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Bible Commentaries

Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the New Testament

Matthew 6

Verse 1

Observe here, 1. The duty directed to, almsgiving after a right manner; Do not your alms before man: some copies read it, Do not your rigteousness before men: because almsgiving is a considerable part of that righteousness and justice which we owe unto our neighbour: he that is uncharitable is unjust: acts of charity are acts of justice and equity. It also intimates to us, that the matter of our alms should be goods righteously gotten: to give alms of what is gotten unjustly, is robbery, and not righteousness.

Observe, 2. Our Savoiur's cautionary direction in giving alms, Take heed that you do them not be seen of men. It is one thing to do our alms that men may see them, and another thing to do them that we may be seen of men. We ought to do alms before men, that God may be glorified: but not to be seen of men, that ourselves may be applauded.

Observe, 3. The particular sin which our Saviour warns his disciples against in giving their alms, namely, ostentation and vain-glory, which the Pharisees wre notoriously guilty of: Sounding a trumpet, to call people about them when they gave their alms.

Thence learn, That the doing any good work, especially any work of charity and mercy, vain-gloriously, and not with an eye to God's glory, will certainly miss of the reward of well-doing in another world.

Observe, 4. The advice given by our Saviour for the prevention of this sin and danger; and that is, to do our alms as secretly as we can; Let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: that is, conceal it from thy nearest relations, and, if possible, from thyself.

Note thence, That the secrecy of our charity is one good evidence of its sincerity. Hence the Egyptians made the emblem of charity to be a blind boy reaching out honey to a bee that had lost her wings.

Verse 5

Here our Saviour warns his disciples against the same Pharisaical hypocrisy in praying, which he had before reproved in almsgiving. It was lawful to pray in the synagogues, and to pray standing, and that before men; but to do this upon design to be applauded by men, is condemned by Christ. Our business in prayer lies with God; we are not to concern ourselves how men like our performances; it is sufficient if God doth approve and will accept them. To cure the foregoing vanity, Christ directs to secret prayer, in our closets, where God is the witness, and will be the rewarder of our sincerity.

Note, That secret prayer is a commanded and encouraged duty, and when in sincerity performed, shall be attended with a public and glorious reward; Pray to thy Father which is in secret, &c.

Verse 7

A vain-glorious ostentation in prayer was condemned by our Saviour in the former verse; here a vain-glorious multiplicity of words, by idle tautologies and impetinent repetitions, is condemned also; after the manner of the heathens, who expected to have their prayers granted by God, for the multiplicity of words used by themselves.

Hence note, That a Christian's business in prayer being not to inform God (for he knoweth what things we need before we ask him) nor yet to move and persuade God (for he is our Father) it certainly argues an undue apprehension of God, when we lengthen out our prayers with vain repetitions and a multitude of words.

Yet note, 1. That it is not all repetition of the same words in prayer which Christ here condemns, for he himself prayed thrice, using the same words, that the cup might pass from him.

Nor, 2. Are we to apprehend that prayers continued to a considerable length are forbidden by Christ; for Solomon's prayer was such, 1 Kings 8 . In Nehemiah 9:1-Isaiah :, it is said, the people confessed, and worshipped for three hours; Christ continued in prayer all night; and the church, Acts 7 , made prayers without ceasing for St. Peter's enlargement.

And we read of St. Paul's praying night and day, 1 Thessalonians 3:10, and of his commanding the churches to be instant in prayer, and to continue in prayer. But Christ here condemns prayers lengthened out upon an apprehension that we shall be heard by our much speaking, or can move God by arguments, whilst we continue in our sins. (Dr. Whitby)

Verse 9

As if Christ had said, For preventing these and all other faults in prayer, I will myself give you a complete form of prayer, and an exact pattern and platform for your imitation when you pray.

Note, That the Lord's Prayer is both a perfect form of prayer which ought to be used by us, and also a pattern and platform, according to which all our prayers ought be framed. St. Matthew says, After this manner pray ye: St. Luke says, When ye pray, say,

-"Our father which art in heaven; Hallowed be thy name: 10 Thy kingdom come: Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven: 11 Give us this day our daily bread: 12 And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. 13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.

