And why take you thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin:
(Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity.)
S. MATT. vi.28.
"Consider the lilies of the field."
This world is God's great Temple, and the voices of Nature are His preachers. The Holy Spirit speaks to us through these preachers like the wind breathing through the pipes of a great organ. To those who have ears to hear, the roar of the ocean, or the sound of the mighty rushing wind, are as an anthem of praise. The song of birds, the hum of insects, every voice in the world of Nature combine to take part in a hymn of thanksgiving, a great Benedicite, and to sing, "O all ye works of the Lord bless ye the Lord, praise Him, and magnify Him for ever." And yet, my brothers, there are many of us too blind and too deaf to see and hear these things. To one man this world is only a gigantic farm, to be divided, and ploughed, and tilled, that it may bring forth more fruit. To another the world is merely a great market, a warehouse filled with all kinds of goods, which may be bought and sold. To some the world is like a chess-board, where each man plays a selfish game, and tries to overreach his neighbour. To others the world is a mere play-ground, where they pass a frivolous, useless existence, sitting down to eat and drink, and rising up to play. To the selfish man the world is a vast slave plantation, where unhappy slaves are forced to toil and labour to supply the needs of cruel taskmasters. To the faithless man the world is nothing better than a graveyard, where lie buried dead friends, dead hopes, dead joys, without any promise of a resurrection. But to the Christian this world is a great and solemn Temple, where he can worship the Creator, and where ten thousand voices teach him to "look through Nature up to Nature's God." When he stands in the meadow grass, or under the shadows of the pine-wood, he can feel that surely God is in this place, and that the place wherever he stands is holy ground.
"Oh, to what uses shall we put the wildweed flower that simply blows?
And is there any moral shut within the bosom of the rose? But any man that walks the mead, in bud, or blade, or bloom, may find,
According as his humours lead, a meaning suited to his mind."
Let us listen to-day to the preaching of Nature, and learn a lesson from the grass which to-day is, and to-morrow is cast into the oven. Let us consider the lilies, and make them our teachers. The first lesson which these silent preachers would have us learn is the unfailing care of God for His creatures. He never neglects to clothe the ground with grass, or to nourish the lilies, which neither toil nor spin. Yet we who both toil and spin, and haste to rise up early, and so late take rest, are often distrustful and full of doubt. Brethren, let us work our work, but not put our trust in it. It is God's right Hand and His mighty Arm which must help us. Let us strive to do our best, and leave the result to God. Let us dwell in the land, and be doing good, and verily we shall be fed. And next, we learn from the grass and the flowers how short our time is. Every meadow, every grassy hillock in the churchyard, seems to say to us, "as for man, his days are as grass; as a flower of the field, so he flourisheth. For the wind passeth over it, and it is gone; and the place thereof shall know it no more. All flesh is grass, and all the goodness thereof as the flower of the field: the grass withereth, the flower fadeth; because the Spirit of the Lord bloweth upon it; surely the people is grass." Yes, surely this thought should be a check to our pride, and our schemes, and our worldliness, that we must one day lay them all aside, like a worn-out garment, and that the pleasant grass, which our careless foot is pressing, shall grow green upon our grave. Let us hearken to the warning of a quaint old epitaph which I have seen in a Yorkshire Churchyard: --
"Earth walketh on the earth,
Glittering like gold;
Earth goeth to the earth
Sooner than it would.
Earth buildeth on the earth
Palaces and towers,
Earth sayeth to the earth --
All shall be ours."
I read the other day that lately a workman, employed in some excavations at Rome, found a funeral urn containing the ashes of one of the Caesars. The workman knew nothing of the matter, but seeing that the ashes were very white, he sent them to his wife to bleach linen with. And this was all that remained of that body which had worn the imperial purple! "To what base uses we may return!" But the grass, and the flowers of the field, not only tell us of the shortness of life, and the certainty of death, they speak to us also of the resurrection. Looking at the world in the autumn and winter time we see nothing but death and decay. "Ashes to ashes, dust to dust," is the mournful text of every falling leaf, and faded flower. But God who lays nature in her grave, will, in the spring time, roll away the stone from the sepulchre. Who can look on Nature, touched by the warm breath of May, and doubt the resurrection?
"Each tree she kindles by her touch bursts into leafy flames, And, like the sacred desert bush, God's presence there proclaims. The chestnuts spread their leafy palms in blessing on the air, And from their minarets of bloom call all the trees to share. With bridal blossoms, pure and sweet, the blushing orchards glow, And on the hawthorn hedges lie soft wreathes of scented snow. God reigneth, and the earth is glad! His large, self-conscious heart A glowing tide of life and joy pours through each quickened part. The very stones Hosannas cry; the forests clap their hands, And in the benison of Heaven each lifted face expands."
Can we doubt, my brothers, that the same Jesus who rose from the dead, and also makes all Nature rise from the dead each spring time, will in like manner raise us up, and give us a body like unto His glorious Body, in that fair Kingdom where He maketh all things new? If we have seen our dear ones cut down like the grass, and withered like the flowers of the field, let us remember that the grass will spring again, and the flowers will once more appear on the earth; and that our loved ones will also come again, clothed in resurrection beauty by Him who clotheth the lilies of the field.
"Oh, rainy days! Oh, days of sun!
What are ye all when the year is done?
Who shall remember snow or rain?
Oh, years of loss! Oh, joyful years!
What are ye all when Heaven appears?
Who shall look back for joy or pain?"
And again, the flowers teach us a lesson of usefulness. They are sent to make God's earth beautiful and sweet, and to gladden the heart of man. Surely we are sent for the same purpose. Most of us are destined to occupy a lowly place in life. Our position is like that of the humble violet, not of the towering forest tree. But, my brothers, the sweetest spot is where the violet blooms, and it is better to be sweet than to be grand. Never suppose that you can do nothing because God has placed you in a quiet corner of the world. God put you there as He puts a violet in a lonely nook, that you might make your corner sweet. If we could only remember this we should not have so many prickly tempers, and black looks, and cruel words spoiling our home life, and making the world a desert. Life would be what God would have it to be, if each of us would try by gentleness, by good temper, by unselfish love to make his corner sweet. Make up your minds now; say to yourselves -- I cannot do any great work for God or my fellow man, but I will try by purity, by cheerfulness, by thought for others, to make my home sweet. And once more, the flowers teach us to be a comfort to our neighbours. When the earth is wrapped in snow, and the skies are grey and cold, and no leaf hangs on the tree, the snowdrop puts forth its fair, pure blossom to cheer and comfort us. The sight of that living flower when all the world seems dead, is like a message from the other world, whispering of coming spring and the resurrection. Well, there are times when it is winter weather in our heart. When sorrow and loss have made life desolate as a December day, and blessed, thrice blessed, are they who come to comfort us, and to whisper of brighter days in store.
In the highest part of the Peak of Teneriffe, far above the clouds, and in a dry and burning waste, there grows a plant which, in the spring time, fills the air with delicious fragrance. There are some of us who may be condemned to live in a barren and dry land of hard work, and lonely trouble. But loving natures, and gentle words, can make that desert blossom as the rose. The beauty of holiness, the sweetness of sympathy, will make the poorest home lovely and fragrant. May Jesus, the Rose of Sharon, teach us to learn the lesson of the lilies, and to make our lives sweet with purity and love.
Parallel VersesKJV: And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: