The relation of our Lord and his disciples to the religion of the day ( continued ); vide Matthew 5:17 , note. ( b ) Our Lord turns from cases which could be directly deduced from the Law to those which belonged only to recognized religious duty. Of these he instances three: alms ( Matthew 5:2-4 ), prayer ( Matthew 5:5-8 , Matthew 5:9-15 ), fasting ( Matthew 5:16-18 ). It is, indeed, true that the performance of these duties on special occasions was implied in the Pentateuch ( Deuteronomy 26:12-15 ); but there are no regulations concerning their observance in ordinary and daily life. These were matters of custom and tradition; to this the Law , in its original aim and method, did not extend. There was therefore the more need for the Law to be supplemented by the instructions of the Jewish leaders. These our Lord does not reject, but only corrects.
Almsgiving. Matthew only.
But when thou ; " thou " emphatic. Let not thy left hand know , etc. So little effect should thy kind action have upon thy memory. There should be no self-consciousness in it.
The third part of the sermon: the danger of unreality.
I. THE FIRST EXAMPLE : ALMSGIVING .
1. The spiritual estimate of actions. The Christian's righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees. They did their righteousness, their good works, before men, to be seen of them. It must not be so with us. Indeed, we are bidden to let our light shine before men. A holy life hath a persuasive eloquence, more persuasive far than holy words; it must not be hidden; its influence is far too precious to be lost. Men must see the fair deeds which spring from holiness, and so be led to glorify the most holy God, from whose grace and presence all holiness comes. Good works must sometimes be done before men. This is not the thing condemned, but the unworthy motive, "to be seen of them." As Chrysostom says, "You may do good deeds before men, and yet seek not human praise; you may do them in secret, and yet in your heart wish that they may become known to gain that praise." This earthly motive poisons the life of the soul; it destroys all the beauty of good deeds. Nay, good deeds are not good when they are done for the sake of display; their goodness is only outside show; it has no depth, no reality. For every moral action has its two parts, the outward and the inward. We see the outward only. That may seem to be good; but it is a mere falsehood unless it springs from worthy motives. The real action is the inward part, the inner choice of the will. It is the motive that gives colour, character, spiritual meaning to the act, that determines the spiritual value of the action. If the motive is holy, the act is holy and beautiful in the sight of God, though it may be the gift of two mites, which make a farthing. If the motive is low and selfish, the outward action, though to men it may seem magnificent, heroic, is spiritually worthless; it hath no reward of our Father which is in heaven.
2 . The false motive. Unreality is hypocrisy; it is acting. The hypocrite acts a part before men; he assumes a character which is not really his. He gives alms in the streets; he wishes to be seen. He does not in his heart pity the afflicted; he is not merciful; he does not really care to do good. His one desire is to win the praise of men; he forgets that God seeth the heart. In the synagogue, in the church, he gives for the poor, for the work of the Church; but even there, in the house of God, he forgets the presence of the all-seeing God; he thinks only of the many eyes that see his outward act, not of the One that sees its inward meaning and estimates its true value. Such men have their reward, the Saviour says; they have it to the full, they have it all in this world. What they looked for was the praise of men. They do not always get it; even men sometimes see through the hypocrite, and feel the hollowness of his life. But if they get it, it is all they get. God has no reward for them; they did not care for that praise which cometh only from him; they sought it not, and they have it not.
