Thursday, June 1st, 2023
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
The Church Pulpit Commentary Church Pulpit Commentary
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Matthew 6". The Church Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ cpc/ matthew-6.html. 1876.
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Matthew 6". The Church Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
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‘Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them … thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.’
In this part of the Sermon on the Mount the Lord Jesus gives us instruction on the giving of alms, a subject to which the Jews attached great importance. It is also one which deserves the serious attention of all professing Christians.
I. The duty of almsgiving.—Our Lord takes it for granted that all who call themselves His disciples will give alms. He assumes as a matter of course that they will think it a solemn duty to give, according to their means, to relieve the wants of others; the only point He handles is the manner in which the duty should be done. This is a weighty lesson: it condemns the selfish stinginess of many in the matter of giving money. A giving Saviour should have giving disciples.
II. Rules for almsgiving.—What are the rules laid down for our guidance about almsgiving? They are few and simple; but they contain much matter for thought.
( a) Everything like ostentation is to be abhorred and avoided. We are not to give as if we wished everybody to see how liberal and charitable we are, and desire the praise of our fellow-men. We are to shun everything like display; we are to give quietly, and make as little noise as possible about our charities; we are to aim at the spirit of the proverbial saying, ‘Let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth.’
( b) Remember that we have to do with a heart-searching and all-knowing God. ‘Our Father seeth in secret.’ He takes no account of the quantity of money we give; the one thing at which His all-seeing eye looks is the nature of our motives and the state of our hearts.
III. Are we sincere?—Here lies a rock, on which many are continually making spiritual shipwreck. God’s favour is not to be bought, as many seem to suppose by the self-righteous payment of a sum of money to a charitable institution. Where are our hearts? Are we doing all, ‘as to the Lord and not to men’? Are we sincere?
—Bishop J. C. Ryle.
‘It was the custom for great personages—princes and governors and such like—when making high procession through some favoured province, to sound a trumpet before them, and scatter largess of gold and silver, whereby they gained the good will of the poor. Our Lord likens the almsgiving of the Pharisees to this kind of lordly display of munificence. Their alms were never distributed without their taking good care, one way or other, to let the good deed be known, so that they might get honour among men. The guilt of this conduct lay entirely in the spirit which actuated them. Jesus detected that spirit. It was not the publicity of their conduct in itself which He blamed, but the ungodly motive which led to that publicity; and it is necessary to bear that in mind, lest we may get in the way of judging others, and judging them unjustly, by the mere external appearance. The really compassionate and liberal man is often put into the front, and obtains a prominence from which he would otherwise gladly shrink; and he gets this position, not with the view of exalting him, but in order that his example may stimulate and encourage others. The difficulty is to reconcile these two things: to avoid all ostentation, and yet at the same time to get all the advantage of generous Christian example.’
ALONE WITH GOD
‘But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret.’
It is the test of what a man is when he is alone with God. The religious life is what we are to God, and what God is to us.
I. A little sanctuary.—Your own heart must be ‘the closet.’ You must manage—in business, in the street, in company, in a crowd,—to make a stillness; to draw the curtains round your mind, and constitute it, for a little while at least, ‘a little sanctuary,’—a quiet, separate, holy place,—and retiring into which, you must feel solitary. Only you and God. And then say your little, silent prayer withdrawn from outer life. So, from the rush and bustle of the day, you must go down into yourselves, and literally fulfil the command, wherever you are.
II. Suggestions for prayer.
( a) Have a purpose. By its being said, ‘ Enter into thy closet,’ it implies that you are not there; but that you go there for the purpose of prayer. It could not, therefore, primarily mean the prayer you say in the morning and evening, when you are already in your room, though it includes it; but such as you go to your room, or to some other place, expressly that you may say it.
( b) Separate yourself. ‘Shut the door’ means separate yourself from all outer things: be, and feel, shut in with God. It would be to very little purpose to turn the handle, if you did not, by the same act, seclude yourself from the world without, worldly pleasures, and worldly business, and worldly associations.
( c) Pray audibly. It has been thought that you are to ‘shut your door’ in order that you may not be overheard, which implies that, even in your ‘closet,’ you pray out loud, in a soft, but in an audible voice. And I could not enjoin this too strongly. You will find it a very great help against wandering thoughts, and a real strength to prayer, if you use your lips in prayer.
( d) Have fatherly views of God. Let it be the prayer, not of a subject to a king, but of a child to a parent. ‘ Pray to thy Father.’
( e) Be definite. Take care that your private communications with ‘your Father’ be not vague,—not such as any one else could say as well as you; but personal, confidential, minute.
( f) Be short. There are seasons when we feel that we could pray and praise for ever. But they are exceptions. More frequently we gain nothing by length, but a larger opportunity for distracting thought. Say what you have to say and finish.
( g) Adore God. There is another part of devotion, which does not occupy its proper place and degree, in most of our holy functions, and yet which is very important—adoration; adoring God for what God is in Himself; not for what He gives: simple, devout, admiring contemplation of God.
Always consider that the greatest act of the day is your private intercourse with God.
—The Rev. James Vaughan.
‘A lady missionary of the C.M.S., working near Jerusalem among Mohammedans, writes: “One little boy, who attends our schools regularly, and is a most diligent, faithful little scholar, lives in a poor home, with just one small room for the whole family. His father is a carpenter, and from what I have heard, must be a harsh, unkind man. The mother (who told the story to a friend of ours) noticed that every night, even in the cold and rain, the little lad went out of the house before lying down to sleep, and remained away for some time. One night she remarked on it to him, and asked him where he went; he told her that he liked to go, and she could get little more out of him, so she determined to follow him and find out where he went. On reaching the door of the room, to her surprise she saw him not far off under a tree, with hands folded and eyes closed, praying!” ’
It is indeed an appalling desecration of an unspeakable privilege that men should pretend to be speaking to God when their only thought really is that the public should form a high notion of their goodness.
I. Private prayer.—But Christ is speaking about private prayer, not about public worship. He is blaming the Pharisees because they said their private prayers in public. That is the point. The danger in which most persons in these busy, matter-of-fact, worldly, pleasure-loving days stand, is not so much of too great publicity in your private prayers; but it is really the danger of never genuinely, seriously, sincerely praying in private at all. Do your pray regularly in private from your heart? Do you really give a few moments at the beginning and at the close of each day to talking on your knees with God? This is what is meant by private prayer.
II. Divine help in prayer.—From this day forth kneel down at your bedside morning and evening, if only for a few moments. Thoughts and words will come of themselves. Simply kneel down, and think for a moment of God, and of what you are yourself, and of what you want from Him. When once you have put your mind in the true attitude of prayer, then that Divine Power, the Holy Spirit, will help you. He kindles our aspirations, and does not let us rise from our knees until we have said something that is worth saying to God. Do you not want help? Amongst all the accidents and chances which may happen in these headlong days, do you need no protection from God? This little simple act of conversing with your Father in heaven the first thing in the morning will have started you well. And however tired you may be with your labours, do not let anything cause you to leave off the day without once more kneeling down and speaking to God before you go to sleep. It would perhaps be well for every one to repeat to themselves as they are closing their eyes, the great evening hymn, ‘Glory to Thee, my God, this night.’
III. Public worship.—But the two points which our Lord presses home so strongly about private prayer, refer also to public worship. Never go to the house of prayer to be seen of men, but only to meet your heavenly Father. And, above all things, do not insult the Almighty by using vain repetitions. That is a risk in all regular forms of worship, because they become so familiar that we sometimes hardly consider what we are saying. Let us be more than ever careful not to allow any words to escape our lips in the house of God without attending to their meaning.
(1)‘I often say my prayers, but do I ever pray?
And do the wishes of my heart go with the words I say?
I may as well kneel down and worship gods of stone,
As offer to the living God a prayer of words alone.
For words without the heart the Lord will never hear;
Nor will He to those lips attend whose prayers are not sincere.’
(2) ‘Prayer is this: to look into the Bible and see what God has promised; to look into our own hearts and ask ourselves what we want; and to look up to God to give us what we want, and what He has promised as the purchase of Christ’s blood; expecting that though we are most unworthy, yet He will be as good as His word.’
PRAYER AND ITS ANSWER
There is no subject upon which men are more sceptical than upon the subject of prayer. Such teaching as that which Christ gives is a hard saying, from its very simplicity and plainness. Men cannot believe that intercourse between God and man can be under any circumstances so close and so real as our Lord over and over again implies that it is.
I. What is prayer?—‘Prayer,’ said St. Augustine, ‘is our speech to God.’ ‘Prayer,’ says another, ‘is the link that connects earth with heaven,’ the impotence of man with the omnipotence of God. ‘Prayer,’ says a recent writer, ‘in its simplest essence is the turning of the soul towards God. It is that act by which the human spirit seeks to come in contact with the Divine Spirit.’
