Great Texts of the Bible by James Hastings - Matthew 6:33 - 6:33

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Great Texts of the Bible by James Hastings - Matthew 6:33 - 6:33

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The First Things First

But seek ye first his kingdom, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.—Mat_6:33.

There is no sentence which more distinctively expresses the mind of Jesus regarding the conduct of life than “Seek ye first his kingdom, and his righteousness.” It gathers up everything into itself. It is His definition of the chief good which is within the reach of men. Many other words of His may be taken as ruling principles of life, but they are only parts of this simple and sublime utterance. It is the “secret of Jesus,” the clue which He put into the hands of men to guide them through the labyrinth of life.

Many of the deep-reaching principles of Jesus were spoken in opposition to those of the Scribes and Pharisees, but in this instance He passes beyond the ideas of any sect or class, and sets forth His thought of the chief aim of life in contrast to what was universally held then, and is also widely, if not universally, held now. In His moral perspective the desirable things of life are arranged in a startlingly new order, and with a surprisingly strong emphasis. He places first what men degrade to a very subordinate position. In the foreground, as men’s highest and best good, He sets the quest for the Kingdom of God.


The Kingdom of God

Every man who would make life a success must have something that is always first for him. Now Jesus declared that the great first thing of life is the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. “Seek ye first his kingdom, and his righteousness.”

1. The Kingdom of God and His righteousness is one of the key-phrases of the gospel, and it is freely employed in many connexions. Christ takes it from the common stock of political phraseology, from which the men of His nation clothed their aspirations. In a theocracy the State adopts the language of the Church and advances identical claims. “The Kingdom of God,” as the formula of Messianic politics, meant no more than a mere project of nationalist triumph. But Christ, in adopting the phrase, purged it of secularism, exalted it from the plane of politics to that of morals, and enlarged it until all the drama of human life could be gathered within its meaning. It stood for loyalty to the higher self, obedience to the Divine monitions of conscience, the pursuit of righteous ends, the self-dedication to spiritual service, the sustained crusade against evil within and without the man himself. Christ tells us that there is a true order of human endeavour, and that when that order is followed all the lesser concerns of human life find sufficient and unfailing guarantee. Make these your principal concern, and you lose the summum bonum itself, and do not even secure them. “Seek ye first his kingdom, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” He unrolls before us no alluring picture of reward, no Muhammadan Paradise of feasting and pleasure, but He tells us that we are the sons of the Most High, and bids us live as such.

Nor sang he only of unfading bowers,

Where they a tearless, painless age fulfil,

In fields Elysian spending blissful hours,

Remote from every ill;

But of pure gladness found in temperance high,

In duty owned, and reverenced with awe,

Of man’s true freedom, which may only lie

In servitude to law.

2. The Kingdom of God which we are to seek is a great ideal, under which all lesser aims must find their place; it provides us with a great end of all action to which the plans and purposes of our daily lives are but means; it informs our lives with a great principle by which all our acts are co-ordinated and to which they are relative. The word “kingdom” speaks of something wide, all-embracing, manifold, but with all its manifoldness made one by law, which impresses upon all its diverse elements the unity of one will, one purpose, one destiny. We are too apt to speak of an ideal as something wholly unattainable, and to excuse ourselves for not living the ideal life by saying that it is ideal; that is not the sense in which our Lord speaks of the Kingdom of God. It is rather an ideal to be realized in every act, and therefore within our reach at every moment; imperfect as we are, it is to be embodied in us, and made visible to the world through our lives. To seek for the material objects, the subordinate aims of life first, before this ideal is apprehended, is to invert the order in which God would have us live; to immerse ourselves in details, without constant reference to the ideal, is to break up our lives, our characters, our institutions, into incoherent fragments devoid of all unity. The details are not indeed unimportant, but they are important only in relation to the ideal, which gives to them all their beauty, all their excellence. Without it they are but as the random streaks of colour on a painter’s palette; with it, and in due subordination to it, they are as the various brush-strokes which gradually realize on the canvas the one purpose of the painter’s mind. “All these things,” these lesser objects, these fragmentary aims, these partial goods, shall be not theirs who strive for them alone, but theirs who seek first the ideal, the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.