3 . The true motive. The glory of God. The Christian gives out of love—love to God and love to man; he seeks not glory of men. He gives in all simplicity, in the singleness of his heart. He does not dwell in self-complacency on his good deeds, his self-denials; he rather hides them, as far as may be, from the sight of men. For he lives in faith, and faith is the evidence of things not seen; he lives in the presence of the unseen God; he seeks above all things to be well pleasing to him. Our Father seeth in secret; it is an awful thought. He sees the real meaning of our life, of all our words and deeds. It is vain to act a part before him. The hypocrite's mask will not conceal the littleness, the meanness of his soul. God seeth in secret; he will reward those who live in the faith of that unseen presence, and try in secret, in the secret thoughts and motives of the heart, to live as he would have them to live, in holy love, in deep humility, in quiet obedience. He will reward them openly. The word "openly" may be of doubtful authority here; but we know that the reward will be conferred in the sight of men and nations. All nations will be gathered before the King when he cometh in his glory, and all his holy angels with him. He will reward them. Eternal life is a gift—the gift of God; it comes from his free and generous bounty, unearned and undeserved. It is wholly incommensurate in its exceeding blessedness with the poor unworthy services which the best of men can render to the Lord. But in his love and. condescension he accepts them as done unto himself, and calls his gracious gift—that gift which is above price, passing all that heart can conceive—a reward for our mean and humble offerings.
II. THE SECOND EXAMPLE : PRAYER .
1 . The false prayer. The prayer of the hypocrite is no true prayer; it is only acting; it goes no deeper than the lips. Men may hear it; it reaches not the ear of God. The sound of many voices goes up from the crowded church; they are alike in the perception of men. God can distinguish them; he knows which is meant for his ear only, and which, though the sacred Name is used, is addressed really to the congregation, and not to God. The hypocrites have their reward. They sought to be heard of men; they are heard. They sought not to be heard of God; God heareth them not.
2 . The true prayer.
III. THE LORD 'S PRAYER . The Lord Jesus gives us a model for our prayers—a prayer very different from the vain repetitions, the much speaking, against which he has been warning us; but, though short and simple, comprehensive and complete. It expresses every possible desire of the instructed Christian; all that we need to ask, whether for the greater glory of God, for ourselves, or for others. He has taught us what we should pray for; we know it, we learned it long ago; we have said it daily from our childhood. It is easy to learn the sacred words, but, alas! hard to pray them. The Spirit helpeth our infirmities; he maketh intercession for us, with us, m us. He is the great Teacher; he, only he, can teach the great, holy, blessed, difficult art of true acceptable prayer. May he teach us, of his infinite mercy!
1 . The address.
2 . The first petition. "Hallowed be thy Name." As yet we ask nothing for ourselves; we think only of God. Prayer lifts us out of self, out of the narrow range of selfish thoughts, feelings, hopes, into that communion with God which is the very life of the soul. God will be "all in all" in the regeneration; the highest end of prayer is to raise us nearer and nearer to that blessed consummation, that he may become even now "all in all" to us. This petition, "Hallowed be thy Name," stands first in the Lord's Prayer, as if to teach us that we must come before God with reverence and godly fear. There can be no true prayer without reverence, without a deep sense of God's awful holiness and our utter unworthiness. Therefore we begin by asking God to give us grace to feel the holiness of his great Name, that we may never fall into the sin of taking his Name in vain, but may always regard it as most sacred, and pronounce it with solemn reverence. The Name of God in Scripture language means all that can be known of God—God as he has revealed himself to us (comp. John 17:6 , "I have manifested thy Name unto the men which thou gavest me"). We see him not yet face to face, as he is. No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son hath declared all that we can know of him, all that we need to know for our salvation. "Hallowed be thy Name." The seraphim cry, "Holy, holy, holy!" The four living creatures in heaven rest not day and night, saying, "Holy, holy, holy!" Christ bids his Church on earth to take up the angels'song. In the striking words of Stier, "The 'Holy, holy, holy!' of 'the highest heavens fills not yet all lands and all hearts." We pray that it may be so. We pray that his great Name may be hallowed in ourselves; that we may walk before him always in lowly obedience, that we may come before him in prayer with solemn, awful reverence, and yet with childlike love. We pray that it may be hallowed not in ourselves only, but in the hearts of others also. May all men feel the power of the holiness of the Lord God of hosts, and so be led to worship him in spirit and in truth! It is only by sanctifying the Lord God in our hearts ( 1 Peter 3:15 ) that we can pray that prayer aright, that we can learn that "Holy, holy, holy!" which we hope one day to chant in heaven.
