The Sermon On The Mount
"BUT seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you" (v. 33). The heathen set their hearts upon material necessities and comforts: be not ye like unto them, says Christ-let a nobler, more essential and infinitely more satisfying object engage your attention and energies. If God be given His proper place in your hearts and lives you will not be the losers even in this world, yea, only thus will you be able to form a true estimate of the things of time and sense. Ah, my reader, it is failure to make Him our portion which renders us troubled about many things. Where there is the blessed realization that God is for us at e is all-sufficient, a spirit of contentment and rest floods the soul. Nothing but the love of God shed abroad in the heart by the Holy Spirit will cast out dark and dismal forebodings. Where faith is in exercise and there is conscious communion with God, anxiety cannot cast us down.
By the "kingdom of God" is here meant a state or condition of men in this life, a state whereby they enjoy through Christ the favour of God and a title to everlasting felicity and glory. It is thus designated because God rules in them as a king rules in his kingdom. The words "and His righteousness" are added by way of explanation, that we may know for ourselves when we have obtained this grand object: God's kingdom stands in righteousness, as it is written, "The kingdom of God is not meat and drink [material things]; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost" (Rom. 14:17). Now by "the righteousness of God" we are to understand two things: an imputed righteousness and an imparted righteousness, one which is placed to our account or credit and one which is communicated to our souls. The former or imputed righteousness is that perfect obedience which Christ rendered to the Law of God, which is legally reckoned to each one who believes in Him. As it is written, "Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe," and again, "If by one man's offence death reigned by one, much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ" (Rom. 3:22; 5:17). Therefore may the Christian exclaim, "I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for He hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, He hath covered me with the robe of righteousness" (Isa. 61:10).
And how is anyone to know when the perfect obedience of Christ has been made over to him, so that he stands justified before God, the Law no longer able to prefer a single charge against him? Answer, by that which ever accompanies it: imputed righteousness is made known by imparted righteousness. Justification is never separated from sanctification, both arising out of regeneration. All who are justified by Christ's obedience are sanctified by the Holy Spirit that henceforth they may walk in good works. "That ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness" (Eph. 4:24). The reference is to the new birth, whereby a new nature or principle is supernaturally communicated to the soul, a principle whose character and element is righteousness and true holiness in contrast with the character and element of the corrupt principle or flesh, which is sin and wickedness. This "new man" which is created (by God) in righteousness, believers are exhorted to "put on," that is make evident, display before the world-let it appear you are the children of God by your character and conduct. Therefore do we read, "every one that doeth righteousness is born of Him" (1 John 2:29).
Now this kingdom and righteousness of God Christ here calls upon men to "seek," and as we pointed out in the previous verse the word is a very emphatic one, signifying to "set ourselves to seek" or "seek with all our might." We all know how worldlings seek after the things of time and sense: not reluctantly but heartily, not perfunctorily but earnestly, not spasmodically but constantly, not carelessly but diligently. In such a manner and in such a spirit are the things pertaining to our eternal welfare to be sought. God has nowhere promised that those who seek Him indolently and indifferently shall find Him: rather has He declared, "Ye shall seek Me, and find Me, when ye shall search for Me with all your heart (Jer. 29:13). So that there might be no misunderstanding of His meaning, Christ added, "seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness," by which He meant seek it chiefly, principally, above all other things in this world. Let your paramount concern be to enter into that estate whereby ye may enjoy God's favour through Christ-justified by His obedience and sanctified by His Spirit.
From this command of Christ's it is evident that by nature we are all of us outside of God's kingdom and destitute of His favour, otherwise we should not be bidden to seek them. We were in fact, during our unregeneracy, under the power of Satan and in his kingdom of darkness. The Devil is called "the prince of this world" (John 12:31) and "the god of this world" (2 Cor. 4:4), because all the world are his vassals, yielding him homage in the works of sin, and therefore is he also designated "the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience" (Eph. 2:2) And how justly has this misery come upon men: seeing they refuse to yield submission to the sceptre of God, they are righteously left to the power of the Devil, to be made his slaves and drudges. That the unregenerate are outside the kingdom of God is very plain from the course of their lives, for to the Almighty they say, "Depart from us; for we desire not the knowledge of Thy ways" (Job 21:14).
But now the important question arises, How shall those who are by nature outside of God's kingdom and destitute of His righteousness seek an entrance into the one and an interest in the other? To this a threefold answer may be returned. First, we must go to the place where the kingdom of God is to be found. Second, we must then enter into it. Third, we must wait for the full possession of it. For the first: this kingdom of God is not to be found everywhere, but only where God is pleased to manifest and reveal the same unto the sons of men. It is made known in the Holy Scriptures, and therefore are they called "the word of the kingdom" (Matthew 13:19), and hence it is to the Volume of Inspiration we must turn, humbly seeking instruction from the Holy Spirit. But since it has pleased God to call and equip His own servants to expound His Word we should frequent the assemblies of His saints (where such are to be found), for it is there (in normal times) the evangel of His salvation is proclaimed, and the evangel is termed "the gospel of the kingdom" (Matthew 4:23 and cf. Acts 28:31).
