The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.Chapter 21
True Almsgiving—No Compulsion In Religion—the Meaning of Long Prayers—the Hypocrisy of Fasting
Almighty God, we would hide ourselves under the wings of thy mercy. We dare not look at thy law, for we have broken it, nor at thy righteousness, for it is now unto us as a two-edged sword; but thou hast permitted us to look at thy mercy. Thine eternal pity, those tears of thine that bid us silent but large welcome to all the love of thine heart. God be merciful unto us sinners. We have done our alms, and men have seen the doing of them; we have prayed, and behold our prayers have fallen back unheard, unanswered. We have fasted that we might draw attention to the dejection of our face. God be merciful unto us sinners. We have done the things we ought not to have done, we have left undone the things that we ought to have done; we pierce ourselves with many accusations, we cannot spare the infliction of bitter self-reproach, we mourn, we repent, we bow down ourselves before thee in utterest humiliation, no voice have we of self defence. God be merciful unto us sinners. Our standard has been short, our balances have been unequal, our purposes have been double, our words have had one meaning to others and another meaning to ourselves; we have lied without speaking, by smiling, by action, by hint. God be merciful unto us sinners, make us clean of heart, clean in the spirit, right in our motive, holy within; then shall our life be a sacred sacrifice, thou wilt receive it daily in thy heavenly places as a well-meaning offering of the soul.
We bless thee for all thy patient care, thy long-suffering, thy tender mercy. Thou hast taken care of us, as if we were of consequence to thee; thou hast numbered the hairs of our heads, as if thou hadst not to count the innumerable planets, and set the stars in their places. Thou hast hidden us in the hollow of thine hand, and drawn us very near to thine heart, and many a message of tenderest love hast thou addressed to us in our low estate. Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gifts. Thou hast given as thine only-begotten Son, Son of Mary, Son of Man, Son of God, Lamb of God, Saviour of the world, whose name gathers unto itself all music, and comes down upon our sin and woe like the very gospel of thine heart. Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift.
Thou hast not left thyself without witness in our hearts. Thou hast given unto us thy Holy Spirit to convince of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment to come; to purify us as with flame, to illuminate our minds as with the very light of thy throne, to teach us the meaning of thy truth, and to help us to apply it to our varied necessities. What shall we render unto the Lord for all his benefits towards us. Truly we can render nothing in return, but it shall be well with us if with our hearts and lips we can bless thee for all thy love.
Thou art still in the world, thou hast not withdrawn thy rule from the sons of men, Still the horn of thine anointed doth bud, and still thou givest unto him a lamp that shall be a perpetual light. Thou liftest up the crushed truth, and thou givest renewed beauty to graces that have been trampled upon by heedless or cruel feet. The Lord reigneth, his throne is in the heavens, and his sceptre is stretched out over all. We know not what we do; we cannot tell what a day may bring forth; we hide ourselves in the infinitude of thy love; we put our whole life into thy care; we would expend it in thy service, we would yield it to thy glory.
Wherein any heart is heavily burdened to-day, let special messages of grace be sent to it from heaven. Wherein the light of any house has been suddenly put out, O thou, who hast all the lamps of the universe, do thou set a now light to chase away the sudden and heavy darkness. Where great tears of woe are starting from the eyes, because of bereavement, bitter disappointment, brokenness of heart because of family trouble, the Lord's own hand touch those tears and dry them, for our hands cannot touch a grief so great and heavy. Wherein our purposes are right, do thou prosper them; wherein they are wrong or mistaken, do thou confound them. We put our life again and again, day by day, with every waking and every sleep, into thine hand: thou didst give it, and it shall all be thine.
Send thy word out to those who are not with us to-day, to those who are shut up in solitude in the sick chamber, suffering or waiting upon others; be with those who are called upon suddenly to travel and leave us for a while, with those in trouble on the sea, with weary hearts too tired to pray, with those to whom life has become a great despair. The Lord lift the great cross higher, and let it burn with all the fire of his love, and throw out its heat so that the coldest heart may feel it and the most desponding life may answer its warming ray.
The Lord's light be held above his word, and the Lord's light spring out of his word, that in the light coming from heaven and springing from the written page we may see God's meaning, and give it loving welcome to our mind and heart. Amen.
1. Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.
2. Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
3. But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth;
4. That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.
5. And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are; for they love to pray standing in the synagogues, and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
6. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.
7. But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.
8. Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.
9. After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.
10. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.
11. Give us this day our daily bread,
12. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
13. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.
14. For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you:
15. But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
16. Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
17. But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face;
18. That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.
"When thou doest thine alms do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets." The boxes in the temple treasury were shaped like trumpets. Jesus Christ said, "Do not make a trumpet of the box: it looks like one, but do not use it for the purpose of calling attention to what you are about to put into it." It is strange how we may pervert the most exquisite beauty, and turn it to false uses, forms, and colours, which God meant to lead us to higher thought and finer feeling. It is a box for the reception of secret alms, not a trumpet for sounding for the purpose of calling public attention to what is about to be done. Use everything for its right purpose, and beware of perversion; do not say you got the suggestion from the thing itself—it was never meant to convey such a suggestion, it was meant for a totally different purpose. He is the honest man, as well as the wise, who seizes the definite intention of providence, and works along that line without putting upon it glosses and twists and perversions of his own.
"When thou doest thine alms." Literally, and this may surprise some of you, when thou doest thy righteousness. In the fifth chapter and the twentieth verse, which we have already expounded, we read, "Except your righteousness exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven." What a different meaning is infused into the sentence now, when we replace the word alms with the word righteousness. I thought almsgiving was a matter of pity, transient emotion, kindly feeling. It is more than that: under all the flowers of the earth are the great ribs of rocks, without which the earth could not cohere and exist. I understood that when I gave alms I was displaying pity, kind feeling, nice sentiment, and that I was drawing attention to myself as a man of peculiarly good nature and most amiable sensibility. Nothing of the kind. It is right to give: when the strong man helps the weak, he is not showing you the beauties of amiability, he is not indulging or exemplifying a merely transient emotion, it is not a specimen of social chivalry, it comes out of the righteousness of God, the very law of right. If he had done anything else, he would have been guilty before God of a violation of the spirit of righteousness.
When you took that dear little child off the streets and gave it a chair at your table, it was not an action that could be covered with some such words as pity, kindness, sympathy gentleness, and amiability. All these words themselves are used oftentimes with too narrow a meaning. If our actions do not go back to the rock of righteousness, then they will be, however beautiful in their immediate manifestation, transient in their duration. They will be forgotten as dreams are forgotten when the light comes. On the other hand, only let us get the notion that to help a man, a child, a woman, to give alms to poverty, to do any deed of charity, is a right thing, and then see how our life becomes grand in solemnity, how it founds itself on the immutable and the complete, and how we cease to be moved by caprice and impulse that cannot be calculated and controlled, and become the servants of a great law, the apostles of an infinite and beneficent righteousness.
This almsgiving is to be done, I observe, in the sight of God, Then is God always looking? So the great Master teaches us. "Your Father which is in secret, your Father which seeth in secret, your Father who is always looking on." What, am I ever in the great Taskmaster's eye? Does that eye never close in slumber? Is there not one moment when it tires of looking? In that moment I might snatch his sceptre and dispute his sovereignty. But the Holy One of Israel slumbereth not nor sleepeth: the darkness and the light are both alike unto him. That which is spoken in the ear he hears in thunder in heaven. This gives me a very solemn and grand view of life.
