Guest Writer Sabine Baring-Gould
“Render to God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21).
David says in Psalm 8, “What is man, that You are mindful of him? and the son of man that You visit him? … You make him to have dominion over the works of Your hands; and You have put all things in subjection under his feet, all sheep and oxen; yea, and the beast of the field, the fowls of the air, and the fishes of the sea” (8:4-8).
The mastery of man is even more extensive than this; he controls the elements. The earth he tills and makes it bring forth fruit and corn, as he wills. He will not suffer it to run wild, but schools and disciplines it. He hedges it about, and plows, and sows, and reaps. He burrows into it for fuel and for metals. He cuts roads over its face.
The air he makes use of also. It is his servant to turn the sails of his windmills, to grind his corn. It fills out the sails of his ships to carry his merchandise from one land to another.
Fire, that most terrible of elements, he dominates and makes into a slave. It smelts the ore for him. It raises the steam that drives the engines. It heats his house, lights it, and cooks his food.
Water is also under control. He leads it where he will in canals and pipes. He makes it turn the wheels of watermills. It is used for drinking and for washing. And yet, even that is not all. Man controls the lightning. He makes of that a slave to carry messages round the world. He carries it into globes, and lights streets, and railway stations, and shop windows with it.
When man was innocent in Eden, the beast and birds were his familiar friends; but when he sinned, they fled from him. God said to Noah, “The fear of you, and the dread of you shall be on every beast of the earth, and on every fowl of the air, on all that moves on the earth, and on all the fishes of the sea, into your hand are they delivered” (Genesis 9:2).
See how the animals have been subjected to man. The horse, the useful cow, the dog, and the sheep have been tamed. The horse, which once roved wild, submits to have a saddle on his back and a bit in his mouth. The cow gives her milk and her meat, and the sheep both wool and meat, for the nourishment and the clothing of man. The dog, which, when wild, was as fierce as his brother the wolf, has become the friend and companion of man. Even the gigantic elephant has become docile, and the Indian mother leaves her babe under its charge, that the monster may brush away the flies from the sleeping infant with a branch.
We have dominion over the birds in the air. We have tamed the domestic fowls and make them yield us their eggs. We keep the pigeons about our homes that we may kill their young. We snare and shoot them as we will—their high flight and rapid wings are no protection for them.
We have dominion over the fish of the sea. We cast the net and bring them in for our food. We hunt the whale for his oil and for the fringe of bone in his mouth. We dive into the sea after the oyster that we may extract from it the pearl, and we strip the shell of its rainbow-colored scales to inlay our furniture.
What follows from all this? Is not this enough to make man proud, to exalt him in his own conceit? Unfortunately it would seem so, but the lesson I would draw from all this is: Render to God that service which is due to God, as all inferior creatures render to you the service you demand of them.
An old Renaissance writer (Hugo Victorinus) beautifully says—”It is as though the earth appealed to man, and said to him, See how He loved thee who made me for thee. I serve thee because I was made for thee, and do thou serve Him who made thee and me.”
Suppose a king were to take you by the hand and lead you into a beautiful estate, and say to you, “Here, I give you this mansion, with the park and the fields, and the woods and the river, you may do what you will with it, hunt, and shoot, and fish, and till the soil, and pasture sheep, and cattle. I give it you all freely and entirely. I ask of you nothing but that you will recognize me as your king and not join my enemies in fighting against me.” Then, I think, you would embrace the offer with the greatest eagerness.
Now, this is just what God has done to you. He has brought you into the world, and has given you power over the beasts of the field, the fowls of the air, the fish of the sea. He has given you the earth to grow your corn, and on which to pasture your cattle. He has given you dominion over the elements. And all He asks in return is that you will recognize Him as the Giver, and not join His enemies. “Render to God [that honor and homage] that be God’s.”
Balaam, the prophet and seer, rode on his ass to go to Balak, king of Moab. God had forbidden him to go and curse the chosen people of God; but Balaam, moved by covetousness, and eager for honors from the king, started on his way to go. Then an angel stood in the way with a drawn sword to stop him. Balaam did not see the angel, but the ass did, and fell down under Balaam. Then he cried out in a rage, “I would there were a sword in mine hand, for now would I kill thee” (Number 22:29); and he beat the ass savagely with his stick. Do you see! Balaam expected the ass to obey him blindly, to go where he chose; but he himself would not obey God, and refrain from going where he was forbidden.
How is it with you? Is it not with you as with Balaam?
You expect the earth to yield you what you choose, and are angry if it withholds the crop. But do you yield to God what He desires? and show a harvest of good fruit to life everlasting from the seed of grace He has sown in you?
You expect your sheep to give their wool, and your cows their milk, and to obey you, and come into the fold, or go out into the pasture, docile to your will. But do you act thus to God? Are you docile to His will? Do you eat that heavenly food He has prepared for you in the pasture of his Church?
You expect your orchard to yield you apples. Do you show any fruit of the Spirit? When Christ comes and searches among the leaves of your profession, does He find any fruit of good works there?
Then, brethren, in your farmwork, bear this ever in mind, that as you expect the fields and the cattle to yield to you what is your due, so render also yourselves to God that honor, that worship, that gratitude, which are God’s.
“Honor the Lord with your substance and with the firstfruits of all your increase. So shall your barns be filled with plenty” (Proverbs 3:9, 10).
Copyright © 2014 Alexandra Lee
Photo Credit: Happisburgh Light, Norfolk, England
*Adapted from Sabine Baring-Gould [1834-1924], The Village Pulpit, Volume II. Trinity to Advent / A Complete Course of 66 Short Sermons, or Full Sermon Outlines for Each Sunday, and Some Chief Holy Days of the Christian Year (London: Skeffington & Son, 1886), sermon 63. Quotes, scriptural locations, photos, links, emendations added.