Luke 13:18
Note, in introduction, how much of most relevant suggestion is comprised in this very brief parable, not nevertheless of the essence of its direct meaning or direct object. E.g. is it not almost a parable within a parable to be able to observe on the appropriateness of the use of the illustration of the small mustard seed, and the seed instanced being such kind of seed as the mustard seed, to characterize Jesus Christ himself (the Sower of the seed of the kingdom) as well as that kingdom which he sowed? Another very relevant suggestion, as just intimated, springs out of the character of the mustard seed, its own intrinsic quality for fragrance, pungency, power to bring out flavour, either adding to that with which it is used, or counteracting it, or so combining with it as to make a new tertium quid. And so once more a most relevant suggestion springs out of the descriptive touch respecting the birds that fly to its shadow by day and its hospitable lodging by night. The subject, however, of this parable is of course still illustration of the kingdom of heaven, in some one certain respect or more. As the first parable was an illustration of it, ever applicable and on the broadest foundation; and the second, one still ever applicable, but intensely important as it might be, and that especially in its far reachingness, yet somewhat more limited in its scope; so we shall be sure to find the specialty of this third parable stamped unmistakably upon it. Notice that it is distinctly foretold that -

I. THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN IS TO HAVE ITS OWN DEVELOPMENT; IT IS TO GROW OF ITSELF AND FROM ITSELF. Wherever it is, whatever it works upon, whatever it may attract to itself, it shall receive into itself; leave some of it, take some of it, incorporate this, have one body and one spirit, and own to no rival.

II. THAT DEVELOPMENT WILL IN NO SENSE BE SIMPLY COMMENSURABLE WITH ITS BEGINNING, EVEN WHEN EVERY ALLOWANCE SHALL BE MADE FOR THE ORDINARY MEASURE OF DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A BEGINNING AND THAT TO WHICH IT MAY GROW. It will contradict and gloriously disappoint untaught expectation. No mere proverbial oak from acorn will suffice to set forth the development this growth will attain. The only analogy that wilt suit will be the example of something that is indeed perfectly natural, but looks something other than natural. Wide nature, the work of God, will indeed find the analogue, however humble the scale of it. This is a very small seed, and its proper growth a herb; but the herb refuses to answer very strictly to its own sort, and waxes into a tree; and shows the features and properties of the tree, "shooting out great branches." So is the kingdom of heaven. And whether the seed be called that which was once found in the manger, or that which was once found in the tomb, it seemed small indeed - neither at the former time nor at the latter was it counted for anything but a thing to be disregarded and despised - yet to what was it to grow!

III. THAT GROWTH FROM SMALLEST SEED, THAT KINGDOM FOUNDED FROM HOST UNPROMISING MATERIAL, SHALL PROVE ITSELF NOT A GROWTH OF MERE GRANDEUR TO BEHOLD, NOT A MONUMENT OF HUMAN PRIDE OF POWER AND CONQUEST; BUT A RESORT OF HEAVENLY SHADE, HEAVENLY SAFETY, HEAVENLY REST - A HEAVENLY HOME FOR ALL THAT WILL, SEEK IT, FOR ALL THAT WILL WING THEIR FLIGHT, WEARY OR GLAD, TO IT. This tree is in a new sense the tree of life, offered to all, and as free to all as air, and. spreading branches, and whispering winds, the breath of morning, or the sweet sighings of evening, with their invitations, could make it, for all birds and "fowl of every wing" that fly under heaven. - B.

Unto what is the kingdom of God like?
The kingdom of God is an expression of various significations in the sacred volume. Sometimes is meant by it the universal dominion of the Deity; sometimes the final blessedness to which the saints are heirs; and in a more confined sense it frequently signifies the gospel state, or Church of Christ. In this last sense, it is used in the text; and the thing signified is illustrated by a comparison, remarkable for that aptness and beauty, with which all our Saviour's parables are distinguished.

