THE GREAT BUSINESS OF LIFE.
DELIVERED ON TUESDAY EVENING, MAY 28, 1850,
BY THE REV. C. G. FINNEY
OF THE OBERLIN COLLEGIATE INSTITUTE, AMERICA
AT THE TABERNACLE, MOORFIELDS
"Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you."--Matthew vi. 33.
In speaking from these words I propose to consider:--
I. WHAT WE ARE TO UNDERSTAND BY THE KINGDOM OF GOD AND HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS.
II. WHAT IS MEANT BY THE INJUNCTION TO SEEK THIS FIRST.
III. POINT OUT SOME OF THE REASONS WHY THIS SHOULD BE DONE.
IV. NOTICE THE MEANING OF THE ANNEXED PROMISE--"all these things shall be added unto you."
I. What we are to understand by the kingdom of God and his righteousness. I remark first,--this kingdom is not an outward and visible kingdom. The true kingdom of God "cometh not with observation," as Christ said, but it is a spiritual kingdom set up in the hearts of his people; it consists in the establishment of his own dominion in their hearts. "The kingdom of God is within you," but this kingdom is expressed on earth by an outward and visible Church; yet the kingdom here intended is not a visible Church, but an internal and spiritual kingdom. By the righteousness of God we are doubtless to understand these two things,--first, the method by which he pardons and justifies men, and second, the way in which he makes them personally holy. Faith in Jesus Christ is God's method of justifying men and bringing them into a state of acceptance with himself, and faith in Christ, also, is God's method of making them personally holy: by the faith which works by love; for this faith, from its very nature, purifies the heart. Not to enlarge upon this, we pass to inquire--
II. What is meant by the injunction to seek this first?
Let me say here, we are doubtless to understand the injunction as meaning, first, that we are to make this the first business on hand in point of time, and we are to suffer nothing else to take precedence. Second, as pre-eminently first in importance. Nothing is to be regarded by us as of greater importance, or of importance equal with it. Third, I understand it to imply also that religion is to be the great business of our future lives; that it is always to be considered as of the first importance to be attended to, and to be the first concern of life. But this leads me to consider, and point out--
III. Some of the reasons why it is to be so.
First, let me say this, that nothing else can be acceptable to God until we do this. So long as we neglect this great salvation, so long as we have not secured our justification by faith in Christ; so long, indeed, as we are not interested in this kingdom of God by actually embracing it, and receiving its laws into our hearts, nothing can be acceptable to God that we do. We can fulfil no requirement of God till we have done this, and he can accept nothing of us till we have done this--for "whatever is not of faith is sin." Whatever does not imply faith in us is sin, and therefore, so long as we neglect this as of primary importance, nothing that we do can be acceptable to God. Persons may have all the outward forms of morality and goodness, but if they have neglected this, whatever else they do, God will not accept them. He will not and cannot accept us if we are putting that last which he has put first, and that first which he has put last. God requires us to put this first, and if we do not put things in the order which he has commanded, if we do not make this the great business, the first business of our lives, why, nothing is acceptable to God that we do. Again, let me say, not only is nothing acceptable to God, but it is the most important business to us, and should, therefore, claim our first attention. I say it is the most important business to us! What can compare with its importance to us as individuals? Why, if we secure an interest in this kingdom of God, if we do but become subjects to this government, whatever else we fail to secure is of little importance. Whatever else we fail to secure we shall hardly regret in future; but if we do not secure this, whatever else we do secure will only increase our responsibility and our guilt. Again, persons ought to understand this, that nothing is of any real importance to us except as it is connected with this as an end, and shall enable us more effectually to obey this command. Now, if we do regard anything as important to us which has no relation to this end and object, we entirely pervert things. But, let me say again, that it is most important, not only to ourselves, but is also most important to our families, most important to all who stand in any relation to us, and have any claims upon us. Who does not understand and believe this? Now, suppose a man neglects God and religion for the sake of his family, does he thereby really benefit his family? No, indeed! The real and best interests of his family require that he should pay his first attention, and his chief attention to this great requirement of God. Who can doubt this? No man really and truly benefited his family by neglecting to obey God. Such a thing never was, and never can be; and by neglecting to make religion the first duty, who can tell how much the family may have to suffer? Again: it is more important to a man's creditors. If a man disobeys God, his curse is upon him, and upon all that he does and has; but if he obeys God, he may expect a blessing