Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown
The sower soweth the word — or, as in Luke (Luk_8:11), “Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God.” But who is “the sower?” This is not expressed here because if “the word of God” be the seed, every scatterer of that precious seed must be regarded as a sower. It is true that in the parable of the tares it is said, “He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man,” as “He that soweth the tares is the devil” (Mat_13:37, Mat_13:38). But these are only the great unseen parties, struggling in this world for the possession of man. Each of these has his agents among men themselves; and Christ’s agents in the sowing of the good seed are the preachers of the word. Thus, as in all the cases about to be described, the sower is the same, and the seed is the same; while the result is entirely different, the whole difference must lie in the soils, which mean the different states of the human heart. And so, the great general lesson held forth in this parable of the sower is, that however faithful the preacher, and how pure soever his message, the effect of the preaching of the word depends upon the state of the hearer’s heart. Now follow the cases. See on Mar_4:4.
The sower soweth the word (ho speiron ton logon speirei). Not put thus clearly and simply in Mat_13:19 or Luk_8:11.
These are they – Probably our Lord here refers to the people to whom he had just now preached, and who, it is likely, did not profit by the word spoken.
Where the word is sown – Instead of this clause, four copies of the Itala read the place thus – They who are sown by the way side, are they Who Receive The Word Negligently. There are thousands of this stamp in the Christian world. Reader, art thou one of them?
Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown
Mar 4:15 And these are they by the wayside, where the word is sown; but, when they have heard, etc. — or, more fully (Mat_13:19), “When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart.” The great truth here taught is, that hearts all unbroken and hard are no fit soil for saving truth. They apprehend it not (Mat_13:19) as God’s means of restoring them to Himself; it penetrates not, makes no impression, but lies loosely on the surface of the heart, till the wicked one – afraid of losing a victim by his “believing to salvation” (Luk_8:12) – finds some frivolous subject by whose greater attractions to draw off the attention, and straightway it is gone. Of how many hearers of the word is this the graphic but painful history!
Where the word is sown (hopou speiretai ho logos). Explanatory detail only in Mark.
Satan (Satanas) where Mat_13:19 has the evil one (ho poneros) and Luk_8:12 the devil (ho diabolos).
Sown in them (esparmenon eis autous). Within them, not just among them, “in his heart” (Matt.).
Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown
And these are they likewise which are sown on stony ground, etc. — “Immediately” the seed in such a case “springs up” – all the quicker from the shallowness of the soil – “because it has no depth of earth.” But the sun, beating on it, as quickly scorches and withers it up, “because it has no root” (Mar_4:6), and “lacks moisture” (Luk_8:6). The great truth here taught is that hearts superficially impressed are apt to receive the truth with readiness, and even with joy (Luk_8:13); but the heat of tribulation or persecution because of the word, or the trials which their new profession brings upon them quickly dries up their relish for the truth, and withers all the hasty promise of fruit which they showed. Such disappointing issues of a faithful and awakening ministry – alas, how frequent are they!
Jerome: Note that which is said, “is straightway offended.” There is then some difference between him who, by many tribulations and torments, is driven to deny Christ, and him who at the first persecution is offended, and falls away, of which He proceeds to speak, “That which is sown among thorns.” To me He seems here to express figuratively that which was said literally to Adam; “Amidst briers and thorns thou shalt eat they bread,” [Gen_3:18] that he that has given himself up to the delights and the cares of this world, eats heavenly bread and the true food among thorns.
The deceitfulness of riches – This is variously expressed in different copies of the Itala: the errors – delights of the world – completely alienated (abolienati) by the pleasures of the world. The lusts of other things – which have not been included in the anxious cares of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches. All, all, choke the word!
Jerome: And it is elegantly added, “The deceitfulness of riches choke the word;” for riches are treacherous, promising one thing and doing another. The tenure of them is slippery as they are borne hither and thither, and with uncertain step forsake those that have them, or revive those that have them not. Whence the Lord asserts, that rich men hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven, because their riches choke the word of God, and relax the strength of their virtues.
Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown
And the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in — or “the pleasures of this life” (Luk_8:14).
choke the word, and it becometh unfruitful — First, “The cares of this world” – anxious, unrelaxing attention to the business of this present life; second, “The deceitfulness of riches” – of those riches which are the fruit of this worldly “care”; third, “The pleasures of this life,” or “the lusts of other things entering in” – the enjoyments in themselves may be innocent, which worldly prosperity enables one to indulge. These “choke” or “smother” the word; drawing off so much of one’s attention, absorbing so much of one’s interest, and using up so much of one’s time, that only the dregs of these remain for spiritual things, and a fagged, hurried, and heartless formalism is at length all the religion of such persons. What a vivid picture is this of the mournful condition of many, especially in great commercial countries, who once promised much fruit! “They bring no fruit to perfection” (Luk_8:14); indicating how much growth there may be, in the early stages of such a case, and promise of fruit – which after all never ripens.
The lusts of other things (hai peri ta loipa epithumiai). All the passions or longings, sensual, worldly, “pleasures of this life” (hedonon tou biou) as Luke has it (Luk_8:14), the world of sense drowning the world of spirit. The word epithumia is not evil in itself. One can yearn (this word) for what is high and holy (Luk_22:15; Phi_1:23).
Bear fruit (karpophorousin). Same word in Mat_13:23 and Luk_8:15. Mark gives the order from thirty, sixty, to a hundred, while Mat_13:23 has it reversed.
Jerome: And it is to be noted, that as in the bad ground there were three degrees of difference, to wit, that by the way side, the stony and the thorny ground; so in the good soil there is a three-fold difference, the hundred-fold, the sixty-fold, and the thirty- fold. And in this as in that, not the substance but the will is changed, and the hearts as well of the unbelieving as the believing receive seed; as in the first case He said, “Then cometh the wicked one, and carrieth off that which is sown in the heart;” and in the second and third case of the bad soil He said, “This is he that heareth the word.” So also in the exposition of the good soil, “This is he that heareth the word.” Therefore we ought first to hear, then to understand, and after understanding to bring forth the fruits of teaching, either an hundred-fold, or sixty, or thirty.
Remig.: The thirty-fold then is borne of him who teaches faith in the Holy Trinity; the sixty-fold of him who enforces the perfection of good works; (for in the number six this world was completed with all its equipments;) [margin note: Gen_2:1] while he bears the hundred-fold who promises eternal life. For the number one hundred passes from the left hand to the right; and by the left hand the present life is denoted, by the right hand the life to come.
Otherwise, the seed of the word of God brings forth fruit thirty-fold when it begets good thoughts, sixty-fold when good speech, and an hundred-fold when it brings to the fruit of good works.
Aug., Quaest Ev., i, 9: Otherwise; There is fruit an hundred-fold of the martyrs because of their satiety of life or contempt of death; a sixty-fold fruit of virgins, because they rest not warring against the use of the flesh; for retirement is allowed to those of sixty years’ age after service in war or in public business; and there is a thirty-fold fruit of the wedded, because theirs is the age of warfare, and their struggle is the more arduous, that they should not be vanquished by their lusts.
Or otherwise; We must struggle with our love of temporal goods that reason may be master; it should either be so overcome and subject to us, that when it begins to rise it may be easily repressed, or so extinguished that it never arises in us at all. Whence it comes to pass, that death itself is despised for truth’s sake, by some with brave endurance, by others with content, and by others with gladness — which three degrees are the three degrees of fruits of the earth — thirty-fold, sixty-fold, and an hundred-fold.
And in one of these degrees must one be found at the time of his death, if any desires to depart well out of this life.
Jerome, vid. Cyp. Tr. iv. 12: The hundred-fold fruit is to be ascribed to virgins, the sixty-fold to widows and continent persons, the thirty-fold to chaste wedlock.
