The Sermon On The Mount
"AND why take ye thought for raiment?" (v. 28). As we pointed out in our last, though in the form of a question-to stir up our minds and search our hearts-these words of Christ are an express prohibition. That prohibition is twofold: against inordinate care and against immoderate desire. "Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they toil not, neither do they spin" (v. 28). Here Christ bids us learn of the uncultivated flower that which rebukes our sinful distrust on the one hand and which reveals the folly of our lusting after an elaborate wardrobe on the other. The first of these lessons is inculcated by the fact that they put forth no labour in order to earn their raiment: if then God graciously provides for them, much more will He do so for those who faithfully use the means He has appointed that we may obtain things honest and needful. The second lesson is expressed in, "And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these" (v. 29). How foolish then to be vainglorious of our apparel when, after all our trouble and expense, it is less beautiful than that of the flowers.
"And yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these." Wherein lies the point of contrast? Was it merely that the lily is clothed with a robe of more delicate texture and of greater beauty than any man-made fabric? We believe there is something else, something more important for our hearts, a deeper truth adumbrated therein. All of Solomon's stately glory was but artificial, put on from without, whereas the adornment of the flower comes from within: theirs is no foreign drapery, but an essential part of themselves, namely a development and result of what they really are. So should it be, so must it be, with the Christian. That life and light which God has communicated to his heart silently but surely illumines his mind, sanctifies his affections, and brings forth the fruits of righteousness. At the resurrection that Divine life in the soul shall break through the body and envelop the whole person with splendor: "then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father" (Matthew 13:43).
Ah, my reader, it is a very profitable exercise to "Consider the lilies of the field." A spiritual meditation thereon cannot but be most instructive, for they are the handiwork of Him who is "wonderful in counsel, excellent in working." If we "consider" and take to heart "how they grow," we shall perceive that which will both humble and encourage us. Their growth is gradual: first the blade, then the bud, then the flower. Their growth is one of increasing loveliness. Is ours? Are we gradually becoming more Christlike: more meek and lowly, more gentle and unselfish? Are we really going from "strength to strength" (Ps. 84:7) and being changed into the same image [of the Lord] from glory to glory" (2 Cor. 3:18)? Their growth consists in an increasing development and display of the life with which God has endowed them. Are we so growing: making more and more manifest the principle of grace which the Holy Spirit has communicated to our hearts, "showing forth the praises of Him who hath called us out of darkness into His marvellous light"?
"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, O ye of little faith?" (v. 30). Here is further instruction to be derived from the flowers of the field, namely the frailty and brevity of their life. If this be duly taken to heart by us, it will correct that carnal lusting after fine clothes. Why should we set our affections upon a lavish wardrobe, be proud of our raiment, or make the putting on of apparel our "adornment," when after all we cannot compete with the flowers of the field? Such childish vanity appears still worse when we remind ourselves of the evanescence of such displays. The beauty of the flowers lasts hut a few short hours, for tomorrow they are withered and cast with other rubbish into the oven. And our sojourn upon earth is only for a very short span at most: then why be so proud of our clothes, which quickly lose their gloss and shape, soon wear out, and we ourselves cast into the grave?
Not only is a lusting after showy apparel here rebuked, but also anxiety about supplies of necessary clothing. In the opening "wherefore" of verse 30 Christ applies His argument unto His disciples and hearers. He enforces His prohibition in verse 28 by a contrast drawn between men and herbs of the field. The pre-eminence of man over them consists in these things: first, the herbs were made for man's use and not man for them-besides other uses, they serve to act as fuel. Second, the herbs of the field exist today, tomorrow they are not, for being consumed they cease to be. Far otherwise is it with man, for even though his body be reduced to ashes, yet his being is not destroyed by reason of his immortal soul, which though it had a beginning yet never shall have an end. Herein he far excels them: their life arises from the matter whereof they consist and so vanishes with it, but the soul of man is a different substance from his body and perishes not when his body dies.
The vast difference between man and all the lower orders of creatures is clearly intimated by God in connection with their respective creations: God commanded the earth to "bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind" (Gen. 1:11). But when He created man, though He made his body from the dust of the earth, yet his spirit and soul were immediately from his Creator, who "breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul" (Gen. 2:7). This preeminence of man Christ insisted on when reproving the skeptical and materialistic Sadducees, for He pointed out that God is "the God of Abraham," whose body had returned to its native dust long before, yet said that "God is not the God of the dead [that is, of those who had no being at all], but of the living" (Matthew 22:32). Now this superiority of man strongly enforces his duty to depend upon God's care and providence without distracting anxiety, for if the Creator provides such glorious array for the mere herb, surely He will not suffer the nobler creature of His hand to go naked. This is the very conclusion which Christ here draws.
