Our Saviour Christ having by six several arguments dissuaded His disciples from distrustful care, doth here shew unto them what care that is which ought always to possess their hearts; to wit, care after the kingdom of God, and His righteousness. And this care He imposeth upon them by express command, saying, First seek ye the kingdom of God and His righteousness; and then urgeth the entertaining of it by an effectual reason: and all these things things shall be ministered unto you.
There be two things here enjoined us to seek: GodŐs kingdom and righteousness; and of both these, Christ saith, First seek, that is, before all, and above all worldly things, let your principal care and endeavour be to procure these unto yourselves. By kingdom of God is here meant a state and condition of man in this life, whereby in Christ he enjoys the favour of God, and hath right to everlasting life. This very estate of man is in Scripture called the kingdom of God and the kingdom of heaven, because whosoever is in this estate, hath sure right and interest to GodŐs glory in heaven, and God here rules in him, as a king ruleth in his kingdom. The kingdom of God is only one, and yet it hath two degrees; the first in grace, and the second in glory. The kingdom of grace is that spiritual regiment which God exerciseth in man, or in His church, by His Word and Spirit in this life; and it is the first step or entrance into GodŐs heavenly kingdom. The kingdom of glory is the full fruition of immediate fellowship with the blessed Trinity, by means of Jesus Christ in the highest heavens after this life. Now both these degrees are here understood by the kingdom of God. The second thing to be thus sought for is His righteousness, that is, the righteousness of God, and not as some translate it, the righteousness thereof, that is, of GodŐs kingdom; for the words will not bear that translation. And the seeking of GodŐs righteousness is here added for special cause: to let us see by way of explication, when we have obtained for ourselves the kingdom of God; for GodŐs kingdom stands in righteousness, and then doth God rule in man, when He makes him partaker of His righteousness. Now by righteousness of God, we must here understand the obedience which Christ our Mediator performed for us in fulfilling the law, and in His sufferings. This is the very groundwork and foundation of GodŐs kingdom among men. Hereof Paul speaketh oft (Rom. 1:17), For by it (that is, the gospel), the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; and (Rom. 3:21,22), Now is the righteousness of God made manifest etc.; and (2 Cor. 5:21), God made Him to be sin for us, which knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him. And it is so called for divers respects: First, because it is freely given us of God to be our righteousness in His sight; and man cannot attain unto it of himself by any work of nature or of grace, without the gift of God. Secondly, because God will accept this obedience of Christ at the day of judgment, for His elect, as satisfying His justice, and the rigour of the law, which no righteousness of man can do. Thirdly, because it is the righteousness of that person who is God; for Christ is both God and man, and, though He obeyed the law and suffered death as He was man, yet that obedience was performed by that Person who was also God. AdamŐs righteousness by Creation was in himself, but he lost it by his fall; but our righteousness is in Christ, out of us; and therefore He is said to be (1 Cor. 1:30) made righteousness unto us of God. But how should we get this righteousness, seeing as it is in Christ? Answer: It is made ours by imputation, for when we truly repent of our sins and believe in Christ, God accepts the obedience of Christ for us, as if we had perfectly satisfied His justice, and done His will in our own persons. Now with this imputed righteousness, we must understand and join the fruit hereof in us, which is sanctification, or renewed holiness; whereby we are enabled to walk before God in new obedience, bringing forth the fruits of righteousness; for these two are never severed. Whom God justifies by the righteousness of Christ, them He sanctifies by His Spirit.
The full meaning then of ChristŐs commandment here is this: First seek etc., that is, above all things in this world, let your principal care be to procure unto yourselves the kingdom of God; that is, that state of grace whereby you may enjoy GodŐs favour in Christ, being justified by His obedience, and sanctified by His Spirit, whereby you walk in good works.
