The Sermon On The Mount
"And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these."
Matthew 6:28, 29
"And why take ye thought for raiment?" (v. 28). In those words Christ returns to the commandment which He had given in verse 25: "Therefore I say unto you, Take no [anxious] 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?" In the verse we have now arrived at our Lord restricts His remarks to the matter of "raiment," while in verse 31 He again takes up the subject of food and drink. "Why take ye [anxious] thought for raiment?" though in the form of a question-to stir up our conscience-has the force of a prohibition, and therefore is a repeating of the former precept. This is very solemn and humbling, for it shows how unresponsive we are to the voice of God: we have to be told again and again what we must do and what we must avoid. There is so much self-will, so much in us which is opposed to God, that a single order from Him is not sufficient. What vile and intractable creatures we are, still are, even if regenerate.
Observe, then, the method followed by the supreme Teacher of the Church and the manner in which He propounded heavenly doctrine. He not only propounded it, and then urged it by strong and forcible reasons, but He proceeded to repeat it, and urge it by piecemeal. Whenever He had a weighty truth in hand, because fallen man is unwilling to receive and practice it, Christ, in addition to propounding and confirming it, took it up in detail, pressing it upon us again and again, that thereby it might the better find place in our hearts and be the more effectual in bringing forth obedience in our lives. Herein our blessed Redeemer has left an example to be followed by all who teach God's Word to others: not only unto ministers, but unto parents. "And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children" (Deut. 6:7): the margin gives "whet" or "sharpen" for "teach diligently," the Hebrew word referring to the sharpening of a dull tool or sword-that so it may more deeply enter into the heart.
"And why take ye [anxious] thought for raiment?" All care for apparel is not here forbidden. There is a lawful and godly concern, whereby we may labour honestly and in a sober manner for such clothing as is meet for the station of life which Divine providence has allotted us: such as is needful to the health and comfort of our bodies. That which is here prohibited is a carnal and inordinate care for clothing, which arises either from distrust and fear of want or from pride and discontentedness with such apparel as is meet and necessary. It is the latter which is one of the crying sins of our age, when there is such a lusting after strange and costly garments, when such vast sums are wasted annually upon outward adornment, when there is such a making of a "god" out of fashion, when maids covet the finery of their mistresses and when their mistresses waste so much time on the attiring of their bodies which ought to be spent upon more profitable duties. Well may all such seriously face the question, "Why take ye [such] thought for raiment?"
And why, we may well ask, has the pulpit for so long maintained a criminal silence, instead of condemning this flagrant sin? It is not one which only a few are guilty of, but is common to all classes and ages. Preachers were not ignorant that many in their own congregations were spending money they could ill afford in order to "keep up with the latest styles"-styles often imported from countries whose morals are notoriously corrupt. Why, then, has not the pulpit denounced such vanity and extravagance? Was it the fear of man, of becoming unpopular, which restrained them? Was it the sight of their own wives and daughters in silk stockings, fur coats and expensive hats which hindered them? Alas, only too often the minister's family, instead of setting an example of sobriety, frugality and modesty, has given a lead to the community in worldliness and wastefulness. The churches have failed lamentably in this matter as in many others.
It may be that some preachers who read this article will be ready to say, We have something better to do than give our attention to such things, a far more important message to deliver than one relating to the covering worn by the body. But such a rejoinder will not satisfy God, who requires His servants to declare all His counsel and to keep back nothing which is profitable. If the Scriptures be read attentively it will be found that they have not a little to say upon the subject of clothing, from the aprons of fig leaves made by our first parents to the mother of harlots "arrayed in purple and scarlet and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls" of Revelation 17. Has not the Most High said, "The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman's garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the Lord thy God" (Deut. 22:5)? No wonder His wrath is upon us when our streets are becoming filled with empty-headed women wearing trousers. No wonder so many church houses are being destroyed when their pulpits have so long been unfaithful!
"And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin" (v. 28). The scope of these words is wider than appears at first glance. As "raiment" must be taken to include all that is used for the adorning as well as covering of the body, so we are to learn from the "lilies" that which corrects every form of sin we may commit in connection with apparel, not only in distrusting God to supply us with what we need, but also our displeasing Him by setting our affections upon such trifles, by following the evil fashions of the world, or by disregarding 1-us prohibitions. In sending us to learn of the flowers of the field Christ would humble our proud hearts, for notwithstanding our intelligence there are many important and valuable lessons to be learned even from these lowly and irrational creatures if only we have ears to hear what they have to say unto us.
