THE LILIES OF THE FIELD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
6-13-65 7:30 p.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message from a text in Matthew 6:28, Consider the Lilies of the Field. And I have a beautiful lily here on the table before me, and I am going to preach about it. Now the context is Matthew 6, verse 24, and let us read it, all of us, out loud together, together:
No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.
Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?
Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?
Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?
And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the filed, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin:
And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, shall He not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?
Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?
(For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.
But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.
Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.
And my text, Matthew 6:28: "Consider the lilies of the field." And we look at this beautiful flower created by God, and consider it; brings to our souls several things. One: it is a miracle of rebirth and of regeneration. It is the story all over again of the mystery of the creative, regenerative power of God in this world; and not only this beautiful flower before me, but the humblest wildflower that grows on any highway bank or found in any meadow. Wherever a flower is, it is a miracle of the creative power and the marvelous mystery of the presence of God. The incomparable poet laureate of England, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, felt that when passing by he saw a little wildflower growing out of a crevice in a cliff, and he wrote this famous and oft repeated poem concerning it:
Flower in the crannied wall,
I pluck you out of the crannies.
I hold you here in my hand, little flower,
But if I could understand
What you are, root and all, and all in all,
I should understand
What God and man is.
["Flower in the Crannied Wall," Lord Alfred Tennyson]
As he looked upon the grace and the beauty of this marvelous, regenerative power of God, he found in that humblest little flower the mystery of the whole universe of God. And we see it in the blooming of any flower. "Consider the lilies of the field." It is muck, and mire, and dirt, and filth, and blackness, regenerated, rejuvenated, reborn, just as God is able to do with a man’s soul and a man’s life. Out of the sin and the depravity of human nature, God remakes in rebirth a soul, a life that glorifies the Father in heaven. And do you notice, "Consider the lilies of the field," do you notice, they could not be produced in pure, clean, white sand? They couldn’t grow. It’s the dirt and the muck and the mire that makes possible the regeneration and the rebirth of the beautiful flower.
The Lord said, "I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance" [Luke 5:32], and our Lord said again, "They that are whole need not a physician, but they that are sick" [Matthew 9:12]. When a man walks up and down the streets, and he’s proud of himself, and sufficient unto himself, and has need of nothing, and least of all God, there’s no possibility of regeneration in his life! Rebirth is unthinkable in a man who is all adequate and all sufficient! But if you ever see a man who’s a confessed sinner, and admits the dereliction and the shortcoming and the depravity in his life, God has a marvelous message for him. The whole gospel is addressed to a man who confesses himself a sinner – the rebirth and the regeneration that is possible under the power of God out of the dirt, and the muck, and the mire, this beautiful and glorious flower: "Consider the lilies of the field."
Look again: even the humblest little flower, and this beautiful lily before me, all created and made according to a divine pattern, according to a divine plan, and it is so in redemption. There are ways that God hath instituted for all things. God doesn’t do anything without a plan. He flings these spheres into their orbits according to a plan. The Lord makes everything to grow according to a plan. And the Lord saves our souls according to a plan. One of the most famous passages used by Dwight L. Moody in his preaching was this, "He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber" [John 10:1]. And the great evangelist said one time he dreamed a dream, and he dreamed that he had a ladder, and it was leaning against the ramparts, the walls, the jasper walls of glory, and he was climbing up that ladder to get into the beautiful city of God. And he said just as he had climbed and climbed, one rung after another, until finally he had reached the top, he heard an angel say, "He that entereth into the sheepfold by some other way than the door, the same is a thief and a robber," and his ladder fell down, and he into the abyss. There is a way, there is a plan, there is a program, there is an outline. There’s a revelation that God hath given for the saving of our souls, just as there is a plan for the growing of the lily. And having given our lives in that redemptive purpose of Christ, confessed our sins, asked God for Christ’s sakes to forgives us, and the Lord’s Spirit regenerates our hearts, then God hath a plan for our life. We don’t suddenly grow into maturity. We grow step at a time, day at a time. First the germination of the seed, then the sprout, then the slip, then the leaf, and then finally the beautiful flower that fruits to the glory of God.
This is the parable of our Lord in the fourth chapter of the Second Gospel, the seed growing secretly. He said, "It is as if a man should cast seed into the ground, and should sleep, and rise day and night; and the seed should spring and grow up" [Mark 4:26-27]. He doesn’t know how. No man knows how. With all of the scientific instruments that we have, and with the past generations of observation, there’s not any man today that can explain how God takes a seed, dead and inert, buries it in the ground, covers it over with the soft, moist soil, sends a gentle shower and the sunshine, and it springs to life and grows. It’s a mystery of Almighty God! And he doesn’t know how, but the Lord touches it, "For the earth bringeth forth the fruit of herself; first the blade, then the ear, and after that the full corn in the ear" [Mark 4:28]. It is a way and a pattern of life God hath made for us – "Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow" [Matthew 6:28].
