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Trypho, the Jew, which was written about the year of our Lord 146, has these words: "There is no nation, whether of Barbarians, or Greeks, or any others, by whatsoever names they are called, whether they live in waggons, or without houses, or in tents, among whom prayers are not made, and thanksgivings offered up to the Father and Creator of all, through the name of the crucified Jesus." Tertullian, in his Apology, or Defence of Christianity, written in the year 200, thus describes the progress which Christianity had then made: "We are but of yesterday," says he, in addressing himself to the heathen, "nevertheless, we have filled every thing belonging to you: cities, islands, villages, free boroughs, assembling places, the armies themselves, the wards, the rolls of judges, the palace, the senate: we leave you nothing but the temples."
But, lest it should be suspected that the friends of Christianity represent its progress as much more rapid and extensive than it really was, we observe that there is still a third source of information on this subject-the testimony of unbelievers and enemies. Tacitus, in his account of the persecution of the Christians raised by Nero, in the year of our Lord 65, says that there was a vast multitude of them put to death." Now, if those of them who were put to death constituted" a vast multitude," surely, the total number of Christians must have been very great. Lucian, the Syrian philosopher, Porphyry, Lampridius, and several others, might be quoted; but the most remarkable testimony of this kind is that of the younger Pliny, in his celebrated letter to the Emperor Trajan, which was written only about sixty-six years after our Lord's ascension. "It seems to me," says Pliny, a matter worthy of deliberation, chiefly because of the number of those who are in danger. For, many of all ages, of every rank, and of both sexes also, are called to account, and will be called. Neither through the cities only, but through the villages also, and the country, is the contagion of that superstition spread"-for so he opprobriously speaks of Christianity. Thus, the enemies of the gospel themselves confirm the testimon of its friends.
At the succession of Constantine to the imperial throne, the gospel became openly triumphant; and it is said, by those best acquainted with the history of those times, that the candidates for the dignity of emperor were successful or unsuccessful, according as they favoured or opposed the Christians. Thus, the progress of the gospel, in the first ages, was well
foretold, figuratively, by our Lord in this parable, as the growth of the mustard-seed is not only great, but rapid.
Since these first ages, Christianity has had various success at different times. It is again beginning to spread itself; and the time is coming when this prophetic parable shall receive a far more extensive, even a complete accomplishment. Nations shall be born at once; and the Ancient of Days shall give to the Son of man dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, may serve him.
But we observed that this parable may be considered as descriptive of the progress of Christianity in the heart, as well as in the world. It is a most apt representation of the progress of true religion in the soul of every individual Christian. The degree of knowledge and right feeling, of faith and love, in the soul, at first, is very small; but it increases more or less rapidly.* The seed of divine truth, sown in the heart, is watered by the influences of the Spirit through the medium of ordinances, and warmed and cherished by the beams of the Sun of Righteousness, till it springs up, and becomes like a large tree. The righteous holds on his way; and he that hath clean hands becomes stronger and stronger. "He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season: his leaf also shall not wither." The Lord himself promises to nourish the believer, and to render him a blessing to those who come under his protection. "I will be as the dew unto Israel; he shall grow as the lily, and cast forth his roots as Lebanon. His branches shall spread, and his beauty shall be as the olive tree, and his smell as Lebanon. They that dwell under his shadow shall return; they shall revive as the corn, and grow as the vine: the scent thereof shall be as the wine of Lebanon."
The parable of the "leaven" being (as we already noticed) much the same in its design with that of the mustard-seed, does not require any very full exposition, as distinct from it. Our Lord, by setting forth the same truth in different lights, and under different comparisons, evidences his anxiety that we should be well aware of its nature, certainty, and importance. This parable is founded on a well known
The effects of a moral address are compared, by Seneca (Epistle xxxviii.) to the growth of seed: "Seminis modo, quod, quamvis sit exiguum, cum occupavit idoneum locum, vires suas explicat, et ex minimo in maximos auctus diffundatur. Idem facit oratio."
operation in common life. The gospel at first was, like leaven, “hid in three measures* of meal." It was hid, as, before it operated in any very obvious way, it lay concealed for some time in the lump, or mass of the world. Nevertheless, it exerted its gradual and sure influence, till it diffused itself to a great extent; and it will continue to work, till it diffuse itself through the whole mass of mankind.