upon his business; and if a man endeavours to please God, he is sure to be an honest man. If a man owes me money, and that man endeavors to obey and please God, I have reason to believe that he will be enabled to pay me sooner than if he did not regard the commands of God at all. Therefore, even as a selfish man, I should say to my debtor, "Whatever else you do, don't neglect to obey God--don't neglect your duty to him." It is of the most importance to our neighbors, our friends, and connexions, all with whom we are surrounded, and the world at large, and to the Church of God, that we should not neglect to regard religion as the first, great, and principal business of our life. Who can doubt this? No person can doubt it, who believes in the reality of religion! No person can doubt it, who believes that God governs the world! But let me say again: another reason is, that it is most dangerous to neglect this business, and to attend to this concern. It is more dangerous to neglect this than anything else. Why, suppose we did neglect everything else, what then? Why, it would be an evil in some sense, but, in comparison, it would be no evil at all. Who does not believe, that it is infinitely dangerous for a man to neglect his eternal salvation? And if he does not assign this the first place, he may never attend to it at all, and is in danger every moment of dying, or being given up by the Spirit of God! Why, there is nothing so dangerous in the universe, as for a man to put religion off, or not to put it first. Suppose he should gain the whole world and lose his own soul, of what value would the whole world be to him? All other dangers are as nothing in comparison with this! Again: it is not only most dangerous to ourselves, but so far as we sustain relations to anybody else, it is most dangerous to them; for the fact is, if we neglect this great business, if we neglect to make religion our great principal business, just so far do we jeopardise their souls, as well as our own, and often bring down upon them the curse of God as the result of our neglect. Who does not know that this is true? Again: another reason is, that if we will neglect this, we must inevitably lose our souls. "How shall we escape," says the apostle, "if we neglect so great salvation?" Men need not take great pains to ruin themselves; their ruin is inevitable, if they neglect to lay hold on the salvation which God has provided for them. Let them be good wives, good husbands, good parents, good children, good citizens, say prayers, go to meeting, and give money to send the Gospel to the heathen; let them do anything else in the world, if they neglect this in such a sense as not to make it the great business of life, they are sure to lose their souls. There is a great mistake on this subject, or else the Bible is not true. There is a great mistake on this subject, or else our own natures belie us. Our own natures affirm, that sin is an evil from which we ought to escape, that we should make it the most earnest and solemn business of our lives; and the Bible tells us to run for our lives, to "so run that you may obtain," "so fight that ye may obtain," "gird up your loins," address yourselves to it as if you were about to make it the great, present, and perpetual business of life. Now, do not believe me censorious if I tell you that the great mass of professors are not making this the great business of their lives! It seems as if they attended to it just enough to entertain a hope that they shall be saved, but they never attend to it in such a sense as to manifest much solemn earnestness about it. The fact is, such people know nothing at all of religion, and the natural result will be that they will lose their souls! They never get rid of their sins, they never become sanctified, and therefore, not fit for heaven. Really a great many persons seem to suppose that they can live in sin till death, and then all at once they will become sanctified and prepared for heaven. Now, we never read in the Bible that death will sanctify men, or that they will go to heaven if they are not sanctified in this world, by the renewing of the Holy Ghost in virtue of their belief in the Gospel. With many professors, "the kingdom of God and his righteousness" is but little understood. They regard the righteousness of God as imputed, not imparted, righteousness. They imagine, that somehow or other, the righteousness of Christ can be imputed to them without their being personally holy. They come not into sympathy with God; they neglect to have this kingdom of God set up within them; God's government has no dominion over them. How, then, do they expect to get to heaven? What can they understand by the kingdom of God and his righteousness, which they are required to make it the business of their lives to seek? Again: it is better to leave everything else undone than to leave this undone. How memorable and decisive are Christ's teachings in this respect. He will not allow us to give ourselves any anxiety on other subjects. Nothing is to take precedence of this. When one said to him, "Let me first go and bury my father," he said to him, "Let the dead bury their dead." Your own father, and the duties you owe to him in that relation, must not stand in the way of your seeking eternal life. "Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness;" nothing is to be allowed to have precedence of this!
