Consider the lilies how they grow: they toil not, they spin not; and yet I say to you…
"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?" (Matthew 6:30). The inspired writers are in the way of employing all the objects in nature with which we are familiar, in order to illustrate spiritual truths. Solomon sends the slothful man to the ant: "Go to the ant, thou sluggard." Isaiah makes the ox arid ass rebuke the ingratitude of the professing people of God: "The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib, but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider." All this exercised a most beneficent influence on pious men in ancient Israel. Living as they did," much in the open air, and in perpetual view of the wondrous works of God in earth and sky, nature was seen by them to be full of God. The grass sprang, the flowers bloomed, the wheat and barley yielded their increase, and the vine and the fig and the olive-trees their rich fruit, all in obedience to God's command; and as they did so they showed forth the glory of God as well as furnished nourishment to His creatures. Would that the example set by Hebrew shepherds and husbandmen as they tended their flocks or pruned their vineyards would induce those who live much among the works of nature to take like elevated views. The plant in particular has been much employed by the inspired writers to convey spiritual lessons. The life of the plant seemed to them like the spiritual life in the soul; the rain and dew that nourished it reminded them of the grace which comes down from heaven; the flowers which adorned it taught them that the soul should be adorned with heavenly graces; and the fruit which it yielded admonished them that they too must bring forth fruit unto God.
I. WE ARE TO CONSIDER THE WORKS OF GOD, AND IN PARTICULAR THE PLANTS, THE LILIES, AND THE GRASS OF THE FIELD. "Consider," says he, "the lilies of the field." There are many who do not consider them. Some of these persons are fond of seeing or possessing fine specimens of human workmanship in dress or furniture or houses or paintings, but they "regard not the works of the Lord, nor the operations of His hands." "And yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these." We are to mark them; we are to mark how they grow. We need no scientific knowledge, no learned terms, to enable us to do this. All persons who have eyes to see may see it with or without book learning, whether they have or have not been at schools or colleges. They may in particular observe two things.
1. Every part of the plant is made to serve an end. "They toil not, neither do they spin"; yet every organ of the plant has its use. Look at the swelling tree that overshadows us, or at this graceful lily at our feet. Consider it, It has roots which serve a purpose. These roots penetrate into the soil and draw nourishment from it. These spread out downwards as the trunk and branches mount upwards, and enable the tree, the oak for example, to stand the storms of a hundred winters. The form of the bole of a tree, and the manner in which it fixes itself in the ground, is said to have yielded some suggestions to a celebrated engineer in the construction of a famous light-house (Eddystone). You may remark how the tree springs up from the ground as a stem or trunk, on which hang all the branches and flowers and seed and fruit. This trunk, as it mounts upwards, spreads out all around into the air as branches and branchlets. These are covered with leaves rejoicing in the sunshine, and the moisture of dew and rain, and drawing in nourishment from the atmosphere. Upon these, at the proper season, you may look for and find flowers to delight the eye, and seed wherewith to propagate other plants after their kind, and fruit for the sustenance of God's creatures. It is obvious to every reflecting mind that in this Divine workmanship every part has its use and its end. The architect of a famous palace (Sydenham) confesses that he derived some of the ideas embodied in that structure from observing the wonderful provision made for bearing up the very bread leaf of one of the most beautiful of lilies. But there is another principle to be observed in the plant.
2. There is visible in the plant an order, an ornament, a beauty. Special reference is made to this by Him who made them, and who now uses them to teach us lessons. God is said not only to have made, but to have clothed the grass of the field. While every part of the plant has its use, it has also a clothing; it is clothed with beauty to minister to our delight and manifest the Divine glory. It can be shown that every plant and every organ of the plant is, as it were, constructed upon a model or pattern in the Divine mind. Look at the full-formed tree growing apart from all other trees, and you see at once that it is made to grow up into a particular form, and this form is beautiful to look upon. It can be shown that every tree takes its own peculiar form — a form after its kind; and if not interfered with, that form is lovely. Look, too, at the flower of the lily, or any other plant, and in every part of it — its stalk, its petals, and inner organs, in their forms, and in the way in which they are placed — there are obvious order and ornament to call forth our admiration and our praise. Then, what richness of colouring in the flower. First of all, every colour is beautiful in itself; and then, colours which are accordant are placed alongside of one another in pleasing melody or exciting harmony. It needs science to explain all this, to show how it arises, and point out the causes of it; but it needs no science to enable us to observe it or enjoy it; the eye perceives it spontaneously, and drinks in the beauty, and it needs only piety to enable us to turn all this into an anthem of praise. This clothing of the plant meets us everywhere. Take the commonest plant — the furze that grows on the common, the seaweed that cleaves to the rocks washed by the ocean, or the fern that springs up in the mountain glen — and you may observe in its structure, in its leaves, and all its pendicles, a wonderful correspondence of side to side, and a counterbalancing of one part by another. Let the eye travel over nature, as we walk among the cultivated fields, or on the grassy slopes and valleys of our upland districts, or among the thick woods where the winds have sown the seeds, and bush and tree of every kind spring up, each eager to maintain its place and show its separate form and beauty, and we discover an order and a grace in every branch and blade and leaf and colour. Pluck the leaf and flower and consider it, and observe how one edge has the same number of notches in it as the other edge, and what nice balancings and counterpoises there are, and how nicely the lines and dots and shadings suit one another, and recur each at its proper place, as if all had been done by the most exact measurement and under the most skilful and tasteful eye. Enter the rich arbour or the cultivated garden, and observe how the flowers have been enlarged or improved by the care which has been taken of them; and in this gayer colour and in that fuller expanse and more flowing drapery and richer fragrance mark how God, who rewards us for opening our eyes and looking abroad upon His works, holds out a still greater reward to those who in love to Him, or in love to them, take pains with them and bestow labour upon them. Now, all this fitness and all this order and beauty testify of the wisdom and goodness of God. All these objects point upward to their God and to our God. But these works of God can also serve other religious ends. They may be used as lesson-books; they are thus used by Christ to instruct us in great spiritual truths. Nature may thus be sanctified, and be made to teach us the very same lessons as the inspired Word.
