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LUKE XIII. 18-21.
"Then said he, Unto what is the kingdom of God like? and whereunto shall I resemble it? 19. It is like a grain of mustard-seed, which a man took, and cast into his garden; and it grew, and waxed a great tree; and the fowls of the air lodged in the branches of it. 20. And again he said, Whereunto shall I liken the kingdom of God? 21. It is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened."
A CERTAIN author begins his History of the Roman Empire with the remark that hardly any was greater in its increase, or smaller in its origin: and, doubtless, that might well be said of an empire, which, commencing with a few stragglers, increased in population, territories, power, and conquests, till it had no rival. But it is found, in almost every department, that great things are usually small in their commenceThe waving corn of the fruitful field, when it first looks out from under the ground, is as small as needles: and the largest oak in the forest was once an acorn. The mighty mound, and the stately palace, began in a single movement of the spade, or a single stroke of the hammer. The time was when there existed but one house where now flourishes the first city of the world. Look at the new-born babe, diminutive, weak, ignorant, and helpless: but it grows and waxes strong in body and mind, till it reach the maturity of manhood, and then there is nothing to be seen half so noble. Those operations in manufactures and commerce were at first very limited, unskilful, and timid, which have now become so extensive, dexterous, and daring. What were the performances in the fine arts, at first, but rude attempts? and what was the light of the sciences but a glimmering taper?
A similar progression is seen in things relating to the kingdom of God. In these, the Almighty could have produced great results instantaneously, and ushered forward plans in a state of high advancement from the very first; but he has preferred the method of gradual development.
Though we cannot pretend to know all the reasons for the mode he follows, this one thing is obvious, that it is much better suited than instantaneous, or even very rapid advancement, to the limited faculties and moral improvement of man. In this way, greater scope is given for exercising men's minds; and time is allowed them for patient observation, that they may discover and admire the wonderfully nice and connected train of his procedure. Had this work been presented to them complete at once, unless they had been endowed with superhuman powers, it would have baffled their utmost endeavours to have formed anything like an adequate conception of it; whereas, by being enabled to examine it in its different stages of progress, they can form as correct an idea of the whole of it as is necessary.
The people who were chosen from among all the nations of the earth to hold the deposit of the truth, and to prepare the way for the coming of Messiah, who was to arise from the midst of them, were very small in their origin, but very great in their increase. The Lord called Abraham out of Ur of the Chaldees, declaring to him that he would multiply his seed as the stars of heaven. Accordingly, his posterity, a mere handful when they came down into Egypt, multiplied and waxed exceeding mighty, and the land was filled with them;" whence God brought them out triumphantly, a very great nation. In like manner, the kingdom of God, spoken of in this passage—that is, the reign of God in the gospel on earth-is described as very small in its origin, but very great and rapid in its increase. Now, these are the leading ideas taught, both in the parable of the grain of mustard-seed, and in the parable of the leaven. In both these parables the kingdom of God may just be considered as signifying Christianity-Christianity in the world, and Christianity in the heart.
"Unto what is the kingdom of God like? and whereunto shall I resemble it ?" said our Lord. "It is like a grain of mustard-seed." The same parable is recorded by Matthew* and Mark. According to Matthew, our Lord added, of the mustard-seed, "Which indeed is the least of all seeds;" -according to Mark, "Which is less than all the seeds that be in the earth:" that is, which is a very small seed, and perhaps the smallest which grows to such a size, and assumes the appearance, and something of the texture, of a Jesus elsewhere said to his disciples, "If ye have * Matt. xiii. 31.
Mark iv. 30,
faith as a grain of mustard-seed;" that is, if ye have faith in the least degree. Thus it appears that to say that any thing was like a grain of mustard-seed, was a proverbial expression to denote its smallness. Now, in order to perceive the propriety with which the gospel kingdom was compared to this very small seed, it is only necessary to reflect for a moment on the small number of those who, at first, embraced and advocated it, and their lowly condition, in a worldly point of view. They were but a handful : and they were not only few, but lowly, unlearned, poor, and despised. Was not Jesus the carpenter's son? was not his mother called Mary? His first disciples were of the lower classes of society, and had to labour for their daily bread. Then especially, "not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, were called." Or, if any of them were of a higher station in life, and men of learning, they did not look to such circumstances for success: their "preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom," nor with "excellency of speech;" for, they "determined not to know any thing among men, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified." The gospel, then, was well compared to a seed, which is indeed the least of all seeds.