( a) Prayer is man calling upon God. In times of want, of danger, of loneliness, man instinctively calls upon his God. He believes in His omniscience and His omnipotence and His benevolence, and therefore in every moment of need he calls upon His God.
( b) Prayer is the intercourse of the soul with God. It is what our Lord here tells us, asking the Father. ‘When ye pray, say, Our Father.’ We shall never know God till we know Him as a Father. We shall never approach Him as He ought to be approached till we approach Him as a Father.
II. How may prayer be offered with acceptance?—In Christ’s name—‘In My name, My sufficiency, My completeness, My perfected work of redemption,’ the Name above every name, the name of our Great High Priest. This is the basis of our hope, the ground of our acceptance, the prevailing plea that God will hear.
III. May we look for an answer?—Prayer rightly offered is always answered. We find in Scripture, except as our Lord put it before us, absolutely no limits and no conditions. ‘Ask, and ye shall have whatsoever ye shall ask.’ The only condition, therefore, which at all limits the matter is that of fatherhood and sonship in which God stands to us and we stand to God. God may delay to send an answer, or give it us in another form.
IV. Learn two things—
( a) Be particular in your prayers. Generalities are the death of prayer. It is not enough to go with general confession and general petition before your Father. If you believe in the providence of God, if you believe that in every event of life you are under His control, why, you must go with every request and every duty and every care, and lay them before your Father which is in heaven.
( b) Seek from God the spirit of prayer.
(1) ‘An arrow, if it be drawn up but a little way, goes not far, but if it be pulled up to the head it flies swiftly and pierces deep. Thus prayer, if it be only dribbled forth from careless lips, falls at our feet; but if in the strength of ejaculation and strong desire, it sends it to heaven and makes it pierce the clouds. It is not the arithmetic of our prayers, how many they be; nor the rhetoric of our prayers, how eloquent they be; nor their geometry, how long they be; nor their music, how sweet their voice may be; nor their logic, how argumentative they be; nor yet their method, how orderly they be; nor even their divinity, how good their doctrine may be, which God cares for: but it is the fervency of spirit which availeth much.’
(2)‘Be not afraid to pray. To pray is right.
Pray if thou canst with hope,
Though hope be weak, or sick with long delay;
Pray in the darkness if there be no light.
Far is the time, remote from human sight,
When war and discord on the earth shall cease;
Yet every prayer for universal peace
Avails the blessed time to expedite.
Whate’er is good to wish, ask that of Heaven,
Though it be what thou canst not hope or see.
Pray to be perfect, though material leaven
Forbid the spirit so on earth to be.
But if for any wish thou darest not pray,
Then pray to God to cast that wish away!’
THE HALLOWED NAME
‘Hallowed be Thy name.’
If the highest reach of prayer is to approach as near as we can to the worship of heaven, how can we get nearer to the ‘Holy, Holy, Holy,’ than by breathing faintly out of our weaker state, ‘Hallowed be Thy name’? So that indeed we may say that the more we can match the spirit of those words, the closer we come to the anthems of the redeemed, and to the angels’ song.
I. God’s name.—In Holy Scripture the expression ‘name’ means the whole subject for which it stands. Therefore, in God’s name three things are included—God’s being—God’s character—God’s work.
( a) God’s being. It is threefold. And the Bible has been very careful to show, respecting each of the Three Persons of the Blessed Trinity, that the especial characteristic of each is holiness. The Father is ‘the Holy One of Israel,’ ‘the Holy God.’ The Son is ‘the Holy Child Jesus,’ ‘the Holy One and the Just.’ While the familiar and invariable appellation of the Third Person of the Godhead is ‘the Holy Ghost.’
( b) God’s character. God has been pleased to reveal His character even by His name. Moses learns God’s eternal, irresponsible independence and sovereignty at the bush, when he asked, ‘What is Thy name?’ and God said unto Moses, ‘I am that I am.’ Presently, God adds His Divine, infinite power, when He introduced Himself for the first time by that name ‘Jehovah.’ Our blessed Lord declared God’s name: ‘declared unto them Thy name, and will declare it: that the love wherewith Thou hast loved Me may be in them, and I in them.’ And St. John who records these words carries out the thought in his first epistle, and condenses it all into one idea, one name—‘God is love.’
( c) God’s work. Turn to Psalms 8. It begins, ‘O Lord our Lord, how excellent is Thy name in all the earth!’ That is expanded, it takes its lofty course of thought along the glory of omnipotence to the next glory, the glory of babes. Then, the glory of the heavenly bodies. Then, the glory of the man Christ Jesus. Then, the glory of us in Christ Jesus,—glory in humiliation,—glory and dominion over every creature. And the climax is the beginning again, ‘O Lord our Lord, how excellent is Thy name in all the earth!’
Have large and worthy views of what you mean when you say ‘Hallowed be Thy name.’
II. What is intended by hallowing?—There are three parts in the word ‘Hallow.’
( a) It means to separate—for holy use.
( b) It means to exalt—dedicate and consecrate to its original purpose.
( c) It means to extend—to honour it among men.
III. The way of holiness.—Lastly, God has taught us that the best and most effectual way to promote our own holiness is to exalt His. The two thoughts are beautifully bound up together in many places,—‘Ye shall be holy; for I the Lord your God am holy.’
The Rev. James Vaughan.
This is a petition respecting God’s name.
I. The Divine Name.—By the ‘name’ of God we mean all those attributes under which He is revealed to us,—His ( a) power, ( b) wisdom, ( c) holiness, ( d) justice, ( e) mercy, and ( f) truth.
II. Must he hallowed.—By asking that they may be ‘hallowed,’ we mean that they may be made known and glorified. The glory of God is the first thing that God’s children should desire. It is the object of one of our Lord’s own prayers: ‘Father, glorify Thy name’ (St. John 12:28).
( a) It is the purpose for which the world was created.
( b) It is the end for which the saints are called and converted.
( c) It is the chief thing we should seek, that ‘God in all things may be glorified’ ( 1 Peter 4:11).
—Bishop J. C. Ryle.
GOD’S WILL IN WORSHIP AND WORK
‘Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.’
Is not this impossible? Is it not impossible that God’s will should ever be done here on earth as it is in heaven? And yet we dare not have a lower ideal, or nothing can be accomplished, either individually or as a Church.
I. Grounds of hope.—No words can exaggerate the awful evil of the world. Shall it make us Christian people despair? Can we still pray, in the face of all this hideous wrong, ‘Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven?’ Thank God we can say yes, we can still do it, for there is amid all our sorrow and sadness hope, hope that comes from the Church above, hope as long as there is above the great God and Father who loves without any distinction every single man and woman, boy and girl that He has made; hope as long as there is the blessed Son of Man, the Lamb, still presenting Himself in the endless Power of His Passion; hope as long as the Divine Spirit takes of the things of Jesus and shows them to His people; hope as long as the angels and glorified saints fulfil in absolute perfection God’s will in worship and in work around and from the throne; hope, because through the Incarnation of the Lord Jesus, we are in union with the Father and the Holy Spirit; hope, because in the strength of that union we can still pray the prayer ‘Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven’; we can still in the strength of that union, go forth and do our best to fulfil that will on earth.
II. The will of God in worship.—Let the Church of Christ awake throughout the length and breadth of the land, and fulfil the will of God in worship; let prayer and praise sound within the walls of her sacred buildings day by day; let there be no keeping back of God’s worship from the great God; let the Eucharist of worship and thanksgiving never cease; and let the Church realise that her worship on earth is one with the worship above.
III. The will of God in work.—Let the Church of Jesus Christ awake throughout the length and breadth of the land and fulfil God’s will in work. Let her faithfully in every parish gather in and keep the children for God in baptism and confirmation, that there they may be united to Jesus, who alone can make them what we want everybody to become, true children of God; it will be the only way out of our difficulties. Let her go forth and extend, both at home and abroad, her great mission-field. Let her lift up a great and true Salvation in Jesus, without money and without price. And let her awake throughout the length and breadth of the land, and be distinctly on the side of all that makes for righteousness and purity and truth, earnestly desiring that the Kingdom of Jesus Christ may come more and more on earth. Thus worshipping and thus working we shall feel our union with God. Men and women fail so terribly to realise their union with God because they are not doing His will.
The Rev. the Hon. R. E. Adderley.
