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Bible Commentaries

Simeon's Horae Homileticae

Mark 4

Verses 26-29

DISCOURSE: 1423
THE SPRINGING FIELD

Mark 4:26-29. And he said, So is the kingdom of God, as if a man should cast seed into the ground; and should sleep, and rise night and day, and the seed should spring and grow up, he knoweth not how. For the earth bringeth forth fruit of herself; first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear. But when the fruit is brought forth, immediately he putteth in the sickle, because the harvest is come.

THERE is a rich variety in the parables delivered by our Lord. Almost every thing around him was made a vehicle of divine knowledge. Agriculture in particular afforded him many illustrations of his doctrines. He dwelt on that subject the more, because it was so adapted to his hearers. In the passage before us he compares the kingdom of God to seed springing up in the field. This comparison is applicable to the erection of his visible Church in the world; but we shall consider it rather in reference to a work of grace in the soul.
There is a resemblance between seed in a field, and grace in the heart,

I.

In the manner of their growth—

In the parable of the Sower, our Lord comprehends those characters who receive not the word aright. In this he confines himself to those characters that are truly upright. The growth of grace in their hearts resembles that of corn in a field, in that it is,

1.

Spontaneous—

[Seed, when harrowed into the earth, is left wholly to itself. The husbandman “sleeps by night,” and prosecutes his labours “by day,” without attempting to assist the corn in the work of vegetation; whatever solicitude he may feel, he abstains from such fruitless endeavours. “The earth must bring forth the fruit of itself,” or not at all. There is a principle of life in the corn which causes it to vegetate; nor is it indebted to any thing but the kindly influences of the heavens [Note: 1 Corinthians 15:38.]: thus it is with divine grace when sown in the heart of man. We do not mean that any man naturally and of his own will, lives to God; this is contradicted by the whole tenour of Scripture [Note: Romans 8:7.]: but grace is a seed which has within it a principle of life [Note: 1 Peter 1:23. Hence Christ, from whose fulness we receive that grace, is said to live in us, and to be our life. Galatians 2:20. Colossians 3:4.]; it operates by a power inherent in itself, and is dependent only on Him who gave it that power [Note: 1 Corinthians 15:10.]: the exertions of ministers, however unremitted, cannot make it grow [Note: 1 Corinthians 3:6-7.]; it must be left to the operation of its own native energy [Note: John 4:14.]; it will then put forth its virtue, through the invigorating beams of the Sun of Righteousness, and the refreshing showers of the Spirit of God.]

2.

Gradual—

[Seed does not instantly spring up in a state fit for the sickle. It passes through many different stages before it arrives at maturity. Thus also, in a work of grace, “the blade, the ear, and the full corn,” arise in regular succession. A Christian in his earliest attainments wears a different appearance from what he ever did before; he is not less altered than a grain of wheat when it puts forth “the blade;” he feels himself a sinful, helpless, and undone creature; he cleaves to Christ as a suitable and all-sufficient Saviour, and shews by his whole deportment that he has been quickened from the dead: but still he is prone to entertain self-righteous hopes, and too often yields to unbelieving fears. Hence, though sincere at heart, his attainments are but small [Note: Hebrews 5:13.]. In process of time he shews himself solid and hopeful as “the ear:” his knowledge of self is more deep, and his views of Christ more precious; his dependence on the power and grace of Christ is more simple and firm. Hence, though his conflicts may be more severe, he is more able to sustain them; nor is there any part of his conversation wherein his profiting doth not appear [Note: To this effect is St. John’s description of the young men who are in an intermediate state between children and fathers. 1 John 2:13-14.]. After much experience, both of good and evil [Note: Hebrews 5:14.], he becomes like “full corn in the ear.” Though his views of himself are more humiliating than ever, he is not discouraged by them; he only takes occasion from them to live more entirely by faith on Christ: there is an evident ripeness in all the fruit that he brings forth. Above all, he lives in a nearer expectation of “the harvest.” He sits loose to all the concerns of this present life, and longs for the season when he shall be treasured up in the garner [Note: 1 Corinthians 1:7, 2 Corinthians 5:1-4.].]

3.

