“Seek ye first the kingdom of God.”-Matt. vi. 33.
You have heard what need there is of unity in Christian life and Christian work. And where is the bond of unity between the life of the church, the life of the individual believer, and the work to be done among the heathen? One of the expressions for that unity is: “Seek first the Kingdom of God.” That does not mean, as many people take it: “Seek salvation; seek to get into the Kingdom, and then thank God and rest there.” Ah, no, the meaning of that word is entirely different and infinitely larger. It means: Let the Kingdom of God, in all its breadth and length, in all its heavenly glory and power; let the Kingdom of God be the one thing you live for, and all other things will be added unto you. “Seek first the Kingdom of God.” Let me just try to answer two very simple questions; the one: “Why should the Kingdom of God be first?” and the other: “How can it be?”
I. The one, “Why should it be so?” God has created us as reasonable beings, so that the more clearly we see that according to the law of nature, according to the fitness of things, something that is set before us is proper, and an absolute necessity, we so much the more willingly accept it, and aim after it. And now, why does Christ say this: “Seek first the Kingdom of God?” If you want to understand the reason, look at God, and look at man.
1. Look at God. Who is God? The great Being, for whom alone the universe exists, in whom alone it can have its happiness. It came from Him. It cannot find any rest or joy but in Him. Oh, that Christians understood and believed that God is a fountain of happiness, perfect, everlasting blessedness! What would the result be? Every Christian would say: “The more I can have of God, the happier. The more of God's will, and the more of God's love, and the more of God's fellowship, the happier.” Now Christians, if they believed that with their whole heart, would, with the utmost ease, give up everything that would separate them from God! Why is it that we find it so hard to hold fellowship with God? A young minister once said to me: “Why is it that I have so much more interest in study than in prayer, and how can you teach me the art of fellowship with God?” My answer was: “Oh, my brother, if we have any true conception of what God is, the art of fellowship with Him will come naturally, and will be a delight.” Yes, if we believed God to be only joy to the one who comes to Him, only a fountain of unlimited blessing, how we should give up all for Him! But, alas, the Kingdom of God looks to many as a burden, and as something unnatural. It looks like a strain, and we seek some relaxation in the world, and God is not our chief joy. I come to you with a message. It is right, on account of what God is as Infinite Love, as Infinite Blessing; it is right, and more, it is our highest privilege, to listen to Christ's words, and to seek God and His Kingdom first and above everything.
2. And then again look at man: man's nature. What was man created for? To live in the likeness of God, and in His image. Now, if we have been created in the image and likeness of God, we can find our happiness in nothing except that in that which God finds His happiness. The more like Him we are, the happier. And in what does God find His happiness? In two things: Everlasting righteousness and everlasting beneficence. God is righteousness everlasting.
“He is Light, and in him is no darkness.” The Kingdom, the domination, the rule of God will bring us nothing but righteousness. “Seek the Kingdom of God and his righteousness.” If men but knew what sin is, and if men really longed to be free from everything like sin, what a grand message this would be! Jesus comes to lead me to God and His righteousness. We were created to be like God, in His perfect righteousness and holiness. What a prospect! And in His love too. The Kingdom of God means this: that there is in God a rule of universal love. He loves, and loves, and never ceases to love; and He longs to bless all who will yield to His pleadings.
God is Light, and God is Love. And now the message comes to man. Can you think of a higher nobility, can you think of anything grander, than to take the position that God takes, and to be one with God in His Kingdom; i.e., to have His Kingdom fill your heart; to have God Himself as your King and portion? Yes, my friends, let us remember that we must not just try to get here and there one and another of the blessings of the Kingdom. But the glory of the Kingdom is this: that it is the Kingdom of God where God is all in all. The French Empire, when Napoleon lived, had military glory as the ideal. Every Frenchman's heart thrilled at the name of Napoleon as the man who had given the empire its glory. If we realized what it means-our God takes us up into His Kingdom and puts His Kingdom into us, and with the Kingdom we have God Himself, that Blessed One, possessing us-surely there would be nothing that could move our hearts to enthusiasm like this. The Kingdom of God first! Blessed be His name!
Look at man. I don't speak about man's sins, and about man's wretchedness, and about man's seeking everywhere for pleasure, and for rest, and for deliverance from sin; but I just say: Think what man is by creation, and think what man is now by redemption; and let every heart say: “It is right. There is no blessedness or glory like that of the Kingdom. The Kingdom of God ought to be first in my whole life and being.”
II. But now comes the important question, “How can I attain this?” Here we come to the great question that is troubling the lives of tens of thousands of Christians throughout the world. And it is strange that it is so very difficult for them to find the answer; that tens of thousands are not able to give an answer; and others, when the answer is given, cannot understand it. The day the centurion found his joy in being devoted to the Roman Empire, it took charge of him with all its power and glory. Dear friends, how are we to attain to this blessed position in which the Kingdom of God shall fill our hearts with such enthusiasm that it will spontaneously be first every day?
1. The answer is: First of all, give up everything for it. You have heard of the Roman soldier who gave up his soul, his affection, his life, who gave up everything to be a soldier; and you have often seen, in history, ancient and modern, how men who were not soldiers gave up their lives in sacrifice for a king or a country. You have heard how in the South African Republic not many years ago the war of liberty was fought. After three years of oppression by the English the people said they would endure it no longer, and so they gathered together to fight for their liberty. They knew how weak they were, as compared with the English power; but they said, “We must have our liberty.” They bound themselves together to fight for it; and when that vow had been made, they went to their homes to prepare for the struggle. Such a thrill of enthusiasm passed through that country that in many cases, women, when their husbands might have been allowed to stay at home, said to them: “No, go, even though you have not been commanded.” And there were mothers who, when one son was called out to the front, said: “No, take two or three.” Every man and woman was ready to die. It was in very deed, “Our country first, before everything. “ And even so, friends, must it be with you if you want this wonderful Kingdom of God to take possession of you.