Is a candle – put under a bushel! – The design of my preaching is to enlighten men; my parables not being designed to hide the truth, but to make it more manifest.
Is a candle brought … – A candle is not lit up to be put immediately under a measure or a bed, where it can give no light. Its design is to give light. So my preaching by parables is not designed to obscure the truth, but to throw light on it. You should understand those parables, and, understanding them, should impart the truth to others also, as a candle throws its beams upon a dark world.
Bushel – The word here used in the original means a measure for grain containing about 12 quarts.
Bed – A couch, either to sleep on at night or to recline on at their meals. Probably the latter is here meant, and is equivalent to our saying a candle is not brought to be put “under” the table, but “on” it. See the notes at Mat_23:6.
Not to be put on the stand? (ouch hina epi ten luchnian tethei). First aorist passive subjunctive of tithemi with hina (purpose). The lamp in the one-room house was a familiar object along with the bushel, the bed, the lampstand. Note article with each. Meti in the Greek expects the answer no. It is a curious instance of early textual corruption that both Aleph and B, the two oldest and best documents, have hupo ten luchnian (under the lampstand) instead of epi ten luchnian, making shipwreck of the sense. Westcott and Hort actually put it in the margin but that is sheer slavery to Aleph and B. Some of the crisp sayings were repeated by Jesus on other occasions as shown in Matthew and Luke. To put the lamp under the bushel (modion) would put it out besides giving no light. So as to the bed or table-couch (klinen) if it was raised above the floor and liable to be set on fire.
Mar 4:22 All my parables, doctrines, and actions, which appear now to you so full of mystery, shall not always be so: in due time they shall all be publicly expounded by you, my apostles, and by your successors. (Tirinus)
THEOPHYL; Having before said to His Apostles, To you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to others in parables; He now shows that by them at length must the same mystery be revealed also to others, saying, No man when he has lighted a candle covers it with a vessel, or puts it under a bed.
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For there is nothing hid which shall not be manifested, etc. — See on Mat_10:26, Mat_10:27; but the connection there and here is slightly different. Here the idea seems to be this – “I have privately expounded to you these great truths, but only that ye may proclaim them publicly; and if ye will not, others will. For these are not designed for secrecy. They are imparted to be diffused abroad, and they shall be so; yea, a time is coming when the most hidden things shall be brought to light.”
Which shall not be manifested (εὰν μὴ ίνα φανερωθη) The A. V. makes Christ say that every hidden thing shall be revealed. This is wrong. He says that things are hidden in order that they may be manifested. Concealment is a means to revelation.
Save that it should be manifested (ean me hina phanerothei). Note ean me and hina. Luk_8:17 has it that shall not be made manifest (ho ou phaneron genesetai). Here in Mark it is stated that the temporary concealment is for final manifestation and a means to that end. Those who are charged with the secret at this time are given the set responsibility of proclaiming it on the housetops after Ascension (Swete). The hidden (krupton) and the secret (apokruphon) are to be revealed in due time.
Repeats Mar_4:9 with conditional form instead of a relative clause. Perhaps some inattention was noted.
Ver. 24,25. Whoso considereth the connection of these words,
with what measure ye mete, &c., with the first words in the verse,
Take heed what ye hear, and compares the former with the parallel texts, Mat_7:2 Luk_6:38, will wonder what the force should be of the argument. For in both the parallel texts the latter words in this verse seem to be used as an argument to persuade them to justice and charity towards men, from the punishments of the violations of the law concerning them, by way of retaliation. Nor are there any sins so ordinarily as those of that kind so punished. But they can have no such force here, following those words, Take heed what ye hear. But, as I said before, there is nothing more usual than diverse applications of the same common saying, or proverbial expression. The saying is true, whether it be understood of men or of God, As we deal with God, so will God deal with us.