The sense and signification of this best of prayers, is this: "O thou our Father in Jesus Christ! who remainest on thy throne in heaven, and art there perpetually praised, and perfectly obeyed by glorious angels and glorified saints; grant that thy name may be glorified, thy throne acknowledge, and thy holy will obeyed, here on earth below, by us thy sons and servants, proportion to what is done in heaven.

And because, by reason of the frailty of our natures, we cannot subsist without the comforts and supports of life, we crave, that such a proportion of the good things of this life may be given unto us, as may be sufficient for us; and that we may be content with our allowance.

And knowing that thy holiness and justice oblige thee to punish sin and sinners, we plead with thee, for the sake of thy Son's satisfaction, to pardon to us our daily trespasses, which we are guilty of in this state of imperfection; as we so freely and heartily forgive others that have offended and wronged us.

And seeing that by reason of the frailty of our natures we are prone to rush upon and run into temptation; we crave that, by the power of thy omnipotent grace, we may be kept from Satan's temptations, from the world's allurements, from our own evil inclinations, and be preserved unblamable to thine everlasting kingdom; which is exalted over all persons, over all places, over all things, in all times, past, present, and to come: and accordingly, in testimony of our desires, and in assurance to be heard and answered, we say Amen; so be it; so let it be, even so, O Lord, let it be for ever."

More particularly, in this comprehensive and compendious prayer, the following severals are remarkable.

Namely, 1. That the learned observe, that this prayer is taken our of the Jewish liturgies, in which it is entirely found, excepting these words, As we forgive them that trespass against us.

From whence Grotius notes, how far Christ the Lord of his Chursh was from affecting novelties, or despising anything because it was a form; a piece of piteous weakness amongst some at this day.

Observe, 2. The person to whom Christ directs us to make our prayers; namely, to God, under the notion of a Father; teaching us, that in all our religious addresses to God, we are to conceive of him, and pray unto him, under the notion and pray unto him, under the notion and relation of a Father. Our Father, &c.

So is he by creation, by a right of providence and preservation, by redemption, by outward and visible profession, by regeneration and adoption; and this relation which God stands in to us, may encourage us to pray unto him; for being our Father, we are sure that he is of easy access unto, and graciously ready to grant what we pray for.

And whereas it is added, which art in heaven; this is not to be so understood as if his essence were included, or his presence circumscribed or confined there, for he fills heaven and earth with the immensity of it: but he is said to be so in heaven, because there is the special manifestation of his presence, of his purity, of his power and glory, and teaches us with what holy fear, with what humble reverence, and not without a trembling veneration, polluted dust ought to make their solemn approaches to the God of heaven.

Observe, 3. That the three first petitions relate more immediately to God.

1. That his name may be hallowed. By the name of God, understand God himself, as made known to us in his attributes, words, and works. This name is hallowed or sanctified by us three wars; by our lips, when we acknowledge his divine perfections, and tell of all his wondrous works; in our hearts, by entertaining suitable conceptions of God; and in our lives, when the consideration of these divine perfections engages us to suitable obedience.

2. That his kingdom may come: by which we are not to understand his general and providential kingdom, by which he ruleth over all the world, that being always come, and capable of no farther amplification; but principally the kingdom of grace, promoted in the hearts of his people by the preaching of the gospel: we pray that God would dethrone sin and Satan in our own and others' souls, and increase grace and sanctification both in us and them, and that the kingfom of glory may be hastened, and we may be preserved blameless to the coming of Christ in his kingdom.

3. That his will may be done; by which the preceptive rather than the providential will of God us to be understood: we are to obey the former universally, and to submit to the latter very cheerfully. It intimates, that it ought to be the prayer and care, the study and endeavour, of every Christian, that the commanding will of God may be so done by men upon earth, as it is by the glorified saints and glorious angels done in heaven; namely, with that alacrity and cheerfulness, with that speed and readiness, with that constancy and diligence, that the imperfection of human nature will admit of; imitating the blessed angels, who execute the divine commands without reluctancy or regret.

Observe, 4. The three last petitions respect ourselves, as the three former did Almighty God.