In all ages men have dreamed of isles of the blessed and Elysian fields. Some have dreamed of Utopias in this world. But in all these dreams only externals have been considered. Pindar sings:

For them the night all through,

In that broad realm below,

The splendour of the sun spreads endless light;

’Mid rosy meadows bright …

There with horses and with play

With games and lyres they while the hours away.

And Plato in his ideal republic, and modern dreamers, plan only for an equitable distribution of property and the elimination of poverty, that should accompany the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven. But the first characteristic of the Kingdom of Heaven is that it is inward. Facts prove that men can be rich and educated and yet vile. Nations have been prosperous and cultured, but rotted away because of their sin. The Kingdom of Heaven is in the heart of men. St. Paul said, “The kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.”1 [Note: H. K. Ebright.]

3. The “Kingdom of God,” to use Bishop Gore’s terse and pregnant definition, is, “human society as organized according to the will of God,” just as “the world” of the New Testament is “human society as organized apart from the will of God.” It means the will of the Father-king “done in earth, as it is in heaven.” Now to take up our ordinary daily work, whatever it be, as a ministry of human service fitting into the great plan of God for a redeemed universe, and to do it to that end, to set that high purpose and ideal over it all and be absolutely faithful to that, cost what it may of success or gain, whether in the form of wages or profits, to eliminate the mercenary motive and substitute that spiritual purpose—that is to seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness in our common occupations.

The Kingdom of God is an empire with three provinces. One province is a man’s own heart, when the throne of Christ is once really set up in it. Another province is the Church as it is established upon the earth. And another is that final and magnificent condition of all things, when Christ shall come and reign in His glory. There are, then, before every one these three great primary objects: the first is to have the whole of one’s own heart in subjugation to God; the second is to extend the Church; and the third is to long and pray for, and help on, the Second Coming of Christ. If we have begun to make the Kingdom of God our great object, then our first desire is that Christ may have His proper place in our hearts. Our great longing is after holiness. We are more anxious about our holiness than we are about our happiness. And then every day we are trying to make some one happier and better. We have in our circles inner ones and outer ones. We do not neglect the nearer for the sake of the farther one; but yet we do not so confine ourselves to that which is close that we do nothing for that which is far off. But we love the Church, the whole Church of Christ; we are trying to increase the Church of Christ; we go about with a missionary spirit. And, further, our eye is looking for the coming of Jesus. It is a happy thought to us every day, “Now the coming of Jesus is nearer than it was yesterday,” because it is to us no fear; we are not watching against it, we are watching for it; it is the climax of all pleasant things to us.

The return of Christ in bodily form to reign over His faithful ones, their own bodies rescued from death and the grave, is the aim and goal of our exultant hope. For that return His early followers eagerly waited. And their eager hope suggested that perhaps they might hear His voice and see His face without passing under the dark shadow of death. That expectation was not fulfilled. And we cannot share it. But, long as the time seems, that day will come. Had we witnessed the creation of matter, and known that long ages were predestined to elapse before rational man would stand on the earth, our expectation would have wearied at the long delay. But those long ages rolled by; and for thousands of years our planet has teemed with rational life. So will pass by whatever ages remain before our Lord’s return. Many reasons suggest that, though not close at hand, it cannot be very long delayed. Doubtless we shall lay us down for our last sleep. But in our sleep we shall be with Him. And when the morning dawns we shall wake up in the splendour of the rising Sun.

Yes, I come quickly.

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.1 [Note: J. Agar Beet, The Last Things, 112.]

4. Thus the Kingdom is both individual and social. It begins with the individual indeed; it can do nothing unless it transforms the springs of action within him. But it does not end with the individual. It proposes to regenerate society also, and so to renew both that every individual act and every social agency shall be in harmony with the original ideal of God. Its Founder in His humility declared the Kingdom of God to be like leaven which rests not till it pervades and restores the mass unto itself. And when He sat upon His throne, He said, “Behold, I make all things new.”