Again, consider the secret of their strength and of their growth; reaching down with its roots, reaching down into the soil of the earth, hungering and thirsting. "Blessed is the man that hungers and thirsts after God" [Matthew 5:5], roots deep into the heart and mind and will of God. One of the most beautiful poems ever written by an American poet is the "The Marshes of Glen" by Sidney Lanier. And do you remember a little passage out of that glorious poet? Remember this:
As the marsh-hen secretly builds her nest upon the watery sod,
Behold, I will build me a nest upon the greatness of God:
I will fly in the greatness of God as the marsh-hen flies
In all of the freedom of space, betwixt the earth and the skies:
By so many ways as the marsh-grass sends its roots down into the sod,
Behold, I will heartily lay me a hold on the greatness of God.
[from "The Marshes of Glen," by Sidney Lanier]
As the flower sends down its roots, and the plant seeks and hungers after food and nourishment and moisture, so the human soul, sinking down roots in the presence, and character, and wisdom, and grace, and love, and mercy, and revelation of God – then it grows upward, upward. Wherever there is a plant, if it has chlorophyll in it, if it has anything green on it, wherever there is a plant, it will seek upward, moving upward, seeking the light, moving toward God’s sun and God’s heaven.
Did you ever see a plant in the basement? Wherever it’s placed, it’ll try to reach toward the window. Ever see a plant in a dark place? It’ll always try to reach upward toward the sun. Ever see a sunflower and any kind of a flower in the morning, bowing its head toward the east, and then following the sun all through the day, and then bowing its head finally toward the west? Something on the inside of that flower, that God put in it, that makes it reach upward and heavenward; all of God’s creation is like that!
A mallard duck, staked down in a pond, swimming around with the domestic ducks there – but you let the season come, and those mallards fly over going north, or fly over going south, and there’s something in the breast of that wild fowl that lifts up its head, and listens, and hears, and surges against the stake in the pond. That’s the way God made us, with our heads upward and the ambition of our souls heavenward, looking toward God’s Son.
"Consider the lilies of the field." Do you notice again the divine purpose of beauty and grace and glory that lies back of them? "Consider the lilies of the field." Couldn’t God have made it some other way? Couldn’t God have so created this plant that it could have propagated itself in some other way? Why all of the beauty? Why the grace and the glory beyond the Solomonic robes in the palace itself? "Even Solomon in all of his glory not arrayed like one of these" [Matthew 6:29]. And these flowers so colorful, and so beautiful, and so fragrant, and so attractive, God’s blessing and gift to the world, to enrich our souls and our lives: and thus it is, God says, with the Christian. He is to exemplify, in a beautiful and glorious life, all of the graces that God hath bestowed upon the flowers of the field – other people worried, other people anxious, other people full of care; not the beautiful life of a Christian. "Consider the lilies of the field: they toil not, they spin not, yet I say unto thee, Solomon in all of his glory was not arrayed like one of these." The beautiful life of the child of God, blessing the whole world, and the purpose of it, of course, is that the plant might continue to live.
Don’t you see, and don’t you think that in that is a marvelous appeal for our own souls and our own lives? There’s not anything, there is not anything that happens in human life like reaching that certain age, when on the inside of the soul there’s an opening, a longing, a yearning, a hoping, a praying, a desiring for the sharing of the life with somebody else. The purpose of the flower is for the propagation of the plant. And the purpose of those surging impulses that come in teenage time and in teenage life is the building of a glorious and incomparably sweet partnership. Keep it that way. Keep it that way.
Oh, how easy for a teenager to soil it, and to spoil it, and to make it used, and to give away the most priceless and precious of all of the endowments and bestowments in life! I don’t exaggerate when I say that the inspiration of poetry, and of music, and of art, and of literature, and of sacrificial devotion lies in those surging impulses that you feel when you reach a teenage time in life; and how easy to squander it and to cheapen it. Look into the dens and the dives and the bars and the dark rooms of any city, and you will find there those who have taken life’s most precious possessions and strewn them away, and thrown them away, and given them away, and sold them away. Oh, how incomparably, marvelously, celestially precious to bestow it in a way as to bring down from heaven God’s own presence and God’s own blessing! Keep it for that holy and beautiful and divinely celestial purpose for which God made you and endowed you.
And finally, considering the lilies of the field, how they grow, oh, how easily torn asunder, how easily broken and crushed, how easily defamed and defaced. And when it is torn, all the king’s horses and all the king’s men can’t put back that little flower again. It’s gone and ruined and destroyed forever, when it is torn, and when it is wrenched, and when it is crushed, and when it is put underfoot. And it is easy for us to let the powers of darkness, and the prince of the god of this world, to do that to our souls and to our lives; to break us, and to crush us, and to destroy us, and to ruin us, and to blacken us, and to fill the rest of our days with memories of bitter regret and sorrowful, sorrowful remorse. Don’t. Don’t. Don’t. For the lesson of the flower, so much in the Word of God, is one of warning. The days of youth are so soon fled away, and the prime of life so soon is exchanged for age and senility. And the marvelous, glorious opportunities that we enjoy in the days of our young manhood and young womanhood are soon fallen into all of the decay, and all of the loss, and all of the ruin that we see in this whole world round about us.