I. We are first led by the resemblance, to which our Saviour likens His kingdom, to remark THE SMALLNESS OF CHRISTIANITY IS ITS BEGINNING. Seeking for the symbol with careful consideration, He chooses one, proverbial among the Jews for littleness, the smallest object possessed of life and expansive force. Small as is the symbol, it is not smaller than the thing it was designed to represent. An obscure prophecy was the first germ of Christianity, and its only label, a simple rite: the prophecy-God's promise to the woman, and sacrifice — the rite. We have ever to bless our God that-as early as death laid claim to our race, the seed, whose fruit is to nourish us into immortality, was sown by His hand; and in due season made to spring up into lively appearance before an expecting and wondering world.

II. This brings me to remark, from the image which Christ furnishes in the text of "the kingdom of God," ITS PROGRESSIVE CHARACTER. In the visible ministry of the Messiah and promulgation of the gospel it assumed its definite appearance. This took place under the most unfavourable circumstances. The soil in which it appeared was incongruous with its nature, and the clime inclement. In its genuine state Christianity had to withstand many a blast; to endure both chilling cold and scorching heat; to encounter everything which could threaten to check its growth, and crush it in the dust. But it was a plant of an inherent vigour, which no climate could kill, nor rudeness impair; and, under the fostering care of Him who rules all seasons and disposes all events, it grew daily, it rose in height, and spread the wonder of the world; it became established.

III. This brings me to observe, THAT THE PARABLE CARRIES US FORWARD TO A PERFECTED GROWTH AND TRIUMPHANT STATE OF THE GOSPEL KINGDOM. Though now it presents the sure refuge to all people, its branches are not filled; there is room for much further growth, and dread occasion for much pruning. As yet, defiling vines cling to the stately tree, obstructing its spread, and defacing its beauty. As yet, the Jews "look" not "on Him whom they pierced"; and to many Gentile tribes, the Cross is "foolishness." As yet, there is need to cry to the children of men, "Know the Lord"; and many of them are fluttering wildly, and wandering into dangers, for want of the places in which they may find rest and shelter. But the figure by which the Church is described, and which has appeared hitherto so apt and exact, apprises us of a mature and triumphant state of our Redeemer's kingdom. The plant of the little seed, through its progressive growth, is to attain to a perfect height, and strength, and greatness. It is to become a "great tree"; yea, greater than all the trees that are in the earth. Its root is fixed; and it shall continue to extend its growth till all the inhabitants of our world rejoice in the shadow of the branches of it. The Christian religion is composed of such elements; there are in it such principles and arrangements as suggest of themselves that if it be true it is designed for universal extension and perpetual duration. We have now considered the beautiful and exact resemblance furnished by Christ of "the kingdom of God." There are inferences from this subject of great weight and variety. Let me entreat your patience while I adduce only a few which are too instructive to be omitted.

1. The first is, that this is one of those singularly important comparisons or parables which are not only illustrative but prophetic.

2. Another important inference from what has been said is, that the gospel is the object of constant providential care.

3. The last inference I shall make from our Saviour's lively representation of His kingdom is, the encouragement it is calculated to afford to His pious people.

(Bishop Dehon.)

