Matthew vi. 31, 32, 33. Be not anxious, saying, What shall we eat? or, what shall we drink, or wherewithal shall we be clothed? (for after all these things do the heathen seek:) for your Heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.
We must first consider carefully what this text really means; what 'taking no thought for the morrow' really is. Now, it cannot mean that we are to be altogether careless and imprudent; for all Scripture, and especially Solomon's Proverbs, give us the very opposite advice, and one part of God's Word cannot contradict the other. The whole of Solomon's Proverbs is made up of lessons in prudence and foresight; and surely our Lord did not come to do away with Solomon's Proverbs, but to fulfil them. And more, Solomon declares again and again, that prudence and foresight are the gifts of God; and God's gifts are surely meant to be used. Isaiah, too, tells us that the common work of the farm, tilling the ground, sowing, and reaping, were taught to men by God; and says of the ploughman, that 'His God doth instruct him to discretion and doth teach him.' Neither can God mean us to sit idle with folded hands waiting to be fed by miracles. Would He have given to man reason, and skill, and the power of bettering his mortal condition by ten thousand instructions if He had not meant him to use those gifts? We find that, at the beginning, Adam is put into the garden, not to sit idle in it, nor to feed merely on the fruits which fall from the trees, as the dumb animals do, but to dress it, and to keep it; to use his own reason to improve his own condition, and the land on which God had placed him. Was not the very first command given to man to replenish the earth and subdue it? And do we not find in the very end of Scripture the Apostles working with their own hands for their daily bread?
But what use of many words? It is absurd to believe anything else; absurd to believe that man was meant to live like the butterfly, flitting without care from flower to flower, and, like the butterfly, die helpless at the first shower or the first winter's frost. Whatever the text means, it cannot mean that.
And it does not mean that. I suppose, that three hundred years ago (when the Bible was translated out of the Greek tongue, in which the Apostles wrote, into English), 'taking thought' meant something different from what it does now: but the plain meaning of the text, if it be put into such English as we talk now, is, 'Do not fret about the morrow. Be not anxious about the morrow.' There is no doubt at all, as any scholar can tell you, that that is the plain meaning of the word in our modern English, and that our Lord is not telling us to be imprudent or idle, but not to be anxious and fretful about the morrow.
And more, I think if we look carefully at these words, we shall find that they tell us the very reason why we are to work, and to look forward, and to believe that God will bless our labour.
And what is this reason? It is this, that we have a Father in heaven; not a mere Maker, not a mere Master, but a Father. All turns on that one Gospel of all Gospels, your Father in heaven. For our Lord seems to me to say, 'Be not anxious for your life, what ye shall eat, or drink, or wear. Is not the life more than meat? Has not your Heavenly Father given you a higher life than the mere life which must be kept up by food, which He has given to the animals? He has made you reasonable souls; He has given to you wisdom from His own wisdom, and a share of the Light which lights every man who comes into the world, the Light of Christ His Son; He has created you in His own likeness, that like Him you may make things, be makers and inventors, each in his place and calling, each according to his talents and powers, even as your Heavenly Father, the Maker and Creator of all things. And if He has given you all these wonderful powers of mind and soul, surely He has given you the less blessing, the mere power to earn your own food? If He has made you so much wiser than the beasts, surely He has made you as wise as the beasts.' 'And is not the body more than raiment?' Has He not given you bodies which can speak, write, build, work, plant, in a thousand cunning and wonderful ways; bodies which can do a thousand nobler things than merely keep themselves warm, as the beasts do? Then be sure, if He has given you the greater power, He has given you the less also. And as for fine clothes and rich ornaments, 'Is not the body more than raiment?' Is not your body a far more beautiful and nobler thing than all the gay clothes with which you can bedizen it? If your bodies be fair, strong, healthy, useful, it matters little what clothes you put upon them. Why will you not have faith in your Heavenly Father? Why will you not have faith in the great honour which He put on you when He said at first, 'Let us make man in our image, after our likeness, and let him have dominion over all things on the earth'? Be sure, that God would not have made man, and given him all these powers, and sent him upon this earth, unless this earth had been a right good and fit place for him. Be sure that if you obey the laws of this earth where God has put you, you will never need to be anxious or fret; but you will prosper right well, you and your children after you. For 'Consider the fowls of the air, they neither sow, nor reap, and gather into barns, and yet your Heavenly Father feeds them; and are ye not much better than they?' Surely you are, for you can sow, and reap, and gather into barns. And if God makes the earth work so well that it feeds the fowls who cannot help themselves, how much more will the earth feed you who can help yourselves, because God has given you understanding and prudence? But as for anxiety, fretting, repining, complaining