'Thine is the Kingdom, and the power, and the glory.' Then the world and we shall be guided right and kept safe, and whatsoever is true and good shall rule, and the weak cause shall be the conquering, and all false fame shall fade like morning mist, and every honest desire and effort for man's blessedness shall have eternal honour. God is King; God is mighty; God's name shall have glory; then for us there is Hope invincible in spite of all evil. Courage to stand by His truth and His will, endless patience and endless charity, are our fitting robes, the livery of our King. Because He is our Father, He will deliver us and our brethren from all evil, and by His all-powerful Love will found His universal kingdom and get the glory due unto His name, the glory of loving and being loved by all His children.
II. The force of the doxology in its place here.
It reminds us that the ground of our confidence is in God's own character. We do not need to make ourselves worthy to receive. We cannot move Him, but He is self-moved, and so we do not need to be afraid. Nor is our prayer to be an attempt to bend His will.
Our confidence digs deep down to build on the rock of the ever-living God, whose 'is the Kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever.' We flee to Him for a refuge against ourselves. We bring nothing. We look to His own character, which will always be the same, and to His past, which is the type and prophecy for all His future. He is His own reason, His own motive, His own end.
When we ground our prayers on Him, then we touch ground, and in whatever weltering sea of trouble we may be buffeted, we have found the bottom and can stand firm.
But the 'Amen' which closes the doxology is not the empty form which it has now become. It means not only, So may it be! but also, So will it be! It is not only the last breathing of desire, but also the expression of assured expectancy and confidence; not merely be it so, but confident expression of assurance that it will be so.
How much of our prayer flies off into empty air because there is no expectation in it! How much which has no certainty of being answered in it! How much which is followed by no marking of the future to discern the answer! We should stand praying like some Grecian statue of an archer, with hand extended and lips parted and eye following the arrow of our prayer on its flight till it touches the mark. We have a right to be confident that we shall be heard. We should apply the Amen to all the petitions of the prayer. So it becomes a prophecy, and the Christian man is to live in the calm expectation that all the petitions will be accomplished. For the world they will be, for us they may be. It is for each of us to decide for ourselves whether they will be answered in and for us.
The place of the doxology here suggests that all prayer should lead to thankful contemplation of God's character.
We have seen how the prayer begins with contemplation, and then passes into supplication. Thus all prayer should end as it began. It has a circular motion, and starting from the highest heavens and coming down to earth, is thither drawn again and rests at the throne of God, whence it set out, like the strong Spirits before His throne who veil their faces while they gaze upon the glory, and then fly forth to help human sorrows and satisfy human hearts, and then on unwearied pinions winging their way to their first station, meekly sink their wings of flight, and veil their faces again with their wings. The rivers that flow through broad lands, bringing blessing and doing humble service in drinking-cup and domestic vessel, came in soft rain from heaven, and though their bright waves are browned with soil and made opaque with many a stain, yet their work done, they rest in the great ocean, and thence are drawn up once more to the clouds of heaven. So with our prayers; they ought to start from the contemplation of our God, and they ought to return thither again.
And as this is the last word of our prayers, so may we not say that it represents the perpetual form of fellowship with God? Prayers for bread, and pardon, and help, and deliverance, are for the wilderness. Prayers for the hallowing of His name, and the coming of His kingdom, and the doing of His will, are out of date when they are fulfilled; but for ever this voice shall rise before His throne, and that last new song, which shall ring with might as of thunder and sweetness as of many harps from the thousand times ten thousand, shall be but the expansion and the deepening of the praise of earth. Then 'every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth and under the earth and in the sea, shall be heard saying, "Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever."'
So we finish these meditations. I have felt all along how poorly my words served me to say even what I saw, and how poorly my vision saw into the clear depths of the divine prayer. But I hope that they may have helped you half as much as they have myself, to feel more strongly how all-comprehensive it is. I said at the beginning, and I repeat with more emphasis now, that there is everything in this prayer—God's relations to man, man's to God and his fellows, the foundation stones of Christian theology, of Christian morals, of Christian society, of Christian politics. There is help for the smallest wants and light for daily duties; there is strength for the hour of death and the day of judgment. There is the revelation of the timeless depths of our Father's heart; there is the prophecy of the furthest future for ourselves and our brethren. No man can exhaust it. Every age may find in its simple syllables lessons for their new perplexities and duties. It will not be outgrown in heaven. But, thank God, we do not need to exhaust its meaning in order to use it aright. Jesus interprets our prayers, and many a dumb yearning, and many a broken sob, and many a passionate fragment of a cry, and many an ignorant desire that may appear to us very unlike His pattern for all ages, will be accepted by Him. He inspires, presents and answers every prayer offered through Him to the Father in heaven. He counts the poorest prayer to be 'after this manner,' if it comes from a heart seeking the Father, owning its sin, longing dimly for deliverance and purity, and hoping through its tears in the great and loving tenderness of the Father in heaven who has sent His Son, that through Him we might cry Abba, Father.
'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.'—MATT. vi. 16-18.
Fasting has gone out of fashion now, but in Christ's time it went along with almsgiving and prayers, as a recognised expression of a religious life. The step from expression to ostentation is a short one, and the triple repetition here of almost the same words in regard to each of the three corruptions of religion, witnesses to our Lord's estimate of their commonness. We are exposed to them just as the Pharisees of His day were. If there is less fasting now than then, Christians still need to take care that they do not get up a certain 'sad countenance' for the sake of being seen of men, and because such is understood to be the proper thing for a religious man. They have to take care, too, not to parade the feelings, of which fasting used to be the expression, as, for instance, a sense of their own sinfulness, and sorrow for the nation's or the world's sins and sorrows. There are deep and sorrowful emotions in every real Christian heart, but the less the world is called in to see them, the purer and more blessed and purifying they will be. The man who has a sidelong eye to spectators in expressing his Christian (or any other) emotion, is very near being a hypocrite. Expressing emotion with reference to bystanders, is separated by a very thin line from feigning emotion. The sidelong glance will soon become a fixed gaze, seeing nothing else, and the purpose of fasting will slip out of sight. The man who only wishes to attract attention easily succeeds in that shabby aim, and has his reward, but misses all the true results, which are only capable of being realised when he who fasts is thinking of nothing but his own sin and his forgiving God.
TWO KINDS OF TREASURE
'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.'—MATT. vi. 19-20.
The connection with the previous part is twofold.
The warning against hypocritical fastings and formalism leads to the warning against worldly-mindedness and avarice. For what worldly-mindedness is greater than that which prostitutes even religious acts to worldly advantage, and is laying up treasure of men's good opinion on earth even while it shams to be praying to God? And there is a close connection which the history of every age has illustrated between formal religious profession and the love of money, which is the vice of the Church. Again, the promise of rewarding openly naturally leads on to the positive exhortation to make that reward our great object.
The connection with what follows is remarkable. The injunction and prohibition of the text refer to two species of the same genus, one the vice of avarice, the other the vice of anxiety.
I. The Two Treasures.
These are—on earth, all things which a man can possess;—in heaven, primarily God Himself, the reward which has been spoken of in previous verses, viz. God's love and approbation, a holy character, and all those spiritual and personal graces, beauties, perfections and joys which come to the good man from above.
This command and prohibition require of Christ's disciples—
1. A rectification of their judgment as to what is the true good of man.
(a) Sense and flesh tend to make us think the visible and material the best.
(b) Our peculiar position here in a great commercial centre powerfully reinforces this tendency.
(c) The prevailing current of this age is all in the same direction. The growth of luxury, the increase of wealth, and set of thought, threaten us with a period when not only religious thought will fail, but when all faith, enthusiasm, all poetry and philosophy, the very conception of God and duty, all idealism, all that is unseen, will be scouted among men. Naturalism does not fulfil its own boast of dealing with facts; there are more facts than can be seen. So the first thing is to settle it in our minds, in opposition to our own selves and to prevailing tendencies, that truth is better than money, that pure affections and moderate desires and a heart set on God are richer wealth than all external possessions.
2. Desire that follows the corrected judgment. It is one thing to know all this, another to wrench our wishes loose from earth.
