The Sermon On The Mount
"Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?"
It will be seen from the title of our chapter that another subject of practical importance is presented to our notice in the verse we have now reached. It is a subject which immediately concerns each one of us, for in varying degrees all are guilty of the very thing which is here forbidden, namely worrying over material things, yielding to anxiety about future supplies. This is something which is highly dishonoring to God, a sin which we need to make conscience of, confessing it with shame and seeking grace to avoid any further repetitions thereof. The very fact that such anxiety is here forbidden not only exhibits once more the exalted standard of piety which is set before us in the Holy Scriptures, but also evidences their uniqueness, their Divine Authorship, for there is no other book or religion in the world which condemns inordinate solicitude over the temporal necessities of life. Proof of this assertion appears in the fact that the natural man is quite unaware that anxiety about food and clothing is a SIN.
Not only is such anxiety wrong, but it is a sin of great gravity. It is not simply a constitutional infirmity which we may excuse, a mere trifle we need not be concerned about, but rather is it a foul iniquity from which we should seek cleansing. To be fearful about the supply of future needs, to be worried that we may yet be left to suffer the lack of temporal necessities, is to be guilty of wicked unbelief. It calls into question the goodness and care of our Creator. It manifests a lack of faith in His wise and gracious providence. And if we be Christians, it betrays doubt of our Father's love. And surely these are evils of the deepest dye. Moreover, as we shall yet see, such disquietude and distraction of mind is, in reality, the workings of covetousness, the lusting after things we have not, which is a sin of great magnitude. Oh, that the Spirit may convict us of this wickedness and subdue this iniquity.
It has been pointed out in previous chapters that the main draft of our Saviour's Sermon from verse 19 to the end of chapter 6 was to dissuade and deliver His hearers from the spirit of covetousness. Having forbidden the practice itself (v. 19), and disposed of those objections which the corrupt heart of man might frame to excuse himself in the committing thereof (vv. 22-24), Christ now struck at the very root of covetousness and sought to remove the cause thereof, namely a distrustful and inordinate care for the things of this life, especially for such things as are necessary for the maintenance thereof. This is clear from His words in verse 25, and the attentive reader will note that the same line of thought is continued by Him to the end of verse 34. Such unusual repetitions as "Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat" (v. 25), "Take no thought, saying, What shall we eat?" (v. 31), "Take therefore no thought for the morrow" (v. 34) intimate not only the weightiness of this Divine precept, but also our slowness in heeding the same.
"Therefore I say unto you, take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on" (v. 25). Before proceeding to amplify what has been said in the last paragraph, let us point out that there is a close connection between this verse and those preceding. It may be regarded as Christ's meeting a further objection against what He had insisted on. He had forbidden the laying up of treasures on earth, and had warned against the making of mammon our god. To this many might answer, There is no danger of us doing that: so little of this world's riches come our way that we can scarcely procure the bare necessities of life. Even so, says Christ, you too are in grave danger: the fear of poverty and worrying about the future as truly ensnare the souls of the poor as the love of wealth does the rich. Distrustful and distracting care about supplies of temporal needs is a sure sign that the heart is fixed on earthly things.
"Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life." This is another declaration of Christ's which must not be taken absolutely or without limitation (compare our remarks on 5:34, 42). If scripture be compared with scripture, it will be found that there are two kinds of "care": a godly and moderate one, a distrustful and inordinate. The former is enjoined upon us by the Word of God. For example, in Proverbs 6:6, wisdom sends the sluggard to the ant to learn diligence and providence for things needful. The apostle Paul points out that it is the duty of parents to "lay up" for their children (2 Cor. 12:14), and declares that "If any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel's (1 Tim. 5:8). From these passages it is quite clear that there is a lawful care to be taken even for the things pertaining to this life, nor do the words of Christ in the passage now before us conflict with this to the slightest degree.
There is a solicitude about temporal things which is a duty, varying according to a man's station in the world. God requires him to be diligent in business and prudent in its management. He is obligated to provide for himself and family so far as health and industry will permit. He is required to live within his income, so that he may owe no man anything." He is to guard against any of God's bounty being wasted or squandered in prodigality. It is his business to look ahead and seek to provide for those demands which may be made upon him in the future-by additions to his family, by illness, by old age. He should, so far as is consistent with piety and charity, endeavour to make provision for those dependent upon him, so that if he should die first, those left behind will not become a burden upon others. It is not faith but presumption which would lead to carelessness therein, fanaticism and not spirituality which inculcates the neglect of all proper means.
