From The Waiting Father: Sermons on the Parables of Jesus, by Helmut Thielicke, translated by John W. Doberstein (Harper & Row, ©1957)
Excerpt from: The Parable of the Seeds and the Soils
There is nothing more cheering than transformed Christian people and there is nothing more disintegrating than people who have been merely "brushed" by Christianity, people who have been sown with a thousand seeds but in whose lives there is no depth and no rootage. Therefore, they fall when the first whirlwind comes along. It is the half-Christians who always flop in the face of the first catastrophe that happens, because their dry intellectuality and their superficial emotionalism do not stand the test. So even that which they think they have is taken away from them.
This is the wood from which the anti-christians too are cut. They are almost always former half-Christians. A person who lets Jesus only half way into his heart is far poorer than a one hundred per cent worldling. He does not get the peace that passes all understanding and he also loses the world's peace, because his naivete has been taken from him. Therefore a constant bickering goes on in his heart and it is quite apparent that one day in a fit of rage he will slam the door on that quiet Figure, who even then has continued to knock and seek entrance. The anti-Christian is always a half-Christian gone mad. This you can depend upon.
Must I say much more about the thorns among which the seed may fall and be "choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life"? These "thorn" people are obviously people in whose soil something besides the seed of the Word of God springs up. And this is so with all of us.
In any case there is one thing that must be very clearly understood, and this is that, if we cannot believe and if the seed will not grow, the reason lies only in the rarest cases in the fact that we have intellectual doubts, that, for example, the relation of miracle and causality remains a problem to us, or that a person cannot understand from a medical point of view how a dead man can rise again. Rather, when we cannot believe, there is something in the background of our life which is not in order. And it is to this background that Jesus points when he speaks of "the cares and riches and pleasures of life." All three indicate that I am not prepared to part with some very definite things and that these dependencies then obscure my vision. God can have everything, but this one thing he cannot have! He can have everything, but I am not going to forfeit my standard of living or my private life to an excessive demand of neighborly love. That's where I draw the line!
The chain of doubt and faithlessness to which we are shackled consists of many links. But these links are not intellectual reasons, but sins, dependencies, and secret bandages. These are what prevent us from finding peace and block full surrender. These are the thorns that prevent the seed from producing fruit.
Everyone has a hidden axis around which his life revolves; every man has his price for which he is prepared or almost prepared to sell himself and his salvation. Where is this axis in my life, and what is this awful price for my heart?
Now, everything we have said has already indicated as in a photographic negative what the good soil which yields a hundredfold is like. These are the people who not only "hear" but also "hold fast" to the Word. Hearing is easy. But to hold on to the Word and budget one's life upon it, this is the great test. And this means to count on it and reckon with it, simply to take seriously the fact that Jesus can break our chains and that therefore we do not need to go on staring with horrible fascination at these chains. To take the Word seriously means to face an anxious care (whether my sick child will get well, whether I shall pass my examination, whether another war will come and the great flood pour down upon us all) and to say:
Thou everywhere hast sway,
And all things serve thy might.
To take the Word seriously means really to see in my neighbor the brother of the Saviour. It means confidently to cast to the winds all my doubts as to whether my acts and sacrifices are worth while, as to whether I am not really crazy to be troubling myself over some poor wretch. It means simply to believe this Word and to believe that it does commit me to this poor wretch, and that the Word itself accepts the responsibility for everything that I now dare to do in his name.
Never will I get into the clear with God and never will I have peace, if I only hear and go on hearing, if I reflect and do nothing but go on reflecting upon it. God must be obeyed if he is to be understood. I must reckon with God-reckon with him and his promises in utter realism-if you want to bring him into your life.
God is known only when the chips are down. You can think, you can "cerebrate," about God only on your knees. Anybody who shies away from repentance, from bowing down, from dying, is slamming the door upon God. For him the "last station" may be yearning or despair or stubborn defiance, but it can never be peace.
There are two things which must be stated before we close.
The first is this: No one dare draw false conclusions from this parable and say: Now we see how it is, everybody is predestinated. Everything depends upon what type a man is. That is, one person has a superficial "inherited structure"; he is constitutionally a shallow person. Another has within him an overly strong pull of vital energies. A third is unstable and changeable (the term today is "discontinuity") and a fourth is simply "religious" by his inherited structure. There is nothing one can do about these types, they are simply given to us. And therefore we are never primarily to blame; we are, exonerated. At most we are only fellow travelers of the devil.
Nobody should draw these snap conclusions of a falsely understood doctrine of predestination. For this has nothing whatsoever to do with definite types and classes of people. On the contrary, the fact is that every individual has all four kinds of soil within him. There are certain times in our life and there are also certain levels in the self in which we are hard ground, rocky ground, thorny ground, and fertile soil all in one.
We dare not leave this rather grim hour of admonition without resolving to enter into judgment with ourselves and sternly asking ourselves: to what birds, what thorns, what superficiality am I exposing the Word of God in my life; what are the threatening forces and the roots of peacelessness in my life?
The second point is this: Jesus is not telling us this story in order to give us the agricultural statistics of the kingdom of God. We should be misunderstanding him disastrously if we thought that this was simply an enumeration of the forces which obstruct and choke our faith for our information or even for self-examination. This is more than "analysis." Jesus is never interested in counting and statistics; he always puts us to work. He says: Weed out the thorns; see to it that the seed does not fall on the path; be careful lest you be people so shallow that the Word cannot take root. Jesus says: Be good soil. And that means: Hold on to the Word in stillness, get rid of the hardness and callousness; don't squeeze God into a few cracks and crevices of your day's business, but give him a space of daily quiet and — don't duck death and repentance. "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling." For God cannot be had cheaply. You come to God only if you allow yourself to be mobilized and if you march. This is not easy and it means saying good-by to many things. But this is the only way to find his peace. No battle, no cross, no crown. He who does not toil and sweat and does not daily fall in line for service to God is exposing his inner man to decay.
God's grace is no cheap grace; you must pay for it with all you are and all you have. You can loaf your way into hell, but the kingdom of heaven can only be seized by force. It is an exciting thing to be a Christian. It always goes the limit. And in the quiet fields far more is happening than at the great crossroads where the red and green traffic lights flash their busy signals.