‘So meanwhile, dear Lord, pray on,
Reign in righteousness, Redeemer,
Till all heaven and earth are one,
One in truth and high endeavour,
Earth’s huge wrongs for ever gone;
Human tears wiped off from sorrow,
Causing human hearts to break;
And the voice cries from God’s presence,
“All things new, behold, I make.” ’
THE OBEDIENCE OF ANGELS
We have the highest authority for studying “The Obedience of Angels,” seeing that our Lord has made it the very model we are to copy, and has placed a petition for the attainment of its likeness in our daily supplications.
The most speaking picture of obedience in the whole world is that description of the seraphim, in the sixth chapter of Isaiah, to which we have so often referred. ‘Above it stood the seraphim: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly.’ Observe: two-thirds are given to veneration and to modesty; to self-hiding and piety; one-third to grand, rapid, busy, lofty work. That is obedience. First, devotion, a devout feeling; then self-sacrifice; then quick, rapid, soaring service. ‘With twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly.’ Let all our hearts gaze reverently, and say, ‘Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.’
I. Doing God’s behest.—An angel, by his very nature, is a servant doing God’s behest. It is laid upon him; it is a necessity and a law of his being. With us, service is too much an occasional thing—put on at times; done and left. It must not be so if you are to be like an angel. It must be an essential part of every moment of life—reality: the sum and substance, the whole of your existence, continuous, obedient service. All the day long; every little thing a service. Therefore holy; therefore pleasant—because it is service.
II. An angel’s work.—‘Their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven.’ We do not give to angels ubiquity. Therefore, Christ must mean, either while angels are exercising their offices to the little ones, they still have their eye on the person and countenance of God; or, which seems more likely, that the same angels who one day serve the little ones, do at another time stand around the throne and look on God. And hence their power and their joy. They go wherever they go—straight from the immediate presence of God. So they carry their sunshine; so they carry their might: just so must you.
III. An angel’s obedience is the obedience of a happy being. You will not do much—you will not even obey well—till you are happy. You must be as sure that God is your God, as an archangel is sure of it, and more—for He is more your God than He is any angel’s God. Obedience is the fruit of happiness. It matters nothing to an angel what the work is which is given him to do. It is Who has given him to do it. It is simple obedience. ‘God has said it’; and all equally great and equally good because it all comes from infinity, and that infinity is Love.
The Rev. James Vaughan.
1 ‘Mr. Fisk, in his narrative of a journey to Jerusalem, relates that a Grand Vizier, in high favour with the Sultan, was suddenly disgraced and deprived of all his property. He at once conformed to his new circumstances, and was seen selling lemons at a street corner, where he was sympathetically accosted by an English nobleman who had known him in his glory. He replied, “I am not at all unhappy. Allah gave me what I had: He had a perfect right to take it away: Allah is great, Allah is good!” How much more should we who know God as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ pray with unquestioning submission, “Thy will be done”!’
‘Give us this day our daily bread.’
How small a part of this model prayer is devoted to our bodily necessities! One single petition is all, and this of the simplest kind. Yet it is a larger one than it looks. The word ‘bread’ must stand for the necessaries of existence.
I. A rebuke of extravagance.—This prayer rebukes extravagance and intemperance and enfeebling luxury. It is quite possible for us to create wants which are no part of our Divine endowment. The word ‘bread’ may show that only the simple, healthy satisfaction of an incorrupted nature is here referred to. We may indulge and spoil ourselves until we want a thousand things which are altogether unnecessary and unnatural. This prayer is as far removed from wasteful indulgence as it is from offensive self-neglect. It recognises our bodily existence as worthy of prayer; it does not recognise the deadly parasites which prey upon it.
II. A prayer for a manly will.—There are many who eat bread which is not their own. Whosoever is not working, says Carlyle, is begging or stealing. What is the cause of the greater part of our painful poverty? Of course there are exceptional cases. But as a rule men bring poverty on themselves, or it is their own fault that they do not rise out of it. They break the law of work, and because they will not work neither do they eat. There is what Burke calls ‘a. guilty poverty.’ We must change men’s characters and convert them from idleness and improvidence and intemperance, and the pauperism will disappear. Prayer is that way by which character is changed. Once a whole nation, in deep reverence before God, and in submission to His manifested will, prays this prayer, ‘Give us this day our daily bread,’ then the workhouse may be abolished.
III. A prayer for the spirit by which we may gain bread.—It is a prayer that we may be saved from the vice of indolence, improvidence, extravagance, and intemperance. It is a prayer that our characters may be cleansed from a degrading selfishness, and started and strengthened in the path of manly regard and duty. It is a prayer for an honourable spirit of independence which disdains to be a beggar, a hanger-on upon others, the recipient of doles spent in fashionable or squalid self-indulgence, to be a shameless borrower who never pays, and a debtor who preys upon the unwary.
IV. A prayer which will evoke the spirit of brotherly love.—He who says, ‘Give us’—not me merely, not a selfish prayer—he who says, ‘Give us our daily bread,’ and says it to God for God to hear him, and to look into his heart to see that he is sincere, will not pass by his needy brother. The charity which prays but does not give is shallow charity.
—Dean W. Page Roberts.
‘Certain French missionaries travelled with a Buddhist who professed to be a Christian. When they had safely crossed over a difficult mountain top, the Buddhist proposed that they should give something as a thanksgiving for their deliverance from peril. He suggested that they might provide horses for the service of future worn-out travellers. The priests were astonished at the proposal, for they had no horses to give nor money with which to buy any. Then the Buddhist, being a religious man, explained that it was not necessary to give real horses; if they made imitations of horses of bits of paper and threw them over the precipice and let the wind carry them away, and then said one or two prayers, the bits of paper would be changed into real horses by Divine power. And when we pray for ourselves and for others, “Give us this day our daily bread,” and are stingy and wasteful and hard-hearted, giving nothing, or giving but the shabbiest offering, our charity is but paper charity; not bank paper but waste paper.’
AS WELL FOR THE BODY AS THE SOUL
If we were to sum up in short petition all our ordinary wants we should express them very differently. We are toiling for tomorrow, for next year, for our old age, and our children when we are gone. But text teaches us a better and nobler lesson—one of simple dependence upon God.
I. Daily bread for the body.—In this sense the prayer is one for our physical well-being in general—food, raiment, shelter. We leave ourselves in His hands. See, too, it is the great family who are praying, ‘Give us.’ Are there any near you known to be destitute? Such want this prayer pledges us to relieve.
II. Daily bread for spiritual life.—The text has a higher import. Spiritual life needs its daily bread. What is the spiritual food on which the soul must feed? The Lord answers: ‘I am the Bread of Life.’ Not faith, nor love, nor holiness, nor anything short of Christ Himself can feed the spiritual being of man. Do we need wisdom, holiness, a perfect pattern, a dear friend? All these we have in Him. We pray that we may live each day on Christ. We do not pray for long days to come, but for our daily bread, just so much food for our spirits as God may see fit to send us.
THE CHRISTIAN AND TEMPORAL GIFTS
Look at the believer’s way of seeking temporal things from God. See the piety of the prayer, and then the faith, and then the moderation.
I. The piety of the prayer.—It is a beautiful thing, in the sight of God and His holy angels, to see a godly man get up in the morning, and surrounded by his wife and children, put special emphasis upon the words of my text, ‘Give us this day our daily bread.’ He looks round and sees his family. He knows that the bread they eat depends more or less on his toil, and he puts an emphasis on the ‘us.’ He thanks God that He has made the ‘us’ so large that it includes all that he holds dear, his wife, his children; yes, possibly many more, and he prays, ‘Give us this day our daily bread.’ What does it matter if the next meal does depend upon his labour? Things may change, health may fail, trials may draw near, but it is the Lord Who changeth not; and that poor man goes forth from his knees to his work full of joy.
II. The faith of the prayer.—We have far more difficulty in trusting God with regard to temporal matters than with regard to spiritual matters. ‘Spiritual things,’ we say, ‘these are in God’s province; for temporal things I have to depend upon myself.’ Is it so? God withdraws His Hand. You lie, perhaps, upon the bed of sickness, you live by charity. Do you depend upon your own powers, upon your own ability? No, it is given you, given; and what a useful lesson it is! Every morning, yes, often during the day, you should pray, ‘Give us.’ Why? ‘Because I depend upon Thee, Great Lord, because the power of brain and body which Thou hast given me Thou canst take away. Therefore, give it me, keep it for me. Give me all that is included in the word, “bread.” ’
III. The moderation of the prayer.—We see that in time, manner, and degree. Enough for the day is the evil thereof. Do not imagine that I do not want you to make provision for tomorrow; I do. But I do not want you to make anxious provision. That is all the difference in the world. That is the difference between what is good and what is evil. God will provide. In the East this word ‘bread’ is made to stand for all the necessaries of life. God knows what is necessary. We leave it a blank in God’s Hand. We say, Give us this day all that we need for our bodily sustenance. Is that not enough?