"Consider the lilies of the field." This is brought in here to correct that inordinate care and that immoderate lusting which men and women have concerning raiment. It seems to us that part of the force of our Lord's design here has been generally missed, and this through failure to perceive the significance of His following remarks. "Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, shall He not much more clothe you?" (v. 30). Thus: though the lily be such a lovely flower, nevertheless it is but "the grass of the field." Notwithstanding its beauty and delicacy, it belongs to the same order and stands upon the same level as the common grass, which withers and dies and is used (in oriental countries, where there is no coal) for fuel. What ground or occasion then has the lily to be proud and vain? None whatever: it is exceedingly frail, it belongs to a very lowly order of creation, its loveliness quickly vanishes, its destiny is but the oven.
In what has just been pointed out we may discover a forceful reason why we should not be unduly concerned about either our appearance or our raiment. There are some who are given gracefulness of body and comeliness of feature, which, like the lilies, are much admired by those who behold them. Nevertheless such people need to be reminded that they come only of the common stock, that they are of the same constitution and subject to the same experiences as their less favored fellows. Physical beauty is but skin deep, and the fairest countenance loses its bloom in a few short years at most: the ravages of disease and the effects of sorrow dim the brightest eye and mar the roundest cheek, and wrinkles will soon crease what before was so attractive. "For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away" (1 Pet. 1:24), and the grave is the "oven" to which the handsomest equally with the ugliest are hastening.
In view of the brevity of life and fleetingness of physical charm, how groundless and foolish is pride over a handsome body! That beauty upon which we need to fix our hearts and unto which we should devote our energies is "the beauty of holiness" (1 Chron. 16:29), for it is a beauty that fadeth not away, is not transient and disappointing, is not destroyed in the grave, but endureth for ever. And what is the beauty of holiness? It is the opposite of the hideousness of sin, which is likeness unto the Devil. The beauty of holiness consists in a conformity unto Him of whom it is said, "how great is His goodness! and how great is His beauty! (Zech. 9:17). This is not creature beauty, but Divine beauty, yet it is imparted to God's elect, for "the King's daughter is all glorious within" (Ps. 45:13). Oh, how we need to pray, "Let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us" (Ps. 90:17), then shall we be admired by the holy angels.
Not only does the evanescent beauty of the lily rebuke those who are proud of their physical comeliness, but it condemns all who make an idol of costly or showy apparel. Alas, such a sorry wretch is fallen man that even when his food is assured (for the present, at any rate) he must perforce harass himself over the matter of clothes-not merely for warmth and comfort, but for display, to gratify a peacock vanity. This gives as much concern to the rich as worrying about food does to the poor. Then, "consider the lilies of the field"; they are indeed clothed with loveliness, yet how fleeting it is, and the oven awaits them! Does your ambition rise no higher than to be like unto them, and to share their fate? Oh, heed that word, "Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price" (1 Pet. 3:3, 4).
But let us pass on to another thought. "Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they toil not, neither do they spin." Here the Saviour teaches us that the irrational creatures of the field do in their kind yield more obedience unto God than man does, that we are more rebellious than they are. Isaiah called heaven and earth to hear his rebuke of the Jews for their ingratitude (1:2). Another prophet, when rebuking Jeroboam for his idolatry, cried, "O altar, altar, thus saith the Lord" (1 Kings 13:2). When Jeremiah condemned the king of Judah, he exclaimed, "O earth, earth, earth, hear the word of the Lord" (22:29), while Ezekiel was bidden to prophesy to the mountains of Israel (6:3). All of these go to show that if these insensible creatures were endowed with the intelligence with which man is, they would be more obedient to the will of their Creator than he is.
Again, in bidding us take the herbs of the field for our schoolmaster Christ would signify that though we have these creatures before us daily, beholding and using them, yet partly through our blindness and ignorance and partly through neglect and inattention we do not discern in them what we should, nor learn from them those valuable lessons which they are fitted to teach us. "Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead: so that they are without excuse" (Rom. 1:19, 20). Thus the Lord Jesus here gave a check to our dullness and neglect in meditating upon the products of God's hand. And if we are so slow to learn these things which are necessary to our temporal welfare, how shall we do in those things which concern our eternal salvation!