It is like a grain of mustard-seed. —
"The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard-seed — which indeed is is the least of all seeds." It is no exception to the law of growth which prevails throughout nature, and exemplifies how what is mightiest is often the product of what is apparently feeblest. Not only the giant oak, capable of defying the fiercest storms, but whole forests which yield materials for a nation's fleets, may have lain wrapped up within a single tiny acorn. In history, whatever has been most enduring and has exerted most influence, has been born in obscurity and feebleness, and grown up by almost imperceptible stages — whereas, whatever has, like the gourd of Jonah, arisen to its full height of a sudden, has withered and died away with the same rapidity that it arose. But Christianity is the most striking instance of the kind. Its fountain-head is the manger of a stable in a small Judeau town. There is a strange unobtrusiveness about the character and mission of the Author and Finisher of our faith. When we know who He was, the only begotten Son of God, and what His purpose was — the salvation of the world — we might expect to see Him take up a position full in the world's view, attracting to Himself man's whole attention, making kings His deputies, and philosophers His apostles, and orators His heralds, and armed captains His attendants. But no! the manger of a stable was His cradle — poverty, hard labours, great sorrows, keen sufferings, were His constant companions. It was the little seed-corn which had to be dropped into the ground and die ere the earth could bear a harvest of righteousness and peace. It was that by the preaching of which a few poor, illiterate Galilean fishermen were called upon to brave anal overcome the opposition which all the wealth, authority, antiquity, military force, taste, and philosophy, as well as ignorance and sin, of the world, could muster against them, to conquer the prejudices of the Jews, to undermine the superstitions under which Rome had grown up to be the mistress of the world, to confound the subtleties and wisdom of the Greeks, and to dispel the darkness of heathenism. It looked the most hopeless of tasks. There are instruction and warning for us in that. The gospel is the most emphatic protest against judging of things by their outward appearance. It is the solemn and decisive testimony of God to the superiority of spiritual principle over material magnificence. It casts down power and might to exalt spirit and truth. Many persons have an eye only to behold external and worldly greatness. There is no hope for any one, however, so long as he persists in looking at things with that dull, unspiritual eye. The gospel, in all that is distinctive of it, is spiritual, and can only be spiritually discerned. The parable having told us that the gospel in its origin is small, weak, and apparently insignificant, proceeds to speak of its growth, of its amazing progress. From the least of seeds it becomes the greatest of herbs; from an almost invisible grain it rises into a tree, where the birds of the air find shelter. It is unnecessary to insist that the history of the last eighteen hundred years has amply verified this representation. The Church, which at Pentecost only numbered a few score of persons, soon counted its adherents by thousands, burst the trammels of Judaism, and, even in the lifetime of its first apostles, established itself, without any other instrumentality than the foolishness of preaching, in all the large towns of the civilized world. All Europe and America are now more or less under its sway, and it is advancing with slow but sure steps to the conquest of the entire earth. It is more important to observe, as the text specially calls on us to do, that this long history is throughout a growth — that it may be fitly likened to a seed becoming a tree. Let us so look at it for a little, and see what lessons it has for our profit.

1. This is the first. The whole of Christianity, in so far as it is true, once lay in a small compass. All the truths, all the institutions, all the virtues which it embodies, may be traced back to a single life as their germ. The mustard. tree was wholly in the mustard-seed. The oak, great although it now is, once lay wrapped up entire in the acorn. All that properly belongs to it lay folded there. Nothing save what is foreign and hurtful, nothing save excrescences and parasites, have come from any other source. The influences of light and heat, and wind and dew, have only brought out what was there from the first, It is so, likewise, with Christianity. It has grown up through eighteen hundred years, it covers now a very large portion of the earth, but all that truly belongs to it even at this hour has sprung from the lowly life of Jesus. All that is good in its creeds, its institutions, the conduct it inspires, has germinated from some word of His — has lain as a thought in His mind or an affection in His heart; and whatever man has introduced of his own into religious belief or practice is only an excrescence, a parasite, a cause of weakness and decay. The lowliest life ever lived on earth has thus been infinitely the most fruitful. The least of all seeds has become the greatest among herbs.