Inexplicable—

[The most acute philosopher “knoweth not how” the grain vegetates. That it should die before it springs up [Note: 1 Corinthians 15:36.], and then so change its appearance as to put forth the blade, &c. is a mystery that none can explain: thus the operations of grace in the soul of man are also inexplicable. We know not how the Spirit of God acts on the powers of our mind; we discover that he does so by the effects; but how, we cannot tell. In this view our Lord compares the Spirit’s agency to the wind, the precise point of whose rise or destination we are unable to ascertain [Note: John 3:8.]: nor is the mysteriousness of these changes, which we see in the natural world, ever made a reason for disbelieving them; neither should the difficulty of comprehending some things in a work of grace render us doubtful of its reality.]

This resemblance, already so striking, may be further seen,

II.

In the end for which they grow—

The seed grows up in the field in order to the harvest—
[The husbandman in every part of his labour has the harvest in view; he manures, and ploughs, and sows his ground, in hopes of reaping at last. In every successive state of the corn he looks forward to the crop [Note: James 5:7.], and “when the harvest is come,” he “immediately puts in the sickle.”]

Thus also grace springs up in the souls of men to prepare them for glory—
[God, having from the beginning chosen his people to salvation, orders every the minutest incident for the accomplishment of his own purpose [Note: 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14.Romans 8:28; Romans 8:28.]. All the dispensations of his providence concur for this end; all the operations of his grace are adjusted with the same view. The first infusion of a principle of life into our souls is in order to our eternal happiness. All the ordinances, whereby that life is preserved, are for the same end: for this, the word distils as the dew, and the clouds drop fatness; for this, the very things which seem for a time to retard its growth, are permitted: the gloomy chilling influences of temptation and desertion, are overruled for its final good. When the soul is ripe for glory, “immediately will the sickle be put in:” when we are fully meet for the mansion prepared for us, God will receive us to it. Then will Christ, the great husbandman, rejoice in the fruit of his labours [Note: Isaiah 53:11.]; the ministers also, who laboured under him, will rejoice together with him [Note: 1 Thessalonians 2:19-20.]; and that promise which our Lord has given us shall be fulfilled [Note: John 4:36.]—.]

This is a rich source of comfort to ministers, and of encouragement to their people

[Ministers, like the husbandman, are scattering the seeds of God’s words; but, through impatience, are often ready to complain that they have laboured in vain. They forget that the seed lies long under the clods before it vegetates, and that much of their seed may spring up, when they have ceased from their labours: they are often discouraged too by the drooping aspect of their people: they would wish them to grow up to a state of perfection at once, and to attain to ripeness without the changes of succeeding seasons; but it is by such changes that they are brought to maturity [Note: Romans 5:3-5.]. Well therefore may ministers prosecute their work with cheerfulness. Leaving events to God, they should follow the direction given them in the word [Note: Ecclesiastes 11:5-6.]— and expect that the promised success shall in due time attend their labours [Note: Isaiah 55:10-11.]—. People also, of every description, may receive much encouragement. They often are ready to doubt whether “the root of the matter be indeed in them:” because their progress is not so rapid as they could wish, they are apt to despond. It is right indeed to examine whether we be really endued with life; nor should we rest contented with low degrees of growth. Whatever joy we feel in seeing the blade, we should grieve if it made no progress. Thus we should never be satisfied without going on unto perfection. But let us wait with patience for the former and the latter rain. Let us expect a variety of seasons as well in the spiritual as the natural world: let us commit ourselves to God, that he may perfect us in his own way. Thus in due season shall we be fit for the granary of heaven [Note: Job 5:26.]; the sickle shall then separate us from all our earthly connexions; and we shall be carried in triumph to our appointed rest.]


Verses 30-32

DISCOURSE: 1424
THE GRAIN OF MUSTARD-SEED

Mark 4:30-32. And he said, Whereunto shall we liken the kingdom of God? or with what comparison shall we compare it? it is like a grain of mustard-seed, which, when it is sown in the earth, is less than all the seeds that be in the earth. But when it is sown, it groweth up, and becometh greater than all herbs, and shooteth out great branches; so that the fowls of the air may lodge under the shadow of it.

“VERY excellent things are spoken of thee, thou city of God.” There is nothing either in heaven or earth which may not well serve to shadow forth thine excellencies. Our Lord had already illustrated the nature of his kingdom by a great variety of most instructive parables; and now stretches, as it were, his invention, in order to find other similitudes whereby to make it more fully understood. But choosing, as he always did, to bring his illustrations from things most obvious and familiar, he compares his Church and kingdom to a grain of mustard-seed. We shall,

I.