Take heed what ye hear. Luke saith, how ye hear. Take heed what ye hear; as much as, Take heed to what you hear, that you may receive the word not as seed by the way side, or in thorny or stony ground, but as in good ground. This seemeth rather to be the sense of our Saviour, than to give a caution by these words to men to examine what they hear, searching the Scriptures whether what they hear doth agree with them, though that also be the duty of all conscientious persons, as appeareth from Act_17:11 For saith our Saviour, God will deal with you as to his providence as you deal with him. If you allow the word of God but a little hearing, you shall reap from it heard little profit and advantage; this appeareth to be the sense from the following words.
And unto you that hear shall more be given; that is, unto you that hear, so as you attend, understand, believe, hearken, and obey, God will give further knowledge of Divine mysteries.
THEOPHYL; But the Lord ceases not to teach us to hearken to His word, that we may be able both to constantly, meditate on it in our own minds, and to bring it forth for the instruction of others. Hence it follows, Take heed therefore how you hear; for whosoever has, to him shall be given. As if he says, Give heed with all your mind to the word which you hear, for to him who has a love of the word, shall be given also the sense of understanding what he loves; but whoso has no love of hearing the word, though he deems himself skillful either from natural genius, or the exercise of learning, will have no delight in the sweetness of wisdom; for oftentimes the slothful man is gifted with capacities, that if he neglect them he may be the more justly punished for his negligence, since that which he can obtain without labor he disdains to know, and sometimes the studious man is oppressed with slowness of apprehension, in order that the more he labors in his inquiries, the greater may be the recompense of his reward.
Take heed what ye hear – Or, consider well what you hear. Make a good improvement of it.
With what measure ye mete … – You shall be treated according to the use you make of your opportunities of learning. If you consider it well, and make a good improvement of what you hear, you shall be well rewarded. If not, your reward shall be small. This is a proverbial expression. See it explained in the notes at Mat_7:1-2.
Mete – Measure. With what measure ye measure.
Unto you that hear – To you who are “attentive,” and who improve what you hear.
So is the kingdom of God.Though this comparison has the same object with the two immediately preceding, yet Christ appears to direct his discourse purposely to the ministers of the word, that they may not grow indifferent about the discharge of their duty, because the fruit of their labor does not immediately appear. He holds out for their imitation the example of husbandmen, who throw seed into the ground with the expectation of reaping, and do not torment themselves with uneasiness and anxiety, but go to bed and rise again; or, in other words, pursue their ordinary and daily toil, till the corn arrive at maturity in due season. In like manner, though the seed of the word be concealed and choked for a time, Christ enjoins pious teachers to be of good courage, and not to allow their alacrity to be slackened through distrust.
Ver. 26-29. Our evangelist alone taketh notice of this parable, nor hath it any particular explication annexed. If we expound it with relation to what went before, the scope of it seemeth to be, to let us know that God will have an account of men for their hearing of his word, and therefore men had need to take heed what they hear, as Mark saith, and how they hear, as Luke phrases it: thus Mar_4:29 expounds the former, with the help of our Saviour’s exposition of the parable of the tares, on which he had told us, Mat_13:39, The harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels. There is another notion of God’s harvest, Mat_9:37 Joh_4:35, where God’s harvest signifies a people inclined and prepared to hear and to receive the gospel. But withal this parable of our Saviour’s may be of further use to us.
So is the kingdom of God, &c.; that is, Such is the providential dispensation of God, in gathering his church by the ministry of the word, as men’s casting of seed into the ground: when the husbandman hath cast his seed into the ground, he is no more solicitous about it, nor doth he expect to discern the motion of it; but having done what is his part, he sleepeth, and riseth again, leaving the issue to God’s providence.
