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Mustard Seed

What is the significance of mustard seed?

First, the growth of the Church in the latter days is compared to a mustard seed:

Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom 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. (Matthew 13:31-32)

That the Church of Jesus Christ would have an inconspicuous beginning and then enjoy phenomenal growth was predicted. Jesus used the comparison of the small mustard seed to describe the early beginning of His Church. But eventually, He declared, that insignificant seed would become a great tree and many would find refuge in its branches. [See Matthew 13:31-32.] (Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, p.169)

The Kingdom of God is like a grain of mustard seed. The mustard seed is small, but brings forth a large tree, and the fowls lodge in the branches. The fowls are the angels. Thus angels come down, combine together to gather their children, and gather them. We cannot be made perfect without them, nor they without us; when these things are done, the Son of Man will descend, the Ancient of Days sit; we may come to an innumerable company of angels, have communion with and receive instruction from them. Paul told about Moses' proceedings; spoke of the children of Israel being baptized. (1 Cor. 10:1-4.) He knew this, and that all the ordinances and blessings were in the Church. Paul had these things, and we may have the fowls of heaven lodge in the branches, etc. (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Section Four 1839–42, p.159)

The few thousands we send out by our agent, at this time is like a grain of mustard seed in the earth; we send it forth into the world, and among the Saints, a good soil; and we expect it will grow and flourish, and spread abroad in a few weeks so that it will cover England, cast its shadow on Europe, and in process of time compass the whole earth: that is to say, these funds are designed to increase until Israel is gathered from all nations, and the poor can sit under their own vine and inhabit their own house, and worship God in Zion. (James R. Clark, Messages of the First Presidency, Vol.2, p.39)


It relates to the Book of Mormon and its role in the world in declaring the gospel:

Let us take the Book of Mormon, which a man took and hid in his field, securing it by his faith, to spring up in the last days, or in due time; let us behold it coming forth out of the ground, which is indeed accounted the least of all seeds, but behold it branching forth, yea, even towering, with lofty branches, and God-like majesty, until it, like the mustard seed, becomes the greatest of all herbs. And it is truth, and it has sprouted and come forth out of the earth, and righteousness begins to look down from heaven, and God is sending down His powers, gifts and angels, to lodge in the branches thereof. (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Section Two 1834–37, p.98)

It relates to the faith required to move mountains, etc.

And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you. (Matthew 17:20)

And the Lord said, If ye had faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye might say unto this sycamine tree, Be thou plucked up by the root, and be thou planted in the sea; and it should obey you. (Luke 17:6)

Hereby we learn that the achievements possible to faith are limited or conditioned by the genuineness, the purity, the unmixed quality of that faith. "O ye of little faith"; "Where is your faith?" and "Wherefore didst thou doubt?" are forms of admonitory reproof that had been repeatedly addressed to the apostles of the Lord. The possibilities of faith were now thus further affirmed: "Verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you." The comparison between effective faith and a grain of mustard seed is one of quality rather than of quantity; it connotes living, virile faith, like unto the seed, however small, from which a great plant may spring, in contrast with a lifeless, artificial imitation, however prominent or demonstrative. (James E. Talmage, Jesus the Christ, Ch.24, p.381)

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This Church was organized on the 6th of April, 1830, as far as could be, with the limited membership of six men—Joseph [p.49] Smith, Jr., Hyrum Smith, Oliver Cowdery, Samuel H. Smith, Peter Whitmer, Jr., and David Whitmer. It was truly "a grain of mustard seed, the smallest of all seeds," in comparison with other organizations. A less number could not have been organized under the laws of New York. The great founder, under God, of this Church, had never belonged to any other. It was not an off-shoot of Catholic or Protestant, but as "a little stone cut out of the mountains without hands," it bore no relationship to any human system; and as the stone should increase in velocity as it rolled on, so has the Church grown in magnitude from the "mustard seed" to a great tree. It is believed by the Saints that the Savior was born on the 6th of April, and that the organization of this Church commemorates that great event. (Matthias F. Cowley, Cowley's Talks on Doctrine p.48)