3. A practical life that obeys the impulse of the desire. Christ's command and prohibition here do not refer only to a certain course of action, but to a certain motive and purpose in action, and to actions drawn from these. If we obey Christ we shall lead lives obviously different from those which are based upon an estimate which we are to reject; but the main thing is to live and work with an eye to the eternal, not the temporal, results of our doings. We are to administer our lives as God does His providence, using the temporal only as means to an end, the eternal. We are to live to be God-like, to love God, and be loved by Him.
There is here the idea of which we are somewhat too much afraid, that our life on earth adds to the rewards of blessedness in heaven. The idea of reward is emphatically and often inculcated in Scripture, however much a mistaken jealousy for 'the doctrines of Grace' may be chary of it. We need only recall such words as 'They shall walk with Me in white, for they are worthy'; or, 'Laying up in store for themselves a good foundation'; or, 'Thou shalt have treasure in heaven.' If people would only think of heaven less carnally, and would regard it as the perfection of holiness, there would be no difficulty in the notion of reward. Men get there what they have made themselves fit for here. 'Their works do follow them.'
II. The foes of the earthly, which are powerless against the heavenly.
The imagery implies a comparatively simple state of society and primitive treasures. Moths gnaw rich garments. Rust, or more properly corruption, would get into a man's barns and vineyards, hay-crops and fruits. Thieves would steal the hoard that he had laid by, for want of better investment. Or to generalise, corruption, the natural process of wearing away, natural enemies proper to each kind of possession, human agency which takes away all external possessions—these multifarious agents co-operate to render impossible the permanent possession of any 'treasure on earth.'
On the other hand, what a man has laid up in heaven, and what he is partially here, have no tendency to grow old. Men never weary of God, never find Him failing, never exhaust truth, never drink the love of God to the dregs, never find purity palling upon the taste, 'Age cannot wither, nor custom stale, "their" infinite variety.'
'Treasure in heaven' has no enemies which destroy it. Every earthly possession has its own foes, every earthly joy has its own destructive opposite; but nothing touches this treasure in heaven.
It has nothing to fear from men. Nobody can take it out of a man's soul but himself. The inmost circle of our life is inviolable. It is incorruptible and undefiled and fadeth not away, for it all comes from the eternal God and our eternal union to Him. He is our portion for ever.
III. The madness of fastening the heart down to earth.
The heart must be in heaven in order to find its true home. It is unnatural, contrary to the constitution of the 'heart' that it should be fettered to earth.
If it is, it will be restless and unsatisfied.
If it is, it will be at the mercy of all these enemies.
If it is, what will happen when the man is no longer on earth? 'What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?'
HEARTS AND TREASURES
'For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.'—MATT. vi. 21.
'Your treasure' is probably not the same as your neighbour's. It is yours, whether you possess it or not, because you love it. For what our Lord means here by 'treasure' is not merely money, or material good, but whatever each man thinks best, that which he most eagerly strives to attain, that which he most dreads to lose, that which, if he has, he thinks he will be blessed, that which, if he has it not, he knows he is discontented.
Now, if that is the meaning of 'treasure,' then this great saying of nay text is, as a matter of course, true. For what in each case makes the treasure is precisely the going out of the heart to grapple it, and it is just because the heart is there that a thing is the treasure.
Now, I need not do more than remind you, I suppose, that in Scripture 'heart' means a great deal more than it does in our modern usage, for we employ it as an expression for the affections, whereas the Bible takes it as including the whole inner man. For instance, we read, 'As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he'; and of 'the thoughts and intents of the heart.' So then the affections, as with us, but also thoughts, purposes, volitions, are all included in the word; and as one passage of Scripture says, 'Out of it are the issues of life.' It is the central reservoir, the central personality, the indivisible unit of the thinking, willing, feeling, loving person which I call 'myself.' So what Christ says is that where a man's treasure lies, not merely his affections will twine round it, but his whole self will be, as it were, implicated and intertwisted with it, so as that what befalls it will befall him.
Now, further, notice that this saying, so obviously true, is introduced by a 'for,' and that it is the broad basis on which rest the obligation and the wisdom of the double counsel which has preceded, on the one hand, the warning against choosing perishable and uncertain good for our treasure, and mixing ourselves up with that, and on the other the loving counsel to choose for ourselves the wealth which is perpetual, unprecarious, and certain.
So I think we may look at these words from a threefold point of view, and see in them a mirror that will show us ourselves, a dissuasive and a persuasive. Let us take these three aspects.
I. Here, then, is a mirror that a man may hold up before himself, and find out something about himself by it.
For, like other general statements of the same sort, you can turn this saying round about, and take it the other way, and not only say, as the text says, 'where your treasure is, there will your heart be also,' but, 'where your heart is, there is your treasure.' A man's real god is the thing that he counts best, and for which he works most earnestly, and which, as I said, he most longs to have, and trembles to think he will lose. That is his god, and his treasure, whatever his professions may be. Where your heart is, there is your treasure.
Now, of course, for the larger part of the lives of all of us, there are certain lines laid down by our circumstances, our trades, our various duties, on which the train of our thoughts and efforts must run. But the question is, When I am set free from the constraint of my daily avocations and pressing duties, and am at liberty to go as I like, where do I go? When the weight is taken off the sapling in the nursery garden, which has been hung on it to turn it into a weeping-tree, its elastic stem springs to the erect position. Where do I spring to when the weights are taken off? The mother bird will hover over her nest. Where her treasure is, there is her maternal instinct. The needle follows the drawing of the pole-star; the sunflower turns to the sun. 'Being let go, they went to their own company.' Where do you go? The reins laid upon the horse's neck, it will trot straight home to its stable; 'the ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib,' and our instincts are not less sure than theirs. You go 'home' when you are left to yourselves; where do you go?
We call ourselves Christians. If our treasure is in Christ, our hearts will turn to Him. And what does that mean? 'Hearts,' as I said, mean thoughts. Now, can you and I say, 'In the multitude of my thoughts within me, Thy comforts delight my soul'? Does there come stealing into my mind often and often the blessed contemplation of my wealth in Jesus Christ? The river of thought brings down, in its continual flow, much mire and sand. Does it bring any gold? Do I think about Christ, and find it to be my refreshment to do so? An old mystic said, 'If I can tell how often I have thought of God to-day, I have not thought of Him often enough.' 'Where your treasure is, there will your thoughts be also.'
The heart means love. Where do my affections turn when I am set free? The heart means the will. Is my will all saturated with, and so made pliant by, the will and commandment of Jesus Christ? If He is my treasure, then thoughts, affection, obedience will all turn to Him, and the current of my being, whatever may be the surface-ripple—ay, or the surface-storm—will be ever sliding surely, though it may be silently, towards Himself. Ah! brethren, if we would be honest with ourselves and look into this mirror, we should have cause to be ashamed, some of us, of our very profession of being Christians, and all of us to feel that we have far too much heaped up for ourselves other treasures and forgotten our true wealth, and we should all have to pray, 'Unite my heart to fear Thy name.' The Assyrians had a superstition that a demon, if he saw his own reflection in a mirror, would fly. I think if some of us professing Christians saw ourselves, as the looking-glass of my text might give us to see ourselves, we should shudderingly depart from that self, and seek to have a better self formed within us. 'Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.'
II. Now let me ask you to look at this saying, in the connection in which our Lord adduced it, as being a dissuasive.
He applies it to both branches of His previous advice. He had just said, 'Lay not up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal.' These are very primitive methods of depriving men of their treasures, arguing a comparatively simple state of society. The moth is that which destroys wealth in garments, which was a great part of ancient Eastern wealth. Rust rather means corrosion, or corruption, and applies to the other great kind of primitive wealth, in food and the stores of the harvest. And the thieves who dig through the mud wall of the house, and carry away the owners' little hoard of gold and silver, point also to a primitive condition of society. But whatever may be the special force of these different words, they suggest to us this, that all that is here has its own particular and special enemy which wars against its permanence. There are bacteria of all sorts, every vegetable has its own kind. Every growth has to fear the gnawing of some foe. And so every treasure that I can gather into my heart, excepting one, is threatened by some kind of danger.
No man can have lived as long in a great commercial community, as some of us have done, without knowing that there are a great many besides professional and so-called thieves in it, that take away the gold and silver. How many instances I can look back upon, of lords of the exchange and magnates of trade, who carved their names, as they thought, in imperishable marble on the doors of their warehouses, and then became bankrupt and fugitive, and were lost sight of. We all know the uncertainty of riches.
