Putting First Things First

George Everard, 1871

This is a great principle it is the teaching of the whole Bible. When God spoke on Mount Sinai, when the lightning flashed, and the thunder rolled, and the mountain quaked greatly, and on the top of the mountain the glory of God appeared like a consuming fire what was the very first command that He gave? Was it not the proclaiming of this very principle? He, the great Jehovah, must ever stand first. He must be trusted, and obeyed, and served before all others. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before Me.

And was it not one of the great lessons which Jesus taught in His wonderful sermon on the mount? Treasures in Heaven were to be preferred to treasures on earth men could not serve two masters, and therefore they must serve God and not mammon.

They were not to be over-anxious and careful about food and clothing, for these things were only God's lesser gifts; they were to seek first His kingdom and righteousness, and these lesser things would be added to them. As if he would say to them, "Do you think that if your heavenly Father gives you His righteousness, His forgiving mercy, His quickening and comforting Spirit, if He gives you His tenderest love, and a place in His glorious kingdom that will He deny you what is needful along the road? Will He grudge you the common necessities which are for the body if He gives you the far higher gifts that are for the salvation of your souls?

A heathen lad, a few years ago, was turning his face Zionward. He put the truth, of which I am speaking, in a very forcible way: he had been awakened by seeing a very sudden death; he had asked himself if he were ready for such a change, and he felt that he was not. When he began to serve Christ, his relations made his life miserable through their cruel persecutions. They fastened him up in a room they beat him without mercy. So he escaped, and was afterwards brought before a magistrate and questioned.

"What do you want?"

"I want to save my soul."

"But cannot you save your soul in your own religion?"

"No, it is a lie, and I can prove it. None can be saved unless they believe in Christ."

Then his mother came, and besought him not to bring shame on her and his family, by becoming a Christian, or at least to wait until she were dead. Then he gave the answer to which I referred. It was very short, but very pithy. He said, "God first and mother second." Never was there a better lesson. Making the change of a word in the sentence, we might apply it to a great many things. We might say,
God first, friends second;
God first, money second;
God first, pleasure second;
God first, the world second;
God first, self second.

It would be a safe rule to go by. It would often show you very plainly what was right to do, when you felt in a difficulty. It would cut many a hard knot.

Scripture gives us very blessed examples of those who carried out this principle. We read of faithful Abraham, and the trial God appointed him, with reference to his son. He bade him take him to a mountain, and there offer him up for a burnt offering. What shall he do? He dearly loves Isaac; he was the child of promise, and the heir of the land which God had said that He would give him. But he loves God best and we find he acts in this spirit. He says in his heart, "God first Isaac second." So without delay or hesitation, he sets off on his way, and never changes his purpose until God calls to him out of Heaven to stay his hand. Then God speaks again, and multiplies blessings upon him because of his willing obedience.

A similar example is that of the three Jewish young men in Babylon. They are bidden by the king's command, to bow down and worship the golden image: they are threatened in case of refusal, with being cast into the fiery furnace. "What shall they do? Shall they consent for once to break God's law? Nay, they will not yield! In their hearts they say, "God first, the king second!" Yes, "God first, life second," as well. They flatly refuse to do as Nebuchadnezzar bids them. They tell him that God is mightier than he, and that He can and will deliver them but let this be as it may, even though life is sacrificed, they will not worship the gods which he had set up.

Side-by-side with the three young men, we may place brave Daniel. God bids him pray man bids him cease. God promises to hear his prayer and to bless him but man threatens him with being torn asunder by wild beasts.

He never doubts the course he should pursue. He still honors God, and puts Him first; and you know the result. He puts God first, and God puts him first. While his enemies perish, he is exalted to honor.

This principle needs to be carried out in everything. There is scarcely any part of your life to which it does not apply. If it be rooted by God's grace deep, deep in your heart then it will be manifested in a variety of ways. If you should ever be required by another to do what your own conscience tells you ought not to be done, you will have the courage to say so.

If a mistress were to tell you to say she is not at home when she is, you will refuse. If a fellow servant wishes you to act dishonestly, or to deceive your mistress by covering her fault, you will do nothing of the kind. In some way you will reprove her, and if it be anything important, you will put those over you on their guard against her.

It will guide you as to the way in which your money should be spent. You will listen to the claims of others; you will consider parents who may be old and needy; you will consider what will be really best for yourself; you will see the wisdom of laying aside a little for days to come; you will not waste your money on show and mirthful attire, or some little momentary pleasure, but will rather buy that which will last. Who can tell the benefit you might gain from a shilling or two spent on a useful book, such as "Doing Good," "Ourselves," or some valuable memoir; or in taking in some monthly periodical, like "Home Words," "The Family Friend," or "Sunday at Home"?

I will only mention one other point in which it will guide you: I refer to the value you will have for God's day. If God has given you one day in seven to help you to love and serve Him better, and to prepare you for that blessed home above then how careful should you be to use it well. Never, never go out on Sunday as if you were going to church, and then forget your duty to your Father in Heaven, and spend the hour or two in company with other young people in light and frivolous conversation. I have known young women who have sunk to the very lowest depths of vice, and when I have asked them how they took the first step in their downward course, they have told me that it has been the Sunday evening walk when they should have been in God's house.

Very different was the conduct of a young woman who so loved attendance at public worship, that she felt she must give up a really good situation in other respects, because she could not have it. She had learned the lesson that I would teach you she put first things first. Elizabeth opened her mind to her mistress, and told her how she felt being deprived of the means of grace. She did it however in a very humble, Christian spirit.

"You seem very sincere," said her mistress, "and I cannot but respect your piety; but on many accounts I would not choose to alter the rules of my family."

"Madam," she replied, "though I am obliged to leave you, I hope I shall never forget the many kindnesses I have received. In many things you have treated me more like a mother than a mistress. I can truly say that your favor is more to me than that of anyone except God; but He tells me that I have a soul that must be saved or lost forever. I find that I cannot live without hope, and I can have no hope but in His ways. May He abundantly bless you and your family, while I trust Him to provide for me."

May every one who reads these pages have the same desire and the same purpose to seek God's favor and the hope which He gives, beyond all beside!

Courage, sister! do not stumble,
Though your path is dark as night;
There's a star to guide the humble:
Trust in God, and do the right.

Let your path be long and dreary,
And its end far out of sight,
Foot it bravely, strong or weary:
Trust in God, and do the right.

Trust no forms of sinful passion
Friends may look like angels bright;
Trust not custom, rank, or fashion:
Trust in God, and do the right.

Blessed rule and safest guiding,
Inward peace and inward light,
Star upon our path abiding,
Trust in God, and do the right.