But what must we learn in the lilies? "How they grow." Like all the works of God this too is wonderful and should provoke our admiration. In the winter season they lie dead in the earth, as though they were not. They are covered with frost and snow: yet in the springtime they spring up with stalks, leaves and flowers of such delicacy and loveliness as surpasses the glory of Solomon in all his royalty. And whence comes this? Is it of themselves or from man? Neither, for it is "field" or "wild " lilies our Lord speaks of. Whence then? From the original fiat of creation, uttered by God when He made these creatures, saying, "Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed" (Gen. 1:11). From that ever-operative word of the Almighty Creator comes the earth to have power and virtue to bear the beautiful lilies and every other herb. And the same God who by the Word of His power gives being to the lilies of the field has uttered a Word of providence that if we trust Him, using lawful means moderately, we shall have raiment sufficient and everything else that is needful to this life.
"They toil not, neither do they spin." Here the Saviour bids us take note of how free from care the lilies are. They expend no labour in order to earn their clothing, as we have to do. This is proof that God Himself directly provides for them and decks them out so attractively. And how forcibly does that fact press upon us the duty of contentment, relying upon God's gracious providence without distracting care. Not only have we title to Divine providence certainly not inferior to that possessed by the herbs of the field, but God has allowed unto us for our raiment the use of means which they lack. Though no man under the pretence of relying on God's providence may live idly, neglecting the ordinary lawful means to procure things honest and needful, yet Christ here gives assurance to all who trust in Him and serve Him that even though all means should fail them He will provide things needful for them. If through sickness, injury or old age we can no longer toil and spin, God will not suffer us to lack sufficient clothing.
"And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these" (v. 29). In those words Christ rebukes that folly of the vain which moves so many to make an idol of personal adornment. Before we endeavour to show the force of our Lord's remark in this verse it should be pointed out that in making mention of the splendor of Solomon's royal apparel He did not condemn the same-had that been His object, instead of mentioning the "glory" of Solomon, Christ had termed it his "vain show" or "ostentatious folly." Though the Word of God reprehends pride and superfluities in attire, yet it allows unto princes and persons of high office the use of gorgeous and costly raiment. When Joseph was advanced unto state dignity he refused not to be arrayed in "garments of fine linen" and to have "a ring on his hand and a chain of gold about his neck" (Gen. 41:42); nor did the apostle reprove Agrippa and Bernice because they came to hear him 'in great pomp" (Acts 25:23).
How senseless it is to be conceited over fine attire and to be so solicitous about our personal appearance, for when we have done everything in our power to make ourselves gay and attractive, yet we come far short of the flowers of the field in their glorious array. What cloth or silk is as white as the lily, what purple can equal the violet, what scarlet or crimson is comparable with roses and other flowers of that color? The arts of the workman may indeed do much, yet they cannot equal the beauties of nature. If then we cannot vie with the herbs of the field which we trample under our feet and cast into the oven, why should we be puffed up with any showiness in our dress? All worldly pomp is but vain, for in glory and beauty it is inferior to that of the flowers, yet what is more frail and transitory than the posies of the field!
Alas, so great is the depravity and perversity of man that he turns into an occasion of feeding his vanity and of self-display what ought to be a ground of humiliation and self-abasement. If we duly considered the proper and principal end of apparel, we should rather be humbled and abased when we put it on, than pleased with our gaudy attire. Clothing for the body is to cover the shame of nakedness which sin brought upon us. It was not ever thus, for of our first parents before the Fall it is written, "And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed" (Gen. 2:25). Raiment then is a covering of our shame, the ensign of our sin, and we have no better reason to be proud of our apparel than the criminal has of his handcuffs or the lunatic of his straitjacket, for as they are badges of wrongdoing or insanity so apparel is but the badge of our sin.
"Even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these." The array of Solomon must indeed have been magnificent. Possessed of illimitable wealth, owner of a fleet of ships which brought to him the products of many foreign countries, nothing was lacking to make his court one of outstanding splendor and pomp. No doubt on state occasions he appeared in the richest and most imposing of clothes, yet deck himself out as finely as he might, he came far short of the beauty of the lilies. Rightly did Matthew Henry point out, "Let us therefore be more ambitious of the wisdom of Solomon in which he was outdone by none-wisdom to do our duty in our place-than the glory of Solomon in which he was outdone by the lilies. Knowledge and grace are the perfection of man, not beauty, much less fine clothes." To which we would add, let us seek to be "clothed with humility" (1 Pet. 5:5) rather than lust after peacock feathers.