And are the other kinds of treasure that we cleave to more reliable? Have they not their moths and their rusts? Is it pleasure? Well, I say nothing about the diseases that fill the bones of many a young man who flings himself into dissipation; but I remind you of just this one thing, that all that pleasure tends to become flat, stale, and unprofitable. That which the poet said of his own class, that it 'begins in gladness, and thereof cometh in the end despondency and madness,' is true of every delight of sense, ay! and of more than sense, of taste and of intellect. As the Book of Proverbs has it, 'the end of that mirth is heaviness.'
Brethren, the moth and the rust claim as their prey all treasures except one. Is it love-pure, blessed, soul-filling, soul-resting as it is? Yes, and on a hundred walls in any city there hangs, and in a thousand hearts there hangs, that great picture where the feeble form of Love is trying to repel from entrance into the rose-covered portal of the home the inevitable and mighty shrouded form of Death. Is it culture? 'Whether there be tongues they shall cease; whether there be knowledge it shall vanish away.' The last illuminator and teacher, which is Death, antiquates and brushes aside, as of no use in the new conditions, most of the knowledge which men, wisely in a measure, but foolishly if exclusively, have sought to acquire for themselves here below.
And when the moth and the rust come, and the separating, bony fingers of the skeleton Death filch away at last your treasure, what about you who are wrapped up with it, implicated in it; so grown into it, and it into you, that to wrench you from it opens your veins, and you bleed to death? There is a pathetic inscription in one of the rural churches of this country, in which two parents record the death of their only child, and add, 'All our hopes were in this frail bark, and the shipwreck is total.' I have heard of a man that might have been saved from a foundering ship, but he lashed his money-bags round him, and he sank along with them. 'Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also,' pierced by all the wounds, gnawed by all the moths, rotted by all the corruption that affects it, and when the thief, the last great thief of all, comes, you will only have to say, 'They have taken away my gods, and what have I more?' And the answer out of the waste places of an echoing universe will be, 'Nothing! Nothing!'
III. Now, lastly, let me show you the persuasive in my text.
'Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also,' therefore, says Christ, 'lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through and steal.' If my treasure is in heaven it is secure. And oh! brethren, we need for our blessedness, we need for our rest, we need for our peace and joy, to know that the thing which we count best shall never be taken away from us, and we cannot have that certainty in regard to any treasure except the treasure that is in God. All outward things which we say we possess are incompletely possessed, because they remain outside us. However intertwined with them, we are separate from them, and we are just so much intertwined with them that the separation from them is agony, even if it is not death. What we need is to be so incorporated with, and infused into, what is our treasure, that we are quite sure that as long as we last it will last, and that nothing can rend it from us. 'I bear all my goods with me,' said the old heathen. We should be able to say more than that. I carry all my good in me, because my good is God, who is in the heavens, and though in the heavens, dwells in the hearts that love Him. Then in all changes, 'life, or death, or things present or things to come, height or depth, or any other creature,' we can afford to smile on, and say: 'You cannot take my wealth from me, for I am in God, and God is in me.'
Further, if our hearts are in heaven, then heaven will be in our hearts, and here we shall know the joy and the peace that come from 'sitting in heavenly places in Christ Jesus,' even whilst on earth. There is no blessedness, no stable repose, no victorious independence of the buffets and blows of life, except this, that my heart is lifted above them all, and, I was going to say, is inhaled and sucked into the life of Jesus Christ. Then if my heart is where my treasure is, and He is my treasure,' my life is hid with Christ in God.' If my heart is in heaven, heaven is in my heart.
Further, my text is a promise as well as a statement of a present fact. Where your treasure now is there will your whole self one day be. A man who has by God's grace, through faith and love and the wise use of things temporal, chosen God his chief good, and possessed in some degree the good which he has chosen, even Jesus Christ in his heart, that man bears in himself the pledge and the foretaste of eternal life. So the old psalmist found out, who lived in a time when that future world was shrouded in far thicker clouds of darkness than it is to us, for when he had risen to the height of saying, 'My flesh and my heart faileth, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion for ever,' he immediately sprang to this assurance—an assurance of faith before it was a fact certified by Revelation—'Thou wilt guide me by Thy counsel, and afterwards receive me to glory.' The possession of Christ for our treasure, which possession always follows on our estimating Him as such, and desiring to have Him, that possession bears in its bosom the germ of the assurance that, whatever befalls my physical life, I shall not be less immortal than my treasure, and that where my heart to-day, by aspiration and desire and faith and love, has built its nest, thither I shall follow in His own time. They that have laid up treasure in heaven will at last be brought to the enjoyment of the treasure that they have laid up, and to the possession of 'the inheritance that is incorruptible and undefiled, and that fadeth not away.'
'Ye cannot serve God and Mammon. 25. Therefore I say unto you. Take no thought for your life.'—Matt. vi. 24-25.
Foresight and foreboding are two very different things. It is not that the one is the exaggeration of the other, but the one is opposed to the other. The more a man looks forward in the exercise of foresight, the less he does so in the exercise of foreboding. And the more he is tortured by anxious thoughts about a possible future, the less clear vision has he of a likely future, and the less power to influence it. When Christ here, therefore, enjoins the abstinence from thought for our life and for the future, it is not for the sake of getting away from the pressure of a very unpleasant command that we say, He does not mean to prevent the exercise of wise and provident foresight and preparation for what is to come. When this English version of ours was made, the phrase 'taking thought' meant solicitous anxiety, and that is the true rendering and proper meaning of the original. The idea is, therefore, that here there is forbidden for a Christian, not the careful preparation for what is likely to come, not the foresight of the storm and taking in sail while yet there is time, but the constant occupation and distraction of the heart with gazing forward, and fearing and being weakened thereby; or to come back to words already used, foresight is commanded, and, therefore, foreboding is forbidden. My object now is to endeavour to gather together by their link of connection, the whole of those precepts which follow my text to the close of the chapter; and to try to set before you, in the order in which they stand, and in their organic connection with each other, the reasons which Christ gives for the absence of anxious care from our minds.
I mass them all into three. If you notice, the whole section, to the end of the chapter, is divided into three parts, by the threefold repetition of the injunction, 'Take no thought.' '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.' The reason for the command as given in this first section follows:—Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?' The expansion of that thought runs on to the close of the thirtieth verse. Then there follows another division or section of the whole, marked by the repetition of the command, 'Take no thought,'—saying, 'What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?' The reason given for the command in this second section is—'(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 then follows a third section, marked by the third repetition of the command, 'Take no thought—for the morrow.' The reason given for the command in this third section is—'for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself.'
Now if we try to generalise the lessons that lie in these three great divisions of the section, we get, I think, first,—anxious thought is contrary to all the lessons of nature, which show it to be unnecessary. That is the first, the longest section. Then, secondly, anxious thought is contrary to all the lessons of revelation or religion, which show it to be heathenish. And lastly, anxious thought is contrary to the whole scheme of Providence, which shows it to be futile. You do not need to be anxious. It is wicked to be anxious. It is of no use to be anxious. These are the three points,—anxious care is contrary to the lessons of Nature; contrary to the great principles of the Gospel; and contrary to the scheme of Providence. Let us try now simply to follow the course of thought in our Lord's illustration of these three principles.
I. The first is the consideration of the teaching of Nature. '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?' And then comes the illustration of the fowls of the air and the lilies of the field.
The whole of these verses fall into these general thoughts: You are obliged to trust God for your body, for its structure, for its form, for its habitudes, and for the length of your being; you are obliged to trust Him for the foundation—trust Him for the superstructure. You are obliged to trust Him, whether you will or not, for the greater—trust Him gladly for the less. You cannot help being dependent. After all your anxiety, it is only directed to the providing of the things that are needful for the life; the life itself, though it is a natural thing, comes direct from God's hand; and all that you can do, with all your carking cares, and laborious days, and sleepless nights, is but to adorn a little more beautifully or a little less beautifully, the allotted span—but to feed a little more delicately or a little less delicately, the body which God has given you. What is the use of being careful for food and raiment, when down below these necessities there lies the awful question—for the answer to which you have to hang helpless, in implicit, powerless dependence upon God,—Shall I live, or shall I die? shall I have a body instinct with vitality, or a body crumbling amidst the clods of the valley? After all your work, your anxiety gets but such a little way down; like some passing shower of rain, that only softens an inch of the hard-baked surface of the soil, and has no power to fructify the seed that lies feet below the reach of its useless moisture. Anxious care is foolish; for far beyond the region within which your anxieties move, there is the greater region in which there must be entire dependence upon God. 'Is not the life more than meat? Is not the body more than raiment?' You must trust Him for these; you may as well trust Him for all the rest.