The Rev. J. J. Jenkins.
FORGIVENESS FOR THE FORGIVING
‘Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.’
It is with the precious promises of God’s Word before us, and with all the bitter remembrance of our shortcomings behind us, that our Lord bids us bend daily before our gracious Father in heaven, and say in penitence and humility, in love, trust, and hope, ‘Forgive us our debts.’
I. We are forgiven.
( a) Not cheaply, because that would encourage other beings and worlds to rebel and ruin themselves; but,
( b) By the infinite and never-failing love of our all-pitying God, and for the sake of that Divine embodiment of love Who died for us, and rose again, and ever liveth to make intercession for us;
( c) For His Divine, omnipotent sacrifice, which took away the sins of the world, in the face of angels, principalities and powers, and distant worlds, and the wide universe, and things present and things to come;
( d) In order that God may be feared and not defied, that He may be loved and not challenged;
( e) That we may ever be renewed, and in every time of need obtain help from Him that sitteth on the Throne in eternal love.
II. We must forgive.—Among conditions of our forgiveness there is one of which we have daily to remind ourselves. In the very act of prayer we are taught to remember it. The temper that does not forgive cannot be forgiven, because it is itself a proof that we have no idea of the debt we owe.
‘O God, my sins are manifold; sins against my life Thy cry,
And all my guilty deeds foregone up to Thy Temple fly.
Wilt Thou release my trembling soul, that to despair is driven?
“Forgive!” a blessed voice replied, “and thou shalt be forgiven.”
My foemen, Lord, are fierce and fell; they spurn me in their pride;
They render evil for my good; my patience they deride.
Arise, my King, and be the proud in righteous ruin driven!
“Forgive!” the awful answer came, “as thou wouldst be forgiven.”
Seven times, O Lord, I’ve pardoned them; seven times they’ve sinned again;
They practise still to work my woe and triumph in my pain;
But let them dread my vengeance now, to just resentment given!
“Forgive!” the voice in thunder spake, “or never be forgiven!” ’
GOD’S FORGIVENESS AND MAN’S RESPONSE
I. All forgiveness springs from God’s love.—It is in the sacred Passion that we see so wonderfully how the love of God acts. We may notice it in four particulars:—
( a) God in His great love determined to place before us the way of recovery. God seeks us; He sent His Son.
( b) And then He pleads with us. The Lord pleaded with Judas, Peter, and Pilate. He pleaded in silence on the Cross.
( c) And then, again, we see in the Passion the love that forgives us, interceding. ‘Father, forgive them!’
( d) And then, once more, we see love suffering. There is the wonderful thing—that God in saving us should suffer!
And what we see our Lord did in his Passion He is doing now. He still seeks. He still pleads. He still intercedes.
II. Man’s response.—If we are to lay hold of this forgiveness, what is our part? We must respond. The Lord seeks us; we have got to seek Him. He pleads with us by His Holy Spirit. And then, if He intercedes for us, we must be very careful to respond to His love.
III. The spirit of forgiveness.—But once more, if we are to lay hold upon forgiveness our Lord tells us that there must really be the spirit of forgiveness in us. If you want to return the love of God, St. John tells us very plainly, you must show love to your brethren. If you would respond to this love of God in forgiveness, it means that you must return as well as you can the love of God. And you cannot do that unless you have enough of the spirit of Christ, which is the spirit of love, to all His creatures. The forgiveness of God seeks. We must be ready to seek those who have injured us, to seek them with a view to reconciliation. We must be ready to plead with them, and we must certainly be ready to pray for them; and we cannot have the spirit of Jesus Christ unless we are ready to suffer for them, to take trouble for them. The forgiveness for which we pray in the Lord’s Prayer is not a matter of mere feeling. It is a matter of willingness to seek reconciliation.
—The Rev. James Vaughan.
THE GRAND DOXOLOGY
‘For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever, Amen.’
As the Lord’s Prayer began by asking three things concerning God,—that His name, that His empire, that His will, might be magnified,—so it ends with a lofty ascription of God’s praise in these threefold attributes,—‘the kingdom, the power, and the glory.’
I. The Doxology.—We may regard these words as a doxology, and it teaches us not only the beauty and necessity of praise, but it shows us what the nature of that praise should be,—not for gifts only, not for graces only, but for what God is in Himself,—His being, His name, His greatness. Surely this is the highest attainment in devotion,—to go up and down in God, and to adore God for what He does, for what He has, for what He is.
II. The reason for it.—The expression is evidently not merely a doxology, but it is an argumentative doxology:—‘ For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory.’ It establishes a plea to every petition which has gone before it, and lays a groundwork for the believer’s claim. And you will observe that this groundwork lies in nothing whatever that can possibly be in the creature. It is not in faith, it is not in want, it is not in goodness, it is not in sin; but it is in God:—‘For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory.’ The whole strength of the Lord’s Prayer rests itself upon God.
III. The virtue and sufficiency of prayer lie in a threefold recognition of God.
( a) First, His ‘kingdom.’ Whoever would pray, must first take care that he really admits the sovereignty of Almighty God.
( b) Secondly, true prayer never stops to ask how. It leaves it here,—‘Thine is the power,’—Thou knowest how. The way may seem, to our mind, stopped up,—the desired issue may be, to sense and reason, impossible. What then? It is, then, the very point for ‘Jehovah-Jireh, in the mount of the Lord it shall be seen.’
( c) Thirdly, true prayer fixes its eagle eye above the gifts, above the thrones, above the angels and the saints, on the ‘glory’ of God.
IV. The Grand Amen.—No one could perhaps say, concerning the whole of the Lord’s Prayer, ‘So it is with my soul.’ But to every part of that prayer, his conscience will bear him witness, that his heart leaps to it. Therefore, he loves to throw it back upon God’s faithfulness, and say, ‘Amen.’ And ‘Amen’ will never be the word it ought to be to you, till you see in your ‘Amen’ the name of the Lord Jesus Christ,—‘the Amen, the True and Faithful witness in heaven.’
—The Rev. James Vaughan.
THE LENTEN FAST
‘When ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites.’
‘When ye fast,’—the Lord takes it absolutely as granted that none of His followers will attempt to evade, or be so foolish as to forget, the obvious benefit and necessity of this good old practice. ‘When ye fast,’ and then follow His directions.
I. The need of discipline.—‘When ye fast, be not as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance’; they fast, and fast, He seems to say, in vain, for it is the letter of the law they obey, whilst they violate its spirit. What is needed is real discipline. The formalist merely fasts to gain praise or notice. He has his reward. But what we must aim at, the disciplining of the spirit, is just the reverse of all this. What he considers gain, the Lord tells us is loss. ‘When ye fast’; the Lord lays down no iron rule of abstention from this form of food or the other, but He does lay down the immutable law that the fast is to be inward, and not outward. Each man may judge for himself that which is right for himself.
II. Things to abstain from.—But the teaching of the Lord is wider and bolder than all this. We ought to fast from many things besides food. For examples:—( a) Strong drink; ( b) Extravagance; ( c) Over-dress. Such, then, in spirit, is the fast the Lord enjoins. It is right that we should observe the letter, that we should keep the pious rules handed down in the Church of Christ; but besides the letter, the Lord expressly enjoins us to keep the spirit. To abstain from all appearance of evil, to walk circumspectly, to have an eye always fixed on the recompense of the reward; in a word, to remember we have no abiding city here, but that we seek one to come; this, and nothing short of this, is to be our aim and object.
—The Rev. Osborne Jay.
THE DISCIPLINE OF THE BODY
The text is taken from the Gospel appointed for Ash Wednesday, which conveys an earnest warning to every Churchman. We enter upon the great forty days of Lent, as ‘Days of Fasting or Abstinence’; and the Lord says to each one of us, ‘When ye fast, be not as the hypocrites.’ We are not to fast to be seen of men; we are not to fast for any other purpose than that which led the Lord Himself to fast, viz. to discipline the body and to bring it into subjection. It will be profitable for us to consider on this first day of Lent the relation of the body to the spirit.
I. The body a servant.—To establish the right relations between the body and the spirit, the body must be kept in its place. The body is a very good servant, but a very bad master, and if it is allowed to get out of its place and cease to be a servant and become a master, it becomes a cruel tyrant. Do not despise your body. God forbid. It is good; God made it, and made it with wonderful perfection. Moreover, it is the temple of the Holy Ghost; yes, the Holy Spirit of God has enshrined Himself in us by virtue of our baptism and our confirmation, while more than that, the Son of God condescended to tabernacle and enshrine Himself in our body, and He gives Himself to us in the Blessed Sacrament. The spirit is meant to rule and the body is meant to obey, and so long as that relation is kept then all will go well and smoothly, if the spirit is under the direct guidance of God Himself; but reverse that order, once let the body get the upper hand, then everything goes wrong, and moral chaos and confusion must necessarily follow. The Lenten discipline of fasting just does this then: it keeps the body in its proper place.