Look at the Word of God. I just want to give you an example of how many, many, many, many times that is repeated here in the Bible. Using the flower as an example, "Consider the flowers of the field"; how many times God will use it as an example to warn us and to remind us that our day is so short, and our opportunity is so fleeting, and what we do for God we must do now. Look; Job said, "Man that is born of woman is of few days, and full of trouble. He cometh forth like a flower, and is cut down: he fleeth as a shadow, and continueth not" [Job 14:1-2]. That flower is cut. It is kept alive because of the water and the vase in which it is sustained. It is already dying. I turn again to David. Listen to David as he says, "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" [Psalm 103:15-16]. Just for a moment, just for an hour, just for a day; then it’s cut down. So, says David, is a man’s life. Listen again to the eloquent Isaiah, as he says:
The voice said, Cry. And I said, What shall I cry? All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field: The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: because the Spirit of the Lord bloweth upon it; surely the people are grass.
Like a flower failing, and falling, and dying. Turn again over here to the apostles. James says:
As the flower of the grass, so does a man pass away.
For the sun is no sooner risen with the burning heat, then it withereth the grass, and the flower thereof faileth, and the grace of the fashion of it perisheth, passeth away.
And Simon Peter says, "For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away" [1 Peter 1:24].
Oh! Every time one of those apostles, and every time one of those prophets, passing by a road, saw a beautiful flower, how many times did God speak to him from the chalice of that beautiful creation of the Lord? For a moment, for a day, for an hour; then cut down, withered, the grace of the fashion of it fallen away, perishing, gone! I think of the people I’ve known. Oh, some of them young, cut down! Some of them in the very strength of manhood, cut down! Some of them standing at the very threshold of a marvelous life, cut down! Oh, O Lord, teach me so to number my days, that I may apply my heart unto wisdom [Psalm 90:12].
"Boast not thyself of tomorrow; for thou knowest not what the morrow may bring" [Proverbs 27:1]. Just I know this, that some morrow, some day, some time, known to God, there’s a place, there’s a time in His elective purpose when my life is over, and my days are finished, and that is forever. And I shall stand in the presence of the Almighty God who made me, there to be judged for the deeds of the flesh and the life I have lived.
O God! that the grace, and the mercy, and the goodness, and the forgiveness, and the love, and the saving of Jesus might reach down even unto me. And Lord, if I’m given ten years, let them be glorious years for Thee. If I’m given five years, let them be glorious years for Thee. If I’m given one year, let it be a glorious year for Thee. If I’m given a month, Lord, let it witness for Thee. If I’m given a week, O God, may it glorify Thee. If I’m given a day, Lord, may it speak of the love and grace that comes of Thee. If I am given just this hour, Lord, bless this appeal, and this service, and this message tonight. Do it, Lord. Do it, even now. May not have any tomorrow, but I have now. Lord, bless the testimony, and the witness, and the appeal we make for Thee now.
And while we sing this song, somebody you, looking in trust and in faith to the Lord Jesus, come and stand by me. Somebody you, to reconsecrate your life to the blessed Savior, come and stand by me. A couple, a family, or one somebody you, putting your life in the fellowship of the people of God, come, let’s pray together. Let’s bow in the presence of our Lord and ask His infinite grace and marvelous blessing upon us. You, whatever God shall say, however the Lord shall open the door, as the Spirit of Jesus shall press the appeal to your heart, come. On the first note of the first stanza, come. When you stand up, stand up coming. In this balcony round, from side to side, as God shall say the word and the Spirit shall lead in the way, make it tonight; make it now, while we stand and while we sing.
LILIES OF THE FIELD
I. Miracle of rebirth and regeneration
A. Muck, mire, dirt
of sin and depravity God remakes a soul, life
B. Could not be grown
in clean, white sand
did not call the righteous, but sinners to repentance (Luke 5:32, Matthew 9:12)
A. The Lord saves our
souls according to a plan (John 10:1)
B. Our growth is
according to a plan (Mark 4:26-28)
III. Secret of their strength and growth
A. Roots reaching down
into the earth, hungering and thirsting (Matthew
soul sinks roots deep into heart, mind, will, revelation of God
B. Seeks the light,
IV. Divine purpose of beauty
blessing and gift to the world
Thus it is with the Christian
Purpose of the flower is for the propagation of the plant
V. Easily torn asunder, broken
A. Once torn, it is
1. Easy for us to
let powers of darkness destroy and ruin us
Lesson of the flower one of warning – our days are short (Job 14:1, Psalm 90:12, 103:15-16, Isaiah 40:6-7,
James 1:10-11, 1 Peter 1:24, Proverbs 27:1)