Illustrate this comparison—

“The kingdom of God” means, in this as in a multitude of other places, the visible kingdom of Christ established in the world, arid his invisible kingdom erected in the hearts of men. We must illustrate the comparison therefore,

1.

In reference to the Church of Christ in the world—

[The mustard-seed is the smallest of all those seeds which grow to any considerable size: and such was the Church of Christ at its first establishment in the world. It consisted at first of our Lord and his twelve Disciples; and even after our Lord’s ascension, their number was only one hundred and twenty. Soon however it spread forth its branches. As the mustard-seed, notwithstanding its smallness, grows up (in the eastern countries) into a tree of some magnitude, so did the Church, notwithstanding its unpromising appearances, extend its limits with astonishing rapidity. In the space of but a very few years, it filled, not Judsea only, but the whole Roman empire. Nor is it yet grown to its full dimensions. It will in the latter days overspread the whole earth. All the kingdoms of the world shall become the kingdoms of the Lord and of his Christ. And as Jews and Gentiles have already taken refuge under its shadow, so shall the people of all nations and languages in God’s appointed time [Note: This by the spirit of prophecy is beautifully described as passing More the prophet’s eyes, and as exciting great astonishment in the church itself. Isaiah 49:18-21.].]

2.

In reference to the grace of God in the heart—

[Grace, when first implanted in the soul, is often very small, shewing itself only in some glimmering views, slight convictions, good desires, faint purposes, and feeble endeavours. But in process of time it grows in every part; it shoots forth its roots into the soul, and becomes stronger in all its branches. The faith which was weak, is confirmed; the hope that was languishing, is made lively and abundant; and the love that was but cold and selfish, displays itself with purity and fervour. And all, who come within the sphere of its influence, receive rest and refreshment from its salutary shade [Note: Hosea 14:7.]. Indeed its full growth cannot be seen in this world. For that glorious sight, we must ascend to heaven, where every tree of righteousness flourishes with unfading beauty, and exhibits in the brightest colours the power and efficacy of the Redeemer’s grace.]

Such being the import of the comparison, we shall now proceed to,

II.

Improve it—

The parts of our improvement must necessarily have respect to the different views in which the parable has been explained.

We shall draw from it therefore some observations;
1.

For our encouragement respecting the Church at large—

[It is to be lamented that infidelity and profaneness have overrun the world; and that this tree which the Lord hath planted, has been so “wasted and devoured by the wild beasts of the field [Note: Psalms 80:8-13.].” But still the stock remains, nor shall it ever be rooted up. It shall yet “shoot forth its roots downward and bring forth fruit upward [Note: 2 Kings 19:30.].” At various seasons the Church has been contracted within very narrow limits; yet has always been preserved. In the days of Noah and of Abraham, the branches were cut down, and nothing remained but the mere stem; yet it put forth fresh branches, and extended them far and wide. So shall it do yet again, till at last it cover the whole earth. Where there is nothing now but idolatry and every species of wickedness, there shall one day be “holiness to the Lord inscribed upon the very bells of the horses [Note: Zechariah 14:20.].” Let us then water this tree with our prayers and tears. Let us help forward its growth by every means in our power; and look with confidence to that period, when all the nations of the world shall come and sit under its benign shadow.]

2.

For our consolation under personal doubts and apprehensions—

[From the smallness of our attainments we are sometimes ready to doubt whether the little seed of grace in our hearts will ever grow up to any use or profit. But there is not a saint in heaven whose grace was not once comparatively weak. All were once “as new-born babes;” nor was it till they had learned many humiliating lessons, that they attained to the age of young men and fathers [Note: 1 John 2:12-13.]. Thus in the natural world, the largest oak was once an acorn, and the largest mustard-tree a little and contemptible seed. Why then should any despond because of present appearances? Why should not we hope that in process of time our graces shall be strengthened, and our wide-extended branches be filled with fruit? Our God assures us that he does “not despise the day of small things [Note: Zechariah 4:10.];” why then should we? Let us trust, and not be afraid. Let us look up to heaven for the genial influences of the sun and rain: nor doubt but that God will accomplish the work he has begun [Note: Philippians 1:6.]; and “fulfil in us all the good pleasure of his goodness.”]


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Bibliographical Information
Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Mark 4". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/shh/mark-4.html. 1832.