Then, again, there comes up this other thought: Not only are you compelled to exercise unanxious dependence in regard to a matter which you cannot influence—the life of the body—and that is the greater; but, still further, God gives you that. Very well: God gives you the greater; and God's great gifts are always inclusive of God's little gifts. When He bestows a thing, He bestows all the consequences of the thing as well. When He gives a life, He swears by the gift, that He will give what is needful to sustain it. God does not stop half way in any of His bestowments. He gives royally and liberally, honestly and sincerely, logically and completely. When He bestows a life, therefore, you may be quite sure that He is not going to stultify His own gift by retaining unbestowed anything that is wanted for its blessing and its power. You have had to trust Him for the greater; trust Him for the less. He has given you the greater—no doubt He will give you the less. 'The life is more than meat, and the body than raiment.' 'Which of you, by taking thought, can add one cubit unto his stature? And why take ye thought for raiment?'
Then there is another thought. Look at God's ways of doing with all His creatures. The animate and the inanimate creation are appealed to, the fowls of the air and the lilies of the field, the one in reference to food and the other in reference to clothing, which are the two great wants already spoken of by Christ in the previous verses. I am not going to linger at all on the exquisite beauty of these illustrations. Every sensitive heart and pure eye dwell upon them with delight. The 'fowls of the air,' the lilies of the field,' 'they toil not, neither do they spin'; and then, with what an eye for the beauty of God's universe,—'Solomon, in all his glory, was not arrayed like one of these!' Now, what is the force of this consideration? It is this—There is a specimen, in an inferior creation, of the divine care which you can trust, you men who are 'better than they.' And not only that:—There is an instance, not only of God's giving things that are necessary, but of God's giving more, lavishing beauty upon the flowers of the field. I do not think that we sufficiently dwell upon the moral and spiritual uses of beauty in God's universe. That everywhere His loving, wooing hand should touch the flower into grace, and deck all barren places with glory and with fairness—what does that reveal to us about Him? It says to us, He does not give scantily: it is not the mere measure of what is wanted, absolutely needed, to support a bare existence, that God bestows. He 'taketh pleasure in the prosperity of His servants.' Joy, and love, and beauty, belong to Him; and the smile upon His face that comes from the contemplation of His own fairness flung out into His glorious creation, is a prophecy of the gladness that comes into His heart from His own holiness and more ethereal beauty adorning the spiritual creatures whom He has made to flash back His likeness. The flowers of the field are so clothed that we may learn the lesson that it is a fair Spirit, and a loving Spirit, and a bountiful Spirit, and a royal Heart, that presides over the bestowments of creation, and allots gifts to men.
But notice further, how much of the force of what Christ says here depends on the consideration of the inferiority of these creatures who are thus blessed; and also notice what are the particulars of that inferiority. We read that verse, 'They sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns,' as if it marked out a particular in which their free and untoilsome lives were superior to ours. It is the very opposite. It is part of the characteristics that mark them as lower than we, that they have not to work for the future. They reap not, they sow not, they gather not;—are ye not much better than they? Better in this, amongst other things, that God has given us the privilege of influencing the future by our faithful toil, by the sweat of our brow and the labour of our hands. These creatures labour not, and yet they are fed. And the lesson for us is—much more may we, whom God has blessed with the power of work, and gifted with force to mould the future, be sure that He will bless the exercise of the prerogative by which He exalts us above inferior creatures, and makes us capable of toil. You can influence to-morrow. What you can influence by work, fret not about, for you can work. What you cannot influence by work, fret not about, for it is vain. 'They toil not, neither do they spin.' You are lifted above them because God has given you hands that can grasp the tool or the pen. Man's crown of glory, as well as man's curse and punishment, is, 'In the sweat of thy brow shalt thou eat bread.' So learn what you have to do with that great power of anticipation. It is meant to be the guide of wise work. It is meant to be the support for far-reaching, strenuous action. It is meant to elevate us above mere living from hand to mouth; to ennoble our whole being by leading to and directing toil that is blessed because there is no anxiety in it, labour that will be successful since it is according to the will of that God who has endowed us with the power of putting it forth.
Then there comes another inferiority. 'Your heavenly Father feedeth them.' They cannot say 'Father!' and yet they are fed. You are above them by the prerogative of toil. You are above them by the nearer relation which you sustain to your Father in heaven. He is their Maker, and lavishes His goodness upon them: He is your Father, and He will not forget His child. They cannot trust: you can. They might be anxious, if they could look forward, for they know not the hand that feeds them; but you can turn round, and recognise the source of all blessings. So, doubly ought you to be guarded from care by the lesson of that free joyful Nature that lies round about you, and to say, 'I have no fear of famine, nor of poverty, nor of want; for He feedeth the ravens when they cry. There is no reason for distrust. Shame on me if I am anxious, for every lily of the field blows its beauty, and every bird of the air carols its song without sorrowful foreboding, and yet there is no Father in heaven to them!'
And the last Inferiority is this; 'To-day it is, and to-morrow it is cast into the oven.' Their little life is thus blessed and brightened. Oh, how much greater will be the mercies that belong to them who have a longer life upon earth, and who never die! The lesson is not—These are the plebeians in God's universe, and you are the aristocracy, and you may trust Him; but it is—They, by their inferior place, have lesser and lower wants, wants but for a bounded being, wants that stretch not beyond earthly existence, and that for a brief span. They are blessed in the present, for the oven to-morrow saddens not the blossoming to-day. You have nobler necessities and higher longings, wants that belong to a soul that never dies, to a nature which may glow with the consciousness that God is your Father, wants which 'look before and after,' therefore, you are 'better than they'; and 'shall He not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?'
II. And now, in the second place, there is here another general line of considerations tending to dispel all anxious care—the thought that it is contrary to all the lessons of Religion, or Revelation, which show it to be heathenish.
There are three clauses devoted to the illustration of this thought: 'After all these things do the Gentiles seek'; 'your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things'; 'seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.'
The first clause contains the principle, that solicitude for the future is at bottom heathen worldly-mindedness. The heathen tendency in us all leads to an overestimate of material good, and it is a question of circumstances whether that shall show itself in heaping up earthly treasures, or in anxious care. These are the same plant, only the one is growing in the tropics of sunny prosperity, and the other in the arctic zone of chill penury. The one is the sin of the worldly-minded rich man, the other is the sin of the worldly-minded poor man. The character is the same in both, turned inside out! And, therefore, the words, 'ye cannot serve God and Mammon,' stand in this chapter in the centre between our Lord's warning against laying up treasures on earth, and His warning against being full of cares for earth. He would show us thereby that these two apparently opposite states of mind in reality spring from that one root, and are equally, though differently, 'serving Mammon.' We do not sufficiently reflect upon that. We say, perhaps, this intense solicitude of ours is a matter of temperament, or of circumstances. So it may be: but the Gospel was sent to help us to cure worldly temperaments, and to master circumstances. But the reason why we are troubled and careful about the things of this life lies here, that our hearts have taken an earthly direction, that we are at bottom heathenish in our lives and in our desires. It is the very characteristic of the Gentile (that is to say, of the heathen) that earth should bound his horizon. It is the very characteristic of the worldly man that all his anxieties on the one hand, and all his joys on the other, should be 'cribbed, cabined and confined' within the narrow sphere of the visible. When a Christian is living in the foreboding of some earthly sorrow coming down upon him, and is feeling as if there would be nothing left if some earthly treasure were swept away, is that not, in the very root of it, idolatry—worldly-mindedness? Is it not clean contrary to all our profession that for us 'there is none upon earth that we desire besides Thee'? Anxious care rests upon a basis of heathen worldly-mindedness.
Anxious care rests upon a basis, too, of heathen misunderstanding of the character of God. 'Your heavenly Father knoweth that you have need of all these things.' The heathen thought of God is that He is far removed from our perplexities, either ignorant of our struggles, or unsympathising with them. The Christian has the double armour against anxiety—the name of the Father, and the conviction that the Father's knowledge is co-extensive with the Father's love. He who calls us His children thoroughly understands what His children want. And so, anxiety is contrary to the very name by which we have learned to call God, and to the pledge of pitying care and perfect knowledge of our frame which lies in the words 'our Father.' Our Father is the name of God, and our Father intensely cares for us, and lovingly does all things for us.
