THE GROWTH OF PRACTISED TRUTH.
31He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. 32Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches.” (MATTHEW XIII. 31, 32.)
Truth, like seed, is full of vitality.
There is, in the universe, one self-existent life, that of the Creator; the only real life, the inward vitality, which fills and vitalizes all created things. And each truth, being of the Lord, and from the Lord, is inwardly filled with His life. Every truth contains within it the germ of a complete system of intellectual life. And that system is developed by a process of orderly growth, like the growth of a seed into a tree.
THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN.
The parable teaches us of the first conscious beginnings of our spiritual life, and their progressive development. The kingdom of heaven is the government of the Divine Love, by means of the Divine Wisdom. It is wherever the Lord is known and loved as the spiritual King. Our Lord, Himself, has told us where that kingdom is located. He said, “The kingdom of God is within you.”
The sensuous Jews supposed the kingdom of heaven to be a comfortable condition of things on earth, after the coming of the Messiah, to exalt the Jews to a supremacy which they had long desired. But the kingdom of God is the rule of spiritual principles in the minds and lives of men. And men enter that kingdom, not by going to a certain place, but by entering into certain states of character and life. Spiritually, the change from living in the world to living in heaven, is a change from a worldly character to a heavenly character.
In this sense, the kingdom of heaven is the Church of the Lord, in the heavens; and on the earth, also, as far as the latter Church is composed of regenerate persons. This spiritual kingdom of heaven, this rule of heavenly principles in the human mind, “is like to a grain of mustard seed,” because the growth of this kingdom of love and faith, in the mind of man, is like the growth of the seed in the earth.
A “seed” is a truth, in which is a germ of good. The mustard seed is introduced into the text, because, from its nature and circumstances, the correspondence of the literal and spiritual meanings is made markedly strong. Mustard seed contains great heat. The heat in the seed represents the warmth of love, which lies within the truth, in our minds, when we are in earnest about the truth. Of course, in the beginning, that earnestness is merely natural, and united with many selfish desires. But, in the course of regeneration, we outgrow this external condition, and enter into spiritual earnestness. But natural earnestness is the only kind we have, at first; and it serves the purpose of urging us to do something.
THE MAN, AND THE FIELD.
The man, who took the mustard seed, and sowed it in the field, is the Lord, Jesus Christ, the Divine Man. The” field” in which He sows the seed of truth, is our natural mind. Mustard seed thus represents truth, in which there is good affection, and which is sown in our natural mind, by the Lord, in order that we may become spiritual-minded.
THE SMALLNESS OF THE SEED.
It is said that this mustard seed is “the least of all seeds.” In Oriental lands, the mustard grows to be a tree, ten or twelve feet in height. And, literally, the text speaks in the usual manner of Oriental language, expressing things strongly. The mustard seed was known as a small seed. “Small as a grain of mustard-seed,” was a common Oriental saying. It is found, for instance, in the Koran of Mahomet; “O my son, verily, every matter, whether good or bad, though it be of the weight of a grain of mustard-seed, and be hidden in a rock, or in the heavens, or in the earth, God will bring the same to light.” Our Lord uses the term” mustard-seed,” to show how small is the beginning of man’s spiritual life, and yet how it is capable of great growth.
But, spiritually, the grain of mustard-seed is truly the least of all seeds, because it represents the least beginning of spiritual life, when the man, though he has begun to love the truth, and to do good by it, yet thinks he does good from himself, and in his own power. His good is natural, not spiritual. It is good of the least kind; i. e., of a quality the furthest removed from celestial life. No matter what the quantity of his good may be, it still is of the most external quality, the least spiritual of anything that can be called good. The vital seed of truth has found a lodgement in his mind; and he burns with some zeal, to do good; but his zeal is external, natural, and joined to much of selfishness.
THE SEED SOWN.
Spiritual mustard-seeds are sown in a man’s mind, when he desires to use the truths of the Lord’s Word, to shun evils, as sins; when he determines to make the Divine Truth his rule of life, instead of being governed by his own ideas. Naturally, we all love our own ideas, which flow from our self-love. And when we do any good, we naturally claim it as our own, and congratulate ourselves on our own goodness, and also desire to have others praise our goodness. But such goodness is the least of all kinds of goodness. And the truth held in this way is the least of all seeds of truth, carrying within it the mere undeveloped germ of heavenly good.
THE SEED GROWING.
But if we persevere in doing good, our Lord will gradually develop our goodness. And, as we increase in our desire and determination to shun evils, the quality of our good will improve. And then our wisdom will increase, until, as angels, we shall know and understand many things which we cannot now comprehend. Our Lord said to His disciples, “I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now.” Our seed of truth will grow to be a spreading tree, in which the soaring birds of the mind shall find a lodging-place. As we see all good to be the Lord’s, and as we do good in the name of the Lord, we shall grow out of our self-importance, and become more spiritual in quality. Then the truths, in our minds, will branch out, and become as growing herbs. And when we fully love the truth for its own sake; and when the truth in our minds is fully united with our affection for the Lord’s good and truth; then our truths will be great, spreading trees. Thus, every truth sown in our minds, carries, within it, the undeveloped capacities of spiritual life. It comes to us as a little babe, in which are the undeveloped germs of a full manhood, “the measure of a man, that is, of an angel.”