3 . The second petition. "Thy kingdom come." The kingdom of God is:
4 . The third petition.
(a) "This is the will of God, even your sanctification." We pray that God's will may be done within us; that we may have grace and power to work out our own salvation, by his Spirit working in us both to will and to do. God's will is that we should be holy. "Be ye holy, for! am holy." We pray that that gracious will of God may have its full range, its perfect work; that our wills, rebellious and wayward as they are, may be subdued and chastened into conformity with the holy will of God.
(b) May God's will be done by us as we walk before him in the path of holy obedience. He has given us each a work to do; let us see that we do it. Faith without works is dead; the life of sanctification within the heart must bring forth the fruits of holy living.
(c) God's will is better than our will; he knows better than we what is for our real good. We must pray the prayer of resignation, "Thy will be done." It is very hard sometimes to pray that prayer when troubles come thick upon us, when we are afflicted with pain and sickness, when those whom we have very dearly loved are taken from us. In those times of great sorrow we must think of the Lord as he knelt that awful night in the garden, when his sweat was, as it were, great drops of blood failing down to the ground. We may ask, as he did, for relief: "If it be possible, let this cup pass from me." But, if we have learned of him, we shall always add those holy words of his, "Nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt." There is no peace like the great peace of entire resignation.
5 . The fourth petition. Hitherto we have spoken only of God, now we speak of our own wants. The prayers already uttered are three, and yet one. The first lifts our thoughts to the heavenly Father; the second, to the kingdom which is given to the eternal Son; the third, to the Holy Spirit, by whose help alone we sinful men can do the holy will of God. The prayers are three, and yet one; all meet in the first clause of the angelic hymn, "Glory be to God on high." Now for the first time we speak of ourselves, of our own daily needs. "Give us this day our daily bread." It is a prayer of faith, of trustfulness, of contentment. He is the Lord of the harvest; the increase of the earth cometh from him; it rests with him to give or to withhold; we own it in our daily prayer. We trust him; he is our Father; he knows that we have need of these things; his blessed Son bids us ask. We ask for the supply of our earthly needs in trustfulness, but in submission, remembering the last petition, "Thy will be done." He encourages us to ask, but only for what is needful—our daily bread. We ask for it each day as it passes; it is enough for us; we learn contentment from our prayers. Our daily bread, we say; we pray for others, not only for ourselves; our prayer binds us to feed the hungry. But man doth not live by bread alone. We ask not only for common food when we say the prayer which Christ himself hath taught us. We ask, if we are his indeed, for the living Bread—himself, the Food of the soul, which if a man receive he shall never hunger. We need that Food every day, every hour; without it the spiritual life must pine away and die.
6 . The fifth petition.
7 . The sixth petition. "Lead us not into temptation." God, we believe, so putteth away the sins of those who truly repent that he remembereth them no more. He cleanseth from all unrighteousness those who confess their sins. We have made our confession now; we have asked for forgiveness; we have pledged ourselves to lead a life of Christian love, to forgive those who have offended us. But still the Lord bids us pray," Lead us not into temptation, deliver us from evil." The strife with sin will not be ended while we remain in the flesh. We need the grace of God every day, we shall need it to the end. God tempteth no man; he solicits no man to sinful compliance; that is the work of Satan. But God doth prove us; he cloth suffer his people to be disciplined with many trials for the more confirmation of their faith. His providence ordereth all things both in heaven and earth; we ask him so to order the circumstances of our lives as not to suffer us to be tempted above that we are able. It is a prayer of humility. We know our weakness; we mistrust ourselves; we fear the power of the tempter. This prayer should teach us never to expose ourselves to temptations unnecessarily. We must not run into that danger against which we pray. It should teach us not to judge our brethren hastily; God only knows the power of the temptations which beset them.
