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Matthew 6:1. Alms.—Righteousness (R.V.) is probably correct and shows the connection between this chapter and the preceding, better than “alms.” In ch. Matthew 5:20, the disciples are told that their “righteousness” is to exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees. This is explained at length in what follows; in the preceding chapter, as regards the actions themselves; in the present, as regards the motives and manner of performing them. Almsgiving, in the language of the later Rabbis, was especially called “righteousness” (see Lightfoot); but in the present passage it seems rather to mean good works in general, including almsgiving, prayer and fasting (Mansel). To be seen, i.e. as a spectacle. Theatre and hypocrite (see next verse), are words of cognate meaning (Bengel).
Matthew 6:2. Do not sound a trumpet.—The expression is to be taken figuratively for blazoning it (Brown). Hypocrites == actors. The word originally signifies, one who answers; thence, one who takes part in a dramatic dialogue; thence, one who assumes a feigned character (Bandinel). They have.—Greek “they have to the full.”
Matthew 6:3. Let not thy left hand know, etc.—Secret and noiseless giving, metaphorically expressed (Chrysostom).
Matthew 6:4. Openly.—Omitted in best MSS. and in R. V. It is not popular applause in the future world, any more than it is popular applause in the present, that is the motive or the aim of the true Christian’s charities and charity (Morison).
Matthew 6:5. Standing.—The ancient practice, alike in the Jewish and in the early Christian church. That they may be seen of men.—This was the wind that set the windmill a-work (Trapp).
Matthew 6:7. Use not vain repetitions = “do not babble.”
Matthew 6:11. Our daily bread.—The Greek word translated “daily” occurs only in the Lord’s prayer here, and Luke 11:3; it is not found in any classical author. The rendering of the E. V. “daily” as nearly as possible represents the probable force of the word, which is strictly (bread) “for the coming day,” i.e. for the day now beginning. Others render “bread for the future,” taking bread in a spiritual sense; others, following a different etymology, translate “bread of subsistence.” Bread, primarily the bread on which we subsist (see Prof. Light-foot in appendix to his work. On a Fresh Revision of the N. T.); subsistence as distinct from luxury; but the spiritual meaning cannot be excluded, Christ the Bread of Life is the Christian’s daily food (Carr).
Matthew 6:12. As we forgive.—Have forgiven (R.V.) as a completed act, before we begin to pray. The temper that does not forgive cannot be forgiven, because it is, ipso facto, a proof that we do not realise the amount of the debt we owe. (Plumptre). So much stress does our Lord put upon this, that immediately after the close of this prayer, it is the one point in it which He comes back upon (Matthew 6:14-15), for the purpose of solemnly assuring us that the Divine procedure in this matter of forgiveness will be exactly what our own is (Brown).
Matthew 6:13. Evil.—The evil one (R. V.). The Greek may grammatically be either neuter or masculine, “evil” in the abstract, or the “evil one” as equivalent to the “devil.” Dean Plumptre says, “the whole weight of the usage of New Testament language is in favour of the latter meaning.” Others, however, favour the neuter. Dean Mansel says, “the neuter is more comprehensive and includes deliverance from the evil thoughts of a man’s own heart and from evils from without, as well as from the temptations of Satan” (Speaker’s Commentary). For thine is the kingdom, etc.—Omitted in R.V. The whole clause is wanting in the best MSS. and in the earlier versions, and is left unnoticed by the early Fathers, who comment on the rest of the prayer (Plumptre). Scrivener pleads earnestly for its retention.
Matthew 6:17. Anoint thine head and wash thy face, i.e. appear as usual.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Matthew 6:1-18
A group of warnings.—A note of warning begins this section of the Sermon on the Mount. Instead of following the example and seeking the approval of our Father in heaven as just before recommended, even sincere disciples are in danger of being content with the approbation of man. The greatness of this danger, therefore, on the one hand, and the best way of avoiding it, on the other, are the points taken up here.
I. The greatness of the danger.—This is due to its extreme insidiousness, to begin. Even in discharging our most direct duty towards God, as in helping His poor (Matthew 6:2); or in saying our prayers (Matthew 6:5); or in humbling our souls (Matthew 6:16); all things in which the desire for man’s praise ought to be conspicuously absent, this danger besets us. And, if in these, therefore in everything else. Yet that this is so, the actions of men too often make plain. Why else that “sounding of trumpets,” that “standing” to pray where most eyes can behold us, that effort to make known by our very countenances the humility of our hearts (Matthew 6:2; Matthew 6:5; Matthew 6:16)? All these are so many ways of appealing to the favourable notice of men whilst professing to be looking—and perhaps fancying we are looking—for the favourable notice of God. Its extreme injuriousness, in the next place. If we do thus think of man rather than God, what is the result? Is it not merely to gain that which is a bubble indeed? For what is the value, at its best, of the praise of mankind? Is it not often ill judged, never enduring, commonly poisonous, always disappointing? How emphatic the statement, “they have received their reward” (Matthew 6:2; Matthew 6:5; Matthew 6:16). They have secured that which no one else would call by that name. They have secured that which, as a rule, they are better without. Is it not, on the other hand, to lose that which is worth everything else? How solemnly it is implied here that such is the case! Those who have sought that empty “reward” receive no other beside. Where God’s favour is not accorded the supreme place, it is altogether shut out. Better do anything, then, than seek thus, instead of it, the mere approval of man. All is lost, nothing is gained, where that is the case.
II. The best way of avoiding this danger.—Our Saviour’s advice on this point seems to be of a twofold description. First and generally, and where the case admits of this, cut off the occasion. Would you prevent yourself from being unduly influenced by the thought of men’s praise in what you are doing? Shut them out, if you can, from the very knowledge of what you are doing. Rather than invite their attention to your almsgiving, do not give it the whole of your own (Matthew 6:3). Instead of “standing” where men can see you “praying,” “kneel” where they cannot (Matthew 6:6). Instead of seeking to look miserable when you are “fasting,” aim at the very reverse (Matthew 6:17). That is the path of absolute safety with regard to this peril. If men never know of, they can never praise you for, what you are doing. And if they can never praise you for it, you will be hardly likely to think too much of their praise. Next, and more particularly, and where this cannot be done, as in united prayer, for example (notice the transition from singular to plural in Matthew 6:6-16), make it your great point to direct the attention aright. Think of God and not of men in the “manner” (Matthew 6:9) of prayer you adopt. Think of God also, not as untaught men (Matthew 6:7) think Him to be, viz. One unwilling to hear and only as it were to be compelled to do so by the multitude of our words; or else as One who is ignorant of our wants, and so only likely to attend to them when He has been made acquainted with them in full, but rather as being indeed “our” common “Father in heaven,” and so as full of mercy, and wisdom, and power as our sins, and our necessities, and our weaknesses demand (Matthew 6:8-13). The more we think of Him thus, the more such thoughts will banish all else. Lastly, in so far as you think of men at all in your prayers, think of them too as they are, viz. as beings who are as full of needs and sins as ourselves, and to be dealt with by us, in consequence, in abounding mercy, if we would hope for mercy ourselves (Matthew 6:14-15). What a crowning safeguard there is in this thought against over-estimating their praises? What does it signify to a condemned man whether those who are his fellow-culprits think highly of him or not? The only thing important to him in that quarter is that none should be able to say of him truly as in Genesis 4:10, or Matthew 18:31.
1. How wise are these words.—More than once our Saviour speaks here of His Father as “seeing in secret.” Is there not evidence here that the same description may well be applied to Himself? What knowledge is here of our most hidden infirmities! What exposure of our deepest deceptiveness! What complete acquaintance with our best means of protection! What easy reading, in a word, as in most familiar characters, of what is “in cypher” to us! He has indeed the key of our hearts! And, therefore, does it not follow, of everything else (Jeremiah 17:9-10)?
2. How gracious are these words.—It is to our wilful natures, our perverted hearts, our self-blinded judgments, that all this counsel is given. Also, it is to us thus ill-deserving ones that His added promise is given! There is something exceedingly full, and therefore exceedingly touching, in that thrice-repeated assurance, “Thy Father which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.” But what is most touching of all, most touching by far, is that it is a promise given to us!
HOMILIES ON THE VERSES
Matthew 6:1-18. Almsgiving, prayer, and fasting.—
I. The outgoing of practical philanthropy towards men.
II. The secrecy, brevity, and comprehensiveness of communion with God.
III. The moral education of our appetites.—J. Harries.
Matthew 6:1-4. True and false goodness.—The following passage from Mark Aurelius’ Meditations may be pondered in connection with our Lord’s exposure of the ostentatious, hypocritical righteousness of the Pharisees: “One man when he has done a service to another is ready to set it down to his account as a favour conferred. Another, while he may not go so far as that, still thinks of the man as his debtor, and is conscious of what he has done. A third does not, if we may so speak, even know what he has done and betrays no consciousness of his kindness, but is like a vine which has produced grapes and seeks for nothing after it has produced the fruit proper to it. As a horse when he has run, a dog when he has caught the game, a bee when it has made its honey, so a man when he has done a good act, does not call out for others to come and see, but goes on to another act, as a vine goes on to produce again grapes in the season. What more do you want when you have done a man a service? Are you not content that you have done something conformable to your nature and do you seek reward for it, as if the eye should demand a recompense for seeing, or the feet for walking?” Professor Marcus Dods remarks: “This passage from the great Stoic opens up the significance of our Lord’s comparison of a good man to a good tree (Matthew 7:16, etc.). The good man will bring forth righteousness spontaneously, uniformly, as a good tree produces its proper fruit.”
Matthew 6:1. Vainglory to be avoided in our good works.—
I. The precept. “Take heed,” etc. By “righteousness” I think is meant all manner of good actions. Vainglory is a moth which is apt to breed in our best actions, as worms breed in roses, and therefore ought carefully to be watched.
1. The description of it.—It is the doing of our good actions before men, with an express design to gain praise and honour to ourselves. We are not to imagine that we are obliged to do all our good works so much in secret that the world may know nothing of them; nor that it is unlawful for us to contrive to give good examples; all the sin lies in contriving our good works in such a manner or with such an intention that the praise and glory of them may terminate solely or principally in ourselves. A right aim and intention is absolutely necessary in all our good actions.
2. The caution against it.—
(1) The greatness of the sin. (a) The design and intention is the life and soul of the action. (b) Whenever we set up our own pride, or vanity, or self-interest as the end of our good actions, we rob God of His due honour and glory. (c) No man is entitled to any higher reward of his actions than he himself proposes and aims at. (d) All obedience which is levelled at a temporal design, is a temporary, not a lasting obedience. For as times and the humours of men change, so do these men’s actions. (e) Acting religiously not to please God, but for our own selfish ends in this world, is the proper character of hypocrisy.
(2) The insinuating nature of the sin. (a) Esteem, praise, the love and good will of men, in short, everything that flatters our self-love, is very pleasant, and so is apt to make us forget that nobler aim and reward which we should always have in our eye. (b) It borders so near upon virtue that it requires an accurate and nice observation to perceive the difference; for we are not prohibited to do good works before men, nor are we obliged to hide them so that they may not be seen of them, nor are we obliged totally to reject that praise, esteem, and interest, which a continuance in well-doing will procure us in the world.
II. The reason of the precept.—“Otherwise ye have no reward,” etc.
1. The justice and equity of it.—A great difference ought to be made between works sincerely meant and designed for God’s glory, though mixed with many imperfections of human infirmities, and works principally designed for our own vanity and self-interest.
2. The great purity and perfection of the Christian morals.—Taking so much care to regulate the thoughts and intentions of the heart, and valuing all actions according to the purity of the intention.—James Blair, M.A.
Matthew 6:2-4. Ostentation in almsgiving.—I. A caution against ostentation and vainglory in the giving of alms.—
1. Negatively, a prohibition of ostentation. “Do not sound a trumpet before thee,” etc. This is a figurative expression.
2. Affirmatively, an injunction of secrecy and humility.
1. The things supposed.—
(1) That the duty of almsgiving was practised by the scribes and Pharisees, whose righteousness our Saviour is here correcting and improving.
(2) That in the exercise of this duty, they did not purely or chiefly regard the pleasing of God, but carried on their own selfish designs among men.
(3) That alms and other works of charity have an aptness in their own nature to gain the love and applause of men, and so may easily be perverted to serve the selfish designs of the persons who put them in practice.
2. The cautions interposed.—
(1) There is one, concerning the intention and design we ought to propose to ourselves in our works of charity, namely, the glory and honour of God.
(2) Another is that we do not set up vainglory or any other by-ends of our own covetousness or ambition, in our alms-deeds or other good works.
(3) A third caution relates to the way and manner of doing our good works, that it be with humility and all requisite secrecy.
(4) That if from our alms and other good works any accidental praise or credit comes to ourselves, we do not feed ourselves with the thoughts of it; but employ all that credit for God’s service.
II. The reasons of that caution.—
1.This wrong aim in our good works alters the nature of them, and makes them hypocritical.
2. The fruit of this practice in the other world.—
(1) There is no other but present temporal reward to be expected for such who do their good works to be seen of men.
(2) There is a certain glorious reward for them who do their good works with an eye to God.—Ibid.
Almsgiving and righteousness (R.V. Matthew 6:1).—Almsgiving is no longer regarded as distinctively a religious duty. Nor can it be put under the head of morality according to the common idea attached to that word. It rather occupies a kind of borderland between them, coming under the head of philanthrophy. But whence came the spirit of philanthropy? Its foundation is in the holy mountains. Modern philanthropy is like a great fresh-water lake, on the shores of which one may wander with admiration and delight for great distances without discovering any connection with the heaven-piercing mountains. But such connection it has. The explorer is sure to find somewhere an inlet showing whence its waters come, a bright sparkling stream which has filled it and keeps it full; or springs below it, which, though they may flow far underground, bring the precious supplies from the higher regions, perhaps quite out of sight. If these connections with the upper springs were to be cut off the beautiful lake would speedily dry up and disappear. Almsgiving, therefore, is in its right place here; its source is in the higher regions of the righteousness of the kingdom. And in these early days the lakes had not been formed, for the springs were only beginning to flow from the great fountain-head.—J. M. Gibson, D.D.
Matthew 6:5-6. Hypocrisy in praying.—
I. A caution against a hypocritical way of devotion (Matthew 6:5).—Both Jews and Christians, both Christ and the scribes and Pharisees are agreed that prayer is a very commendable duty.
1. Praying to be seen of men is a practice taxed as hypocritical.
2. Our Saviour assures us with an asseveration that all this hypocritical devotion shall have no reward beyond this present time.
3. This sort of practice is totally inconsistent with the spirit of Christianity.
II. A direction to the opposite sincerity and secrecy (Matthew 6:6).
1. We have secret prayer recommended, rather than those indiscreet public devotions.
(1) The practice recommended to private Christians.
(2) This precept was exceedingly proper to avoid hypocrisy.
(3) Also to avoid pride and nourish humility.
2. We have a description of the most proper preparation for this secret prayer, viz., entering into the closet. There are three things contained in this advice.
(1) Solitude, or a withdrawing from company. There is no greater enemy to devotion (excepting a wicked life) than a mind dissipated with much company.
(2) Leisure, or a withdrawing from business, or rather an inward tranquillity from worldly cares, lusts, and passions.
(3) A serious application of the mind to God; which implies a withdrawing it from all other objects.