And then, still further, Christ points out here, not only what is the real root of this solicitous care—something very like worldly-mindedness, heathen worldly-mindedness; but He points out what is the one counterpoise of it—'seek first the kingdom of God.' It is of no use only to tell men that they ought to trust, that the birds of the air might teach them to trust, that the flowers of the field might preach resignation and confidence to them. It is of no use to attempt to scold them into trust, by telling them that distrust is heathenish. You must fill the heart with a supreme and transcendent desire after the one supreme object, and then there will be no room or leisure left for anxious care after the lesser. Have inwrought into your being, Christian man, the opposite of that heathen over-regard for earthly things. 'Seek first the kingdom of God.' Let all your spirit be stretching itself out towards that divine and blessed reality, longing to be a subject of that kingdom, and a possessor of that righteousness; and 'the cares that infest the day' will steal away from out of the sacred pavilion of your believing spirit. Fill your heart with desires after what is worthy of desire; and the greater having entered in, all lesser objects will rank themselves in the right place, and the 'glory that excelleth' will outshine the seducing brightness of the paltry present. Oh! it is want of love, it is want of earnest desire, it is want of firm conviction that God, God only, God by Himself, is enough for me, that makes me careful and troubled. And therefore, if I could only attain unto that sublime and calm height of perfect conviction, that He is sufficient for me, that He is with me for ever,—the satisfying object of my desires and the glorious reward of my searchings,—let life and death come as they may, let riches, poverty, health, sickness, all the antitheses of human circumstances storm down upon me in quick alternation, yet in them all I shall be content and peaceful. God is beside me, and His presence brings in its train whatsoever things I need. You cannot cast out the sin of foreboding thoughts by any power short of the entrance of Christ and His love. The blessings of faith and felt communion leave no room nor leisure for anxiety.
III. Finally, Christ here tells us, that thought for the morrow is contrary to all the scheme of Providence, which shows it to be vain. 'The morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.'
I interpret these two clauses as meaning this: To-morrow has anxieties enough of its own, alter and in spite of all the anxieties about it to-day by which you try to free it from care when it comes. Every day—every day will have its evil, have it to the end. And every day will have evil enough to task all the strength that a man has to cope with it. So that it just comes to this: Anxiety,—it is all vain. After all your careful watching for the corner of the heaven where the cloud is to come from, there will be a cloud, and it will rise somewhere, but you never know beforehand from what quarter. The morrow shall have its own anxieties. After all your fortifying of the castle of your life, there will be some little postern left unguarded, some little weak place in the wall left uncommanded by a battery; and there, where you never looked for him, the inevitable invader will come in. After all the plunging of the hero in the fabled waters that made him invulnerable, there was the little spot on the heel, and the arrow found its way there? There is nothing certain to happen, says the proverb, but the unforeseen. To-morrow will have its cares, spite of anything that anxiety and foreboding can do. It is God's law of Providence that a man shall be disciplined by sorrow; and to try to escape from that law by any forecasting prudence, is utterly hopeless, and madness.
And what does your anxiety do? It does not empty to-morrow, brother, of its sorrows; but, ah! it empties to-day of its strength. It does not enable you to escape the evil, it makes you unfit to cope with it when it comes. It does not bless to-morrow, but it robs to-day. For every day has its own burden. Sufficient for each day is the evil which properly belongs to it. Do not add to-morrow's to to-day's. Do not drag the future into the present. The present has enough to do with its own proper concerns. We have always strength to bear the evil when it comes. We have not strength to bear the foreboding of it. 'As thy day, thy strength shall be.' In strict proportion to the existing exigencies will be the God-given power; but if you cram and condense to-day's sorrows by experience, and to-morrow's sorrows by anticipation, into the narrow round of the one four-and-twenty hours, there is no promise that 'as that day thy strength shall be.' God gives us (His name be praised!)—God gives us power to bear all the sorrows of His making; but He does not give us power to bear the sorrows of our own making, which the anticipation of sorrow most assuredly is.
Then: contrary to the lessons of Nature, contrary to the teachings of Religion, contrary to the scheme of Providence; weakening your strength, distracting your mind, sucking the sunshine out of every landscape, and casting a shadow over all the beauty—the curse of our lives is that heathenish, blind, useless, faithless, needless anxiety in which we do indulge. Look forward, my brother, for God has given you that royal and wonderful gift of dwelling in the future, and bringing all its glories around your present. Look forward, not for life, but for heaven; not for food and raiment, but for the righteousness after which it is blessed to hunger and thirst, and wherewith it is blessed to be clothed. Not for earth, but for heaven, let your forecasting gift of prophecy come into play. Fill the present with quiet faith, with patient waiting, with honest work, with wise reading of God's lessons of nature, of providence, and of grace, all of which say to us, Live in God's future, that the present may be bright: work in the present, that the future may be certain! They may well look around in expectation, sunny and unclouded, of a blessed time to come, whose hearts are already 'fixed, trusting in the Lord.' He to whom there are a present Christ, and a present Spirit, and a present Father, and a present forgiveness, and a present redemption, may well live expatiating in all the glorious distance of the unknown to come, sending out (if I may use such a figure) from his placid heart over all the weltering waters of this lower world, the peaceful seeking dove, his meek hope, that shall come back again from its flight with some palm-branch broken from the trees of Paradise between its bill. And he that has no such present has a future dark, chaotic, a heaving, destructive ocean; and over it there goes for ever—black-pinioned, winging its solitary and hopeless flight—the raven of his anxious thoughts, which finds no place to rest, and comes back again to the desolate ark with its foreboding croak of evil in the present and evil in the future. Live in Christ, 'the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever'; and His presence shall make all your past, present, and future—memory, enjoyment, and hope—to be bright and beautiful, because all are centred in Him.
JUDGING, ASKING, AND GIVING
'Judge not, that ye be not judged. 2. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. 3. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? 4. Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye! 5. Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye. 6. Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you. 7. Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: 8. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. 9. Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? 10. Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? 11. If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask Him? 12. Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.'—MATT. vii. 1-12.
I. How can we help 'judging,' and why should we not 'judge'? The power of seeing into character is to be coveted and cultivated, and the absence of it makes simpletons, not saints. Quite true: but seeing into character is not what Jesus is condemning here. The 'judging' of which He speaks sees motes in a brother's eye. That is to say, it is one-sided, and fixes on faults, which it magnifies, passing by virtues. Carrion flies that buzz with a sickening hum of satisfaction over sores, and prefer corruption to soundness, are as good judges of meat as such critics are of character. That Mephistophelean spirit of detraction has wide scope in this day. Literature and politics, as well as social life with its rivalries, are infested by it, and it finds its way into the church and threatens us all. The race of fault-finders we have always with us, blind as moles to beauties and goodness, but lynx-eyed for failings, and finding meat and drink in proclaiming them in tones of affected sorrow. How flagrant a breach of the laws of the kingdom this temper implies, and how grave an evil it is, though thought little of, or even admired as cleverness and a mark of a very superior person, Christ shows us by this earnest warning, embedded among His fundamental moral teachings.
He points out first how certainly that disposition provokes retaliation. Who is the Judge that judges us as we do others? Perhaps it is best to say that both the divine and the human estimates are included in the purposely undefined expression. Certainly both are included in fact. For a carping spirit of eager fault-finding necessarily tinges people's feelings towards its possessor, and he cannot complain if the severe tests which he applied to others are used on his own conduct. A cynical critic cannot expect his victims to be profoundly attached to him, or ready to be lenient to his failings. If he chooses to fight with a tomahawk, he will be scalped some day, and the bystanders will not lament profusely. But a more righteous tribunal than that of his victims condemns him. For in God's eyes the man who covers not his neighbour's faults with the mantle of charity has not his own blotted out by divine forgiveness.