8 . The seventh petition. It is deeper, more wide-reaching than the sixth. Temptations from without would not endanger us if there were not evil in our hearts. We ask to be delivered from it. "Draw us away from the evil," we say (as the words literally mean), quite away from it; away from evil of every kind, away from the power of the evil one, away from the defiling contact with evil in the world, away from the snares of those sins which do so easily beset us. Evil is all around us. The evil one is always alluring us with his accursed temptations. The world is very evil; it lieth in wickedness—perhaps, rather, in the evil one, in the sphere of his activity, his influence ( 1 John 5:19 ). Our own heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; our will is weak and corrupted. There is need of a power greater than our own to draw us away from the dominion of the strong man armed; there is need of a mighty counteracting attraction to draw us away from the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eye, and the pride of life. That power is the grace of God; his is the kingdom and the power. That attraction is the love of Christ, the constraining influence of the cross. "Draw me, we will run after thee." This prayer pledges us to follow the drawing of God, to enter into the Lord's battle against the devil, the world, and the flesh. We pray daily to be delivered from evil; we must strive against it, fighting the good fight of faith; or the words of prayer, though they are the holy words of the Lord Jesus Christ himself, will not avail to help us.
9 . The doxology. We may be compelled by the stern laws of criticism to omit it from the text; but we shall never omit it from our prayers. If it is a liturgical addition, it was made by holy men, men full of the Holy Ghost. It is a precious ending to a precious prayer. The address and the doxology bind the seven petitions together into one perfect prayer. All flow out of the address. He is our Father; he will hear the cry of his children. All rise in faith to the doxology. His is the kingdom and the power and the glory. The kingdom is his. He is King of kings. His kingdom wilt come in his own good time; then shall his Name be hallowed, and his will be done in earth as it is now in heaven. His is the power. He can give us what is needful for our bodies; he can feed us with the bread of life; he can take away our sins and give us the victory over temptation, and save us from every form of evil. His is the glory. Here is our hope of glory, Christ in us; for he saith, "The glory which thou gavest me I have given them." In the last words of the Lord's Prayer we echo the first words of the angelic anthem with which his birth was hailed. His is the kingdom and the power and the glory, and that for ever. Here is our hope of everlasting life. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away. His saints shall reign with him. We say our "Amen;" it is *,he response of the believer. May God the Holy Ghost make that "amen" the true expression of the inner assent of our hearts, teaching us to pray this holy prayer in the full assurance of faith!
IV. THE THIRD EXAMPLE : FASTING .
1 . The fast which the Lord hath chosen. The Pharisee in the parable pleads his fasting twice in the week as a merit before God. The hypocrites made a show of their self-denials. What they really sought was the reputation of righteousness, the praise of men. They might possibly gain it; it was all that they could gain.
2 . The true fast. The Lord classes fasting, as a religious exercise, with almsgiving and prayer. He gives similar rules for its due observance; he promises the like reward. What is necessary is reality; everything that savours of affectation must be banished. Our Father seeth in secret. The whole of our religious, life must be referred to him; our business is with him, with him only. What men think of us matters little; his judgment is of momentous importance. The Christian rule is, "Live unto the Lord, seeking only to please him, referring the whole life of thought and action only to him. He will reward those who give, who pray, who fast, as in his sight, thinking only of him who seeth in secret.
1 . Above all things be real. "All things are naked and opened to the eyes of him with whom we have to do."
2 . Learn of the Lord the sacred words of prayer. Meditate upon them; make them your own—words to take with you.
3 . Pray to God the Holy Ghost to teach you to pray them, making them the voice of your heart.
4 . Deny yourselves. There is a blessing for those who fast in faith and in simplicity.
As to the duty of giving alms.