to God, 'Why hast Thou made me thus?' what use in that? 'Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit to his stature?' Will all the fretting and anxiety in the world make you one foot or one inch taller than you are? Will it make you stronger, wiser, more able to help yourself? You are what you are: you can do what God has given you power to do. Trust Him that He has made you strong enough and wise enough to earn your daily bread, and to prosper right well, if you will, upon this earth which He has made. And why be anxious about clothing? 'Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin; and yet Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.' But man can toil, man can spin; your Heavenly Father has given to man the power of providing clothes for himself, and not for himself only, but for others; so that while the man who tills the soil feeds the man who spins and weaves, the man who spins and weaves shall clothe the man who tills the soil; and the town shall work for the country, while the country feeds the town; and every man, if he does but labour where God has put him, shall produce comforts for human beings whom he never saw, who live perhaps in foreign lands across the sea. For the Heavenly Father has knit together the great family of man in one blessed bond of mutual need and mutual usefulness all over the world; so that no member of it can do without the other, and each member of it--each individual man--let him work at what thing he will, can make many times more of that thing than he needs for himself, and so help others while he earns his own living; and so wealth and comfort ought to increase year by year among the whole family of men, ay, and would increase, if it were not for sin. Yes, my friends, if it were not for that same sin--if it were not that men do not seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, there would be no end, no bound to the wealth, the comfort, the happiness of the children of men. Even as it is, in spite of all man's sin, the world does prosper marvellously, miraculously; in spite of all the waste, destruction, idleness, ignorance, injustice, and folly which goes on in the world, mankind increases and replenishes the earth, and improves in comfort and in happiness; in spite of all, God is stronger than the Devil, life stronger than death, wisdom stronger than folly, order stronger than disorder, fruitfulness stronger than destruction; and they will be so, more and more, till the last great day, when Christ shall have put all enemies under His feet, and death is swallowed up in victory, and all mankind is one fold under one Shepherd, Jesus Christ, the righteous King of all.
But some may ask, What does our Lord mean when He says, 'That if we sought first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, all these things should be added to us?'
I cannot tell you altogether, my friends; for eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive what God has prepared for those who love Him. But this I can tell you, that these things are taken from men, instead of being added to them, by their not seeking first God's kingdom and His righteousness. I can tell you, as the Prophet does, that it is the sins of man which withhold good things from him; because though, as the Prophet says in the same place, God sends the good things, and the former and latter rain in their season, and reserves to men still the appointed weeks of harvest, yet men will not fear that same Lord their God; and therefore those good things are wasted, and mankind remains too often miserable in spite of God's goodness, and starving in the midst of God's plenty.
If you wish to know what I mean, look but once at this present war. I do not complain of the war. I honour the war. I thank God from the bottom of my heart for this great and glorious victory, and I call on you to thank Him, too, for it. I am none of those who think war sinful. I cannot do so, for I swore at my baptism to fight manfully under Christ's banner against the world, the flesh, and the Devil; and if we cannot reach the Devil and his works by any other means, we must reach them as we are doing now, by sharp shot and cold steel, and we must hold it an honourable thing, and few things more honourable on earth, for a man to die fighting against evil men, and an evil world-devouring empire, like that of Babylon of old, or this of Russia now, that he may save not merely us who sit here now, but our children's children, and generations yet unborn, from Russian tyranny, and Russian falsehood, and Russian profligacy, and Russian superstition. I say, I do not complain of this war; but I ask you to look at the mere waste which it brings, the mere waste of God's blessings. Consider all the skilful men now employed in making cannon, shot, and powder to kill mortal men, who might every one of them, in time of peace, have been employed in making things which would feed, and clothe, and comfort mortal man. Consider that very powder and shot itself, the fruit of so much labour and money, made simply to be shot away, once for all, as if a man should spend months in making some precious vessel, and then dash it to pieces the moment it was made. Consider that Sevastopol alone; the millions of money which it must have cost--the stone, the timber, the iron, all used there--in making a mere robber's den, which might all have been spent in giving employment and sustenance to whole provinces of poor starving Russians. Consider those tens of thousands of men, labouring day and night for months at those deadly earthworks, whose strong arms might have been all tilling God's earth, and growing food for the use of man. And then see the waste, the want, the misery which that one place, Sevastopol, has caused upon God's earth.
And consider, too, the souls of mortal men, who have been wasted there--no man knows how many, nor will know till the judgment day. Two hundred thousand, at the least, they say, wasted about that accursed place, within the last twelve months. Two hundred thousand cunning brains, two hundred thousand strong right hands, two hundred thousand willing hearts: what good might not each of those men have done if he had been labouring peacefully at home, in his right place in God's family! What might he not have invented, made, carried over land and sea? None dead there but might have been of use in his generation; and doubtless many a one who would have done good with all his might, who would have been a blessing to those around him; and now what is left of him on earth but a few bones beneath the sod? Wasted--utterly wasted! Oh, consider how precious is one man; consider how much good the weakest and stupidest of us all might do, if he set himself with his whole soul to do good; consider that the weakest and stupidest of us, even if he has no care for good, cannot earn his day's wages without doing some good to the bodies of his fellow-men; and then judge of the loss to mankind by this one single siege of one single town; and think how many stomachs must be the emptier, how many backs the barer, for this one war; and then see how man wastes God's gifts, and wastes most of all that most precious gift of all, men, living men, with minds, and reasons, and immortal souls.
And whence has all this waste come? Simply because these Russian rulers have chosen to seek first, not God's kingdom, but their own. Instead of behaving like God's ministers and God's stewards, and asking, 'How would God our King have us rule His kingdom?' they have laboured for their own power, conquering all the nations round them, removing their neighbour's landmark, and wasting the wealth of their country on armies, and fortresses, and fleets, with which they intended to conquer more and more of the earth which did not belong to them. Because, instead of seeking God's righteousness, and saying to themselves, 'How shall we be righteous, even as our Heavenly Father is righteous, and how shall we teach this great people to be righteous likewise?' they have sought their own pleasure, and lived in profligacy, covetous and cheating almost beyond belief; and instead of behaving righteously to the people, or teaching them to be righteous, they have crushed down the people, stupefied and corrupted them by slavery, and maddened them by superstitions which are not the righteousness of God, till they have made them easy tools in their unjust wars, and are able to drive them, even by force, like sheep to the slaughter, to die miserably in a cause in which, even if those unhappy slaves conquered, they would only rivet their own chains more tightly, and put more power into the hands of the very rulers who are robbing them of their earnings, dishonouring their daughters, and driving off their sons to die in a foreign land. Ah, my friends, if these men had but sought first the kingdom of God and His righteousness; if the great wealth, and the wonderful industry and prudence of Russia had been but spent in doing justly, and loving mercy, what a rich and honourable country of brave and industrious Christian men might Russia be; a blessing, and not a curse, to half the earth of God!
Let us pray that she will become so, some day; and we may have hope for her, for she is but young, and has time yet for repentance.
But some may say--indeed, we are all ready enough to say--'Then the evil of this war is the Russians' fault, and not ours; and so in every other case. In every other evil and misery they are rather other people's fault than ours. If we do our duty well enough, and if other people would but do theirs, all would be well.'
We are all apt to say this in our hearts. But our Lord does not say so. His promise is to all mankind: but His promise is to each of us also. When He says, Seek ye first God's kingdom and righteousness, He speaks to you and to me, to every soul now here. Believe it, my friends. The more that I see of life, the more I see how much of our sorrow is our own fault; how much of our happiness is in our own hands; and the more I see how little use there is in finding fault with this government, or that, the more I see how much use there is in every man's finding fault with himself, and taking his share of the blame.
I do not doubt that if the whole people of England, for the last forty years, had sought first God's kingdom and God's righteousness, and said to themselves in every matter, not merely 'What is profitable for us to do?' but 'What is right for us to do?' we should have been spared the expenses and the sorrows of this war: but as for blaming our government, my friends,--what they are we are; we choose them, Englishmen like ourselves, and they truly represent us. Not one complaint can we make against them, which we may not as justly make against ourselves; and if we had been in their places, we should have done what they did; for the seeds of the same sins are in us; and we yield, each in his own household and his own business, to the same temptations as they, to the sins which so easily beset Englishmen at this present time. I say, frankly, I see not one charge brought against them in the newspapers which might not quite as justly be brought against me, and, for aught I know, against every one of us here; and while we are not faithful over a few things, what right have we to complain of them for not having been faithful over many things? Believe, rather (I believe it), that if we had been in their place, we should have done far worse than they; and ask yourselves, 'Do I seek first God's kingdom and God's righteousness; for if I do not, what right have I to lay the blame of my bad success on other men's not seeking them?' To each of us, as much as to our government, or to the Russian empire, is Christ's command; and each of us must take the consequences, if we break it. Let us look at ourselves, and mend ourselves, and try whether God's promise will not hold true for us, each in his station, let the world round us go as it will. Be sure that God is just, and that every man bears his own burden: that the righteous should be as the wicked, that be far from Thee, O God! Shall not the judge of all the earth do right? Be sure that those who trust in Him shall never be confounded, though the earth be moved, and the mountains carried into the midst of the sea, as it is written, 'Trust in the Lord, and be doing good; dwell in the land, and work where God has placed thee, and verily thou shalt be fed.'