Why, then, many of our processes in the matter of almsgiving must be given up. Sometimes men meet and challenge one another to do good. If it is done with modesty all but infinite, it is permissible. It is a dangerous trick. "I will give fifty pounds if you will give fifty pounds," says a man who imagines he is going to do something great. If it is a mere matter of taste, so far as any matter can be so limited the challenge is allowable, but if it relate to the higher charities, to consecration, to the outgoing and uplifting and offering of the heart to God, do not mention what you are going to do, ask not what other people are going to do. Beware of that most mischievous sophism, which says, "I am only waiting to see what others do." Stand before God, calculate the whole case in his presence, soliloquise in his hearing, have but one auditor, and that your Father which heareth in secret, and then do whatever is right, according to your then sanctified conviction, and God will do the rest.
Compulsion is not to enter into almsgiving, except self-compulsion, the best of all. If you compel me to do an alms or to give a gift, I will undo it if I can, when you are not looking, but if I am compelled by ministries within to do an alms, I do it with my love. I could not withdraw it, it is given to God in holy sacrifice and grateful prayer. In this matter of religion there ought to be no compulsion at all, except the compulsion of love. That love needs continual warming. It is amazing how soon our affections become cooled by the chilling winds of the earth. So I must hasten to the sanctuary, I must get me into the inner spirit of the divine word, I must climb the sacred eminence on which stands the one cross, out of which all other crosses are cut, and so much I renew the fire of my love. For love in the church is nothing if it be not a constant flame. Let us beware of sudden outbreaks of fire. If they be beside the continual burnt-offering, they are good, but the burnt-offering itself must be steady, continual, daily, and if now and again the flame shoot heaven-high, so be it, but the steady glow must never fail.
We are to see the divine in the human in this giving of alms. When I give something to a little poor child, to whom do I give it, if my motive is right and pure? I give it to Christ. That is his own interpretation of my action, he astounds me by its vastness and brightness. "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat." O hungry one, Christ is suffering the pang that gives thee pain. In all our affliction he is afflicted. Whenever a hand of righteous charity is put out to alleviate our distresses, he feels the tingling of it in his own pierced palm, and writes it, to be spoken of another day.
The hypocrites are not so, the actors are of another temper: their act is the same as the right act, but it is done from the wrong motive, and therefore it has no value in the sight of heaven. It is like a prayer that paints itself on the ceiling, not like a living bird, loosened from the secret heart and sent out to find its invisible nest in heaven.
Jesus Christ, then, is very deep in teaching. He gets down to the fundamental line, and yet in doing so there is a marvellous satire in his tone. Speaking about the actors or hypocrites, he says, "Verily I say unto you, they have their reward." They get what they seek; they seek applause, they get it for the moment and it dies away, and they are left with the void air. They get their heaven, an empty place, a silent chamber, a heaven they would gladly part with; when you have received your applause for your almsgiving that is all you will get, if you did it from a wrong motive. You will hear a clapping of hands and a stamping of feet, and an uproarious "Huzza!" for a second or two and then, gone; and when it is gone, your heaven has vanished. As to the after work, who can tell what that may be when the mask is taken from the hypocrite's face, when the paint is washed from his countenance and he stands out in the ghastliness of his true meaning? My soul, enter not thou into such a secret.
You will find as you proceed with your lesson that Jesus Christ applies the same principle to everything he now deals with. The fire is the same, he does not change the test, his chemistry is not. fickle, throughout the whole he is seeking for purity of heart, and throughout the whole he shows how the trick of the hand may be made momentarily to represent purity of heart and purpose. Thus with regard to prayer, "When thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the actors, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men," Right things may be done in a wrong way, and so may lose their value. It is right to give, right to pray, right to fast, but they may all be done in a wrong way.
We do not understand in England what is meant by these words, "long prayers, vain repetitions, and much speaking," though sometimes we say a prayer is long if it went, say, to the length of ten minutes, or fifteen, or twenty; if to half an-hour, we describe it as very Jong and tedious; but that was not the measure indicated by the words of Jesus Christ. It had come to be in his time a matter of settled conviction among certain people, to whom he now definitely refers, that if they only prayed times enough, kept on saying the same things over and over again, they would purchase heaven as a matter of right, as you purchase an article by laying down a certain money value for it on the counter. The article is yours, it is not a gift of the original proprietor, it has passed on to you as having value received on the part of the man who first held it. So among the hypocrites and the actors, they thought that if they read a certain document called the Sch'ma—if they read that over and over again, and kept at it, and made a question of regular mechanical repetition of it, by a certain turn of the wheel they would be able to claim heaven as men claim a field for which they have paid the price. Jesus Christ having reference to this mechanical piety, said, "That is a vital mistake on their part; they think they shall be heard for their much speaking. Your" Father knoweth what things ye have need of before ye ask him." Beware of vain repetition: in other words, beware of a mechanical piety. No prayer is long that is prayed with the heart: as long as the heart can talk the prayer is very brief—let that be the measure and standard of our long and much praying. Do not measure your prayers by minutes, but by necessities. Sometimes we have no influence with the King. He appears to have deafened himself against us or to have turned into stone at our approach, and our prayers and utterances are lost upon him as rain upon the barren rock. Sometimes we can talk the whole day with him, we cannot tell where the growing numbers of our praise will end, our heart is enlarged in great and free utterance, and then we enter into the mystery of communion; not asking, begging, soliciting, wanting more and more like the horse-leech, but talking out to him as the dews go up to the morning sun. When you have such opportunities, make the most of them, and do not let the words, "vain repetitions and much speaking," come into your minds as temptations. One sentence may be much speaking, and is so, if it be not meant. A day's long talk, a night's long communion, will be but too short, if you see the King as it were face to face, Thus, again, Jesus Christ brings us to the point—"Blessed are the pure in. heart." Jesus Christ came to set purity of heart in opposition to the formalism and corruption of his day. He found that evil hands had written lies and blasphemies upon every beam in the Temple, he found that the windows that ought to have looked heavenward had been cobwebbed with traditions, and curtained and screened so as to conceal the iniquity which was wrought behind them. So, with glowing ardour, burning like an oven, he cleansed the desecrated house, and relighted its shaded chambers with the very glory of heaven, called back the exiled and dishonoured angels of purity, mercy, meekness, peace, and he banished the ghouls of selfishness, oppression, cruelty, and strife. He lifted, peasant's son though he was, an arm of thunder and shattered the vile creations that were set up to mock the holiness of God.
"What think ye of Christ?" A grand Teacher. He made no beck and bow to his age, saying, "If you please, will you be good enough to hear me?" He spoke the eternal word, and there was something in the human heart that said, "This is he of whom Moses and the prophets did write" You know the true voice when you hear it; there is a spirit in man and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth him understanding.