The earth bringeth forth fruit of herself, yet not without the influence of heaven, both in the shining of the sun and the falling of the dew and of the rain; neither doth its fruit appear presently in its full ripeness and perfection, but gradually is made perfect; first there appears the blade, the herb, then the ear, then the grain, which by degrees groweth to its full magnitude, and then hardeneth, and then the husbandman putteth in his sickle: so the ministers of the gospel ought faithfully to do their parts in sowing the seed of the gospel, then not to be too solicitous, but to leave the issue unto God. Where the seed falls upon good ground, the word will not be unfruitful: the minister of the gospel doth not presently discern the fruit of his labour, he at first, it may be, seeth nothing of it, but is ready to cry out, I have laboured in vain; but though the seed lie under the clods, and seems choked with the corruption of man’s heart, yet if the soul be one to whom it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, it shall spring out, the word will be found not to be lost; but first will spring the blade, then will appear the ear: the fruit of the word preached appears by degrees, sometimes at first only by creating good inclinations in the soul, and desires to learn the way of the Lord more perfectly, then in acts further tending to perfection, at last in confirmed habits of grace. It is not thus with all, in some the word brings forth nothing but the blade, a little outward profession, which dwindles away and dies; in some the profession holds longer, but they never come to confirmed habits of virtue and holiness. But there will come a harvest, when God will come with his sickle to reap the fruit of his seed sown; therefore men had need take heed what and how they hear. This I take to be the sense of this parable.
So is the kingdom of God – This parable is mentioned only by Mark, a proof that Mark did not abridge Matthew. Whitby supposes it to refer to the good ground spoken of before, and paraphrases is thus: – “What I have said of the seed sown upon good ground, may be illustrated by this parable. The doctrine of the kingdom, received in a good and honest heart, is like seed sown by a man in his ground, properly prepared to receive it; for when he hath sown it, he sleeps and wakes day after day, and, looking on it, he sees it spring and grow up through the virtue of the earth in which it is sown, though he knows not how it doth so; and when he finds it ripe, he reaps it, and so receives the benefit of the sown seed. So is it here: the seed sown in the good and honest heart brings forth fruit with patience; and this fruit daily increaseth, though we know not how the Word and Spirit work that increase; and then Christ the husbandman, at the time of the harvest, gathers in this good seed into the kingdom of heaven.” I see no necessity of inquiring how Christ may be said to sleep and rise night and day; Christ being like to this husbandman only in sowing and reaping the seed.
And should sleep, and rise night and day – Should sleep in the night and rise by day, for so the expression is to be understood. That is, should live in his usual way, without exerting any influence over the growing grain. By this we are not to infer that men are to use no diligence in the obtaining and in the growth of piety; but the illustration shows only that as we cannot tell how grain grows, so we cannot tell the mode in which piety increases in the heart.
He knoweth not how – This is still true. After all the researches of philosophers, no one has been able to tell the way in which grain grows. They can observe one fact after another; they can see the changes; they can see the necessity of rains and suns, of care and shelter, but beyond this they cannot go. So in religion. We can mark the change; we can see the need of prayer, and self-examination, and searching the Scriptures, and the ordinances of religion, but we cannot tell in what way the religious principle is developed and strengthened. As God unseen, yet by the use of proper means, makes the grass to flourish, so God unseen, but by proper means, nourishes the soul, and the plants of piety spring up, and bloom, and bear fruit. Compare the notes at Joh_3:8.
Bringeth forth – of herself – Αυτοματη. By its own energy, without either the influence or industry of man. All the endlessly varied herbage of the field is produced in this way.
The full corn – Πληρη σιτον, Full wheat; the perfect, full-grown, or ripe corn. Lucian uses κενος καρπος, Empty fruit, for imperfect, or unripe fruit. See Kypke.
The kingdom of God, which is generated in the soul by the word of life, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, is first very small; there is only a blade, but this is full of promise, for a good blade shows there is a good seed at bottom, and that the soil in which it is sown is good also. Then the ear – the strong stalk grows up, and the ear is formed at the top; the faith and love of the believing soul increase abundantly; it is justified freely through the redemption that is in Christ; it has the ear which is shortly to be filled with the ripe grain, the outlines of the whole image of God. Then the full corn. The soul is purified from all unrighteousness; and, having escaped the corruption that is in the world, it is made a partaker of the Divine nature, and is filled with all the fullness of God.