The matter of the discourse of our Lord proceeds from his illustration of the hitherto unpractised and unnoticed spiritual significance, depth, and far-reachingness of the Law, to admonitions which must ever be so sure to be needed—of simplicity of motive and purity of heart in our works of "righteousness," or, as perhaps we should more naturally describe them in modern phrase, of religion. It must be noted that the Received Version reads mistakenly, in Matthew 6:1 , "alms" instead of "righteousness." This last word, recalling our thought to Matthew 6:20 , easily keeps for us unbroken the thread of Christ's discourse. The more specific of these admonitions as to our religious actions are three in number, and concern the duty of giving alms ( Matthew 6:1-4 ), of praying ( Matthew 6:5-15 ), and of lasting ( Matthew 6:16-18 ). Notice—
I. THAT THE PRINCIPLE CONTAINED IN THE INJUNCTION CHRIST HERE UTTERS IS NOT THAT HIS DISCIPLES SHOULD ARTIFICIALLY AND UNNATURALLY SMOTHER AND COVER UP IN DARKNESS EVERY ACT OF CHARITY .
1 . This would be to the derogation of a previous and important injunction of this very discourse, that they should "so let their light shine before men that," as a consequence , "they might see their good works , and glorify their Father in heaven."
2 . The present injunction is explicitly worded to the effect that such good works as almsgiving are not to be done for the purpose of being seen of men, and thereby winning a most superficial glory of them.
II. THE INJUNCTION IS THAT THE WORKS OF CHARITY SHOULD TRAVEL SO DIRECT FROM THE HEART TO THE OBJECT OF THEM THAT THEY SHOULD IN NO WISE CONTEMPLATE ANY OUTER OBSERVATION , AND SHOULD , SO FAR FROM THIS , EVEN ELUDE THAT OF THE LEFT HAND WHEN DONE BY THE RIGHT HAND .
III. THAT ANYTHING SHORT OF THIS , ANY ADMIXTURE OF SECRET , UNSAFE , UNHEALTHY , CRAVING FOR HUMAN NOTICE AND PRAISE , IS OF A DISENABLING SORT , AND PRECLUDES THE CONTINUAL DEW OF THE DIVINE APPROVAL AND REWARD .
IV. THAT NEVERTHELESS OUR WORKS OF CHARITY ARE FREE AND OPEN — NAY , RATHER , ARE EVEN TO BE ENCOURAGED TO SUBMIT THEMSELVES — TO THE INSPECTION OF THE ONE CLEAR , CALM , UNERRING , AND UNHARMING GAZE OF THE DIVINE EYE , AND THERE HAVE THEIR REWARD .—B.
Sermon on the mount: 4. Ostentatious religion.
After indicating the righteousness which admits to the kingdom of heaven, our Lord proceeds to warn against a flaw that vitiates the goodness of many religious people, and to illustrate it in connection with three chief characteristics of the religious life of those days—alms-giving, prayer, and fasting.
I. ALMSGIVING has been recognized as one of the first duties by most religions. Under the Jewish Law the poor were well provided for. It was probably in connection with the receptacles for alms in the women's court of the temple that ostentatious liberality was most frequently indulged in. "Sounding a trumpet" is not to be taken literally, but is only a figure implying that when you do a charity you are not to make a noise about it, but do it so quietly that your own left hand may not know what your right hand is doing, not even letting it dwell much before your own mind, much less craving for acknowledgment from others. We are not beyond the danger of giving, either that we may not be outdone by others, or because our love of applause is stronger than our love of money, and we think it a good use of it if by giving it away we can purchase the good will of our acquaintances.
II. IN CONNECTION WITH PRAYER THERE WAS MUCH ROOM FOR OSTENTATION IN THE JEWISH RELIGION . AS the Mohammedan of the present day spreads his prayer-carpet wherever the hour of prayer overtakes him, so the Jew was called on three times a day to pray towards the temple. In every town the synagogues were open at the hour of prayer, and there were also places of prayer, chiefly on the banks of the rivers, that the necessary ablutions might be made on the spot. The Pharisee often allowed himself to be surprised by the hour of prayer in the public square. Ostentation implies insincerity, and insincerity begets vain repetition. Our Lord sets this down as a specially heathen trait, and it is one which abundantly characterizes their practice to this day. But his warning against long prayers and vain repetitions applies to all affectation of continuance in prayer merely because it is the custom and is expected; and to that which arises from indifference and from a want of some clear definite object of desire which we can ask for in plain, simple terms.