The Saviour then proceeds to apply the same principle to the matter of fasting. He did not find fault with fasting as a religious ordinance, but he said, in effect, "This religious observance has been perverted like prayer and almsgiving; now you must not disfigure your face, and so call attention to the fact that you are fasting; you must fast in your heart, it must be the soul that fasts. Is not this the fast that I have chosen to do unto heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free, to speak for the dumb, and be feet and hands to them that are lame and helpless?" He did not find fault with the words, almsgiving, prayer, fasting, but he carried them up to their highest definitions. We have degraded every term we have ever used. In our Saviour's time the hypocrites or actors used to spread ashes upon their heads literally, and used to tear their garments and make their faces the very picture and exemplification of hunger and dejection, and they used to walk up and down the streets, saying by these actions. "Look at us, how pious we are, how observant of the law; see to what extreme lengths we carry our devotion." Christ looked at them, and his eyes flashed fire on them, and he said, "Hypocrites, actors, masked men, verily I say unto you, you have your reward. You put out your hand to catch a gilded bubble, you seize it with greedy fingers and it melts and dies."
This matter of fasting was carried so far that one historian tells us it was mimicked and mocked in the Roman theatre. At one play, the audience being seated and in expectation of the performance, a camel was led across the stage, and that camel was in such a lean and miserable condition, looking so utterly dejected and forsaken, that voices called out, "What is the matter with the camel?" and the dramatic answer was, "This is fasting-time amongst the Jews, and the camel has been observing the fast." That is what our canting impiety always comes to; it is the tempting, snivelling hypocrite that is put upon the boards of our novels, and not the earnest and loving and true soul. When I come upon any character in a novel or romance that is meant to typify the ministry of the day or the Christian spirit of the day, I give the artist credit for endeavouring to set forth a hypocrisy and not a reality. I do not look even upon those Roman pagans as traducing a grand religious consecration, but as mimicking and mocking and bitterly taunting men who had forsaken the spirit of their religion, and had perverted and prostituted the letter to the most unworthy purposes. If any man shall attempt to travesty that which is real, true, pure, divine, the thick end of the beam shall fall upon his own head in due time. As to those who take delight in caricaturing things that are counterfeit and unfit and unworthy—you have a ministry in life, and I wish you success in the discharge of your grave and responsible function.
"What think ye of Christ?" There is a tone of reality about this Man's teaching. Is his ministry vital, is he working in the right direction, is this the reforming ministry which all ages need? Sometimes we say that our ministers preach to the times—in doing so they follow the example of their Lord and Master. If Christ were living now he would speak to the times: he would not speak to some dumb ages, he would speak to the men who are living around him, working all kinds of mischief, and having within them counsels and purposes unworthy alike of their manhood and of the divine vocation that is in all human life. I cannot imagine Jesus Christ coming to read something to us of an abstract kind. He would now and again lay down great breadths of noble doctrine, but he would be swiftly out in the age again. You would find him in the marketplace, you would find him in the broad thoroughfares, you would find him where merchants most do congregate, you would find him in all the activities of life, trying everything by the fire of heaven. He lived in a time of corruption, he never shut his mouth concerning it. He saw a kingdom perverted and lifted up his voice in condemnation of it. He told the painted actors, the dressed coxcombs of his day, that they had not yet crossed the threshold of the kingdom which they pretended to hold in personal custody, and then, having cursed the corruption of his day as no other man had the power to do, he turned round, and with ineffable blessing, and with most tender speech, he spake to the weary and the heavy-laden, and the sad-hearted, to the woman that was a sinner, and to the little child brought for his blessing. And then last of all he poured out his soul unto death. A mistake—does any whisper such a suggestion? Looking at the life that preceded it, at the thunder and lightning of the denunciation of all wrong that went before it, at the beatitudes and the gospels poured out upon those whose hearts were broken and whose lives were weary—that death was the only fit conclusion; it belonged to the antecedent mistake, it set forth in the most vivid and graphic colours what had been indicated in hasty sketches in every day's beneficent ministry.
He died, he rose again, he lives, he expects us, he is preparing a place for us, and when he prepares, what will the result be? I have seen his earth, his flowers, his summers, his mornings—I have seen his sun, I have seen some of his innumerable stars. He will outdo it all, for he will prepare, not to be worthy of me, but to be worthy of himself.
Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:Chapter 22
Christ Anxious About the Heart—The Safety of Spiritual Riches—the Rectitude of Motive—secular Anxiety and Worldly Fear—the Uselessness of Anxiety
Almighty God, we have read of thy care of our life, and without reading it in a book we know it well, for day by day thou art at our right hand, thou dost satisfy our mouth with good things, thou dost renew our youth like the eagle's, our strength is returned to us after its expenditure, thou dost keep our eyes from tears, our feet from falling, and our soul from death. Thou hast shown unto us great and wonderful things as we have come along the pathway of life; we have begun to pray where we expected to die; thou hast planted a tree beside the bitter lake, and made its waters sweet with the branches thereof; thou hast planted flowers upon the tomb; thou hast dried tears which no human hand of sympathy or tenderness could reach; and, when the grief was keenest and the darkness most burdensome, then was the star the brightest and in the cold wind there were voices of hope.
We bless thee for all thy tender care, thy long-continued patience; thou dost watch over each of us as if he were an only child. Behold there is no measure to the Lord's mercy, and his compassions fail not. We bless thee for thy great Book, so full of music and truth and beauty; touching us at every point of our life, speaking to us the one word we most need, comforting us with infinite solaces, opening the prospect beyond the horizon of time, and enabling us to see into the rest and the joyous service of heaven.
We give ourselves into thy keeping; we would have no will but thine; we would not attempt to open any door but with thy key. Thou hast been our God and our Helper, and in thy love do we rest as in an inviolable defence. Show us more of thyself; fill our whole life with light, may our eye be single, that our whole body may be lighted with the flame of thy glory. May our whole life, body, soul, and spirit, be a daily sacrifice on the sacred altar; may our whole desire rise up before thee in a solemn and all-believing prayer.
We thank thee for thine house; we bless thee that no storm can overtake us hidden in the sanctuary of God. The Lord's blessing be in every heart, the Lord's light shine upon every eye, and, as for our whole life, we open it now and give thee all the hospitality of our love. Come, abide with us, and in the breaking of our bread we shall see great revelations of heaven.
We commend one another to thy tender care. The Lord help every man, woman, child, now bent in prayer. Thou knowest the secret desire of each heart, the solemn purpose of each life thou knowest the sting that pierces the heart, the burden too heavy for mortal strength, the great fear that deepens into dejection, and threatens to become a mortal injury. Thou knowest our family life, our commercial difficulties, and our whole estate is known to thee. The Lord undertake for every one of us according to the heart's necessity, and multiply unto us his grace, so that beyond all our want there may be an overflow of divine love.
We bless thee again and again, in never-ending hymn and psalm, for the gift of thine only-begotten and well-beloved Sou. We know Jesus Christ, we have heard his words, we have touched the hem of his garment, we have seen the outflowing of his sacred blood; we remember that his cross was set up for us, and in the agony of our contrition he is our only hope. God be merciful unto us sinners: give us assurance of daily pardon, and strengthen our confidence in every divine promise: then shall our life be quiet and bright, and strong and good. Hear us when we sing thy praises, hear the desires we cannot put into words, see the falling of secret tears on account of secret sin, and help us one and all with the unfailing strength of thine infinite grace to live before thee in all faith, in all affection, and in pure desire to know and do thy blessed will. Amen.
19. Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:
20. But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:
21. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
22. The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light.
23. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!
24. No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.
25. Therefore I say unto you. Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?
26. Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?
27. Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?
28. And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin:
29. And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
30. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to-day is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?
31. Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?
32. (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things 33. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.
34. Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.
