ŇWhich of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature? And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?Ó Matthew 6:27-30.
ŇWhich of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?Ó Matthew 6:27
Here Christ propoundeth His third reason against distrustful and carking care for worldly things, from the unprofitableness and vanity of it in man. The words of this reason are propounded by way of question; which kind of phrase imports the affirming or denying of the thing spoken of with more vehemence. And here it hath the force of a more vehement negation as if Christ had said, Undoubtedly not any of you by taking care can add one cubit to his stature. A cubit is a measure taken from a part of manŐs body, being the length of the arm from the elbow to the end of the longest finger. Now God in framing manŐs body, brings it from this length in the motherŐs womb, by continual increase adding cubit unto cubit, till at last it contain many cubits in stature, according as He hath ordained and appointed. And look how many cubits long God hath ordained every man to come unto, of that stature and tallness he is, and no man by all his wit, skill and careful industry can add one cubit unto his stature, for that is the proper work of the Creator. He that gives the body, appoints the stature, and by His providence brings it thereto by daily increase. Now hence Christ reasons thus, from the like: As no man by taking care in all the means he can use, can augment his stature one cubit, he cannot do the least thing this way, as St Luke noteth (Luke 12:26); no more can any man by his distrustful care better his outward estate for things needful to this life any whit at all. And therefore sith it is vain and fruitless to vex our hearts herewith, we must beware of this distrustful care.
From this reason, we may observe and gather sundry instructions:
1. First, that manŐs labour, care and industry is altogether vain and fruitless, without the blessing of GodŐs providence (Psa. 127:1,2), Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it. Except the Lord keep the city, the keeper watcheth in vain. It is in vain for you to rise early, etc. (1 Cor. 3:7) Neither is he that planteth anything, nor he that watereth (meaning of themselves), but God giveth the increase. This point the Lord doth notably express by Haggai, saying (Hag. 1:6,9), Ye have sown much, and bring in littleÉ. And he that earneth wages putteth it in a bottomless bag. É. Ye looked for much, and lo, it came to little, and when it came home, I did blow upon it. The consideration whereof must teach us to commend all the sober care and labour of our lawful callings to God by prayer for His blessing; for it is His blessing that maketh rich (Prov. 10:22). If Paul and Apollos, two most worthy men, could do nothing of themselves, what shall we think to do? And when we find GodŐs blessing upon our labour, then must we give thanks.
2. Secondly, hence we learn that no man can better his outward estate in the world for wealth and dignity, by all his care and diligence, above that which God hath appointed him to come unto. For as God hath determined of manŐs bodily stature, which no man by taking care can add unto or alter, so hath He appointed in His decree what shall be manŐs estate, for wealth or poverty, dignity or disgrace, which it lies not in the power of man, or any creature, to alter. Indeed the diligent use of lawful means is an argument of GodŐs blessing in outward things, and therefore must be followed and exercised in sobriety and godliness of those that wait for such blessings, because ordinarily God conveys His blessings by such means; but yet the state of man depends not on the means, but on GodŐs decree and pleasure (Psa. 75:6,7), To come to preferment is neither from the east nor from the west; but God is judge: He maketh high, and He maketh low; and (Prov. 22:2), The poor and rich meet together, and God is the maker of them both. In regard whereof we must learn to depend upon God in the sober use of lawful means, and to rest contented with His blessing thereupon, be it more or less; for whatsoever it is, it is that position which God hath allotted unto us.
3. Thirdly, hereby are sundry erroneous opinions confuted and overthrown:
(1) As, first, the opinion of them who think that the temporal life of man may be prolonged by art, above the period set by God in nature. But then there may be addition made by art to the set period of manŐs stature; for the will and providence of God doth equally rule in them both. The prolonging of manŐs life is no less an action of the Creator, than the augmenting of manŐs stature. Indeed, art may help to preserve life till it come to the period in nature, but further to prolong it, is beyond the art and power of man; for (Eccl. 8:8) Man is not lord over the spirit, to retain the spirit; (Job. 14:5), God hath herein appointed his bounds which he cannot pass.
