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The Soul's First Quest

by A. T. Pierson (1837-1911)

"Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you." Matthew vi. 33

A. T. PiersonThis is the imperial sermon of the ages. It is the longest discourse which is attributed to our Lord in the pages of the New Testament. It requires close and careful study to reveal its symmetry. It is by no means a mere collection of wise sayings like the Book of Proverbs, by no means a disjointed discourse without continuous thought or logical order. It is one of the most magnificent of all the words spoken in the ears of men. It is, in a sense, one word—this whole discourse; that is to say, it is one complete message given to the sons of men. Careful attention to the whole discourse will reveal its parts. It is divided up into sections, but even the sections are continuous. Their order could not be changed without violation of the symmetry. For instance, our Lord begins by the outlining of the character of a true disciple. Then He goes on to speak next of such a disciple in the world as shown by two very familiar and simple illustrations, the light and the salt. Then He goes on to correct certain evils that enter into human conduct, and still more to strike at the sources of the evil in human character. Then He gives us certain great precepts which are to guide us in external and internal righteousness.

Now, the verse which I desire to consider is a kind of center round which the whole discourse revolves. Looking backward, it interprets what goes before. Looking forward, it anticipates what follows. And I have no hesitation in saying that I think it is the most important of all the verses of the Sermon on the Mount.

If we should examine the passage of which this is the conclusion, that section of the discourse which begins with the nineteenth verse, we should find in the course of these fifteen verses, including the thirty-fourth, undoubtedly here given ten great arguments for seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. The whole section refers to the inferior things and the superior things, the things that men actually do seek first, and the one thing that ought to be sought first; and, as our Lord is going to teach us this great lesson about making the supreme thing practically supreme, He begins by referring to the lower objects which absolutely do engross and absorb the attention of men. He says, "Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and dust do corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven." There is the first of the arguments. You ought, first of all, to love the kingdom of God. Your heart will always be where your treasure is. Now, where do you want your heart to be? Where do you honestly think it ought to be? Did you ever think of the ethics of language? That is, of the moral lessons that are taught us in the very words we use? Take that word "miser." It expresses the man who lays up for himself treasures upon earth. The Latin word miser means a wretch, and from it come the English words "miserable" and "misery," so that the very language men use serves to show us that in the common-sense of mankind that man who lays up treasure for himself is laying up wretchedness for himself. Take another example. It is a very common thing to say that such and such a man dies "possessed of a fortune." Why, it is a most melancholy statement. I suppose that the man ought to possess the fortune, not the fortune possess him. Yet there is many a man that both lives and dies "possessed of a fortune." The fortune is the owner, and it has got the man, holds him in a deadly grip, masters him at every point, masters his thoughts, masters his love, masters his conscience, masters his will, masters his speech, masters his energy. The fortune possesses the man, not the man the fortune. Now, where should your heart be? Just look beyond this world. Look into the great future. When you come to stand at the beginning of your true life, your immortality, and look back to this world with its three score years and ten of life, where will it seem to you then that your heart ought to have been fixed? "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." Now, put your treasure where you honestly think your heart ought to be. That is the first argument. It is a masterly argument.

Then the second argument of our Lord for seeking first the kingdom of God is "The light of the body is the eye; if therefore thine eye be single"—that is, sees a single object—"thy whole body shall be full of light; but if thine eye be evil"—that is, sees a double object, or sees dimly and indistinctly—"thy whole body shall be full of darkness." Now, what is the office of the eyes to the body? First of all, the eye is the inlet for light, and, secondly, the eye is the organ by which the mind communicates with the external world. The eye, therefore, is the type of the mind which answers in our intellectual life and spiritual life the same purpose as the eye answers in the body. The mind serves to receive impressions from external things, and to communicate the thoughts that are within us to others outside us. And so the second argument of our Lord is this: "Do not be double-minded. You cannot be absorbed in two things at the same time. There is only one thing that ought to absorb, or is worthy to absorb, your thought, and that is the unseen and the eternal rather than the visible and temporal. Do not try to look at heaven and earth at once. Cast your eyes to that which ought to fix your gaze, and which alone is worthy to enamour and entrance your vision."

Now, what is the third argument of our Lord? "No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other "—which refers to the feelings— " or else he will hold to the one and despise (or neglect) the other"—which refers to external action. If here are two masters who are mutually at enmity, and whose service would lead in different directions, it is impossible that you should love both of them at the same time, and it is impossible that you should serve both of them at the same time; and so, you see, as the first argument addresses the heart, and the second the mind, the third addresses the will. "Choose ye this day whom ye will serve." Whom will you take for your master? Will you take mammon or God? Will you bow down to a golden calf, or bow down to the Almighty and Everlasting One? You see that this whole discourse is a systematic discourse, though the divisions do not appear, except as you examine closely. They are there, just as the skeleton of a man is inside of the flesh, although the bones may not stick out. The bones of this discourse are the framework on which it is laid.