III. The promise of an open reward to this secret prayer.—James Blair, M.A.
Matthew 6:5. The inwardness of Christianity.—Mrs. Judson, in her account of the first Burman convert, says: “A few days ago I was reading with him Christ’s Sermon on the Mount. He was deeply impressed, and unusually solemn. ‘These words,’ said he, ‘take hold of my very heart. They make me tremble. Here God commands us to do everything that is good in secret, not to be seen of men. How unlike our religion this is! When Burmans make offerings at the pagodas, they make a great noise with drums and musical instruments, that others may see how good they are; but this religion makes the mind fear God; it makes it, of its own accord, fear sin.’ ”
Matthew 6:6. Secret prayer.—This is a commandment in the form of an allurement. It has all the force of a law, but all the grace of an invitation. You are called to secret prayer:—
I. By an alluring revelation of God.—
2. “In secret;” “seeth in secret.”
II. By the language of direct invitation.—“Enter into thy closet.” In the great cathedral at Rome are ranged a number of confessionals, closets of carved wood, for penitents, in every language. You see inscribed with gilt letters, over one, Pro Italica Lingua; over another, Pro Flandrica Lingua; on a third, Pro Polonica Lingua; on a fourth, Pro Illyrica Lingua; on a fifth, Pro Hispanica Lingua; on a sixth, Pro Anglica Lingua. In each instance the father confessor is waiting in secret to hear the secrets of penitence. A modern writer, having thus described this arrangement, tells us that one who witnessed it “was impressed with the infinite convenience—if we may use so poor a phrase—of the Catholic religion to its devout believers.” But “infinite convenience, if we may use so poor a phrase,” belongs rather to the religion of that suppliant who, when his heart is breaking, has no need to wait until he can kneel on some consecrated pavement, no need to wait until he can prepare language, no need to wait until he can reach a distant priest, whose soul may be more ignorant, stained, and troubled than his own; but who, in every hour of every night and day, in every spot on sea or land, may find a closet in which the Infinite Father is listening for whatever the overburdened heart may murmur, speak in what native tongue it may—a Father who not only hears the spoken prayer, but sees the prayer that is too deep for speech. By the word “closet,” the Saviour is understood to convey an allusion to the room in the ancient Jewish dwelling which was set apart for the office of lonely prayer. Yes, as “stone walls do not a prison make, nor iron bars a cell” for the soul, neither are they, nor any material boundaries answering to them, essential to make the soul’s closet of devotion. A closet for the spirit is whatever helps to close the spirit in from all distraction, and thus make it feel alone with God. But the phrase “thy closet” conveys an additional meaning. It means more than mental seclusion in some unexpected place and time. “Thy closet” is the soul’s own fixed, familiar place of resort for communion with God. By foresight, by contrivance, by the power of resolute, severe punctuality, “enter into thy closet.” Enter it every day. When sad with indistinct premonitions of calamity—when struck down by some blow which benumbs your natural promptitude of thought—you instinctively turn to the Almighty for help, and the Allwise for guidance,—when, after the elements of true piety, which are the elements of true prayer, have been hardened in a worldly atmosphere, they are brought into fusion again by the fire of adversity, and all your glowing soul, “melted within you because of trouble,” flows forth to God—what is this but the voice of Christ, through affliction, saying, “Enter into thy closet!”
III. That you may cherish the life which marks the true disciple from the formalist.—“But thou, when thou prayest.” This word is a link which connects the sentence with that which precedes it. “When thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are,” etc.
1. Secret prayer will secure this end, by helping you to feel and cultivate the sense of your own individual life before God.
2. Secret prayer deepens the secret life. The more we work the more we need to pray.
3. Pray in secret that your prayers may be the result of meditation.
4. Secret prayer is needful, in order to the fullest confidence in the intercourse between the soul and God. This you can never reach in the highest degree through the medium of social exercises.
IV. With the promise of certain success.—“He shall reward thee openly.”
1. “He shall reward thee.” Reward is a term that no disciple must misinterpret. “Prayer,” says Leighton, “like the heavens, hath a circular motion;” coming from God, it ascends to God again. He gives the praying disposition; He gives His Son to be the Priest whose intercessions make it mighty; He gives opportunity to pray, and then He crowns every other gift with the gift of success. It is, therefore, only in the language of delicate, infinite generosity that He calls such success reward.
2. “He shall reward thee openly,” When we read all the story of the human race in the light of the last day, we shall find that many of the events which have made it most sublime, were open rewards of secret prayer. Sanctified sorrows, heroic achievements of faith, marvellous deliverances from evil, the graces of grand and matchless men who shone as the lights of the world, innumerable conversions, which appeared to be only the result of faithful speech and arduous labour in Christ’s service, when traced to the true antecedents, will be found to have had their mystic beginnings in the closet.
3. “He shall reward thee openly.” “Ah! but when?” Be comforted by this assurance, that true prayer will be accepted at once, even if not rewarded at once.—C. Stanford, D.D.
Matthew 6:7-8.Vain repetitions and length in prayer.—
I. Describe this blemish of devotion, the using of vain repetitions. It lay in turning devotion from the affectionate work of the heart to the work of the invention, memory, or tongue, or to an idle repetition of the same thing over and over again.
II. Wherein the faultiness of this practice consists.—The fault of these devotions did not lie only in the length of them. For if a true spirit of devotion is kept up all the time, we cannot well exceed either in the frequency or the continuance of our addresses to God, or even in a holy importunity at the throne of grace. Nor is it unlawful to make repetition of the same words and petitions in prayer, so it be done from a spirit of devotion. We have several examples in the Holy Scriptures of both these practices.
1.Ostentation, and other worldly aims and designs from long prayers are here condemned.
2.Unworthy conceptions of God (Matthew 6:8) are here condemned.
3.Prescribing to God a great many worldly and indifferent things, which lengthens out prayers, is here censured.
4. Our wrong conceptions concerning the nature of prayer, turning it from the heart to a mere external, laborious service, are here rectified.
5. All things considered, few words in prayer are best, and fittest for the generality of mankind.
(1) God’s perfection is such that it requires treatment with all sort of respect (Ecclesiastes 5:2).
(2) Our own imperfection is such that we cannot fit our long addresses to God without a great deal of impertinence.
(3) If we consider the danger of a Pharisaical devotion few words are best.—Jas. Blair, M.A.
Matthew 6:7. Repetition in prayer.—The Hindoo fakir will stand all day long in repeating over and over again the name of his deity; the Buddhist thinks that there is salvation in the endless repetition of his magic formula; the Mussulman will interlard even his wickedest speech with endless parentheses of “God is patient, God is great”; the ignorant Romanist repeats his aves and his paters, dropping a bead with every paternoster. God bears compassionately with our fooleries, but when it is this, what our Lord calls mere stuttering on the one hand, and on the other the stumbling out of empty words, prayer at last becomes at this rate degraded into a mere mechanism. But even repeated prayers may, indeed, have their place. St. Augustine tells us that he once spent all night long in the single prayer, “Noverim te Domine, noverim me.” “Oh, Lord, may I know Thee, may I know myself.” Such a prayer does not break our Lord’s command, so long as it continues to be intense and fervent. Our Lord sometimes spent whole nights in prayer, and in Gethsemane He prayed thrice, ever using the same words; but the more and more a prayer becomes a mechanical weariness, the more and more it becomes a ceremonial form the more and more the lips repeat it; but the heart cannot follow it; it ceases to be prayer, and becomes but mockery.—Archdeacon Farrar.
Matthew 6:9-13. The Lord’s Prayer.—
I. The lawfulness and usefulness of set forms of prayer.—
1. The generality of Christians want as much assistance in their devotions now, as our Saviour’s disciples did then.
2. If we consider the difficulty of framing our devotions aright, we shall be convinced that well-composed forms of devotion are very useful.
3. The Jewish church, in our Saviour’s days, used several set forms of devotion, which He was so far from reproving that He Himself imitated them.
II. We are called off from minding the eyes of men to mind only our Father in heaven.
III. Our prayers should be short.—
1. Few words in prayer suit better the conceptions we ought to have of Almighty God.
2. Such prayers suit better our own weakness and infirmities.
3. Brevity in words gives us a truer notion of the nature of devotion. For prayer is the language of the heart to God.
IV. Too great minuteness in prayer should be avoided as a thing not so proper for us, who should come to God like children to a father, exposing in general our nakedness and wants, but leaving it to Him to supply them in such a manner as He thinks most convenient for us. This seems to be very fairly deducible from the foregoing words, applied to this prayer, with a “Therefore.” And the prayer we find consists all of general petitions, leaving the particulars to God Himself to bestow, as He in His wisdom and goodness should think fit.
V. The right preparations and dispositions with which we ought to draw near to God Of these we may easily observe a great many noble ones pointed at in this very prayer. I shall instance the following graces:—Faith; the love of God; the love of our neighbour; humility and resignation; watchfulness against temptations, and a readiness to join obedience with prayer.
VI. This prayer is to be both a form and model.—This I gather both from the two accounts St. Matthew and St. Luke have given us of the prayer, and from the practice of the Church.—Jas. Blair, M.A.
Matthew 6:9-10. The model prayer fosters confidence.—The first three petitions express confidence, but there is an undertone expressing a different state of mind, giving to them both variety and comprehensiveness.
I. Confidence with filial love and reverence, as sons: “Our Father, which art in heaven.”
II. Confidence with submission, as subjects: “Thy kingdom come.”
III. Confidence with self-surrender, as servants: “Thy will be done.”—S. Macnaughton, M.A.
Matthew 6:9. God our Father.—Is God our Father? This shows us:—
I. What we are to do.—
1. Honour, love, and obey Him (Malachi 1:6).
2. En deavour to imitate and resemble Him (Ephesians 5:1; Matthew 5:48).
3. Banish all carking cares, and diffident fears, and sordid shifts for gathering and keeping this world (Philippians 4:6; Matthew 6:31-32).
4. Be patient in our afflictions (Deuteronomy 8:5; Hebrews 12:9).
5. Live up to the dignity of so noble a relation (Philippians 2:15).
6. Love as brethren.
7. Be heavenly-minded, and remember that there is no concealing of our faults from Him, as from our earthly parents.
II. What we are to expect.—
1. Though we have been ever so great prodigals, if we do but repent and amend and return to our Father, He will receive us with all the joy imaginable.
2. If under ever so great afflictions, God pities us as a Father.
3. If we have ever so great and many enemies, and we flee to Him, He will be our refuge.
4. We may expect blessings at the throne of grace (Matthew 7:11).—Jas. Blair, M.A.
Our Father in heaven.—
I. Reverence is the keynote of this prayer.—How, save with reverence, can we possibly come with any sanity before Him who chargeth His very angels with folly, etc. (see Isaiah 6:2-3). No noble nature yet was ever irreverent.
II. But if the words “which art in heaven” are meant to strike the keynote of reverence, the words “Our Father” give us the dominant notes of trustfulness and love. It was said of the great Roman Emperor Augustus that they who dared to speak to him rashly failed to appreciate his greatness, but that they who out of fear dared not to speak to him at all knew not how good he was. So it is with God. He wishes us to be reverent, but not to be abject. We are but dust and ashes, yet He suffers, nay, urges us to come to Him as unworthy sons, as prodigals, yes, but still as sons.
1.This Fatherhood of God was the most central, the most essential, part of the revelation which Christ came to give.—The sense of “Father” here is far deeper than that in which the word was used by the heathen of God as our Creator, far deeper than that in which the Jews of the Old Testament used it of Jehovah as the covenant God of their race. Those privileges of natural and of covenant relation have been made fruitless by our apostasies. The word “Father” here is the witness and appeal to the incarnation and the redemption. It means the Fatherhood which we derive, as brethren of God’s only begotten Son. When Christ said, “I go to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God,” it was not exactly as we render it. We cannot render those words exactly right. They are in the Greek πρὸς τὸν πατέρα μου καὶ πατέρα ὑμῶν: “To the Father of Me, and Father of you.” “First of Me,” says Bishop Pearson, “then of you. Not, therefore, His Father because ours, but rather ours only because His.” And it is remarkable that Christ taught us to say, “Our Father”; but He Himself never uses that form. He spoke of God always as “the Father,” as “My Father” and “your Father,” but He Himself never said “our Father,” because among all the sons of God there is none like to that Son of God.
2. Only remember that vast privileges involve immense duties.—“If I be a Father,” says God, “where is Mine honour?”
3. There remains but one word more—no less rich in meaning than the rest—it is the word “our.” It is a protest against that selfishness which is so ingrained in our nature that it tends even to intrude into our holiest things. Is it hard for you when you pray “our Father” to include in that prayer all who hate you without a cause, all who slander and undermine you, all who are the champions of causes which you believe to be steeped in falsity, all who in their arrogance treat you as the very dust beneath their feet, all whose vanity and opinionativeness come into rude collision with your own, all the wrongdoers who make the life of men more wicked and more miserable? Yes, in the very highest exercise of your lives you must associate yourselves with every one of them.—Archdeacon Farrar.
Our Father in heaven.—The first words of our text, “our Father,” throw away all selfishness at a breath. “Father,” the fountain-word of all love and all confidence. “Our Father, which art.” It is a beautiful phrase. I had a father on earth once, but now I cannot say, “my father, which art;” he is gone. But I can say of Him, “our Father, which art.” “Our Father, which art in heaven.” Wonderful word, that utters the proper name of a palace fit for Him whose name is Wonderful. If you wanted to raise some enormous fund you would not get hold of a twenty-years-old directory to go and beg by. You would be running after the dead, or the absent, or the bankrupt, or other people that were not to be found. Before you go anywhere you like to know that a man is, you like to know that he has got something, you like to know that he is inclined to help you. Those are very simple rules, but they are the rules which everybody ought always to apply to the object of worship. “He that cometh to God must believe that He is,” etc.
I. The designation, Father.—
1. Its tenderness.
2. Its majesty. He is a heavenly Father. What so near as father and child, but what so far as earth and heaven?
II. The relation, our Father.
1. The Author of our being.—There is a vast difference between a maker and a father. The outcome of paternity has a resemblance to it; and so when God made man it was not like making sparrows. The Lord Jesus says, “your Father feedeth them”; not “their Father.” When He made man, He said, “Let Us make man in Our image,” etc. “If I be a Father, where is Mine honour?” There is here an argument to convince man of the deep dreadfulness of his guilt.
2. Some people make great mischief of this doctrine.—They say because God is a Father He will not punish. Is God a Father because He is a bit like you, or are you called a father because you are a bit like Him? What was the true fatherhood? Patriarchy. Would any man in the days of patriarchy have dared to say that the father would not punish? By-and-by it came about that the patriarchy was put under the king; but the true patriarchy was the patriarchal paternity, and the fountain of authority even among men was in the father.
3. This blessed truth lies at the bottom of providence.—I met a man the other day who had got some of these modern notions about providence. He said, “Of course everything is managed by law; there cannot be any particular providence; it is all under law.” I said to the man, “Have you any children?” “Oh, yes; half a dozen.” “Well, do you take care of them?” You cannot think how the man looked at me. He said, “Do you think I am a brute?” “No, but I ask you, do you take care of them?” “Of course I do; I should be a brute if I did not.” “Well, my difficulty is this. You told me a little while ago that there could not be any providing or taking care, because there were fixed laws. How do you manage it?” “Well,” he said, “how could I manage it if I had not fixed laws?” “You think it helps you to have fixed laws?” “I think it does on the whole.” “Yet you think it hinders God. You can take care of your children, though you have fixed laws; and really you speak as if you thought God was not as wise as you are.” He was silent; he said no more. Now I want you to see that God’s providence is providence; it is looking forward with a Father’s wisdom and a Father’s love, and so He takes care.
4. Those who have come to Christ know themselves spiritually, gloriously, to be the children of God.
III. The place—in heaven.—In heaven, yet not confined to heaven.—S. Coley.
“Father” and “King.”—It is a singular fact, and one well worthy of our notice, that when an earthly king has been unusually good, like Louis XIV. of France, thoughtful of his people, nourishing their best interests, cultivating peace at home and abroad, and making his subjects prosperous, contented, and happy, they have called him the father of his people; evidently showing that the universal conscience of men declares the idea of father to be altogether higher and nobler than the idea of king.—Weekly Pulpit.
“Hallowed be Thy name.”—Many, I think, if they spoke with perfect frankness, would say that of all the seven petitions in the Lord’s Prayer this was the least real to them. If it is so, should it not be a strong reason for examining more deeply what the petition means? For observe that our Lord not only made room for it in this brief prayer, but placed it in the very forefront, and that, though He has just been using the strongest possible protest against all vain and artificial petitions.
I. The nature of the petition, and the lessons which its place in the prayer may teach us.—We know that Christ insisted upon unselfishness when He taught us to say not “my Father,” but “our Father,” but in this petition with yet Diviner force He teaches us not unselfishness only, but self-forgetfulness. If in the preface He directs to goodness, reverence, and trustfulness, in this first clause He points to the absorption of all thoughts of self in the thought of God as the only true orientation of our prayers.
II. What the petition actually means.
1. God’s name is Himself as He is made known to us.—The name of God differences Him from all other beings, as men are by their names differenced from one another, and nothing is more essential than that we should understand God’s name. On the thoughts we think of God it depends whether our religion uplifts our life, or whether our life degrades our religion and smites, with the leprosy of selfishness or superstition, even our most holy things.
2. But how is God’s name to be hallowed?—It is hallowed by all ‘His works except by devils and by men. Is it hallowed by ourselves? We should hallow God’s name by utter humility in His presence; by noble thoughts of Him, and by giving thanks at the remembrance of His holiness; we should hallow it more than all by lives kind and pure, honest, truthful, and contented. And thus hallowing it for ourselves, we should strive that it should be hallowed by others also.—Archdeacon Farrar.
First petition in the Lord’s Prayer.—I. Whereas we know not the particular ways and means which God makes use of for promoting His own glory, we pray for success to all those means.
II. We pray that all men may come to the knowledge and acknowledgment of Him the true and living God.
III. We pray that in all things we set about, they may be directed to, and end in God’s glory and honour. This will comprehend these particulars:
1. That God may lay so strong restraints upon us by His grace and providence, that we never aim at any ill thing.
2. That if we do aim at it, we may be disappointed, and not permitted to bring it to effect.
3. That God would interpose to defeat all the evil works and designs of men.
4. That in all our good works, our intentions may be purely set on His honour and glory.
5. That in all our indifferent actions, we endeavour so to sanctify them that they may be directed to God’s honour and glory.
6. That God would be pleased so to overrule the wickedest actions of men that they may likewise turn to His honour.—Jas. Blair, M.A.
Matthew 6:10. “Thy kingdom come.”—I. If we can conceive of the prayer as being sincerely breathed by one who is not yet a subject of the kingdom, it is a prayer for conversion.—The theory of the relationship existing between each of the forty-two States of our Union and the United States, declares that each several State is an imperium in imperio, a government within a government. And when the great question of the preservation of the Union came up a generation ago, the first answer to it consisted of a declaration by each State of its own position. When the attitude was loyal the second form of the answer consisted in the furnishing of troops to bring back to their duty the States that were in rebellion. But in that time of trouble and heart-searching, the first concern of each State was with itself, and to settle its own position was, for some of the States, the most formidable question of the four years’ war. Every human life is a sovereign province of God’s moral empire. I am an imperium in imperio. You are a sovereign government within a government, and in praying for the coming of God’s kingdom our first concern must be with ourselves. And the sad fact is that as rebels we need to be reconciled to the King.
II. After conversion it is largely a kingdom that is to come.—In conversion the kingdom of God comes to the heart as leaven is placed by the housewife in her batch of meal, to leaven the whole lump. But from the deposit to the completed process there is a work to be done.
III. The kingdom of God is intended in the purpose of the King to spread and fill the earth.—Here also the kingdom has but partially come.
IV. The kingdom of God has relation also to political and social conditions.—It remoulds old institutions and brings new ones into existence. It reforms social habits and customs and readjusts the relations of man to man and of man to the universe. It contemplates, by creating ideal men and women, to produce ideal conditions of life. Here, also, “there remaineth very much land to be possessed.”—Thos. Sims.
“Thy kingdom come.”—
I. This prayer is all-embracing in its blessed amplitude.—“We fancy,” says one, “that the King of kings and Lord of lords will reign over our spirits, souls, and bodies which He has redeemed. We pray for the extinction of all tyranny, whether in the man or in the multitude; we pray for the exposure and destruction of corruption, outward and inward; we pray for truth and righteousness in all departments of government, art, and science; we pray for the dignity of professions, we pray for the banishment from trade of every form of fraud and chicanery, we pray for blessings which shall be the purification not only of the palace, but of every hovel; we pray for these things knowing that we pray according to God’s will, knowing that God will hear us.”
II. This prayer is a trumpet-call to awakenment and to action.—If we pray, “Thy kingdom come,” it is a monstrous hypocrisy if we are every day of our lives hindering and thwarting the advance of that kingdom. I read the other day of a young Indian officer who, shocked at the many evils that he saw around him, began to protest against them, and at once awakened all around him the hornet swarms of hatred and slander. He went in distress to the gallant Outram, the Bayard of India. “What am I to do?” he asked, in deep distress; “what am I to do amid this storm of opposition?” Other men might have bidden him temporise, to bend to the hurricane, to keep quiet, to hold his tongue, to acquiesce, to get on, to be happy as the flesh counts happiness, and successful as the world counts success. But Outram, happily, was a man who felt the infinite nature of duty, and he asked the youth this question: “Do you fear God or man? If you fear God, do as you are doing and bear the insults that are heaped upon you; if you fear man most, let everything go on just as it is, and make no protest at all.” Ah! if you mean the prayer “Thy kingdom come,” act up to it, do the little every-day duty now and daily, and strenuously and sincerely, so will you promote that kingdom most effectually.—Archdeacon Farrar.
The kingdom within.—A wounded soldier boy was dying in a hospital. The lady who watched by his bedside said to him, “My dear boy, if this should be death that is coming upon you, are you ready to meet your God?” He answered “I am ready, dear lady, for this has long been His kingdom”; and as he spoke he placed his hand upon his heart. “Do you mean,” questioned the lady gently, “that God rules and reigns in your heart?” “Yes,” he answered; but his voice sounded far off, sweet and low, as if it came from a soul already well on its way through the “dark valley and shadow of death.”—Nye’s Anecdotes.
“Thy will be done.”—In one sense the prayer is needless. In nature, in providence, in the great issues of life, God’s will is done, for who hath resisted His will? But there is another and a terribly real sense in which the will of God is not done. Do not think that it is a mere verbal variation of the two previous petitions. The prayer, “Hallowed be Thy name,” invites us to think less of self and more of God, to think but little or nothing of self. The prayer, “Thy kingdom come,” is the trumpet-call to action, pledging us, unless we are to pray the prayer of the hypocrite, to the furtherance of that kingdom which we profess to desire. This prayer is an appeal to give up our own wills altogether. And it sets us also an example as to how we are to do it.
I. What is God’s will?—Our sanctification; that we keep His commandments, etc.
II. Who do God’s will in heaven?
III. How do the angels serve?—Alas! as differently as possible from the unwilling way in which it is done on earth.
1. God’s angels, we know, do it contentedly and unquestioningly, whatever it is—if it be a mission of seeming wrath, as was theirs whose swords of waving flame drove men from paradise.
2. Cheerfully.—The archangel Gabriel, as he waited by the gates of gold, was sent by God to earth to do two things; one to prevent king Solomon from committing the sin of forgetting his evening prayer in the exultation of watching his matchless steeds, and the other to help a little yellow ant on the slope of Ariphat which had grown weary in getting food for her nest, and which would otherwise have perished in the falling rain. To Gabriel the one behest seemed just as kingly as the other, seeing that God had ordered it. Silently he left the presence and prevented the king’s sin and helped the little ant.
3. Zealously.—Swift is the hurricane, vivid is the lightning; He maketh the winds His angels, and flaming fires His ministers.
4. Harmoniously.—There are no jealousies among the angels.
Conclusion.—The prayer involves a pledge, and its utterance implies a duty. “Will God mend all?” said Lord Reay in 1630 to Sir Donald Fraser. “Nay,” impatiently answered Sir Donald, “nay, Reay, we must help Him to mend it.” God cannot make best men without best men to help Him.—Archdeacon Farrar.
The principle of Christian life.—When our Lord gave His disciples this form of prayer there can be little doubt but that He meant its precepts to be the rule and leading principle of the Christian life. His followers were to be such in their daily actions as they were in their prayers, and the supplications which He enjoined them to use constantly at the throne of grace were hourly to be the guide of their conduct and their great object of desire. This petition portrays the intensity of feeling to and for God which belongs to the whole of the Lord’s prayer.
1. Our will it submits to God, no easy task.
2. The full realisation of this prayer belongs to the perfect state of glory. But as the church on earth is the type of the church in heaven, and its privileges but shadows of the perfect blessings then to be vouchsafed, so also it is possible here for the will of God to reign more and more in our hearts, and something of that ready acquiescence in it which will finally exist in heaven to be formed even now.
I. We must bear with patience what God causes us to suffer.
II. We must act for God.—This the more important meaning of the petition. I. Because it is the true meaning, for it is not “Thy will be endured, and borne patiently,” but “Thy will be done.” And, further, it is to be done as in heaven, but there is no suffering, no patiently bearing affliction there, but the holy angels are represented to us as ever actively engaged in doing the work of God.
2. The doing God’s will includes the bearing of it, as the cause includes the effect.
III. This must be done in a heavenly manner.—“As in heaven.” The manner is not indifferent. Our Lord’s example (See Psalms 40:7-8).
2. With delight.
3. Because God’s law written in His heart.—R. Payne Smith, D.D.
The Father’s kingdom and the Father’s will.—The parallelism in these two sentences is very striking. A kingdom is the rule of a will. A living, active will creates a kingdom. If God’s will were fully done His kingdom would have come. What is the kingdom of God which we thus desire to be established? No form of political arrangement. It is universal and all comprehensive, as a kingdom of moral beings; the Father’s great family, explained in the very suggestive passage, “the kingdom of God is righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.”
I. The theological attitude of the man who offers these prayers.—He must believe:—
1. In the reality of the spiritual world.—There is an unseen, as well as a seen; and the unseen is the true and the real. It is more important that the unseen, spiritual kingdom should be established, than that any material blessings should be gained. It is more important to be “good” than to be “great.”
2. In the actual present working of God in the world.—The kingdom of God and righteousness is established. God is actually perfecting it, in ways beyond all human vision and reckoning.
3. In the perfect righteousness of the Father’s will.—He who desires that will to be done must believe that the will is right. We cannot feel it right merely as a matter of sovereignty. It can only be right as the expression of the righteous Father’s character.
4. In the possibility of men’s obeying the Father’s will.—The expression “as in heaven,” involves the belief that come created beings can and do obey it. This alone loosens the grasp of sin on us, which so often seems hopelessly fixed.
5. In the truth that righteousness for a creature, can only be found in obedience to the Father’s will.—The perfect righteousness, for earth, is submission and obedience to the will.
II. The moral attitude of the man who offers these prayers.—There should be:—
1. Deep feeling of the blessedness of the kingdom of the Father’s will.—Beyond intellectual acceptance of the will there should be holy admiration of it; loving anxiety for the perfect acknowledgment of the Father’s authority.
2. A biding anxiety on account of the resistance offered to the coming of that kingdom.—For it is only too manifest that there is an opposing kingdom of evil.
3. Hearty willingness to make our own selves, and our own spheres, scenes of the triumph of the kingdom, and obedience of the will.—The law of the progress of the kingdom is first within, then without, first the individual, then the mass. He who opens his soul, and his sphere, to welcome the holy will, alone can sincerely pray, “Thy kingdom come.”—Weekly Pulpit.
Acquiescence, how far is it to be carried?—We are not to believe that it is a duty incumbent upon us actively to comply with everything that seems to be favoured by providence; for sometimes we are not to comply at all, but according to the duty of our place and station, are by all lawful ways to oppose prosperous iniquity. That which seems a countenance of providence is often no such thing, but only God’s making use of ill men to be scourges in His hand for chastising others, sometimes as bad, but often a great deal better than themselves. We shall never be safe in our duty of acquiescing in the Divine providence, except where we are sure that we have taken no sinful steps to bring it about ourselves; and where it is brought about to our hand, it is often not an active but a passive compliance which God requires at our hands. The thing will be clearer by an example. When the king of Assyria invaded Judæa it would have been great treachery in any of the Jews to have sided with him. Yet afterwards when he had conquered them, and they were actually carried away captives into Babylon, the providence of God deciding the matter so plainly, that they were his subjects, they were obliged to perform the duty of quiet and peaceable subjects under him, and to say, God’s will be done.—Jas. Blair, M.A.
God’s work perfect.—Many years ago a Christian merchant met unexpectedly with some great losses. He began to doubt the wisdom and goodness of that Providence which could allow such trials to overtake him. He returned to his home one evening in a despairing state of mind. He sat down before the open fire-place in his library, tossed with the tempest of doubt, and destitute of comfort. Presently his little boy, a thoughtful child of six or seven summers, came and sat on his knee. Over the mantelpiece was a large illuminated card containing the words, “His work is perfect.” The child spelled out the words, and pointing to them said, “Papa, what does perfect mean here?” And then, before the father, who was somewhat staggered, could make a reply, there came another question from the little prattler, “Does it mean that God never makes a mistake?” This was just the thought that the troubled father needed to have brought before his mind. If the angel Gabriel had come down from heaven, he could not have suggested anything more timely. The father clasping his little one in his arms, exclaimed, “Yes, my precious boy, that is just what it means.” That father’s confidence in God was revived, the cloud was gone, and the sunshine of an unfaltering trust again lighted up his soul.—Free Methodist.
Matthew 6:11.The daily bread.—Prayer is not to be so sublime that it forgets that we are men and women having bodies as well as souls. Prayer is not only asking God for things. It is the process by which we are put into the right relation towards all about us. “Our Father, which art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name; Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven”—these words set us in the right attitude and relation to God. Then comes the next petition, “Give us this day,” etc. Thus we are set in the right relation towards God’s gifts. In this matter of the daily bread there are four ways in which men may get wrong, and from each of these, this prayer, if rightly offered, will deliver us.
I. Negligence in getting it.—I do not know that this is an evil from which men greatly suffer in these times. Yet so long as human nature is what it is, laziness will never be quite done away with. The man who is so taken up with the things of heaven, that he forgets his duty down here on earth, is a hindrance to the coming of God’s kingdom. We are to get our daily bread so as to hallow His name.
II. Anxiety about it.—When ye pray say, “Our Father, give us this day,” etc. (see Matthew 7:9-11).
III. Pride in the possession of it.—We say we are rich and increased in goods, and have need of nothing. And yet we have to knock at the door of the Father’s house for a crust of bread. His sunshine and His rain must enrich us, or we starve. It is because for six thousand years some have gone forth every year to reap the corn and care for it that you to-day have got your crust. Every loaf of bread leaves us debtor to a host of toilers.