But have we done so, my friends? have we sought first God's kingdom and His righteousness? have we not rather forgotten the meaning of the text, and what God's kingdom is, and what His righteousness is? Do not most people fancy that God's kingdom only means some pleasant place to which people are to go after they die? and that seeking God's righteousness only means having Christ's righteousness imputed to us (as they call it), without our being righteous and good ourselves? Do not most of us fancy that this very text means, 'Do you take care of your souls, and God will take care of your bodies; do you see after the salvation of your souls, and God will see after the salvation of your bodies'? a meaning which, in the first place, is not true, for God will do no such thing; and all the religion in the world will not prevent a man's having to work for his daily bread, or pay his debts for him without money; and a meaning which, in the second place, people themselves do not believe; for religious professors in general now are just as keen about money as irreligious ones, and even more so; so that covetousness and cunning, ambition and greediness to rise in life, seem now-a-days to go hand in hand with a high religious profession; and those who fancy themselves the children of light have become just as wise in their generation as the children of this world whom they despise.
No, my friends, that is not the meaning of the text; and when I ask you, Have you obeyed the text? I do not ask you that question; but one which I believe is something far more spiritual and more deep, something at least which is far more heart-searching, and likely to prick a man's conscience, perhaps to make him angry with me who ask.
Do you seek first God's kingdom, or your own profit, your own pleasure, your own reputation? Do you believe that you are in God's kingdom, that He is your King, and has called you to the station in which you are to do good and useful work for Him upon this earth of His? Whatever be your calling, whether you be servant, labourer, farmer, tradesman, gentleman, maid, wife, or widow, father, son, or husband, do you ask yourself every day, 'Now what are the laws of God's kingdom about this station of mine? what is my duty here? how can I obey God, and His laws here, and do what He requires of me, and so be a good servant, a good labourer, a good tradesman, a good master, a good parish officer, a good wife, a good parent, pleasing to God, useful to my neighbours and to my countrymen?' Or do you say to yourselves, 'How can I get the greatest quantity of money and pleasure out of my station, with the least trouble to myself?' My dearest friends, ask yourselves, each of you, in which of these two ways do you look at your own station in life?
And do you seek first God's righteousness? There can be no mistake as to what God's righteousness is; for God's righteousness must be Christ's righteousness, seeing that He is the express image of His Father. Now do you ask yourselves, 'How am I to be righteous in my station, as Christ was in His? how can I do my Heavenly Father's will, as Christ did? how can I behave like Christ in my station? how would the Lord Jesus Christ have behaved, if He had been in my place, when He was on earth?' My friends, that is the question, the searching question, the question which must convince us all of sin, and show us so many faults of our own to complain of, that we shall find no time to throw stones at our neighbours. How would the Lord Jesus Christ have behaved, if He had been in my place when He was upon earth?
My dear friends, till we can all of us answer that question somewhat better than we can now, we have no need to look as far as Russia, or as our forefathers' mistakes, or our rulers' mistakes, to find out why this trouble and that trouble come upon us: for we shall find the reason in our own selfish, greedy, self-willed hearts.
Oh, my friends, let us each search our own lives, and repent, and amend, and resolve to do our duty, as sons of God, in the station to which God has called us, by the help of the Spirit of God, which He has promised freely to those who ask Him. And now, this day, as we thank God for this great victory, let us thank Him, not with our lips merely, but with our lives, by living such lives as He loves to see, such lives as He meant us to live, lives of loyalty to God, and of usefulness to our brethren, and of industry and prudence in our calling, and so help forward, each of us, however humble our station, the glory of God; because we shall each of us, in the cottage and in the field, in the shop and in the mansion, in this our little parish, and therefore in the great nation of which it is a part, help forward the fulfilment of those blessed words, Our Father which art in heaven; Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven; and therefore, also, the fulfilment of the words which come after them, and not before them; Give us this day our daily bread.