The Kingdom of Heaven does not mean the kingdom in heaven. The phrase describes the Kingdom’s temper and quality, not its locality. It is a term spiritual, and not geographical. John Bunyan had a wonderful vision of spiritual experience in Bedford gaol. It is accurate enough so long as you make it subjective. A man ought to escape from spiritual pest-holes, and struggle out of spiritual despondency, and get the burden of his sin loosened from the shoulders of his soul, and vigorously climb hills of difficulty, and valiantly fight the devil, and get mountain-top visions of the Glory Land, before he gets to the Celestial City. But if you forget that these are interior experiences that the great spiritual dramatist is describing, and make them instead a picture of a man’s actual attitude towards the world, then the pilgrim’s achievement ceases to be a spiritual exercise and becomes a terribly selfish performance. For the thing that is true about the man who really seeks the Kingdom where it ought to exist—that is, on earth—is that he will not run away from the city of destruction, but do his best to make it a city of God; will not calmly desert wife and family to get personal spiritual treasure; and will not be carelessly indifferent to his companions on his trip because they are not of his sort. And if he comes to a slough of despond, he will try to drain the swamp instead of merely floundering in and floundering out again; and when he escapes from the castle of the Giant Despair, he will bombard the castle and do his best to make an end of the giant for the sake of other poor pilgrims. His business is not to get to the City Celestial as soon as possible, but to bring celestial atmosphere and celestial splendour into all the regions through which he moves.1 [Note: W. MacMullen.]

5. Our Lord adds, “and his righteousness.” What does He mean? There is a righteousness such as that in which man was originally made upright; there is a righteousness which is a part of the character of God; and there is a righteousness composed of all the perfections of the life of Christ. These three righteousnesses are all one. Now, this triple righteousness is what every good man is “seeking” after: first, something which will justify him before God, and then something which will justify him to his own conscience, and to the world, in believing that he is justified before God. And where shall a man find his justification before God but in faith in Jesus Christ? And where shall a man find the justification of his faith and hope that he is justified, but in the justification of his own good works which he is doing every day? To those, then, that “seek” these two things—“the kingdom” and “the righteousness”—the promise belongs.

Righteousness, as it was understood and taught by Christ, includes the two things which we often distinguish as religion and morality. It is right-doing, not only as between man and man, but as between man and God. The Lawgiver of the New Testament, like the lawgiver of the Old, has given to us two tables of stone. On the one He has written, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind”; and on the other, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” In these two commandments the whole law is summed up, the whole duty of man is made known.1 [Note: G. Jackson, The Teaching of Jesus, 129.]

6. God’s righteousness is itself the very spirit of His own Kingdom. Christ does not here tell us merely to seek righteousness, though elsewhere we are thus bidden; but to seek God’s righteousness. Any righteousness which is of our own making, which we try to gain by standing aloof from Him, is worth nothing at all. His righteousness does not merely mean righteousness like His, but His own very righteousness. We must receive Himself into our hearts, and then His righteousness will spring up within us and overflow all our doings.

And we receive God into our hearts by receiving Christ. Christ is all His followers are to be; in Him the righteousness of the Kingdom is incarnate. From henceforth the righteous man is the Christ-like man. The standard of human life is no longer a code but a character; for the gospel does not put us into subjection to fresh laws; it calls us to “the study of a living Person, and the following of a living Mind.” And when to Jesus we bring the old question, “Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?” He does not now repeat the commandments, but He says, “If thou wouldst be perfect, follow Me, learn of Me, do as I have done to you, love as I have loved you.”

“Unselfed and inchristed” is the phrase that has been employed to set forth the great transaction of spiritual renewal; and observe how the Apostle encourages us to serve a writ of ejection on the old tenant, our evil self, and to bring in a new occupant of the premises: “That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; … and that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.” No betterment or reformation of the depraved tenant, who is also in hopeless arrears with his landlord, but a peremptory order to move out! Moreover, the Christian is considered to have done this very thing—evicted his former self, and set its goods and chattels out upon the sidewalk. “Seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds; and have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him.” So vividly and strongly did this conception take hold of Martin Luther that he used to say, “When any one comes and knocks at the door of my heart and asks, ‘Who lives here?’ I reply, ‘Martin Luther used to, but he has moved out, and Jesus Christ now lives here.’ ”1 [Note: A. J. Gordon: A Biography, 100.]