IV. Greed in relation to it.—Let it suffice to listen to the parable of the corn. It gave itself up to the sower, and went down in the dark earth, and braved the storms and winter’s frost, and rose up in new beauty, increased and blessed a hundred fold, and made glad the heart, and cheered the home, and blessed the people, and woke the hymns of praise. So is it. We can give ourselves to Him who soweth the good seed, and for us some heart shall be brighter, some life be gladdened, and some song be stirred that else had not been heard in earth or heaven—for he that loseth his life shall find it.—M. G. Pearse.
Our daily bread.—St. Matthew has δὸς, “give” in one act; St. Luke has δίδου, “be giving, give continually.” St. Matthew, it has been said, touches the readiness, St. Luke the steadiness; St. Matthew the promptitude, St. Luke the patience of God’s supply. Again, St. Matthew says: “Give us this day;” St. Luke says “Give us day by day.” St. Matthew implies “sufficient unto the day is the want thereof,” St. Luke says: “and if there be a morrow, for it may God also provide.” We descend from the spiritual heights of the former petitions. The prayer is broad and simple.
I. Give.—Carnal men, it has been said, are like swine which raven upon the acorns, but look not up to the oak from whence they drop.
II. Us.—Christ would not have us say “give me.” Prayers purely selfish are altogether base.
III. This day.—We are but creatures of a day, we will not be troubled or anxious for the morrow.
IV. Our.—When we ask for our daily bread, it is only the just, the diligent, and the moderate who can rightly use the prayer. “A noble heart,” says Barrow, “will disdain to subsist, like a drone, on the honey gained by others’ labour, or like vermin to filch its food from the public granary, or like a shark to prey on the lesser fry, but will one way or another earn his subsistence, for he that does not earn can hardly own his bread.”
V. Daily.—This strengthens the teaching that we are to live as children in our Father’s house, relying on God’s providence for all that lies beyond the immediate need.
VI. Bread.—It includes all that is necessary, and it comes to us day by day as the manna came to Israel in the wilderness from heaven. Christ here, as everywhere, lays the axe at the root of all our sensual desires for gluttonous luxuries and superfluities.—Archdeacon Farrar.
Matthew 6:11-12. Give and forgive.—The Father has not His interest wholly absorbed in the higher spiritual interests of His children; or in abstract contemplations of His own glory and kingdom. As a Father, He is interested in our daily bread, and daily danger.
I. What is the theological attitude of the man who prays these clauses sincerely?—He must believe in:—
1. The absolute and entire dependence of man upon God.—Prayer involves belief in the dependence of man on God.
(1) For food, or in the matter of bodily necessities,
(2) For forgiveness, or in the matter of the necessities caused by sin. These cover all man’s wants as a dependent creature.
2. The law that God’s dealings with us depend on our moral condition.—Involved in the clause, “as we forgive our debtors” (see Matthew 6:14-15). This law does not say, our forgiving others is either the cause or the measure of God’s forgiving us. It says that God is concerned in our moral states, because He wants all His dealings to be a moral blessing to us. If we are in an unforgiving state of mind, then His forgiveness cannot reach us. And if we keep in an unforgiving state of mind, we prove ourselves unworthy of His forgiveness. Parable of unmerciful servant.
3. The fact of sin as disturbing our relations with God.—If sin be a disease only, the man will not say, “forgive.” If sin be a weakness, a moral deterioration only, the man will not say, “forgive.” If sin be not a personal and individual thing, no force goes into the prayer, “forgive.” Sin must be realised as a fact, a wrong, a rebellion, a disobedience, involving penalty—then only can we pray “forgive.”
Observe the relation of these clauses to the former parts of the prayer. “The Father.” He is surely willing to forgive. “The Name.” Can it be more hallowed than in forgiveness? “The kingdom.” Must have its beginning in forgiveness. “The will.” Is set most of all upon forgiveness.
II. What should be the moral attitude of the man who prays these clauses?—There should be:—
1. A deep sense of the evil and hatefulness of sin.—Conceived as ingratitude, insult, and rebellion; estimated in the light of its consequences. Such impressions of sin are the work of the Holy Spirit.
2. Profound humility of spirit.—He who comes saying, “Forgive,” cannot fail to be humble when he prays, “Give.”
3. Ready willingness to forgive others.—Such forgiveness is not a number of isolated acts; it is properly the expression of a spirit of forgiveness, cherished in our hearts.
“Give” is the cry of the child, forgive is the cry of the sinful child. How tender and affecting to the earthly father are both attitudes. This may be illustrated from the two attitudes of the prodigal son.—Weekly Pulpit.
Matthew 6:12. The fifth petition of the Lord’s prayer.—If any should wonder why the petition for temporals should go before the two petitions for pardon of sin, and grace to resist temptations, there are these two accounts I think may be given of it. First, that the natural life being prior in time, though not in dignity, to the spiritual life, is provided for, and wants to be provided for in the first place. Secondly, on the account of devotion it may be of use that the petition for temporals should first briefly be dispatched, that the mind being cleared from those worldly cares, may apply itself so much more intensely to the greater concerns of the soul.
I. The blessings we are here taught to pray for.—Viz., the pardon of sin for ourselves and for others.
II. The qualifications of the persons who are allowed to put up this petition.—
1. If we consider this petition with the context, we may easily discover faith in Christ; for everywhere in the New Testament we find that our privilege to call God our Father, or to expect forgiveness of sins from Him, is solely in and through Christ (Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:6).
2. We are taught here to come unto God as humble supplicants confessing our sins, and begging pardon; so here is the qualification of repentance.
3. We are taught here that though God is now rendered propitious to mankind in Christ, yet it is requisite that we sue for pardon by incessant prayer.
4. We are put in mind here of the necessity of charit, particularly that highest kind of it, consisting in the forgiving our enemies. But are we obliged to forgive all injuries without the least satisfaction; nay, to remit our just debts without payment, and that upon no less peril than the not being admitted to that pardon of sin purchased by Christ? And if not these, what is to be understood by this part of the petition? To this objection and question I shall endeavour to give a short answer:—
(1) By this expression our Saviour did not intend to encourage the doing of injuries to others, as it would certainly be a great encouragement to all manner of injuries, if they were all to escape unpunished.
(2) Our Saviour did not design to interfere with the magistrate’s office.
(1) All private revenge is certainly forbidden, and it is left entirely to the magistrate’s office to do right between man and man.
(2) All rancour and malice in the heart are forbidden; and the duty of love and charity enjoined, which is very consistent with the doing of right to all.
(3) The rigour of justice, where it borders upon cruelty, exaction, or severity, is condemned.
(4) Where there is probability of reclaiming an enemy by a seasonable kindness, such as neither encourages transgression in general, nor wrongs any third person in particular, it is commendable to pass by a personal injury and to be the first in breaking off contention.
(5) As to debts and injuries where the party offending has not capacity or ability to repair them, and shows no malice in the case, there the Christian part is rather to forgive than to use the offender rigidly by corporal punishments and severities.
(1) From the rank and order which this petition holds in the prayer we may conclude that it is a petition of extraordinary consequence. It is the first of the spiritual petitions for ourselves or our neighbours.
(2) From the rank and quality which we ourselves hold in this petition, which is that of poor supplicants, we may learn what modest and humble thoughts we ought to have of ourselves and all our performances.
(3) Here is comfort for those who are daily discovering new failings in themselves.
(4) I recommend to you a merciful, forgiving temper, and dissuade you from acting out of principles of malice or resentment.—Jas. Blair, M.A.
“Forgive us our debts.”—Nothing is idler than the assertion that it is only Christianity which has cast over the human race the awful gloom caused by the sense of sin. All history, all literature, refutes the allegation. Fear is the centre of all false religious systems. Men have shuddered in a sense of guilt.
I. Sin as debt.—If you have known the shame, the guilt, the burden, the misery of debt, the concealment to which it leads, the dishonesty which it implies, the impossibility it leaves of “looking the whole world in the face,” the tendency it has to accumulate into an avalanche of disgrace and ruin, you will understand the metaphor. It will help to show you also how the sin and the punishment are identical. The great Greek philosopher, Plato, says that sin and punishment are twins who walk through this world with their heads tied together. But it is something more than that. Penalty is the inevitable reaction of sin, the inseparable shadow which is cast by it and dogs it. Sin is a debt against which there are no assets, which man incurs,
1. To himself.
2. To his neighbours.
3. To his God.
II. The miracle of forgiveness.—It is a gospel, it is a miracle. It is true there is nothing like it in the world of nature or in the world of man. It is avowedly supernatural, it is exclusively the gift of God. If you pray this prayer aright, be sure it will be answered. Was not it the disgrace of one of the bad Stuart kings, James II., that he admitted his nephew, the Duke of Monmouth, into his presence, and saw him grovel at his feet, and yet refused him the life for which he had permitted him to plead? When the young Bourbon prince, the Duke D’Enghien, doomed to death, asked the first Napoleon to have an interview and see him, Napoleon refused; and when asked why he had refused, he said, “Had I admitted him I must have pardoned him. As I have determined not to pardon him, I would not see him.” Hear what the unjust judge saith! and can you do Christ the monstrous injustice to imagine that He would have the cruelty to bid you come to God with the burden of all these intolerable debts if He knew that pardon was impossible, or that great plea for it would be refused?—Archdeacon Farrar.
The forgiving spirit.—We cannot be reconciled to God until we are reconciled to our fellow-men. In the early Christian church it was customary for the members of a family to ask each other’s forgiveness before going to the Lord’s table. We should carry this spirit with us every day, and extend it to all men. No man can be at peace with himself or with God who cherishes any grudge or ill-will against his neighbour.—S. Macnaughton, M.A.
Matthew 6:13. God and evil.—
I. We pray here for the staving off of such temptations as are disproportioned to our measure of strength and grace.
II. We pray for preventing grace to keep our minds in a good frame and temper, well fortified against all temptations we may be encountered with.
III. We pray that God would not desert us in the hour of temptation, but that His grace may be sufficient for us to bring us off victorious.
IV. We pray that if we are ensnared by any temptation, we may be quickly delivered from the power of it, and rendered more humble, penitent, and watchful.
1. Here we see the proper remedy for what is the most troublesome thing in a religious life; I mean the infinite number of temptations to which we are subject.
2. As we are thus to pray against temptations, we must take care that our actions and prayers be all of a piece; i.e. that in our actions we follow such courses as may be most effectual for overcoming temptations.
(1) Many men become their own tempters, by raising and cherishing in their minds such thoughts and imaginations as pollute the heart, and prove the seeds of much wickedness in the life.
(2) Whosoever they are that lay snares and temptations for others, these persons by their practice contradict this petition, lead us not into temptation.
(3) They who put themselves in the way of temptations, by frequenting lewd company, by reading lascivious or atheistical books, by committing to their memory profane songs and ballads, or by doing any other thing whereby they may probably be ensnared and led into temptation, act directly contrary to this part of the Lord’s prayer.
(4) They who kindly entertain and hug a temptation when presented, and do not flee from it, but flutter about it so long till at last they burn their wings with it, have themselves a hand in defeating this part of their prayer.
(5) If we would effectually answer the end of this part of the Lord’s prayer, we must take all the most effectual methods we can think of, both to prevent and to defeat temptations; such as the avoiding of idleness, and keeping ourselves employed in the business of our lawful calling; the keeping of the mind in a good temper, not ruffled with anger, nor debauched with lust, nor swelled with pride and vanity; the keeping a conscience void of offence, etc.—Jas. Blair, M.A.
The prayer against temptation.—For “lead us not” the R.V. has the more accurate rendering, “bring us not.” But we are at once faced with the question, Does God ever bring us into temptation? (see James 1:13). The explanation is very simple; it lies in the two sense of the word temptation. Temptation means trial, the conditions which are meant to test our faithfulness, and it also means actual incitement, seduction, inducement, allurement in the direction of wrong-doing. Now, in the first sense, God does tempt us. He tries us as gold is purged in the fire. In this sense He tempts us because He has placed us in a world wherein of necessity we are surrounded by evil influences, and because He has endowed us with a nature which, whatever it once may have been, is now, at any rate, weakened, and corrupt and prone to sin. But God only brings us into temptation because He can bring us out of it. God never tries to make us do wrong; on the contrary, He brings to bear every gracious influence, human and Divine, to keep us unseduced by wrong. If there were no temptation to sin there would be no glory of righteousness (see James 1:2-4; James 1:12). God, then, tries, but He does not tempt. Our prayer is that we may not turn His trials into Satan’s allurements, and His fear, which purges, into Satan’s, which consumes.
I. The sources of temptation.
1. The devil.—All temptations may come from him, but especially those universal ones of pride, selfishness, passion, hatred, lies, unbelief, irreverence, self-will, which constitute his horribly perverted nature.
2. The world.—Its nearness, its menacing noise, the fear which it inspires, the spell which it exercises, the splendid illusiveness of it, the lust of the eyes and the braggart vaunt of life.
3. The flesh (James 1:14). This is the force which temptation derives from our corrupt nature with the fatal bias of its long heredities of evil.
II. The methods of temptation.—Temptations come entirely in two ways:—
1. By stealthy witchery.—Adder-like. The adder comes noiselessly, gradually, insidiously, with the creeping glide, with the almost imperceptible motion of a venomous thing, undulating through life’s dry and fallen leaves till when it is quite close to us, and can catch us unawares, it darts out at us with its forked and flickering tongue. This represents the bewitchment, the glamour, the slow, depraving fascination of sin.
2. In sudden, furious assaults.—Like the wild beast. Sometimes when we fancy ourselves most secure, the temptation for some deadly sin rushes out suddenly upon us like a panther from its lair with flaming eyes, lashing spring, and thick carnivorous roar. In one unexpected moment we find ourselves engaged in fiercest conflict with this temptation which has leapt upon us, terrible and with a tiger’s leaps (see Psalms 91:13).
III. The way to escape temptation.—Why do men fall so fearfully? Often because they purposely linger in the neighbourhood of temptation, and wilfully dally and tamper with it—e.g. Eve, Achan, David. Some, it is said, enter into temptation presumptuously, to show their power; some curiously, to taste of the allurement; some carelessly, because they give no heed; some imitatively, following where others go; some Pharisaically, pretending to glorify God by showing what His grace can do. But, alas! there is no necessary connection between entering into temptation and coming out of it. There is but one rule about temptation; think of it as a serpent’s egg—which hatched would, as his kind, grow mischievous—and kill it in the shell. It is fugiendo pugnare; like the Parthian warriors, we must overcome by flight.
1. How does this prayer brand the guilt, the insanity of those who seek temptation, who revel in it?
2. We pray “lead us not,” etc., because there is an escape for every one of us. Christ conquered for us the three sources of temptation in their subtlest and most virulent form to show that we can, and how we can, conquer.—Archdeacon Farrar.
Preserved and delivered.—The former clauses of this prayer can be uttered by all men; these, in their fuller applications, only by the spiritual man.
I. What must be the theological attitude of the man who prays these clauses sincerely?—He must believe:—
1. That man’s life on earth is a moral trial.—Has life any meaning? The superior powers and trusts of man suggest a moral end. Adam’s trial is renewed in each life. Could we wish to be incapable of temptation? That were to be incapable of virtue.
2. That evils have their true root in evil.—Observe the two meanings of the term. We do not believe in the evils of the world; we know and feel them. We should believe in the connection between evils and evil.
3. That temptation is common to all, but peculiar to each.—“Deliver us.” The peculiarity of temptation lies in its relation to differing dispositions. We cannot pray “deliver us,” until this idea is mastered.
4. That the force of temptation depends on circumstances.—Apprehending danger of places and of times, we learn to pray, “Lead us not into temptation.”