The first of which is a prayer for temporal blessings: give us this day our daily bread.

Where note, The mercy prayed for, bread, which comprehends all the comforts and conveniences of life, and whatever is necessary for the supporting human nature.

Also the qualification; it must be our own bread, not another's, what we have a civil right to as men, and a covenant right to as Christians.

Note farther, The kind of bread we ask and desire; it is daily bread. Hereby we are put in mind of our continual dependence upon God for our lives, and for all the supports of life which we enjoy, and also kept in mind of our mortality. And mark the way and manner of conveying all good things to us, it is in a way of free-gift.

Give us our daily bread, we cannot give it ourselves; and when we have it of God, we receive it not as a debt, but as a free gift.

The next petition is for spiritual blessings, Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.

Where note, 1. Some things supposed, namely, That we are all sinners, and, as such, stand in need of pardon and forgiveness.

2. That our sins are debts, willful debts, repeated debts, innumerable debts, inexcusable debts, debts diffcultly discharged, undoing debts.

3. That we are obliged to pray every day for daily pardon, as we do for daily bread, for our sins are many and daily.

4. It is here supposed, that since we are to pray for forgiveness of sin, it is impossible ever to satisfy the justice of God for sin.

Lastly note, The condition or qualification required, forgive as we forgive:

This requires, 1. That our minds be full of charity, free from rancour and ill-will, and all desires of revenge, and a secret grudge against another.

2. That we stand ready to help them, and to do any office of love and service for them that have offended us.

3. That we admit our offending brother into friendship and familiarity, which is called forgiving him from the heart: our heart must be towards him as formerly it was.

The sixth and last petition follows, Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

Here note, A double mercy prayed for; namely, preventing mercy, and delivering mercy.

1. Preventing mercy, lead us not into temptation.

Hereby it is supposed, 1. That we are unable to keep our selves from temptation, partly through our natural depravity, partly through carnal security.

2. That it is God that must keep us from Satan's assaults, his traps and snares, which every where he lays in ambush for us.

3. That it is our own daily duty to be earnest and instant with God in prayer, not to suffer us, by the subtraction of his grace, or in a way of punishment for sin, to run into the circumstances which may prove snares to us, but daily to afford us such a measure of his grace as may keep us from falling by temptation, and not leave us falling under the temptation, but recover us speedily by his power, and enable us to stand more firmly for the future.

2. We here pray for delivering mercy, Deliver us from evil: by which may be understood Satan the evil one, but especially the evil of sin. We pray here that God would graciously preserve us from those vicious inclinations of our minds, and evil dispositions of our hearts, which render us so prone to yield to the temptations of Satan.

Here we see the ugly and deformed face of sin: it is evil: evil in its author and original, it is of the devil, the evil one; evil in its effects and fruits, it doth debase and degrade us, pollute and defile us, befool and deceive us, and, without repentance, damns and destroys us.

Observe lastly, The conclusion of the Lord's Prayer, which contains a complication of arguments to urge Almighty God with, for obtaining the mercy prayed for.

1. For thine is the kingdom; thou art the only absolute and rightful Sovereign, and all men are concerned to honour thee, and obey thy laws; thou art the supreme Governor of the world, and King of thy church, therefore let thy kingdom come, and thy will be done.

2. Thine is the power, therefore give us daily bread, and forgive our daily sins; for thou hast power to supply the one, and authority to pardon the other. The power of God is a mighty encouragement to prayer, and faith is the power of God has amighty prevalency in prayer with God.

3. Thine is the glory, that is, thine will be the glory; as if we should say, "Lord! by enabling us to hallow thy name by owning thy kingdom, by doing thy will, and by thy providing for us, and pardoning of us, thou wilt have much glory by us and from us."

It teaches us, that as our prayers in general ought to be argumentative; so an argument in prayer drawn from the glory of God is a mighty encouragement to hope for audience and acceptance.

4. For ever and ever, that is, thy kingdom is eternal, thy power eternal, thy glory eternal; the God whom we pray to is an eternal God, and this attribute of God is improvable in prayer, as an encouragement to expect the same blessings from God which others have done before us; for he is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.