Yet it should be pointed out that there is real danger lest the above-mentioned duties be extended beyond due bounds. None ought to be so occupied with the consideration of providing for the future that he be unfitted for the discharge of present obligations or the enjoyment of present privileges. None ought to attend to such duties in a way that is distrustful of Divine providence. None ought to be weighed down with anxiety over them. The following rules must regulate us therein. First, attention to the needs of the body must be subordinated to our seeking after the welfare of our souls, for temporal affairs must never crowd out spiritual and eternal concerns. Second, in diligently walking in our earthly calling we must strictly see to it that we deal uprightly and honestly with our fellows, seeking to acquire only those things which are needful and right. Third, we must leave the issue or success of all our labors and endeavors to God: ours is to use the means to the best of our ability and opportunity, His is to bless and prosper according as He deems best.
Let it be clearly understood then that when Christ gave commandment "Take no thought for your life" He was very far from forbidding us to look ahead and make provision against a future livelihood. Foresight and foreboding are two very different things. That which our Lord here prohibits is not the making of careful preparation for what is likely to come, but the constant occupation of the mind and distraction of the heart over what will never come. It is not the foresight of the storm and the taking in of sail while there is yet time which He reprehends, but that after we have taken in the sail we continue to gaze at the horizon with such fear and unbelief that we are weakened thereby and disqualified for the discharge of far more important duties. To be tormented by anxious thoughts about the future is unworthy of our manhood, let alone of our Divine sonship, and is most dishonoring to our Creator.
"Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life." Observe the force of the opening "Therefore." Seeing that they who set their hearts upon earthly treasures do neglect the true riches and do lack the single eye of spiritual wisdom to discern heavenly treasure, and are therefore the slaves of mammon, be not concerned, harbor not immoderate and distrustful thoughts about things needful to your temporal life. Because it is impossible at one and the same time to make earthly and heavenly things the principal subject of your thoughts, all anxiety about material things is improper. Note, too, the "I say unto you"-I, your Master, upon whom you depend for instruction and direction in all things needful for both soul and body-so as to command their attention and compliance. "He says it as the Lord and Sovereign of our hearts; He says it as our Comforter and Helper of our joy" (Matthew Henry).
"Therefore I say unto you, Be not anxious for your life" (Amer. R.V.), which conveys the idea better than the A.V. The care which is here forbidden is a tormenting one, which disquietens and distracts, which disturbs our joy in God, and destroys our peace. When concern over making provision for the future leads the heart away from God and produces distrust, it has become sinful. Foresight must not degenerate into foreboding, diligence into worrying. It is carking care and distressing fear which are here reprehended. It is distrustful care we are called upon to guard against. We are guilty of this when we trouble ourselves about the issue of our labours: when having used the means and performed our duty we vex ourselves over the success, instead of relying upon God's providence for the blessing of the same. It is this distrust of God which draws the covetous hearts of men to employ unlawful means in the obtaining of worldly things-such as lying, fraud, false weights, oppression of the weak.
"Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on." To take it on its lowest ground, such things as food and clothing are not worth worrying about. In a few years at most we shall no more need the staff of life to support us and shall be where the coarsest shroud will serve as well as a royal robe. Of what worth are those things over which death has dominion? Why be so foolish, then, as to make our chief concern those things which perish with the using? And how much worse is our offence if, instead of being content with such things as a gracious God has provided us with, we lust after and bend our best efforts to acquire something of a superior quality. What will it matter a hundred years hence whether we fed on the fat of the land or the poorest of fare, whether we were dressed in silks and satins or the cheapest of garments? But it will matter everything whether or not we fed on the Lamb and were clothed with the robe of His righteousness!
But to look higher. Why is it that there is so little fruit from the preaching of God's Word? How few realize that this worldly care one of the chief hindrances thereto. Yet, that this is the case is clear from the teaching of our Lord in His parable of the Sower. There He informs us that "He also that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful" (Matthew 13:22), so that worry over poverty is as fatal to spiritual fruitfulness as is gloating over wealth. Alas, what a large percentage there is in our congregations who can neither pray, hear the Word, nor go home and meditate thereon, without their poor minds being distracted with such worldly thoughts and carnal anxieties. Our minds are so constituted that they cannot at one and the same time be stayed upon the Lord and fixed upon next winter's new coat or hat.
Having sought to show something of the sinfulness of worrying about temporal things, let us seek to point out how it may be avoided. This is to be found in following the counsel which is given to us in the Word of Truth. "Commit thy way into the Lord: trust also in Him; and He shall bring it to pass" (Ps. 37:5). "Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and He shall sustain thee" (Ps. 55:22). "Commit thy works unto the Lord, and thy thoughts shall be established" (Prov. 16:3). "Casting all your care upon Him; for He careth for you" (1 Pet. 5:7). It is not that these passages exempt us from performing the duties of our calling and using all lawful means therein, but that in the performance of duty and after the use of means we must leave the event and issue for good success to the blessing of God. Such a course involves the exercise of faith and the complete submitting of ourselves unto the sovereign pleasure of Him with whom we have to do, and who alone can give the increase.