I pray you by the mercies of God, give up everything for it. You do not know at once what that may mean, but take the words and speak them out at the footstool of God: “Anything, everything, for the Kingdom of God.” Persevere in that, and by the Holy Spirit your God will begin to open to you the double blessing: on the one hand, the blessedness of the Kingdom which comes to possess your heart; and on the other hand, the blessedness of being surrendered to Him, and sacrificing and giving up all for Him. “The Kingdom of God first!” How am I to reach that blessed life? The answer is: “Give up everything for it.”
2. And then a second answer would be this: Live every day and hour of your life in the humble desire to maintain that position. There are people who hear this test, and who say it is true, and that they want to obey it. But if you were to ask them how much time they spend with God day by day, you would be surprised and grieved to hear how little time they give up to Him. And yet they wonder that the blessedness of the divine life disappears. We prove the value we attach to things by the time we devote to them. The Kingdom should be first every day, and all the day. Let the Kingdom be first every morning. Begin the day with God, and God Himself will maintain His Kingdom in your heart. Do believe that. Rome did its utmost to maintain the authority of the man who gave himself to live for it. And God, the living God, will He not maintain His authority in your soul if you submit to Him? He will indeed. Come to Him; only come, and give yourself up to Him in fellowship through Christ Jesus. Seek to maintain that fellowship with God all the day. Ah, friends, a man cannot have the Kingdom of God first; and at times, by way of relaxation, throw it off and seek his enjoyment in the things of this world. People have a secret idea life will become too solemn, too great a strain; it will be too difficult every moment of the day, from morning to evening, to have the Kingdom of God first. One sees at once how wrong it is to think thus. The presence of the love of God must every moment be our highest joy. Let us say: “By the help of God, it shall ever be the Kingdom of God first.”
3. And then, my last remark, in answer to that question, “How can it be?” is this: It can be only by the power of the Holy Ghost. Let us remember that God's Word comes to us with the language, “Be filled with the Spirit”; and if you are content with less of the Spirit than God offers, not utterly and entirely yielding to be filled with the Spirit, you do not obey the command. But listen: God has made a wonderful provision. Jesus Christ came preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom, and proclaimed, “The Kingdom is at hand.” “Some,” He said, “are standing here who will not see death until they see the Kingdom come in power.” He said to the disciples: “The Kingdom is within you.” And when did the Kingdom come-that Kingdom of God upon earth? When the Holy Ghost descended. On Ascension Day the King went and sat down upon the throne at the right hand of God, and the Kingdom of God in Christ, the Kingdom of heaven upon earth, was inaugurated. When the Holy Ghost came down He brought God into the heart, and Christ, and established the rule of God in power. I am afraid, sometimes, that in speaking of the Holy Spirit we forget one thing. The Holy Spirit is very much spoken of in connection with power; and it is right that we should seek power. It is not so much spoken of in connection with the graces. And yet these are always more important than the gifts of power-the holiness, the humility, the meekness, the gentleness, and the lovingness; these are the true marks of the Kingdom. We speak rightly of the Holy Spirit as the only one who can breathe all this into us. But I think there is a third thing almost more important, that we forget, and that is, in the Spirit, the Father and Son themselves come. When Christ first promised the Holy Spirit, and spoke about His approaching coming, He said: “In that day ye shall know that I am in the Father, and ye in me and I in you. He that loveth me keepeth my commandments; and my Father will love him, and we will come and make our abode with him.” Brother, would you have the Kingdom of God first in your life, you must have the Kingdom in your heart. If my heart is set upon a thing I may be bound with chains, but the moment the chains are loosened, I fly toward the object of my affection and desire. And just so the Kingdom must be within us, and then it is easy to say: “The Kingdom first.” But to have the Kingdom within us in truth, we must have God the Father, and Christ the Son, by the Holy Ghost, within us too. No Kingdom without the King.
You are called to likeness with Christ. Oh, how many Christians strive after this part and that part of the likeness of Christ, and forget the root of the whole! What is the root of all? That Christ gave Himself up utterly to God and His Kingdom and glory. He gave His life that God's Kingdom might be established. Do the same today, and give your life to God to be every moment a living sacrifice, and the Kingdom will come with power into your heart. Give yourself up to Christ. Let Christ the King reign in your heart, and the heavenly Kingdom will come there, and the Presence and the Rule of God will be known in power. Oh, think of that wonderful thing that is going to happen in the great eternity! We read of it in 1 Corinthians: God has entrusted Christ with the Kingdom; but there is coming a day when Christ shall come Himself again to be subjected unto the Father; and He shall give up the Kingdom to the Father, that God may be all; and in that day Christ shall say before the universe: “This is my glory, I give back the Kingdom to the Father!” Christians, if your Christ finds His glory here on earth in dying and sacrificing Himself for the Kingdom, and then in eternity again in giving the Kingdom to God, shall not you and I come to God to do the same, and count anything w have as loss, that the kingdom of God may be made manifest, and that God may be glorified?
From a sermon published in the Homiletic Review, Volume 37, 1899