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CCXXXVI. THE GRAIN OF MUSTARD-SEED.
Mark iv. 30-32. And he said, Whereunto shall we liken the
kingdom of God? or with what comparison shall we compare it? It is like a grain of mustard-seed, which, when it is sown in the earth, is less than all the seeds that be in the earth. But when it is sown, it groweth up, and becometh greater than all herbs, and shooteth out great branches; so that the fowls of the air may lodge under the shadow of it.
“ VERY excellent things are spoken of thee, thou City of God”—There is nothing either in heaven or earth which may not well serve to shadow forth thine excellencies-Our Lord had alrcady illustrated the nature of his kingdom by a great variety of most instructive
parables; and now stretches, as it were, his invention in order to find other similitudes whereby to make it more fully understood—But choosing, as he always did, 10 bring his illustrations from things most obvious and familiar, he compares his church and kingdom to a grain of mustard-seed-We shall I. Illustrate this comparison
“ The kingdom of God” means, in this as in a multitude of other places, the visible kingdom of Christ established in the world, and his invisible kingdom erected in the hearts of men- We must illustrate the comparison therefore 1. In reference to the church of Christ in the world
[The mustard-seed is the smallest of all those seeds which grow to any considerable size—And such was the church of Christ at its first establishment in the world-It consisted at first of our Lord and his twelve disciples; and even after our Lord's ascension their number was only one hundred and twenty-Soon however it spread forth his branches-As the mustard-seed, notwithstanding its smallness, grows up (in the eastern countries) into a tree of some magnitude, so did the church, notwithstanding its unpromising appearances, extend its limits with astonishing rapidity-- In the space of but a very few years, it filled, not judea only, but the whole Roman empire-Nor is it yet grown to its full dimensions-It will, in the latter days, overspread the whole earth All the kingdoms of the world shall become the kingdoms of the Lord and of his Christ--And as Jews and Gentiles have already taken refuge under its shadow, so shall the people of all nations and languages in God's appointed time?-] 2. In reference to the grace of God in the heart
(Grace, when first implanted in the soul, is often very small, shewing itself only in some glimmering views, slight convictions, good desires, faint purposes, and feeble endeavours- -But in process of time it grows in every part; it shoots forth its roots into the soul, and becomes stronger in ail its branches—The faith which was weak is confirmed; the hope that was languishing is made lively and abundant; and the love that was but cold and selfish displays itself with purity and fervour--And all, who come within the sphere of its influence, receive rest and refreshment from its salutary shadeb --Indeed its full growth cannot be seen in this world-For that glorious sight, we must ascend to heaven, where every tree of righteousness flourishes with unfading beauty, and exhibits in the brightest colours the power and efficacy of the Redeemer's grace-]
Such being the import of the comparison, we shall now proceed to II. Improve it
The parts of our improvement must necessarily have respect to the different views in which the parable has been explained-We shall draw from it therefore some observations
1. For our encouragement respecting the church at large
[It is to be lamented that infidelity and profaneness have overrun the world, and that this tree which the Lord hath planted, has been so “wasted and devoured by the wild beasts of the field”.-But still the stock remains, nor shall it ever be rooted up-It shall yet" shoot forth its roots downward and bring forth fruit upward”d-At various seasons the church has been contracted within very narrow limits; yet has always been preserved—In the days of Noah and of Abraham the branches were cut down, and nothing remained but the mere stem; yet it put forth fresh branches, and extended them far and wide-So shall it do yet again, till at last it cover the whole earth-Where there is nothing now but idolatry and every species of wickedness, there shall one day be “ holiness to the Lord inscribed upon the very bells of the horses"e
a This by the spirit of prophecy is beautifully described as passing before the prophet's eyes, and as exciting great astonishment in the church itself. Isai. xlix. 18-21.
b Hos. xiv. 7. . Ps. lxxx. 8-13. d 2 Kings xix. 30. e Zech, xiv. 20.
Let us then water this tree with our prayers and tears--Let us help forward its growth by every means in our power-And look with confidence to that period, when all the nations of the world shall come and sit under its benign shadow-]
2. For our consolation under personal doubts and apprehensions
[From the smallness of our attainments we are sometimes ready to doubt whether the little seed of grace in our hearts will ever grow up to any use or profit-But there is not a saint in heaven whose grace was not once comparatively weak-All
as new-born babes;” nor was it till they had learned many humiliating lessons, that they attained to the age of young men and fathers –Thus in the natural world, the largest oak was once an acorn, and the largest mustardtree a little and contemptible seed-Why then should any despond because of present appearances? “Why should not we hope that in the process of time our graces shall be strengthened, and our wide-extended branches be filled with fruit?-Our God assures us that he does not despise the day of small things;”& why then should we?-Let us trust, and not be afraid -Let us look up to heaven for the genial influences of the sun and rain-Nor doubt but that God will accomplish the work he has begun;h and “ fulfil in us all the good pleasure of his, goodness”-]
fi John ii. 12, 13.