(2) Secondly, the opinion of some magicians and witches is hereby also confuted, who think and avouch that by enchantments they can turn their bodies into the bodies of other creatures, as cats, hares, etc., and also to make their bodies to pass through a keyhole, or such like narrow place, but this were to change nature (which yet Christ here denies to be in the power of men), and therefore it is impossible. These things are the illusions of Satan, whereby he blears the eyes of such as regarding lying wonders. As for that which is said of Nebuchadnezzar (Dan. 4:16), that he should be turned into a beast, because it is said he ate grass like an ox (v.25); this we must know and hold: that the substance of his soul was not changed, neither the substance of his body, nor the shape thereof into the shape and substance of a beast, but only the hand of God was heavy upon his mind, striking him with brutish frenzy and madness, whereupon his behaviour became brutish, and he lived among the beasts of the field.
(3) Thirdly, the opinion of the alchemists is hereby also refuted, who pretend that they can turn base metals into better, as brass, or lead into gold; but that is to change the nature of creatures, which is more than to add thereto by augmenting their quantity, which yet Christ denies and makes impossible to art in the stature of man.
(4) Fourthly, the opinion of the papists for their merit of works is hereby also confuted. They teach that by good works a man may merit for himself a greater degree of glory in heaven. But consider, if a man by all that he can do, cannot augment his bodily stature, nor his outward estate in this world (as we have shewed); then much less can he add unto his estate of glory. If the increase of nature be the work of God, then much more is the gift of grace, and the increase of glory. As therefore He determines of the stature of the body, so much more may we resolve that the state of the soul for glory is decreed of God, and man cannot add thereunto. Indeed the more we glorify God by well doing on earth, the more is our assurance of greater glory in heaven, but yet the merit thereof is the work of Christ alone, and our fruition of it the gift of God, according to the good pleasure of His own will.
ŇAnd why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?Ó (vv. 28-30).
In these three verses, Christ returneth to His former commandment against distrustful care contained in v.25. And here He urgeth one part thereof concerning care for raiment, and the other for meat and drink in v.31. Now what meaneth Christ by this manner of handling this heavenly doctrine, not only to propound it, and to urge it by strong and forcible reasons, but again to repeat it, and urge it by piecemeal? Surely, hereby He declares Himself to be the true Doctor of His church; for having a weighty point of doctrine in hand, which the nature of man is unwilling to receive and practice, He doth beside the propounding and confirming of it, thus urge it by piecemeal, that hereby it may the better take place in our heart, and be the more effectual to bring forth obedience in our lives. And this fidelity must everyone shew that is to reach the Word of God to others; not only ministers, though it be their duty specially, but also masters and parents (as Deut. 6:7), Thou shalt whet them upon thy children (as the word signifies) that so it may more deeply enter into the heart.
Thus much of the manner of prosecuting this argument. Now we come to the words.
And why care you for raiment?
This interrogation hath the force of a prohibition; and so it is the same with this branch of v.25, Care not for your body what you shall put on. Now all care for apparel is not here forbidden; for there is a lawful godly care, whereby men seek and labour uprightly, and in a sober manner, for such apparel as is meet for their callings, and needful to the health and comfort of their bodies. But the care here forbidden is an inordinate care for apparel, joined either with distrust and fear of want, or else with a discontentedness with that apparel which is meet and necessary. And this is the common sin of this age, as the sundry bad practices of men and women about apparel, proceeding from this inordinate care, do evidently declare; as first, the affecting of superfluity and abundance in apparel, and the following of strange and foreign fashions so soon as they are taken up. Secondly, the wearing of too costly apparel, above their ability and degree; as when servants are as fine as their masters, tradesmen like gentlemen, and gentlemen as nobles. Thirdly, the spending of much time in the curious trimming and attiring of the body, which might be spent in better duties. This proceeds from some dislike in GodŐs workmanship, as though He had not done His part thoroughly to their bodies, or they by their curiosity could make themselves better.
Now that Christ might remove out of menŐs hearts this inordinate care, He doth here enforce the commandment by a fourth reason, taken from His providence over the lilies of the field. And His reason is weighty, though the subject of it be mean and simple. It may be framed thus: If God clothe the lilies of the field, then doubtless He will clothe you. But God clotheth the lilies of the field. Therefore much more will He clothe you.
This reason is fully set down in these three verses, though the parts be inverted, by reason of their amplifications. For, first, Christ propounds to our consideration the subject matter whence His reason is drawn: Learn how the lilies of the field do grow. Where this must be marked, that Christ speaks of field lilies, which have not the help of man, as garden flowers have. Then He lays down a proof of His assumption, that God clothes them, by removing from them the ordinary means of clothing. They labour not, neither spin (v.28), amplifying this work of God upon them by a comparison, wherein He prefers the glory of them before the glory of Solomon in his princely array (v.29). And then by way of inference propounds the reason, omitting the assumption (v.30), where the first part and conclusion are both propounded and amplified, as we shall see when we come to the handling of them; for I will follow the order observed by Christ.
