THE familiar illustration which the Master gave of the efficacy of even a little faith in God, has comforted and inspired many a pilgrim on his journey heavenward; but only the plea of human inadequacy would assume that Jesus intended the mustard-seed, "the least of all seeds," to symbolize the standard of a Christian's faith. He had already likened the kingdom of heaven to this seed in its wonderful productiveness, so that his simile evidently did not refer to the mustard-seed itself, but to the results "when it is sown." The words "as a grain" were plainly not used with respect to size but to quality, to the inherent vigor and latent energy which require only natural opportunity to unfold and expand.
A seed by itself is pitifully helpless and inert, but give it soil in which to grow and even a tender plant has been known to displace ponderous obstructions. The moral plainly is, that we must give our faith in God the opportunity to be quickened into action or its inherent vitality will remain dormant and unfruitful. At another time Jesus said, "Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die [lose its encumbering inertness], it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit;" or, as James puts it, "Faith, if it hath not works, is dead [inert]." This kind of faith may be likened to the unsown mustard-seed, the unawakened possibilities for good in each individual human consciousness.
It is interesting to note that Matthew, Mark, and Luke give Jesus' words relative to the mustard-seed, showing that its growth furnished an apt illustration of the development of the ideas of Truth when sown in human consciousness. This plant is referred to in the text as an herb, also as a tree, and it seems that its growth is very rapid. It is said that under cultivation it often attains a height of ten and twelve feet in a short time, and that birds love to rest in its branches and eat the seed.