For the earth bringeth forth fruit of herself – That is, it is done without the power of man. It is done while man is engaged in other things. The scope of this passage does not require us to suppose that our Saviour meant to say that the earth had any productive power of itself, but only that it produced its fruits not by the “power of man.” God gives it its power. It has no power of its own. So religion in the heart is not by the power of man. It grows he cannot tell how, and of course he cannot without divine aid, control it. It is by the power of God. At the same time, as without industry man would have no harvest, so without active effort he would have no religion. Both are connected with his effort; both are to be measured commonly by his effort Phi_2:12; both grow he cannot tell how; both increase when the proper means are used, and both depend on God for increase.
First the blade – The green, tender shoot, that first starts out of the earth before the stalk is formed.
Then the ear – The original means the stalk or spire of wheat or barley, as well as the ear.
The full corn – The ripe wheat. The grain swollen to its proper size. By this is denoted, undoubtedly, that grace or religion in the heart is of gradual growth. It is at first tender, feeble, perhaps almost imperceptible, like the first shootings of the grain in the earth. Perhaps also, like grain, it often lies long in the earth before there are signs of life. Like the tender grain, also, it needs care, kindness, and culture. A frost, a cold storm, or a burning sun alike injure it. So tender piety in the heart needs care, kindness, culture. It needs shelter from the frosts and storms of a cold, unfeeling world. It needs the genial dews and mild suns of heaven; in other words, it needs instruction, prayer, and friendly counsel from parents, teachers, ministers, and experienced Christians, that it may grow, and bring forth the full fruits of holiness. Like the grain, also, in due time it will grow strong; it will produce its appropriate fruit – a full and rich harvest – to the praise of God.
He putteth in the sickle – ΑποϚελλει, he sendeth out the sickle, i.e. the reapers; the instrument, by a metonomy, being put for the persons who use it. This is a common figure. It has been supposed that our Lord intimates here that, as soon as a soul is made completely holy, it is taken into the kingdom of God. But certainly the parable does not say so. When the corn is ripe, it is reaped for the benefit of him who sowed it; for it can be of little or no use till it be ripe: so when a soul is saved from all sin, it is capable of being fully employed in the work of the Lord: it is then, and not till then, fully fitted for the Master’s use. God saves men to the uttermost, that they may here perfectly love him, and worthily magnify his name. To take them away the moment they are capable of doing this, would be, so far, to deprive the world and the Church of the manifestation of the glory of his grace. “But the text says, he immediately sendeth out the sickle; and this means that the person dies, and is taken into glory, as soon as he is fit for it.” No, for there may be millions of cases, where, though to die would be gain, yet to live may be far better for the Church, and for an increase of the life of Christ to the soul. See Phi_1:21, Phi_1:24. Besides, if we attempt to make the parable speak here what seems to be implied in the letter, then we may say, with equal propriety, that Christ sleeps and wakes alternately; and that his own grace grows, he knows not how, in the heart in which he has planted it.
On these two parables we may remark: –
1. That a preacher is a person employed by God, and sent out to sow the good seed of his kingdom in the souls of men.
2. That it is a sin against God to stay in the field and not sow.
3. That it is a sin to pretend to sow, when a man is not furnished by the keeper of the granary with any more seed.
4. That it is a high offense against God to change the Master’s seed, to mix it, or to sow bad seed in the place of it.
5. That he is not a seeds-man of God who desires to sow by the way side, etc., and not on the proper ground, i.e. he who loves to preach only to genteel congregations, to people of sense and fashion, and feels it a pain and a cross to labor among the poor and the ignorant.