Learn how the lilies of the field do grow.
Here Christ makes the lilies and herbs of the field a schoolmaster unto man, yea, to His own disciples (for He spake to them). And this He doth for especial causes: First, to teach them and us, that the silly creatures in the field do in their kind yield more obedience unto God than man doth, and that man is more rebellious unto God than they are. Hence Isaiah (Isa. 1:2) calls heaven and earth to hearken to his rebuke of the Jews for their ingratitude; and the prophet rebuking Jeroboam (1 Kin. 13:2) for his idolatry, cries, O altar, altar, thus saith the Lord. Jeremiah rebuking Jeconiah (Jer. 22:29), calls the earth to hear; and Ezekiel (Ezek. 6:3), must prophecy to the mountains. By all which they would shew that if these insensible creatures had reason as man hath, they would be more obedient to the will of their Creator than man is. Secondly, hereby Christ would teach His disciples and us, that though we have the creatures, and behold and use them daily, yet partly through blindness and ignorance, and partly through negligence, we do not discern in them, nor learn from them, those good things which we ought to do; For the invisible things of God, that is, His eternal power and Godhead, being considered in His works, are seen by the creation of the world (Rom. 1:20). This then is a check to our dullness and negligence in the things of God. For what shall we do in matters of salvation, when in these inferior matters we may learn of the insensible creatures?
But what must we learn in the lilies? How they grow. And this is a thing to be marked, for in the winter season they lie dead in the earth, as though they were not; they are covered with frost and snow; and yet in the springtime and summer, they spring up with stalks, leaves and flowers of such glorious colours as passeth the glory of Solomon in all his royalty. Now whence comes this, but of themselves, or from man? Surely neither, for they are field-lilies, this only comes from the word of creation given out by God, when He made the creatures, saying, Let the earth bring forth the green herbs etc. (Gen. 1:11), from this working and operative Word of God, comes the earth to have power and virtue to send out the glorious lilies and every other herb. Now then (to apply this to the purpose intended by Christ), the same God that by His operative Word gives the glorious being every year to field-lilies, hath given out a word of providence touching His servants, that if they trust in Him, using lawful means moderately, they shall have raiment sufficient, and all things else that be needful to this life. Here then is nothing wanting but trust in God in the sober use of ordinary means, for such shall be as sure of raiment by GodŐs providence, as lilies are to grow and blossom in the springtime and summer. And this were sufficient to persuade us unto moderate care, though nothing more had been said.
But He addeth,
They labour not, neither spin.
This denial of the use of means unto them, whereby they should be arrayed, as it proves directly that God alone arrays them with glorious colours; so it strongly enforceth the duty of contentment upon us, relying on GodŐs providence, without distracting care; because beside our title to GodŐs providence not inferior to the lilies of the field, we have allowed unto us for our raiment the use of means, which they want. And therefore howsoever no man, under pretence of depending on GodŐs providence, may hence take occasion to live idly, neglecting the ordinary lawful means to procure things honest and needful. Yet hereby Christ would give assurance to al that trust in Him and serve Him, that though all means should fail them (so it be not through their default), yet will He provide things useful for them.
And yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
These words contain an amplification of the second part of ChristŐs reason, to wit, that God doth not only clothe the lilies, but clothe them in most glorious array, even above the glory of Solomon in all his royalty. And this amplification is to be marked, because SolomonŐs glory was extraordinary, by special gift from God, above his desire or expectation, as we may see (1 Kin. 3:13). And yet, Christ saith, that each field-lily is more gloriously arrayed by GodŐs providence than Solomon was at any time.
This amplification serves, first, to check and control the folly of them that are proud in apparel, and nice and curious in arraying themselves. This is the common sin of this age, wherein for attire, every sort almost exceed their ability and degree. But why should we be proud of any apparel, for when we have done all we can to make ourselves never so gay, yet we come short of the flowers of the field in glorious array? For what cloth is so white as the lily? What purple is like the violet? What crimson or scarlet comparable to divers flowers of such colours? Art indeed may do much, but herein it must stoop to nature. Now if we cannot come near the herbs and flowers which we tread under our feet, and cast into the furnace, why should we be puffed up with any gayness in our apparel?