In this passage you have, first, an exhortation, and, secondly, a reason for it. The exhortation is, "Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth: lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven." The reason is, "For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." You will never understand the exhortation till you understand the reason given for it. Vain is all criticism upon the words, "Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth." It is in the treatment of those words that the annotators have failed. A thousand little and mean questions arise whilst we confine our attention to the words, "Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth." We are not in a condition to criticise that language until we complete the sentence and find at its close the all-convincing reason for giving such an exhortation.
What is Christ anxious about? What is it that he wishes to take care of? He himself gives an explicit answer to the inquiry. His one anxiety is about the condition of the HEART. "'For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also;' and it is the heart that touches my supreme solicitude. If the heart be right, the whole outgoing of the life will be right; but if the heart be wrong, then all the actions that make up the sum total of the duties and exercises of life will also be wrong." Now I see the whole meaning, I understand what my Teacher intends me to receive as his doctrine. Provided my heart is right, he does not care if my possessions are heaven-high, if I can rise above them and stand upon them, and use them with mighty strength. He is most anxious that they should not be bigger than I am, his supreme anxiety is that they should not lure my confidence and make up the sum total of my hope and expectation. So long as I can treat them as so many conveniences and use them for the good of my fellow-creatures, he cares not how many, how rich, may be my possessions. He says to me lovingly, with infinite pathos and concern, "Brother, friend, man—keep thine heart right, keep thy love in its right direction, let thy life be a continual sacrifice, burning upwards to the holy throne that deserves it. Then, as for thy possessions, thou wilt be master, not slave. The more thou hast, the more the poor will have; thou wilt be treasurer and custodian, thou wilt not be oppressed by the riches, but ennobled to dignity by them." So then there is no exhortation here against laying up property. The world must have property, and the more that property is in good hands the better; and, concerning every man who makes a good use of money, I pray the Lord to send him tenfold more. The more he has, the more the poor have; the more money the good man has, the more the whole church has. It is better that that money should be in the hands of a good treasurer than in the hands of an untrustworthy custodian.
Look at the figures in this exhortation, showing how keen was the observation of Jesus Christ regarding everything going on around him. "Lay not up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt." The property of the contemporaries of Christ consisted largely of linen and embroidered goods. To have great stores of these was the Jews' great notion of wealth. Jesus Christ, looking at all the piles of linen and embroidery, said, "Take care that the moth does not get into them; remember that there is a moth—do not forget the consuming insect." It was a practical and most secular exhortation.
"And rust doth corrupt." The treasures were largely hidden in the earth. Men would dig deep pits in the field and hide their most valuable possessions, and there they would rust. Jesus Christ, looking at the man filling up the earth upon his treasure, says, "Remember the rust: what you have put in the earth there is exposed to danger: you may cover it up very carefully, but the rust will get at it." There is always some danger to be provided against.
"Where thieves break through and steal." The houses were mud houses, the walls were mud walls, and the thief is at the back yonder, breaking through, boring his way through the mud defence that he may get at the treasures hidden inside. Jesus Christ says to the builder of the mud wall, "Take care, it is only mud, understand that mud is not impervious: always remember that there are weapons of iron that can break through your mud defences." And again I say unto you, there is always danger to be guarded against, and a man is no stronger than his weakest point. Beware of the moth, beware of the rust, beware of the thief. Life is based upon caution, unless it be founded in God, and then it is lifted up above all danger, or the dangers that affect it themselves fail away before its supreme strength and immovable confidence.
So much for the exhortation, and so much for the reason. Now what is it as an argument? I am always struck with the common sense of this divine Talker. Apart from his metaphysics and high imagination and noble courage and heroism, there is an element of marvellous common sense. He grasps his subject: he lays upon it a grip that means "You cannot take this easily from me." Let us look at it merely as an argument.
Jesus Christ Says, "Riches can be stolen, riches can perish, riches can fly away, therefore look out for treasures that are not subject to these vexations and harassing contingencies." Is the argument sound? Look at it again. What you have in your hands may be taken out of them, therefore have something in your heart that no man can get at and steal. The reasoning is sound and unanswerable. He who has nothing but what he can grasp in his hands is no stronger in his possessions than his fingers. A man can wrench what he holds out of his possession, and they will be his no longer. Where is your Bible? If it is only in your hands as a book, though you are pressing it to your heart, it can be taken away from you, and you may be without it. But, where is your Bible? "In my head," say you, "in my heart; I know it." Then, though the book be burned with fire, the revelation is untouched.
Jesus Christ says, "Have an inward life, have an interior life, have a soul." The Teacher who teaches thus is a wise man. He warns us against the things that can be destroyed, and points us to the possessions that are indestructible. He tells you in so many words that you are no richer than your heart is; though your books be many enough to make a library of, you are only as rich as you are in your thought, feeling, aspiration, desire after God and all things godly. I feel that such teaching is true: no long and laboured argument is needed to make me feel its truthfulness. If I speak right out of my heart and let my better self be heard, I say with the Scribe, "Well, Master, thou hast said the truth."
Take it in another light, that it may be clearly seen by those who can understand better by illustration than by mere argument. You come into the house of your friend, and you are struck with his books, say upon agriculture. You look over the volumes and say, "Well, how very many books you have upon agriculture. I am surprised at your collection of works upon this subject." A friend belonging to the house says to you, "If you think the books upon agriculture are many, what will you say when I show you the library upon astronomy? If you think these books a good many upon agriculture, when I show you the astronomical works you will be utterly confounded." By the help of that illustration, you go a little further and reason thus. If you think this man is rich in shares and stocks and fields and investments of one kind and another, what will you say when you see his thoughts, his feelings, his prayers, his aspirations, his plans for the amelioration of the race. Our inner nature should be so much in excess of our outer nature as to give the impression that we have no outer nature at all. We are to be so much larger in the soul than we are in the hand as to throw the hand into infinite insignificance, though in itself it have a giant's fist and can deliver a Herculean blow. Let every man therefore ask himself what he has in the bank of the heart.
"The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil (double), thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!" The heart is in the eye of the life: always keep the heart pure and right, sincere and true, and you cannot stumble long. Let your motive be correct, and you will be brought along the right road, even though you may have stumbled into the wrong path for a moment. Let your heart be right, and I care not in what thicket you be tangled, you will see a clear, broad road out of it, and you shall yet rejoin the main path that lies right up towards the light and the heaven that is at the end of it.
How is it then with the heart which is the eye of the life? What is your motive, what is your purpose? Dare you throw back the screen and show the motive to heaven's light? If so, you cannot be weak; you cannot be the subjects of long continued depression and fear. O youth—my child, my son—give God thine heart; and as for thy mistakes, they prove thee only to be mortal. But once let your motives become mixed, let them double themselves back into reservations and ambiguities and uncertainties, let the inner life become a hesitation and a compromise and a trick in expediency, and you are blinded in your very centre and fount of light. And if the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness! If your supreme manhood be debased, how utter is the degradation. If you have gone down in your motive, you have gone altogether. So let a man examine himself as to his motives and purposes, and keeping these right, so as to bear the very test of fire and to stand the examination of light, he may maintain his life in the quietness of religious confidence. If you have got wrong in your motives, stop. Do not be lured away by inventiveness in making excuses and palliations. To your knees, and become strong by first becoming weak. No coverings up, no clever juggleries, no assumptions of appearance, but complete, unreserved, emphatic, contrite confession, and then begin again. Remember that your eye is the centre of light, and if the eye be put out or injured, no other part of you can receive that great gift. The eye once blinded, your finger tips cannot be flamed up into illumination, your whole body is darkness. With the eye, the light is gone for ever, and wisdom at one entrance quite shut out.