1. First, by this commandment of Christ to seek GodŐs kingdom, we may gather that by nature we are all out of GodŐs kingdom, destitute of the grace and favour of God, and indeed under the power of Satan, and in his kingdom of darkness. This the Holy Ghost shews in calling Satan (2 Cor. 4:4), the God of this world; and (John 12:31), the prince of this world, because all the world naturally are vassals unto him, yielding him homage in the works of sin; and therefore is he called (Eph. 2:2) the prince that ruleth in the air, that works in the children of disobedience. And this natural misery is justly come upon us; for seeing we refuse to yield subjection unto God in His kingdom, are we not worthily left to the power of Satan, to be made his slaves and drudges? Now that men live naturally out of ChristŐs kingdom, may appear by the course of their lives; for howsoever most men can be contented to bear the badge of Christ in outward profession, hearing the Word and receiving the sacraments; yet in heart and life they do homage to the devil, for they pull their necks from the yoke of Christ, and run with greediness to the work of sin; they account a strict endeavour after moral obedience to be curiosity and preciseness, and when they be dehorted from unlawful gain, and vain pleasures, they will not hear nor consent; whereby in effect they say to God with wicked men (Job 21:14), Depart from me, we desire not the knowledge of thy ways; and with the wicked citizens (Luke 19:14), We will not have this man to reign over us.
2. Secondly, here Christ would teach us that our principal care above all other things must be to win for ourselves the kingdom of God. I shall not need to prove this to be our duty, seeing it is the only thing which Christ here intends to commend unto us, and that by express command. But some will ask, How shall we win and get for ourselves the kingdom of God? Answer: We must do three things for the obtaining of it: First, we must come to the place where this kingdom is to be found. Secondly, we must then enter into it. Thirdly, we must wait for the full possession of it.
(1) For the first, This kingdom is not to be found in all places, but there only where God doth manifest and reveal the same to the sons of men; and that is in the assembly of the saints; where the public ministry of reconciliation is dispensed; for there God holds out this sceptre, and offers Himself to be Lord and King unto men. And therefore David calls this ministry of the Word, the rod and sceptre of GodŐs power (Psa. 110:2). And in the parable of the sower (Matt. 13:19), the gospel preached is called the Word of the kingdom, because hereby God reveals the kingdom unto men, and translates them into it (Col. 1:13). And for the same cause, in the parable of the field (Matt. 13:24) is the same ministry of the gospel called expressly the kingdom of God. And therefore when the church demands of Christ where she shall find Him, He bids her follow the steps of the flocks to the tents of the shepherds (Song. 1:8), that is, the assemblies of the saints, to the preaching of GodŐs ministers. And therefore, if ever we look to get this kingdom, we must diligently frequent the ministry of the Word, and labour to profit by it, because hereby God doth not only reveal, but convey His kingdom unto men.
(2) Secondly, when we have found this kingdom, we must seek to enter into it; for it is not enough to be where it is, or to have it among us, for so the Pharisees had in the time of Christ (Luke 11:20). Now we cannot enter in of ourselves without the special work of GodŐs Holy Spirit. So saith our Saviour Christ (Matt. 18:3), Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye cannot enter into the kingdom of God; where two things are required in him that would enter into this kingdom: To become as little children, and to be converted. We become as little children in humility and meekness, and freedom from pride and disdain; for we know the child of a prince will without disdain associate himself in the play with a poor manŐs child; and so we in conscience of our own sins, must be humbled in ourselves, and made base in our own eyes, laying aside our natural pride, and self-love, and disdain of others; for a heart swelling with pride and self-love cannot enter into the strait gate of this kingdom. Again, we must be converted and regenerate by the Spirit of God; for (John 3:5), Except a man be born again of water, and of the Spirit, he cannot see the kingdom of God. This conversion is not a change of the substance of the soul, or of the body, or of the faculties or parts thereof, but only of their evil qualities and actions; whereby the image of Satan in sin and corruption is abolished, and the image of God renewed, for knowledge, righteousness and true holiness both in heart and life. When this work of regeneration is truly begun in us, then do we enter into GodŐs kingdom, even in this life; for herein the ignorant deceive themselves, that think we enter not before the time of death.
(3) Thirdly, we must wait for the fruition and full possession of it. This we cannot get before the day of death, and therefore we must endeavour ourselves all our life long after our conversion, to keep faith and a good conscience, walking in righteousness and true holiness before God, and in the practice of love, uprightness and mercy towards our brethren. When the question is, Who shall dwell in GodŐs tabernacle, and rest in His holy mountain (Psa. 15:1), the answer is (v.2), He that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness. Hereby we testify ourselves to be already entered; for GodŐs kingdom stands in righteousness (Rom. 14:17). And thus have GodŐs children done, that have waited for this kingdom. (Matt. 25:4), The wise virgins took oil in their vessels to light their lamps when the bridegroom came. And Joseph of Aramathea, that noble counsellor, who waited for the kingdom of God, was a good man and a just (Luke 23:50,51).