Let us look at the other arguments here. "Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?" Here is the fourth argument. There is only one thing that is of supreme value. Therefore, seek that first. Meat sustains life, but the life is of more value than the meat that sustains it; otherwise, the meat would not be subordinated to the life. Here is the raiment that clothes the body, and the body that is clothed by the raiment; but the body is greater and more valuable than the raiment; otherwise, the raiment would not be used as a minister to the body. Now, the Lord says, "Think more of your life than you do of meat that sustains it, and more of your body than you do of the raiment which clothes it"; and then He reminds us how the fowls of the air sow not and reap not, nor gather into barns, and yet our Heavenly Father feeds them. Ye are much better than they. The lilies of the field toil not, neither do they spin; and yet Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed in a fabric as wonderful as the fabric of the leaves and flowers, the stamens and petals, of the lily. Set your heart, your mind, your will, on that which is of the highest value, and not upon that which is subordinate to it, which has a temporary value only, and only then as it contributes to that which is permanent.

Then, again, "Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?" or as it might be rendered "can add to his life-term one span?" Here is the fifth argument. Worry avails nothing. You may worry all you will, but your worry will not bring you meat or drink or raiment or a home. You can take as much anxious thought as you please, but you will not make your body to grow in stature a cubit. You will not make your life to extend over a single span by your worrying. Now, if you are going to take anxious thought, why not take anxious thought for that in which anxious thought will accomplish something? To be anxious about being like God and about extending God's kingdom will pay you for your holy anxiety—shall end in greater sanctification and greater serviceableness, but all your worry about this world will not avail you.

Then our Lord gives us His next argument. "All these things do the nations of the world seek after." The child of God ought not to identify himself with godless and faithless people. The way of the world is to center all thought on things that perish, and pass anxious days and solicitous nights about "What shall we eat, and what shall we drink, and wherewithal shall we be clothed?" But you have got a Heavenly Father. Are you not ashamed to identify yourself with those that know no God and acknowledge no Father?

Then our Lord gives us another argument. "Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof." I have just said that worry does not avail. It will not give you food, or raiment, or a home, or lengthen out your life by as much as a span. But while worry cannot provide you against the future, it may serve to give you a great deal of trouble in advance. What a subtle suggestion is here. "Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof." Suppose that there is want before you. Why make the want ten times as severe in its pressure by anticipating it before it comes? Suppose that you are going to be sick, even with long and lingering illness, what is the use of making your soul sick while you are yet in health by anticipating the day of illness? There are thousands of people who "die a thousand deaths in fearing one," and suffer a thousand ills in anticipating one. Worry, I repeat, is not only needless, but it is sinful, for it implies distrust of God. "Your Heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things." That is our Lord's next argument—the Fatherhood of God.

I wish that all of us could feel this great truth. Just the moment you come under the shelter of the blood of your elder brother, the second Adam, you have come into the family of God, and He is your Father. And henceforth there is not a promise that the Father has ever addressed to His children that is not for you. The Father's care is over you, even over the least of all things that pertain to you. The very hairs of your head are all numbered. Though there be on the normal scalp three hundred thousand hairs as they have been counted by those who have been careful enough to see just how many hairs find a lodgment in a healthy scalp, there is not one of those three hundred thousand hairs that can fall out of that scalp without your Heavenly Father knowing of the fact. And if a thing that has so little to do with your comfort as the loss of a hair, or with your impoverishment as the loss of a hair, is thought of by your Father, do you think that He will see you starving and not care, or suffering the pangs of disease and not care, or coming down into the valley of the shadow of death and not care? My brother, where is your confidence in the fatherhood of God? "Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear Him; for He knoweth our frame; He remembereth that we are dust." Just as soon as you take Jesus as your Saviour, just consider that henceforth the 91st Psalm is your abiding place, and go and take possession of the precious verses and promises of that Psalm. Look up and say, "My Father, Thy little child trusts Thee implicitly."

But then our Lord gives us one other argument for seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and that is a positive promise. "All these things shall be added unto you." He does not leave it to inference, from what we might expect from God as a Father; but He says positively that if you seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness all these things—not part of them—"all these things shall be added"—not "may be added," but "shall be added unto you."

Notice that word "add." There are such precious lessons in arithmetic in the Bible. Here is a sum in addition. Here are things that are needful for your daily wants. Instead of absorbing yourself in the seeking of those things, you seek that which is higher, and grander, and nobler, and ought to be supreme, and now the Lord gives you that which you have asked; and, as in the case of Solomon, He gives you sublimely that which you have not asked. He says, "Because thou hast asked this thing, and hast not asked those things for thyself first of all, behold I have given thee these that thou hast asked, and all other things I give thee which thou hast put in the inferior category and left comparatively out of sight." That is God's way of doing.