But this parable, too, is to be also viewed as descriptive of the progress of Christianity, of true religion, in the heart of the individual. And here we may observe, that like the working of leaven hid in meal, the working of the gospel in the heart is secret. The effect, indeed, of leaven is obvious; but the manner and actual working are invisible, and not altogether understood. So, the outward effects of the gospel are seen in the life; but its inward workings, under the influence of the Holy Ghost, are secret and mysterious. This is taught, under a different figure, when it is said, "The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth; so is every one that is born of the Spirit." Again, the gospel, like leaven, is assimilating. Without altering the substance of the meal, the leaven changes its qualities, so as to bring it to resemble itself. In like manner, without changing the identity of the soul, the gospel communicates to it a new life and a new character, corresponding to its own holy and heavenly nature, and changes it into the image of God, from one degree of glory to another, even as by the Spirit of the Lord. And then, the universality of the influence of the gospel is pointed out by the circumstance that the leaven ceases not to work till it has leavened the whole lump. The gospel is not partial, but universal, in its operation on the individual; for, though not perfectly as to the degree, yet universally as to the different essential points, his whole character is affected. In the new creature, "all things are become new." He is "renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness." And this process of assimilation is carried on, till the likeness becomes perfect, and the transformation complete. The very God of peace sanctifies believers wholly; and their whole spirit, and soul, and body are pre
Τρια σατα. Three of these measures were equal to one ephah, a measure of things dry, corresponding to the bath, a measure of liquids. Shorter Catechism.
served blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
And now, in the way of a more direct improvement of this passage, we observe, in the first place, that the way in which these parabolical prophecies of the spread of the gospel have already been fulfilled is a proof of its divinity. Various defenders of the Christian faith have written much, and well, on this point; and they have generally reckoned it of such importance, as to treat it as a distinct branch of the evidence of Christianity. Nor does it require many words. to state the outline of their argument. The difficulties with which Christianity had, at first, to contend, were very numerous, and apparently insurmountable. It had to overcome the prejudices of false religions, which, however absurd, had a very firm hold on the minds of their votaries. It was introduced, not in an age of ignorance and barbarism, but at a most enlightened period of the world: so that it had many learned men to oppose it in its infancy. It had to contend with the malice and wit of philosophers, and with the power of princes. The embracing of it was not accompanied with any worldly advantage, but, on the contrary, exposed to the loss of goods, to contumely, to the desertion of friends, to the rage of enemies, to all the minor degrees of persecution, and, in many cases, to death in its most appalling forms. Yet, notwithstanding all these difficulties, it spread, and rapidly spread, through a great part of the world. Now, when we consider the very small, and, humanly speaking, very unpromising beginning, this result is not only extraordinary, but altogether unaccountable on any common principle. Here was no employment of force, or of worldly inducement; but rather, here were weakness and discouragement: and yet the triumph was splendid. The authors of this amazing revolution of sentiment in the world, were a few illiterate, despised, and persecuted men, apparently altogether unequal to the task. Surely, if this scheme had been of men, it would have come to nought, or, at all events, could never have succeeded in this manner. No cause can be assigned in any degree adequate to the effect, except that the preaching of the gospel was indeed confirmed by miracles, and accompanied with the influences of the Holy Ghost. But, then, the whole evangelical history is true, and Christianity is of God.
Or, if we consider the parables as descriptive of the pro
gress of the gospel in the heart of the individual, we are still led to the same conclusion. The origin and progress of religion in his own soul, are satisfactory evidence, to the believer, of the truth of the gospel. "He that believeth on the Son of God, hath the witness in himself." The assimilating influence of this leaven, that is, of holy, Christian doctrine, proves it to be of God's inspiration, and accompanied with God's power. Some of the heathen philosophers endeavoured to sow what they considered the seed of virtue in the minds of men; not being of the right kind, however, and not being sown in improved ground, it came to nothing. But, when the gospel is blessed of God, it is thereby proved to be from God. "Paul may plant, and Apollos may water, but it is God who giveth the in
Secondly, These parables open up delightful views of the future history of the Church, and furnish us with a call and an encouragement to exert ourselves for the universal diffusion of the gospel. As already observed, these and similar prophetic passages must be considered as having yet obtained only a partial accomplishment: but from what is already fulfilled of them, we may rest assured of the fulfilment of what remains. Let not the many, and apparently insurmountable, difficulties in the way of the introduction of the gospel into some countries, damp our hope; for, it has already overcome as great difficulties as ever it can have to contend with again. Let us rejoice, then, in the assurance of its universal extension. Of the ultimate size, beauty, and value of this noble tree of the kingdom of God, the tree of Nebuchadnezzar's vision may be considered a more exact emblem than it was even of himself for whom it was intended:-" I saw, and behold a tree in the midst of the earth, and the height thereof was great. The tree grew and was strong; and the height thereof reached unto heaven, and the sight thereof to the end of all the earth. The leaves thereof were fair, and the fruit thereof was much, and in it was meat for all: the beasts of the field had shadow under it, and the fowls of the heaven dwelt in the boughs thereof, and all flesh was fed of it." Or, according to the other comparison, it is delightful to think, that, whatever deadening influence may interpose, the leaven of Christian doctrine, now thrown into society, will continue to work, till it diffuse itself through the whole mass of the human race. But there are here, also, a call and an