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OUR SAVIOUR’S PARABLES, &c.
Of the grain of mustard seed, and leaven.
Matt. xiii. 31, 32, 33. Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The king
dom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which
a man took, and sowed in his field : Which indeed is the least of all seeds : but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree, so that
the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof. Another parable spake he unto them ; The kingdom of hea
ven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in
three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened. OUR Lord having, in the foregoing parables of the sower and the tares, shewn upon how many the good word of God that he preached would be lost, and become unfruitful; and that, under the pretence and name of Christians, there would be very ill men intermingled among the good in all ages of the church; both which would be a great hinderance to thespreading of the gospel : lest his disciples should be discouraged thereby from following him, his apostles especially, who were to be employed in the propagating of it throughout the world, he spoke the above recited parables. The design of which is to
page 29. BRAGGE, VOL. III.
a See vol. ii.
shew, that how small and unpromising soever the beginnings of the gospel were ; how mean the Author of it, (as to all outward appearance,) in his person and his way of life, and how worse than mean in the circumstances of his death ; how unlikely its doctrines were to be embraced by both Jews and Gentiles; and how very uncomfortable and disheartening some of them, and all in hopes of an unseen reward in a future world, and withal, that the planters of it after his decease were to be a few
illiterate fishermen, who were to contend with all the wit and force and malice of the world, and conquer difficulties to all appearance insuperable : that notwithstanding all this, this little grain of mustard seed which looked so contemptibly, as if it were good for and would come to nothing, should, by the peculiar blessing and almighty power of God, who only gives the increase, grow up apace, and flourish, (as that plant did in those countries,) till it became a tree, and that large enough to overshadow the whole earth. And though like a little piece of leaven, or sour dough, (as the other parable represents it,) the gospel appeared very indifferently at first, and of a very unpleasing relish to men's vitiated palates, yet, by the same divine assistance and blessing, it should be so quick and powerful, as in time to insinuate itself through the whole mass of mankind, all people and nations, and all degrees of men from the highest to the lowest, and season their minds with its heavenly doctrines, and reform their lives, and spread its admirable influence even to the remotest and darkest corners of the world.
To assure his disciples and apostles of this was the design of these parables; and it was but needful they should have such encouragement: and they lived to see it, in a great measure, made good : the Christian religion making so wonderful a progress, even in the lifetime of the apostles, against the fiercest opposition that could be made to it, both by Jews and heathens, that it was to the amazement of every body. And how mightily it hath prospered since their decease is evident to all men ; and we hope and pray that it may do so more and more, till the consummation of all things !
In discoursing therefore upon these parables, (which, being of the same signification, we will consider together,) I shall not recount the particular steps and advances the kingdom of God made in the world, by the preaching of the gospel of our Saviour, till it came to the height it now is at, for that would be to write the history of the progress of Christianity, which, though it would be of excellent use, yet is out of the way of my present design : but I shall endeavour to shew by what means it was that the apostles, and some of the first believers, were enabled to go so far as they did, in so great and difficult a work, as the planting a new religion in the world, of such a nature as the Christian is; and how it carne in so short a time as fifty or sixty years after the death of Christ (for it was but little more from thence to the death of St. John, who lived a great while longer than any of the rest of the apostles) to spread so far and wide as it did, under persecution and oppression, and all the ways that could be invented utterly to destroy and root it out.
Now our blessed Lord, when he had sufficiently confirmed the truth of his doctrine and mission, as the Messias, by many unquestionable miracles, which,
as Nicodemus, one of the Jewish rulers, was forced to confess, were so great that no man could perform them unless God were with him a; after a short stay in the world from the time of his public appearance in it, (not much above three years,) was content to be betrayed into the hands of wicked men, and, as the representative of sinners, used with the utmost scorn and cruelty, and at last made a public victim for the sinful world upon the altar of his cross; where he expired in torment for our sakes, and finished the great good work he came into the world to do. But it was not long before he appeared again alive to his sad disciples, (as when he told them of his sufferings he assured them he would, which gave them the greatest reason to depend upon the completion of all his other promises,) and after he had conversed with them for a considerable time, and cleared their minds of all doubts and fears and scruples, and opened his apostles' understandings, that they might have a thorough knowledge of the scriptures, those especially that related to the coming of the Messias, and were fulfilled in him ; and had given them charge of prosecuting the great affair of the gospel with all possible fidelity and diligence, promising them, and all that should succeed them, his presence and assistance in so doing, even unto the end of the world b; and renewed his promise of giving them sufficient power to be witnesses to him unto the uttermost parts of the eartho, after the descent of the Holy Ghost upon them, which he commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem till they had received; he blessed them, and ascended in triumph up to heaven; and in a few days after, when they were met together on the day of Pentecost to worship him, and in devout expectation of the heavenly gift, suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting ; and there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and sat upon each of them; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghostd; that is, extraordinary gifts of the blessed Spirit of God were then plentifully poured down upon them, in order to their effectual discharge of their great and weighty employment, the propagation of the gospel of Christ throughout the world.
a John iii. 2, 3, 4.
b Matt. xxviii. 19, 20.
c Acts i. 4, 8, 9. d Acts ii. 2, 3, 4.
Thus were the apostles endowed by their divine Master with power from on high to accomplish that work which far exceeded all mere human ability : and what those gifts and powers were, by means of which they had such wonderful success, as from such small and seemingly inconsiderable beginnings, and in so short a time, to convert so great a part of the world to the faith of a crucified Saviour, we shall now make it our business to shew.
Now those extraordinary gifts and powers were of two sorts, external and internal. The external were these that follow :
First, the gift of tongues.
Thirdly, a power of inflicting them.
Fourthly, a power of enabling other believers, in some instances, to do the like by the imposition of their hands.