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I have always been confused about what this means.

Those who hear the message about the Kingdom but do not understand it are like the seeds that fell along the path. The Evil One comes and snatches away what was sown in them.
- Matthew 13:19

What does it mean that the Evil One snatches away what was sown in them? It sounds like a violation of free will to me.

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The 'snatching away' is by virtue of 'not understanding'. Apparently the Devil is able to confuse people so what could have been understood is not (i.e. snatched away). It is not removing something from the 'will' but from the 'mind' of those who will not turn to Christ. –  Mike Jun 9 at 10:32

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The defining characteristic about the path is that it is hard, like a sidewalk or road. People represented by the path are hard-hearted. Their hearts are not receptive to the word. They are the people described by Paul in 1 Corinthians 1-3.

1 Corinthians 2:14 (NASB)
But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.

What Satan "takes away" need not be their choice in the matter but the chance to think about the message. Among his tactics of distraction are pleasure, busyness, etc. His "taking" is also not against their will, but rather their acceptance of his leading. He has no real power over our choices except what we give him.

Matthew Henry refers to these people:

Careless, trifling hearers, are an easy prey to Satan; who, as he is the great murderer of souls, so he is the great thief of sermons, and will be sure to rob us of the word, if we take not care to keep it.

Adam Clarke describes them as:

A careless inattentive hearer is compared to the way side-his heart is an open road, where evil affections, and foolish and hurtful desires, continually pass and repass, without either notice or restraint. "A heart where Satan has" (as one terms it) "ingress, egress, regress, and progress: in a word, the devil's thoroughfare."

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I like the 'path is hard' part of your answer and would add as an example the hardening of Pharaoh's heart. But maybe that is not such a good example as I am not sure he had free will. Is there maybe a point where free will is taken away from truly evil people so that they cannot repent? Or would Hitler have been able to repent at the last minute and is now waiting for us in heaven? We know most of his victims landed in hell - don't we? –  gideon marx Jun 8 at 9:15
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@gideonmarx I think it’s fair to say that we really cannot be sure of another’s salvation. God is the judge of such things, and we do not know men’s hearts. To say that most of Hitler’s victims went to Hell (I presume you’re speaking of the Jews he had murdered, though he also had 3+ million non-Jews murdered, too) is more than I could argue. Jesus said, “…the one who accuses you is Moses, in whom you have set your hope.” (Jn 5:45 NASB) In the case of the Jews, I couldn’t say with certainty that they were living under the new covenant. –  mojo Jun 8 at 18:44
    
Regarding Pharaoh, this topic has come up before (e.g. God hardens a heart? and Does God control our decisions?) and I cannot adequately address it in a comment. Summarily, I will say that Pharaoh generally had free will. –  mojo Jun 8 at 18:53
    
I still like the first part of your answer and have made it my explanation of the passage. But I now intensely dislike the rest. In your reasoning, Hitler with his free will, is in Heaven right now - he was a Catholic after all. So are all the other murderous scum that found Jesus on death row. Only their victims that aren't Christian seem to go to hell. (Would murderers and rapists have free will in Heaven?) –  gideon marx Jun 9 at 16:31
    
@gideanmarx Though there is not universal agreement on this point, few people can make any kind of claim that Hitler was anything other than a Christian in name only. He subscribed to Positive Christianity (by no means a Catholic as an adult), a movement largely crafted by like-minded people as opposed to a position arrived at first and believed after. By my reasoning, if Hitler acted like a Christian, Jesus would forgive him, just like the people Hitler had murdered. –  mojo Jun 9 at 21:38

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