II. Its effect upon the spirit.—Yes, but you answer, ‘There is nothing wrong in eating and drinking.’ It may be in itself of no importance what we eat or do not eat, but it is important to teach the habit of obedience, and so to bring our bodies under the word of command, to teach the body to listen to the word ‘No’ when the body would itself perhaps have said ‘Yes’; and then when we have learned that lesson, when some great temptation assails us through the flesh, the habit that is formed will assert itself and save us, perhaps, from falling into deadly sin. So, keep under the body, and bring it into subjection by the Lenten fast.
III. The appeal from the Cross.—And does not the Lord Jesus plead with us from the Cross? From the Cross with outstretched hands He cries, ‘This have I done for thee; what hast thou done for Me?’ The Lenten discipline of fasting give us an opportunity of sharing in some degree in His sufferings by uniting ourselves with Him in Lent. Let us try and keep very close to Him in this Lent, and by sharing a little in the sufferings He endured for us.
—The Rev. Alfred Holland.
‘The Jews to this day practise rigorous fasting: many a little Jewish boy or girl in the poorest quarters of a London slum will voluntarily and eagerly share the long fast of the Day of Atonement with the elder members of the family. No particle of food, no drop of water, for long hours must pass their lips. And yet they glory in their obedience. Ask them why, and they will reply, “It is part of my religion.” You will get no other answer, and you will not need one, for no better one could be imagined. “Part of my religion”; that is what the very disciples whom Jesus Christ was addressing would have acknowledged fasting to be. Prayer, which the Lord inculcated, was no new thing; worship, which He enjoined, was nothing fresh; the Jew was of course accustomed to both, in synagogue and Temple. And so with fasting: the Lord assumes it is a thing familiar to His hearers. And so it was: turn to the Old Testament Scriptures, and you will find the custom a continual one.’
TREASURES IN HEAVEN
‘But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven.’
The love of accumulation is such a principle in our nature, that it will be doubted whether there is any man who is altogether free from the power of its fascination. The object will appear according to a man’s education, or circumstances, or bias.
I. The only true investment.—Every man who reflects will directly admit that the only true investment, for an immortal being, must be in eternity. The man of the world heaps up everything in that tabernacle that is dropping about him, and he can find nothing in that city, whither every day he is hastening! Yet, is not there many a silent monitor which tells him this is no treasure-place, no safe? Do not the many ‘thieves,’ of many cares, ‘break through and steal’ of his peace and his treasure? When the object is gained, does not some polluting thing come in and spoil the joy? But the Christian, every portion of his being, here; every moment he spends; every word he speaks; every thought he thinks—has its result and its reflection in that unseen world. Thus, everything done for God’s grace, and for God’s glory, is like something planted out of this world into the soil of another state. It is a deposit, which will appear again.
II. Treasures in heaven.—Let us take an instance or two of the manner in which a Christian may ‘lay up treasures in heaven.’
( a) Friends in heaven. As we go along the little journey of life, one and another quickly passes away. If these companions and friends of the way were associated with us by no other than the common ties of fellowship, then, when they die, they are, to say the least, no longer precious to us. But what, and if they were the children of God, are they not ‘gone before,’ to their Father, and our Father; to their home, and our home? And is not each departed one an actual increase of the deep and holy ‘treasure,’ which is awaiting us in another state?
( b) Those to whom we have been useful. The joy that surpasses all other joys, which we carry with us from this world, will be the meeting again with those to whom we have been useful in this present life. Who shall conjecture what will be the interchange of such love—the delightful memories, or recognitions of passages of thought and sympathy, which there were between us in this lower state? And then, the blended hallelujah! St. Paul does not hesitate to say that such was his ‘joy, and his crown of rejoicing, in the day of the Lord Jesus.’ Surely the very light of those whom we have led to Christ will be cast back in greater radiance to our own honoured spirits, in order that we may ‘shine as the brightness of the firmament, and as the stars for ever and ever!’ What a motive is here to act that part—to do good to the soul of somebody!
III. Talents for heaven.—Every man has his time, and his talents, and his influence, and his money, as working materials. So that if in the use of these, he is constantly considering their value for eternity; that he so spends his time, so exercises his talents, so apportions his money, that some effect shall be produced, which shall outlive this world, and does it with that avowed object,—gradually, that man takes up more and more interest, and connects it with the future state—more of his time is spent on the things of God—more effort is made to extend God’s glory upon the earth—a larger portion of his income goes to holy uses,—that man is putting by ‘treasures,’ gradually into God’s bank.
—The Rev. James Vaughan.
CHOOSING THE BEST
‘Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.’
This is the reason which our Lord gives for the precepts which go immediately before. And our hearts re-echo the Saviour’s words.
I. A principle of human nature.—We all know how true it is that a man’s heart, his thoughts, his plans by day and his dreams by night, are with the things he values, whatever they are; with his favourite pursuits or pleasures, his riches, of whatever kind they may be. This is simply a principle of human nature. What our Lord does here is to warn us to turn this universal habit to account, to make good use of it, to make it a moral force, a lever to help us in our labour, and not a dead weight to hinder us and pull us back again.
II. The best things to choose.—There are but two courses open to us. Either to serve the world all our lives, and to take the chance of being able and willing when old age comes to us to serve God then; or the safe and happy course, to serve Him all our lives long. What then shall be our treasures?
( a) The favour of our heavenly Father the thing we most wish to keep.
( b) The will of God, doing the duty He has given us.
( c) The love of God. Let our hearts be in heaven, even while our hands are busy with earthly work; that so when death comes to us we may truly find heaven a home to our souls.
SINGLENESS OF EYE
‘The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light.’
The finest organ of the body is the ‘eye.’ Therefore it has been made the allegory of spiritual things. The idea conveyed by a ‘single eye,’ appears to be threefold. First, clear, with no film; secondly, in opposition to double, seeing one object at a time; and thirdly, concentration, centred upon a focus. These three thoughts mainly go to make up the word ‘single’: distinctness, oneness, fixedness.
I. Distinctness.—What is it which corresponds in the spiritual life to a natural ‘eye’? Surely it is the faculty of the soul by which we perceive and by which we deal with things otherwise invisible. It is very nearly, but not quite, the same thing as faith, and all that is wanting is, that the ‘eye’ be ‘single,’—clear, simple, concentrated. Many things may give a dullness to the moral ‘light.’ If it be impaired by disuse, or if we accustom ourselves to look on things too bright, unrevealed mysteries, deep, hidden things, which belong to a higher condition of our being. But still more, things coming in between, veil and darken that higher vision. A worldly life is sure to do it. Much care will do it. Luxury will do it. But still more any wilful unbelief, or any strong prejudice. By such things your intelligence on Divine subjects will certainly grow cloudy.
II. Oneness.—Equally important is the habit of one great purpose. Why is the view which most of us have of spiritual things so poor, so shadowy, and so indiscriminate? We see double. We are trying to compass, at the same time, two things, which never lie in the same field of sight, the world and God. The consequence is—both are spoiled. He who would see truth, must look at truth only. He who would see Jesus, must gather his thoughts upon Jesus only. You must have your one point of religious perspective.
III. Fixedness.—And then upon that one object you must concentrate yourself. All the acquisitions of learning,—all you have of art and talent,—all power,—must bear upon that point. It must meet you in the morning, and the last thing at night. Your whole mind, affections, hopes, interests, must meet there. If you look away a little while, it is only to fix your ‘eye’ there the most decidedly and the most restfully. You converge your eternity upon God. Thus by clearness,—by oneness,—by force,—‘your eye is single.’
—The Rev. James Vaughan.
THE TWO MASTERS
‘No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.’
This is one of those passages which are very hard to preach upon honestly, making the words mean what they do, and refraining from making them seem to mean what they do not.
I. The sanctification of labour.—Jesus Christ, Who made men to live together, and to live by their labour, and Who so ordered the world that men should have to lay up to-day what would be wanted to-morrow—sow in order to reap, gather in summer what would not be given in winter—He, Who appointed all this, spoke these words for the instruction of men who, He knew, would have to live by their business and by their looking forward; and He spake them not only for those who first heard them, but for all generations to the end of time. To the first-called, indeed, those sharp, stern words, ‘No man can serve two masters,’ ‘Take no thought for the morrow,’ ‘Take no thought for your life,’ had the most literal meaning which they could have. But Christ did not mean His Gospel to be always beginning, always a time of introducing His religion to the world. When the Apostles’ work was done, and the Gospel had taken possession of whole nations, men who had learned the great lesson about Christ and everlasting life were to return to their work and ordinary employment. The world was still to go on; and it can only go on by men being busy and provident, by their labouring each at his trade, and, as it is called, making money. Our Lord did not mean to abolish and condemn labour and business. What He meant to do was to fill it all with His Heavenly Spirit, to purify, sanctify, to direct it to its true end.