This little story, addressed to the assembled multitude, must have set many thinking, because of the simplicity of the incident related and the thoroughly un jewish application made of it. To the mind taught by teachers of the time the kingdom was to be great and glorious from its beginning; it was to be ushered in by blare of trumpets and tramp of armies, with King Messiah at the head; yet this new Teacher spoke of it as having so small a beginning as to be comparable to a mustard seed. To make the illustration more effective He specified that the seed spoken of was "the least of all seeds." This superlative expression was made in a relative sense; for there were and are smaller seeds than the mustard, even among garden plants, among which rue and poppy have been named; but each of these plants is very small in maturity, while the well-cultivated mustard plant is one of the greatest among common herbs, and presents a strong contrast of growth from tiny seed to spreading shrub. (James E. Talmage, Jesus the Christ, Ch.19, p.290)

Moreover, the comparison "as small as a mustard seed" was in every-day use among the Jews of the time. The comparison employed by Jesus on another occasion evidences the common usage, as when He said: "If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed... nothing shall be impossible unto you." It should be known that the mustard plant attains in Palestine a larger growth than in more northerly climes. The lesson of the parable is easy to read. The seed is a living entity. When rightly planted it absorbs and assimilates the nutritive matters of soil and atmosphere, grows, and in time is capable of affording lodgment and food to the birds. So the seed of truth is vital, living, and capable of such development as to furnish spiritual food and shelter to all who come seeking. In both conceptions, the plant at maturity produces seed in abundance, and so from a single grain a whole field may be covered. (James E. Talmage, Jesus the Christ, Ch.19, p.290 - p.291)

6. The Mustard Plant. -- The wild mustard, which in the temperate zone seldom attains a height of more than three or four feet, reaches in semitropical lands the height of a horse and its rider (Thompson, The Land and the Book, ii, 100). Those who heard the parable evidently understood the contrast between size of seed and that of the fully developed plant. Arnot (The Parables, p. 102), aptly says: "This plant obviously was chosen by the Lord, not on account of its absolute magnitude, but because it was, and was recognized to be, a striking instance of increase from very small to very great. It seems to have been in Palestine, at that time, the smallest seed from which so large a plant was known to grow. There were, perhaps, smaller seeds, but the plants which sprung from them were not so great; and there were greater plants, but the seeds from which they sprung were not so small." Edersheim (1, p. 593) states that the diminutive size of the mustard seed was commonly used in comparison by the rabbis, "to indicate the smallest amount such as the least drop of blood, the least defilement, etc." The same author continues, in speaking of the grown plant: "Indeed, it looks no longer like a large garden-herb or shrub, but `becomes' or rather appears like `a tree' -- as St. Luke puts it, `a great tree,' of course, not in comparison with other trees, but with garden-shrubs. Such growth of mustard seed was also a fact well known at the time, and, indeed, still observed in the East.... And the general meaning would the more easily be apprehended, that a tree, whose wide-spreading branches afforded lodgment to the birds of heaven, was a familiar Old Testament figure for a mighty kingdom that gave shelter to the nations (Ezek. 31:6, 12; Dan. 4:12, 14, 21, 22). Indeed, it is specifically used as an illustration of the Messianic Kingdom (Ezek. 17:23)." (James E. Talmage, Jesus the Christ, Ch.19, p.302)

Let us observe the contrast between the beginning and the present proportions of the Church. Instead of but six regularly affiliated members, and at most two score of adherents, the organization numbers today many hundred thousand souls. In place of a single hamlet, in the smallest corner of which the members could have congregated, there now are about seventy stakes of Zion and about seven hundred organized wards, each ward and stake with its full complement of officers and priesthood organizations. The practise of gathering its proselytes into one place prevents the building up and strengthening of foreign branches; and inasmuch as extensive and strong organizations are seldom met with abroad, very erroneous ideas exist concerning the strength of the Church. Nevertheless, the mustard seed, among the smallest of all seeds, has attained the proportions of a tree, and the birds of the air are nesting in its branches; the acorn is now an oak offering protection and the sweets of satisfaction to every earnest pilgrim journeying its way for truth. (James E. Talmage, The Story and Philosophy of "Mormonism", p.24)

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