The Kingdom First

“Seek ye first.” It is interesting to note that the word translated “seek” in the text has for one of its meanings, if not for its primary significance, “to beat the covers for birds.” It is the sportsman’s method of seeking. How does a sportsman seek? Many readers of these words will know from experience what it means in the way of work, even under the most favourable conditions, for a sportsman to fill his bag—how he must be prepared to wade swamps, climb uplands, push through brake and brier, watch, wait, wriggle, and in fact do everything but fail, for no sportsman worthy of the name cares to come back with an empty bag. If, however, he is to succeed, his whole soul must be in his quest. Hand and eye and ear must all be working in concert. For note it is “birds under cover” to which the word relates, and, that being so, the bird is up only for a brief moment, and must be taken as it flies. What a startling suggestion is this—the Kingdom of God like a bird on the wing! It is a passing thing—here now, and to-day within present sight and range; but it is speeding past, and we must take it as it flies lest to-morrow it should be “under cover,” and “these things be hid from our eyes.”

1. First—that is now, and without further procrastination, if the fresh dawn of existence is no longer mine. It is suicidal to persist through another hour in filching from my soul its proper patrimony. My times are uncertain; my health is brittle; hardening and ossifying influences are incessant in their action; God is free to take His departure. Is it not the folly of follies to stand in jeopardy for one instant more? First—that is, when I rise in the beginning of each day. If I have sought and found the Kingdom’s gold and crystal and pearl and gem, let me renew acquaintance with them every morning. To them, and to the Lord who makes and keeps them my own, let me return, when mind is clear and thought is vigorous and weariness is far away. So they will gleam into warmer loveliness and greater worth.

We would fill the hours with the sweetest things

If we had but one day;

We should drink alone at the purest springs

In our upward, way;

We should love with a lifetime’s love in an hour

If the hours were few;

We should rest not for dreams, but for fresher power

To be and to do.

We should waste no moments in weak regret

If the day were but one;

If what we remember and what we regret

Went out with the sun;

We should be from our clamorous selves set free

To work and to pray,

And to be what the Father would have us to be,

If we had but a day.1 [Note: Mary Lowe Dickinson.]

2. But to seek the Kingdom first means more than this. It means an act of deliberate preference on the many occasions in life when counter claims come up. Again and again it may be that, in our inner life, in our family life, in our business life, in our public life, there come, and will come, times when the forces of the world, of self, of sense, of earthly affection, of taste, of ambition, pull one way, and the interests of the Kingdom of God the other, and for an hour, a day, a week, a month, perhaps, there is a struggle as to which is to be put first.

The major problem of life is that of its dominant note, its central issue, its great first thing. The one supreme business of living is to get that decisive emphasis on the thing that is first. The supreme tragedy of life comes to the man who gets the major emphasis on something else than the first thing. All life is then out of proportion, all experience a tangle, and all tasks in confusion. There are strong lives that stagger and sink because they have missed the course. There are men of genius who go out in despair because they have put the major emphasis on the wrong thing. It is no more possible to bring strength to a life with a false axis than to keep the solar system in order with some other body than the sun as its centre. Poe and Byron, and Burns and Shelley, and De Quincey and Napoleon, and Nero and Saul were men who got the emphasis in the wrong place, and their splendid lives crashed to inglorious ruin. Lesser men in lesser measure exhibit the same tragedy of misplaced emphasis and disordered lives.