II. The essence of Christianity.—But He did not speak in vain when He said: ‘No man can serve two masters’; ‘Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness’; ‘Take no thought for the morrow.’ He did not speak them merely for those who were to have the hard and painful work of setting up the beginnings of the Church; He spake them for Christians of quiet and settled times as well; and perhaps they are more solemn in their living and eternal meaning to us, who are not meant to fulfil them literally. Worldliness was not likely to be the special temptation of those who had (literally) given up all they had, and were going to die for Christ, but to those who are called to live a busy life in the world, whose duty it is to guide its affairs, to provide for their families. His words throw a responsibility upon us to live after their true spirit, and supply a test, which is continually making proof of the earnestness of our conscience. They remind us that the Gospel is a religion which was founded on the sacrifice of all that the world holds dear. Sacrifice of self, of will, of pleasure, of hope.
III. Our home not here.—These words remind us, also, that our religion is one in which this world is absolutely as nothing in comparison with the world to come. Our home is not here. The will, the whole Will of God will be done, must be done there. No one there can serve two masters, and the time, during which it is possible to try and do it here, is as nothing compared to that eternity in which we shall have to take the consequences and lament our folly.
‘Are you not, at this moment, trying to give a divided service, and therefore are you not living a double life? You try to combine spiritual things with secular. Each has its plan, its time, its consideration. Now, it is an earthly object; now, it is a heavenly. Christ here, the world there. Your aim and intention is to compass both—to please both, to enjoy both. You know how differently you feel, and speak, and act, according to the circumstances in which you are placed. You wish to serve and enjoy God—you wish to serve and enjoy this present life—as much as you possibly can. So it comes to pass, that a divided service is making a double life? Now, what is a double life in the sight of Almighty God? He does not acknowledge it; He declares it is an impossibility. The far end, the centre of thought, the chief delight, determines who the master is. The master can only be one. And, your conscience being judge, if “the world” is uppermost, “the world” is your master; and if you serve “the world” you cannot serve God!’
THE LAW OF PROPORTION
‘Is not the life more than meat?’
I. A law of proportion.—It is necessary that there should be the distinction of greater and less in the business of life. It is in this men differ most perhaps—the faculty of discriminating and of bending the force of their nature towards the major concerns. Not that there is any absolute, fixed proportion amongst human interests themselves. Yet are there certain acknowledged relations and proportions, as shown by the text. Yet this distinction is instinctive or common-sense rather than absolute.
II. Its bearing upon conduct.—It is ‘ the greater care for that which is more important and valuable.’ Not ‘neglect of ourselves,’ neglect of everything but the chief thing, but ‘let your care be properly distributed,’ or rather ‘seek the chief good in all things.’
( a) This restatement of the Law is provoked by the actual behaviour of men. No doubt there was coxcombry and finery in those days as in this. But even more pitiful, because more inveterate and invulnerable, was and is the anxiety to ‘get rich.’
(b) No real human interest, however trifling, is to be neglected.
( c) That which has the greatest claim upon human interest is here only suggested. The first steps in the calculation are stated; the hearer can follow out the process to the end for himself. If raiment be but secondary to the body it covers, what can the body itself be, compared with the spirit of which it, in turn, is but the raiment? What if our care for living be neglect of life?
—The Rev. St. John A. Frere.
LESSONS FROM LILIES
‘Consider the lilies.’
Is there nothing ironic in proposing to a congregation of hard workers to take courage from the lilies, which toil not, nor spin? If we resembled them we should all starve. And is there no flaw in the reasoning which infers that we ought not to be ‘anxious for our lives,’ while admitting that these, for all their loveliness, to-morrow are cast into the oven? These objections are plausible only if we have quite missed the real thought of Jesus. Between us and the bird and the lily, He institutes not a comparison but a contrast. They toil not nor spin: they have no mandate and no mission; yet, slight though they be, their splendour is beyond the pomp of kings. Surely His workers are much more precious; He shall much more clothe and feed you.
I. It was Christ Who spoke.—Jesus said, ‘Consider the lilies.’ If He were no more He would still be not only the greatest of religious teachers, but quite alone in the character of His teaching. Jesus Christ, amid the awful things of time and eternity, taught man, as none other did, the lessons of the impulses of nature. He bade us be not too busy to consider the fowls of the air and the lilies of the field. He was really interested in such things; they were not to Him the material for rhetorical phrase-making. He said, ‘Your heavenly Father careth for them.’ To the mind of Jesus, and therefore to the mind of God which He declared unto us, beauty was a sacred thing. It was His Father Who spread the Galilean fields with a carpet more splendid than the robes of Solomon. No wonder, then, that He recognised and bade men ponder well their loveliness. Gazing upon their sumptuous beauty, He was glad because these gifts to the humblest outshone the pomp of kings.
II. To whom He spake.—To whom did Jesus thus speak? To whom was it reasonable that He should say, ‘Reflect upon the beauty of a wild flower’? Not only to His own, His chosen, the glorious company of the apostles. No; around Him while He spake were simple-minded people, Galilean peasants; untaught, perhaps, but also unsophisticated. And observe well that cares and heavy burdens pressed them down, which He bade them to dismiss, not saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘Wherewithal shall we be clothed?’ He says not, When all within you is bright and happy, then go to Nature. Rather He says, When disquieted and anxious, when you know not where to look for food and clothes, then let the lowlier things of creation speak to you and reassure you. Think how little the bird can do for itself; but God makes that little to suffice: He feedeth it. And if the lily can do nothing at all, nothing is required of it; beauty is rained down upon it by the sunshine and the shower, and steals into it in sap from the earth below. And their Guardian is your heavenly Father. If He has set you in a place infinitely more complex and difficult, this is surely not in order to forsake you there—‘you are of more value than the birds.’ ‘Shall He not much more clothe you?’
—Bishop G. A. Chadwick.
‘This gospel of beauty—for it is a gospel—is for all men yet. From many, as from the dwellers in a great city, it is possible to build out or to wall in the grass; but you cannot wall in the stars. Mountain and cataract and pines tossing in the storm, many shall never see; but who shall forbid them to look when God makes Himself an awful rose of dawn, or in the golden lightening of the sunken sun? Therefore it is that from among the children of labour, and from the depths of smoky cities, many a great artist, and many a beautiful poet, has come forth. What is wanted is the eye to see and consider, and the heart to feel; and that heart begins to stir in us when we rise from created beauty to the Creator, and thank our heavenly Father and trust His heart, upon the evidence of all His love, from the bloom in the meadows to the forgiveness of our iniquities. And these words of Jesus protest against the insolence which supposes that any rank or class can assume to itself a monopoly of such perception.’
A CHILDREN’S FLOWER SERMON
God is always trying to get us to listen to the lessons which He has to teach us, not only out of this book of His, which we call the Bible, but out of that great green lesson-book outside. ‘Consider the lilies,’ said Jesus Christ. You have often thought of the flowers; but now ‘ consider the flowers.’ I have three lessons for you.
I. A lesson about God.—You are glad when the winter is over and gone, and the fresh flowers appear on the earth. Do you think of the good God Who sends you all those beautiful things to gladden you and make you happy? God might have sent us, you know, all the useful things that are necessary for our body without giving us beautiful things also. But He has given us flowers always with the food. ‘He feedeth among the lilies.’ And He has done so, I think, because He wants our souls to be happy as well as our bodies.
II. A lesson about our neighbours.—Did you ever notice, when your little baby brother first went out into the fields to pick the daisies, what was the first thing that he did with them? Was it not to bring them to you and shower them down as a gift into your lap? I think it was. Well, there is my second lesson, the lesson of love-gifts.
III. A lesson about ourselves.—You remember some of the lily plants of spring; such as the crocus and the daffodils, Lent lilies, as you call them, and the flag that grows by the brook side, and the tall tiger lily of the cottage garden. Well, do you know there is one thing which is common to all these plants—common to all lily plants, and that is that they don’t grow up like other plants—first the stalk, then the branches, and then the leaves, then the buds and flowers; but the leaves and flowers spring up directly from the root. I want you to be like that. You are spring flowers, and I want the flower of a good life to spring right up out of your very hearts while they are still fresh and young. I want you to find room in your hearts for the Lord Jesus, while you are still young.