Thus the tradesman, whose business it is to buy and sell, must be careful and diligent in his business, disdaining all lying and deceit, misrepresentation or overcharging, and then refer the success of his trade to the blessing of God. Thus too with the farmer and crofter: he must faithfully do his part in ploughing and sowing, and then leave the harvest to God's good providence. This is the apostle's counsel: "Be careful for nothing," that is, after a distrustful and distressing sort. "But in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God" (Phil. 4:6). Thus it is clear that the anxiety and worry are opposed to prayer and thanksgiving, being a hindrance thereto. Instead, after using lawful means, we are to pray God's blessing thereon, that when it comes we may give Him thanks, yea, thank Him now by faith's anticipation.
But is it not hard for flesh and blood to abstain from anxiety about success? How, then, shall we be enabled to leave it wholly with God? By laying to heart the precious promises of God which are made to those who depend upon His mercy and goodness, laboring to live by faith thereon. "It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows": while men trust to themselves or in the means, moiling and toiling as they will, theirs is the bread of fretfulness; but in sharp contrast therewith, "so He giveth His beloved sleep" (Ps. 127:2). In sleep there is a laying aside of care and a forgetfulness of need. Those who trust in and love the Lord are delivered from fretting and fuming, and are given rest of soul. "The young lions do lack, and suffer hunger: but they that seek the Lord shall not want any good thing" (Ps. 34:10). If we had no other promise in the Scriptures than this, it is sufficient warrant to make us rest upon God's providence, in the sober use of lawful means. "Trust in the Lord, and do good; so shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed" (Ps. 37:3). What more can we ask than that?
"He that walketh righteously, and speaketh uprightly; he that despiseth the gain of oppressions, that shaketh his hands from holding of bribes, that stoppeth his ears from hearing of blood, and shutteth his eyes from seeing evil; He shall dwell on high; his place of defence shall be the munitions of rocks: bread shall be given him, his waters shall be sure" (Isa. 33:15, 16). No matter in what period of the world's history our lot be cast, how evil the days, or how sore and severe God's judgments upon the earth, if we fulfil His specified conditions, then (even though drought and famine be upon the land, as in the time of Elijah) our bread and water are sure. Nowhere has God promised that His child shall be feasted with dainties, but "verily thou shalt be fed." Such was the blessed assurance of the apostle, "But my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus" (Phil. 4:19)-not all your desire or greed, but need. Now if faith be really mixed with these promises, then we shall be quietened from fear and our hearts will be kept in peace.
How shall we rely upon the mercy of God in the hour of death if we are afraid to trust His providence for the things of this life? But when serious losses a us and everything seems to be against us, must we not redouble our efforts and look increasingly to the use of means? Nay, rather is that the time to cleave more closely to God and rely upon Him to undertake for us. If the blessing were in the means men would not be so often crossed in them. God knows far better than we do what is good for us, and therefore we should rest content with His providence, no matter how He may disappoint our expectations for temporal things. Lack is often better for God's child than plenty, adversity than prosperity. So David found, "Before I was afflicted I went astray: but now have I kept Thy word" (Ps. 119:67). And many a saint since then has had reason to exclaim, "It is good for me that I have been afflicted" (Ps. 119:71).
"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?" Observe how Christ here distinguishes between life and food, the body and the clothing, and that He does so with the purpose of showing us how senseless is our worrying over the supply of temporal things. This first reason of His to dissuade us from such anxiety may be stated thus: the life is greatly superior to food and the body to raiment, and since the Creator has bestowed the former, therefore much more will He provide the latter for their sustenance. Therein the Saviour teaches us to make good use of our creation, and by a contemplation thereof to learn confidence in God's providence for all things needful to our natural life. "Thine hands have made me and fashioned me together round about; yet Thou dost destroy me!" (Job 10:8): thus the patriarch persuaded himself of preservation because God had made him. "Wherefore let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to Hun in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator" (1 Pet. 4:19): because God is our faithful Creator, in death we may fully rely upon Him.
If the Christian be trusting in God and attending to duty, he need have no fear that he will be deserted by Him and left to starve. God called us into being and furnished us with a body without our care, then is He not well able to sustain the one and clothe the other? Dependence is the law of our being: we are obliged to leave unto God the size, form, color, and age of our body: then count upon Him for its maintenance. As long as God means us to live, He will assuredly feed and clothe us. He who brought Israel out of Egypt with a high hand and delivered them from death at the Red Sea did not suffer them to perish from lack of food in the wilderness. "He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things!" (Rom. 8:32): such a guarantee should be amply sufficient to quieten every fear and allay all anxiety about food and raiment.