The Kingdom and Its Treasures
Seeking First the Kingdom (1844)
“But seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness: and all these things shall be added unto you.” Matthew 6:33
After our Lord, in the previous verses, had been pointing His disciples to “the fowls of the air” and “the lilies of the field,” in order that they should be without carefulness about the necessaries of life, He adds:
“Therefore take no thought [literally, “be not anxious”], saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things” (Mat 6:31-32).
Observe here particularly that we, the children of God, should be different from the nations of the earth, from those who have no Father in heaven, and who therefore make it their great business, their first anxious concern, what they shall eat, what they shall drink, and wherewithal they shall be clothed. We, the children of God, should, as in every other respect so in this particular also, be different from the world, and prove to the world that we believe that we have a Father in heaven Who knoweth that we have need of all these things. The fact that our almighty Father—Who is full of infinite love to us His children, and Who has proved to us His love in the gift of His only begotten Son and His almighty power in raising Him from the dead—knows that we have need of these things, should remove all anxiety from our minds.
There is, however, one thing which we ought to attend to with reference to our temporal necessities. It is mentioned in our verse: “But seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.” The great business which the disciple of the Lord Jesus has to be concerned about (for this word was spoken to disciples, to professed believers) is to seek the kingdom of God, i.e., to seek, as I view it, after the external and internal prosperity of the Church of God. If, according to our ability and according to the opportunity which the Lord gives us, we seek to win souls for the Lord Jesus, that appears to me to be seeking the external prosperity of the kingdom of God; and if we, as members of the body of Christ, seek to benefit our fellow members in the body, helping them on in grace and truth, or caring for them in any way to their edification, that would be seeking the internal prosperity of the kingdom of God. But in connection with this we have also to “seek His righteousness,” which means (as it was spoken to disciples, to those who have a Father in heaven, and not to those who were without), to seek to be more and more like God, to seek to be inwardly conformed to the mind of God. If these two things are attended to (and they imply also that we are not slothful in business), then do we come under that precious promise: “And all these things [that is food, raiment, or anything else that is needful for this present life] shall be added unto you.” It is not for attending to these two things that we obtain the blessing, but in attending to them.
I now ask you, my dear reader, a few questions in all love, because I do seek your welfare. I do not wish to put these questions to you without putting them first to my own heart. Do you make it your primary business, your first great concern, to seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness? Are the things of God—the honor of His name, the welfare of His Church, the conversion of sinners, and the profit of your own soul—your chief aim? Or does your business, your family, or your own temporal concerns, in some shape or other, primarily occupy your attention?
I never knew a child of God who acted according to the above passage, in whose experience the Lord did not fulfill His word of promise, “All these things shall be added unto you.”
Treasures in Heaven (1844)
“Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Matthew 6:19-21
Observe, dear reader, the following points concerning this part of the divine testimony:
1. It is the Lord Jesus, our Lord and Master, Who speaks this as the lawgiver of His people—He Who has infinite wisdom and unfathomable love to us, Who therefore knows what is for our real welfare and happiness, and Who cannot exact from us any requirement inconsistent with that love which led Him to lay down His life for us.
Remembering then Who it is who speaks to us in these verses, let us consider them:
2. His counsel, His affectionate entreaty, and His commandment to us His disciples is: “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth.” The meaning obviously is that the disciples of the Lord Jesus, being strangers and pilgrims on earth, i.e., neither belonging to the earth nor expecting to remain in it, should not seek to increase their earthly possessions, in whatever these possessions may consist. This is a word for poor believers as well as for rich believers.
3. Our Lord says concerning the earth that it is a place “where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal.” All that is of the earth, and in any way connected with it, is subject to corruption, to change, to dissolution. There is no reality or substance in anything else but in heavenly things. Often the careful amassing of earthly possessions ends in losing them in a moment by fire, by robbery, by a change of mercantile concerns, by loss of work, etc.—but suppose all this were not the case, still, yet a little while, and thy soul shall be required of thee (Luk 12:20); or yet a little while, and the Lord Jesus will return. And what profit shalt thou then have, dear reader, if thou hast carefully sought to increase thy earthly possessions? My brother, if there were one particle of real benefit to be derived from it, would not He, whose love to us has been proved to the utmost, have wished that you and I should have it? If, in the least degree, it could tend to the increase of our peace, or joy in the Holy Ghost, or heavenly-mindedness, He, Who laid down His life for us would have commanded us, to “lay up treasure upon earth”!