How marvellous it is that a single organ should hold so much, and there should be no alternative arrangements in this matter of light, looking at which we can say, "Well, it matters little if the light goes out at one point, it can come in at another." Such is not the arrangement of divine providence: you have the one inlet of light; lose that, and your whole body, though it be great and strong and healthy, and apparently beyond the touch of death, will be full of darkness. See how much depends upon one faculty, one organ. Let the ear be deafened and all music is lost; let the eye be blinded, and the whole firmament, with all its sun and stars, is but a covering of darkness. There is but a step between thee and death: thou hast but one right hand, take care lest it be paralyzed and fall uselessly by thy side for ever. These are the cautions of no alarmist; they are the strong, grand, pure teachings of a Man who breathed the mountain air, and had the sea's freshness ever breathing through his magnificent heart.
"No man can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will hold to the one and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon." We do not understand this in English. Men run away with very shallow notions of what is here said; these English words do not express the Saviour's meaning, except with indefinite-ness and a great distance of appreciation. No man—literally, no slave, and we do not know, thank God, what a slave is. The slave had no will of his own; every pulse of his body belonged to his master; he dare only look as the master approved; there must be no protest even in his eye, or he lost his life. He must stand, sit, come, go, at the will that was iron and that could not be broken. No man, says Christ, can sustain that relation to two masters; he cannot belong, absolutely, body, soul, spirit, will, imagination, energy, feeling, to two different masters. Masters—we do not understand this in English. We never can enter into the tragical pathos of that awful word: never to be able to call an hour my own; never to be at liberty to utter the voice of complaint; never to be permitted to look my true self, but to wear a mask to please another's eye; to be at the beck and call of a man who can take my life from me with impunity—that is to be under a master.
How many persons there are who have read this text so as to sever the spiritual and the secular. It is thus the Bible has been maltreated by some of its friends: it is thus that great excisions have been made, so that religion has been left in the church as an all but impalpable shadow. That is the meaning of this great Teacher—we must use the spiritual and secular, for all things are sacred according to the hand that touches them. What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common or unclean. You miss the grandest side of life when you separate it into spiritual and secular. There are some persons who talk about the temporalities of the church—there are no temporalities in the church. There are those who speak of the business side of the church—there is no business side of the church in any degrading sense of the term: it is all business. "Wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business?" He who lights a lamp in the church is as he who preaches a sermon; he who opens a door or keeps a gate, as he who breathes a gospel and unfolds a revelation. The difference is in the degree, not in the quality; "He who sweeps a floor for thy sake, makes that and the action fine." We must be lifted up in our whole conception of life and labour, industry and reward, if we would enter into the spirit of Christ in his interpretation of our life and its duties.
Now comes the grand wondrous discourse concerning secular anxiety and worldly fear, the beautiful sermon wherein you find the reference to the lilies and the birds and the grass of the field. Let us look at that wonderful sermon a moment. We are treating this gospel by Matthew in its wholeness and not going into the mere detail of the occasion—as a painter paints a landscape with a church upon it. He does not take you into the church, he simply throws the church upon the landscape as part of something else, and you must catch it in its proper outline and relationship. It is so I am treating this gospel. By-and-bye we shall go to the church and spend a day there; by-and-bye we shall come into the detail and study each particular delicate line; meantime we have to treat the gospel in its totality, and under the direction of this feeling look at this most marvellous discourse.
"Take no thought for your life." We do not get at the Saviour's meaning in this English word "thought." We do not, indeed, get into the right meaning of the word thought some three hundred years after the use which it first assumed. When this translation was made, the word thought meant something different from what it means to-day—it meant anxiety, restless, carking care; it meant that penetration of fear which upsets the balance of life and turns the whole soul into moods of dejection and wearing anxiety. The word thought meant this in the time when the English Bible was translated—hence one of the historians says, "Queen Catherine died of thought." Hence Cleopatra said to Enobarbus, "What shall we do, Enobarbus?" And the answer was, "Think, and die." In other words, "Fear, fret, pine away, succumb to depression, anxiety, and all the influences that can vex and tear the balance of the heart." It is against such thought that Jesus Christ warns his disciples.
Is it possible that any man here can be encouraging himself in languor and indifference and idleness by saying that he is considering the lilies and beholding the fowls, and yielding himself to the genius of this Sermon on the Mount? I must rudely disturb his foolish and atheistical lassitude. Let us behold the fowls of the air for a moment, and see how far their course justifies the man who is simply folding his arms and sitting still and letting God take care of him. First, the fowls get up soon in the morning—where are you? Away goes one of your props. In the next place the fowls are most industrious: it is one of my little pleasures to watch the industry of the birds, and, indeed, they seem to have no hours. I trust nobody will ever form them into a union for the purpose of shortening the hours of labour: that would be a great mishap in the air, to cut short their song exactly as the clock struck five! O, the building that is going on now! The straw-carrying and the feather-catching and the leaf-binding—what industry! Up with the sun, working all the hours of the light, and twittering and trilling and singing all the time. There is another of your props gone, lazy man.
I find, too, that the birds are self-supporting: they would never take anything at your hand if they could help it. A bird is sadly driven when it comes to any man and says, "Let me peck at your hand, if you please." The birds support themselves—who supports you? You would borrow a shilling of your poor old mother if you could, and you talk about beholding the fowls of the air. You have borrowed of every friend you ever had—be just in your exegesis of the divine word, and add not the blasphemy of a fool's criticism to the behaviour of a cowardly spirit.
And the lilies—is it a happy-go-lucky life with them? Far from it The word lilies here is a word that may be so interpreted as to include all flowers, and the flowers are found in their proper places, they are where they were meant to be, if they are growing properly; not only so, the flowers are working in harmony with great laws. Every flower draws its beauty from the sun: the flower roots itself in dark places, and prays with open face for the great light, and holds itself out with gracious willingness to catch every drop of dew that it can hold. So we must be in our proper spheres, in our right relations: we must keep the economy of life and nature as God has established it, then we shall truly, with a wide and healthy wisdom, behold the fowls and consider the lilies.
Jesus Christ gives a reason for this exhortation again. He says, "Which of you, by taking thought, can add one cubit unto his stature?" He thus shows the uselessness of anxiety. Suppose now you. sit up all night with your hands folded or twisted, in expression of keen unappeasable solicitude and yearning—what does it come to in the morning? Nothing. Suppose you should belabour yourself all day long, what does it come to tomorrow? To weariness, dejection, sadness, and to all the results of misdirected energy and irreligious folly. A great teacher now living has well said that if any friend of ours had told us one hundredth part of the lies our fears have told us, we never would have allowed him to speak to us again. We would have said, "Get thee behind me, thou lying man." But our fears come every day and tell us exactly the same lies, and we give them exactly the same confidence. Is that religion? It is, but only the religion of paganism. The religion of trust, love, faith, rests in the Lord and waits patiently for him; forms a grand and loving expectation, directs it often in speechless prayer to the generous and over-arching heavens, and calmly awaits the revelation and the whole answer of God.