Secondly, this teacheth us that all worldly pomp is but vanity; for in glory and beauty it comes short of the flower of the field, and yet what is more frail and transitory than the flower, that is today in the field, and tomorrow is cast into the oven? This the Holy Ghost would teach us by comparing the glory of man to the flower of grass (1 Pet. 1:24), and seeing that the fashion of this world goeth away (1 Cor. 7:31), wherefore, as the apostle saith, we must use this world as though we used it not. For SolomonŐs conclusion is true of all earthly things (Eccl. 1:2), Vanity of vanities, all is vanity. And yet we must not here imagine that Christ condemns the glory of Solomon, though He thus debase it below the flower of the field; for it was the gift of God in extraordinary favour (1 Kin. 3:13). So that howsoever the Word of God condemn pride and curiosity in attire, and superfluity therein, yet it alloweth unto princes, and personages of great state, the use of gorgeous and costly raiment; and therefore Joseph, being advanced to dignity, was arrayed in garments of fine linen, had a ring on his finger, and a chain of gold about his neck (Gen. 41:42). And that which Luke saith of Agrippa and Bernice (Acts 25:23), that they came in with great pomp to hear Paul, may as well be taken in good part, as in evil.
ŇWherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?Ó (v.30)
Here Christ propounds and applies this reason to His disciples and hearers; and in this application enforceth it, by putting a manifest difference between men and the herbs of the field, preferring man far before them. The pre-eminence of man above the flowers of the field, stands in these things:
(1) First, the herbs were made for manŐs use, and not man for them; for besides other uses, they serve for fuel to the oven, as Christ here noteth.
(2) Secondly, the herb of the field is today, and tomorrow is not, for being burnt or consumed, it ceaseth to be at all. But it is not so with man, for though he be burnt or consumed, yet he is not brought to nothing, but his being remaineth still, by reason of his immortal soul, which, though it had beginning, yet shall never have end. And herein he far excelleth them; for though herbs and trees live for a time, yet their life ariseth from the matter whereof they consist, and so vanisheth with it; but the soul of man is a different substance from the body, and vanisheth not, though the body perish. This difference is plain in the Creation; for God commanded the earth to bring forth herbs and trees with their life and substance (Gen. 1:12); but when He created man, his body of the dust of the earth, yet his soul came from God; for He breathed into his face the breath of life (Gen. 2:7). And herein man excels not only the herbs of the field, but all beasts and fowls; for though they, besides life, have sense and motion from their souls, yet their souls (whether they be qualities or substances, it here skilleth not) arising from the matter whereof their bodies subsist, are mortal and vanish to nothing when the body perisheth; so as a beast burnt up is no beast, but dead man is a man though his body be burnt to nothing, because his soul lives for ever, yea, and his body, though eaten up of beasts, or consumed with fire, by virtue of GodŐs ordinance, shall one day rise again, and be reunited to the soul. Yea, the dead bodies of the elect, by virtue of the Covenant of grace, have not only relation to their souls, but a spiritual union with Christ; for (1 Thess. 4:14) they sleep in Him, and by His power shall one day be raised up to glory. And this pre-eminence Christ would teach us, when He calleth God, the God of Abraham (Matt. 22:32), who was dead in regard of his body long before; and yet, saith He, God is the God not of the dead (that is, which have no being at all), but of the living. Now this preferment of man above the creature, doth greatly enforce the duty upon him to depend upon GodŐs providence without distrustful care; for if God clothe baser creatures with glorious array, doubtless He will not suffer man His more noble creature to want, as the conclusion following doth declare.
Shall He not do much more unto you, O ye of little faith?
That is, shall He not much more clothe you? Now He amplifieth this conclusion by a reproof, whereby He would enforce His reason more strongly upon them, saying, O ye of little faith. In which reproof two points are to be considered: the persons reproved and the cause thereof.
1. The persons are ChristŐs chosen disciples, whom He doth not here reprove for want of faith simply, but for the weakness and small measure of it; because their doubting and distrust in GodŐs providence was greater than their faith.