"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, O ye of little faith?" (v. 30). Let us observe, first, how the Saviour here gave God His proper place and honour: He did not ascribe the loveliness of the lily to an impersonal "nature" or the outworking of the law of its being, but expressly attributed it unto its Maker-"all the excellencies of the creature flow from God, the Fount and Spring of them" (Matthew Henry). Second, weigh well the "much more." If Jehovah-Jireh supplies such lovely array for so short-lived and comparatively useless creatures as the herbage of the field, most certainly He will not suffer any of His own dear children to lack any good thing. Then how plainly is it their duty to cast all their care upon Him, knowing that He cares for them (1 Pet. 5:7). We have a more excellent being than they: we are made for eternity, they for but a few days; we are taken into a closer and dearer relationship to God-His beloved people. Third, ponder well our Lord's rebuke, "O ye of little faith," which reveals what is at the bottom of our inordinate care-distrust.
"O ye of little faith." Those whom our Lord here chided were His own disciples, and that for which He reproved them was not a total lack of faith, but for the small measure of it, their distrust being more powerful than their confidence in God's providence. Herein we may see how one Christian differs from another (and how the experience of the same believer varies at different times), for there are some who, like Abraham, are so strong in faith that they rely wholly on God's promise, nothing doubting when appearances are entirely against them (Rom. 4:20). But there are others with a faith so weak, so mingled with doubts, that they are like those disciples at this time. But however weak such faith may be, however excuseless and reprovable, yet the faith itself is a true and saving one, as appears plainly in their case, for in verse 26 Christ acknowledged these fearing disciples to be God's children by calling Him their "heavenly Father."
Let us pause for a moment and point out that such weakness of faith in no wise jeopardizes our salvation, or that because we have more unbelief than faith our unbelief will have more force to condemn than our faith to save. Not so, for we are not saved because of our faith, though we cannot be saved without it. It is not the degree or strength of faith which renders it efficacious, but the clinging to the right Object. Faith saves (instrumentally) when it lays hold of the mercy of God in Christ, and weak faith may do that just as truly, though not with such assurance and comfort, as a strong faith. The doubting and weakness which is in a "little faith" does not damn us if we bewail it and use the means for strengthening faith. None of God's children have a perfect faith, and few of them attain unto the full assurance which Abraham reached. To those of little faith we would say, though thy distrust is a burden and grief to thee, comfort thyself with the blessed fad that Christ will not break the bruised reed nor quench the smoking flax (Isa. 42:3).
The reason why Christ chided His disciples for the littleness of their faith was because they distrusted God for raiment. They were to be blamed for this, for their heavenly Father's care of the least of His creatures should have taught them better. Herein we may see one of the properties of saving faith. It not only lays hold of the mercy of God for the pardon of sin and everlasting life in Christ, but it also relies on His promises for temporal blessings in this life. Does not the greater include the less? If God gives Christ to him who believes, shall He not also with Him freely give him all things (Rom. 8:32)? All the promises of God are "Yea, and. . . Amen in Christ" (2 Cor. 1:20), whether they respect eternal life or temporal life. Therefore the same faith which says God will pardon my sins and save my soul for Christ's sake will also trust Him to provide me with food and raiment while I am left here below.
Noah's heart laid hold of the Divine promise of his preservation in the ark by the same faith whereby he was made "heir of the righteousness" (Heb. 11:7). So too Abraham by the same faith whereby he was justified believed God's promise that he should have a son in his old age (Rom. 4:18). Let this point then be duly observed and the order remembered wherein faith lays hold of the Divine promises. It first apprehends God's mercy in Christ and then His providential care for us. This is so obvious and simple that it should need no laboring. As the Christian expects to be saved by faith after death, so he must live by faith in this world: if we rely on God's mercy for our souls, we will also depend upon Him providing for our body, for how shall we cast ourselves upon God's grace for heaven if we cannot depend upon His goodness for food and raiment while He leaves us here upon earth?
It is at this point that we should make trial of our faith: what sort it is, true or false; and the degree of it, whether it be weak or strong. Christ here plainly intimates that the more distracted we are by worldly cares the less is our belief in and reliance upon God, for distrustful anxiety over temporal things issues from unbelief in Divine providence. Thus it follows that the less we trust God for temporal things, the less do we really believe in His eternal mercies, for the selfsame faith lays hold on both. If we truly depend on God for bodily blessings in the sober use of lawful means, then we shall rest upon Him for the salvation of our souls. Such trial can scarcely be made in prosperity, when we have abundance, but if in the day of adversity we rely upon God then is our faith genuine; but if instead we imagine that we shall starve, and hesitate not to steal in order to supply our wants, then we have great reason to suspect that our faith is spurious.
