Christ's Object Lessons
by Ellen G. White
Chapter 5: "Like a Grain of Mustard Seed"
Based on Matt. 13:31, 32; Mark 4:30-32; Luke 13:18, 19
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In the multitude that listened to Christ's teaching
there were many Pharisees. These noted contemptuously
how few of His hearers acknowledged Him as the Messiah.
And they questioned with themselves how this unpretending
teacher could exalt Israel to universal dominion. Without
riches, power, or honor, how was He to establish the new
kingdom? Christ read their thoughts and answered them:
"Whereunto shall we liken the kingdom of God? or
with what comparison shall we compare it?" In earthly
governments there was nothing that could serve for a similitude.
No civil society could afford Him a symbol. "It is
like a grain of mustard seed," He said, "which, when it
is sown upon the earth, though it be less than all the seeds
that are upon the earth, yet when it is sown, groweth up,
and becometh greater than all the herbs, and putteth out
great branches; so that the birds of the heaven can lodge
under the shadow thereof." (R.V.) [p. 77]
The germ in the seed grows by the unfolding of the
life-principle which God has implanted. Its development
depends upon no human power. So it is with the kingdom of
Christ. It is a new creation. Its principles of development
are the opposite of those that rule the kingdoms of this
world. Earthly governments prevail by physical force; they
maintain their dominion by war; but the founder of the new
kingdom is the Prince of Peace. The Holy Spirit represents
worldly kingdoms under the symbol of fierce beasts of
prey; but Christ is "the Lamb of God, which taketh away
the sin of the world." John 1:29. In His plan of government
there is no employment of brute force to compel the
conscience. The Jews looked for the kingdom of God to
be established in the same way as the kingdoms of the world.
To promote righteousness they resorted to external measures.
They devised methods and plans. But Christ
implants a principle. By implanting truth and righteousness,
He counterworks error and sin.
As Jesus spoke this parable, the mustard plant could be
seen far and near, lifting itself above the grass and grain,
and waving its branches lightly in the air. Birds flitted
from twig to twig, and sang amid the leafy foliage. Yet
the seed from which sprang this giant plant was among the
least of all seeds. At first it sent up a tender shoot, but
it was of strong vitality, and grew and flourished until it
reached its present great size. So the kingdom of Christ
in its beginning seemed humble and insignificant.
Compared with earthly kingdoms it appeared to be the least of
all. By the rulers of this world Christ's claim to be a king
was ridiculed. Yet in the mighty truths committed to His
followers the kingdom of the gospel possessed a divine life.
And how rapid was its growth, how widespread its
influence! When Christ spoke this parable, there were only
a few Galilean peasants to represent the new kingdom. [p. 78] Their poverty, the fewness of their numbers, were urged
over and over again as a reason why men should not connect
themselves with these simple-minded fishermen who
followed Jesus. But the mustard seed was to grow and spread
forth its branches throughout the world. When the earthly
kingdoms whose glory then filled the hearts of men should
perish, the kingdom of Christ would remain, a mighty and
So the work of grace in the heart is small in its
beginning. A word is spoken, a ray of light is shed into the
soul, an influence is exerted that is the beginning of the
new life; and who can measure its results?
Not only is the growth of Christ's kingdom illustrated
by the parable of the mustard seed, but in every stage of its
growth the experience represented in the parable is
repeated. For His church in every generation God has a
special truth and a special work. The truth that is hid
from the worldly wise and prudent is revealed to the child-like
and humble. It calls for self-sacrifice. It has battles
to fight and victories to win. At the outset its advocates
are few. By the great men of the world and by a
world-conforming church, they are opposed and despised. See
John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ, standing alone
to rebuke the pride and formalism of the Jewish nation.
See the first bearers of the gospel into Europe. How
obscure, how hopeless, seemed the mission of Paul and
Silas, the two tentmakers, as they with their companions
took ship at Troas for Philippi. See "Paul the aged," in
chains, preaching Christ in the stronghold of the Caesars.
See the little communities of slaves and peasants in conflict
with the heathenism of imperial Rome. See Martin Luther
withstanding that mighty church which is the masterpiece
of the world's wisdom. See him holding fast God's word
against emperor and pope, declaring, "Here I take my
stand; I can not do otherwise. God be my help." See [p. 79] John Wesley preaching Christ and His righteousness in the
midst of formalism, sensualism, and infidelity. See one
burdened with the woes of the heathen world, pleading for
the privilege of carrying to them Christ's message of love.
Hear the response of ecclesiasticism: "Sit down, young
man. When God wants to convert the heathen, He will
do it without your help or mine."
The great leaders of religious thought in this generation
sound the praises and build the monuments of those who
planted the seed of truth centuries ago. Do not many turn
from this work to trample down the growth springing from
the same seed today? The old cry is repeated, "We know
that God spake unto Moses; as for this fellow [Christ in the
messenger He sends], we know not from whence he is."
John 9:29. As in earlier ages, the special truths for this
time are found, not with the ecclesiastical authorities, but
with men and women who are not too learned or too wise to
believe the word of God.
"For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many
wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble,
are called; but God hath chosen the foolish things of the
world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak
things of the world to confound the things which are mighty.
And base things of the world, and things which are despised,
hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring
to naught things that are" (1 Cor. 1:26-28); "that your
faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the
power of God" (1 Cor. 2:5).
And in this last generation the parable of the mustard
seed is to reach a signal and triumphant fulfillment. The
little seed will become a tree. The last message of warning
and mercy is to go to "every nation and kindred and
tongue" (Rev. 14:6-14), "to take out of them a people
for His name" (Acts 15:14; Rev. 18:1). And the earth
shall be lightened with His glory.
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