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The Rev. Dr. Robert Bowman: “The Mustard Seed and the Leaven” (Matthew 13:31-33)

August 28, 2008

From the Rev. Dr. Robert Bowman of St. Luke’s REC in California, we have another excellent sermon in his series on the Parables of our Lord, this one being The Mustard Seed and the Leaven. This message is based on Matthew 13:31-33 and quite frankly is probably the best exposition I have heard on this passage–particularly in what Dr. Bowman says about the leaven. This is his introductory note about what this parable means:

These parables we are studying speak of the growth of God’s Kingdom. This parable should be encouraging to us. The disciples were discouraged with the lack of progress in the Kingdom. They had to have been asking “WHY?” These parables we are studying now are meant to be an encouragement to us. The Mustard Seed deals with the outward growth of the Kingdom, and the yeast, the leaven, with the growth of the invisible church. The overall thrust of the passage is that from small beginnings the work of God in the world grows and extends until His eternal purpose is completed. Psalm 72. Acts 1:8. The Kingdom grows quietly in the hearts of people who come to saving faith. Spectacular growth is not our main goal. God is at work. He is on the move in the world.

For some reason there are some expositors who are convinced that leaven always represents evil in the Bible. I think one has to look at the context in which the word is used, and I think Dr. Bowman’s understanding of this (that leaven represents the growth of the invisible church) is “spot on.” Bishop Ryle says about this parable, in his comments on Luke 13:

The parable of the leaven is intended to show the progress of the Gospel in the heart of a BELIEVER.

The first beginnings of the work of grace in a sinner are generally exceedingly small. It is like the mixture of leaven with a lump of dough. A single sentence of a sermon, or a single verse of Holy Scripture–a word of rebuke from a friend, or a casual religious remark overheard–a tract given by a stranger, or a trifling act of kindness received from a Christian, some one of these things is often the starting-point in the life of a soul. The first actings of the spiritual life are often small in the extreme–so small, that for a long time they are not known except by him who is the subject of them, and even by him not fully understood. A few serious thoughts and prickings of conscience–a desire to pray really and not formally–a determination to begin reading the Bible in private–a gradual drawing towards means of grace–an increasing interest in the subject of religion–a growing distaste for evil habits and bad companions, these, or some of them, are often the first symptoms of grace beginning to move the heart of man. They are symptoms which worldly men may not perceive, and ignorant believers may despise, and even old Christians may mistake. Yet they are often the first steps in the mighty business of conversion. They are often the “leaven” of grace working in a heart.

The work of grace once begun in the soul will never stand still. It will gradually “leaven the whole lump.” Like leaven once introduced, it can never be separated from that with which it is mingled. Little by little it will influence the conscience, the affections, the mind, and the will, until the whole man is affected by its power, and a thorough conversion to God takes place. In some cases no doubt the progress is far quicker than in others. In some cases the result is far more clearly marked and decided than in others. But wherever a real work of the Holy Spirit begins in the heart, the whole character is sooner or later leavened and changed. The tastes of the man are altered. The whole bias of his mind becomes different. “Old things pass away, and all things become new.” (2 Cor. 5:17.) The Lord Jesus said that it would be so, and all experience shows that so it is.

Let us learn from this parable never to “despise the day of small things” in religion. (Zec. 4:10.) The soul must creep before it can walk, and walk before it can run. If we see any sign of grace beginning in a brother, however feeble, let us thank God and be hopeful. The leaven of grace once planted in his heart, shall yet leaven the whole lump. “He that begins the work, will perform it unto the day of Jesus Christ.” (Phil. 1:6.)

Let us ask ourselves whether there is any work of grace in our own hearts. Are we resting satisfied with a few vague wishes and convictions? Or do we know anything of a gradual, growing, spreading, increasing, leavening process going on in our inward man? Let nothing short of this content us. The true work of the Holy Spirit will never stand still. It will leaven the whole lump.

May the Spirit of God come to permeate our whole lives!

2 Comments leave one →
  1. tanaudel permalink
    August 28, 2008 11:56 pm

    I like the phrase “day of small things” but I can’t recall having my mind drawn to it before. Now I’m trying to work out exactly what it means.

  2. August 29, 2008 12:30 am

    Thanks for pointing that out, as I had not really thought about the phrase. John Wesley wrote about the Scripture passage from whence the phrase comes, Zech. 4:10, that “For who hath despised – In the work of God, the day of small things is not to be despised. God often chooses weak instruments, to bring about mighty things: and tho’ the beginnings be small, he can make the latter end greatly to increase.” I can live with that take on “day of small things”, and it is about as clear as any other one I could find.

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