2. The seed has not only all the rudiments of the future tree within it, but the life which unfolds them and sends out first the root and trunk, and then the branches, leaves, blossoms, and fruit. And the word of the gospel has likewise an indestructible principle of vitality, which cannot be repressed, cannot be arrested. It grows by the very necessity of its nature, under the influence of grace, just as the living seed, by the very necessity of its nature, under a genial sky cannot remain in the ground, but sends up blade and bud and branch. There is in this assertion no latent fatalism. Although the gospel has indeed been in history like a tree growing out of a living seed, it follows not that human will has had nothing to do with its progress. There is nothing in history, properly so called, with which human will has not had to do. Every improvement it tells of has been effected by human self-denial and toil. The country we live in was once covered with putrid morasses and gloomy forests, and yielded only a scanty and impure subsistence to a few hordes of wandering savages. Now its morasses are dried up, its forests cleared away, large cities stand thick strewn over it, its well-cultivated plains yield food enough for millions, and its industry produces an annual revenue the most enormous. What has wrought the change? Labour, and labour alone — labour of mind and of body. Not an inch of conquest has been won without mental exertion and physical toil, without anxious thought and an active hand. Religion is no exception to this rule, but its most striking example. It has had nobler and more numerous martyrs and missionaries — has called forth more heroic labours and costlier sacrifices — than all other causes together. And this is quite consistent with the fact that the gospel grows by a life of its own — that though man's labour is needed to apply and diffuse it, he neither makes it nor puts life and fruitfulness into it — that he receives it with these in itself, so that if he cast it into the ground it will spring and grow up of its own Divine energy, and according to its own Divine laws.

3. Growth implies increasing divergence and definiteness of parts and functions. It is a separation of the one into the many, a change from the simple to the complex, from the vague to the distinct. The seed out of which a plant issues is at first uniform in tissue and composition, but soon it divides into two parts, afterwards new contrasts appear in each of these, and it is by endless such changes that the complex combination of tissues and organs in a perfect plant is produced. While the parts are thus increased in number, each of them becomes more prominent in itself, more sharply distinguished from others, and more strictly confined to its own special use. Wherever growth takes place, this is the process traceable. It is what we see in every herb, in every animal, in civilization, in government, language, science, and art. Different as all these are in themselves, there is only the one way in which they can grow, in which they can truly progress. The kingdom of God conforms to the same conditions. Its history has consisted throughout in the evolution of doctrines, institutions, and modes of life, out of a very simple germ. Our elaborate systems of theological science so far as true, our manifold institutions for religious and benevolent purposes so far as good, our endlessly diversified modes of social being so far as right, are developments of the living word of the gospel, in which, however, they lay enfolded only as the tree in its seed, as results in their principle, as special and definite dogmas in broad and general statements. Those who say, "Let us cast to the winds our creeds, our systems, our definite dogmas, and return to the primitive simplicity of apostolic men," forget that God has not left it to the world's own will to return of a sudden, or to return at all, to the point from which it has taken eighteen centuries for it to advance. They might as well counsel us to throw off all the laws and institutions, all the countless arrangements of the elaborated civilization in which we live, and retrograde to the rude and simple life of the earliest dwellers in Asia and Europe. We are where we are, where long ages of thought and toil have placed us, and, even if ungrateful enough to desire it, there is no going back for us now.

4. The growth of the kingdom of God has been continuous. We may fail to measure its progress from day to day, because it is not rapid, but slow, not with observation, but without it. There is still another truth involved, and it is one which we must not despise because it is simple. Growth requires time. God has everywhere placed that as an inevitable separation between germination and maturity, between the seed and the perfect tree. Let us conform, then, to the condition. When we are despondent or angry because our labours in a Christian cause are not crowned with immediate success, we are no wiser than the little child who deposits a seed in the ground and is grieved not to see it springing up on the very day it has done so.

(R. Flint.)


1. It is something new. Watch that sower: he takes the seed and plants it in his garden. The seed suits the soil, but it was not in the soil at first. It came from above, out of the sewer's hand.

2. The germ is small at first: "like to a grain" — a very small particle — "of mustard-seed, which a man took."



1. The kingdom is one, though it belongs to all ages and nations. Christ speaks of a kingdom, never of kingdoms. A tree is a unity, for though it has many leaves and branches, it has but one root and one life-sap. Those who are sundered by seas, and ages, and thousands of influences, are all made one by Christ.