It is said of this seed, that "a man took it, and cast it into," or sowed it in, "his garden." This may be understood in the same sense in which our Lord expounds part of the parable of the tares. "He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man; the field is the world: the good seed are the children of the kingdom :" or, the seed may here mean the word. Next to our Lord himself, the chief sowers of the seed were the apostles. "The great salvation first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was afterwards confirmed by them that heard him." The apostles, like their Master, confined their preaching, for some time, to the Jews; but they afterwards turned to the Gentiles. They made great efforts in travelling and preaching, so that the gospel was soon published throughout the greater part of the then known world. Thus, the seed was sown.
It is added, "and it grew, and waxed a great tree, and the fouls of the air lodged in the branches of it." It is well known, that, considering the smallness of the seed, the growth of the mustard plant is great and rapid even with us; but it is certain that its growth is much more extraordinary in some countries where the soil is richer, and the climate warmer, and that there it sometimes reaches such a
size as to assume the appearance of a tree rather than an herb. The following extract is taken from the Jerusalem Talmud: "There was a stalk of mustard in Sichin, from which sprang out three boughs, one of which, being broken off, served to cover the tent of a potter, and produced three cabs of mustard-seed. Rabbi Simeon ben Chalapha_said, A stalk of mustard-seed was in my field, into which I was wont to climb as men do into a fig tree." It is plain, that though these rabbinical accounts may be exaggerated, they would not have been given, even in the Talmud, if it had not been usual for this plant to grow to a very large size. "Some soils being more luxuriant than ours, and the climate much warmer, raise the same plant to a size and perfection far beyond what a poorer soil, or a colder climate, can possibly do. Herodotus says he had seen wheat and barley in the country about Babylon, which carried a blade full four fingers' breadth and that the millet and sesamum grew to an incredible size. These facts, and several others which might be added, confirm fully the possibility of what our Lord says of the mustard tree, however incredible such things may at first appear to those who are acquainted only with the productions of northern regions and cold climates."
Now, to perceive how the increase of Christianity in the world may be justly compared to this amazing growth of the mustard-seed, it is necessary to take a view of the history of Christianity during its first ages. And here, three sources of information present themselves, namely, the Word of God, the writings of uninspired early Christians, and the testimony of unbelievers and declared enemies of Christianity.
When we examine the Word of God, we find, as already noticed, that notwithstanding all our Lord's preaching and miracles, very few believed on him at first. Though he plainly taught that the kingdom of God was in the midst of them, few submitted to it: though he showed them the glory of his kingdom, and the liberties and privileges of those who should become his subjects, the people, in general, said, "We will not have this man to reign over us.' When he came unto his own, his own received him not. was despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; they hid, as it were, their faces from him: he was despised, and they esteemed him not." Nay, they crucified the Lord of glory. Then, doubtless, they were ready to suppose that his pretensions were at an end, * Dr A. Clarke on Matt. xiii. 31, and Whitby and Buxtorf.
and his kingdom overthown. They imagined that, though. he had sown the seed, it was buried so deep, that it would never break the ground. Vain thought! Their attempts to keep it down proved the means of making it take deeper root, and consequently, of its sending forth a stock and branches of such size and strength as withstood the most violent storms of persecution. After our Lord's resurrection, his appearing to many of his disciples inspired them. with fresh courage to stand forward and assert the rights of his kingdom. The day of Pentecost, on which the extraordinary effusion of the Holy Ghost was poured out on the disciples, presented a noble opportunity for the spread of the gospel, and was signalized by its great success. "There were then dwelling at Jerusalem, Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven." "Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia, Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes, Cretes and Arabians." When they were gathered together, to hear the gospel preached in their own languages, many of them were converted. On that one day, there were added to the Church about three thousand souls. The converted strangers would, on their return to their own countries, disseminate the knowledge of Jesus, and contribute greatly to the multiplying of his subjects. We read, also, in the Acts of the Apostles, that the Lord added to the Church daily such as should be saved," and that "the Churches were established in the faith, and increased in number daily." It appears, from the same source, that the gospel was advanced by the very means which were adopted with the view of crushing it; for," they that were scattered abroad" by persecution, "went every where preaching the word." The inspired Epistles, too, furnish satisfactory evidence that a great number of flourishing Churches existed, in different parts of the world, at a very early period. Thus, that the spread of the gospel, like the growth of the mustard-seed, was both very extensive and very rapid, appears from Scripture.
A second source of information on this subject is furnished by the uninspired writings of the early Christians. Of these the most remarkable to the point are Justin Martyr, Irenæus, Tertullian, and Arnobius. The words of two of these four may be quoted. Justin Martyr, in his Dialogue with *Acts ii. 47, xvi. 5, viii. 4.