"Therefore take no [anxious] thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed" (v. 31). Here Christ repeats the commandment which He had given against distrustful care in verse 25. The reasons for this repetition are these. First, to set an edge upon the commandment that so it may more sharply and deeply enter into our hearts, as we pointed Out before. Second, to further His disciples in the exercise of faith, for by this repetition Christ gives them occasion to meditate and think upon this duty the more frequently, whereby their faith must needs be much confirmed. It is most important that we should recognize and understand that, in order to obtain or strengthen faith in our hearts, we are not to be mere passive patients, either in the reception or development of it. Increase of faith comes not from God to us as visions did to the prophets in a dream in the night, or as the print of the seal is set into the wax, but He works this grace in His people in the use of ordinary means.
There are some professing Christians who assume the attitude that they have no responsibility in this matter: that since faith is a supernatural principle, a Divine gift, it lies entirely outside their power and province to do anything in order to obtain an increase thereof. Such fatalistic listlessness, such senseless inertia, are neither honoring to God nor helpful to themselves. Muscles unused become flabby: faculties never exercised soon lose the strength which they had. The way to get more faith is to put to work the measure which we already have and to use the means God has appointed. Our duty is to read daily God's Word, to meditate thereon, to strive and lay the Divine promises on our hearts, to urge our souls to believe, to strive and fight against doubting and distrust, to give ourselves to earnest prayer for the working of God's Spirit within us.
Concerning Christ's commandment against distrustful care, we sought to show (when considering v. 25) how far our duty extends in the matter of securing the things needful for this life, and where it must stay. It is to extend itself unto the diligent use of lawful ordinary means to procure things needful, and there stay. There are two dangers against which we need to be constantly on our guard: atheism on the one hand and fanaticism on the other. We are so prone to fly to extremes that much care is needed in order to strike the happy medium. While diligently using means, they are not to be relied upon to the exclusion of God: His appointment therein is to be recognized and His blessing upon them definitely and humbly sought, for no means will avail us anything except the Lord is pleased to prosper them. The most industrious labours of the farmer will produce no crop unless God sends sunshine and rain, and the most assiduous study of Scripture profits not the soul unless the Holy Spirit sanctifies it unto us.
On the other side, there must be no disdaining of means under the pretence of more fully trusting the Lord. Indolence is disobedience. Scripture says, "if any would not work, neither should he eat" (2 Thess. 3:10). The farmer who prays and expects God to give him a good harvest though he has neither ploughed nor sown his fields is guilty of the wildest fanaticism. The able-bodied person who is out of employment, and lazily sits down pleading the Divine promises to supply his need instead of going forth to seek work, is tempting God and not trusting Him. When he is ill, it is both the duty and the privilege of the Christian to spread his case before the great Physician, yet if he scorns to use the helps and remedies which Divine providence sets before him, he acts presumptuously and not in faith. The parent who fails to train and teach his child as the Word enjoins, counting on Divine election to save him, is making an evil use of that precious Truth.
Our duty in regard to the obtaining of temporal supplies is fully discharged when we have diligently put forth honest endeavors, used all lawful means, and humbly sought God's blessing thereon. Self-effort is then to give place to the exercise of faith, trustfully waiting upon Divine providence to prosper our endeavors. It is corroding care and distrustful anxiety that distracts the heart which Christ here forbids, and which is a spiritual disease infecting the souls of the vast majority of our fellows. How far the reader may be affected by this evil can be ascertained by sincerely testing himself at these points: What is it which often breaks in upon your rest so that you cannot sleep peacefully? What is it that first comes into your mind when you awake? What principally engages your thoughts throughout the day? What is it over which you take the greatest pains and which gives you most delight when you are successful? If it be the things of this world, then distrustful care infests your soul and must be striven against.
In closing let us observe how Christ here describes this unlawful anxiety by the effects it produces in distrustful persons. That there may be no mistaking this God-dishonoring and soul-paralyzing disease, the great Physician has plainly described its symptoms. It causes its victims to ask, "What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?" These are the very complaints they make when losses are encountered, adversities befall them, supplies are apparently cut off. When those whose confidence and reliance are not in the living God lose their job, or their investments miscarry, or they are stricken with a disease which incapacitates their body, they at once cry out, What will become of us? How shall we exist? It is this which Christ is here rebuking: those unbelieving utterances (for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh!) which denote we have no faith in God's goodness and distrust His care of us. The Christian must fight against such evil thoughts and murmuring complaints, laying fresh hold on the Divine promises and assuring himself that the "Lord will provide.