THE BRANCHES OF THE TREE.
It is said of this tree, that “the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof. “The branches of the tree, like the arms of the human body, are the extremities. And they represent the ultimates, the externals, the things nearest the surface, the outer part of the mind. Truth, in its most interior aspect, is wisdom, which is truth loved and practised. In its outmost degree, it is knowledge of facts, or science. In the New-Church, these knowledges of facts, in the memory, are called scientifics, things known. These are in the extremities of the man’s mind, the memory.
The birds represent the intellectual things of our nature, the thoughts, that fly through our minds. In the regenerating man, as he grows in the love and practice of truth, the truth, like a tree, branches out, in his mind, until his mental birds, his rational thoughts, find a lodging-place in the known facts stored in his memory. Every such fact is then filled with life; for the living things of the spiritual truth find a resting-place in the things of the memory, which branch out, far and wide, through all departments of life.
And this is, indeed, a blessed condition, when the principles of our spiritual thought can come out, and make one with the facts of outward life; when the inward world of the spirit becomes the recognized life and soul of all facts and circumstances, in all the branching details of our outward life.
Then, in our minds, the inward spirit of the Word of our Lord finds a lodging-place in the facts of its letter; and the spirit and the letter make one, like the soul and the body of a man. This is, indeed, a gracious promise, as a result of the growth of the truth of God’s Word in the good ground of a sincere heart. In such a life, the literal sense of the Bible opens itself, to exhibit its indwelling spirit of Divine Truth. We “look through nature, up to nature’s God.” And even every little fact known in our memory, every extreme branch of the great tree of living truth, is easily traced upward and inward, until we see its spiritual counterpart and correspondent, in the living birds of spiritual thoughts, lodged in its branches.
In this exalted state of mental life, all the details of the physical creation, sing, in happy chorus, the glad praises of their glorious Creator. Material nature then becomes but the mirror of the spiritual world, reflecting its higher life, as embodied in the grosser things of earth. Thus, as we progress in regeneration, every thing that we know becomes a matter of practical life. All the life lessons taught us in childhood, and stored in the memory, become of actual use to us, as we take them up, and fill them with spiritual life. They are bodies, only; but now they are living bodies, moved by the living spirit within.
And, as the branches of the trees afford not only a lodging-place, but also a breeding-place, for the birds, so the knowledges in our memory serve to multiply our thoughts, by affording opportunities for further thought. Thus, amid all the discouraging circumstances of our struggling life, this parable beams upon us, like a ray of heavenly sunshine, teaching us, that vital truth, once taking deep root in our minds, and filled with the love of good, grows and flourishes, and branches out in the mind, till it becomes like a noble tree, full of vigorous and varied life.
Eminently should it be so, in the Lord’s New-Church; because her doctrines are arranged in a rational system, all related and connected, branching out in all directions, from interior to exterior, from mind to matter, from heaven to earth. Her scientifics, or facts of life, being numerous, and rationally seen, afford, to the mental birds of spiritual thought, both lodging-places and breeding-places. Truly, in the New-Church, “Yea, the sparrow hath found a house, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young; even Thine altars, a Jehovah of hosts, my King and my God.” For, in the New-Church, every fact of our life should be a means of usefulness, and of spiritual life; for even the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.”
To the regenerate man, the truth of the Lord is a tree of life, in the midst of the heavenly garden of his mind. “Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in His law doth he meditate day and night. And he shall be like a tree, planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season: his leaf also shall not wither, and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.”
We obtain a very clear idea of the vitality of truth, when it is compared to a seed. The Lord said, “The seed is the Word.” Seeds, though small, are very prolific. A very small seed may grow to be a very large tree. And this tree will produce more seeds, until the produce of one seed results in an orchard, or a forest. And seeds from these trees are carried elsewhere, and produce other orchards.
Such is every seed of truth in the Word of the Lord, it carries, within it, the vitality of heaven. It is wonderfully prolific. One truth, sincerely loved and practised, becomes, like the seed, the beginning of a tree and of a perpetual succession of trees. Such is the wisdom of the angels, from the truths of the Word, as mental seeds and trees, increasing in growth, and multiplying in number, through eternity. And as the angels grow wiser, they see that there is no limit to wisdom; and that they, themselves, are but in the outer court of wisdom, and that they can never attain the Divine Wisdom, which transcends all finite faculties.