The sister of Nietzsche tells us that, when the thinker was a little boy, he and she once decided to take each of them a toy to give to the Moravian Sisters in support of their missionary enterprise. They carefully chose their toys and duly carried them to the Sisters. But when they returned Nietzsche was restless and unhappy. His sister asked what ailed him. “I have done a very wicked thing,” the boy answered. “My fine box of cavalry is my favourite toy and my best: I should have taken that!” “But do you think,” his sister asked, “do you think God always wants our best?” “Yes,” replied the young philosopher, “always, always!” The lad was then, at least, following a true instinct. Professor William James, in his Lecture to Teachers on “The Stream of Consciousness,” says that every object is either “focal” or “marginal” in the mind. That represents with psychological precision the difference between the sanctities of life as they appeared to my Syrian bushman [who made a god out of only “the residue” of the tree he had felled] and the sanctities of life as they appeared to the boy philosopher. In the one case they were merely marginal; in the other they were grandly focal. Surely, if they have a place at all, they should be in the very centre of the field—regal, transcendent, sublime. The whole matter is summed up there.1 [Note: F. W. Boreham, Mountains in the Mist, 66.]

3. Of course the ideals of Christ and the world are not opposed as good and bad, or as right and wrong, but as first and second. It is a total misapprehension of our Lord’s words to say that He forbids His followers to think of getting the wealth of the world, or of securing “what they shall eat and drink or wherewithal they shall be clothed.” Men’s fault and folly lie in seeking them as if they were primary and essential; in making them the treasures of the soul; in thinking of them with anxious and absorbing care, as if they supplied the supreme need of life. The Kingdom of God is not set in opposition to the things of the world for which men seek; it is set above them. It belongs to a realm that is higher than the physical and the material. It has to do with the essential life of man—a life that is more than existence, more than meat, more than riches. Man is a child of earth and time, but he is also a child of God—a spiritual being, made in His image, with power to think His thoughts and live in fellowship with Him. All thought and effort which are dominated by a lower conception of man’s nature are misdirected. They leave him unsatisfied and undeveloped. The riddle of our life is never solved until we say, “Thou hast made us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee.”

It is as if a company of sculptors should spend all their time and effort providing pedestals,—some able to get only rough boulders from the wayside, others polishing and finishing fine shafts of purest marble,—but nobody thinking of carving a statue to set thereon. Or as if a company of painters busied themselves exclusively with finding and stretching their canvases, some getting only coarse sacking, others silks of the finest web,—but nobody ever painted a picture. Now Jesus is saying here, “Don’t bother so much about the pedestals and the canvases. They are absolutely insignificant beside the statues and the pictures. These are the paramount concern.” The roughest boulder that carries a noble statue is better than the finest shaft of polished marble that carries nothing. The coarsest sacking upon which some rude but great etching has been sketched is better than the most delicate silk which is absolutely blank. So the meagrest living upon which a life of human service and spiritual significance is built is infinitely better than the most luxurious existence which but cumbers the ground with its purposeless and useless occupancy of space and time.1 [Note: C. D. Williams, A Valid Christianity for To-Day, 281.]

4. Jesus is asking men to do what He did Himself. He knew the numberless spiritual perils of poverty. He suffered hunger, and had power to make the stones of the wilderness bread. But to use His power in that way would have shown that He put self before God, and the satisfying of hunger before the interests of His Kingdom. He saw that “life is more than meat,” that “man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” He set the Kingdom first, and the angels ministered unto Him. Because He was tempted thus He is able to succour those who are tempted by the same pressure of need. It is in divinest pity that He says to the poor, “Seek ye first his kingdom, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” He knew the tragedies of the souls of men, knew how the soul could be lost in the strong and urgent pressure of the demands of the body. Therefore He spoke so convincingly and so persuasively of the Heavenly Father’s care, and gave the great assurance of His loving watchfulness. To Him man is dearer than to himself. He bids men trust God to provide what they need for the body, and give their anxiety and strength to the doing of His will. God will not deny Himself. Faithfulness on our part will be answered by faithfulness on His. His name has ever been “Jehovah-jireh”: “The Lord will provide.” If men seek first the Kingdom of God, He will not fail to add “all these things.”