Second, when we have found this kingdom, that is when it has been clearly revealed to us as set forth in the Word of Truth- whether through the instrumentality of preachers or not-we must seek to enter into it. It is not sufficient for us to be where it is or have it presented to our view, for Christ said to the Pharisees, "the kingdom is come upon you" (Luke 11:20), yet He declared of them, ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in" (Matthew 23:13). Now it is to be pointed out that none can enter God's kingdom of themselves without the special work of the Holy Spirit. This is plain from those words of Christ's, except ye be converted and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 18:3). Since conversion (a right-about-face, the heart and life being turned from the world unto God) is a fruit or consequence of regeneration, we must first be born of the Spirit. "Except a man he horn of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God" (John 3:5). This is rarely insisted upon today, yea, the very reverse is inculcated, for sinners are given to suppose that salvation lies wholly within their own power, that they can turn unto God whenever they are pleased to do so.
Now regeneration is a renewal of the soul, a rectifying of its faculties, a work of grace is then begun and continued throughout the whole process of sanctification, which is consummated in glory. At conversion, which follows upon and may be termed the reflex action of regeneration, the image of Satan in sin and corruption was thrown down (not expelled, still less annihilated) and the image of God renewed in the soul, in knowledge, righteousness and true holiness. At conversion the proud heart of man is humbled, so that instead of continuing to conduct himself as a "god"-independent and self-sufficient-he becomes as "a little child"-tractable, teachable, meek and lowly. In conversion we renounce our own lordship and submit, voluntarily and gladly, to the rule of God, subjecting ourselves to His holy will. In conversion we repudiate the filthy rags of our own self-righteousness, and put our trust in the perfect obedience and blood of Christ. Thus, experimentally, we enter into the favour and kingdom of God and an interest in His righteousness is obtained by repentance and faith, by forsaking sin and the world, taking upon us the yoke of Christ and learning of Him, endeavoring to follow the example He has left us.
Third, we must then wait for the full fruition or possession of it. In the preceding article we pointed out the distinction which exists between the Divine kingdom of providence and the kingdom of grace: the former taking in the entire universe, the latter being internally received by the elect only, in whose hearts and lives God rules by His Spirit. We must now call attention to the difference between the kingdom of grace and the kingdom of glory, the latter consisting of two degrees. The kingdom of grace is entered the moment a soul is born again, the kingdom of glory is entered by the believer upon his removal to heaven at the moment of death. It was to this aspect of it the apostle referred when he said, "the Lord shall deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me unto His heavenly kingdom" (2 Tim. 4:18). Heaven is the upper compartment of the kingdom of grace, for it is there Christ reigns supreme in the spirits of just men made perfect-perfectly freed from sin, and admitted into the clear and open vision of God, though their bodies remain in the grave awaiting their redemption.
But the believer's entrance into heaven at the moment of death-blessed, unspeakably blessed moment!-is but the kingdom of glory begun. It is not the ideal and ultimate state, for not only does he lack his glorified body, but the Church is not yet complete, Christ is still waiting until His enemies be made His footstool, waiting to see of the full travail of His soul. When the morning of the resurrection breaks, that "morning without clouds," the last enemy shall be destroyed, mortality shall be swallowed up of life, and Christ shall "change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto His glorious body, according to the working whereby He is able to subdue all things unto Himself" (Phil. 3:21). Then shall the Redeemer say unto all His redeemed, "Come, ye blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world" (Matthew 25:34). It is to this final phase of the kingdom that the following refers: "give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall: . . .For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ" (2 Pet. 1:10, 11).
In the meantime he who has entered the kingdom of grace is left in this world, that he may be a monument of God's sovereign mercy, that he may give evidence of the transforming power of Divine grace, that he may bring forth the fruits of regeneration. He is still left in the enemy's country, surrounded by those who seek his destruction and carrying a traitor within his own breast. He needs therefore to walk with the utmost caution and circumspection, availing himself of all appointed means of grace. He must spare no pains to keep faith and a good conscience, walking in righteousness and true holiness before God, and in the practice of love, uprightness and mercy toward his fellows. When the question is asked, "Lord, who shall abide in Thy tabernacle? who shall dwell in Thy holy hill?"-that is, Who shall enter heaven?-the inspired answer is, "He that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness, and speaketh the truth in his heart" (Ps. 15:2). Herein we testify that we have entered the kingdom of grace, which stands in "righteousness, and are on our way to the kingdom of glory.
It now remains for us to say a few words on "seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness." This means, let the things of God and your own eternal interests have the chief place in your thoughts and desires, making the glory of God and your own spiritual blessing your paramount concern. It is not that we are required to seek them solely and exclusively to the neglect of temporal duties and responsibilities, but that we must put first things first, and not suffer them to be crowded out by matters of far less importance. Seek them first in time, for the Divine promise is, "those that seek Me early shall find Me" (Prov. 8:17). Seek them first each day, for only as holy happiness be our quest are we fitted to bear bodily trials and afflictions. And after you have, by repentance and faith, by complete surrender to the authority of God, entered His kingdom of grace and righteousness, continue to seek for the evidence of your regeneration, endeavour after closer conformity to the image of Christ and the example He has left us, and strive after more fruitfulness. Seek after an enlargement of His kingdom, by praying for God's blessing on His Word, that He will raise up and thrust forth more laborers into His vineyard, and seek to encourage and help your fellow citizens in that kingdom.