The truths of the Decalogue, or Ten Commandments, are mental seeds of the greatest vitality; for they are laws of life, in the letter as well as in the spirit. They are adapted to all degrees and phases of human life. In each degree, the man has but to live by the Commandments, and he will find them to be most prolific of heavenly life.
As it is with the truth, so is it with the Church; it begins as a small seed, and branches out into a great growth. To the gaze of the world, the homeless Jesus, . teaching a strange doctrine in Jerusalem, and in the villages of Palestine, and then meeting an ignominious death, deserted by His mere handful of followers, seemed very unlikely to be doing a work of any importance. And yet Christianity is now the religion of the leading nations of the world. The disciples, themselves, had very little comprehension of the vitality of Christianity.
So the New-Church began in small things. A learned and excellent man declared himself called to a spiritual mission; and he wrote numerous books of theology, in the Latin language. Over a hundred years have passed by, and yet the believers in these writings are not numerous. It is, with the New-Church, the day of small beginnings. But the truth, having the vitality of living seed, will yet extend its branches far and wide.
The world is not yet ready to adopt the truths of the New-Church. But, in the minds that are now ready, those truths will grow to be noble trees. For, since the last judgment, the conditions for growth are better, arid the hindrances are fewer. The world still sees nothing beyond natural goodness. In fact, the world seeks to make everything, even religion, cater to the tastes of the world. But the New-Church reverses the idea, and makes the earth serve as the footstool to heaven. The world’s purpose is pleasure; but the end sought by the New-Church is use, spiritual and natural.
The parable teaches us not to despise small beginnings. We cannot foresee all that will result from little things, either in good or in evil. It is the part of wisdom to encourage and develop all good, true and useful things, and to discourage all evil, false and injurious things. ” For a good tree bringeth forth good fruit, and a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.” The things which are in the angel, in fulness of life, were in him as a man on earth, as seeds. And these things are in the angel, now, as fruitful trees, because as a man, he encouraged the growth of the seeds, as beginnings of spiritual life. While they were men on earth, the angels did not have the fulness of spiritual life which they have now, in the spiritual world; but they never would have been angels, and never would have had their present experience, if they had not, while men on earth, done the work of repentance and reformation, by shunning evils, as sins. Any good work, begun, and sincerely maintained, will come to great results.
And there is, to us, in this, a lesson on the negative side. We are often tempted to allow some of our evils to run on, because they are so small, and apparently unimportant. But this is a cunning suggestion of evil spirits. Good and evil are not so much questions of quantity, as of quality. Anything that we rationally see to be wrong, is important enough to be made a subject of self-denial. And, in doing this, we are to be careful to judge of the quality of a thing, not by the world’s standard, but by the standard of the Lord’s truth, as taught in His Word, and in His Church.
THE LAW OF GROWTH.
The seed grows to be a tree, not by chance, but by a law implanted in its own nature, by the Lord. The germ of the perfect tree is in the seed. Circumstances do not make the germ, but only afford it opportunities. So, we must have the germ of goodness, or love of the truth, or no circumstances can ever develop us into angels. We have no reason to expect to attain any spiritual good which we have not yet begun to live upon. But. Having actually made an honest beginning in spiritual life, making a sincere effort to shun evils as sins, we have good reason to expect great results, as long as we practically maintain our principles.
We do not, in this world, find the full growth of regeneration. But the seeds must, have begun to grow, here. And then, in the next world, we shall find these little seeds growing to be great trees, in our greater capacities. If we are shunning- evils, we are growing in goodness, and our growth in goodness is exactly according to our growth out of evil. When the rich young man asked Jesus what good thing he should do, to inherit eternal life, the Lord replied, “Keep the commandments.”
THE CERTAINTY OF GROWTH.
Watch the little seed, as it grows. It has vitality in it. The whole force of the kingdom of heaven is in that little seed; in fact, the whole power of the Lord is within it, making it grow. Its destiny is determined; the law of its life is operating; and the result will come. All it needs is the opportunity to grow. So is it, in our minds, with the seed of truth. The Lord is in it. All the forces of the heavens are pressing into it. Only let us afford it the opportunity and the conditions, and the result is sure. And the conditions that it demands, are that we shun evils, as sins, and do good, in the love of the Lord and of the neighbor. In spiritual life, it is not so much matter what we come from, as what we come into. We are all naturally in evil; but we can grow out of evil, by repentance, reformation and regeneration.
QUANTITY AND QUALITY.
“A little that a righteous man hath is better than the riches of many wicked;” for even the beginnings of spiritual life are better than the fulness of sensuous life. “I would rather be a door-keeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness.” “The Lord loveth the gates of Zion, more than all the dwellings of Jacob.” By the “little that a righteous man hath,” the Lord saves him. Therefore, if we look well to the quality of our life, bur Lord will see to its quantity. For goodness is the ground in which wisdom grows.
Author: Edward Craig Mitchell 1887