This spirit is always accompanied by ignorance of one's own faults, which makes him who indulges in it ludicrous. So our Lord would seem to intend by the figure of the mote and the beam. It takes a great deal of close peering to see a mote; but the censorious man sees only the mote, and sees it out of scale. No matter how bright the eye, though it be clear as a hawk's, its beauty is of no moment to him. The mote magnified, and nothing but the mote, is his object; and he calls this one-sided exaggeration 'criticism,' and prides himself on the accuracy of his judgment. He makes just the opposite mistake in his estimate of his own faults, if he sees them at all. We look at our neighbour's errors with a microscope, and at our own through the wrong end of a telescope. We see neither in their real magnitude, and the former mistake is sure to lead to the latter. We have two sets of weights and measures: one for home use, the other for foreign. Every vice has two names; and we call it by its flattering and minimising one when we commit it, and by its ugly one when our neighbour does it. Everybody can see the hump on his friend's shoulders, but it takes some effort to see our own. David was angry enough at the man who stole his neighbour's ewe lamb, but quite unaware that he was guilty of a meaner, crueller theft. The mote can be seen; but the beam, big though it is, needs to be 'considered.' So it often escapes notice, and will surely do so, if we are yielding to the temptation of harsh judgment of others. Every one may be aware of faults of his own very much bigger than any that he can see in another, for each of us may fathom the depth of our own sinfulness in motive and unspoken, unacted thought, while we can see only the surface acts of others.
Our Lord points out, in verse 4, a still more subtle form of this harsh judgment, when it assumes the appearance of solicitude for the improvement of others, and He thus teaches us that all honest desire to help in the moral reformation of our neighbours must be preceded by earnest efforts at mending our own conduct. If we have grave faults of our own undetected and unconquered, we are incapable either of judging or of helping our brethren. Such efforts will be hypocritical, for they pretend to come from genuine zeal for righteousness and care for another's good, whereas their real root is simply censorious exaggeration of a neighbour's faults; they imply that the person affected with such a tender care for another's eyes has his own in good condition. A blind guide is bad enough, but a blind oculist is a still more ridiculous anomaly. Note, too, that the result of clearing our own vision is beautifully put as being, not ability to see, but ability to cure, our fellows. It is only the experience of the pain of casting out a darling evil, and the consciousness of God's pitying mercy as given to us, that makes the eye keen enough, and the hand steady and gentle enough, to pull out the mote. It is a delicate operation, and one which a clumsy operator may make very painful, and useless, after all. A rough finger or a harsh spirit makes success impossible.
II. Verse 6 comes in singular juxtaposition with the preceding warning against uncharitable judgments. Christ's calling men dogs and swine does not sound like obeying His own precept. But the very shock which the words give at first hearing is part of their value. There are men whom Jesus, for all His gentleness, has to estimate thus. His pitying eyes were not blind to truth. It was no breach of infinite charity in Him to see facts, and to give them their right names; and His previous precept does not bid us shut our eyes, or give up the use of common sense. This verse limits the application of the preceding one, and inculcates prudence, tact, and discernment of character, as no less essential to His servants than the sweet charity, slow to suspect and sorrowful to expose a brother's fault. The fact that His gentle lips used such words may well make us shudder as we think of the deforming of human nature into pure animalism which some men achieve, and which is possible for all.
The inculcation of discretion in the presentation of the truth may easily be exaggerated into a doctrine of reserve which is more Jesuitical than Christian. Even when guarded and limited, it may seem scarcely in harmony with the commission to preach the gospel to every creature, or with the sublime confidence that God's word finds something to appeal to in every heart, and has power to subdue the animal in every man. But the divergence is only apparent. The most expansive zeal is to be guided by prudence, and the most enthusiastic confidence in the universal power of the gospel does not take leave of common sense. There are people who will certainly be repelled, and perhaps stirred to furious antagonism to the gospel and its messengers, if they are not approached with discretion. It is bad to hide the treasure in a napkin; it is quite as bad to fling it down before some people without preparation. Jesus Himself locked His lips before Herod, although the curious ruler asked many questions; and we have sometimes to remember that there are people who 'will not hear the word,' and who must first 'be won without the word.' Heavy rains run off hard-baked earth. It must first be softened by a gentle drizzle. Luther once told this fable: 'The lion made a great feast, and he invited all the beasts, and among the rest, a sow. When all manner of costly dishes were set before the guests, the sow asked, "Have you no bran?" Even so, said he, we preachers set forth the most dainty dishes,—the forgiveness of sins, and the grace of God; but they turn up their snouts, and grub for guilders.'
This precept is one side of the truth. The other is the adaptation of the gospel to all men, and the obligation on us to preach it to all. We can only tell most men's disposition towards it by offering it to them, and we are not to be in a hurry to conclude that men are dogs and swine.
III. It may be a question whether, in verse 8, the emphasis is to be laid on 'every one' or on 'that asketh,' or, in other words, whether the saying is an assurance that the universal law will be followed in our case, or a statement of the universal condition without which no receiving is possible, and, least of all, the receiving of the gifts of the kingdom by its subjects. In either case, this verse gives the reason for the preceding exhortation. Then follows the tender illustration in which the dim-sighted love of earthly fathers is taken as a parable of the all-wise tenderness and desire to bestow which move the hand of the giving God. There is some resemblance between an Eastern loaf and a stone, and some between a fish and a serpent. However imperfect a father's love, he will neither be cruel enough to cheat his unsuspecting child with what looks like an answer to his wish but is useless or hurtful, nor foolish enough to make a mistake. All human relationships are in some measure marred by the faults of those who sustain them. What a solemn attestation of universal sinfulness is in these words of Christ's, and how calmly He separates Himself by His sinlessness from us! I do not know that there is anywhere a stronger scriptural proof of these two truths than this one incidental clause, 'ye, being evil.' I wonder whether the people who pit the Sermon on the Mount against evangelical Christianity are ready to take this part of it into their creeds. It is noteworthy, also, that the emphasis is laid, not on the earthly father's willingness, but on his knowing how to give good gifts. Our Lord seems to think that He need not assure us of the plain truth that of course our Father in heaven is willing, just because He is our Father, to give us all good; but He heartens us with the assurance that His love is wisdom, and that He cannot make any mistakes. There are no stones mingled with our bread, nor any serpents among the fish. He gives good, and nothing but good.
IV. The great precept which closes the section is not only to be taken as an inference from the immediately preceding context, but as the summing up of all the duties to our neighbours, in which Christ has been laying down the law of the kingdom from Matthew v. 17. This general reference of the 'therefore' is confirmed by the subsequent clause, 'this is the law and the prophets'; the summing up of the whole past revelation of the divine will, and therefore in accordance with our Lord's previous exposition of the relation between His new law and that former one. As Luther puts it in his vigorous, homely way, 'With these words He now closes His instructions given in these three chapters, and ties it all up in a little bundle.'
But a connection may also be traced with the preceding paragraph. There our desires were treated as securing God's corresponding gifts. Here our desires, when turned to men, are regarded, not as securing their corresponding conduct, but as obliging us to action. By taking our wishes as the rule of our dealings with others, we shall be like God, who in regard to His best gifts takes our wishes as the rule of His dealings with us. Our desires sent heavenward procure blessings for us; sent earthward, they prescribe our blessing of others. That is a startling turn to give to our claims on our fellows. It rests on the principle that every man has equal rights, therefore we ought not to look for anything from others which we are not prepared to extend to others. A. should give B. whatever A. thinks B. should give him. Our error is in making ourselves our own centre, and thinking more of our claims on others than of our obligations to them. Christ teaches us that these are one. Such a principle applied to our lives would wonderfully pull down our expectations and lift up our obligations. It is really but another way of putting the law of loving our neighbours as ourselves. If observed, it would revolutionise society. Nothing short of it is the law of the kingdom, and the duty of all who call themselves Christ's subjects.
This is the inmost meaning, says Jesus, of the law and the prophets. All former revelations of the divine will in regard to men's relations to men are summed in this. Of course, this does not mean, as some people would like to make it mean, that morality is to take the place of religion, but simply that all the precepts touching conduct to men are gathered up, for the subjects of the kingdom, in this one. 'Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.'
'Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.'—MATT, vii. 7.
In the letter to the church at Laodicea, we read, 'Behold, I stand at the door and knock.' The image is there employed to set forth the tenderness and patience of the exalted Christ, who condescends to sue for entrance into every human heart, and comes in with His hands full of blessing. Now, it is very striking, I think, that the same symbol is employed in this text in reference to our duty. There is such a thing as our knocking at some door for entrance and blessing. What is that knocking?