5. That God is Master of circumstances, temptations, and evil.—If the ordinary man were asked which was the mightier, God or evil, if he were honest he would say, “Evil.” If a Christian were asked, he would promptly and confidently say “God.” How different life, temptation, and evil appear with or without the conception of a good God, ever-living, ever working towards goodness!
II. What should be the moral attitude of the man who prays these clauses sincerely?—His state of feeling should include:—
1. Holy fear of the power of temptation.—The sense of sin that makes us seek forgiveness, brings a sense of fear lest we should fall again. Holy fear is in perfect harmony with holy courage.
2. Conscious weakness under the subtlety of evil.—Lacking this sense of self-weakness, Adam fell.
3. Simple out-looking of the soul to God.—The attitude that assures the perfecting of God’s strength in our weakness. The attitude suggested by every sentence of the prayer.—Weekly Pulpit.
Deliver us from evil.—
I. From evil in its lower sense.—From the evils of this life; from the evils of penalty and of consequence; from outward mischief; from the vulgarism, stupidity, and malevolence of man; from sorrow, need, sickness, or any other adversity. In the sense of:—
1. Protection from them.—Such protection can at the best be only partial and relative.
2. Deliverance out of them.—God delivers,
(1) when He quickly takes the evil from us and does not suffer it to continue;
(2) when He mingles some comfort with our affliction, that He may make us bear it the better;
(3) by giving us patience;
(4) by turning the evils into greater good.
II. From evil in its higher sense, sin, the evil one. Here the sad thing is that so many who offer this prayer do not really mean it, or believe it: either they do not wish that it should be granted, like that poor African youth who prayed to God against his passions, with the secret hope, he tells us, that God would not yet hear him, that he might indulge them a little longer; or they do not believe that it can be granted, like that unhappy poet who, choosing to assume he was reprobate, set himself to secure his own damnation, and to work all uncleanness with greediness. Hear the memorable confession of St. Cyprian. He had been a pagan, rich, worldly, eloquent, entangled in pagan sins. He grew disgusted and horrified with the misery and the wickedness of the world around him, and tossing and wandering alone from truth and light, he thought he must be born again, and while still bound to the body must be changed in heart and soul. “How,” he asked, “is still conversion conceivable? How can the impulses of natural temperament and the indurations of engrained habit be laid aside, how can avarice, luxury, ostentation, ambition, be changed for self-denial and humble simplicity? Will not the drunkenness, the pride, the passion, the lust in which I have been entangled still retain their seductiveness for me?” Not so; St. Cyprian sought God and found Him, or rather was found of Him. He received a moral resurrection, and the vice-corrupted heathen became, late in life, a godly Christian, and after many years of pure and holy living, he died a martyr to his Lord.—Archdeacon Farrar.
Deliver us from evil.—“Our Father, … deliver us from evil.” The revelation of sonship is also the revelation of evil. Until we know God is Father, and we His dear children, we do not know how evil a thing is sin. It is in the light of our higher relations and possibilities that we see how evil has belittled and degraded our natures.
I. The prayer of God’s child.
1. The evil God’s child prays to be delivered from.—Many things we call evil are not so in reality. They may be but the hiding of some good, deeper than our poor minds can grasp, or the painful shocks that are bringing health and freedom for some captive child of God. Let us in our prayer remember what the evil is. Poverty is not. Suffering is not. The only real evil is sin. When we pray to be delivered from evil, we do not pray to be delivered from suffering, but from repining in suffering. We do not pray to be delivered from poverty, or calamity, or death, but from the evil in us which would prevent us from turning every loss into gain, every trial into strength, and every vicissitude in our changing experience into a means of spiritual progress.
2. This prayer is in perfect harmony with God’s purpose in redemption.—“For this is the will of God, even your sanctification.” Deliverance from evil is the great object of the Divine discipline and culture of our nature.
3. The desire shall be completely realised.
II. The reasons for using this prayer.
1. The evil is within us.—The Saviour said: “The prince of this world cometh and hath nothing in Me.” But we cannot say that. A man cannot flee from the plague of his own heart by going into a desert or shutting himself up in a cell. Doré, in his picture of the Neophyte, by a touch of genius all his own, has shown how the ideal the young man has chosen is failing to realise his hopes. In that beautiful face of his, so marvellously expressive, we see hope trembling between fear and disappointment; we see the shadows gathering over the beauty of the young man’s ideal. The brutal countenances of some of the men that surround him, the stern scowl of others, the sensual look of most, these surely cannot express the purity and beauty of God’s ideal. No; the young man has made a mistake. The picture says: The cloister is no more sacred than the world. Escape from the world is not escape from sin.
2. The evil is subtle.
3. We must be delivered from evil before our salvation is complete.—W. Hetherington.
The conclusion of the Lord’s prayer.—I. Consider the words as a doxology or thanksgiving.—
1. It is very fit in our devotions to join thanksgiving with prayer.
2. The consideration of former mercies is a great encouragement in our addresses to Almighty God.
3. The many examples we have had of God’s asserting His sovereignty, and of His exercising His power, and of the close conjunction of His honour with the happiness of His creatures, do all furnish great matter for thanksgiving.
II. Consider the words as a motive or inducement to back our petitions.—The particle “for” gives them this aspect.
III. Consider the words as directing us to the ultimate aim and end of all our petitions, which is the honour and glory of God.—Jas. Blair, M.A.
1. As it is in Thy purposes (Isaiah 14:27).
2. So it is in Thy promises (2 Corinthians 1:20).
3. So be it in our prayers (Revelation 22:20).
4. So shall it be to Thy praise (Revelation 19:4).—Hannam’s Pulpit Assistant.
Amen.—I. It is a general assent to all that went before, a fresh renewing of all the petitions.
II. It is a signification of our faith and hope to obtain what we have prayed for.—Jas. Blair, M.A.
Matthew 6:14-15. Mercy in forgiving injuries.—
I. The merciful temper and disposition required.
1. We are not to imagine that it is to be carried so far as if it left no room for a just reparation of injuries.—
(1) That it never was designed to encourage, but to prevent injuries appears both from the reasonableness of the thing, and from the approbation of the magistrate’s office in Holy Scripture.
(2) For the same reason this doctrine of forgiveness does not restrain private persons, when they are injured, from making use of the laws, judges, and magistrates, to do themselves right, after they have first in vain tried what other pacificatory methods are in their power. (a) There are many lesser injuries which the Christian doctrine of forgiveness will teach us to wink at. (b) It will teach us, if the injury is ever so great, before we have recourse to law and magistrates, to try all other amicable methods of agreement and accommodation (Matthew 18:15-17). (c) It should teach us so to manage our law-suites as to retain no malice in our hearts against our brother with whom we have the difference.
2. What is expressly required of us.—
(1) That we actually forgive and pass by many trespasses, without expecting any reparation. These are chiefly: (a) All such trespasses as have not proceeded out of malice, but ignorance, mistake, or misinformation. (b) All such trespasses as are but small in their nature and consequences. (c) All such trespasses wherein men have not so much been the principals themselves, but have been led away with a violent torrent of authority, custom, or general prejudice. (d) All such trespasses as have not been particular to them who did the injury, but common to them with a great many, and in which, perhaps, they have been obliged to execute the orders of their superiors, upon peril of their own utter ruin; for everyone has not the courage to resist an ill thing to martyrdom, and not many to the loss of places and preferments. (e) All those trespasses, which are not capable of reparation any other way than by confession and repentance, and begging pardon, provided they were only injuries to ourselves, and that the example of the impunity of them is not prejudicial to others, it is much more generous to forgive. (f) All those trespasses which flow from errors of conscience and mistaken principles of religion, provided they have no further ill effects, by raising disturbance or sedition in the State, are much better tolerated and forgiven than punished, any other way than by prudent discouragements, without persecution.
(2) That we abstain from all avenging of ourselves.
(3) This duty of forgiving men their trespasses obliges us, in the righting of ourselves, to take care that we be still in charity with our adversary, and that we harbour no malice or hatred in our hearts against him.
II. The promise made to them who perform the duty.—It will be necessary to consider the excellency of this temper of forgiving enemies, and the wickedness of the contrary disposition; for then it will appear how reasonable it is that pardon of sins is promised to the one and denied to the other. As to the excellency of this temper of pardoning trespasses:—
1. This is a good quality wherein we do most resemble God.
2. Considering that we are great sinners, who have great need of mercy at the hands of Almighty God, there is no virtue more becoming men in our circumstances.
3. Considering the frequent changes and revolutions this world is subject to, the exercise of this virtue is our greatest prudence. Neither riches, nor honour, nor power, are for ever; and in all changes and revolutions of fortune, as there are no men more kindly treated than they who were moderate and merciful in the time of their power and prosperity, so none are more despised and fall less pitied than the cruel and hard-hearted.
4. This merciful temper includes in it a great many of the very chief of the Christian virtues, to which heaven is promised.
(1) Humility is the foundation of it.
(2) Self denial.
(3) It is a certain mark of the love both of God and our neighbour prevailing in our hearts.
(4) This love and charity in the heart prevents all the usual occasions of quarrel and discord; it is apt to interpret all our neighbour’s actions in the most candid and charitable sense; it restrains the tongue from provoking injurious words, which are commonly the first beginners of differences; and occasions peace and quiet both in our own consciences, and in families, neighbourhoods, and governments, by withdrawing fuel from the fire of contention, and so extinguishing it.
III. The threatening to the contrary temper and disposition.—Without it no pardon is to be obtained. The ingredients in the composition of this evil temper:
1. Pride.—We think it below us to take an affront, or not retaliate an injury.
4. The hatred of our neighbour.
5. A contempt of the laws of God and Christ, which are so plain against revenge.
6. A spirit of unruliness, and contempt of all good order, peace, and discipline. Now let any one judge if a complication of so many ill things, expressly contrary to the doctrine and example of Christ, does not deserve to be threatened with such a severe threatening as this of my text, that our heavenly Father will not forgive such persons.—Jas. Blair, M.A.
Matthew 6:16-18. Fasting.—Properly speaking, fasting is not so much a duty enjoined by revelation as it is the natural expression of certain religious feelings and desires. There is but one special fast ordained in the Old Testament, and there is none at all ordained in the New. Yet one cannot fail to see that the exercise is, nevertheless, quite in accordance with the whole tenor of a true religious life in all ages; and that, if it is not expressly commanded, it is only because nature itself teaches us in certain circumstances thus to afflict the soul. These circumstances which would obviously suggest this exercise are twofold.
I. Fasting is the natural expression of grief, and therefore the natural accompaniment of godly sorrow.
II. Fasting is also a wise method of keeping down the law of the flesh which is in our members.
III. Our Lord counsels His people,
1. That their fasting must be real, sincere, genuine—a thing to be seen, not of men, but of God.
2. That fasting in the Christian church should be altogether private, and even secret, not only not in order to be seen of men, but absolutely hidden from them. Religion does not consist in a sour visage or morose habit; nay, more, religion is not properly a sorrowful thing. The gospel was not sad tidings, but glad tidings for all mankind, and we are not acting fairly by it unless we strive so to present it in all its winning and attractive beauty that men shall be led to seek after Jesus.—W. C. Smith.
The right manner of fasting.—
I. A commendable duty observed by the scribes and Pharisees; and which our Saviour supposes must be likewise observed by His disciples; namely, the duty of fasting.
1. The utility of fasting.—
(1) For the mortifying of lust. It is useful to mortify the sins of uncleanness by withdrawing fuel from a pampered body (1 Corinthians 9:27).
(2) It is proper as an exercise of repentance (Jonah 3:5-10).
(3) It is a great help to prayer and contemplation of divine things; and so we generally find fasting and prayer joined together (Acts 10:0). In cases of importance and difficulty, it has been the practice of the church to join fasting to their prayers in their addresses to Almighty God.
2. The abuses of fasting.—
(1) The separating from it the internal devotion and repentance, and so making it really no more than a little bodily penance (see Joel 2:13; Isaiah 58:5, etc.).
(2) The employing it for sinful purposes, for we are not to believe that fasting sanctifies the cause, but that it is the cause which sanctifies fasting (Isaiah 58:4).
(3) That is not a right fast which is made use of out of parsimony and penuriousness (Isaiah 58:7).
(4) Only to change the diet, abstaining from flesh, but eating to the full of fish and rarities. To do justice to the scribes and Pharisees, there are several of these abuses of fasting which it seems they were not guilty of at that time.
II. The abuse of this duty in those doctors, to the ends of hypocrisy, pride, and vanity (Matthew 6:16).—In these words we have both the description and condemnation of hypocrisy. The description of it—it is an ostentation of religion; and the condemnation of it is in Christ’s asseveration that they have their reward, i.e. that the popular applause and the other worldly advantages of hypocrisy is all the reward they shall have for their pains; there is no reward to be expected in the future state for such services as are performed not with an eye to God, but man. As to this description of hypocrisy, it will hold in all parts of religion. It will be no hard matter to see why our Lord does so earnestly dissuade us from it.
1. There is a great deal of disingenuity and insincerity in it, that a man should put on a mask, and never appear in his own true colours.
2. That in order to this mask, he should not be afraid to make use of such a sacred thing as religion.
3. Another ingredient in this vice is pride and vanity.
4. Covetousness and divers other vices may lurk under this cloak of hypocrisy (see Matthew 23:14).
III. Our Saviour’s direction and encouragement to the contrary exercise of humility, secrecy and sincerity in the practice of this duty. If every one cannot bear the rigour of fasting, there is another duty of great affinity with it, which our Saviour enjoins strictly to all persons and at all times; namely, temperance in eating and drinking.—Jas. Blair, M.A.
Matthew 6:19-20. Lay not up … lay up. An instance of “the idiom of exaggerated contrast.” A literal compliance with the negative half of this precept would discourage thrift, destroy commerce, and deprive the world of the manifold benefits of capital. It is plain that our Lord, in contrasting the two kinds of treasures, uses this emphatic idiom in order to point out in the most forcible way the kind which is beyond measure the more important (J. G. Carleton). Rust.—Money was frequently buried in the ground in those unsettled times, and so would be more liable to rust. Banks in the modern sense were unknown (Carr).
Matthew 6:22. Light.—Lamp (R.V.). The eye is not itself the light, but contains the light: it is the “lamp” or candle of the body, the light-conveying principle (ibid.). Full of light.—As it were all eye (Benyel).
Matthew 6:23. Evil.—I.e. affected with disease. The whole passage is on the subject of singleness of service to God (ibid.). How great is that darkness?—As the conscience is the regulative faculty, and a man’s inward purpose, scope, aim in life, determine his character, if these be not simple and heavenward, but distorted and double, what must all the other faculties and principles of our nature be, which take their direction and character from these, and what must the whole man and the whole life be, but a mass of darkness? (Brown).
Matthew 6:24. No man can serve two masters.—The application of the foregoing. Mammon.—Or mamon, was a common word in the East, among Phœnicians, Syrians and others, signifying material riches or worldly wealth. It is here personified, as a kind of god of this world (Morison).
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Matthew 6:19-24
The evils of covetousness.—The great Teacher passes here from one snare to another; from the danger of thinking too much of the praises of men to that of thinking too much of the riches of earth. When we make them our “treasure”—when we so delight in them that we always long to have more of them—that is the evil meant here. Against this “covetousness,” this craving for more, we are here warned, as being at once:
1. A great folly.
2. A greater danger.
3. A deadly offence.
I. A great folly.—This folly is shown, first, in regard to that which this spirit seeks. Is it not foolish, indeed, to make that our “treasure” which we can never reckon on keeping; which nature herself is bent on “corrupting” by all sorts of agencies which cannot be guarded against by our powers; and which the envy and covetousness of other men always desires to appropriate (Matthew 6:19)? Probable disappointment, more probable loss, certain anxiety, are the necessary results of so doing. Next, in regard to that which it misses. It misses that “treasure in heaven,” which can always be attained through the gospel; which never decays because there is nothing to defile it (cf. 1 Peter 1:4), and is never stolen because there are none to steal it. Here is the vital difference between these two aims. In earthly riches my gain is another man’s loss. In heavenly riches my gain is my neighbour’s gain too. As a mere question of prudence, therefore, seek earnestly for this heavenly treasure, and “covet” nothing beside.
