This sermon forbiddeth all carefulness, and telleth in what righteousness consisteth, and rebukes sundry religious people and their works, likening their ways to simony.
Matt. vi.33. -- "Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you."
IN this passage, the Son of God gives us a similitude, bidding man, who is a reasonable creature, to look at the flowers that deck the face of the earth, and at the unreasoning fowls of the air, saying: "Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, they spin not; and yet I say unto you that Solomon, in all his glory, was not arrayed like one of these!" "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?" "Therefore I say unto you, take no thought, saying, What shall we eat, or what shall we drink, or wherewithal shall we be clothed? For after all these things do the Gentiles 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."
Children, once before, the Son of God had said that no man could serve two masters, that is to say, God and Mammon, or the riches of this world; for he must love the one, and hate the other. It is indeed a wonder passing our understanding how much is comprehended in these words. We ought to set them up before our eyes as a mirror, and let them be our constant motto. How clearly does Christ here instruct us in the truth with plain unvarnished words and pertinent figures, when, forbidding us to be anxious about earthly and perishable things, he says: "Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature? Therefore, ye of little faith, seek not what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; neither be ye of doubtful mind." Children, ye see well by this discourse how far we all are in common from living according to the simple truth of things, in all our earthly relationships. But know that there is an inward secret defect lurking under the cloak of our anxiety about daily things, a sinful, though unconscious covetousness, which is one of the seven deadly sins. And this sin, working silently and unperceived in the hearts both of worldly and religious people, is the cause of the greatest evils that afflict this earth. Let each, for instance, only mark narrowly, in himself and others, the marvels of labour and ingenuity invented and wrought on all sides, each striving to outdo his fellow for the sake of earthly gain. If we were to probe to the bottom the workings of this false principle in worldly and in religious people, it could hardly be told how deeply its roots have struck, and how widely they have spread below the surface. Think what it implies to have so little confidence in that God who is able to do all things, when ye are striving, and toiling, and wearing yourselves out with anxiety, as if you meant to live for ever. All this comes from that evil principle of covetousness. If one really looked into the matter, it were frightful to see how man seeks his own ends and not his neighbour's good, in all things Divine and human; his own pleasure, or profit, or glory, by all his words and works -- nay, even gifts and services. Children, this great sin is so deeply rooted in many, that every corner of their heart is full of earthly, perishable things, and they are just like the crooked woman we read of in the Gospel, who was bent down to the earth by her infirmity, and could in no wise lift herself up, or raise her eyes above the ground.
Thou poor blind man, spiritual in outward vesture but not in reality, why shouldst thou not trust that the God who has done thee so great a benefit in redeeming thee from the carking cares of this false, wicked world, that He is also willing to give thee such poor mean things as are needful for thy earthly sustenance? And is it not a pitiful thing that a religious man should spend his whole industry, and sole effort, and have his thoughts turned, day and night, upon his own little doings, and should be so full of them that he can hardly properly hold converse with God, or his own heart? And if what he has in hand succeeds, he feels no impulse urging him onwards towards eternal things, except in so far as it may be necessary to secure his own salvation, and from the delight that he may find in his own good works; and he is as much taken up with petty personal cares as worldly people are with weightier things. Wherefore our Lord says: Ye cannot serve two masters; ye cannot serve God and riches. But seek ye first the Kingdom of God, which is before all things and above all things, and His righteousness, and "all other things shall be added unto you." Just as if He had said, these are not worthy to be called a gift; but they shall be added over and above God's gifts. How greatly these vain, pitiful things are esteemed and loved and sought after, secretly and openly, and what anxiety they give rise to, and how eagerly men desire them, and heap up treasures by unlawful means, is not to be fully set forth, and I must not attempt it.
St. Peter says: "Cast all your care upon God, for He careth for you." This carefulness concerning outward things works a man three great injuries. It blinds his reason and good sense; it quenches the fire of love, and destroys all its fervour and heat; and it blocks up the ways of secret access to God. It is like a noxious vapour, or thick smoke, that rises up and chokes a man's breath. This care is born of the sin and vice of covetousness. Therefore look well to your footsteps, and see with what ye hold converse while you are in this present state, and seek the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, that you may find and discover it where it lies hidden in the inmost depths of the soul, that it do not moulder away or remain unfruitful within you. But to this end, he who purposes manfully to withstand himself, the Devil, and the world, must sustain many bold, valiant conflicts, without rest or intermission. For the Kingdom of God will never be truly found except these faults be first cast off; and this is not the work of a day. For whatever a man shall take by force, he must first with great pains conquer; and thus he must make continual efforts before his outward man can be drawn away from the love of these perishable things. For this vice has struck its hidden roots so deeply into the animal nature of man, that he seeks himself in all things, -- in his words and works, in his dealings with others, and in his friendships; nay, the miserable self-seeking of nature works in secret even as regards God, making men crave to enjoy, comfort, illumination, sweet emotions; in short, they are ever wishing to obtain something, and would fain hold converse with the world and yet possess the Kingdom of Heaven. But we ought to bear all things in the holy faith of Christ, and leave the reward to God.