I remark once more: the present is the only sure time that we have, therefore we ought now to make this our immediate and first concern. The Bible always says NOW. "To-day, if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts." You may die, or if you do not die you may be given up of the Holy Spirit! Again: every moment's delay makes the matter worse! Every moment's delay increases your sins, increases the hardness of your heart, and the probability that you will be lost. If you continue to reject the great salvation that is offered, you may soon come into such a state that the truth will cease to affect your minds and hearts at all; your conscience will become "seared as with a hot iron," and your words will constantly be, whenever the truth is spoken, "When I have a more convenient season I will call for thee;" and it is almost certain that that season will never come, because the longer you delay, the more hardened you must of necessity become. If you are not ready now to make this the business of your life, the probabilities are that you will lose your soul! Again: let me say, procrastination is another great evil; perhaps more souls have been lost by this form of iniquity than by any other. The devil is constantly suggesting reasons for delay--reasons why you should not obey God, and give up your whole mind to him. The ordinary policy of Satan is not to try to make infidels of you, but he suggests that the present is not the time to attend to your souls; remember that if you listen to his suggestions, procrastinate, put off concern for your soul, you may be lost, and are almost sure to be. Again: impenitent persons, and even religious persons, are constantly in danger, from the fact that there are so few persons in solemn earnest on this subject: they are in great danger of not feeling the unspeakable necessity of present and solemn earnestness on this great subject. With respect to professors of religion, unless you make it the great business of your lives, you are the great cause of stumbling to those around you; you are misleading them in the most effectual manner; you are saying by your works there is no need to make this the great and solemn business of your life, there is no necessity to be particularly anxious about your soul. Then let me say again, another reason why persons should attend to this first, in the sense I have here explained, is, that they will never effectually attend to it at all, till they come to that distinct position. When you consent to postpone anything till to-morrow, it will never be attended to effectually, and will be continually misleading those around you. I suppose that all of you do intend at some time to make this the most serious business of your lives; let it, then, be your first business from this time, or you may lose your souls. I have known many cases where persons have come to see clearly that this was the fact, that they were likely to lose their souls because they did not come to a point, and obey God by seeking his kingdom first. In revivals of religion, I have seen many instances, where person have come to feel, that if they procrastinated any further, they must lose their souls, and have resolved that nothing should hinder them, that nothing should engross their attention or stand in the way of giving their whole mind up to attend to it. I could tell multitudes of facts where persons came to be conscious of this, when the providence of God aroused them from their sleepy state, and arrested their attention. In such cases they have made up their minds that nothing should, by any means, stand in their way--nothing should by any means be allowed to hinder them making religion the great business of life. I shall mention one fact. A lawyer, a man of large business in his profession--this man had been awakened in a revival; he went to his office with a resolution to attend to his soul at the risk of neglecting everything else. As soon as he had reached his office, some individuals called upon important business, to whom he had promised his assistance. "Gentlemen," said he, "I cannot attend to your business now, I must first attend to my soul; I have neglected this business so long already, that if I allow myself to neglect it any longer, I shall lose my soul to all eternity. Will you excuse me for the present, or get some one else to attend to your business?" They left the office, and took the papers with them. He stayed alone in the office, resolving that he would not leave till he had given his heart to God; and the fact is, that he did give his heart to God, and found peace. My dear hearers, what an awful game you have been playing with yourselves, if you have been neglecting the business which God sent you into this world to attend to. He made it your great, solemn, and only business, and yet you have neglected it. I say that the care of your soul is your only business, to which all other things are only helps; and are you attending to this great business, or are you neglecting it, and thus going on the road to ruin? God is speaking to you by his word, by his Spirit, and by his ministers, saying, "Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness." This is the errand upon which God has sent you into the world, and have you suffered yourselves to neglect it! Have you been wandering about and forgetting the errand on which you were sent? Did your Father commit a SOUL to you, and tell you to take care of it; and are you running about thinking of everything but taking care of it, and by so doing disobeying your Father, and ruining yourselves? Now, is it not true that you have been acting thus foolishly and wickedly? Oh, think of your guilt in neglecting your soul and disobeying God, and resolve now to procrastinate no longer! Again: for a man to act thus on any other subject, he would be pronounced insane. And it is moral insanity which makes people neglect the business of their eternal salvation; it is madness in the heart. Suppose a man should neglect the most important part of his worldly business, the neglect of which would ruin all his worldly prospects, why everybody would say he was insane. Who can doubt this? Now, what higher evidence can a man give of insanity, who admits his guilt and danger in words, and yet systematically neglects to save himself from ruin. If a man should deny the whole matter, and say there was no truth in the statement, that he is in danger by his neglect, why, what higher evidence could he give of being insane? Let any one tell if he can! We will now proceed to notice, in a few words,
IV. The meaning of the annexed promise--"And all these things shall be added unto you." You observe in the connexion of our text, Christ is speaking of worldly things; and he tells us not to give any anxiety about these things at all, but to let our anxieties be respecting the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and, in that case, all these worldly things, of which he is speaking, shall be added unto us. The word "added," here means thrown in, something super-added. Now, what Christ means to say is this, that it is perfectly unnecessary that we should be anxious about worldly things, because, if we seek first "the kingdom of God and his righteousness," he will see that we are fully supplied with what we need in relation to our bodies. Let the great business of our lives be spiritual concerns, and he will take care that we shall not want in relation to temporal matters. The promise is, that if we give our supreme attention to spiritual matters, our temporal wants will be supplied.