This is how I want to live: I want to subordinate every desire to the one aim of seeking the kingdom of God and his righteousness; I want to interpret that kingdom as meaning and including all other kingdoms; and I would calmly await the leading of divine providence. Why fidget yourself, why fret and annoy yourself, why go out and throw yourself into a bed of stinging nettles merely for the sake of doing something? I would not anticipate tomorrow any more than I would anticipate death. Death is abolished; there is no dying for the man who is in Christ. Let the child close his eyelids; he will open them in heaven. Let a pagan call that death if he likes; the Christian calls it life. Nothing wrong can happen to me if I be really rooted in God, and if my eye be set towards him with the one anxiety of receiving his light.
Given that I have to take care of myself, and make all my arrangements, and go up and down life as if everything depended on me, and my life becomes a cloud, a fear, a sting, a great distress; but given that I am creature, not creator, child of the one ever-living, ever-loving Father, the very hairs of my head are all numbered, my name is written in heaven, and the whole plan of my destiny is mapped out in the skies—that I am, consciously or unconsciously, so long as my desire is as a pure flame, working out the divine intention. Let me feel that to be the case; then, come weal, come woe, high hill or cold river, or bleak wilderness or beauteous garden—come what may, God will come with it, and my life shall be a great, sweet peace.
No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.Chapter 23
God and Mammon—Be Anxious About the Right Thing—the Healing Power of Nature—Dr. Thomas Goodwin
Almighty God, truly thou dost remember thy children, and with infinite mindful-ness dost thou watch thine own, in all the way that they take, in all the sufferings they undergo, and in all the purposes which form the inspiration of their life. We rejoice that there is an eye evermore looking upon us which never slumbers and never sleeps; it is our joy to believe that the arms of everlasting strength are round about us, and that the defences of omnipotence protect us from all injury. This is our confidence in God, this creates the music of our life and the hope of our gladdest expectation. We rejoice and are exceeding glad because the covenant of the Lord is written in righteousness and is signed with his own best name of love. Though the righteous stumble, he shall not utterly fall, though he be cast down, he shall not be utterly destroyed; the Lord's hand is round about him, behold his defence is greater than fire.
We have tested thy word, all thy promises have been renewed and redeemed in our own experience, we are the living to bless thee, we are the living to magnify thy name. Truly, each of us can say, "This poor man cried unto the Lord and he heard him, and delivered him out of his distresses." Thou didst find us in the deep clay and in the horrible mire, and thou hast set our feet upon a rock and lifted up our face towards the sun; thou hast hidden thy word in our hearts—it has been meat to us in the time of keen hunger, and water from heaven in the hour of distressing thirst. Thou hast made thine angels our ministering servants, and thy comforts have delighted and strengthened our souls. What shall we render unto the Lord for all his benefits towards us? We would give him our whole life, we would spare nothing of our energy, we do but render thee thine own, for we are bought with a price, and our body and our soul are God's. We remember the price thou dost pay for our redemption, we are not redeemed with corruptible things, but with the precious blood of Christ; we are the purchase of his sacrifice, we are the trophies of his redeeming strength, he is our Priest, our Sacrifice, our Reconciliation, he is our all and in all; we would see no man in our redemption but Jesus only, and lying low before his cross, hiding our mouth in the dust, by reason of infinite shame, we would hope to receive the offer and the gift of thy pardon because Jesus died for us.
We thank thee for this glorious gospel; it turns our weakness into strength, it sows the very stars of light upon the field of infinite darkness, and it brings us hope when reason brings us nothing but despair. Our trust is in Christ, our daily confidence is in his blessed cross, we flee to him for succour, for pardon, for hope, we find all we need in thy Son, our Saviour—his riches are unsearchable.
We give thee praises for all thy kindness to us during the time that has elapsed since we met together in holy fellowship at the altar. Thou hast kept our eyes from tears, our feet from falling, and our soul from death; thou bast renewed our youth, thou hast rekindled the lamp of our hope, our table thou hast spread, our chamber thou hast watched, our house has been surrounded by thy protecting angels. We therefore take the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the Lord, and bless him with all our love, and trust him with our whole heart. Thou hast brought some of us up from long solitude, wherein we have seen the darkness of afflicting providences; thou hast chastened us sore, thou hast reduced our strength so that it has been turned into the weakness of water, thou hast given us to feel how frail we are and how little before thee. Yet hast thou nourished us with secret comfort and enlightened us with glory from heaven, and now that we have returned to thy house having exchanged the chamber of affliction and solitude for the open church of enjoyment and high Christian fellowship and rapture, we thank thee for all thy mercies, we bless thee for thy gentle care. Others of us thou hast been with on land and on sea, at home and in distant places; thou hast brought us from our wanderings to our accustomed associations. The Lord's mercy be magnified and praised in daily hymn for all this wondrous care. Thou dost number the hairs of our head, thou dost watch our steps, thou dost keep our feet from falling, thou art mindful of thine own, thy patience is long-suffering, thy love what man can measure? We therefore praise thee, yea we bless thee, yea we magnify thee, yea with all music would we elevate thy name, and call upon our soul and all that is within us to give honour unto God, to whom we owe our life and our hope.
Let the study of thy word be useful to us to-day—may we eat of thy word as men who are hungered eat of bread, may we drink of thy word as those who are dying of thirst long for living streams. Destroy all prejudice that would hinder a right conception of thy sacred messages, release us from the anxieties and reflections and tormenting fears of this world, and give us such sympathy with light, divinity, and all things spiritual and truly beautiful, as shall enable us to regard this service as a banquet spread by the king's own hand, and may we hear his welcome and enjoy his hospitality.
The Lord's blessing, like the light of the sun, run everywhere and carry with it morning and hope and summer, and all the joy of life. The Lord visit the sick-chamber, the prison where the penitent lies, the land where the prodigal mourns his folly and curses his sin. Be with the broken-hearted, the spirit suffering in silence that dare not utter itself in mortal speech, be with the widow and the fatherless in their affliction and dumb hopelessness: be with the man who utters to-day his first prayer, with the pilgrim who is just going home, with the little child, opening like a bud in the summer morning—yea, be with every one of us, exclude none from thy blessing, that the appeal of thy love may be the beginning of our redemption. Amen.
24. No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.
25. Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?
26. Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?
27. Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?
28. And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin;
29. And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
30. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to-day is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, 0 ye of little faith?
31. Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?
32. (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek): for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.
33. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.
34. Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.
"No man can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will hold to the one and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon." I venture to say that the true meaning of this passage has not been always represented. The common notion is that a man may try to serve God and mammon. Jesus Christ does not ask you for one moment to believe so flagrant an absurdity. The experiment cannot even be tried. What, then, becomes of your interpretation of your neighbour about whom you have said, many a time, "That man is trying to serve God and mammon." The experiment does not admit of trial. You must get into the profound meaning of this word cannot. It indicates an impossibility even so far as the matter of trial or experiment is concerned. So the passage is a consolatory one; it is not a warning against any kind of practical hypocrisy and double-handedness—Jesus is not lifting up his voice against the ambidexters who are trying to do the same thing with both hands—he lays down, as he always does, a universal and everlasting law; ye cannot serve God and mammon, equal to—ye cannot go east and west at the same time. Have you ever tried to do that, have you ever made such a fool of yourself as to endeavour to cross the Atlantic by staying on shore? The meaning is, if a man's supreme purpose in life be to seek God and to glorify him, whatever his business upon earth may be, he elevates that business up to the level of his supreme purpose.
