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Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters
The Man Who Took a Rain of Mustard Seed and Sowed It in His Field
OUR LORD'S parables are all so many applications of what we sometimes call the Sacramental Principle. That is to say, in all His parables our Lord takes up something in nature and makes it a lesson in grace, and a means of grace. The kingdom of heaven is like that, He said, as often as He saw a field of wheat all sown over with tares; or a vineyard with a husbandman working in it; or a lost sheep; or a prodigal son; or a marriage procession; or a few little children playing at marriages and funerals in the market-place. Our Lord so lived in heaven: He had His whole conversation so completely in heaven: His whole mind and heart and life were so absolutely absorbed in heaven, that everything He saw on earth, in some way or other, spoke to Him about heaven, and thus supplied Him with His daily texts, and sermons, and parables, about heaven. There are some men who are full of eyes, as Scripture says. They are full of eyes within and without. Now, our Lord was one of those men, and the very foremost of them. He was full of eyes by nature, and, over and above nature, He had an extraordinary and unparalleled unction from the Holy One. And thus it was that He discovered the kingdom of heaven everywhere and in everything. Already as a child He had deep and clear eyes both in His mind, and in His imagination, and in His heart. As a child He had often sown the least of all seeds in Joseph's garden, and had watched that mustard seed springing up till it became a great tree. And with what delight would He see the birds of the air building their nests in the branches of His own high mustard tree. And how He would feed them, and their young ones, with the crumbs that fell from His mother's table. And as He grew in wisdom and in stature, He would come to read in that same mustard tree yet another parable about His Father's house and His Father's business. Or, as we sometimes say, in our book-learned way, He would see in that mustard tree another illustration of that Sacramental Principle which was ever present with Him.
Now it was not so much the great size of the mustard tree that took such a hold of our Lord's imagination. It was rather the extraordinary smallness of the mustard seed. And that was a very fruitful moment for us when that small seed first fell into our Lord's mind and heart. For there immediately sprang up out of that small seed this exquisite little parable. This little parable, so exquisitely beautiful in its literature, and so inexhaustibly rich in its applications and fulfilments in no end of directions.
To begin with, the kingdom of heaven in Old Testament times was like a grain of mustard seed in its original smallness, and then in the great tree that it ultimately became. Take the very first of all the mustard seeds of the kingdom of heaven on this earth,-the call of Abraham. What could be a smaller seed, at the time, than the emigration of the son of Terah out of Ur of the Chaldees and into the land of the Canaanites? Again, what seed could well be smaller than that ark of bulrushes, daubed with slime and pitch, and hidden away among the flags by the river's brink? And, then, what less likely to spring up into all the psalms and hymns and spiritual songs of the Church of God than those little snatches of sacred psalmody that a shepherd boy sang to his few sheep on the plains of Bethlehem? And to come to Old Testament institutions and ordinances also. What more like a mustard seed than those few drops of midnight blood sprinkled so stealthily on the lintels and the door-posts of those slave-huts in the land of Egypt? And yet all the passover-days in Israel, and all our own communion days in the Church of Christ, and the marriage supper of the Lamb in His Father's house, have all sprung up, and will yet Spring up, out of that small mustard seed. And in like manner, all our divinity halls had their first original in that small school which Samuel set up on his father's little property at Ramah. Our own Oxford, and Cambridge, and Edinburgh, and Aberdeen, and many more such like schools of the prophets, are all so many great trees that have their long roots struck away back into Samuel's little mustard seed. As also when the carpenters of Jerusalem made a pulpit of wood for Ezra and his colleagues, standing on which they read in the book of the law distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused the people to understand the reading. There you have the first small seed out of which ten thousand pulpits have sprung up, down to our own day, and will spring up, down to the end of all evangelical time. Our Lord Himself stood upon a pulpit of the same wood; and so did Paul, and so did Chrysostom, and so did Augustine, and so did Calvin, and so did Thomas Goodwin, and so did Matthew Henry, and a multitude of pulpit expositors of the Word of God which no man can number.
Our Lord, you may depend upon it, had all those Old Testament instances in the eyes of His mind when He spake to His disciples this so charming and so instructive little parable. But, always remembering His own mustard-seed beginning, and always forecasting what was yet before Him, and before the whole world through Him, our Lord must always have looked on Himself as by far the most wonderful mustard seed that ever was sown. Would you see with your own eyes the most wonderful mustard seed that ever was sown in all the world? Come and look at that Holy Thing that lies in the manger of Bethlehem, because there is no room in the inn. Which, surely, was the least-looking of all seeds, but is now the greatest among herbs. And, then, what a seed of the same kind was the call of the twelve disciples, and the conversion of Saul of Tarsus, and the conversion of Augustine, and the conversion of Luther, and Wesley, and Chalmers, and General Booth. Paul's first mission to the Gentiles also, and the first missionary that landed on our shores, and the first printing-press, and the first sailing of the Mayflower, and so on.