Do good works, and exercise thyself in all virtue, and God shall give thee a great reward, in so far as thou hast kept thyself from judging thy neighbour, and hast not preferred thyself before him, for that would ill become thee. Dear children, be on your guard against this subtle self-seeking of nature, that ye do not fulfil good works of piety for the sake of any earthly reward; for that has somewhat of the nature of simony, a sin which the holy Church abhors above all others, and which is especially contrary to God's righteousness; for God is by his nature the end of all things, and thou settest in His stead, as the end of thy works, an evil, mean, perishable thing. We should seek God's righteousness, but this is contrary to His righteousness; therefore, children, beware of this evil principle within you, and seek the Kingdom of God and His righteousness; that is to say, seek God alone, who is the true Kingdom for which we and all men daily pray when we say the Lord's Prayer. Children, the Lord's Prayer is a mighty prayer: ye know not what ye pray for in it. God is Himself the Kingdom, and in that Kingdom He reigns in all intelligent creatures. Therefore what we ask for is God Himself with all His riches. In that Kingdom does God become our Father, and manifests there His fatherly faithfulness and fatherly power. And insomuch as He finds place in us to work, is His name hallowed, and magnified, and made known. That His name should be hallowed in us, means that He should reign in us, and accomplish through us His rightful work. And thus is His will done here on earth as it is in heaven; that is, when it is done in us as it is in Himself, in the Heaven which He Himself is. Oh! how often does man give himself up in will to God, and take himself back again as quickly, and fall away from God! But now begin again, and give thyself to Him afresh; yield thyself captive to the Divine Will in rightful allegiance, and trust thyself to the power of thy Father, who has all power and might, and whose presence thou hast so often and so plainly felt, and art yet made to feel every day and hour. Trust Him wholly, and seek His righteousness. For therein is His righteousness shown, that He abideth ever with those who heartily seek Him, and make Him their end, and give themselves up to Him. In such He reigns, and all vain care falls away of itself in those who thus keep close to God in true self-surrender.
Not that we should tempt God; for it is our duty to exercise a reasonable prudence in providing such things as are right, to the supply of our necessities and those of others, and profitable to ourselves and the community, and to see that everything be done in a discreet and seemly manner. But that which is your end when you sit and meditate in the church, should be likewise your end when you are busied in all the affairs of daily life; whether you work, or speak, or eat, or drink, waking and sleeping, do all to the glory of God, and not for thyself. For a noble man will make these perishing things of time a mere passage-way by which he will ascend through the creatures, not being held down by any selfish cleaving to them, up to his everlasting home, his eternal source from which he sprang at his creation.
Now some may ask, how we can say that God forsakes none that trust Him, seeing that He often permits good men to suffer great poverty and affliction. This He does, as Bishop Albert says, for three causes: the first, that He may try them, and see whether they utterly believe and trust Him; thus God often suffers men to be brought into distress that he may teach them submission, and then succours them that they may perceive His hand and His friendship and help; in order that their love and gratitude may increase from that time forth, and they may draw closer to God and become dearer to Him. Or again, God will by these troubles shorten their purification hereafter; or again, He sends them distress for a judgment on those who might relieve them and do it not. Therefore, children, seek first the Kingdom of God, which is God Himself, and nought else. When this cleaving to the creature is altogether cast off, then will the will of God be done on earth as it is in heaven, and so shall the Father have the power and the glory for ever in heaven, that is, in His Sons. For when man stands thus, having no end, nor purpose, nor desire but God, then does he himself become God's Kingdom, and God reigns in him. And then does the Eternal King sit on His royal throne, and command and govern in man.
This Kingdom is seated properly in the inmost recesses of the spirit. When, through all manner of exercises, the outward man has been converted into the inward, reasonable man, and thus the two, that is to say, the powers of the senses and the powers of the reason, are gathered up into the very centre of the man's being, -- the unseen depths of his spirit, wherein lies the image of God, -- and thus he flings himself into the Divine abyss, in which he dwelt eternally before he was created; then when God finds the man thus simply and nakedly turned towards Him, the Godhead bends down and descends into the depths of the pure, waiting soul, and transforms the created soul, drawing it up into the uncreated essence, so that the spirit becomes one with Him. Could such a man behold himself, he would see himself so noble that he would fancy himself God, and see himself a thousand times nobler than he is in himself, and would perceive all the thoughts and purposes, words and works, and have all the knowledge of all men that ever were.
Now thou shouldest look into the bottom of thy heart, and see whether thou wouldest fain enter into this Kingdom, and partake of this high dignity. Then were all thy cares over and gone for ever! This is the Kingdom which we are told to seek first; and this is righteousness, that we should set God before us, the rightful end of all our purposes in all our doings, and trust in Him. For as we can never love God too well, so we can never trust Him too much, if it be but the right sort of trust, that casts all care upon Him, as Peter bids us do.
Now St. Paul tells us, however, that we must be careful to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace. Children, that peace which is found in the spirit and the inner life is well worth our care, for in that peace lies the satisfaction of all our wants. In it the Kingdom of God is discovered and His righteousness is found. This peace a man should allow nothing to take from him, whatever betide, come weal or woe, honour or shame. But ever keep thy inward man in the bond of peace, which consists in the common love of all to all; and set before you the lovely example of our Lord Jesus Christ, and see how His love wrought, leading Him to endure greater sufferings than all the saints or all mankind ever endured. For He was all His life more utterly destitute of consolation than any man ever was, and ended it by the bitterest death that man ever died; and yet in His highest powers He was never less blessed than He is at this moment. Now those who are most truly followers of Him in emptiness of outward consolation, and in true poverty, inward and outward, having no refuge or stay, and in no wise clinging to the creature, or seeking themselves, these come to discover, in the truest and noblest sort, the Kingdom of God. And this is God's righteousness, that He will give us to find His Kingdom by treading in Christ's footsteps, in true self-surrender and willing poorness of spirit. That we may all so seek the Kingdom of God as truly to find it, may He help us. Amen.