The answer which is popularly given, I suppose, is that all these three injunctions in our text, 'Ask—seek—knock,' are but diverse aspects of the one exhortation to prayerfulness. And that may, perhaps, exhaust their meaning; but I am rather disposed to think that it is possible to trace a difference and a climax in them. To ask is obviously to apply to a person who can give, and that is prayer. To seek is not, as I think, quite the same thing, but rather expresses the idea of effort, the personal effort which ought to accompany and will accompany all real prayer. And to knock possibly adds to the conception of prayer and of effort, the idea, as common to both of them, of a certain persistency and continuity born of earnestness. So that we have here, as I think, a threefold statement of the conditions under which certain great blessings are given, and a threefold exhortation as to our Christian duty.
I. In considering these words I would first inquire to whom such exhortations are rightly addressed.
Now, it is to be remembered that these words occur in that great discourse of our Lord's which is called the Sermon on the Mount. And for the right understanding of that great embodiment of Christian morality, and of its relations to the whole body of Christian truth, it is, I think, very needful to remember that the Sermon on the Mount is addressed to Christ's disciples, that it is the promulgation of the laws of the kingdom by the King for His subjects; that it presupposes discipleship and entrance into the kingdom, and has not a word to say about the method of entrance. So that, though very many of its exhortations are but the republication in nobler form of the common laws of morality which are binding upon all men, and may be addressed to all men, the form in which they appear in that Sermon, the connection in which they stand, the height to which they are elevated, and the motives by which they are enforced, all limit their application to men who are truly followers and disciples of Jesus Christ. And this consideration especially bears on these words of our text.
The first exhortation which Christianity addresses to a man is not 'ask.' The first duty that a man has to discharge in regard to Christ and His grace, and the revelation that is in Him, is neither to seek nor to knock, but it is to take and to open. Christ knocks first, and when He knocks we should say, 'Come in, Thou blessed of the Lord.'
To bid a man pray, when he should be exhorted to believe, is to darken the clearness of the divine counsel, and to narrow the fulness of the divine grace. God does not wait to be asked for His mercy and His pardon. Like the dew on the grass, He 'tarrieth not for man, nor waiteth for the sons of men.' Before we call, He answers; and to say to people, 'Pray!' 'Seek!' 'Knock!' when the one thing to say is 'Take the gifts that God sent you before you asked for them,' is folly, and has often led to a course of painful and profitless struggling, which was all unnecessary and wide of the mark. It is like telling a man to pray for rain when the reservoirs at his side are full, and every flower is bending its chalice, charged with the blessing. It is needless to tell a man to seek for the treasure that is lying there at his side, and to which he has only to turn his eyes and stretch out his hands. It is folly to exhort a man to beat at a door that is standing wide open. The door of God's grace is thus wide open, and the treasure of God's mercy has come down, and the rain of God's forgiving love has dropped upon all of us, and made the wilderness to rejoice.
And so my message to some of you, dear brethren, is to say that you have nothing whatever to do, primarily, with this text. You have neither to ask, nor to seek, nor to knock, but to listen to Him, whose gentle hand knocks at your hearts, and to open the door and let Him come in with His grace and mercy.
II. And now, in the next place, let me ask you to consider in what region of life these promises are true.
They sound at first as if they were dead in the teeth of the facts of life. Is there any region of experience in which to ask is to receive, to seek is to find, and in which every door flies open at our touch? If there be, it is not in the ordinary work-a-day world in which you and I live, where we all have to put up with a great many bitter disappointments and refused requests, where we have all searched long and sorely for some things that we have not found, and the search has aged and saddened us.
It seems to be perfectly certain that the distinct purpose which our Lord here has in view, is to assert that the law of His Kingdom is the direct opposite of the law of earthly life, and that the sad discrepancy between desire and possession, between wish and fact, is done away with for His followers. 'Be it unto thee even as thou wilt,' is the charter of His Kingdom.
Now, dear brethren, it does not want much wisdom to know that that would be a very questionable blessing indeed, if it were taken to apply to the outward circumstances of our lives. There are a good many people, in all ages, and there are some people in this day, who set themselves up for very lofty and spiritual Christians who have made deep discoveries as to the power of prayer, and who seem to understand by it just exactly this, that if a man will only pray for what he wishes instead of working for it, he will get what he wishes. And I make bold to say that all forms of so-called higher experience which involve anything like that thought are, instead of being an exaltation, a degradation, of the very idea of Christian prayer. For the meaning of prayer is not that I shall force my will upon God, but that I shall bend my will to His.
There is one region, and one only, in which it is true, absolutely, unconditionally, without limitation, and always, that what we ask we get, what we seek we find, and that the door at which we knock shall be opened unto us; and that is not the region of outward, questionable, and changeful good.
Why, the very context of these words shows us that. It dwells upon the discrimination of an earthly father in answering his child's requests; and says: 'he knows how to give good gifts,' and 'so will your heavenly Father.' And it takes an illustration which we may extend in that same direction when it says, 'If a child ask a loaf, will the father give him a stone? or if he ask for a fish, will he give him a serpent?' We may turn the question and say: If the child ask for a serpent because he fancies that it is a fish, will his father give him that? Or if he cast his eye upon a thing which he imagines to be a loaf when it is only a stone, will his father let him break his teeth upon that? Surely no! He knows how to give good gifts, and an essential condition of that divine knowledge of how to give good gifts is the knowledge of how to refuse mistaken and foolish wishes.
So let us be thankful that His divine providence does not spoil His children, and make them, as all spoiled children are, a curse and a misery to themselves and to everybody round about them; but He disciplines them by a gracious 'No' as well as by a frank, glad 'Yes,' and often refuses the petition and grants the deeper-lying meaning of the same.
Therefore, I say that the region in which this great and liberal charter of entire response to our desires has force is simply and only the spiritual region in which the highest good is. You may grow as Christian men just as fast and just as far as you choose. A fuller knowledge of God's truth, a more entire conformity to Christ's pattern, a deeper communion with God—they are all possible for every one of us in any measure to which we choose to set our expectations, and to shape our desires and our actions. 'Open thy mouth wide and I will fill it.' The stretch of the jaws determines the size of the portion that is put into them; and He Himself who is the only real limit of His gifts, in His endless fulness, always imparts to you and me just as much of Himself as we like and wish to take. 'Ye are not straitened in Me, ye are straitened in yourselves.'
And oh! brethren, what a solemn light such thoughts as that throw on the low attainments of our average Christianity! So many of us, like Gideon's fleece, dry in the midst of the dew that comes down from heaven! So many of us in the midst of the blessed sunshine of His grace, standing like deep gorges on a mountain in cold shadow! How much you have lying at hand; how little of it you take for your own!
Suppose one of those old Spanish explorers in the sixteenth century had been led into some of those rich Mexican treasure-houses, where all round him were massive bars of gold and gleaming diamonds and precious stones, and had come out from the abundance with sixpence-worth in His palm, when he might have loaded himself with ingots of pure and priceless metal. That is what some of you do, when Jesus Christ puts the key of His storehouse in your hands and says to you, 'Go in and help yourselves,' You stop as soon as you are within the threshold. You do little more than take some insignificant corner nibbled off the great solid mass of riches that might belong to you, and bear that away. The only conclusion is that you do not care much about His wealth. Dear brethren, you professing Christian people that are listening to me, if life is scant in your veins, if your faith is, as it is with many of you, all but dead, if your Christian character is very little better than the character of the people round you, if your religion does not give you any happiness, nor do other people much good, if your love is so cold that it has almost expired, and your hopes dim, there is no creature in heaven or earth or hell that is to blame for it but yourselves. 'Ye have not because ye ask not; ye ask and have not because ye ask amiss.'
III. And that brings me to the last question, namely, on what conditions these promises depend.
'Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened.' I said at the beginning of these remarks that I traced a difference between these three commands, and I take that difference for granted now as the basis of the few words I have to say. The first condition is—desires presented to Him who can grant them. To ask implies the will of a person that will hear and respond and has the power to bestow. That Person is God in Christ. Go and ask Him. We all know that prayer is essential, and so I do not need to dwell upon it; go and ask Him, and you will get what you need.