For the correction of these faults our Lord gives us an example of simple brief prayer, and also adds the assurance that no elaborate explanations are required, because before we pray our heavenly Father knoweth the things we have need of. He does not shape his answer with only our petition for his guidance, but, knowing before we do what we have need of, he gives us that good gift which we only vaguely conceive. This may suggest the thought—Why pray at all? Does not even the earthly parent consider and seek his child's good without waiting to be asked? Is it otherwise with God? But we are commanded to pray, and this of itself is sufficient justification. Also it is natural—the great mass of men having prayed without command. This, if not a justification of the practice, shows we should see clearly before refusing to fall in with it. Moreover , it is by coming in practical contact with his father's ideas that a child learns to know his father and himself; and the father often keeps back a gift till the uttered request of the child shows he is ripe for it. So by measuring our desires at each step of our life with the will of God, we learn to know him and ourselves, and through the things of this life are brought into true relation with things eternal. The form of prayer which our Lord here gives, he gives chiefly as a model To argue from it that he meant us to use forms of prayer is inconsequent. They have their uses—in private to suggest and stimulate; in public to provide for uniformity and seemliness of worship. But when they are used to the extinction or discouragement of unwritten prayer they do harm in private and in public. The practice of private prayer here inculcated is one of the most difficult duties we have to attempt in life. It is often at this point the battle is lost or won. None of the deeper elements of character can grow without much prayer and converse with God. There are some virtues which can be produced by strength of will, but those which spring from the deeper root of reverence, penitence, tender and solemn feeling, can only grow in the retired and peaceful atmosphere of God's presence. Prayer is the door opened for God into the whole life of man, and to shut him out here is to shut him out wholly. Our Lord himself could not sustain his life without prayer; it is vain, therefore, for us to expect to do so. But, though all this is recognized, private prayer decays. If we can use in the world only that power for good which we receive from God, and if prayer is the gauge of this power, it will register an almost infinitesimal strength. We grudge to our intercourse with God either the time or the consideration we give to any communication that concerns our business or our friendship. And this means that duties that are seen of men we do, but such as are only seen of our Father, who "seeth in secret," we neglect. It means that we are practically atheists, and do not believe there is a Father who sees in secret. The general scope of the passage is a warning against hypocrisy. The hypocrite who is so intentionally is rare. The hypocrisy which is common is that which is unconscious, and in which the hypocrite is himself deceived. He seeks the praise of men more than the praise of God; but he is not himself aware of it. This makes it a fault most difficult to eradicate. But to such men there can be no religion; human judgment is the highest they seek to be approved by. It is their supreme. Even in the religious world men are liable to put the expectations of their co-religionists above the judgment of God. They fear to rebel lest they be considered as falling away from religion. Such persons, as our Lord says, have their reward. They earn the reputation of sanctity by sacrificing the real possession of it. Is it another reward that awaits you? Are you conscious that God, who sees in secret, has laid up in his remembrance many true prayers, many holy desires, many earnest searchings of heart that he has seen in you? Nothing but learning to live in his presence will deliver us from falseness and self-deceit and from courting the favour of men.—D.
Underlying this subject is that of social inequality. Without the latter there would be no necessity and therefore no opportunity for alms-giving. Poverty is not an unmitigated evil. Affluence is not an unmixed good.
I. SOCIAL INEQUALITY IS A BENEFICENT ARRANGEMENT .
1 . It aids the progress of civilization.
2 . It educates the moral qualities.
3 . Poverty is not without advantages.
II. BENEFICENCE SHOULD BE WITHOUT OSTENTATION ,
1 . Otherwise it will encourage hypocrisy.
2 . Unostentatious charity will encourage industry.
3 . Charity should seek its rewards from God.
LESSONS . Avoid monopoly. Spend not upon the rich. Be your own executor.—J.A.M.