2. It is a world-wide kingdom. As the tree is for every bird from any quarter of heaven that wishes its shelter, so Christ's religion is for all sorts of people.

3. And it blesses, and only blesses. It creates and increases all that is bright and joyous. Christ's is a kingdom of love, of help, of grace, of salvation, and heaven is its end.

4. It will become very great though very small in its beginnings.

(J. Wells, M. A.)

It is ever important to remember that Christianity, at first like a small grain of seed, spread throughout the world, until the nations of the earth came to flock like birds to its protecting shelter, by no aid except its own inherent spiritual power. There was nothing to help it in the character of its early teachers. There was nothing to make its progress easy in the conditions of the Jewish and Gentile worlds. It came to the Jewish world, and found it saturated with thoughts of Jewish exclusiveness, and full of hopes of an earthly Deliverer. There was nothing in the teaching of this Messiah to appeal to the one, or to pander to the other. It told the Jew that his dreams of a temporal Messiah were futile, that it was a kingdom of spiritual power — not supported by external force or conquering by arms — which it had come to establish amongst men. Thus, though it appealed to no religious or national instinct in the Jew, though it was hostile to both, Christianity triumphed. Nor, again, in the Gentile world, represented by the two great nations of Greece or Rome, was there any congenial soil for the little seed of early Christendom to take root in, and find its sustenance. The Greek world was full of the pride of intellect, and the worship of sensuous beauty, and to it Christianity came with no scheme of a newfangled philosophy, with no subtleties of scholastic ethics. The preaching of the Cross of Christ, the teaching of a religion of self-sacrifice and love, so simple that the child could understand it, was its message. It presented as the object of their adoration and worship no incarnation of physical beauty, no image of physical strength, but a Nazarene upon a cross — His features so marred with sorrow that there was no beauty in Him that they should desire Him. And yet this Christianity had an inherent force of its own, before which the intellectual pride and the philosophic genius of Greece had to bow at last in submission. St. Paul preached at Athens, and not a few but felt as they listened, within sight of their own Academy, and beneath the shadow of honeyed Hymettus where the sages had trod, that this new preacher taught, with a power not of this world, a grander faith, which must outlast even the city of the Violet Crown. The wave spread still westward to Rome — proud mistress of the world. It fared as ill with her material and political strength as it had done with the intellectual force of Athens. To those who worshipped force and were glutted with military conquests, this new faith came preaching tenderness, forgiveness, charity. To Rome, who saw her eagles swoop in the farthest east and west, it proclaimed the supremacy of spiritual triumphs-it preached the deliverance of the captive — the brotherhood of nations. .At first only whispered in prison cells, or flung to the beasts of the arena, or its holy symbol grasped in feeble hands, and pressed to dying breasts of martyrs, the religion of Christ soon won its way over every obstacle, and at last Christianity entered the imperial palace, and wore the diadem of the Caesars: Now, when we turn from these triumphs of Christianity to examine what means she employed for her propagation, we can find nothing, humanly speaking, to account for it. Twelve men — Jews, without hereditary distinction; without political influence; without (except in one or two cases) intellectual acquirements — these were the men who — without any aid on earth; with a gospel that was opposed to every national, and philosophic, and religious prejudice of Jew, and Greek, and Roman; which was hostile to every feeling of pride and selfishness in the human heart — accomplished the grandest and most stupendous revolution the world had ever seen. People say sometimes that they find it hard to believe the miracles on which Christianity is based — surely the grandest, greatest miracle is the existence of Christianity itself. If, then, there were nothing in the outside world to which it appealed; nothing in the natural hearts of men which it came to satisfy: if we cannot discover in the characters of those who preached it any human reason to explain its progress — how are we to account for the spread of Christ's kingdom, except by attributing it to some spiritual power of its own?

(T. T. Shore, M. A.)

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