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This verse is, in a sense, the summing up of the whole lesson of the Sermon on the Mount up to this point. This great discourse had opened with an enumeration of the classes to whom the advent of the kingdom would bring joy and blessing, in whom the leading characteristic is seen to be other-worldliness. It then proceeded to enunciate the law of the kingdom, which demanded holiness before God rather than external righteousness before men. At the nineteenth verse of the sixth chapter the summing up begins with a direct appeal to lay aside care for earthly things and to set the mind on heavenly things. This summing up culminates and finds its fullest expression in the verse before us: “But seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” This is the precipitate of the whole sermon; in a few words, it contrasts the two cares which press on man, the two seekings which may engage his attention. It does not commend to us a nerveless life of Buddhist-like retirement from desire and destruction of activity. It presupposes in all men who are men, desire, energy, activity directed to a goal. But it discriminates activities and goals. We are to seek. But not what the heathen seek—worldly ease and goods and advantages. We are to seek heavenly things. Hence, it bans one class of seekings and commends the other. Our chief end is not to gain earthly things but heavenly.
Approaching the verse somewhat more closely, we observe of it—that it is a protest against practical atheism. There is a formal atheism of opinions and words and reasonings which declares that there is no God and seeks to sophisticate the understanding into believing that there is none. This the Bible describes as an open folly: the fool has said in his heart, There is no God. But even when the lip and the mind behind the lip are true to right reason and confess that there is a God who rules the world and to whom we are responsible in our every thought and word and deed, there is often a practical atheism that lives as if there were no God. Formal atheism denies God; practical atheism is guilty of the possibly even more astounding sin of forgetting the God it confesses. How many men who would not think of saying even in their hearts, There is no God, deny Him practically by ordering their lives as if He were not? And even among those who yield, in their lives, a practical as well as a formal acknowledgment of God, many yet manage, practically, to deny in their lives that this God, acknowledged and served, is the Lord of all the earth. How prone we are to limit and circumscribe the sphere in which we practically allow for God! We feel His presence and activity in some things but not in others; we seek His blessing in some matters but not in others; we look for His guidance in some affairs but not in others; we can trust Him in some crises and with some of our hopes but not in or with others. This too is a practical atheism. And it is against all such practical atheism that our passage enters its protest. It protests against men living as if they were the builders of their own houses, the architects of their own fortunes. It protests against men reckoning in anything without God.
How are we to order our lives? How are we to provide for our households—or, for our own bodily wants? Is it true that we can trust the eternal welfare of our souls to God and cannot trust to Him the temporal welfare of our bodies? Is it true that He has provided salvation for us at the tremendous cost of the death of His Son, and will not provide food for us to eat and clothes for us to wear at the cost of the directive word that speaks and it is done? Is it true that we can stand by the bedside of our dying friend and send him forth into eternity in good confidence in God, and cannot send that same friend forth into the world with any confidence that God will keep him there? O, the practical atheism of many of our earthly cares and earthly anxieties! Can we not read the lessons of the birds of heaven and the lilies of the field which our Father feeds and clothes? What a rebuke these lessons are to our practical atheism, which says, in effect, that we cannot trust God for our earthly prosperity but must bid Him wait until we make good our earthly fortunes before we can afford to turn to Him. How many men do actually think that it is unreasonable to serve God at the expense of their business activity? To give Him their first and most energetic service? How many think it would be unreasonable in God to put His service before their provision for themselves and family? How many of us who Have been able to “risk” ourselves, do not think that we can “risk” our families in God’s keeping? How subtle the temptations! But here our Lord brushes them all away in the calm words, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” Is this not a rebuke to our practical atheism?
But the verse does not take the form of a rebuke; it takes the form of an appeal; and we observe next of it, therefore, that it is an appeal to make God’s kingdom and righteousness the prime objects of our life. And looking closely at it we see that it is not an empty appeal but includes a promise. We are, primarily, to make God’s kingdom and righteousness our chief concern; but, doing so, we shall more surely secure the earthly things we need. The passage does not proceed on the presumption that we do not need these earthly things; it asserts our need of them. It does not proceed on the assumption that they are not to be in their appropriate place and order and way the objects of seeking. It merely corrects our mode of seeking them. We may seek them without and apart from God or we may seek them in and of God. It tells us that the former way—the atheistic way, in which we seek to provide for ourselves—is the way not to get them; the latter way in which we seek them in and from God is the way to get them. Who can doubt it?
In the first place we have God’s promise. He tells us that if we will seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness He will add all these things. He tells us in effect that to godliness there is the promise both of this world and of the world to come. Men find it hard to believe this. It is a standing problem of the wise of the earth and has been from Job’s day down. But we have the promise.
In the next place we may add, despite the difficulties of life and the clouding of judgment, it, after all, does stand to reason. Isn’t, after all, it the best way to secure the reward, to enter into the service of the King? And God is the King of all the earth. How shall we obtain the goods of the earth better than by hearty service of the King of the earth? True we shall obtain them as gifts and not as acquired by us. But is not the best path for man, to seek them at His hands? The King suffers not His faithful servants to want.