6. That he who sows with a simple, upright heart, the seed of his Master, shall (though some may be unfruitful) see the seed take deep root; and, notwithstanding the unfaithfulness and sloth of many of his hearers, he shall doubtless come with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him. See Quesnel.
Immediately he putteth in the sickle – This is the way with the farmer. As soon as the grain is ripe it is cut down. So it is often with the Christian. As soon as he is prepared for heaven he is taken there. But we are not to press this part of the parable, as if it meant that all are removed as soon as they are fit for heaven. Every parable contains circumstances thrown in to fill up the story, which cannot be literally interpreted. In this, the circumstance of sleeping and rising cannot be applied to Christ; and in like manner, the harvest, I suppose, is not to be literally interpreted. Perhaps the whole parable may be differently interpreted. The seed sown may mean the gospel which he was preaching. In Judea its beginnings were small; yet he would leave it, commit it to his disciples, and return to his Father. The gospel, in the meantime, left by him, would take root, spring up, and produce an abundant harvest. In due time he would return, send forth the angels, and gather in the harvest, and save his people forever. Compare the notes at Mat_13:31-33.
Jerome: The man who sows is by most understood to be the Saviour, who sows the seed in the minds of believers; by others the man himself who sows in his field, that is, in his own heart. Who indeed is he that soweth, but our own mind and understanding, which receiving the grain of preaching, and nurturing it by the dew of faith, makes it to spring up in the field of our own breast?
“Which is the least of all seeds.” The Gospel preaching is the least of all the systems of the schools; at first view it has not even the appearance of truth, announcing a man as God, God put to death, and proclaiming the offence of the cross. Compare this teaching with the dogmas of the Philosophers, with their books, the splendour of their eloquence, the polish of their style, and you will see how the seed of the Gospel is the least of all seeds.
Chrys.: Or; The seed of the Gospel is the least of seeds, because the disciples were weaker than the whole of mankind; yet forasmuch as there was great might in them, their preaching spread throughout the whole world.
And therefore it follows, “But when it is grown it is the greatest among herbs,” that is among dogmas.
Aug.: Dogmas are the decisions of sects [margin note: placita sectarum], the points, that is, that they have determined.
Jerome: For the dogmas of Philosophers when they have grown up, shew nothing of life or strength, but watery and insipid they grow into grasses and other greens, which quickly dry up and wither away. But the Gospel preaching, though it seem small in its beginning, when sown in the mind of the hearer, or upon the world, comes up not a garden herb, but a tree, so that the birds of the air (which we must suppose to be either the souls of believers or the Powers of God set free from slavery) come and abide in its branches. The branches of the Gospel tree which have grown of the grain of mustard seed, I suppose to signify the various dogmas in which each of the birds (as explained above) takes his rest. [margin note: Psa_55:6]
Let us then take the wings of the dove, that flying aloft we may dwell in the branches of this tree, and may make ourselves nests of doctrines, and soaring above earthly things may hasten towards heavenly.
Hilary: Or; The Lord compares Himself to a grain of mustard seed, sharp to the taste, and the least of all seeds, whose strength is extracted by bruising.
Greg., Mor., xix, 1: Christ Himself is the grain of mustard seed, who, planted in the garden of the sepulchre, grew up a great tree; He was a grain of seed when He died, and a tree when He rose again; a grain of seed in the humiliation of the flesh, a tree in the power of His majesty.
Hilary: This grain then when sown in the field, that is, when seized by the people and delivered to death, and as it were buried in the ground by a sowing of the body, grew up beyond the size of all herbs, and exceeded all the glory of the Prophets. For the preaching of the Prophets was allowed as it were herbs to a sick man; but now the birds of the air lodge in the branches of the tree. By which we understand the Apostles, who put forth of Christ’s might, and overshadowing the world with their boughs, are a tree to which the Gentiles flee in hope of life, and having been long tossed by the winds, that is by the spirits of the Devil, may have rest in its branches.
Greg.: “The birds lodge in its branches,” when holy souls that raise themselves aloft from thoughts of earth on the wings of the virtues, breathe again from the troubles of this life in their words and comfortings.
Whereunto shall we liken … – This shows the great solicitude which Jesus had to adapt his instructions to the capacity of his disciples. He sought out the most plain and striking illustrations – an example which should be followed by all the ministers of the gospel. At the same time that the instructions of the pulpit should be dignified as our Saviour’s always were they should be adapted to the capacity of the audience and easily understood. To do this the following things are necessary in a minister:
1.“Humility.” A freedom from a desire to shine, and to astonish the world by the splendor of his talents, and by his learning and eloquence.
2. “Good sense.” A satisfaction in being understood.
3. Acquaintance with the habits of thought and manner of speaking among the people. To do this, frequent contact with them is necessary.
4. “A good sound education.” It is the people of ignorance, with some smattering of learning, and with a desire to confound and astonish people by the use of unintelligible words. and by the introduction of matter that is wholly unconnected with the subject, that most often shoot over the heads of the people. Preachers of humility, good sense, and education are content with being understood, and free from the affectation of saying things to amaze and confound their auditors.
The kingdom of heavens See the notes at Mat_3:2. It means here either piety in a renewed heart or the church. In either case the commencement is small. In the heart it is at first feeble, easily injured, and much exposed. In the church there were few at first, ignorant, unknown, and unhonored; yet soon it was to spread through the world.
Grain of mustard-seed – The plant here described was very different from that which is known among us. It was several years before it bore fruit and became properly a tree. Mustard, with us, is an annual plant: it is always small, and is properly an herb. The Hebrew writers speak of the mustard-tree as one on which they could “climb,” as on a fig-tree. Its size was much owing to the climate. All plants of that nature grow much larger in a warm climate, like that of Palestine, than in colder regions. The seeds of this tree were remarkably small, so that they, with the great size of the plant, were an apt illustration of the progress of the church and of the nature of faith, Mat_17:20.
Young converts often suppose they have much religion. It is not so. They are, indeed, in a new world. Their hearts glow with new affections. They have an elevation, an ecstasy of emotion, which they may not have afterward like a blind man suddenly restored to sight. The sensation is new and especially vivid, yet little is seen distinctly. His impressions are indeed more vivid and cheering than those of him who has long seen and to whom objects are familiar. In a little time, too, the young convert will see more distinctly, will judge more intelligently, will love more strongly, though not with so much “new emotion,” and will be prepared to make more sacrifices for the cause of Christ.
Herbs (των λαχάνων)
Rev., rightly, the herbs; those which people are wont to plant in their gardens. The word denotes garden – or pot-herbs, as distinguished from wild herbs.
Shooteth out great branches (ποιει κλάδους μεγάλους)
Lit., maketh, etc. Rev., putteth out. Peculiar to Mark. Matthew has becometh a tree. On branches, see note on Mat_24:32. One of the Talmudists describes the mustard-plant as a tree, of which the wood was sufficient to cover a potter’s shed. Another says that he was wont to climb into it as men climb into a fig-tree. Professor Hackett says that on the plain of Akka, toward Carmel, he found a collection of mustard-plants from six to nine feet high, with branches from each side of a trunk an inch or more in thickness. Dr. Thomson relates that near the bank of the Jordan he found a mustard-tree more than twelve feet high.
See on Mat_8:20. Lit., pitch their tents.
Groweth up (anabainei). Mat_13:32 When it is grown (hotan auxethei).
Under the shadow thereof (hupo ten skian autou). A different picture from Matthew’s in the branches thereof (en tois kladois autou). But both use kataskenoin, to tent or camp down, make nests in the branches in the shade or hop on the ground under the shade just like a covey of birds. In Mat_8:20 the birds have nests (kataskenoseis). The use of the mustard seed for smallness seems to have been proverbial and Jesus employs it elsewhere (Mat_17:20; Luk_17:6).