As a seven or eight year old I experienced an unforgettable week one summer at my grandparent’s home in Rush, Ohio. My grandfather pastored a country church and two cousins and I spent the week at the parsonage so we could go to VBS together. Of course, VBS took only a few hours leaving plenty of time for adventures. A fishing excursion led to one cousin getting a hook caught in her neck and, before we left for the ER to get it extracted, the other falling off the dock into the lake. Exciting times.
My grandfather also kept a huge garden. Aspiring to be a farmer, I begged him to let me help hoe the corn. He relented to my pushing and within a couple of minutes I successfully hacked one of the corn stalks in two. Feeling quite horrible, I asked if we could put it back together or if we could just stick it in the ground. That would have been an exercise in futility – there was no root. The remaining plant would have shriveled in few hours.
Jesus uses a similar image when teaching His disciples how those ultimately rejecting the truth hear. One group of unproductive hearers “receives [the word] with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away.” (Matthew 13:20b-21, ESV) Plants with shallow roots or no roots do not endure.
Ian Murray describes what this can look like in a religious environment. The description appears as Murray sets the historical context for Bishop J.C. Ryle. The broader Anglo-Catholic community of the mid-19th century viewed “all Church people . . . regenerate at baptism.” Murray raises the question, what “is true to Scripture?” He answers his question in the following statement:
[W]here there is real conversion, through the work of the Spirit in regeneration, there will be the same spiritual evidence which the unconverted do not and cannot share. At that point the New Testament is exclusive. The apostle John writes of defectors, ‘The went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us’ (1 John 2:19). For various reasons, people may for a time appear to belong to Christ and hold orthodox belief. Upbringing, self-advantage, and culture may hide for a while what is missing. But let the disadvantages of being an evangelical Christian come to be experienced and those unrenewed by the Holy Spirit will turn to whatever other system has greater appeal to their nature (J.C. Ryle: Prepared to Stand Alone, p. 36).
Cultural advantages to holding orthodox truth diminish daily. The margins of Christianity shrink as lawlessness expands. Rootless and rooted hearers of truth will be exposed. How do we hear?