4. Our Lord does not merely bid us not to lay up treasure upon earth; if He had said no more, this commandment might be abused, and persons find in it an encouragement for their extravagant habits, their love of pleasure, and their habit of spending everything they have, or can obtain, upon themselves. It does not mean, then, as is the common phrase, that we should “live up to our income”; for He adds: “But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven.” There is such a thing as laying up in heaven as truly as there is laying up on earth; if it were not so, our Lord would not have said so. Just as persons put one sum after another into the bank, and it is put down to their credit, and they may use the money afterwards: so truly the penny, the shilling, the pound, the hundred pounds, the ten thousand pounds, given for the Lord’s sake and constrained by the love of Christ, to poor brethren or in any way spent in the work of God, He marks down in the book of remembrance; He considers as laid up in heaven. The money is not lost; it is laid up in the bank of heaven—yet so that, whilst an earthly bank may break or through earthly circumstances we may lose our earthly possessions, the money thus secured in heaven cannot be lost.
But this is by no means the only difference; I notice a few more points. Treasures laid up on earth bring along with them many cares; treasures laid up in heaven never give care. Treasures laid up on earth never can afford spiritual joy; treasures laid up in heaven bring along with them peace and joy in the Holy Ghost even now. Treasures laid up on earth, in a dying hour cannot afford peace and comfort, and when life is over they are taken from us; treasures laid up in heaven draw forth thanksgiving that we were permitted and counted worthy to serve the Lord with the means with which He was pleased to entrust us as stewards. And when this life is over we are not deprived of what was laid up there, but when we go to heaven we go to the place where our treasures are, and we shall find them there. Often we hear it said when a person has died: “he died worth so much.” But whatever be the phrases common in the world, it is certain that a person may die worth fifty thousand pounds sterling, as the world reckons, and yet that individual may not possess in the sight of God one thousand pounds sterling, because he was not rich towards God, he did not lay up treasures in heaven.
Dear reader, does your soul long to be rich towards God, to lay up treasures in heaven? The world passes away and the lust thereof (1Jo 2:17)! Yet a little while, and our stewardship will be taken from us. At present we have the opportunity of serving the Lord with our time, our talents, our bodily strength, our gifts, and also with our property; but shortly this opportunity may cease. Oh, how shortly it may cease! Before ever this is read by anyone, I may have fallen asleep; and the very next day after you have read this, dear reader, you may fall asleep! And therefore whilst we have the opportunity let us serve the Lord—I believe, and therefore I speak. My own soul is so fully assured of the wisdom and love of the Lord toward us His disciples as expressed in this Word, that by His grace I do most heartily set my seal to the preciousness of the command, and I do from my inmost soul not only desire not to lay up treasures upon earth, but believing as I do what the Lord says, I do desire to have grace to lay up treasures in heaven.
(5) The Lord lastly adds: “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Where should the heart of the disciple of the Lord Jesus be, but in heaven? Our calling is a heavenly calling; our inheritance is a heavenly inheritance; our citizenship is in heaven; but if we believers in the Lord Jesus lay-up treasures on earth, the necessary result of it is that our hearts will be upon earth—nay, the very fact of our doing so proves that they are there! Nor will it be otherwise till there be a ceasing to lay up treasures upon earth. The believer who lays up treasures upon earth may, at first, not live openly in sin; he in a measure may yet bring some honor to the Lord in certain things—but the injurious tendencies of this habit will show themselves more and more, whilst the habit of laying up treasures in heaven would draw the heart more and more heavenward. [This habit] would be continually strengthening his new, his divine nature, his spiritual faculties, because it would call his spiritual faculties into use, and thus they would be strengthened—and he would more and more, whilst yet in the body, have his heart in heaven and set upon heavenly things. And thus the laying up treasures in heaven would bring along with it, even in this life, precious spiritual blessings as a reward of obedience.
The child of God has been bought with the “precious blood of the Christ” (1Pe 1:19) and is altogether His property, with all that he possesses: his bodily strength, his mental strength, his ability of every kind, his trade, business, art, profession, his property, etc.—for it is written: “Ye are not your own; for ye are bought with a price” (1Co 6:19-20). The proceeds of our calling are therefore not our own in the sense of using them as our natural heart wishes us to do, whether to spend them on the gratification of our pride, our love of pleasure, or sensual indulgences, or to lay by the money for ourselves or our children, or use it in any way as we naturally like. But we have to stand before our Lord and Master, whose stewards we are, to seek to ascertain His will, how He will have us use the proceeds of our calling. But is this indeed the spirit in which the children of God generally are engaged in their calling? It is but too well known that it is not the case!