II. A greater danger.—When men do bring themselves, notwithstanding all this, to prefer earthly riches to heavenly, how is it done? It is done, as it can only be done, by shutting their eyes to the truth. The “deceitfulness” of such “riches,” to use the Saviour’s own words (Matthew 13:22), blinds their minds on the subject. In other words, they bring themselves to the conclusion spoken of, by contriving to see only what they wish to see in the matter; and so, in regard to it, are without that “single” eye of which the Saviour here speaks (Matthew 6:22). But this is a kind of process which cannot be made to terminate when and as we desire. If we thus pervert the instrument we look through in order only to see what we wish to see in one direction, it will inevitably, of course, do the same when we look in another. There is no direction, in fact, in which we can rely upon it, where such is the case; and no use we can make of it which, in the end, will not rather obscure than enlighten. Such is the result of trifling, in any way, with the light; and of wilfully looking at things, as covetousness does, as they are not. No darkness can be at once more complete and more dense (Matthew 6:22-23). Who can, in anything, trust a judgment which has brought itself thus to think of earth as being higher than heaven?
III. A deadly offence.—We say this because there is more in this matter than mere perversion of judgment. Such intellectual misjudging implies also perversion of will. Devotion to wealth is more than an error—more even than such an error as leads to worse error in turn—it is also a sin. It is a sin, first, because it robs God of His due. What we ought to live for—what we ought to devote ourselves to—is obtaining His favour. If we devote ourselves to money-getting instead, we make money-getting our “god.” This is why covetousness (or πλεονεξία) is so often spoken of in the Bible as idolatry (Ephesians 5:5); and why both it and idolatry are so often compared in the Bible to the sin of unfaithfulness in the marriage relation (ibid.; 1 Corinthians 5:11, etc.). It is like a man’s taking away from his wife that exclusive love which he has promised to give her wholly all the days of his life. Also, this covetousness is sin because it transfers to the creature what it thus abstracts from the Creator (cf. Romans 1:25); and because it does so, also, to a creature or idol of a peculiarly contemptible kind. Is not this true of this money-greediness, this craving to grasp, this utter concentration on self? And is not this proved, also, by the very name we give to a man utterly under its power. We call him—and we call him rightly—a “miser” or “wretch.” We call him so because it is to such a “wretch” of an idol that he bows himself down. Hence, therefore, the peculiar offensiveness of this kind of spiritual “adultery,” and the utter impossibility of combining it with the worship of God. “Ye cannot serve God and mammon” (Matthew 6:24). Even if such double worship were possible in other cases, it would be out of the question in this.
This very difficult lesson, for such it is to us, may be further confirmed by remembering:—
1. Who traversed it at the time.—Viz. about the most unreliable teachers ever known in the world (see Luke 16:14; Matthew 23:16-17; Matthew 23:19).
2. Who afterwards received it.—Viz. the wisest teachers, after Christ, ever known in the world. Not at first, indeed, even they, when only partly knowing the truth (Matthew 19:23-25); but afterwards, when fully knowing the truth (Luke 24:44-48; John 16:12-13), acting on it in full (Acts 3:6; 1 Peter 1:18; 1 Peter 5:2); also, through their example (Acts 2:44-45; Hebrews 10:34; Hebrews 13:5); also in the case of one afterwards added to their number (1 Timothy 6:5-10; Philippians 4:11; Philippians 4:18). And thereby, indeed, only reviving, and as it were countersigning, that ancient deed and distinction of Psalms 10:3, “blessing the covetous whom the Lord abhorreth.”
HOMILIES ON THE VERSES
Matthew 6:19-21. Warning against greed.—Christ does not speak against material wealth; rather He implies in the text and words of similar meaning, that His disciples are not forbidden to accumulate the things of this world. Capital and property are necessary to social progress, civilisation, evangelisation, and the temporal well-being of mankind. But He does speak against making a god of them, and in all His teaching strikes deeply at the worldly-mindedness and disposition of those who are absorbed in “greed of gain.” Observe:
I. The treasures referred to.—Two kinds—“treasures upon earth” and “treasures in heaven,” The words contain an antithesis—
1. As to their nature.—“The treasures upon earth” are not only earthly, but earthy. “They are but earth, and it is but upon earth they are laid up,” including costly dresses and all worldly possessions. In eastern countries they treasured up gold, silver, precious stones, corn, wine, oil, and garments. To gain these the most sacred things often were bartered. So now. Character and most sacred rights have been and are sold to gain earthly treasures. But “treasures in heaven” are absolutely different in nature and tendency, and inestimably more valuable, and hence should be more diligently sought after.
2. As to their influence upon character.—“For where your treasure is” etc. This is important, for it shows clearly that wherever the heart is the man is. The betting man is at the Derby, the mercenary in his office, the politician in the strifes of ambition, etc. But if the treasure be in heaven there is a transformation.
3. As to the nature of the places where these treasures are laid up.—Which is the best place to treasure up in—“earth” or “heaven”?
(1) Earthly treasures are precarious at best. Think of the risks, etc. Riches of grace and everlasting peace and happiness are in Christ, which are the true and lasting wealth and glory of the Christian man. Paulinus, when he was told that the Goths had sacked Noia and plundered him of all that he had, lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Lord, Thou knowest where I have laid up my treasure.” It was in heaven—the right place, the only safe place.
(2) Earthly treasures are perishable—“moth and rust corrupt.” But spiritual treasures are absolutely secure and imperishable.
II. The exhortation enjoined.—“Lay up.” The love of accumulation is so strong in our nature that it behoves us to beware continually in “laying up earthly treasures” that we do not become avaricious and miserly. The prohibition, “lay not” has reference to that kind of spirit; for the more we gain and possess, the more we shall love that gain, until we become fully absorbed in it, make a god of it, and worship it. The whole of life is a treasuring up for eternity, either character “unto eternal life,” or “wrath against the day of wrath.” Use your time, your talents, your influence, your money, your life to this great and glorious end—the chief end of being.—J. Harries.
Treasures in heaven.—
I. The character of the covetous man.—He lays up for himself treasures upon earth, and not in heaven.
1. Our hearts are too much set on the world if we are strongly bent and resolved to be rich (1 Timothy 6:9).
2. If we make too much haste to be rich (Proverbs 28:20).
3. If we look on our neighbour’s thriving and prosperity with envy and discontent.
4. When we contemplate our own wealth and flourishing circumstances with too much complacence and delight. Good men delight themselves in God.
5. When we come to put our trust and confidence in our wealth; like the rich man in the Gospel, who trusted more in his full barns than in God.
6. When our time, thoughts, projects, etc., are spent chiefly on worldly things.
7. When upon any great losses, or even poverty itself coming upon us, we grow angry, peevish, and discontented.
8. Whenever, to save or increase our wealth, we betray our duty and conscience (1 Timothy 6:10; 2 Timothy 4:10).
II. Our Saviour’s dissuasive from this practice of the covetous man.—“Lay not up,” etc.
III. The reasons of this exhortation.—
1. The one is an earthly, the other a heavenly treasure.—
(1) The gross, earthly nature of these blessings. We may as well think to make fish feed upon grass and corn, and oxen live upon water and mud like fish, as to make men happy only with worldly things.
(2) But suppose they were ever so well fitted to make us happy during our stay in this world, how small a part of man’s immortal duration is included in this present life!
2. The earthly treasure is liable to perishing by divers accidents.—Some native, breeding in itself, such as moth and rust which corrupt it; some foreign, as thieves that break through and steal it; whereas the heavenly treasures are secure.
(1) They are fitted for our heaven-born souls.
(2) They last for ever.
(3) They are subject to no accidents, either of inward corruption or external violence.
3. If our treasures are upon earth they will draw our hearts after them and make them earthly too.—Consider:
(1) The influence our treasure has upon our hearts, to draw them after it. The heart runs out naturally after that which it loves best.
(2) The influence the heart has on the whole man, to govern all his thoughts, words, and actions. As the mainspring of the heart goes, the man thinks, contrives, speaks, and acts.
(3) From whence the conclusion follows very naturally, that the laying up our treasure on earth makes us worldly, and forgetful of heaven; and that the laying up our treasure in heaven makes us of a heavenly temper, and reforms the whole heart and life.—Jas. Blair, M.A.
Treasure.—According to our Lord’s metaphor, His followers are to treasure up treasures in heaven. This cannot mean to wish for high seats in heaven, with great lustre and distinction for themselves, for such desires may indicate nothing more than a new form of selfishness. The treasure must be of a more spiritual character, and such as a lowly heart may crave. It must be riches towards God and in God. It must mean the satisfaction of longings of the human spirit which the world cannot meet. It must be treasure of a calm conscience and a holy mind, resting in the love of God and sustained by the fellowship of the Spirit. The portion of the wise deserves to be called treasure because it is:—
I. Precious, as meeting not the fancy of a day or even the wants of the passing years, but the most profound requirements of the human soul, and that, too, when Divine regenerating grace has made it capable of eternal life and joy.
II. Secure, as laid up in heaven above the risk of loss.
III. Capable of indefinite increase.—D. Fraser, D.D.
The passion for hoarding.—In one of the best of his essays Montaigne tells how a passion for hoarding money possessed him at one period of his life, and plunged him in continual solicitude. “After you have once set your heart upon your heap it is no more at your service; you cannot find in your heart to break it; ’tis a building that you fancy must of necessity all tumble down to ruin if you stir but the least pebble.”—Ibid.
Dr. South’s sermon.—In the year 1699, Dr. South preached on this theme before the University of Oxford. The sermon appears in his works under the title, “No man ever went to heaven whose heart was not there before.”—Ibid.
Matthew 6:21. The heart and the treasure.—The heart follows the treasure, as the needle follows the loadstone, or the sunflower the sun.—M. Henry.
Matthew 6:22-23. Singleness of aim in the kingdom of God.—The text bears on what went before, which is, that the supreme attraction of the heart should be spiritual and heavenly and not secular and earthly. And it bears also on what follows, viz. that right and acceptable service in the kingdom of God must be a single service.
I. The truth here taught.—“The light of the body is the eye.” This expression is misleading. Literally interpreted, it is not correct. The eye is not the light, but it is the medium of light to the body, it is the window that admits light. The human eye is the most striking feature in the human constitution. It is the closest to the soul. Hence, spiritually, the great truths suggested by the text. Notice:
1. The soul of man has perceptive faculties—the spiritual eye of his moral constitution. Some say that this “eye” is the intellect, whereby we discover causes and effects, and trace their logical relation, processes, and products. But it is not the mere intellect that is suggested by the figure “eye.” Some say it is conscience, whereby we arrive at the knowledge of things unseen, the conception of God, of moral truth, and spiritual force, by which we judge of acts as right or wrong, and by which we discover the reality of the moral law and determine our character according to that law. But it cannot mean any one faculty, but the seat of all faculties and affections, purposes and inclinations; the undivided spirituality of our being, represented again and again in Scripture, as the heart.
2. The heart, the organ of sight, requires light.—We have only to open our hearts and Christ, the Light, enters.
3. The organ of sight is subject to disease.—Spiritually, there is one word expressive of moral darkness and blindness, viz. sin. No man can see either earth or sky aright, God, truth, or man aright, if the coloured glass of self is always in the window.
II. The condition specified.—“If thine eye be single,” etc. The idea conveyed by the singleness of eye is threefold:
1. Oneness.—The contemplation of one object. The heart bent on one thing.
2. Clearness.—When the eye is directed singly and steadily towards an object, and is in health, everything becomes clear, distinct, and plain.
3. Concentration.—The eye is “single” when it not only sees or lives for one thing, but also when it concentrates all its power in one direction. All thoughts and all actions are focussed in one object.
III. The inevitable result.—“The whole body shall be full of light.”
1. The blessed state of those in the kingdom of God whose aim is single.—The light of personal knowledge of salvation. The light of holiness—purity of heart. The light of peace and joy.
2. The awful result of “the evil eye.”—Full of darkness. Dark in himself and dark to every good around. He may be a man of talent, and learning, and genius, and yet blind spiritually. Darkness is a symbol of misery, adversity, and death; of ignorance and alienation, from the darkness of death to the “outer darkness.”—J. Harries.
The single and the evil eye.—
I. There is an inward light of the mind and conscience, which is to direct the moral part of our actions, as the eye directs the external motions and actions of the body.
II. Every evil affection obscures this inward light, that it cannot so well perform its duty, but is apt to mislead us into sinful courses.
III. This is particularly verified in the evil affection of covetousness or worldly-mindedness.
IV. When the inward light of the mind and conscience is darkened, this occasions a vast number of other errors and follies in the life and conversation.
V. It is our duty to use our utmost endeavours, to keep that inward light free from all clouds of evil affections and inclinations, that it may give us clear direction in all duty; and to follow those good directions in our life and conversation.—Jas. Blair, M.A.
Matthew 6:22. The single eye.—The idea conveyed by a “single eye” appears to be, from its etymology, threefold. First, it means clear, with no film; secondly, it means in opposition to double, seeing one object at a time; and thirdly, it means concentration, centred upon a focus. These three thoughts mainly go to make up the word “single,”—distinctness, oneness, fixedness.
I. Many things may give a dulness to the moral sight.
1. If it be impaired by disuse.—If you do not exercise the spiritual perception which God has given you, by meditation, by prayer and religious thought, then the perception must grow weak.
2. Things coming in between, veil and darken that higher vision. A worldly life is sure to do it. Much care will do it. Luxury will do it. But, still more, any wilful unbelief or any strong prejudice.
II. A clear eye must be often cleared.—It is the great secret of a happy, holy life—to have made up your mind, once and for all, to live for one thing—to do what is right, and to live to the glory of God. And then upon that one object you must concentrate yourself.
III. There are two worlds around us—a seen world and an unseen world; and we move equally in the midst of both. And the unseen system is far more beautiful, and far grander and more important than the system that we see. The seen is mainly the type and the shadow of the unseen. It is the unseen which is the real, for that unseen is for ever and ever. But it is not all of us who see the unseen. Few of us are seeing the unseen very distinctly, and none of us are seeing it as we might; and the reason is the state of the eye of the soul, which is as really an eye to see the unseen as that natural eye by which you gaze upon a star or by which you admire a flower.—J. Vaughan, M.A.
Matthew 6:23. The evil eye.—The eye which is sharp for self-interest is dimmed for moral insight.—W. Jackson, M.A.
Matthew 6:24. One Master only in the kingdom of heaven.—These words of the great Teacher plainly indicate not only, as in the previous verses, that the aim of the true disciple in the kingdom should be “single,” but also that the service must be single, the motive single, the purpose single, the object single, and the Master single. The object we love most rules us. Robert Hall once wrote the word “God” on a small slip of paper, showed it to a friend, and asked whether he could read it. He replied “Yes.” He then covered the word with a guinea, and again asked “Can you see it?” and was answered “No.” He did this in order to show his friend how easy it is for the world to shut out of the mind a sight and sense of God.
I. The great principle here emphasised.—“No man can serve two masters.” “Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” We desire to show the impossibility of serving two masters—God and mammon.