Thus we see the way to get this kingdom for ourselves. Now the necessity of our endeavour in these duties with all care and diligence appears by this: That out of this estate, for true interest to this kingdom, is nothing indeed but woeful misery under the curse of God, and the power of Satan in the kingdom of darkness; but in the fruition of this kingdom is true happiness. Here is (Rom. 14:17), righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Ghost; yea (1 Pet. 1:8) joy unspeakable and glorious, for (1 Cor. 2:9) the things that eye hath not seen, ear hath not heard, neither ever entered into; the heart of man to think, hath God prepared for them that love Him. And they are all to be had in this kingdom. Wherefore as we desire to escape the woe and misery of the devilŐs kingdom, and to be partakers of the joys of heaven; so let us look unto the performance of the former duties, shewing herein the resolution of the wise merchant that parted with all he had to get the pearl of price (Matt. 13:46). This kingdom of God is here set out unto us, like a city with suburbs, and two gates; the suburbs of this city are those assemblies where the Word of God is truly preached and dispensed; and hereinto come not only the elect and godly, but hypocrites and reprobates. The first gate is the true state of grace, whereinto the elect of God alone do enter by regeneration; in which estate they continue in this life, going on from one degree of grace unto a greater, with endeavour in all things to keep faith and a good conscience both towards God and men, and so wait to enter the gate of glory, which is set open unto them, and they enter in at the house of death. And therefore let us not deceive our own souls, as the foolish virgins did with their burning lamps, and content ourselves that we come to church, and live civilly; though these be good things, yet an hypocrite may go thus far. All this while we are but in the suburbs of this kingdom. But if ever we look for the glory of heaven, we must in this life enter the state of grace by regeneration, and become new creatures.
This much for the commandment. The reason to enforce it is a gracious and bountiful promise:
And all these things shall be ministered unto you.
The words are very significant in the original; for the phrase which Christ useth is borrowed from bargainers, to this effect: as those who sell, come, or other things by measure or weight, use to give some over-plus to better the bargain on the buyers part; even so the Lord promiseth to those that seek His kingdom and righteousness, beside the fruition thereof, to give, or cast unto them, as the word imports, food and raiment, and all things needful to this life.
Question: How is this true, seeing we read that GodŐs children have been many times destitute of things necessary; as Paul was oft in hunger and thirst, in fastings, in cold and nakedness (2 Cor. 11:27), and many whom the world was not worthy of were destitute, afflicted and tormented, wandering up and down in sheepskins and goatskins (Heb. 11:37)? Answer: ChristŐs promise in this place, and all other made of temporal blessings, must be understood with the exception of the cross; that is, they shall have such and such blessings, unless it please God by the want thereof, to correct them for some sins, or to exercise their faith in the trial of their patience.
1. First, by this promise of Christ, we have the most excellent direction of Him that is wisdom Himself, how to order ourselves in seeking for all temporal blessings needful to this life, namely, we must first seek GodŐs kingdom and His righteousness, in the performance of those duties that may bring us thereunto; and then all these needful things for this life, as food and raiment, shall be cast unto us, in the sober use of ordinary means. The reason hereof is plain: for GodŐs kingdom is manŐs chief good and happiness, and all temporal blessings depend thereupon as appurtenances to the principal, as it were entailed thereon; and therefore he that would have these dependents, must get unto himself the kingdom of God, which is the principal. While the ark of the Covenant was in Obed-EdomŐs house, God blessed him and all that he had (2 Sam. 6:11). How much more then shall God bless them that receive His Holy Spirit to rule in their heart by grace? For, as David saith (Psa. 1:3), the godly man shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water; and whatsoever he doth shall prosper. By the blessing of God we have had His kingdom among us for many years in this nation, and God hath given us with it peace and protection with great abundance of temporal blessings. Indeed, God hath sundry ways corrected us, and laid His heavy hand upon us in sundry judgments; as plague, famine etc., and often shaken His rod at us in the hand of our enemies, and all because we have not received the Word of His kingdom, nor yielded obedience to it as we ought. Yea, and we may fear the fulness of His wrath, unless we repent and amend of this sin especially. But if we would set ourselves to seek this kingdom, we needed not to fear the want of any needful blessing; for so God promised to His people, to give them abundance of all things, if they would obey His commandments, which are the laws and statutes of His kingdom (Deut. 28:1ff.).