Can we then wonder at it, that even God’s own dear children should so often be found greatly in difficulty with regard to their calling, and be found so often complaining about stagnation or competition in trade, and the difficulties of the times, though there have been given to them such precious promises as: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Mat 6:33), or “Let your conversation [disposition or turn of mind] be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, ‘I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee’ ” (Heb 13:5)? Is it not obvious enough that, when our Heavenly Father sees that we His children do, or would, use the proceeds of our calling as our natural mind would desire, He either cannot at all entrust us with means or will be obliged to decrease them? No wise and really affectionate mother will permit her infant to play with a razor or with fire, however much the child may desire to have them; and so the love and wisdom of our Heavenly Father will not, cannot, entrust us with pecuniary means (except it be in the way of chastisement or to show us finally their utter vanity), if He sees that we do not desire to possess them as stewards for Him, in order that we may spend them as He may point out to us by His Holy Spirit, through His Word.
In connection with this I give a few hints to the believing reader on three passages of the Word of God. In 1 Corinthians 16:2, we find it written to the brethren at Corinth, “Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God has prospered him.” A contribution for the poor saints in Judea was to be made, and the brethren at Corinth were exhorted to put by every Lord’s Day, according to the measure of success which the Lord had been pleased to grant them in their calling during the week. Now, ought not the saints in our day also to act according to this word? There is no passage in the Word of God telling us not to do so, and it is altogether in accordance with our pilgrim character, not only once or twice, or four times a year, to see how much we can afford to give to the poor saints, or to the work of God in any way, but to seek to settle it weekly...
It might also be said by a brother whose earnings are small, “Should I also give according to my earnings? They are already so small that my wife can only with the greatest difficulty manage to make them sufficient for the family.” My reply is: Have you ever considered, my brother, that the very reason why the Lord is obliged to let your earnings remain so small may be the fact of your spending everything upon yourselves, and that if He were to give you more, you would only use it to increase your own family comfort, instead of looking about to see who among the brethren are sick, or who have no work at all, that you might help them, or how you might assist the work of God at home and abroad? There is a great temptation for a brother whose earnings are small to put off the responsibility of assisting the needy and sick saints, or helping on the work of God, and to lay it upon the few rich brethren and sisters with whom he is associated in fellowship, and thus rob his own soul!
It might be asked, “How much shall I give of my income? The tenth part, or the fifth part, or the third part, or one half, or more?” My reply is, God lays down no rule concerning this point. What we do we should do cheerfully and not of necessity (2Co 9:7). But if even Jacob, with the first dawning of spiritual light (Gen 28:22), promised to God the tenth of all He should give to him, how much ought we believers in the Lord Jesus to do for Him?—we, whose calling is a heavenly one, and who know distinctly that we are children of God and joint heirs with the Lord Jesus! Yet do all the children of God give even the tenth part of what the Lord gives them?
In connection with 1 Corinthians 16:2, I would mention two other portions.
1. 2 Corinthians 9:6
“He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully” (2Co 9:6). It is certain that we children of God are so abundantly blessed in Jesus, by the grace of God, that we ought to need no stimulus to good works. The forgiveness of our sins, the having been made for ever the children of God, the having before us the Father’s house as our home, these blessings ought to be sufficient motives to constrain us in love and gratitude to serve God abundantly all the days of our life, and cheerfully also to give up, as He may call for it, that with which He has entrusted us of the things of this world. But whilst this is the case, the Lord nevertheless holds out to us in His Holy Word motives why we should serve Him, deny ourselves, use our property for Him, etc.—and the last mentioned passage is one of that kind. The verse is true, both with reference to the life that is now and that which is to come. If we have been sparingly using our property for Him, there will have been little treasure laid up in heaven, and therefore a small amount of capital will be found in the world to come—so far as regards reaping. Again, we shall reap bountifully if we seek to be rich towards God, by abundantly using our means for Him, whether in ministering to the necessities of the poor saints, or using otherwise our pecuniary means for His work.
Dear brethren, these are realities! Very shortly will come the reaping time, and then will be the question whether we shall reap sparingly or bountifully.
But while this passage refers to the life hereafter, it also refers to the life that now is. Just as now the love of Christ constrains us to communicate of that with which the Lord entrusts us, so will be the present reaping, both with regard to spiritual and temporal things. Should there be found therefore in a brother the want of entering into his position as being merely a steward for the Lord in his calling, and should he give no heed to the admonitions of the Holy Ghost to communicate to those who are in need or to help the work of God; then can such a brother be surprised that he meets with great difficulties in his calling, and that he cannot get on? This is according to the Lord’s Word.