Do you ever pray, you professing Christian people? I do not mean with your mouths, but with your hearts; do you ever pray to be made less worldly? Do you ever wish to be so? Do you ever really desire that your love of this present should be diminished? Have you any appetite for righteousness? Does it seem to you to be a good thing that you should have less pleasure in the present and more joys in the future? Would you like to be a devouter Christian than you are? I very much question it about many of you. I am not hitting at individuals, but I am speaking about the average type of professing Christians in this generation.
If you desire it you will ask it. Is there any place in any of your rooms where there is a little bit of carpet worn white by your knees? Or do you pray when you are half asleep at night, and before you are well awake in the morning, and scramble through a prayer as the necessary preliminary to going to the work that really interests you, the work of your trade or business? 'Ask, and ye shall receive.'
The second condition is effort. 'Seek, and ye shall find.' There are a great many things in this world that cannot be given to a wish. There are a great many things in the Kingdom of Grace that Jesus Christ cannot give to a mere wish. There must be my own personal effort if I am to secure that which I desire. That is the reason why so many prayers seem to go unanswered. Think of the thousands of supplications that will go up in churches and chapels to-day for spiritual blessings. How comes it that such an enormous proportion of these prayers will never be answered at all? Well, if a man stand at the butts and shoot his arrow at a target, and does not care enough for its fate to stand there long enough to see whether it hits the bull's eye, the probability is that it will never reach its aim. And if men pray, and pray, and pray, in public, and then come out of their churches and chapels and not only forget all about their prayers but never expect an answer to them, and do nothing in their lives in accordance therewith, is there any wonder that they are not answered? Men repeat the Lord's Prayer every morning, and ask God day by day 'lead us not into temptation,' and then go out into daily life, and are willing to fling themselves into temptation, and go through the very thick of the fire of it, if there is a ten pound note on the other side of the flame. And men ask God that He will help them to 'grow in grace' and Christian character, and seldom do a single thing that they know will promote that growth. All such prayer is vain and unresponded to. With prayer there must go effort.
And then, lastly, the third condition is continuity or persistence. 'Knock, and it shall be opened unto you,' 'Then there is such a thing as a delay in these answers that you have been speaking about,' you say. No! there is no delay, but there is such a thing as the beginning of a long task; and therefore there is such a thing as the necessity for persistent and continuous perseverance even in the offering of the desires, which to express is to have satisfied; and in putting forth of the efforts in which to seek is to find. ''Tis a lifelong task ere the lump be leavened.' Eternal life is a gift, but the building of a Christian character is the result of patient, continuous, well-directed efforts to the appropriation and employment of the gift that we have received. 'Forty-and-six years was this temple in building,' they said, and it was not finished then. It will take more than forty-and-six years to build up in my poor heart, full of rubbish and of evil, a temple to the Holy Ghost.
I need not insist upon the virtue of perseverance; that is a commonplace written on the head of all copybooks, but let me remind you that in the Christian life, as much as in any other, that virtue is needful, and unless a man is content to do as Abraham Lincoln said, 'Keep pegging away' at the duties of Christian life with continual effort, there is no promise and no possibility that that man shall grow in grace.
Now, two last words: one is, we want nothing more for the largest and most blessed possession of the true riches and eternal joys of the kingdom than the application to our Christian life of the very same qualities, virtues, excellences, which we need for the successful prosecution of our daily business. Dear brethren, draw for yourselves the contrast between the eagerness with which you pursue that, and the tepidity with which you pursue this. You know that effort and perseverance are wanted there, and you do not grudge them; they are wanted just as much here. Do you put them forth? Some of you are all fire in the one place, and are all frost in the other. You Christian men and women, give the kingdom as much as you give the world, and you will be strong and growing Christians; but if you will not, do not wonder that you are so feeble as you are.
And the last remark I make is—this great symbol of my text which is used in reference to our Lord's condescending beseechings for the entrance into our hearts, and is also used, as we have seen, in reference to our own continuity of prayerful effort, is used in another and very solemn application, in words of His 'Many will seek to enter in, and shall not be able, when once the Master of the house is risen up, and hath shut to the door; and will begin to stand without and to knock at the door, saying, Lord! Lord! open to us; and He'—He who said 'Knock, and it shall be opened'—'He shall answer and say to you, I know you not whence ye are.' That you may escape that repulse, oh my friend! do you open your heart now to the knocking Christ, and then, then, and not till then, 'Ask!' that you may be filled with the treasures of His love, 'seek!' that you may find the rich provision He has laid up for us all, 'knock!' that door after door in the many mansions of the Father's House may be opened unto you; until at last an entrance is ministered abundantly into the everlasting kingdom, and you go in with the King to the eternal feast.
THE TWO PATHS
'Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: 14. Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.'—MATT. vii. 13-14.
A frank statement of the hardships and difficulties involved in a course of conduct does not seem a very likely way to induce men to adopt it, but it often proves so. There is something in human nature which responds to the bracing tonic of the exhortation: 'By doing thus you will have to face many hardships and many difficulties which you may avoid by leaving it alone; but do it, because it is best in the long run, being right from the beginning.' So the story of the martyrs' fires has lighted many a man to the faith for which the martyr was burned. Many a youth has been led to take the shilling and enlist by reading accounts of wounds and battles and sufferings.
Our Lord will have no soldiers in His army on false pretences. They shall know exactly what they have to reckon on if they take service with Him. And thus, in the solemn and familiar words of my text, He enjoins each of us to become His disciples; and that not only because—as is sometimes supposed—of the blessing that lies at the end for His servants, but because of the very things on the road to the end which, at first sight, seemed difficulties. For you will observe that in my text the exhortation, 'Enter ye in at the strait gate,' is followed by two clauses, each of which begins with a 'for'; the one being a description of the road that is to be shunned; the other, an account of the path that is to be followed. In each description there are four contrasted particulars: the gate, strait or wide; the road, narrow or broad; the travellers, many or few; and the ends, life or destruction.
Now, people generally read these words as if our Lord was saying, 'Though the one path is narrow and rugged and steep and unfrequented, yet walk on it, because it leads to life; and though the other presents the opposite of all these characteristics, yet avoid it, because pleasant and popular as it is, its end is destruction.' But that is not what He says. All four things are reasons for avoiding the one and following the other; which, being turned into plain English, is just this, that we ought to be Christian people precisely because there are difficulties and pains and sacrifices in being so, which we may ignobly shirk if we like. It is not, Though the road be narrow it leads to life, therefore enter it; but Because it is narrow, and leads to life, therefore blessed are the feet that are set upon it.
Let us, then, look at these four characteristics, and note how they all enforce the merciful summons which our Lord is addressing to each of us, as truly as He did to the hearers gathered around Him on the mountain: 'Enter ye in at the strait gate.'
I. The gates.
The gate is in view here merely as a means of access to the road, and the metaphor simply comes to this, that it is more difficult to be a Christian man than not to be one, and therefore you ought to be one.
Now, what makes a Christian? We do not need to go further than this Sermon on the Mount for answer. The two first of our Lord's Beatitudes, as they are called, are 'Blessed are the poor in spirit,' and 'Blessed are they that mourn.' These two carry the conditions of entrance on the Christian life. There must be consciousness of our own emptiness, weakness, and need; there must be penitent recognition of our own ill-desert and lamentation over that. These two things, the consciousness of emptiness, and the sorrow for sin, make—I was going to say—the two door-posts of the narrow gate through which a man has to press. It is too narrow for any of his dignities or honours. A camel cannot go through the eye of a needle, not only because of its own bulk, but because of the burdens which flap on either side of it, and catch against the jambs. All my self-confidence, and reputation, and righteousness, will be rubbed off when I try to press through that narrow aperture. You may find on a lonely moor low, contracted openings that lead into tortuous passages—the approaches to some of the ancient 'Picts' houses,' where a feeble folk dwelt, and secured themselves from their enemies. The only way to get into them is to go down upon your knees; and the only way to get into this road—the way of righteousness—is by taking the same attitude. No man can enter unless—like that German Emperor whom a Pope kept standing in the snow for three days outside the gate of Canossa—he is stripped of everything, down to the hair-shirt of penitence. And that is not easy. Naaman wanted to be healed as a great man in the court of Damascus. He had to strip himself of his offices, and dignities, and pride, and to come down to the level of any other leper. You and I, dear brother, have to go through the same process of stripping ourselves of all the adventitious accretions that have clung to us, and to know ourselves naked and helpless, before we can pass through the gate.