Trust in God, an unshaken confidence in God, which is never dismayed at the changes or surprises of life—he who has this faith will not be distracted by anxious care concerning the things of this life. He will make God the supreme object of his choice and service, will seek first His Kingdom and righteousness, confident that the Father, who knows all his needs, will confer the minor benefits. This confidence that God will approve and bless us in all our life if we seek first His Kingdom and righteousness, and seek all other things second, is the faith which “removes mountains” (Mar_11:23); it is adequate to the greatest difficulties and perplexities of life. It steadies, strengthens, and unifies all our efforts, preventing us from wasting our energies by dividing life between two inconsistent objects, and from wearing our hearts out by corroding cares, needless anxieties, and unbelieving fears. There can be no doubt that Jesus would include this concentration of life upon spiritual good and the trustful spirit which it inspires, in that love to God which comprises all forms of service which we can render to Him.1 [Note: G. B. Stevens, Theology of the New Testament, 110.]


All these Things

1. The possession of the Kingdom carries with it every needful thing. All values are included in the Divine. Within the Kingdom is absolute beauty, “the altogether lovely,” and if you seek for that the beautiful must come to you. Within the Kingdom is absolute truth, and if you seek for that the true will come to you in the process. And if you do with all your might whatsoever your hands find to do, and do it for the highest end, those necessaries of life which money can buy will also come to you. Good workers who live for the Kingdom never lack bread. It is true that often the very best of them get nothing but bread, or “bread and salt,” whilst those who care nothing for the Kingdom get bread and many things besides. But as Lewis Morris puts it, “Strong souls need little more than bread and truth and beauty.”

Strong souls within the present live;

The future veiled,—the past forgot;

Grasping what is, with thews of steel,

They bend what shall be, to their will;

And blind alike to doubt and dread,

The End, for which they are, fulfil.

And it was to make strong souls that Jesus came.

There is a story in the “Arabian Nights” of a prince who brought to the king, his father, a fairy tent folded into the confines of a walnut shell. When it was spread in the council chamber it sheltered the king and his counsellors. When taken out and spread in the courtyard, it provided shade for all the household. When taken out on the great plain, where the army were encamped, it grew until all the hosts were beneath its canopy. It had flexibility and expansiveness which were indefinite. That gives us a fair symbol of the expansive, co-ordinating, all-inclusive capacity of the Kingdom of God, which gathers into its confines all the needs and all the treasures of men.1 [Note: W. MacMullen.]

2. There are many things which we get by aiming beyond them. Philosophers of the world tell us that we should aim at what is near and tangible, and should not concern ourselves with what is shadowy and remote; that to talk of and aim at such things as God’s love and God’s righteousness and a high and chivalrous rule of duty is wasting our time on things not within our reach. Now, that these high and far things are indefinite and misty to us at times is granted. If you get into argument with some philosopher of the lower school he can easily show you that his aims are more practical, as he calls it, that the things he aims at are more clearly in his view. But how if the Divine law holds good in spite of his practical philosophy; how, if by aiming at what we admit is remote and dim, we make sure of getting all that is really worth having in these everyday things? When we have aimed at getting reputation we have missed it; when we have aimed at doing duty and helping man the reputation has come. Have we never found this law holding good even in the struggles of our inner life? When we fought with a number of small faults we made little progress. When we aimed at some high, self-devoted goal beyond, they disappeared. The other things were added. When men fire the rocket of the life-saving apparatus out to a ship, they aim, not at the deck, but considerably above it.

A woodsman wielding his axe swings it upward to lop off the heavy branch, but finds it hard work. His skyward strokes are feeble, for the law of gravitation operates against him and to a certain extent neutralizes the power of his arm. He next swings it downward, and every stroke makes the hills resound. He works with and not against the law of gravitation; and the power of this central law of creation being added to the power of his muscles, he prosecutes his work with energy and success. Every stroke has a double power—the power of the arm and the power of gravitation. Thus man in pursuit of evil proceeds in the teeth of the most potent laws of the Divine Government—the odds are all against him, his strokes are all upwards; and sooner or later he must be made to feel the weariness of wrongdoing. But the good man places himself in harmony with the moral law of God, and thus the strength of the law becomes his panoply. His goodness is so far an advantage to him and not an impediment. And in prophecy the reign of goodness is always associated with the reign of plenty; when the knowledge of God will cover the earth, then and not before will a harvest of wheat be reaped upon the tops of the mountains. Evil and famine on the one hand, goodness and abundance on the other, always go together.1 [Note: J. C. Jones.]