& Zech. iv. 10.
h Phil. i. 6.
CCXXXVII. LEAVEN HIT) IN MEAL.
Matt. xiii. 33. Another parable spake he unto them; The king
dom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened.
AS our Lord was not weary of multiplying his parables, so neither should we be of considering themThere is indeed an inexhaustable variety in them; and in those, which most resemble each other, there will be found a rich and instructive diversity-Scarcely any two are more alike than this and the one which precedes itBut that declares the extensive spread of the gospel from small beginnings, and this its assimilating and transforming efficacy-In tracing the parrallel between the gospel kingdom and leaven hid in the meal we shal! find that they are
1. Assimilating in their nature
[Leaver changes not the substance of the meal in which it is hid, but materially alters its qualities--It so impregnates the meal as to transform it, as it were, into its own likenessThus dges the gospel affect those who receive it into their hearts-It makes us partakers of a divine nature. It does not indeed essentially change either the faculties of the soul, or the members of the body; but it communicates to them a new life and power, a new direction and tendency–The gospel is compared to a mould, into which souls, when melted by divine grace, are cast, and from which they derive a new and heavenly form-Hence, when converted by it, we are said to be renewed after the image of God in righteousness and truc holiness-And the more this leaven works within us, the more are we changed into Christ's image, from glory to glory!--
The same effect does the gospel produce also in the world at large-Wherever it prevails, it invariably brings men to the same mind, temper, and disposition-All are rendered vile in their own eyes; all are made willing to receive mercy through Christ alone; and all pant after holiness, as the perfection of their nature and the summit of their bliss There is indeed a great diversity of parties and opinions respecting things of smaller moment-But in the fundamental points all are agreed, and, when upon their knees before God, have the most perfect resemblance to each other-Being joined to the Lord they are one spirit with him, and with each other. The same spirit pervades both the head and all the members-Hence all true Christians of every place and every age are one bread," being impregnated with the same heavenly leaven, and formel into one mass for the service of their common Lord and Master]
The resemblance further appears, in that both of them
II. Mysterious in their operation
[How, in the leavening of meal, the one substance acts npon the other so as to produce a fermentation, is a mystery, which the wisest philosophers are not able to explain-The secret energy of the leaven is discoverable in its effects; but the precise mode of its operation cannot be ascertained—The same difficulty occurs in explaining the operation of the gospel on the hearts of men--Its truths have an energy that is not found in any thing else-The word is quick and powerful and sharper than a two-edged sword, penetrating the very inmost recesses of the souls-But how this leaven, as soon as it is put into the heart, begins to work, how it operates with such invincible power, and how it uniformly changes, as well the most guilty and obdurate hearts as those which seem more likely to yield to its impressions, this is indeed a mystery The effects produced by it are evident and undeniable; but how it produces those effects so as to transform the vilest sinner into the very image of God, is known to God alone-On account of this mysterious property our Lord compared the gospel to the wind, which, though manifest enough in its effects, is in many respects inexplicable
a 2 Pet. i. 4. b Rom. vi. 17. This seems to be the proper meaning of εις ον παρεδoθητε τύπον διδαχες, though it is not so expressed in our translation.
c Eph. iv. 28, 24. 2 Cor. iv, 18. e I Cor. vi, 17.
f 1 Cor. x. 17.
If the gospel be so mysterious in its operation upon individuals, it must of necessity be so too in its operation upon the world at large-We pretend not to say how the simple doctrine of the cross should be made to triumph over all the prejudices and passions of mankind; but, from what we have already seen, we cannot doubt of its final success]
Lastly, they are both
[Leaven, when it has begun to work, never ceases till it has leavened all the meal-Thus does the gospel also work in the hearts of men-It changes, not their outward conduct only, but the inward dispositions of the heart-Both body and soul are thoroughly renewed by it; not indeed perfectly as to the degree, but universally in all their members and all their faculties—Their members are made instruments of righteousness, and their faculties are filled with light and holiness—The man is made altogether a new creature; old things are passed away and all things are become new
Thus will the world also be regenerated by the grace of the gospel" Those who are now sitting in darkness and the shadow of death shall behold its light,” and those who are abandoned to the most brutish lusts and ignorance, shall be transformed into the very image of their God- This leaven has long been put into the great mass of mankind-It has already raised a ferment throughout a great part of the world, and in due season shall “ leaven the whole lump”—Though its progress be but slow at present, it shall work, till it has pervaded every soul, and “brought all nations to the obedience of faith”-]
The parable thus explained is of signal USE 1. To rectify our judgment
[Some think that they have the grace of God, while yet
& Heb. iv. 12.
John iii, 8.
2 Cor. v. 17.
i Rom. vi. 13.