This point then is to be observed for our direction in particular. Art thou a poor man, and wouldest have sufficient food and raiment for thy temporal life? Then, first, set thy heart to seek GodŐs kingdom, follow the Word, and labour therein for regeneration and new obedience; and doubt not that if thou be upright and diligent in thy lawful calling, thou shalt find sufficient for this life.
Question: If this be the way to get sufficient, how comes it that we have so many beggars that wander up and down from door to door? Answer: They are (for the most part) a cursed generation, which have no regard for GodŐs ordinances, either for their souls or bodies; they join not themselves to any settled congregation for the obtaining of GodŐs kingdom, and so this promise belongs not to them. But God suffers them to wander in an idle course all their life long, destitute of this blessing, to eat their own bread.
Again, art thou a rich man, and wouldest continue in that estate, to thine own comfort, and for the good of those that depend upon thee? Then set thy heart to seek GodŐs kingdom with a special care, seek to plant religion in thy family, and thou and thine house shall flourish.
Art thou a student, and desirest the blessing of God upon thy labours, with all things sufficient to thy state and calling? Then first seek GodŐs kingdom and righteousness and true holiness, and God will lade thee with His blessings.
In a word, whatsoever thou art, magistrate, minister, merchant, tradesman etc., man or woman, young or old, and desirest GodŐs blessing for thyself, or any that belong unto thee, remember the practice of this duty, and use the lawful means which God lays before thee in thy calling; and nothing doubt, but (though all means fail) yet God will send sufficient.
2. Secondly, this promise of temporal blessings upon the faithful seeking of the kingdom of God, lets us see that food, raiment, and all things needful for this life, and appurtenances and dependents on GodŐs kingdom; that is, such things as over and besides His kingdom God will give to them that principally seek His love and favour by the righteousness of Christ, and labour for grace and sanctification by His Spirit; for if He have given us Christ, how shall He not with Him give us all things also (Rom. 8:32).
The consideration hereof serves for special uses:
(1) To discover unto us the preposterous course that men take in seeking for temporal blessings; for most men generally neglect the main good, which is GodŐs kingdom, and wholly addict themselves to seek the things of this life. They take little or no thought for the eternal state of their souls, but spend their wit and strength in providing for their bodies; which is nothing else but to grip at the shadow, and to let the substance go. Wherein we shew ourselves foolish and simple, like to little children, who are better pleased with the gift of a nut or an apple, than with the promise or rich revenues, or great inheritance.
(2) This teacheth us with what mind we must seek the temporal blessings of this life; namely, with the same honest mind wherewith we seek the kingdom of God, for they are appurtenances thereunto, and depend upon it. And therefore with an upright heart, we must only use lawful means moderately for the getting of them. And when we have them, this may direct us in the right end whereto we must use our temporal blessings; namely, to the furtherance of ourselves and others towards the kingdom of God. So we honour God with our riches, as Solomon bids us (Prov. 3:9).
(3) This teacheth us that they which have no right to GodŐs kingdom, nor part in ChristŐs righteousness, have no good interest into any temporal blessings; as food, raiment and such like, for they are dependents upon GodŐs kingdom and righteousness. As for the heathen before ChristŐs coming, and Turks and pagans, and all profane persons that live in the church at this day, who both heretofore, and now also, do enjoy temporal blessings in great abundance; this we must know: that they have thereto a civil right by GodŐs permission, so as it is sin, without good cause to deprive them thereof; but yet of themselves they are usurpers, in regard of true title and sanctified use before God. For by AdamŐs fall we lost our right and sovereignty in the creatures, and it is only restored and renewed in Christ, so as they which have no part in Christ cannot have this true title. This we must observe, first, to instruct ourselves the better in the knowledge of our own miserable state by nature; for what wretched creatures are we, that cannot make good claim nor title before God, to the apparel upon our backs, nor to the meat we put in our bellies? Nay, of ourselves we have no right to the breath we draw in at our nostrils. And out of question this is the state of every natural man, though he be never so great a monarch in the world, while he is out of GodŐs kingdom, wanting righteousness and regeneration by Jesus Christ. Secondly, this also must persuade every one of us to put in practice the former instruction, endeavouring above all things to get GodŐs kingdom for ourselves; for till we have part herein, we can have no sound comfort in the use of GodŐs creatures, which necessarily serve to our temporal life. This reason alone, if there were no more, should spur us on to all diligence in this duty. What shame and grief is it to eat our bread in the sight of God, as thieves and usurpers do in the sight of men? And therefore let us give no rest unto our souls, till we attain to some good assurance in this blessed estate. The way we must remember, is by true conversion and regeneration; and we shall discern ourselves to be regenerate by these fruits of the Spirit in us; to wit:
(i) A true touch of conscience for our sins, both original and actual.