A man gifted with powers and capacities for the calling desires to become an artist. He will aim high. He tells himself that he will not be content with mediocrity, nor allow himself to sink to the lower level of other men. Of him it shall not be true:

That low man seeks a little thing to do,

Sees it, and does it.

Rather will he be one who, if he fail, can cry:

Better have failed in the high aim, as I,

Than vulgarly in the low aim succeed,

As, God be thanked, I do not.

But how shall he become such a one? Only when he has stood before the great masterpieces of all time, and felt the spirit of their creators breathe upon his own. He must enter into their mind; he must feel the nobility of their conceptions touch his own faculty of imagination; he must see the vision of the lesson they sought to write upon their canvas; he must catch the loftiness and grandeur of the spirit that animated them. And what follows? In proportion as these things enter into his soul, possess his faculties, transfuse their own powers into his, will success and greatness meet him. Had he sought success and greatness for themselves alone he would have failed; but, seeking first the spirit of a Master’s mind, “all these things have been added unto him.”2 [Note: G. Nickson.]

3. It is only when our hearts are on the chief thing that secondary things yield pleasure. It is possible to have a thing, and yet not to have the good of it. There it is in our hands, the very thing we wanted apparently, and yet it does not seem to be the thing we wanted. It is not the thing, but the aroma of pleasure that is in the thing that we really wish; just as we wish a rose for its smell. Now, pleasure is a very delicate article. Men miss pleasure by the ways they take to get it. If they snatch impatiently at it, it escapes them. Except those in actual destitution, professional pleasure-seekers are the most miserable of men. People who spend their life in pursuit of pleasure never get it. One who knew about these things very well said, “Pleasures are like poppies spread; you seize the flower; its bloom is shed.” We go to some of the most beautiful objects in nature. If we happen to take them in a wrong light, on a bad day, at a false angle, they lose all their beauty. Or if we are trying to experience some pleasant sensation, the least thing wrong with our health, the least thing amiss with the experiment we make, spoils all. The poise of our mind is everything. Pleasure comes when we are seeking something else, when we are rejoicing in hard work, when we are resting after long exertion, when we have won some worthy object of ambition. The true flower of satisfaction is thrown into our lap by an invisible hand when we are thinking little or nothing of it.

One of the first and most clearly recognized rules to be observed is that happiness is most likely to be attained when it is not the direct object of pursuit. Both the greatest pleasures and the keenest pains of life lie much more in those humbler spheres which are accessible to all than on the rare pinnacles to which only the most gifted or the most fortunate can attain. It would probably be found upon examination that most men who have devoted their lives successfully to great labours and ambitions, and who have received the most splendid gifts from Fortune, have nevertheless found their chief pleasure in things unconnected with their main pursuits and generally within the reach of common men. Domestic pleasures, pleasures of scenery, pleasures of reading, pleasures of travel or of sport, have been the highest enjoyment of men of great ambition, intellect, wealth, and position.1 [Note: W. E. H. Leckie, The Map of Life, 19.]

Oh righteous doom, that they who make

Pleasure their only end,

Ordering the whole life for its sake,

Miss that whereto they tend.2 [Note: R. C. Trench.]

4. The things we wish to have are not really in our hands at all. Suppose that when we grasped the thing we could make certain that the pleasure for the sake of which we grasped it would not evaporate in the process, how could we make sure of grasping it? It might be taken from us when we were within a few inches of it. The things for which men toil and suffer are often taken from them in this way. The things the Gentiles seek can never be in our hands. They remain in God’s hands. They are always His, and not ours at all. They are like old illuminated manuscripts or curiosities which you see on the table of a museum or library. We may examine them, and read them, but we cannot take them away. We cannot acquire freehold rights on God’s great estate. We are only tenants at will, and therefore what we should first do is to gain the goodwill of the Proprietor, especially as it is a great deal more than His goodwill which He offers us. He offers us His love and Himself, and it stands to reason that “all these things” will be thrown into the bargain.

