the seed. In the parable the sower scatters seeds on four different types of soils with varying results

Soil type Results
Seeds falling along the road Birds came along and ate the seeds, representing those who hear the Gospel but quickly dismiss it.
Seeds falling among the rocks The sun scorched the plants and they withered because they had no root. This represents those who accept the word of God on a surface level.
Seeds feel among the thorns The thorns grew up and choked the plants so that they did not bear grain. This represents those who hear the word, and take it to heart, but allow worldly concerns, such as money, to choke it.
Seeds fell on good soil It came up, grew and produced a crop, multiplying thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times. This represents those who hear the word, and truly understand it, causing it to bear fruit.


Someone has rightly said a better name for the parable would be the sower and the four types of soil. In the parable, there is no indication the sower scattered different types of seeds, but it’s clear the seeds fell of different types of soil.

There is some naturally occurring fertile soil, found in river flood plains, for example, but much soil must be made fertile through manipulation. Various techniques are used to do this. Land used for farming must be cleared of existing vegetation. Trees must be cut down and uprooted using animals or heavy machinery. In some cases controlled burning of the land occurs to remove vegetation. Large rocks and boulders must be removed. The soil itself may need to be enhanced through the use of organic material such as manure or through fertilizers. The soil must be tilled breaking up large clods of dirt and creating rows into which to plant seeds.

Even after the soil has started to produce a crop, the farmer may skip a planting season or two allowing the land to remain fallow so that its nutrients can be replenished.   Producing good soil is not accidental. It is an intentional work by a wise farmer.

If the soil where animate, it may likely find all of this manipulation unpleasant or distasteful. To top it all off, the soil might have a bunch of crap dumped on it!   Then after it started to become useful, it might end up being temporarily abandoned.

Mankind is God’s living soil. The seed of God’s word is sown to all, but it only takes root in the fourth soil, the soil that has been prepared to receive it. God himself will do much of the preparation if we only but allow him, but I warn you the preparation may not be pleasant. We may need to experience death to those things we hold onto. The resulting decay brought on by death will produce the compost our souls need to grow and enlarge. The heartaches and disappointments in life that scar our souls produce furrows providing an anchoring point for God’s seeds to take root.

Sadly, too many Christians, particularly in Western cultures, are content being the second and third soils.   They receive the Gospel only shallowly or allow their attention and affections are consumed by the cares of this world and deceitful of riches. While God prepares the soil, we can “water” it by engaging spiritual disciples such as prayer, confession worship and scripture reading.

Strive to be the fourth soil. The way may not always be easy, but yield will be worth it.

You may also like