A few remarks must conclude what I have to say. First, from what has been said, it is plain that we can all very well afford to obey God in this respect, for he will take care of our temporal wants, if we will only pay supreme attention to our souls. We can very well afford, therefore, thoroughly to obey God. You see, he has not placed us in such a position that we must starve to death if we seek the salvation of our souls, that our families must starve, or our fellow-creatures must suffer, or that the ruin of our temporal concerns must necessarily be the result of our determination to attend to religion. Again: how infinitely kind in God to give us the assurance that he will take this stumbling-block out of our way, if we will but attend first to the salvation of our souls, and make religion and the glory of God the objects of our supreme regard. He very kindly says, "If you will take care of your souls, I will take care of your bodies. You have an immortal soul to be saved, let my kingdom be set up in your hearts, seek your own salvation, work it out with fear and trembling, and don't be anxious about your body, for I will take care of that." Again: I have become acquainted with many interesting facts illustrating the care of God for the temporal interests of his devoted servants--those who came right up to the obeying of this requirement. I have known, too, a great many instances in which persons have said that they could not attend to religion without ruining their worldly prospects. A barber, who had been in the habit of shaving on the Sabbath-day, became awakened, and began to reflect upon his sins, and felt the importance of attending to religion. He was in a difficulty. A great many of his customers were ungodly men, who always came to be shaved on a Sunday; he did not see, therefore, how he could shut up his shop on that day. Yet, how could he be a Christian, and not shut up on the Sabbath? He spoke to his customers, and the great mass of them said, "If you shut up your shop on the Sabbath, we must employ somebody else." He made up his mind, however, rather to starve to death than disobey God. He resolved to tell his customers that his shop would in future be closed on Sunday. When he had fully resolved upon this, some of them asked if he would shave them on Saturday night? "Oh, yes, till midnight," he replied; and this he did; he shaved till midnight on Saturday, but resolutely closed on the Sabbath. I saw him some years after, and I asked him, "How do you get along?" "Why, sir," he replied, "my business has been better than ever; a great deal better." This is only one of many similar instances that I could mention, where individuals have supposed that they were about to sacrifice everything by becoming religious, but, on the contrary, have received much benefit, receiving a hundred fold more in this present life, and the promise of the life everlasting. Again: let me say, proper attention to business is really attention to religion. If you make your business God's business, transact it on right principles, and get your heart into a right state, so that you do everything from religious motives, why, your business is then as much a part of religion, as praying and going to church is. Again: the promise which God has here given, is designed to leave men entirely without excuse for neglecting to attend to their eternal salvation. I remark again: many men reverse God's order in point of time, and instead of putting religion first, put it last; the first place is given to the world, the attention is wholly given up to the pursuit of wealth. Those persons want to place themselves in a position to be independent of God; they must get a fortune first, and then attend to religion. And then there are a great many persons who not only reverse God's order in point of time, but there are multitudes who reverse God's order in point of the importance of it. How remarkable that many persons should think themselves religious people, while they really place more practical stress upon the most trifling things around them, than upon the great questions of salvation, and disobeying God. Instead of making religion the greatest and most important practical business, they make it the least important. The persons I am speaking of do not utterly neglect it, but they so attend to it that everybody knows that they care very little about it, and do not rest upon it. Again: those who do not make religion their great business, tempt God. Multitudes of souls are lost by tempting God in this way; they are living worldly, selfish, and ungodly lives, and yet they try to make themselves believe, and the world believe, that they are going to heaven in despite of what God has said to the contrary. They live in disobedience to God, but professedly Christians, and it is proclaimed that they died in the faith, and people charitably hope that they are gone to heaven. It was Dr. Doddridge, I think, who so extensively investigated the results of death-bed impressions. Out of two thousand persons, who, when they supposed themselves dying, expressed their faith in Christ, only two afterwards gave evidence of true conversion. Death-bed repentances are not to be relied on. "Seek first the kingdom of God;" if you do not this, you may never be saved at all. Once more: a great many persons seem to say, "I don't care how much sin I commit, if I can but get to heaven." They go as far as they think they can go in the service of the devil, and dishonouring God; but let me tell you, if you put God's arrangements out of order, the probability is that your souls will be lost. God says, "Put religion first." You say, "Not so, Lord, let it be put last; I must attend to everything else first." God says, "Seek this first;" and do let me ask, Is it not your interest to seek it first? If for that reason then, alone, why do you not seek the kingdom of God and his righteousness first?
In conclusion, let me ask you one question, Will all of you who are in this house to-night, make up your minds now to seek this kingdom first, that it may be set up in your hearts? Will you pray for this? will you make it your business to pray? will you begin to-night? Now that the Lord says, "Seek ye my face," does your heart reply, "Thy face, Lord, will I seek?" If you delay, your soul may be ruined!--lost for ever!
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