IV. A word to parents.—( a) Remember that the children who are yours are also God’s. ( b) Reverence the good hearts of your children. Christ has sown good seed in the children’s hearts. Take care that you do not sleep, and the enemy come and sow the tares there. Nourish the good seed. Expect good fruit from it.
—Bishop C. W. Stubbs.
‘Did I ever tell you the story of the little boy, the little German boy, in one of those educational hospitals for which Germany is so famous? It was a dark stormy night, and the children were sitting down to supper, and the teacher, as they did so, repeated the usual grace—“Come, Lord Jesus, and be our guest at this time!” And the little boy, of whom I speak, looked up in the teacher’s face and said, “You always ask the Lord to come; why does He never come? Will He really come?” “Oh, yes!” replied the teacher, “He will come.” “Then,” said the boy, “I will set a chair for Him to-night, to be ready if He comes.” Shortly after a knock was heard at the door, and a poor man let in, all dripping with the rain and famishing with hunger. They tended him with care, and led him at length to the vacant seat placed by the child. This opened the boy’s eyes to the whole truth, and he said, “Teacher, I see it now; the Lord Jesus was not able to come Himself, and He sent this poor man in His place. Isn’t that it?” “Yes,” replied the teacher, “that is it.” ’
THE STORY OF THE LILIES
No object in nature from a religious point of view is trifling, all the world is a book, and the devout mind can read there lessons to keep the heart from sinking and the soul from sleep. What then do the flowers of the field say to us?
I. God cares for you.—He clothes the flowers of the field. If God takes such interest in them, and nourishes and cares for them, and decks them in a simple beauty surpassing all King Solomon’s glory, much more will He takes care of you who are created, not merely like a flower, but after His own image. The youngest child here is thus an object of God’s care. He has tended it as one of those flowers. By water of Baptism He has imparted to it the moisture of the Holy Spirit, and under His watchful eye it is nurtured in the way of His Commandments, and grows upward to blossom for eternity.
II. Trust God.—Nothing you can do can make the tiniest seed burst into life. As in nature so in grace. The flowers bid you trust in God. They tell you that you must do your work, fulfil your round of duties, in the sweat of your face eat bread, bear your sorrows and crosses, and trust that God will guide all things aright, and make you to grow up in His nurture until you come to His everlasting kingdom.
III. Little beginnings may have great results.—Tiny seeds may grow to great plants. Do your work and hope and trust. Do your duty in whatever state of life God may place you. Do not be aiming at doing great things, but fulfil the little trivial matters of everyday life, and who can tell what you may be in the end. Our loving Saviour does not want us to be always trying to do great acts, but to be honest about little ones.
IV. We shall rise again to life.—One great law in the life of a flower is reproduction. You offer for the glory of God and the enjoyment of God’s sick ones the beautiful flowers which He has formed and which your thoughtful love has gathered. May not this little act of yours bring you abundant blessings, both here and hereafter? And when you are transplanted into the fair garden of heaven, may it not impart a bloom and a fragrance never known on earth, and of you Christ’s words would be true, ‘Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto Me.’
—The Rev. W. Fraser.
‘A great African traveller (Mungo Park) tells how once he was alone in the vast desert; he had neither food nor clothing, the rain was likely to make the road so muddy that he would not be able to travel on it, the wild beasts surrounded him on all sides, and, even were he to escape these perils, he had still to confront men more wild and savage. What was he to do? Hundreds of miles separated him from his own countrymen—on every side was danger and difficulty, and the vision of a slow and painful death was reflected, in all its fulness, before his eyes. While he thought of these things, a tiny piece of moss attracted his attention, the form of its roots, leaves, capsules, called forth his admiration. Can that Being, he thought, Who planted and watered and brought this to perfection in such a place—can He look with unconcern upon the situation and sufferings of creatures formed after His own image? Can He Who thinks this small piece of moss of so much importance desert me in the hour of danger? Surely not! The tiny plant filled him with fresh courage and energy, and, disregarding the hunger and fatigue, he started onward; relief came at the time needed, and he learned the truth of the Saviour’s saying, “Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to-day is and to-morrow is cast into the oven, shall He not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?” ’
THE ANTIDOTE TO ANXIETY
‘Your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.’
Anxiety must be a sin. And it must be a sin very deep in the heart. So large a portion of the Sermon on the Mount would never have been directed against anxiety, if the sin were not very large, and its grasp very wide.
I. Why no man should be anxious.—For observe, there are at least seven reasons brought forward, in quick succession, why no man should be anxious.
( a) Anxiety is part of indecision of character, and partakes of its banefulness—it shows a divided allegiance—‘No man can serve two masters—therefore I say unto you, Take no thought.’
( b) The next is the argument from the greater to the less. It shows a greater providence to take care of ‘fowls,’ than it does to take care of men,—but God does take care of ‘fowls.’
( c) The third rests on the impossibilities in the case.—‘Which of you,’ by any amount of anxiety, ‘can add one cubit to his stature?’—or rather, can add the smallest period to his life.
( d) The fourth lies in the analogies of nature.—‘Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow.’
( e) The fifth puts the Christian to shame by showing that if he is anxious, he is like the heathen.—‘For after all these things do the Gentiles seek.’
( f) The sixth in order is the text,—the sweetest of all,—the most likely of all,—the character of God,—‘For your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.’
( g) And the seventh is based upon the folly of the thing.—‘Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.’
II. Anxiety does two things.—( a) It makes you unhappy, first; and unhappiness is not a matter for pity, it is a matter for blame. ( b) And secondly, every shade of anxiety which passes over a man’s mind, is a positive wrong done to God; it distrusts Him,—it sets aside one of His attributes,—it gives the lie to one of His promises. Do not think and speak of your anxieties as something for which you are to be commiserated. Rather ask yourself, Can I be right with God, while my mind is so harassed?
III. There are two kinds of anxiety,—or rather, the same temperament of mind may feed on one or other of two states,—temporal or spiritual. The difference, perhaps, is not so great as might at first sight appear. The same character pre-disposes to both. The same charge of unbelief attaches to both. The same argument fits both. The same remedies cure both. Oftentimes the very same person rings the changes;—to-day, he is careful about his bodily necessities, and to-morrow, he is just as anxious about his spiritual. In the Sermon on the Mount our Lord addressed Himself chiefly to the earthly necessities.
IV. The antidote to anxiety.—But I have to do now with the Fatherly character of God as the antidote to anxiety. You must take into your minds a very little child,—for it is of very little children that Christ speaks, and to whom we are to be like. How happy we should all be,—what would become of all our anxieties and all our fears,—if only we could just simply treat our heavenly, as every child who has been kindly brought up, treats his earthly father, and if we could believe that with a love so unselfish, so minute, so munificent, so responsible, ‘our heavenly Father knoweth that we have need of all these things.’
V. Avoid occasions for anxiety.—Never place yourself willingly in a position of worldly anxiety. It is a fearful bar to the spiritual life; and it has led many a man not only into deadness of soul, but into actual sins, at which that man would, at another time, have stood appalled. Therefore, never run into anxieties,—never plant yourself on too broad a basis,—keep your scale of expenditure well within your income,—do not speculate,—do not take up engagements, nor enter upon any course which you know will entail pecuniary difficulty, or bring after it worldly carefulness. Remember, that you may expect God to supply your wants as bountifully as He supplies the birds,—but on the same condition. The birds work from morning to night;—they have not a grain but they have sought it, and sought it with patient labour. But if you do this, and still the untrodden path of your future life looks dark, and every to-morrow wraps itself in a thick cloud, do not be afraid, only believe.
—The Rev. James Vaughan.
A wealth of consolation for the believer lies in those four simple words, ‘Your heavenly Father knoweth.’
I. He knows His children’s needs.—There are many times when we do not even know our needs ourselves. We may think we know them. We may know our wishes, our desires, our whims. But wishes are not always needs, and desires are not at all times the same as necessities. God has many sons who fret peevishly for what His love denies. They know their desires well enough, but only their heavenly Father knows their necessities. Can we not bring ourselves to rest in His omniscience? Can we not trust His knowledge, blended as it is with a Father’s love? It is His very omniscience that lies at the back of the gracious promise, ‘They that seek the Lord shall not want anything that is good.’
II. He knows our pathway also.—Even Job in his partial and imperfect acquaintance with God could rest in this assurance, ‘He knoweth the way that I take’ ( Job 23:10). God’s way is often hidden from us, but our way is never hidden from God. The clouds which hide Him from our eyes are not so dense as to hide our way from Him. Israel thought of old that it was forgotten of God, and complained in tones of despair ( Isaiah 40:27-28). Our path, our whole path, past, present, and future, is clear as daylight in His eyes. Oh, the unspeakable comfort of that thought!
III. He knows our hearts too.—‘God knoweth your hearts’ ( Luke 14:15). To each of the seven Churches of Asia was the same message sent, ‘I know thy works;’ but vast as that knowledge was it did not express the measure of omniscience. Works lie on the surface of life; they are open and visible to the eyes of our fellow-men. There are secret forces lying behind our works which man cannot see—our motives, our thoughts, our ambitions, our purposes and affections; in a word, our hearts.
‘What comfort can we find in such a truth as this? Is it not rather a terrifying thought?’ No, for it is this same omniscient God, to whom our hearts are naked and open and from whom no sins are hidden, Who says to us, ‘I have loved thee with an everlasting love.’ In spite of all that He knows of us, He has set His love upon us. His love survives His knowledge of our sinfulness. None of us would like to lay bare our inmost natures to our fellow-men, not even to our bosom friend. Yet God knows all—and yet He loves us. Is there no consolation here? If His love has not been slain by such knowledge as that, it must be love indeed.
The Rev. G. Arthur Sowter.
THE PRINCIPLES OF THE KINGDOM
‘Seek ye first the kingdom of God.’
These are words of the kind with which we find it hard to deal sincerely; too true to be denied, too high to be practically accepted, we are tempted to pass them by with some kind of complimentary acknowledgment. Yet evidently they were not meant for this—they were meant to be entirely practical, they were spoken for all to hear, and therefore for all to use.
The principles of the Kingdom of God! How shall we understand this? How shall we make it more than a phrase? We cannot look at the words without turning to Him Who spoke them. We Christians, to find our knowledge of the Kingdom of God, must look to Christ our King.
I. In uprightness.—Well then, first, you honour the Kingdom of God by simple integrity, by plain and honourable uprightness. We have, thank God, much of this in English public life. But if so, we have not only to be thankful for it, but most carefully to preserve this. It is not everywhere so. But even if we put aside the meaner and graver breaches of uprightness, there may still be slighter but very real forms of it. The appointment of officers for other reasons than that of greater fitness for the place; the hushing up or defence of abuses for fear or favour’s sake; even the preference of party to public interest are temptations to his uprightness which every man who enters public life must encounter. Our safeguard lies in the uprightness of upright men, and their pattern is the uprightness of Christ.
II. In service.—But no one would say that uprightness was a sufficient account either of the character of Jesus, or of the kingdom which He declared. He came ‘in the form of a servant,’ ‘as one that serveth,’ and the Law of Service was stamped upon His kingdom. Service is the great privilege of men, and higher place means opportunities of higher and wider service. It is true that our talk often disguises this. We talk of high place as something to be won. We wish a man joy because he comes into office as mayor, or judge, or bishop, as though he were the winner of a prize; and yet other words which we ourselves use strike a higher note. We talk of the highest in office as public servants. Here is indeed a test for us whether we put the Kingdom of God first. Its citizens are servants, servants of their God, and servants of their fellow-men. The main motive of the Christian, the motive which he recalls every day, which is with him when he prays, which will guide him ‘at the pinch,’ at a difficult point, should not be to win honour, credit, applause, income, influence; but to serve, to set forward by his own toil and effort a better state for men, to bear a little of the burthen which presses upon the poor and the suffering.
III. In love.—Or follow one step farther. What is it that is to make men serve, not in act only, but in heart and will? What makes the mother drudge for her child, or the man think no pains too great to do the least service to one woman among all the rest, what makes the soldier ready to die? It is love—love of kindred, love of mistress, love of country or home. And love is the Magna Charta of the Kingdom of God; love to God and man its deepest two-fold law; love was the very meaning of Jesus Christ in love and death.
—Bishop E. S. Talbot.
THE PROMISE AND ITS CONDITION
These words have been grievously misunderstood through neglect of the occasion of their utterance. They formed part of the Sermon on the Mount. The Kingdom of God, or the Kingdom of Heaven, is one of the expressions which, to Matthew’s mind, links this great utterance together. To seek this kingdom and this righteousness is the command of Christ.
I. The promise.—The words are not uttered as a stern command, imposed with the threat of some terrible penalty, but they are part of a promise, a way out of a difficulty, a counsel of the highest wisdom, a precept of the only satisfying philosophy of life. We live in a world of moth and rust, a world where thieves break through and steal away our joys. But, then, this is not all. There is another world, not far off, but near; not future only, but here and now because eternal—a world where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal. There we may treasure our treasures, and our hearts may dwell on them with no fear of robbery or decay. Between these two worlds we must always be making our choice. Two masters no man can serve. The text contains a softening and sustaining truth in a world of much bitterness and of much disappointment. The subjects of the kingdom are the care of the King—the righteous man is in the hand of God.
II. And its condition.—The condition of this blessedness is no mere feeling of discontentedness with the present, no mere sentiment of disgust with the transitory and unsatisfying pleasures of the world; it is no morbid and morose desertion of the enjoyments of this life; still less is it a renouncing of its duties and its responsibilities. It is not an abandonment, but a consecration of everything. It is not a refusal to have a treasure at all, because the treasure will take to itself wings and fly away; but it is the grateful recognition that the treasure is from God, God’s gift for a Godward use. The teaching of the text, as Christ’s teaching so often does, contains a paradox. You are not to be anxious; then begin and never cease a persistent, diligent, whole-hearted search. You seek for rest; then stir yourself to exertion. You are burdened and worn out; well, then, take a new yoke on your weary shoulders. You want to save your life; then lose it. But His teaching, strange as it sounds, corresponds to our deepest needs. The mind that is burdened finds no relief in idleness, but must engage in a new interest. The heart that is breaking must cling, if it can, to some other love. The soul that is dying must rouse itself to a new effort.
III. Message to old and young.—You are growing into years, it may be, and you are beginning to be horror-stricken because your treasure and your heart are on earth, and you find that here there is no abiding. Or, it may be, you are still young and ardent. Yes, rejoice, O young man, in thy youth, but listen—listen to the word of warning. The things that are seen are for a time, but the things that are not seen are for ever. Set your mind, then, on the things above, and not on the things on the earth. First things first. To old and to young the message is the same. Here, then, is an ambition for the young and for the old—an ambition to do the will of God, to do the will of Him that sent you into the world.
—Dean Armitage Robinson.
‘Suppose the case—and it is not an imaginary one—suppose the case of a man who should set about, after a fashion, to be religious, for the sake of the temporal advantages which he believes will follow, in God’s providence, upon a religious course. Conceive that such a person goes to church, and says his prayers, and studies his Bible, from a general sense that, in the long run, those on the whole are the best off who attend to their duties to God. Can that man claim the assurance of the text? Is he “seeking first the Kingdom of God”? and shall, therefore, “those things be added unto him”? The answer is obvious. Whatever is a man’s motive, that is the first thing. Therefore the man whom I am supposing is not “seeking first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness,” for he is seeking “first” the temporal advantages to which his religion is confessedly subservient. It may be in the order of time, second; but in the order of his thoughts, it is first. Therefore that man is not keeping the condition, and he has no warrant to expect anything at God’s hands.
THE UNIVERSAL PROVIDENCE OF GOD
‘Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.’
The message which this section brings to us seems to be just this: the life of the Christian is to be one of trustfulness, not restlessness.
I. Christ’s teaching.—Notice the way in which Christ teaches it. He asserts the universal extent of God’s providence over all His creatures, and His knowledge and control of all their actions; and He instances the least considerable of those creatures as being the constant objects of His observance and care. ‘Take, therefore, no thought for the morrow.’ Our Lord’s words are a prohibition against an increasing anxiety—not enjoining a culpable heedlessness. We do not read in these words of Jesus any condemnation of worldly activity. Energy, forethought, and activity are the source both of public and private prosperity. He only, to quote Father Didon, condemns that inordinate love of the luxuries of this life which enervates work, and the licence of selfish pleasure.
II. The universal providence of God.—This being so, we may go at once to the doctrine laid down. It is the universal providence of God. And this is not a mere speculation or fancy. It is a Divine truth, a truth of revelation; and a truth surely necessarily involved in the acknowledgment of God’s being. To those who are honouring God by seeking first His kingdom and righteousness, putting His honour and service in the right place, it is knowledge worth the having to know that nothing happens by chance.
III. Daily life and conduct.—The lesson that I want to influence your daily life and conduct is that of God’s providence. We seem to need in these days of hurry and bustle and startling events, and of endless perplexities, we seem to need more reality in our religion, more realisation of the actual presence and the overruling providence of God, more prayer for Divine teaching, more self-denial for Christ’s sake, more self-dedication to works and labour of love, more simple appreciation of the truth as it is in Jesus, more belief, shall I say—may I say—in God’s word, more conviction and practical manifestation of this principle in our lives.