1. Philosophically.—Dr. Brown’s and Dugald Stewart’s proposition is irrefutable—“That the mind cannot exist, at the same moment, in two different states,” proving, so far, the great maxim of the text, that, if the mind cannot exist in two different states at the same moment, it cannot be heavenly and worldly at the same time. We cannot concentrate our mind, which is indivisible, upon more than one object. Sir Isaac Newton, it is said, was so absorbed in his endeavour to discover the law of gravitation that he knew not his surroundings; could not hear or recognise the voice and calls of his wife; and when one morning he was roasting before a big fire he called the servant to move the fire back. The servant said, “Please move back your chair, sir.” “Ah,” replied the great man, “I did not think about that!” A man must have two hearts, two souls, and two selves, before he can give a heart to God and a heart to the world too. The utter impossibility of serving two masters, God and mammon, is further shown:—
(1) God and mammon are absolutely opposites.
(2) The interests of the two are absolutely diverse.
(3) The effects of the two are absolutely different. “For either he will hate the one and love the other.” The chief point of our Lord is that the man of the world cannot be truly religious; that is, the man that makes worldly gain supreme—such a man, generally speaking, hates religion.
II. The important truths here implied.—The key-word is “serve.” A man may try to serve God and mammon, because self is so dear, and the world is so sweet; but Jesus Christ shows that even the attempt is an absurdity. The practical truths inferred are—
1. That religion is a spiritual service.
2. That religion demands one supreme object.—“Serve God.”
3. That religion requires wholeness of heart in its service.
4. That religion implies the power of choice.—God or mammon. Which?
5. That religion teaches and enforces the necessity of immediate and manly decision.—We act upon decisions. When Alexander the Great was asked how he conquered the world, he answered, “By not delaying.”—J. Harries.
Neutrality.—“Of all unsuccessful men in any shape, whether Divine, human, or devilish,” says a secular historian, “there is no equal to Bunyan’s ‘Facing-both-ways’; the fellow with one eye on heaven and one on earth, who sincerely professes one thing and sincerely does another, and from the intensity of his unreality is unable either to see or feel the contradiction; he is substantially trying to cheat both God and the devil, and in reality only cheating himself and his neighbours. This, of all characters upon the earth, appears to us to be one of which there is no hope at all—a character becoming in these days alarmingly abundant.” Now, no one who. has learnt the lesson of the gospel will say of any character that there is no hope for it at all But it is true that this class of characters, the insincere professors, the Mr. Anythings, are hardest of all to deal with.
I. The characteristics of neutrality.—Scripture is full of indications of the peril and shame of this compromise—e.g. Samaritans, Israelites, Laodiceans, Balaam, Pilate, young ruler who made “the great refusal.” And Scripture being thus full of warnings, the significance of those warnings has not been lost upon the great Christian teachers—e.g. Dante, Bunyan (man with the muck rake). In the precincts of this insincere religion good and evil are not wrestling as they should be, shoulder to shoulder, in an irreconcilable antagonism, but they are feebly walking together, hand in hand, in futile amity.
II. The causes of neutrality.—Mainly two.
1. Indolence and unbelief.
2. Some besetting sin.—With one man it is drink, with another it is gold, with another it is envy, hatred, or refusal to forgive; with others it is impurity. And thinking that they can give the rest of their heart to God, men try to reserve this one dark corner, this one secret chamber of unhallowed imagery for their own idolatry. St. Augustine tells us, in his terrible Confessions, that in his unconverted days he used indeed to pray to God to deliver him from lusts of the flesh, but he prayed with the great desire that God would not hear him yet, because he still desired to live in their base indulgence.
III. The issue of neutrality.—Death. The poet saw in the lowest hell the soul of the Prior Elbrigo, and was amazed because he knew that the man was still alive; but when he asks for explanation he receives the awful answer that sometimes a man seems to live above, and eat, and drink, and sleep, and put on clothes, but in reality his soul is sunk down even in his life-time into the abyss; he has become that most fearful kind of ghost—not a soul without a body, but a body without a soul. Give up this shameful attempt to deceive God by semblances and shams! Be not like that Dead Salt Sea, of which it has been said that it reflects heaven on its surface and hides Gomorrha in its heart.—Archdeacon Farrar.
Mammon the greatest of all idols.—
1. The idol of all times.
2. The idol of all nations.
3. The idol of all unconverted hearts.
4. The origin of all idolatry.
5. The first and the last among all the hidden idols of God’s people, both under the Old and the New Testament.—J. P. Lange, D.D.
Matthew 6:24-34. Greed and care.—On the one side must be shunned the Scylla of greed, on the other the Charybdis of care.—J. M. Gibson, D.D.
Matthew 6:25. Therefore.—Denoting a connection between the service of mammon and “taking thought.” Take no thought.—Be not anxious (R.V.). Life.—The Greek word is the same as that commonly rendered “soul,” and the passage is interesting as an example of its use in the wider sense, which includes the lower as well as the higher life (Plumptre.)
Matthew 6:26. Fowls.—Old English for birds.
Matthew 6:27. Stature.—The Greek word admits either this meaning (as in Luke 19:3, and perhaps Luke 2:52), or that of age (as in John 9:21; John 9:23, and Hebrews 11:24). The latter best satisfies the teaching of the context. Men are not anxious about adding to their stature. They are often anxious about prolonging their life (Plumptre).
Matthew 6:28. Lilies of the field.—The hill-sides of Galilee are clothed in spring, not only with what we call “lilies,” but with the crown imperial, and the golden amaryllis, and crimson tulips, and anemones of all shades from scarlet to white, to say nothing of the commoner buttercups and dandelions and daisies; and all these are probably classed roughly together under the generic name of “lilies” (ibid.). Dr. Thomson (Land and Book, p. 256), thinks the Hûleh lily is meant, but Canon Tristram (Natural History of the Bible) claims this honour for the beautiful and varied anemone coronaria.
Matthew 6:30. The grass of the field.—The wild flowers which form part of the meadow growth, are counted as belonging to the grass, and are cut down with it. Cut grass which soon withers from the heat, is still used in the East for firing (Alford). The oven.—A large round pot of earthen or other materials, two or three feet high, narrow towards the top. This being first heated by a fire made within, the dough or paste was spread upon the sides to bake, thus forming cakes (Abbott).
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Matthew 6:25-34
The perils of prudence.—Covetousness is one thing, prudence is another. The one craves more than enough. The other is satisfied with a competency. Can it ever be wrong for us to labour for this? Especially, can it be so, when our labours are undertaken not so much for ourselves as for others? It may be so, even in that case—so the Saviour teaches us here—if the spirit in which we do so be that of distraction and doubt. Even in being prudent, never be “anxious” as well. Four times over, in slightly differing forms, this counsel is given us here (Matthew 6:25; Matthew 6:28; Matthew 6:31; Matthew 6:34). The considerations which here support it may be put down as three. Never be anxious because such anxiety is:—
I. Wholly uncalled for.—Wholly uncalled for, in the first place, by the nature of the case. He who gave the “life” and made the “body” can do for both all that is needed. If the original and greater was in His power, much more is the subsequent and the less. It cannot be impossible for Him to provide raiment and food (Matthew 6:25)! Wholly uncalled for, next, by anything taught us from the observation of nature. In the creatures God has made we see living evidence of the non-necessity for such anxiety. The “fowls of the air” (Matthew 6:26) are not anxious, the “lilies of the field” (Matthew 6:28) cannot be, yet their wants are supplied. May not those, therefore, who are “better than they” (Matthew 6:26) look without “anxiety” for the same? May not they rely on the Fatherly hand which thus reaches beneath them, to reach as low as them too? Not called for, lastly, by the nature of the resources which have been placed in our hands. What can we do with the powers possessed by us, to provide with certainty for ourselves? Will any amount of anxiety suffice to make us certain as to the supply of our needs? Will it add to our stature? Will it lengthen our lives? (so some). Much less can it do for us what we see God do for the flowers, when, without anxiety on their part, and although they are but for a day, He “clothes” them with a degree of glory which the most favoured of men cannot obtain for themselves. Why, in a word, should we suppose ourselves “called” to attempt what He has made us unable to do? Rather, why should we suppose, what such “anxiety” implies, that He has left that task on our hands?
II. Most dishonouring to our Father.—Dishonouring, on the one hand, because it reflects on His power. To be “anxious” is to imply that He cannot do what He has undertaken to do; or, that there are doubts about it at least. It is to regard Him as having done the greater, but as being incompetent for the less. It is to “limit the Holy One of Israel” (Psalms 78:41), a grievous sin indeed, in regard to His ability to provide. And to be, in a word, like those disciples of Christ at a subsequent date, who, after seeing their Master twice over feed thousands of men by His word, thought He was blaming them for having “forgotten” to provide for a few (Matthew 16:7). “Can He give bread also, or provide flesh for His people?” There is more than doubt, there is the spirit of complaint, in that question. Dishonouring, on the other hand, because it reflects on God’s love. Those heathen people (Matthew 6:32) who did not know God as He is, might be almost excused, if not wholly pardoned, for the questions they asked (Matthew 6:31). Not so those professed “disciples” who are here addressed by the Saviour. These He had taught, only a little before, to address God as their “Father in heaven”; and, therefore, to ask from Him, as being such, the “daily” supply of their wants. For Him, therefore, to “know” their wants—as of course He did, being their Father in heaven—was also, of course, being their Father, to care for and supply them. And for such, therefore, to be “anxious” about them was to deny both of these truths. What would become of His love, indeed, if He could and knew, yet omitted to do?
III. Most injurious to ourselves.—Most injurious because doubly so, and in two different ways. Most injurious, first, because of that of which we deprive ourselves in this way. Putting the kingdom of God first, and leaving all else in His hands, is to obtain that kingdom, and all its happy “righteousness,” and all these other things too. For God Himself in that case is pleased to “add” them to us so far as this can be, and is well. On the other hand, to seek these other things first and be “anxious” therefore about them, is to gain them in appearance only, if to gain them at all; and to miss altogether that kingdom of God which should have been sought by us first. Most injurious, in the next place, because of that which we attain to thereby. For what is it that we are really doing when we are thus anticipating the evils of the future, and when our present thoughts are thus taken up with the possible evils of to-morrow? We are making those possibilities, by so doing, the certain evils of to-day. And we are voluntarily “adding” them, by so doing, to what are great enough as it is! So exactly opposite, therefore, both in spirit and issue, are the two courses in view. God, in the one case, whilst giving us His chiefest blessing, “adds” others beside. We, in the other case, whilst keeping our daily troubles, add others beside!
The best application of this teaching is that of the Saviour Himself. Seek His kingdom—seek it first—seek it just as it is. This seems the special significance of the word “righteousness” in this case. For what in fact, and in strict essence, is the “kingdom of God”? The Apostle shall tell us: It is “righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost” (Romans 14:17). So also the psalmist has spoken (Psalms 85:10), so the prophet averred (Isaiah 32:17). There is a seeking of the kingdom in which these things are forgotten. That is no seeking at all, or rather it is seeking a kingdom which cannot exist. Only where we are seeking “peace” through the blood of the cross; only where, as a proof of this, we are led by the Spirit, are our feet really on the way to that “kingdom which can never be moved” (Hebrews 12:28).
HOMILIES ON THE VERSES
Matthew 6:25-34. Distrustful anxiety.—This distrustful anxiety for food and raiment in time to come, which is a branch of covetousness, covered with the appearance of necessity, our Lord refutes by eight reasons.
1. God, who hath given life, which is more than food, will take care to provide food for maintenance of life, so long as He hath appointed life to continue; and God, who hath framed the body, which is more worth than the raiment, will also provide a garment.
2. God, who provides food for birds and fowls, will certainly provide for His own children.
3. Anxious care about the success of means cannot produce any good effect; therefore it should not be entertained, for even when a man hath eaten, he cannot make himself stronger or more tall than it shall please God to dispose.
4. God doth clothe the grass and flowers of the field with more colours than all the glory which Solomon’s garments had; therefore anxiety in God’s children for food and raiment (as if God were not careful for them) is unlawful.
5. Anxious seeking of the things of this earth is the fault of the Gentiles, who are destitute of the knowledge of God and ignorant of these heavenly things prepared for His children; therefore Christians, who are better instructed, should eschew this godless anxiety.
6. Christians are not fatherless, nor is their Father ignorant, unable or careless about them.
7. You have the kingdom of God and His righteousness whereupon to bestow your first and chiefest cares, which, if you seek after earnestly, ye shall not need to be anxious for food or raiment, or any other needful thing on earth, for all these things shall be superadded unto the grant of your chief desires.
8. The morrow shall bring with it troublesome cares of its own; and the day, or the time present, hath sufficient trouble by itself; therefore neither time present nor time to come should be rendered more miserable by anxious anticipating of troublesome cares before they come.—David Dickson.
Undue anxiety reproved, and the chief good urged, in the kingdom of God.—“Therefore” introduces the winding up of the argument respecting the unity of aim, of purpose, of object, of life, which Jesus Christ has been earnestly urging in the previous verses.
I. A prohibition.—“Take no thought,” etc. The Bible teaches us, and the instinct of self-preservation binds us, and self-respect constrains us to the wisdom of foresight. We are made to look forward. We are naturally anticipative. But Jesus Christ speaks of a very common evil—an undue anxiety and care. To be careful is good, but to be full of care is ruinous. “Take no excessive or harassing thought for the morrow,” because:
1. It is injurious to yourselves.—It makes you unhappy; it confuses your mind; it clouds your perceptions; it ages you; it breaks you down; it is inconsistent with the spirit of Christianity.
2. It incapacitates you for life’s success.—Success in life depends upon the wholesome restfulness of the mind.
3. It is a sin against God.—It is a sign of distrust; it ignores His fatherly care; and it gives the lie to His precious promises.
II. The reasons adduced for such a prohibition.
III. The divine command enforced.—“But seek ye first the kingdom of God,” etc. This is the positive side of duty. We are taught—
1. That “seeking the kingdom” must be our chief concern.
2. That this search shall be rewarded.—“All these things shall be added unto you.” “Providence will be your mighty partner and helper in the business.” “Other things being equal,” says Livermore, “the good man prospers better in worldly affairs than the bad man. All vices are expensive and losing, as all the virtues are gainful and thrifty.” “Godliness is profitable unto all things,” etc.—J. Harries.
Matthew 6:26-30. Nature and nature’s God.—Perhaps the first thought that occurs as one recalls these words, is the unbounded admiration which our Lord manifested for the world of nature. Of Tauler, the mystic, it is recorded that his constant custom was to wander in the convent garden with his monk’s hood well drawn over his face and his eyes partially closed, lest the sight of the flowers might disturb his meditation. But, though Tauler was a true Christian and one to whom the fifteenth century owed a great debt of gratitude, for the seeds of the reformation were already sown in his heart, he was in this respect utterly unlike his Master. If, then, we give ourselves up to the thoughtful admiration of the world in which we live; if we open our eyes to see its beauty, and, from the more or less sordid and belittling enterprises in which we are called to take part, let our hearts go out with wistful gladness to the good and beautiful works of God, we are following in the footsteps of the Master Himself; and as He pleased God in this as in all respects, so do we please Him when we admire the works of His hands. More than this, we train our spirits to rise above the common circumstances of our lot into thoughts of illimitable freedom and range. I think one great value of these beautiful words consists in this, that they show us very clearly the two vital characteristics which distinguished Christ’s delight in nature from that of most men.
I. He saw God’s hand in the visible creation.—In everything around Him He saw tokens which told Him God had been at work, making all things beautiful in their season.