He is sowing sparingly, and he therefore reaps sparingly. But should the love of Christ constrain a brother out of the earnings of his calling to sow bountifully, he will even in this life reap bountifully, both with regard to blessings in his soul and with regard to temporal things. Consider in this connection the following passage, which though taken from the Book of Proverbs, is not of a Jewish character, but true concerning believers under the present dispensation also:
“There is that scattereth, and yet increaseth; and there is that withholdeth more than is meet, but it tendeth to poverty. The liberal soul shall be made fat: and he that watereth shall be watered also himself ” Pro 11:24-25.
2. Luke 6:38
In connection with 1 Corinthians 16:2, I would also direct my brethren in the Lord to the promise made in Luke 6:38,
“Give and it shall be given unto you: good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again.”
This refers evidently to the present dispensation, and evidently in its primary meaning to temporal things. Now let anyone constrained by the love of Christ act according to this passage; let him on the first day of the week communicate as the Lord has prospered him, and he will see that the Lord will act according to what is contained in this verse. If pride constrains us to give, if self-righteousness makes us liberal, if natural feeling induces us to communicate, or if we give whilst we are in a state of insolvency, not possessing more perhaps than ten shillings in the pound were our creditors to come upon us; then we cannot expect to have this verse fulfilled in our experience. Nor should we give at any time for the sake of receiving again from others, according to this verse. But if indeed the love of Christ constrain us to communicate according to the ability that the Lord gives us, then we shall have this verse fulfilled in our experience, though this was not the motive that induced us to give. Somehow or other the Lord will abundantly repay us through the instrumentality of our fellow men, what we are doing for His poor saints or in any way for His work; and we shall find that in the end we are not losers even with reference to temporal things, whilst we communicate liberally of the things of this life.
Here it might be remarked: if it be so that even in this life, and with regard to temporal things it is true, that “To him that gives shall be given, good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over,” and that “He which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully,” then in the end the most liberal persons would be exceedingly rich.
Concerning this we have to keep in mind that the moment persons were to begin to give for the sake of receiving more back again from the Lord, through the instrumentality of their fellow men, than they have given; or the moment persons wished to alter their way, and no more go on sowing bountifully, but sparingly in order to increase their possessions, whilst God is allowing them to reap bountifully, the river of God’s bounty towards them would no longer continue to flow. God had supplied them abundantly with means because He saw them act as stewards for Him. He had entrusted them with a little which they used for Him, and He therefore entrusted them with more; and if they had continued to use the much also for Him, He would have still more abundantly used them as instruments to scatter abroad His bounties. The child of God must be willing to be a channel through which God’s bounties flow, both with regard to temporal and spiritual things. This channel is narrow and shallow at first, it may be; yet there is room for some of the waters of God’s bounty to pass through. And if we cheerfully yield ourselves as channels, for this purpose, then the channel becomes wider and deeper, and the waters of the bounty of God can pass through more abundantly. Dropping figurative language it is thus: At first we may be instrumental in communicating £5, £10, £20, £50, £100, or £200 per year, but afterwards double as much; and if we are still more faithful in our stewardship, after a year or two four times as much, afterwards perhaps eight times as much, at last perhaps twenty times or fifty times as much. We cannot limit the extent to which God may use us as instruments in communicating blessing, both temporal and spiritual, if we are willing to yield ourselves as instruments to the living God—and are content to be only instruments and to give Him all the glory. But with regard to temporal things it will be thus: that if indeed we walk according to the mind of God in these things, whilst more and more we become instruments of blessing to others, we shall not seek to enrich ourselves, but be content when the last day of another year finds us still in the body, to possess no more than on the last day of the previous year or even considerably less, whilst we have been, however, in the course of the year the instruments of communicating largely to others through the means with which the Lord had entrusted us.
As to my own soul, by the grace of God it would be a burden to me to find that I was increasing in earthly possession, for it would be a plain proof to me that I had not been acting as a steward for God, and had not been yielding myself as a channel for the waters of God’s bounty to pass through. I also cannot but bear my testimony here, that in whatever feeble measure God has enabled me to act according to these truths for the last sixty-four years and a half, I have found it to be profitable, most profitable to my own soul, and, as to temporal things, I never was a loser in doing so, but I have most abundantly found the truth of 2 Corinthians 9:6, Luke 6:38, and Proverbs 11:24-25 verified in my own experience. I only have to regret that I have acted so little according to what I have now been stating, but my godly purpose is, by the help of God, to spend the remainder of my days in practicing these truths more than ever; and I am sure that, when I am brought to the close of my earthly pilgrimage, either by death or by the appearing of our Lord Jesus, I shall not have the least regret in having done so. I know that should I leave my dear child behind, the Lord will abundantly provide for her and prove that there has been a better provision made for her than her father could have made, if he had sought to insure his life or lay up money for her.