Where, then, is the value of your criticism upon the rich Christian man? You have said, mockingly, "That man has served God and mammon to some purpose, for he has accumulated immense wealth." Your reasoning I would call childish but for my fear of degrading the sweet name of child. Where a man's heart burns with the love of God, if he be the owner of the Bank of England, he lifts up all his property to the high level of the purpose which inspires him.
I now see a new and gracious light upon the Saviour's words. I have cudgelled myself mercilessly in many a piece of self-discipline, by imagining with the foolish that I could be serving God with one hand and serving mammon with the other. I thought the Saviour was teaching that narrow lesson. To-day he says to me, "I lay it down as a law that the supreme purpose of a man's life gives a character to all he does."
Now let us look at the subject from the other end, and thus get double light upon it. Ye cannot serve mammon and God. The meaning is—If your supreme purpose in life be selfish, narrow, little, worldly—if your one object in life be to accumulate property, power, renown, anything that is sublunary, ye cannot serve God, though you may sing hymns all the day long, though you may attend church whenever the gates are open, though you may give your body to be burned and your goods to feed the poor.
All these, are but so many mammon arrangements, without religious value. The supreme purpose of your life is to be satisfied with the things at hand, within the circumference of this world, and therefore ye cannot be religious, ye cannot serve God, God can only be served by the supreme purpose, the dominating and all-inspiring impulse that moves the heart and controls the behaviour.
Poor soul, you thought when you asked for an increase of income that the people would suspect you of being something of a mammon-worshipper. Never mind: they were cruel and foolish, and they did not know Christ's great gospel. You were no money-lover, no money-grubber, you only wanted to work your way honestly in the world, and to eat the wealth gotten by honest labour. And you, when you told that huge lie, so black that there is no paint in the darkness grim and gloomy enough to give it right character, when you said that if you had a thousand pounds more you would feed the poor and support the church and did not mean a bit of it, it was a lie you told—you were serving mammon. As the poet says of you, anticipating your coming into the world, "You stole the livery of the court of heaven to serve the devil in."
The passage no longer affrights me, I understand its glorious meaning now. It is impossible to go east and west at the same time: the whole law of gravitation says "No," in an instant. It cannot be done. And so if I want to be heavenly and worldly it is impossible; if I am heavenly I sanctify the world, if I am worldly I debase the heaven. You are therefore one of two things, and there is no mixture in your character. Judge ye what I say.
Now we come again to the long and yet pithy lecture on earthliness, and its mean and fruitless anxieties. I have gone at length into that subject, yet I have something more to add. You tell me, when the Saviour warns you against thought—understanding by that word, as explained in the last lecture, cankering anxiety, killing fretfulnsss—that man is an anxious being; you say that no allowance is made for that great constitutional fact that man must forecast and provide and previse and meddle with things contingent and uncertain. You say the gospel arbitrarily forbids that which is instinctive. Let me once more correct your mistake. Jesus Christ does provide for this very instinct of anxiety; in effect he says, "You say you must be anxious: very good, by all means be anxious; be true to your nature, obey the law of your constitution—only this is what I have to say to you, be sure you direct your anxiety along the right lines. Do not waste your anxiety, do not make your anxiety a leak in your nature through which all that is sweetest and best may ooze." Anxious? Certainly, be anxious, but fix your anxiety upon the right object. Thus: Here is a friend who is going to take a railway journey. We will, in imagination, accompany him up to the point of starting. He has gotten everything with him that he thinks he requires. He drives to the station, he hastens to the book-stall, he is most anxious to get the last and best news. He buys papers representing every section of religious and political thought, he fills up his compartment with that varied literature. He has been most anxious about it, most fussy, almost turbulent; he has pushed other people aside in order that he might get his favourite paper and the principal antagonist to the doctrines which he believes in. And now there he is, with his compartment almost snowed up with the literature of the morning. The train will start in a minute. "Tickets, please." He has not got his ticket. Then he cannot go—too late; the law may run that if you have not got your ticket there is no time to get it, and you must wait for the next train. Has the man been anxious? Most anxious—about nothing, about the wrong thing. Of course I say to him "Be anxious, be vigilant, be on the alert, be on the qui vive, do not close your eyes and fall into a slumber; be anxious, but be anxious about the right thing, sir." What avails it that he has stuffed his carriage with the literature of the morning and has forgotten the one thing without which he cannot go? How would you accost him, if he explained his case to you on the platform? You might audibly accost him in the language of sympathy—I fancy you would mentally accost him in a more appropriate tone.
That is precisely what many of us are doing, and Jesus Christ says: "Be anxious, most certainly, but do not waste your anxiety; fix it on the right objects, direct it to the proper quarter and the right end; seek, seek, seek"—and that word seek, as he spoke it, has in it agony, paroxysm, passion, importunity—"seek." O, how you did misunderstand him when you thought he forbade anxiety, and had omitted a constituent element of your nature, and had made no provision for the outgoing and association of an almost necessary anxiety. He hits the case very graphically, with a sharpness the dullest eye must see; for he says, "Which of you by taking thought, by doing all this kind of thing, of the nature of fretfulness and peevishness, which of you by indulging in that expensive luxury, can add one cubit to his stature?" What does it all come to in practical effect? is the meaning of Christ's doctrine. Which of you by fretting about tomorrow, planning for it and scheming about it, and worrying out your very souls concerning its fortunes and destinies, can make one hair white or black? There are rocks which your anxiety cannot melt into water; there are great rolling seas which it is not in the power of your anxiety to divide. Spend your solicitude upon the right objects; be careful about the supreme purpose of your existence: in that direction there cannot be too much solicitude. Give your eyes no rest nor close your eyelids in slumber until you have acquainted yourselves with God and become at peace with him. And remember that anxiety, improperly used, wastes your nature, dissipates your energy, incapacitates you for the discharge of the noblest duties of life.
Let us put the thing again before us illustratively. Here is a man whose son is very delicate. He has not known what it was to enjoy a day's real health since he was born. He appears to be declining day by day in strength. The father comes to us, and we ask questions concerning the child; and in reply to our inquiries the father says, "I am always most anxious that he should dress well, that his gloves should fit him like his skin, that his boots should be of the best possible quality, and that he should never go out without being so dressed as to attract the admiring attention of those who may pass him on the road." What would you think of a man who could talk so under such circumstances? Do not be hard upon him, because your admission I will take and apply to you as a whip. Do you acquit him? Remember that the judge is condemned when the guilty are acquitted.
This is the very thing we are doing, and Jesus Christ comes to us and says, "Is not the body more than raiment?" So you have said to the man described thus imaginatively, "Sir, what about your boy's health? Is he getting stronger?—is he more robust?—what can be done to establish his health? And as for his dress and his gloves and his attire altogether—all these things may be left to settle themselves. Seek ye first the establishment of the child's health."
Well, then, this Christian doctrine is not so impracticable and otherworldly. This Christian doctrine is not a metaphysical quibble in the clouds; there is downright common-sense—strong, robust, graphic common-sense about this Christian preaching. I should not wonder if this carpenter's Son seated upon the mountain talking to his disciples should turn out, in the long run, to be the world's greatest preacher. Let us not, however, anticipate, but attend him, and listen with the understanding to. the gracious words which proceed out of his mouth.
