Hardened Soil Hardened Souls Acts 19: 8-9 CLICK TITLE FOR AUDIO
When Paul preached at Ephesus in Acts 19:8-9, he preached for three months on the kingdom of God. But “divers were hardened and believed not.” So, “he departed from them and separated the disciples.” In other words, he didn’t keep preaching to those who refused to believe. He spent the rest of his time working with the disciples who believed.
We can learn a very valuable principle from this text and others that are similar to it. The principle is this. When preaching to those who refuse to believe the gospel, continual preaching can, instead of breaking up the soil, tamp the soil and harden it. Your continued efforts to convince a soul in this condition will just harden him even further against the gospel.
When soil gets hard, the seed that is sown can’t take root [Matt 13:18-21]. It will either be caught away by the devil [typified by the birds in the parable of the sower] or it will start to grow and then wither because it has no root. It is impossible for the seed to bear fruit in hard, compacted soil. You are wasting your time to keep sowing in that kind of soil. If you have a friend or family member who is hardened against the Bible, you are better off to leave him or her alone than you are to keep pounding away by preaching the gospel.
When soil gets hard, rain won’t percolate; it just runs off in the drainage [Is 55:10-11]. Good soil, the kind that allows the seed to bring forth 30, 60 and 100 fold [Matt 18:23], is soil that is properly tilled and prepared for the seed and the rain. Around here, some farmers use deep plowing to break up the soil far beneath the surface so that rain will percolate and be available during the growing season. Others strip till, allowing the roots from the prior harvest to keep the soil loose. Rain travels down the capillaries of the extensive root system and is retained deep beneath the surface. The organic material from the the former root system provides nutrients for the new crop to grow.
You can tell when you have sown seed in good soil. In just a matter of time, you will see the sprout and shortly after that a healthy plant. Spend your time cultivating seed that has been sown in good soil. You will see a harvest in due time. You will never see this harvest in hard soil unless the ground is properly prepared, if possible.
When soil gets hard, it needs to be broken up [Hos 10:12]. Fallow ground is ground that has been left untilled or unsown after plowing. Before you can sow in it, since it has been lying dormant, it needs to be broken up. There are a couple of things to notice here. Notice that it has been left alone. It has been dormant and inactive. That is further indication that there comes a time when you need to quit trying to make someone believe. When Jesus saw that the Jews were hardened against the gospel in Matt 13, he started preaching in parables so only those who understood would get the message [Matt 13:10-16]. The same thing happened with Paul [Acts 28:23-28].
The other thing to see is that we don’t do the breaking up. That ground is broken up by the hearer [Jer 4:3-4] and perhaps by the Lord, as well [Prov 16:1]. But for certain, the breaking up of the ground, when it comes to sowing the seed of the word of God, is not the duty of the sower. Our duty is to sow, to water, and to reap so that God can give the increase. There’s no ground busting in that scenario [Jn 4:36-38; 1 Cor 3:6].
When soil gets hard and isn’t broken up, it is worthless [Rom 2:4-5]. Some soil is so bad that it isn’t worth farming. There is just nothing that can be done to make it productive. Likewise, if a person with a hard heart doesn’t break up that ground and receive the seed into a good heart, he’s doomed to the wrath of God. And there’s nothing you can do to stop him. You’re wasting your time. You say, but certainly there must be something that can be done. Well, you’re much better off to pray for him than you are to keep trying to pound the gospel into him. You’re getting no where and he is just getting harder and harder. If he ever decides he wants to change, he will soften his heart and listen. Until then, there’s not much you can do.
Conclusion: It is important to recognize the difference between hardened soil and soil that is just hard to work. In dealing with souls, some men take a long time and can be hard to deal with. But you can see a receptivity and softening toward the gospel over time. They are like soil that is hard to work. Following the Lord, you gently and steadily work in this soil. In time, the seed may take root and produce a harvest.
But others are hardened. The more you try to talk with them, the more they resist. They are like hardened soil. Continual attempts to sow in this soil only make it harder. You’re making matters worse by thinking you can get a harvest in this soil. After you have sown in it, if you see that it is hardened, leave it alone. You may end up making this ground so hard that the seed will never bear fruit in it.