We turn now to look at the reason by which Christ enforces his command: "and all these things shall be added unto you." Here is a grand and glorious promise. In the previous verses our Lord had used one argument after another to show the needlessness and folly of carking care, calling attention to a variety of facts and drawing from them irrefutable conclusions to evidence the sin of distrusting God. But here He makes a plain and positive declaration, assuring us that if we be truly concerned about God's interests He will take care of ours, that if the Divine glory be our principal aim we shall not be the losers temporally. If God be leading us to heaven, He certainly will not deny us such things as bodily sustenance and raiment. "For the Lord God is a sun and shield: the Lord will give grace and glory: no good thing will He withhold from them that walk uprightly" (Ps. 84:11): where He gives "grace and glory" He will not withhold the good things of this life. "Godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come" (1 Tim. 4:8).
"And all these things shall be added unto you." This phrase is very significant in the original. It is taken from a custom which obtained between buyers and sellers when things were sold by measure: the seller adding an extra quantity or over-plus so as to ensure good weight and please his customer. Even so the Lord promises to those who truly seek His kingdom and righteousness that, besides the happy fruition thereof, He will (as it were) throw in for nothing, add for good measure, all the material things needful to this life. We read that "the ark of the Lord continued in the house of Obed-edom the Gittite three months: and the Lord blessed Obed-edom, and all his household" (2 Sam. 6:11): how much more will He bless those who receive His Spirit to rule in their hearts! It may be asked, Why then are any of God's children reduced to destitution? Sometimes to correct them for their sins; sometimes to exercise their faith in the trial of patience. All promises of temporal blessings must always be understood with this qualification: so far as God sees that such bestowments will be for His glory and our highest good.
But let it not be forgotten that the above guarantee is given only to those who meet its stipulation. Which, then, are we seeking first: earthly or heavenly things, the things of self or of God, making good in this world or making sure of an entrance into heaven? "It is startling to see the tide of worldliness rising fast among Christians almost everywhere, with a corresponding ebb in the desire for spiritual prosperity: on all hands there are abounding symptoms of spiritual decay, which it is to be feared will be followed by increasing ambition for fleshly advantage. Our Master's question may well ring in our ears and consciences today: 'What do ye more than others?' Not what know ye more than others? We may pride ourselves on knowing the things of God, which the poor worldling cannot possibly perceive, but if we spend all our energies, crowd our minds, engage our affections, and tax our wits for present worldly advantage, do not the men of this world the same? If we content ourselves with just the Lord's Day observances and meetings, do not religious worldlings the same? If we do not bring forth the fruit of the Spirit in a godly walk, in a faithful testimony, and devoted service, what do we more than others? The most convincing book to the worldling is our manner of living, but if, withal, we are as hard in our dealing, as keen for selfish gains, as inconsiderate for others' rights in our bargains, as shrewd and tricky in running our business as the most wide-awake worldling, he will not believe the book, for its author is a living contradiction" (E. Venn, 1901).
In view of what Christ said in verse 33 we may perceive the mad course which is followed by the vast majority of our fellow men, for they either utterly neglect or only half-heartedly set their affection on the things of God, principally addicting themselves to the things of this life. They take little or no serious thought for the eternal state of their souls, but spend their time and strength in providing for their bodies, which is to grasp at the shadow and ignore the substance. That verse also teaches the Christian with what mind or spirit he should seek temporal blessings, namely with the same honesty and prayerfulness wherewith he seeks the kingdom of God, for they are but appurtenances thereunto and depend upon it, and therefore with an upright heart we must only use lawful means moderately for the getting of them. So also this verse instructs us in the right end whereunto we must use temporal mercies, namely for the furtherance of ourselves and others towards the kingdom of God. Since temporal blessings are dependent on God's kingdom, we must learn contentment in all temporal losses: God's favour remains though worldly goods be gone.
"Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof" (v. 34). By "tomorrow" is here meant the future. In the second half of this verse Christ answers a question which might be evoked by His prohibition in the first: if we must not look forward anxiously, how will it fare with us in the time to come? First, you may be wasting your last hours on earth in fretting over a morrow you may never see! But second, if you are preserved unto the morrow it will bring with it tomorrow's God, and He has promised (1 Cor. 10:13)! Third, what good can your worrying do? It does not empty tomorrow of its trials, but it empties today of its strength and comfort; it does not enable you to escape future trouble, but it unfits you to cope with it when it does come. Fourth, instead of anticipating future evil, discharge present duty-in the spirit of Philippians 4:6, 7. Cross not your bridges before you come to them, but cheerfully shoulder the burden of today and trustfully leave the future to God.