II. SECONDLY, WE ARE TO CONSIDER THE GROUNDS WHICH WE HAVE FOR TRUSTING IN GOD THAT HE WILL PROVIDE FOR OUR TEMPORAL WANTS. "Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to-day is, and to-morrow is cast into the oven, much more shall He clothe you." This is a specimen of Bible reasoning. The Bible speaks as "unto wise men," and calls on us to "judge" what "it says." Its reasonings are all brief, all very conclusive, but at the same time easily followed. Take, as an example, "If God spared not His own Son, but gave Him freely to the death for us," — here is the premise, and the inference follows — "how will He not with Him also freely give us all things?" The argument is irresistible. The lesson comes home at once to us. Every bird we hear carolling its song, for the very pleasure of it, on the tree or in the air; every flower that we see expanding its petals in the fields or garden, is rebuking our want of faith and confidence in God, and, as it were, saying, "If God take such care of me, will He not much more take care of you?" "Ye are of more value than many sparrows," of more value than all the grass of the field. Ye have a body that is fearfully and wonderfully made, made with even a more amazing skill than the lilies of the field. The lilies are arrayed in greater splendour than Solomon ever was; and Solomon's body and every man's frame is more wondrously made than ,the loveliest plant that ever adorned meadow or mountain. Surely the God who made that goodly frame will also feed and clothe it. We are warned against a spirit of unbelief; we are exhorted to cherish a spirit of confidence. Christ would deliver us from a spirit of anxiety. The fowls of the air gather their food, but they have no feeling of anxiety while they do so.
III. THIRDLY, WE ARE TO CONSIDER THAT IF GOD SO CLOTHE THE GRASS OF THE FIELD, THAT IF HE SO CLOTHE THE BODIES OF HIS PEOPLE, MUCH MORE WILL HE CLOTHE THEIR SOULS. This is not the direct lesson taught in the text, but it arises very directly out of it. If God does thus clothe the bodies of His people, much more will He clothe their souls with heavenly graces. And ah, these souls of ours need to be clothed! The plant once of a graceful form and clothed with the richest hues, but now bent, broken by the wind, bemired in the dust — this is the emblem of the soul, once in the very image of God, and arrayed with a brighter glory than the lily, but now fallen from its first estate, broken and torn and polluted by sin! Ah, how like is that soul to the grass which has been cut down, and which is about to be cast into the oven! That soul has been cut off from its God, the source of all spiritual life; already has the life ceased to circulate in it, and it is ready to be cast into the fire that is not quenched. Can it indeed be that this soul is to grow and to flourish once more upon its stalk? Christ's work when on earth was a work of salvation. They brought to Him the sick, the maimed, and the blind, and He healed them all. Not only is the soul once dead made alive in this work — it is beautified and adorned. Yes, if you have faith but as a grain of mustard-seed, you will, by the vital power which is imparted, be clothed with graces of many a hue, each lovely in itself, and lovely in the place which it has to occupy: there will be the brighter colours, the blue, the pink, and the orange of faith and confidence and hope, mingling with the darker but not less lovely colours — with the red, the purple, and the olive of penitence, humility, and patience; and the whole lightened and brightened by what is, after all, the pure beam of heaven, by the pure white light of love, coming direct and unbroken from Him who is light and love. Yes, brethren, our souls need to be beautified. They need not only to be renewed, they need to be adorned. There are some Christian men and women who are under the influence of true faith and steady principle, but they are not amiable. They are cross or peevish or violent or stubborn. Such persons need to be clothed, that they become not only good, but lovely — as the lily is lovely. My friends, this world of ours is but a nursery, a place of nurture, where we are to be reared and then transplanted — transplanted into the paradise above. These flowers around us have their beauty but for a day; but it is different with the souls which are being adorned by the spirit of God. They are to bloom for ever in a better land, where are no winds to blight, no storms to destroy.
(J. McCosh, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Consider the lilies how they grow: they toil not, they spin not; and yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.