But more fundamentally still, we may add that it belongs to the very nature of things. If we want to enjoy those earthly goods which God has placed in this world for the benefit and use of His children, the best way to secure their enjoyment is obviously not to seek to do it individually but socially. It is a social axiom that everything that betters the condition of society as a whole increases our enjoyment of our material goods. A savage acquires a pot of gold. How shall he enjoy it? His fellow savages covet it; and who shall secure it to him? He is liable to be waylaid at night for it. Every bush hides an enemy; the poisoned arrow may fly upon him from any tree; his sleep is driven from him as he seeks to protect his life. Hidden by friendly darkness he may bury his treasure under some great tree in the tangled forest; and anxiously guard its neighborhood lest he may have been watched and still be bereft of it. In such conditions there is no enjoyment of the treasure for him; he can enjoy only the protection of it. But now, he is a wise savage and instead of giving his energies to protecting his treasure, he gives it to civilizing his people. Out of the savage tribe rise the rudiments of a state; the majesty of law emerges—protecting under its powerful ægis the person and property of its citizens. What a change! No need of hiding the treasure now. He can wear it displayed upon his person. He now can enjoy at least its possession. But a higher stage is still possible; the community may be not only civilized but Christianized; Christian principles take the place of external laws; love the place of force. And he, touched with the same spirit, goes about with his treasure, transmuting it into aid for the suffering and needy. Now he is truly enjoying it, enjoying, not only protecting it, not only possessing it but using it. When such a time fully comes to this world of ours—that is what we mean by the Millennium—the kingdom of God has come for which we daily pray in the prayer our Lord has taught us, when men no longer prey on one another but help and support one another.
Meanwhile how shall we approach it? By our Lord’s prescription—by seeking the kingdom of God and His righteousness. In proportion as we seek and find this kingdom, in the measure in which we bring it into practical life in the narrow circle around us, is it not necessarily true that we shall have and enjoy the best goods of this earth? Is there not a deep foundation in the nature of things for our Lord’s promise: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you?” Is not this the most hopeful way to obtain and hold and enjoy these other things?
But it is time for us to take note of another and the most characteristic element in this appeal. When we observe it narrowly we will see that it is not an appeal to seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness on the ground that this is the best way to obtain the other goods. It does not say: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” “because”—but simply “and”—“and all these things shall be added unto you.” It is a fact that Godliness has also the promise of this life, but that is not the reason why Godliness should be sought. It is a better reason that it has the promise of the life to come. It is a better reason still that it is Godliness. Nor does our passage itself fail to bring this out. It does not say “and all these things shall be your reward.” It does not propose to pay us for seeking God’s Kingdom and righteousness by giving us earthly things. It says: “and all these things shall be added unto you.” The Greek word is not the word for pay, reward, but for the small gratuitous addition to the promised wages, given as we should say “in the bargain.” The worldly goods that come to us are in a word here represented not as our reward, but as something “in the bargain.” The appeal of the passage is made to rest elsewhere; that is, in the contrast between goods earthly and goods heavenly. We are to seek the heavenly, not for the sake of the earthly, but for their own sake. For, as Paul says, after all the Kingdom of God is not meat and drink but righteousness. And our passage sets, as Bengel points out, this celestial food and drink over against the earthly.
Herein resides the “lift” of the passage. It places the highest good before us—God and His righteousness—fellowship with God; and pries at our hearts with this great lever of, Who will seek earthly food and drink when they can seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness? In the restitution of the harmony between man and God thus involved, every blessing is included. Here is something worth losing all earthly joys for. Here is something worth the labor of men, the very end of whose being is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. Would we not purchase it with loss of all earthly—if we can speak of loss in the exchange of the less for the greater? Will we not take this for our seeking when in addition to this great reward, we shall have also “all these things added to us”? See the tenderness of our Lord in this constant regard for our human weakness.
And there is another tender word in the passage when restored to its right reading, which reaches down into our hearts to summon another motive from their depths, whereby we may be led to seek God’s kingdom and righteousness. The fact that this is the best way to obtain these very earthly blessings which we need may be a sufficient motive. The glory of the things sought may be a higher and more prevailing motive. But there is a more powerful one still; it is love—love not to a principle but to a person. And our Lord does not fail to touch on this. In its right reading the passage does not run: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness,” but “Seek ye first His kingdom and His righteousness.” And the antecedent to “His” is “your heavenly Father.” Here our Lord is tugging at our hearts. “For your heavenly Father knows that you have need of all these things. But seek you first His kingdom and His—your heavenly Father’s—righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” Did we say the passage is a protest? Did we say it is a command? Do we not now see that it is rather a pleading? O, the subtlety of love! Love speaks here to us; will not love respond in us? Under such pleading what can we do but seek first our heavenly Father’s kingdom, our heavenly Father’s righteousness? And because He is our Father, we are sure both that we shall find it, and with it—how comparatively little it seems now!—whatever else we need, added to us.
by Benjamin B. Warfield
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