II. He saw how infinitely more precious in God’s sight is the human soul than all these works of His hands.—“If God so clothe the grass,” etc.—G. E. Troup, M.A.
Matthew 6:26. God’s children and the fowls.—
I. We excel the fowls of the air in regard of the better circumstances we are in to provide for our wants than they: for that we can and are allowed to sow, and reap, and gather into barns, which they cannot do.
II. But these words, Are ye not much better than they? signify likewise the greater dignity of men above fowls, and that upon that account likewise they may expect to be more immediately taken care of by God’s providence.—Jas. Blair, M.A.
Matthew 6:27. Anxiety hurtful to life and youth.—The word which we translate “stature” signifies likewise “age,” and especially the most flourishing time of one’s age, when we are in the prime of our youth and strength. The bare adding a cubit to the stature seems uncouth, and a thing which the anxious man would not desire, whereas the adding to life, especially the youthful and prosperous time of it, is a thing which most men would desire.
I. Anxiety, as to the world is needless, as neither adding to life, nor to the comfortable part of it, but is rather hurtful to both. Example, 1 Samuel 25:37.
II. A cheerfulness and resignation, which are quite contrary to anxiety, are of great use in all the parts of life (Proverbs 17:22.)—
1. Whatsoever troubles beset us, they are either things within our power to remedy or not. If they are within cur power to remedy, there is no temper of mind so fit to apply those remedies, as the cheerful, resigned temper. But that it may more distinctly be apprehended what advantage this temper has above the solicitous and anxious one, to wrestle with the difficulties of life, I shall instance some particulars which unfit the anxious man for going cheerfully through the business of life, but are easily overcome by the cheerful man who puts his trust in God’s providence.
(1) He who believes a concurrence of divine providence with his own endeavours, acts with another sort of life and vigour than the man that goes only upon his own skill and strength (see 1 Samuel 17:45).
(2) As the man, who is free from anxiety goes upon his business with more courage, so he takes much more pleasure and satisfaction in it.
(3) If difficulties and troubles occur in business, the anxious man, instead of bearing them with patience, magnifies and multiplies them in his own mind, by his disturbed imagination and illboding fears; whereas the man, who is clear from anxiety, has a great deal of reason still to hope for the best; and though he cannot see through all the intricacy and difficulty in his affairs, yet being conscious to himself of the honesty and goodness of his designs, and having a firm, implicit faith in God, he is not discomposed in his thoughts, knowing that God, if He sees it best for him, will bring to pass whatever he is about; or if He sees it will prove to his hurt will disappoint him in that particular, but will answer his expectation in general, and make all things co-operate for his good (Psalms 37:3, etc.).
2. There are a great many other troubles which are altogether out of our reach, and which we can no way think of removing, and must therefore be patiently endured, if we intend any peace and quiet with respect to them. Now as to all these, the man who is free from anxious and solicitous thoughts has much the advantage, from the temper of his mind, to live easy and quiet under them.—Jas. Blair, M.A.
Matthew 6:28. The lessons of the lilies.—I. Consider the lilies—and identify little things with God’s care.—Can you make a lily? You cannot make a sun; can you make one drop of dew? God writes minutely as well as largely. He writes the great letters of the stars; He writes also the small letters of the violets and daisies.
II. Consider the lilies—and see the superiority of the natural over the artificial.—Let the glorious dress of the king represent the artificial. God makes the original; man makes the copy. For all originality—mental and moral, as well as physical—we must go to the Father.
III. Consider the lilies—and look on things beneath, as well as on things above.—Look for God when thou lookest at the dust. The dust is alive with the life of God.
IV. Consider the lilies—and have faith in your Father.—Think of God clothing the grass and forgetting the child! It is impossible. Let a lily detach itself from its root, and it must perish. So with man. Let him cut himself off from God, and he will become as a withered and driven leaf.—J. Parker, D.D.
Flowers.—We are now “at school.” Surrounded by educational agencies and influences. Chief lesson-book the Bible. But we have another of God’s lesson-books in nature. Nature a book of illustrations of biblical truth. Christ used it freely. Would have us use it too. The seasons replete with instruction and suggestiveness. Summer, the season of flowers. Not only do they adorn our gardens, but make “a variegated embroidery on the green mantle of our meadows and commons.” Whether we will or not they influence us. But our will is to be brought into action. We are to “consider the lilies.” It was evidently to wild flowers that Christ called the attention of His disciples—“lilies of the field.” Palestine a land of flowers. We may regard Christ as directing attention to all the floral world, using the specific for the generic.
“Your voiceless lips, O Flowers, are living preachers,
Each cup a pulpit, and each leaf a book.”
I. Flowers manifest God’s love of beauty.—They are embodiments of divine ideas and sentiments. We manifest a God-like quality when we admire what is really beautiful in nature or art. God delights in “the beauty of holiness.” In His beloved Son He was well-pleased because He was perfect in this respect. And He delights in us in proportion as we resemble Him.
II. Flowers exhibit God’s exceeding generosity—His bountifulness.—Mary Howitt has said:—
“God might have made the earth bring forth
Enough for great and small,
The oak tree and the cedar tree,
Without a flower at all.
He might have made things grow enough
For every want of ours,
For luxury, medicine, and toil,
And yet have made no flowers.”
William Wilberforce used to call flowers, “the smiles of God’s goodness,” and a poet has described them as “God’s thoughts of beauty taking form, to gladden mortal gaze.” They testify to the happiness of the ever-blessed God and to His desire that we should participate in it.
III. Flowers teach God’s loving care of all His creatures—the small as well as the great.—This is the lesson which our Lord specially enforced. We are despondent; we should be trustful and contented.
IV. Flowers speak to us of resurrection and immortality.—Though the flowers pass away with the summer, the next summer will see the face of the earth enamelled and adorned again. And there will be an important connection between the life and beauty of the next year and the decay and death of this. Thus, the flowers are
“Emblems of our own great resurrection,
Emblems of the bright and better land.”
H. M. Booth.
Matthew 6:33. Geography, arithmetic and grammar. (To boys.)—
I. Geography tells us where to find places. Where is the kingdom of God? Heaven is only the capital of the kingdom of God; the Bible is the guide-book to it; the church is the weekly parade of those who belong to it. “The kingdom of God is within you.” Every kingdom has its exports, its products. What comes from the kingdom of God? “The kingdom of God is righteousness, peace, and joy.”
II. Arithmetic.—Are there any arithmetic words in the text? “First,” “added.”
1. You see at once why Christ tells us to seek these first—because they are the best worth seeking. Do you know anything better than these three things, anything happier, purer, nobler? If you do, seek them first. But if you do not, seek first the kingdom of God. It is not worth seeking the kingdom of God unless you seek it first. Suppose you take the helm out of a ship and hang it over the bows, and send that ship to sea, will it ever reach the other side? Certainly not. It will drift about anyhow. Keep religion in its place, and it will take you straight through life, and straight to your Father in heaven when life is over. But if you do not put it in its place you may just as well have nothing to do with it. There was a boy in Glasgow apprenticed to a gentleman who made telegraphs. The gentleman told me this himself. One day this boy was up on the top of a four-story house with a number of men fixing up a telegraph wire. The work was all but done. It was getting late, and the men said they were going away home, and the boy was to nip off the ends of the wire himself. Before going down they told him to be sure to go back to the workshop, when he was finished, with his master’s tools. “Do not leave any of them lying about, whatever you do,” said the foreman. The boy climbed up the pole and began to nip off the ends of the wire. It was a very cold winter night, and the dusk was gathering. He lost his hold and fell upon the slates, slid down, and then over into the air, down almost to the ground. A clothes rope stretched across the “green” on to which he was just about to fall, caught him on the chest and broke his fall; but the shock was terrible, and he lay unconscious amongst some clothes upon the green. An old woman came out; seeing her rope broken and the clothes all soiled, thought the boy was drunk, shook him, scolded him, and went for the policeman. And the boy with the shaking came back to consciousness, rubbed his eyes, got upon his feet. What do you think he did? He staggered, half blind, away up the stairs. He climbed the ladder. He got on to the roof of the house. He gathered up his tools, put them into his basket, took them down, and when he got to the ground again fainted dead away. Just then the policeman came, saw there was something seriously wrong, and carried him away to the infirmary, where he recovered after some time, and is now doing well. What was his first thought at that terrible moment? His duty! He was not thinking of himself; he was thinking about his master. First the kingdom of God.
2. But there is another arithmetic word, “added.” Very few people know the difference between addition and subtraction when they begin to talk about religion. They always tell boys that if they seek the kingdom of God everything else is to be subtracted from them. I do not mean by added that if you become religious you are all going to become rich. God pays in better coin.
III. Grammar.—What is the verb? “Seek.” What mood is it in? The imperative mood. It is a thing that must be done, because we are commanded to do it by our Captain.—Prof. H. Drummond.
The righteousness of the kingdom.—Our Lord carries His principle (ch. Matthew 5:17-18) all round the practical life of man, and points out how in every part of conduct He heightens obligation. But this is all summed up under two more general characteristics which are to mark all righteousness of His kingdom.
I. The first of these characteristics is that so far from being lax it was to exceed the righteousness of the most exemplary of their contemporaries, the scribes and Pharisees. Notice the prominence given in Matthew 5:20 to the word περισσεύσῃ. “Except your righteousness exceed that of those whom you regard as irreproachable, ye shall in no case,” etc.
1. The externality of Pharisaic righteousness is in Christ’s kingdom to be exchanged for inwardness (Matthew 5:21, etc., Matthew 6:15, etc.). The Pharisee may have the right outward appearance; but, after all, this may be only the fleece laid on, not produced from the animal’s nature, the fruit artificially adhering where it never grew.
2. The righteousness of the kingdom of God is to exceed that of the Pharisees in spontaneity. What the Pharisee did he did on compulsion. Our Lord lays His finger on this damning blot in Matthew 6:2, etc., (“hypocrites”). Delitzsch, in one of his little tracts, draws a picture of a Jerusalem Pharisee contriving that he should be surprised by the hour of prayer in the open street, and straightway girding on his ponderous phylacteries, and making his prostrations. What is done through fear or compulsion, or with a selfish end in view, rises no higher than its source.
II. The righteousness of Christ’s kingdom was also to exceed the righteousness currently required among men (Matthew 5:46-47). Christians are not to be content with rivalling natural and everyday virtues. There must be a principle in virtue which applies to the whole of man and to the whole of life; which creates virtues where before there were none, which touches human nature at its roots, and radically purifies and ennobles it.—Prof. Marcus Dods, D.D).
The chief object of pursuit.—
I. There is an order and relative value in the objects of our human pursuit.—Very much of the confusion and mistake of life comes from the inversion of the true order. We are placed at grave disadvantage in deciding the relative merit of the claims made on our thought and time by the disturbing influence of sin. The pleasant rules us rather than the right. But in our text our Lord says: There is one great end and purpose in your being, and that you must put the very first of all. There may be intermediate ends and objects which rightly call for your attention, but there is one which must never be forgotten. You were made for God, to love Him, to serve Him, to praise Him, to live in fellowship with Him, to do and to bear His holy will. “Seek ye first His kingdom and righteousness.” The true order then of our human pursuits is: first, God; second, others; third, self. Or to express it in another form: first, righteousness; second, duty; third, pleasure. Confuse or misplace these, and your life can never unfold into its perfect beauty. The “kingdom of God” is this: The rule of God over every part of our being, and over every aspect of our relationship. When, therefore, our Lord urges us to seek first the kingdom, we may express His meaning in words of our own and say: “Seek to do everything thou doest as unto God. Nay, more, in everything strive to be like God. Seek His ‘righteousness’ as well as His ‘kingdom.’ ”
II. That which is worthy to be the first object of human pursuit ought to be always in its first place.—The rudder sways to either side by the movement of the waves; it needs a firm hand ever upon the wheel, to hold it so that the prow shall point for the harbour. Firm, constantly renewed resolve is needed in order to hold our soul, steadily and continuously moving amid the winds and waves and currents of life, towards righteousness and God. The psalmist says, “I have set the Lord alway before me.” Can we then estimate some of these hindering influences against which we need to be on our guard, and against which we should anxiously and persistently strive? Three things claim our notice:
1. The intensity of business may repress the endeavour to live an earnest life for God.
2. The fulness of living in our times makes it hard to live our life really setting God and righteousness first.
3. The current of public opinion is often against setting the kingdom of God first. He who would follow the Lord fully must dare to be singular.—Weekly Pulpit.
Matthew 6:34. Crossing the bridge before you come to it.—The sin of borrowing trouble. Such a habit of mind and heart is wrong:—
I. Because it puts one into a despondency that ill fits him for duty.—Our dispositions, like our plants, need sunshine.
II. Because it has a tendency to make us overlook present blessing.
III. Because the present is sufficiently taxed with trial.—God sees that we all need a certain amount of trouble, and so He apportions it for all the days and years of our life.
IV. Because it unfits us for misfortune when it actually does come.
V. Because it is unbelief.—T. De W. Talmage, D.D.
Anxiety for the morrow forbidden.—
I. The precept by way of antithesis or opposition to anxiety. “Take therefore no thought,” etc. There is a certain care for the future which is proper for the present time. The Israelites gathered a double portion of manna on the sixth day, to serve them both for that day and the following Sabbath. This precept I take to be only a prohibition of those cares, which are more proper for the future than for the present time. We are not to think it unlawful, if God gives us opportunity, to lay up for sickness or old age, or for the provision of wife and children, so that it be done without anxiety or carking care.
II. The enforcement of this precept.—The reasons are two:
1. That the morrow, or future time, when it comes, will be more proper to take care of its own matters than any time at a distance from it.
(1) It is not certain we shall ever see this future time, for which we are so anxious and solicitous, and in that case all our labour is like to be lost.
(2) It is impossible, supposing we may live to that time, to foresee so long before what circumstances we shall then be in, so as to answer them exactly by all our pre-anxiety.
(3) It is very possible, if we take our aim in the dark, that we may do more hurt than good by the methods we shall lay down.
(4) Our circumstances may chance so much to alter, that when we come to that futurity itself, and to see all the circumstances of it in a true light, we shall then wish that we had taken other measures, and shall begin to pull down what with all our anxiety we had been building up.
2. That the present time has enough to do with its own cares. “Sufficient unto the day,” etc.—Jas. Blair, M.A.
Be not anxious for the morrow.—No precept of divine wisdom has found so many echoes in the wisdom of the world. Epicurean self-indulgence, Stoic apathy, practical common-sense, have all preached the same lesson, and bidden men to cease their questionings about the future. That which was new in our Lord’s teaching was the ground on which the precept rested. It was not simply the carpe diem—“make the most of the present”—of the seeker after a maximum of enjoyment (Hor., Od., I. xi. 8) nor the acceptance by man’s will of an inevitable destiny, nor the vain struggle to rise above that inevitable fate. Men were to look forward to the future calmly, to avoid the temper
To cast the fashion of uncertain evils,”
because they had a Father in heaven who cared for each one of them with a personal and individualising love.—E. H. Plumptre, D.D.
The sunset limit.—Of all the blessed guards placed by Holy Scripture along the Christian’s way to keep him from presumption, on the one hand, or despair, on the other, the most divinely helpful is the sunset limit. If we obey with childlike simplicity our Saviour’s command: “Take no [anxious] thought for the morrow,” all the intolerable part of the burden is lifted from us. We can bear whatever comes to us between the sun’s rise and set, for alongside of this command about taking no thought beyond the day stands a starry promise—is there not always a promise waiting upon a command?—that “as thy days, so shall thy strength be.”—Christian World Pulpit.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Matthew 6". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany