Luke 13:20

In introduction, note that perhaps no parable more postulates that the student of it insist on observing the essential canon in the interpretation of every parable, viz. that its one main object be kept steadily in view, and that it was kept in view by the Author of it. So much may be made, even by warrant of Scripture, in respect of the ill associations of leaven, that if this be dwelt upon without a steady memory of the quality and the one use of leaven, whether in good association or in bad, the student vision will be a double one, and his judgment warped and distorted. So, though in risk far inferior, and of far less moment, the incidents of this very brief parable, e.g. of the mention of the "woman" who took the leaven, and of the "three measures" of meal in which she is represented as hiding it, may easily be turned, for they have been so turned, to what tends to mar, instead of to complete our distinct apprehension and appropriation of the matter of the parable. These may, indeed, heighten effect, and, if possible, may beautify effect. They may be, perhaps, not illegitimately used to these very ends. They may so chime in with history, with fact, with reverent associations of faith, as not to be unjustified, for the very helpfulness and devoutness of them. But they must be subordinated to their right place and sphere with a stern resolution. Of this simplest parable illustration of the kingdom of heaven on earth many difficulties have been made, and not a little distortion and perversion even; but in its brief simplicity it says -




IV. THAT ITS OPERATION DOES NOT CEASE UNTIL IT HAS TRANSMUTED THAT WHOLE MASS. All this was foretold; and all this was divinely called parable. But history has told it, and it has ceased by any possibility to be able to be called mere parable. In every respect it has been witnessed to, illustrated by most evident facts, and proved with not a shadow of doubt or uncertainty. The amazing mission of Christ to this world, his sojourn in it, his replacement by the Holy Spirit, the suddenness of this new and most wonderful and most gracious "departure," the silence and obscurity of the subduing and transforming work, and its unceasingness to the present hour, have all been fact, and are all forming an overwhelming presage of the further development and growth of their conquering power and grace. It means that the process, so wonderful, so potent, so beneficent, shall know no pause till the whole lump is leavened. - B.

It Is like leaven.
The kingdom of heaven, or the work of God in the soul, is like leaven.

1. It at once occurs to us that leaven is something foreign to and different from the meal in which it is hidden; that it does not spring from or arise out of any fermentation in the meal; for, if left to itself, the meal would decay, and would never become leavened. Leaven has therefore to be introduced. It must be inserted, or, as the word here expresses it, "hidden." And this implies that "the kingdom of God cometh not with observation." Yet it comes, it is not there, it does not grow in a man, it does not come in the natural birth, it is not born "of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God"; therefore, wherever there is the work of holiness in the soul of the sinner, it is "a new birth unto righteousness," he is "delivered from the power of darkness and translated into the kingdom of God's dear Son."

2. Then, it is clear, in the next place, that grace in the heart will be an abiding work — it will be energetic and permanent. Howsoever and wheresoever a man receives grace, whether in regeneration, at baptism, in approaching God's table, in the reading or the preaching of the Word, through the instrumentality of sickness or tribulation; whatever the time, or the date, or the circumstance, it will be active, and it will put forth energy in the soul. The very purpose and object of it is that it may leaven and produce a revolution, a rejuvenation, a transformation in the heart in which it is lodged. Therefore, brethren, we have no saving grace, unless it is working in our souls, and working mightily and effectually.

3. Next, it is clear that the result will be in those in whom it is hidden that it will be assimilated, and that it will produce effects similar to itself. Though the leaved be a foreign infusion into the meal, yet the leaven acts upon the meal, and makes it partake of its flavour, and like the leaven in taste, and action, and result; so that it assimilates. And is it not so in regard to grace got into a man's heart? It is not to be upon him as a mere scion — tied to a tree, but not incorporated with the tree; but it is to be in him, as a graft inserted in the stock and incorporated with the stock, so that it is no longer the old graft, but it is producing genuine fruit; instead of the crab, the apple from the garden of Eden shall be the result. Even so the grace of God in the soul of man works in him.

4. But it is a comfort to think, in the next place, that the assimilating operation of this leaven is gradual and progressive. It is not all at once. It is what may be in existence some time before it is discoverable in its results. Its progress is slow, but certain.

5. And it is pervasive. The leaven leavens on until it pervades the whole mass. A man, if he has the grace of God, cannot be good in one week and bad in another.

6. And then, brethren, the crown of the whole is, that the leaven shall ultimately pervade the whole mass. Before it is complete the whole mass is assimilated, and prepared, and so the kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven hid in meal. Yes, brethren, this is indeed the ground of our encouragement. He is faithful, "who also will do it"; and again, "God is faithful" who will "perform"; and again, it is said, God "worketh in you both to will and to do"; and, if He works in you, can the work fail?"

(R. Hall, M. A.)

You tell your child that this pine-tree out here in the sandy field is one day going to be as large as that great sonorous pine that sings to every wind in the wood. The child, incredulous, determines to watch and see whether the field-pine really does grow and become as large as you say it will. So, the next morning, he goes out and takes a look at it, and comes back and says, "It has not grown a particle." At night he goes out and looks at it again, and comes back and says, "It has not grown a bit." The next week he goes out, and looks at it again, and comes back, and says, "It has not grown yet. Father said it would be as large as the pine-tree in the wood, but I do not see any likelihood of its becoming so." How long did it take the pine-tree in the wood to grow? Two hundred years. Then men who lived when it began to grow have been buried, and generations besides have come and gone since then. And do you suppose that God's kingdom is going to grow so that you can look at it and see that it has grown during any particular day? You cannot see it grow. All around you are things that are growing, but that you cannot see grow. And if it is so with trees, and things that spring out of the ground, how much more is it so with the kingdom of God! That kingdom is advancing surely, though it advances slowly, and though it is invisible to us. You will remember our Master's beautiful parable, where He says, "The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till the whole was leavened." I suppose you know what that means. I go into your kitchen when you are baking bread, and ask, "What is that you are stirring into that flour?" You say, "It is yeast." I ask, "What is it for?" You say, "It is to raise the bread." I imagine that it is to raise it in a way that shall be perceptible to my senses, and say, "Let me see it do it." You set the bread away in a warm place, or at the south, in a cool place, if you can find one, and you say, "Now it will rise." After watching it closely for a while, I say to you, "I do not see that it has risen at all." You say, "Bless you, my child, you cannot see it rise!" I go away, and stay till I think it will have come up, if there is any such thing as its coming up, and then go back, but I cannot see that it has undergone any change. I wait and wait and wait, and at last say, "I do not believe it is going to rise." And you say, "It has risen already," and tear it open; and lo! it is full of holes; and you say, "Now do not you believe that it has risen? It has been rising all the time, only you could not see it rise." Christ says that His kingdom is just like that. It is a great kingdom, which extends all over the world, and into which He has put the leaven of Divine grace. That grace is like yeast, and it works in this kingdom of Christ. You cannot see it, even if you watch for it; but there it is; and if, after a while, you go and look at it, you will be convinced that it has been working, by the results which it has produced. You will find that things have been done, though you could not see them done. Men are becoming better the world over, though you cannot trace the process by which they are becoming better. Christ's kingdom goes forward from age to age, though you cannot discern the steps by which it is going forward. While men, as individuals, pass off from the stage of life, God's work does not stop.

(H. W. Beecher.)

I. THE KINGDOM OF GOD IN THE HEART IS LIKE LEAVEN HID IN MEAL. It is SO, first of all, because something which does not belong to human nature, something which does not originate there, is introduced into it. The leaven was not in the meal from the first, did not inherently belong to it; on the contrary, a woman took the leaven and hid it in the meal. The meal did not change itself: and no more does man change himself. It is only a power not his own which can change him. Bug the doctrine of the Cross is indeed in a heart as leaven in meal. It is as if hid in the heart. You cannot see it. You cannot touch it. It ferments within, concealed from feeble human sense; a secret power of life at the centre of the soul; a silent, unobtrusive power slowly but surely working its way outwards. Before the gospel can change the heart in any degree, before it can act either quickly or slowly, it must of course be in the heart, actually in it, and not outside of it, however near to it. The leaven did not, and could not, produce any change in the meal until the woman opened the mass of meal and put the leaven into the midst of it. Leaven in one comer of a room will not leaven meal in another; and no less absurd is it to suppose that, if the gospel be merely in your intellects, and the world be in your hearts, the gospel so placed will renew your hearts and sanctify your lives. The manner, also, in which leaven acts on meal illustrates singularly well the manner in which the gospel of the kingdom, the truth as it is in Christ, acts on the heart and life. Leaven changes the nature, yet does not destroy the substance of meal. Meal leavened remains meal, but endowed with new properties, and adapted for new uses. It acquires another character, another appearance, another fragrance and taste. So the gospel does not destroy any inherent power or faculty of the mind, but gives to all its powers and faculties a different character, a new direction. It does not even destroy the natural peculiarities distinctive of individuals. Again, different men have been endowed with intellect, sensibility, and will, in very different proportions. In one man intellect greatly preponderates; in another sensibility; and in another will. There are some who seem, as it were, all intellect, who analyze everything, reason out everything — who can find no rest until they see clearly the naked truth — who must have their grasp firmly on principles before they can proceed at all, but who are exceedingly self-contained as to the expression of feeling, and from whose lips anything like sentiment or poetry would sound unnatural and unreal. There are others whose minds, although far inferior in closeness of intellectual grasp and keenness of intellectual penetration, yet possess a delicacy and depth of feeling which render them, perhaps, still more worthy of admiration. There are others who with very moderate endowments, either intellectual or moral, command the greatest respect, and win implicit confidence through their force, decision, and rectitude of will. Now, one of these forms of character may be more desirable than another, and a better form than any of them, an ideally best form, might be one in which the three elements — intellect, sensibility, and will — were equally mingled. But certain it is that all the forms exist, and that their distinctive features have their ground in the original constitution of individuals. Certain it is also that the gospel does not reduce these forms to one common type. It has no tendency even to lessen any of their characteristic peculiarities. Again, the gospel acts like leaven, because it works from within outwards in all directions. Leaven diffuses itself through the mass in which it is hid equally all round until the whole is leavened. So the gospel is a power which does not exert itself, as it were, only in one straight line, but in every direction all through the nature. It does not seize on one faculty of the soul and change it, and then advance to another faculty and change it, and so on till the whole man is changed. It does not deal with the will at one time, with the feelings at another, and the intellect at another, waiting until it has affected a complete conquest in the one region of human nature before it proceeds to the others; but it grasps all the elements and faculties of the soul at once, and works on all simultaneously. This diffusion of the gospel through the life is like that of leaven in meal, secret, gradual, and complete. It is secret. The operation of the Spirit in the regeneration of man is as invisible as the operation of leaven in the conversion of meal into bread. No eye but that of God can trace it.

II. Having thus endeavoured to show that the gospel works in the heart of the individual like leaven in meal, I have now to show THAT IT WORKS AFTER THE SAME MANNER IN SOCIETY. It is a twofold process — special and general. There is a special action of part on part, and also a general action of the whole on each part. There is a special action of part on part. Christ, when He had communicated of His life and Spirit to His apostles, for instance, enabled them too, poor and despised and unlearned as they were, to communicate of the same to others, and so to become in their turn the leaven of the world. In a mass of meal subjected to the action of leaven, each leavened particle acts upon all those in immediate contact with it, leavening more deeply the only partially leavened, and conveying the leaven to those which have not previously come under its power; and not otherwise is it in society, where every individual who has experienced in himself the efficacy of the gospel becomes for the circle of his influence, as leaven, to work still farther. He communicates of the grace which he has received. Besides this special action of part on part, of individual on individual, there is also, as I have said, a general action of the whole on each part of society, on the individual. The gospel is not without influence even where it is not closed with as the power of God unto salvation. It so far imbues, or at least modifies, by its spirit all the laws, institutions, and usages of society, that none, not even those most hostile to it, live as they would have done if it had not been. It improves both the characters and conduct of men in every case, although it may be only seldom that it works a genuine conversion in them. It demonstrates its energy more or less even on those who count themselves unworthy of eternal life. Let us draw from history an illustration or two. The civilizations of antiquity rested on force. Slavery was their central fact. It is only slowly, only step by step, that society has emancipated itself from this condition of things. St. Paul sent back a fugitive slave to his master, the runaway convert Onesimus, to Philemon; and neither in the Old Testament nor the New is there any explicit statement against slavery. The spirit of the gospel condemns it, but not the letter. The spirit of the gospel, however, gradually put forth its Divine power. Little by little the slave of antiquity gave place to the serf of the Middle Ages, attached to the soil, but also protected by it; little by little feudal Europe ripened into industrial Europe, and the serf became the hired labourer; little by little free labour and commerce rose into importance, and brought with them security of person and property, the spirit of independence, the sense of human equality, the power of self-government, a truer conception of justice, the arts of peace, a new and broader and far more Christian civilization. Our own day has seen the ancient tyranny of man over man, in its double form of pure slavery and of serfage, receive two signal and heavy blows, one on the old continent and the other on the new, and on both, in Russia and in America alike, the present has proved itself stronger than the past — what is pagan has had to succumb before what is Christian. Take another example. See what the gospel has done in the domestic circle. The pagan family, with its deplorable degradation of the woman, continued for generations within the Church. That was cast off at length, but the grave error of despising and depreciating domestic life was introduced. The Reformers were gradually led to perceive that the family required not to be suppressed, but only to be sanctified; yet their views of it were pervaded by a narrow and legal spirit which has borne bitter fruits, and which society has been ever since outgrowing. The true conception of the family is of far more recent date than the Reformation, and is still vague and imperfect. If we ask to whom this progress is due, no one can distinctly tell us, for it is a silent and secret movement which has been little if at all associated with individual and party names. It comes of that unceasing purpose which runs through the ages, widening the thoughts and sympathies of men. It comes of that invisible power which dwells in the gospel and works through humanity, leavening it more and more, transforming it more and more into the holy, beautiful, and glorious kingdom of God.

(R. Flint.)

I. GRACE OUT OF US. The leaven was not in the meal to begin with, but was put into it by the woman. And so we must go out of ourselves to find the source and supply of grace. We are glad to know that this leaven is sometimes in young hearts very early, before they can remember, even from their birth; but in every case it is the same heavenly leaven. It brings a new life into the soul.

II. GRACE FOR US. The leaven is for the meal: anywhere else it is useless, lost. Planted in the soil, it decays; left in the open air, it wastes. As God has made leaven for the meal, so all His grace is for the soul of man. And God's grace is for the sinful only. God the Father does not need it; Jesus Christ does not need it; the Holy Ghost does not need it; the angels in heaven do not need it — they have no sins to be forgiven, no wants to be supplied; the angels who fell have it not in their offer. The riches of God's grace are all to be used, and to be used by sinners like us.

III. GRACE IS US. The woman in baking opens up the meal with her hands, puts the leaven in the centre, and covers it over. The Roman Catholics seem, many of them, to forget that the leaven must be in them. The Italian brigand wears carefully on his breast a cross and charms which the priest has blessed. He must have the sign on the breast, though he has not a particle of the thing signified within. You have heard of "the Holy Stairs" at Rome. They belonged, it is said, to the house of Pontius Pilate, and were mounted by our Saviour on the last day of His life. One of the popes granted nine years of indulgence for each of the twenty-eight steps, to every one who climbed them on his knees, with a contrite heart. Pius VII. in 1817 "renewed this indulgence, but perpetually, and declared that it may be applied also to the souls in purgatory"; and the last pope approved of that declaration. It is most humbling to see hundreds at the present day climbing these stairs on their knees and kissing them, and fancying that their souls have somehow got much profit by the exercise. The marble steps have been severed three times with wood to protect the marble from being worn away I and you notice that the marble in the centre has been worn down two or three inches. Luther was climbing these stairs, when the words flashed upon him, "The just shall live by faith." Filled with shame, he rushed off, and from that day remembered that grace is something within and not without the man. In the Middle Ages wicked kings often gave orders that they should be buried in a monk's frock. Wearing such a dress, they hoped that Peter would be deceived, and would let him into heaven. And Popish errors often lurk among Protestants; for all the errors of Romanism have their origin in fallen human nature. Lord Macaulay tells that a Colonel Turner was hanged for burglary fully two hundred years ago. At the gallows he told the crowd that he had received great comfort from one reflection: he had never entered a church without taking off his hat. Ah! you may find traces of such mistakes nearer home. There is room in your little heart for the whole kingdom of heaven; but it must be in your heart, else all the outward observances in the world won't profit you. For the leaven never leavens till it is hid in the meal. So grace has no power till it is planted in your inmost part.

IV. GRACE SPREADS IN US. It has been found out quite lately how the leaven spreads. It grows like a plant with the most amazing rapidity. When the meal has enough of water and warmth, the leaven multiplies itself on every side. Though it seems dead and small, it is yet a living thing with an enormous greed of growth, which is one of the greatest wonders in the wonder-world of chemistry. Leaven does not spread in unground grain, for the hard covering resists its entrance. And so the coatings of our pride must be taken away, and our spirits must be made contrite, and then shall the leaven spread. O my God, is Thy leaven in me? Is it spreading within me?

V. GRACE SPREADS, OR SHOULD SPREAD, THROUGH AND THROUGH US. For it is like leaven hid in three measures of meal till the whole was leavened. Your tea-table yields a good illustration of a spreading power like that of leaven. The melted sugar goes through every drop of your tea and sweetens it; the cream mixes itself with the whole cupful, and colours it. God's grace should likewise give a heavenly sweetness and colouring to the whole life. It does more than touch, it influences; it does more than influence, it controls all. We may take the three measures of meal for the three chief parts of our nature — the body, the mind, and the heart. Our nature is not diseased as an apple or a potato is diseased, but as the blood is diseased when poison courses through the whole. Nor is our nature like those newly-built ships, which have many watertight compartments, one of which may be filled with the inrushing sea, while the rest remain dry. The parts of our nature lie together like the three measures of meal, so that the leaven can pass easily from the one to the other, and so through all. Grace will thus mix itself up with your home-life, your school-life, and by and by, with your public life. Spreading silently through the whole, it will, by uniting all the graces upon you, make your character gracious and graceful.

VI. GRACE SHOULD SPREAD THROUGH US INTO OTHERS. The leaven wins over all the meal to its own side, and makes it like itself. A clerk who hated swearing entered one of our large offices where nearly all were profane. Soon not an oath was heard. His example, by a happy contagion, prevailed among all his associates. A minister, whose church was situated near the barracks, one day said to a soldier, "I wonder at you soldiers; you can go up to the cannon mouth, and you have not courage to pray before your comrades." "You are mistaken," was the reply. "A recruit lately came into our room, and the first night he knelt down to pray. A shower of pillows, belts, and shoes fell upon him. He did so for five nights. On the fifth night, one of the wildest men in our company shouted, 'Halt, lads! that's enough; he can stand fire!' That wild man knelt down by his side, and now most of the men in our room engage in prayer, and several of us have become professors of Christ."

(J. Wells, M. A.)

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