But it is time to come to ourselves. And among ourselves that small mustard seed is eminently a parable for all parents. For every little word that a parent speaks to his child: every little action of a parent in the sight of his child: every little attitude even, and movement of his: every glance of his eye, and every accent of his voice-are all so many mustard seeds sown in the little garden of his child's mind and heart. Every little Scripture lesson learned together: every little prayer offered together: and, especially, alone together: every little occasional word to explain, and to make interesting, his child's little lesson and little prayer every wise little word spoken to his child about his own and his child's Saviour-every such small seed dropped by a parent's hand will yet spring up to his everlasting surprise, and to his everlasting harvest. Let all parents, then, and all nurses, and all tutors, and all schoolmasters, and all who have little children in the same house with them, lay this little parable well home to their imagination and to their heart. Let them not despise the day of small things. Let them have a great faith, and a great assurance of faith, in such small things as these. Let them have a great faith in Him, and in His wisdom, and His love, and in His faithfulness, who is continually, both in nature and in grace, folding up the greatest trees in the smallest seeds. And never more so than in the way He folds up your child's whole future in your little acts of faith, and prayer, and love, and wisdom, and patience, and hopefulness, done at home. Despise it not, for a great tree is in it. A great, a fragrant, and a fruitful tree, under which you will one day sit rejoicing in the shelter of it, and in the sweet fruitfulness of it.
Long before your son is ready to read Butler for himself, he will he a daily illustration to you of Butler's great principle of acts, habits, character. A little wrong act, another little act of the same kind, and another, and another, and another, and another, and all of them so small, that not one parent's eye in a thousand can so much as see them, the thing is so infinitely small, and the child himself is still so small. But, oh! the tremendous and irreparable oversight for you and for him! Read Butler for yourself till you have that wisest of Englishmen by heart. And as soon as your son is able to read his father's best books, buy him a good Butler for himself; and, some day when you are taking a long holiday walk together, have a good talk with him about that great teacher, both, hearing your son's mind, and giving him in return your own mind, on that great man.
Thomas à Kempis's genesis of a fatal temptation is another instance of a mustard seed. An evil thought; the smallest seed of an evil thought, is, somehow, sown in our minds. In a thousand unforeseen ways such small seeds are being continually insinuated into all our minds. And if they are let enter our minds; if they are for a single moment entertained in our minds; evil thoughts, especially if they are of certain kinds, will immediately spread themselves out in our imaginations, and will so colour, and so inflame, and so intoxicate, our imaginations, that our wills, and even our consciences, are completely carried captive before we are aware, till another deadly work is finished in body and in soul. A thought, says the old saint, then an imagination, then a delight, then a consent, and then our soul is sold for nought. The kingdom of hell also is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when it is grown, all the obscene birds of the bottomless pit come up and breed in the branches thereof. As the children's hymn has it long before they understand it,
So our little errors
Lead the soul away,
From the path of virtue
Far in sin to stray.
But, blessedly, there is another side to all that. There is a genesis and a genealogy of things far more joyful to dwell on than that. A little thought of goodness, and of truth, and of love, will be sown in the garden of the soul. A little thought, as it looks, of God, of Jesus Christ, of heaven, well watered and shone upon by the Spirit of God. And then that little thought will open and will spread out into visions of beauty that will sanctify and fortify the soul, till the young soldier of Jesus Christ will step forward and will say like the brave man in John Bunyan-Set down my name, sir! When the heavenly watchers, seeing all that, will raise their songs over him, and will sing-
Come in, come in,
Eternal glory thou shalt win!
And all from a small mustard seed of one good thought sown in a good and honest heart.
And so on, in a thousand other regions of religion and life. But I will close, with what will come home to us all,-how to make our own home happy. For, what is the real secret of a happy home: a lifelong happy home? What but little mustard seeds of love, and of loving-kindness? What but little acts, and little habits, and then a great herb of character? A little act of forethought. A little act of respect. A little act of reverence. A little act of honour. A smile. A glance of the eye. A word of tact. A word of recognition. A word of praise. A word of love. A little gift. A little flower in a little glass of water. And many more things too small to put into a sermon for grown-up men.
With smiles of peace and looks of love
Light in our dwellings we may make,
Bid kind good-humour brighten there,
And still do all for Jesus' sake.
Little deeds of kindness,
Little acts of love,
Help to make home happy
Like the heaven above.
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Whyte, Alexander. Entry for 'The Man Who Took a Rain of Mustard Seed and Sowed It in His Field'. Alexander Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/wbc/t/the-man-who-took-a-rain-of-mustard-seed-and-sowed-it-in-his-field.html. 1901.
the Week of Proper 8 / Ordinary 13