The Gospel inevitably, as Jesus taught in the parable of the Sower, sorts men out into groups. Of these the largest of all is made up of those who reject the Gospel outright – those by the wayside, that “hear” but in whose case there at once “cometh the devil, and taketh away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved” (Luke 8:12). Over against these, however, stands the whole company of Christians – those who hear, and who, hearing, also believe. But for them, believing is not the end: it is only the beginning and within this group, as a whole, experience unfailingly creates subdivisions.
There are, unhappily, those which “have no root, which for a while believe, and in time of temptation fall away”; those who “endure but for a time” – who, “when affliction or persecution ariseth for the word’s sake immediately are offended” (Luke 8:13; Mark 4:17). The sad thing about this group of Christians is that they in the first place accept the Gospel with enthusiasm – “with joy”, as Luke puts it; or, as Mark has it, “with gladness”. But they lack spiritual stamina and with as great an alacrity as they accept the Gospel they also renounce it.
With others the case is even more tragic. For it is not for want of vigour that they fail: it is solely because that vigour is misdirected. It spends itself not only on the Gospel but also on those things which are destructive of it. The good seed and the worthless weed both grow together – but in soil, alas, which is more congenial to the development of the latter than of the former. So steadily but remorselessly “the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in, choke the word, and it becometh unfruitful” (Mark 4:19).
There we have depicted the tragedy of a lifetime spent in discipleship with nothing by way of spiritual fruit to show for it in the end – a purely futile probation.
What proportion of men thus reject the Gospel outright or embrace it simply to forsake it in the hour of trial or to frustrate its operation in themselves, is not indicated in the parable. It is clearly a proportion which varies from age to age. Yet whether it be great or small, in each age, happily, there remains also a faithful band of Christians who, each to varying degrees, bear fruit for God. They are the counterpart of the seed sown in good ground – such as “hear” the word, like all others; who then “receive” it as do even those other Christians who fall short of their calling; but who also go on thereafter to “bring forth fruit”, some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some an hundred (verse 20).
It was to this latter group that the writer of Hebrews wished each of his readers to belong, and hoped that his letter would help them to belong. “We desire”, said he, “that every one of you do show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end”. To begin, said he, in effect, is not enough: nor is to continue in a spirit of half-heartedness a whit the better; what is needed is resolute persistence until the goal of discipleship is reached.
(Excerpt from: W. F. Barling, Hebrews – A Thematic Study)