It is only a poor sort of happiness that could ever come by caring very much about our own narrow pleasures. We can only have the highest happiness by having wide thoughts, and much feeling for the rest of the world as well as ourselves; and this sort of happiness often brings so much pain with it, that we can only tell it from pain by its being what we would choose before everything else, because our souls see it is good. There are so many things wrong and difficult in the world, that no man can be great—he can hardly keep himself from wickedness—unless he gives up thinking much about pleasure or rewards, and gets strength to endure what is hard and painful. And so, if you mean to act nobly and seek to know the best things God has put within reach of men, you must learn to fix your mind on that end, and not on what will happen to you because of it. And remember, if you were to choose something lower, and make it the rule of your life to seek your own pleasure and escape from what is disagreeable, calamity might come just the same; and it would be calamity falling on a base mind, which is the one form of sorrow that has no balm in it, and that may well make a man say,—“It would have been better for me if I had never been born.”1 [Note: George Eliot, Epilogue to Romola.]

This is the sovereign remedy: to believe utterly in the Heavenly Father’s love and wisdom and make His Kingdom and His righteousness the supreme concerns, leaving all lesser interests in His hands. “Seek ye first his kingdom and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” Here is the secret of a quiet heart. “Nothing,” says St. Chrysostom, “makes men light-hearted like deliverance from care and anxiety, especially when they may be delivered therefrom without suffering any disadvantage, forasmuch as God is with them and stands them in lieu of all.”2 [Note: David Smith, The Days of His Flesh, 295.]

Oh, if we draw a circle premature,

Heedless of far gain,

Greedy for quick returns of profit, sure

Bad is our bargain!

Was it not great? did not he throw on God,

(He loves the burthen)—

God’s task to make the heavenly period

Perfect the earthen?

Did not he magnify the mind, show clear

Just what it all meant?

He would not discount life, as fools do here,

Paid by instalment!

He ventured neck or nothing—Heaven’s success

Found, or earth’s failure:

“Wilt thou trust death or not?” He answered “Yes

Hence with life’s pale lure!”1 [Note: Browning, A Grammarian’s Funeral.]

The First Things First


Alexander (S. A.), Christ and Scepticism, 109.

Clayton (C.), Stanhope Sermons, 127.

Davies (J. Ll.), Social Questions, 154.

Ebright (H. K)., in Drew Sermons on the Golden Texts for 1910, 37.

Ewing (J. F.), The Unsearchable Riches of Christ, 241.

Hare (J. C.), Parish Sermons, i. 283.

Hort (F. J. A.), Village Sermons, ii. 81.

Howard (H.), The Raiment of the Soul, 58.

Jackson (G.), The Teaching of Jesus, 129.

Jenkinson (A.), A Modern Disciple, 107.

Kingsley (C.), Sermons for the Times, 167.

Kuegele (F.), Country Sermons, New Ser., iv. 550.

McIlveen (J.), Christ and the Christian Life, 121.

Miller (G. A.), The Life Efficient, 39.

Miller (J.), Sermons, i. 37.

Porter (N.), Yale College Sermons, 268.

Reid (J.), The First Things of Jesus, 119.

Southouse (A. J.), The Men of the Beatitudes, 127.

Talbot (E. S.), Sermons at Southwark, 267.

Wardell (R. J.), Sermons in Homiletics, 116.

Williams (C. D.), A Valid Christianity for To-Day, 276.

Wilson (J. M.), Sermons Preached in Clifton College Chapel, ii. 7.

Woodhouse (F. C.), The Life of the Soul, 262.

Young (P.), in Sermons for the People, vi. 121.

Christian World Pulpit, xii. 164 (H. W. Beecher); lxi. 184 (F. W. Macdonald); lxxv. 300 (G. E. Darlaston); lxxxi. 156 (W. MacMullen).

Church of England Pulpit, lxii. 166 (H. H. Henson).

Church Family Newspaper, Jan. 12, 1912 (J. D. Thompson).

Record, May 28, 1909 (G. Nickson).