It is not enough to speak against anxiety or to direct it into proper quarters. Jesus Christ, recognising this fact, proceeds to mitigate the anxiety that eats up the life like a canker. What do you think he does in the way of mitigation? Something most beautiful. He takes us all out for a day into the open fields. It is only recently that some doctors have learned from the great Physician to get their patients out of town as soon as they could. I speak now to many doctors: stand by that rule, get your patients away out of their old associations, out of their old chambers, where they know every pattern upon the paper, and get them away to the sea, and into the country, and up the mountains and by the riversides as soon as you possibly can, and take your own course as to whether yon throw physic to the dogs. This was Jesus Christ's plan: he said, "Take a walk, change your circumstances, get rid of these narrow brick walls, get into the wide fields, read the flowers, listen to the music of the birds." Was this a novel suggestion on the part of Jesus Christ? Not at all. Did he borrow from any man? No, other men borrowed from him, only he was not always the revealed and incarnate Teacher; he was the invisible and incomprehensible Inspirer of all that went before him in the kingdom of truth and light. Where do we find this recipe before? A thousand years prior to the incarnation of the peasant teacher, and a thousand years more than that. Once Zion was ill; she was bowed down to the dust; there was no more hope in her fainting heart, and Jacob was slain with an intolerable thirst. What was the recipe of the divine Physician? Nature. How did it run in English? Thus: "Lift up your eyes and behold who hath created all this." First he points to the stars, then to the lilies, then to the birds—to all nature; its infinite light, its minute flushes and blushings of colour, and its little trills of song from tiny and tremulous throats. Are you in great trouble and care and anxiety? Go away as soon as you can. First of all get a right theological conception of your circumstances and understand that anxiety is wasted energy, if it be directed to such things as lie beyond your control. And then, having taken a right theological view of the case, go away, go into the fields—there is healing in nature; she is a kind and noble mother, always ready to nurse and carry us in her generous heart. The soft wind cools our fever, the infinite light charms our despair, the great space offers us new liberties; the all-filling music, subtle as an odour wafted from distant paradises, stirs the heart to better hope. You have no money to go far away, do you say? Then go as far as you can walk. You cannot tell how healing and medicating this is. Kind Nature, Alma Mater, Loving Mother, she spreads her bounties with infinite hospitality, and by every open way to our natures she sends her healing ministries.
You now tell me that whilst you nave no doubt about the doctrine, that you are confronted by certain facts which astound and distress you, facts, for example, of this kind, that good men of your own acquaintance are often in great trouble, that praying men who really and truly love God and wait upon him are sometimes in great straits, and you are puzzled to harmonize the doctrine and the fact. There I think you occupy solid ground, and deserve a respectful answer. My reply is threefold. Trials are useful, trials often develop the best faculties of our nature, qualities that stir us sometimes into our healthiest energy. I would never have known how rich and good some friend were hut for the afflictions that befell me. I have seen what I thought were pampered children, spoiled boys and girls; I have sometimes ventured to reason with the parents as to their method of bringing up their children; I have ventured perhaps to say, "Now, what can become of them in the event of any misfortune befalling you?" I have seen that misfortune come, and I have seen the children of such parents turned out to make their bread, and they have done it with such noble temper, such high quality of heroism, as to affect me deeply with a consciousness of my entire ignorance of what lay hidden in their character. Those children themselves have come to bless the misfortune that battered in the roof of the old house they called their home, those children have, in some cases, traced the beginning of their best and healthiest developments to afflictions which, for the time being, distressed them with intolerable agony. I call you to witness whether you would have been the man you are to-day in wisdom, in range of experience, in mellowness, if your one ewe lamb had not been taken from you, if your fig-tree had not been barked, if your little heritage had not been shaken by the rude winds. You are the sweeter for every loss you have sustained. You are the kinder and nobler for every affliction you have rightly received, your weakness has become your strength.
Then I would remember in the second place that prosperity has its pains and trials. Do not imagine that prosperity of a worldly kind is another word for heaven. You think what you would have done if your circumstances of an outward kind had been very different. You are mistaken. Let us go into this rich man's fine house and sit in the sumptuously garnished room until he comes in. What a room it is; I see the artist's hand everywhere. What a beautiful outlook, what noble grounds, what ancient trees, what singing birds! The man who lives here cannot be unhappy; surely this is the very vicinage of some better land. So you soliloquise, and when you get into confidential conversation with the occupant of that noble mansion you may find that there is a thorn under every rose, a worm at every root, bitterness in every cup, and that the house is but a garnished sepulchre. It may be so, it may not be so—still the solemn fact remains that prosperity itself is a continual temptation, a subtle and persistent trial of every virtue of the heart.
To this double reply I add another answer, namely, that God knows exactly with how much he can be trusted. If he knows what temptations We can bear, understanding that word in its narrow sense as including only diabolic assaults on the heart, he knows also what prosperity we can bear. He gives me just what I can do with; he that gathers much has nothing over, he that gathers little has no want. A contented spirit is a continual feast; when the heart has rest in God there is always bread enough on the table. We think we can do with more, but God knows what we can do with, and he will see that we shall have it. Your Heavenly Father knows what ye have need of, and his knowledge is the measure of his service. I rest in that doctrine, and no fool can throw a troubling stone into the pacific lake of my profoundest confidence.
Is this a new doctrine in the church assembling in this place? We have often reminded ourselves that the church was founded by the most learned man of his day, the illustrious Dr. Thomas Goodwin, two centuries and a half ago. What was the doctrine he preached—what kind of preacher was he? Did he mumble platitudes that had no meaning? Did he speak without accent, or was there a strange sharpness and an occasional tartness in his way of delivering: himself? Was he figurative, illustrative, metaphorical? I will tell you. The other day I met with a short passage in his writings upon this very subject, and I have it before me. Let our founder speak to us, let the illustrious Goodwin come back as it were to his own pulpit and preach a homily in our hearing, and let us listen with a view of ascertaining whether the pulpit of to-day contradicts the pulpit of two centuries ago. Says Goodwin on this particular text, "To do unnecessary things in the first place and neglect those which are most necessary, and put them off to the last—is not this the part of a fool? If a man should go to London to get a pardon, or about some great suit at law, and should in the first place spend the most or chiefest of all his time in seeing the lions at the Tower, the tombs in Westminster Abbey, or the streets and buildings of the city, or in visiting friends, and put the other off to the last—would he not be a fool?" Why, then, this church is keeping up its old traditions, is speaking in the old, old language, is trying to be as graphic and as keen as was the man who humanly founded it. Yes, a fool. There have been some persons who have objected to the use of that word in the pulpit; I am glad to find that our founder was not among those dainty people. We had better know exactly what is the value of our actions; do not trifle with us, speak a plain clear language about our conduct: if we are acting foolishly do not address us in terms of mere courtesy which would convey a false impression to the mind, tell us exactly what we are and what we are doing, and then in the final day we shall not be able to turn upon our teachers with reproachful face and to pour into their ears an accusing voice.
Now what are we seeking? What is our supreme purpose? What is the set and ambition of our life? Is it to glorify God? Then all the rest will come right. Is it to glorify self? Then nothing we do can ever make it right. You may paint it, decorate it, visor it, mask it—it is a lie.
The Lord inspire us with the spirit of truth: may we be found at last, though faint, yet pursuing, our hands indeed weak and tremulous, but using their last energy in gripping the right plough!