Here then we may observe a distinction of faith in regard of degree and measure, to wit, that beside that full assurance whereby a man so resteth on GodŐs promises, that he nothing doubteth through unbelief, as it is said of Abraham (Rom. 4:20). There is a weak faith mingled with much doubting, such as was in ChristŐs disciples at that time. And howsoever that doubting, which is in weak faith, be evil, and here reproved; yet the faith itself is true faith, and such as brings a man to the state of adoption and of salvation; for Christ before this reproof acknowledged of His disciples that they were GodŐs children, calling God their heavenly Father. If any shall say or think that this weak faith cannot save a man, because his unbelief, being more than his faith, shall have more force to condemn him than his faith to save him; I answer: that no man is saved by his faith because it is perfect without doubting, but because thereby he layeth hold on GodŐs mercy in Christ. Now a weak faith may do this truly, though not so perfectly and with such comfort as a strong faith doth; and the doubting and unbelief that is in weak faith cannot condemn us, if so be we bewail our unbelief, and use means diligently to come by a full assurance; for by this weak faith we are in Christ; and in Him all our wants and sins are pardoned. Which point must carefully be observed and remembered, for the stay and comfort of their souls, that have in them but this weak faith, and are troubled much with distrust and doubting. And this is many a true child of GodŐs estate; for everyone cannot attain to AbrahamŐs full assurance. But be not discouraged, O thou of little faith; thy doubting and distrust may trouble and grieve thee; only labour diligently in the means for further increase, and by thy weak faith desire to lay hold on Christ; and so shall all thy wants be covered, and thy sins pardoned; for endless is GodŐs mercy in this behalf, He will not break the bruised reed, nor quench the smoking flax (Isa. 42:3).
2. The cause why Christ doth thus reprove them for their small faith is their distrust in God for raiment; as if He should say, Whereas you doubt whether your heavenly Father will provide sufficient raiment for you, notwithstanding you see He arrays His baser creatures in glorious manner; even for this cause are you to be blamed for small things.
Here then we are to observe a special point touching the property of saving faith; namely, that it doth not only lay hold on the mercy of God for the pardon of sin, and life everlasting in Christ; but on His promises also for temporal blessings that concern this life. Neither must this seem strange to any; and to make it plain, consider that the promises of God in Scripture are of two sorts: principal and inferior. The principal promise is of Christ our Redeemer, God and man, and of remission of sin, and life everlasting by Him. The inferior promises are of temporal blessings; as food, raiment, health, peace, liberty etc., and these depend upon the main promise of Christ, so far forth as they are for our good; for (2 Cor. 1:20) in Christ, all the promises of God, whether they concern life eternal, or this temporal life, are yea, and Amen, that is, sure and certain to GodŐs children. And hence it is that when by true faith a man lays hold in the main promise of God in Christ, he doth withal apprehend the promises of God for temporal blessings. The heart that saith by faith, God will pardon my sin, and save my soul, will say also by the same faith, God will give me food and raiment, and all things sufficient for this life. Thus Abraham (Gen. 18:10) by the same faith whereby he was justified, believed GodŐs promise that he should have a son in his old age; and Noah (Gen. 7:1) believed GodŐs promise of His preservation in the ark, by the same faith whereby he was made heir of righteousness. This point must be observed, and the order remembered, wherein faith lays hold upon the promises: First, it apprehends mercy in Christ, and then providence for this life. Now hence we learn that as we look to be saved by our faith after death, so must we live by faith in this world; if we rely upon His mercy for our souls, we must depend upon His providence for our bodies. How this is done we shall see afterwards; for how should we cast ourselves upon GodŐs mercy for the kingdom of heaven, if we cannot depend upon His providence for food and raiment?
Lastly, hereby we may try our faith what it is, true or feigned; weak or strong; for this Christ here tells us, that the more we are distracted with worldly cares, the less is our belief in God; for distrustful care comes from unbelief in GodŐs providence; and the less we trust in God for temporal things, the less do we believe eternal mercies, for the same faith lays hold on both. But if we can truly depend upon God for temporal blessings in the sober use of lawful means, then we shall rely upon His mercy for the salvation of our souls. This trial is not made in prosperity, for when God sends abundance, everyone will trust in Him; but when want comes, then is the trial of thy faith; if then thou rely on God, though means fail, thy faith is strong; but if thy heart be oppressed with sorrow and fear, and thou make no conscience of unlawful means, so it may supply thy want; then suspect thyself, thy faith is weak, or none at all; for the just shall live by faith (Hab. 2:4) in all estates.