The parable may be understood to relate to our Lord himself, who is the living seed. You know also how his church is the tree that springs from him, and how greatly it grows and spreads its branches until it covers the earth. I called it a great little parable, and so it is: it has a world of teaching within the smallest compass. The parable is itself like a grain of mustard seed, but its meanings are as a great tree.
A VERY SIMPLE WORK. “It is like a grain of mustard seed, which a man took.” He took it; that is to say, picked it out from the bulk. It was only one grain, and a grain of a very insignificant seed; but he did not let it lie; he took it in his hand to put it to its proper use. It was only a grain of mustard seed, but the man set it before his own mind as a distinct object to be dealt with. He was not sowing mustard over broad acres, but he was sowing “a grain of mustard seed” in his garden.
In this little parable we notice that this man had a garden: “Like a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and cast into his garden.” Some Christian people have no garden— no personal sphere of service. It is the duty of every believer in Christ, like the first man, Adam, to have a garden to dress and to till. All the church at work for Christ! It will be a grand time when every believer has his allotment, and is sowing it with the seed of truth. The wilderness and the solitary place will blossom as the rose when each Christian cultivates his own plot of roses.
Having a garden, and having this seed, the man sowed it. This man simply cast it into his garden. He did not wrap it round with gold leaf, or otherwise adorn it; but he put it into the ground. The gospel is not a boat to be freighted with human thoughts, fine speculations, scraps of poetry, and pretty tales. No, no, the gospel is the thought of God: in and of itself it is the message which the soul needs. It is the gospel itself which will grow. Sow the very truth; not your reflections on the truth, not your embellishments of the truth, but the truth itself. It is all very fine to talk about the influence of the gospel, the ethics of Christianity, the elevating power of the love of Christ, and so on; but what we want is the gospel itself, which exercises that influence. Sow the seed. We must continually bring the living word of the living God into contact with the hearts of men. Oh for the aid of the Holy Ghost in this!
That which is described in the parable was an insignificant business: the man took the tiny seed and put it into his garden. Open your Bible and tell them the well-worn tale of how Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners. The mustard seed will never grow unless put into the soil: the owner of the garden will never have a crop of mustard unless he sows the seed. Cast in mustard seed, and nothing else but mustard seed, if you want to grow mustard. Teach the Gospel of Grace, and nothing but the Gospel of Grace, if you would see grace growing in the hearts of your young people.
What was it that the man sowed? It was one single seed, and that seed a very small one; so very, very small, that the Jews were accustomed to say, “As small as mustard seed.” Yes, the gospel seems a very simple thing: Believe and live! Look to Jesus dying in the sinner’s stead! Look to Jesus crucified, even as Israel looked to the brazen serpent lifted up upon a pole. It is simplicity itself: in fact, the gospel is so plain a matter that our superior people are weary of it, and look out for something more difficult of comprehension. It is yours and mine to teach everybody the simple truth, that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, and that whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.
The seed, though very small, was a living thing. Have you realized what you have in your hold when you grasp the gospel of the Grace of God? It is the most wonderful thing beneath the skies. Do you believe in the gospel? I want you to see what a little affair the sowing seemed, as we answer the question, What was it to him? It was a very natural act; he sowed a seed. It is a most natural thing that we should teach others what we believe ourselves. I cannot make out how some professors can call themselves Christians, and yet never communicate the faith to others.
An act of faith. It is always an act of faith to sow seed; because you have, for the time, to give it up, and receive nothing in return. We preach and teach as a work of faith; and, remember, it is only as an act of faith that it will answer its purpose. The rule of the harvest is, “According to thy faith, be it unto thee.” Believe in what you are doing when you tell it. Go on sowing your mustard seed of salvation by faith, expecting and believing that fruit will come thereof.
It seems to me that our Lord selected the mustard seed in this parable, not because its results are the greatest possible from a seed— for an oak or a cedar are much greater growths than a mustard tree— but He selected it because it is the greatest result as compared with the size of the seed.
Let us enquire, WHAT CAME OF IT? First, “it grew.” That was what the sower hoped would come of it: he placed the seed in the ground, hoping that it would grow. Expect the Truth to take root, and expand and grow up. Teach Divine Truth with earnestness, and expect that the life within it will unveil its wonders. But though the sower expected growth, he could not himself have made it grow. After he had placed the seed in the ground, he could water it, he could pray God to make the sun shine on it; but he could not directly produce growth. Only He that made the seed could cause it to grow. Growth is a continuance of that Almighty act by which life is at first given. The putting of life into the seed is God’s work, and the bringing forth of the life from the seed is God’s work too. This is a matter within your hope, but far beyond your power.
A growing seed is God’s abiding miracle. Wonder at the growth of Grace. See how it increases, deepens, strengthens! Growth in Grace is a marvel of Divine love. That a man should repent through the gospel, that he should believe in Jesus, that he should be totally changed, that he should have a hope of heaven, that he should receive power to become a child of God – these are all marvellous things; and yet they are going on under our eyes, and we fail to admire them as we should. The growth of holiness in such fallen creatures as we are, is the admiration of angels.
Having started growing, it became a tree; Luke says, “It waxed a great tree.” Here is the wonder: not that it became a tree, but that, being a mustard seed, it should become “a great tree.” Do you see the point of the parable? A word produces salvation! A grain of mustard seed becomes a great tree! A little teaching brings eternal life.
This great tree became a shelter: “the fowls of the air lodged in the branches of it.” Mustard in the East does grow very large indeed. The commonest kind of it may be found eight or ten feet high; but there is a kind which will grow almost like a forest tree. When the tree grew, the birds came to it. Here we have unexpected influences. There seems no link between sowing a grain of mustard seed and birds of the air; but the winged wanderers soon made a happy connection. Go on doing good in little ways, and you shall one day wonder at the great results. Do the next thing that lies before you. Do it well. Do it unto the Lord. Leave results with His unbounded liberality of love; but hope to reap at least a hundred-fold.
How many fowls came and roosted under that one mustard tree I do not know. How many birds in a day, how many birds in the year, came and found a resting-place, and picked the seeds they loved so well, I cannot tell. When one person is converted, how many may receive a blessing out of him none can tell.
I see this mustard tree — it is a very wonderful tree; but I not only see, I hear! Music! music! The birds! the birds! Every time you tell the tidings of pardon bought with blood, you are filling the choirs of glory with sweet voices, which, to the Eternal Name, shall, day and night, trill out songs of devout gratitude. Go on, then, if this is to be the result. What blessed work I have to do! What a glorious gospel have I to preach!
Let us be encouraged to sow the good seed in evil times. If we do not see the gospel prospering elsewhere, let us not despair; if there were no more mustard seed in the world, and I had only one grain of it, I should be all the more anxious to sow it. You can produce any quantity if only one seed will grow. Sow a mustard seed, and grow a tree. Talk of Christ, and save a soul: that soul saved will be a blessing for ages, and a joy to God throughout eternity.
Excerpted from the sermon titled “The Mustard Seed: a Sermon for the Sabbath-school Teacher” (Luke 13:18-19) by CH Spurgeon dated 20 October 1889. You are encouraged to read the full text of this sermon from https://www.spurgeon.org/resource-library/sermons/the-mustard-seed-a-sermon-for-the-sabbath-school-teacher/#flipbook/