Calvinism and the Parable of the Sower

Jesus’ Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:3-9; Mark 4:1-9; Luke 8:4-8) was intended to be a lesson on listening, not a rebuttal of false doctrine. Nevertheless, it does expose several errors of Calvinism.

Hereditary Depravity
Calvinists believe that we are born with the guilt of Adam’s sin and a depraved nature. We are incapable of doing good or even accepting the gospel. Yet Jesus spoke of an “honest and good heart.” In the parable, this heart is not different from the others because of some direct operation of the Holy Spirit. What sets it apart is an individual’s own receptiveness to truth. One Calvinistic author rebutted that this heart is really bad too; it is only good in comparison to the other three! But how can that be if we are “wholly inclined to all evil,” as the Westminster Confession expresses it?

Unconditional Election
Calvinism says God eternally decreed whatsoever  comes to pass. That includes choosing what individuals will and will not be saved, choices made without regard to anything we do or fail to do. Then why did Jesus challenge His audience to listen? Why close with, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear?” If being a wayside, rocky, or thorny heart is all a matter of God’s doing, what responsibility did these listeners have?

Irresistible Grace
This tenet says that if you are among the elect, God irresistibly imposes His favor on you, putting faith into your heart and making you a believer. But Jesus said the seed, the word of God, is the instrument by which faith comes (cf. Romans 10:17). The sower sows the word of God. Why, if faith is directly implanted? In three of the four soils [hearts] the word was believed. The only one in which it was not was when “the devil comes and takes away the word from their heart, so that they may not believe and be saved” (Luke 8:11-12). How can what the devil does to the word prevent faith if faith does not come through the word? If God directly implants faith into men’s hearts, nothing the devil does to the word can affect it.

Perseverance of the Saints
The doctrine of perseverance of the saints is that once one becomes a believer, once he is saved, he can never become an unbeliever or be lost. This story teaches the opposite. The rocky soil is those who “believe for a while, and in time of temptation fall away” (Luke 8:13). Calvinists assert that they never really believed. They point out that the word believe is sometimes used of those whose faith is not saving faith. That is true (John 12:42; James 2:19). But not so here. In verse 12, the belief under consideration is unmistakably saving faith: “believe and be saved.” There is no reason to make it anything else in verse 13, where some “believe for a while, and fall away.” These who fall away are in contrast to those who hold fast (v. 15).

In this parable, Jesus presents three categories of people: those who never believe, those who believe for a while but fall away (either because of adversity or pursuit of other things), and those who hold fast and bear fruit with perseverance. Which are you?

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