One of my favorite parables in the New Testament is the parable of the sower, as found in Matthew 13:3–23 (see also Mark 4:3–20; Luke 8:5–15). In this parable, the ways people receive the word (the seed) are compared to different types of soil. We learn that each soil has an important characteristic, either good or bad.
We often read this parable and think that it describes people’s willingness to accept and live the gospel. While this is true, I think the parable can also describe our individual progress as we grow in faith and gospel knowledge. In other words, we are not perpetually locked into a certain type or level of belief. We can, with faith and effort, improve our spiritual soil so that it will produce better fruit.
I would like to examine this thought with you because it has helped me to understand this parable in a deeper way. I believe that as we prepare for our New Testament Come, Follow Me study for the coming year, a review of the parable of the sower can help us to prepare our hearts to receive gospel truth.
Receiving Gospel Seeds
In the parable, we learn that as the sower sowed:
- Some seeds fell by the wayside, and birds ate them.
- Some fell on stony places. They sprouted but were scorched by the sun.
- Some fell among thorns, and the thorns choked them out.
- Some fell into good ground and brought forth fruit.
The Lord explains:
“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. This is he which received seed by the way side.
“But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it;
“Yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended.
“He also that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful.
“But he that received seed into the good ground is he that heareth the word, and understandeth it; which also beareth fruit, and bringeth forth, some an hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty” (Matthew 13:19–23; emphasis added).
Let’s look at each type of soil and see what can be done to improve it.
President Dallin H. Oaks, First Counselor in the First Presidency, said: “The seeds that ‘fell by the way side’ (Mark 4:4) have not reached mortal soil where they might possibly grow. They are like teachings that fall upon a heart hardened or unprepared.”1
In addition, sometimes we don’t understand what we hear or read in the scriptures because our hearts are unprepared. When that is the case, what should we do?
We can seek an explanation from those who do understand. We might ask the missionaries, our Sunday School teacher, our priesthood or organization leader, our seminary or institute teacher, those who minister to us, or our faithful parents and family members. We can study general conference talks. The Gospel Library app provides a multitude of resources that can help us seek more understanding.
We should also pray and ask God for more light. If our heart is sincere, our intention is real, and we have faith in Christ, we will receive knowledge of the truths of the gospel (see Moroni 10:4–5). The Lord said:
“Ask, and it shall be given unto you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.
“For every one that asketh, receiveth; and he that seeketh, findeth; and to him that knocketh, it shall be opened” (3 Nephi 14:7–8).
Soil in Stony Places
Some people hear the restored gospel through the missionaries, feel the love of Christ, and attend and enjoy Church meetings. However, over time, life’s difficulties continue. They find that life has not been transformed into a stream of never-ending blessings. Their faith diminishes and they drift away.
Some also see the “stony places” when they attend a meeting or a conference and feel inspired to do everything right from that moment on. But then on Monday they return to their regular responsibilities. The challenges at work remain difficult. Temptations seem overwhelmingly attractive. And so their desire to spiritually improve diminishes or disappears.
They learn the hard way that without deep spiritual roots to hold us in the wind, feed us when we are hungry, or refresh us when the sun is hot, we may spiritually perish.
How can we improve stony soil? Remove the stones and deepen our spiritual roots.
Removing stones may be challenging. It may require creating an environment where faith is encouraged. It may require establishing new friendships and abstaining from the appearance of evil (see 1 Thessalonians 5:22).
To have the strength to remove stones, we need the help of the Savior. That comes when we accept the covenants He offers. This begins by accepting the invitation to be baptized. It means being confirmed and receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost. It means accepting any covenants we still lack, such as receiving the priesthood or going to the temple. It means attending church and renewing covenants by taking the sacrament each week.
When trials and temptations come, we can hold fast to the covenants we have made with the Lord. “We are bound securely to and with the Savior as we faithfully remember and do our best to live in accordance with the obligations we have accepted,” said Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. “And that bond with Him is the source of spiritual strength in every season of our lives.”2
Soil among the Thorns
This soil allows plants to grow, including thorns. The thorns are the “cares and riches and pleasures of this life” that can cause us to “bring no fruit to perfection” (Luke 8:14).
What happens when we accept covenants but no longer walk the covenant path? Or we partake of the sacrament but don’t ask for forgiveness, because we don’t even think about our mistakes anymore. Or we may ask for forgiveness but refuse to forgive others. We accept the covenants of the temple but fail to minister to those in need. We set aside opportunities to share the gospel because we fear it might seem inappropriate or embarrassing, or because we no longer know what to say.
The solution is to live the covenant we made when we were baptized, “to mourn with those that mourn; … [to] comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that [we] may be in, even until death” (Mosiah 18:9).
We remove weeds when we repent every day, making small or large adjustments, and return to the straight and narrow path of the covenant.
We refuse to let the weeds of life choke us. We do this by transforming our homes into sanctuaries of faith. We seek after whatever invites the influence of the Spirit. We reject whatever drives that influence away. And we serve in the kingdom of God—in our callings, in the temple, in missionary work, in our families.
The Good Ground
There are many who hear the word, understand it, and let it grow in their hearts. To them the Lord says, “I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain” (John 15:16). For such people, the answer is to move forward with faith and endure in good works.
President Oaks asked, “What do we do with the Savior’s teachings as we live our lives?”3 This year, as we prepare to study the New Testament, may we draw near to the Savior and improve our spiritual soil so that we can receive the word. Then we can bring forth the fruits He asks us to bring by accepting and renewing the covenants that bind us to Him, by serving God and loving our neighbors, and by progressing along the covenant path that will someday bring us back to our heavenly home.
1. Dallin H. Oaks, “The Parable of the Sower,” Liahona, May 2015, 32.
2. David A. Bednar, “With the Power of God in Great Glory,” Liahona, Nov. 2021, 29.
3. Dallin H. Oaks, “The Parable of the Sower,” Liahona, May 2015, 32.