Now, in conclusion, let me try to make still more emphatic these precious words by showing you really what they mean. What is the kingdom of God, and what is the righteousness of God? We have seen that they ought to be sought first; but what are they that we are to seek first? A kingdom is a territory that is ruled over by a king. It may be, like the empire of Britain, very widespread; it may be scattered in very many colonies in different parts of the earth. But you know the kingdom when you come upon it by certain unmistakable signs. In my home in America on the Detroit River, the town of Windsor belongs to Canada. Detroit belongs to the American Republic; Windsor belongs to the Empire of Britain. Just the moment that we cross the Detroit River we are on English soil. There we see the Custom house with the arms of Great Britain upon it. There we see the red-coats passing up and down with the uniform of Great Britain. There we see floating over public buildings the British flag, and in vessels lying in the haven the British streamer. We know that we are in a part of the kingdom of Great Britain over which the English Sovereign, and not the American President, rules. Now, when Christ sent out two disciples at a time, He said, "Go and preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is among you." Why? Because there was a little slice of the kingdom that went on those four legs. Wherever those disciples, in whose hearts Jesus Christ was enshrined and enthroned as king, went, there was a little colony of the universal kingdom walking among men. It is a sweet conception of the kingdom of God. "The kingdom of God is within you." Of course, it is, if you are a child of God. Your heart is a colony of the kingdom, and the universal king reigns there. I would He reigned more undisputed and alone.

Now, to seek the kingdom of God is to seek its extension. When you come where the flag of the devil is, and the coat of arms of the devil is, and the soldiers of the devil in their uniform, try to get the flag down from the masthead and down from the flagstaff, and put the banner of the Cross in its place. You try to get the uniform off of the soldiers and servants of the devil, and get the blood-red uniform of the kingdom of Christ upon you. You try to get the crest of arms of the heavenly kingdom, marked by the seal of the Spirit everywhere, where the devil's insignia are found. That is seeking the kingdom of God. You come across a poor outcast, a drunkard, a harlot, someone who is living in sin. Try and displace Satan as the ruling prince in that soul, and get the Prince of princes and the King of kings into that heart to rule, and you are seeking the kingdom of God. Why, the quest is as plain as day, and there is nothing else worth seeking. Even if you try to feed the hungry and clothe the naked, do it as Christ did, that your ministry to the body may be the preparation for your ministry to the soul.

Now, what is it to seek God's righteousness? The righteousness of God means in the Gospel according to Matthew, and in the Sermon on the Mount, not what it means in Romans—a method of justification. It means adherence and conformity to the right. It is God-likeness. How am I to seek the righteousness of God, and to incorporate it in my life? That is what makes me a subject of the King, and an honour to the King; and so this simple text of Scripture bids us, first of all, seek to have the righteousness of God embodied in myself, and then, next, seek to have that same righteousness of God embodied in other people, to become myself a subject and servant of the King of kings, and then to try to make everybody with whom I come into contact a subject and servant of the same King of kings. And if you can tell me anything that can be put into words that is more worth making the first object of thought, and of love, and of choice than this, I should like to know what it is.

"First." First in time. What a blessed thing it is when a little child begins to serve God as a child. The trouble is that, though we may be saved by a repentance in [later in] life, it is at a bitter cost. The world and the flesh and the devil come in and pre-occupy us, and then Jesus Christ can only occupy us as these enemies are first displaced, like the Canaanites when the children of Israel went into Palestine. But when the little child begins to serve God before the heart, and mind, and choice, and life have been occupied with things that perish, there is very little displacement necessary in comparison. The Lord Jesus, instead of coming, as He did to the inn at Bethlehem, and finding no room and being crowded into a corner, finds a heart that as yet is comparatively open, and He takes possession; and how many little children like Samuel, and John the Baptist, and Timothy, born of godly parents and bred of godly parents, and from a child knowing the Scriptures, have grown to be men and women magnificently furnished for all good works, and bearing comparatively few scars of sin, and knowing comparatively few of the evil habits that have been abandoned, coming up from behind, like the Egyptians from Egypt, to drag back into the slavery into which one once fell. Let us seek first the kingdom of God. Seek it early in life if you are in youth. Seek it at once, wherever you are in the point of your human pilgrimage; and from this time forth, whatever, it may have been hitherto with you, let it be primary and not secondary, supreme and not subordinate. Take up your thought with the enamouring vision of God's righteousness in your soul and God's kingdom in this world. Let your love, and your conscience, and your will go out in one great controlling, absorbing purpose that Christ shall be magnified in your body, whether it be by life or by death.

From Dr. Pierson and His Message... edited by J. Kennedy Maclean. London: Marshall Brothers, [1911?].

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