(ii) A godly sorrow and grief of heart for offending and displeasing God by our transgressions.
(iii) An earnest desire, or true spiritual hunger and thirst after Christ and His righteousness, testified by our constant and diligent use of those means, the Word, prayer and sacraments, wherein God gives grace and assurance of mercy.
(iv) An unfeigned turning unto God from all sin by new obedience, having a constant purpose of heart not to sin, and a godly endeavour in life to please God in all things.
These are the marks of the new creature, who hath true title to GodŐs kingdom; which we must labour to find in ourselves for our comfort in the use of GodŐs creatures. And if we find them in us, our title is good, not only to His creatures, but to His kingdom, notwithstanding our own unworthiness by our former iniquities.
(4) In this, that temporal blessings are dependents on GodŐs kingdom, we must learn contentment and patience in all temporal losses whatsoever, though we lose friends, goods, lands, liberty, reputation, or life itself, yet we must not be overwhelmed with sorrow or grief; for if we be GodŐs children, and retain His favour, the kingdom of heaven remains sure unto us. While a manŐs stock remains, though some appurtenances be taken from him, he counts himself well enough; and so must we in all worldly losses, while our title is good to GodŐs kingdom. Herewith our Saviour Christ comforts His disciples (Luke 12:32), Fear not little flock, for it is your FatherŐs pleasure to give you the kingdom. Now if God give us that with His favour in Christ, we may be sure He would give us all temporal blessings, if He saw them to be good for us, for if He hath given us Christ, how shall He not with Him give us all things also (Rom. 8:32).
3. Thirdly, this promise of Christ, to give His kingdom to them that seek it, and beside, to cast all temporal blessings unto them, if they seek His kingdom principally, doth notably commend unto us the bountiful goodness of God; for here we see He gives to His children more than they ask or seek. And this bounty of God Paul expresseth as a ground of our praising God (Eph. 3:20,21), To Him therefore that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we can ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, be praise in the church, by Jesus Christ. Where we must observe that He speaks of GodŐs ability to be bountiful, as brought into action in His children, so as He is not only able but willing hereunto. And hereof we have daily experience in the blessings of God which we do enjoy; for when we pray for spiritual graces, God gives them unto us, and many temporal blessings also. This David confesseth (Psa. 21:3), Thou didst prevent me with liberal blessings. And Solomon found it to be true, who asking only a wise and understanding heart, received thereupon riches and honour besides his wisdom (1 Kin. 3:13). And so did Jacob, who asking only GodŐs protection, and meat to eat and clothes to put on (Gen 28:20); though he went out but with a staff, yet returned with two bands (Gen. 32:10).
Now the consideration of this bounty of God must teach us these duties:
1. First, to beware of all sin, whereby we do offend and displease our God, who is so gracious and so bountiful unto us. If our outward estate did depend on others, we would then be careful so to carry ourselves towards them, as that we would not willingly give them any offence, or cause of dislike. How much more ought we then to seek the continuance of GodŐs favour towards us by all good behaviour, seeing on Him depends our whole estate both temporal and eternal?
2. Secondly, to trust God with our lives, health, bodies and all we have, for food, raiment and protection, in the sober use of lawful means, for He is a bountiful God.
3. Thirdly, to seek for help and succour from God in all distress and want, for He is bountiful. He giveth to all men liberally, and reproacheth no man ( Jam. 1:5); and therefore we must be ready and forward to call upon Him, and to make our moan unto Him.
4. Fourthly, to love so bountiful a God , yea, to enforce our hearts to all duties of love towards Him. Solomon saith, Every man is a friend to him that giveth gifts (Prov. 19:6), but none is to be compared to God for the riches of bounty; and therefore our love to Him should abound.
5. Fifthly, to be thankful unto God for all the good things we enjoy; for whatsoever we have comes from His bounty; and therefore we must say with David, What shall I give unto the Lord, for all His blessings are upon me (Psa. 116:12,13). In a word, we must labour continually in heart and life, to walk worthy of the Lord, and to please Him in all things, being fruitful in all good works (as the apostle saith, Col. 1:10).