Amen; a word used in all languages, denoting an hearty assent to our own prayers, and an hearty desire to receive the mercies prayed for, and an humble assurance that we shall be heard and answered.

Verse 14

There being no duty to which our corrupt natures are more backward than this of forgiving injuries, our Saviour repeats that duty over and over, and frequently inculcates it in the holy Gospels; assuring us, that forgiving others is the indispensable condition upon which we are to expect forgiveness from God.

Learn thence, That every time we go to God in prayer, and beg forgiveness of him, as we forgive others; if we do not forgive them heartily and sincerely, fully and freely, readily and willingly, we fly in the face of God, and our prayers are a sort of imprecations against ourselves.

Note farther, That although God promises us forgiveness if we forgive others; yet it is with this limitation, of no other condition of salvation be wanting, for this virtue alone cannot obtain favour with God, unless other duties are performed.

Verse 16

The next duty which our Saviour instructs his disciples in, is that of religious fasting; which is, a devoting of the whole man, soul and body, to a solemn and extaordinary attendance upon God, in a particular time set apart for that purpose; in order to the deprecating of his displeasure, and for the supplicating of his favour, accompanied with an abstinance from bodily food and sensual delights, and from all secular affairs and worldly business. Now our Saviour's direction, as to this duty of fasting, is double:

1. He cautions us to beware of an abuse in fasting: Be not as the hypocrites are, of a sad countenance; that is, do not affect a sullen sadness, ghastliness, and unpleasantness of countenance, like the hypocritical Pharisees, who vitiate and discolour their faces, who mar and abolish their native complexion. Hypocrisy can paint the face black and sable, as well as pride with red and white.

2. He counsels us to take the right way in fasting; to anoint the head and wash the face: that is, to look as at other times, using our ordinary garb and attire, and not to affect anything that may make us look like mourners, when really we are not so.

Where we may note, That though hypocrites by their dejected countenances and mortified habits do seek to gain an extraordinary reputation for piety and devotion, yet the sincere Christian is to be abundantly satisfied with God's approbation of his services, and with the silent applause of his own conscience.

Verse 19

Observe here, 1. Something implied; namely, that every man has his treasure; and whatsoever or wheresover that treasure is, it is attractive, and draws the heart of men unto it: for every man's treasure is his chief good.

2. Something permitted, namely, the getting, possessing, and enjoying, of earthly treasure, as an instrument of doing much good.

3. Something prohibited; and that is, the treasuring up of worldly wealth as our chief treasure; Lay not up treasure on earth; that is, take heed of an inordinate affection to, of an excessive pursuit after, of a vain confidence and trust in, any earthly comfort, as you chief treasure.

4. Here is something commanded; But lay up for yourselves treasure in heaven: treasure up those habits of grace which will bring you to an inheritance in glory; be fruitful in good works, laying up in store for yourselves a good foundation against the time to come, that ye may lay hold of eternal life.

Observe, 5. The reason assigned, 1. Why we should not lay up our treasures on earth; because, all earthly treasures are of a perishing and uncertain nature, that they are subjct to moth and rust, to robbery and theft; the perishing nature of earthly things ought to be improved by us, as an argument to sit loose in our affections towards them.

2. The reason assigned, why we should lay up our treasures in heaven, is this; because, heavenly treasures are subject to no such accidents and casualties as earthly treasures are, but are durable and lasting.

The things that are not seen, are eternal. The treasures of heaven are involable, incorruptible, and everlasting. Now we may know whether we have chosen these things for our treasure, by our high estimation of the worth of them, by our sensible apprehension of the want of them, by the torrent and tendency of our affection towards them, and by our laborious diligence and endeavours in the pursuit of them. Where the treasure is, there will the heart be also.

Verse 22

In the foregoing verses, our Saviour acquainted us what in our affections and judgments we should esteem as our chief treasure: now this judgment concerning our chief treasure, is by our Saviour here compared to the eye; as the eye is the candle of the body, that enlightens and directs it, so our understanding and judgment of the excellency of heaven, and the things above, will draw our affections towards them, and quicken our endeavours after them.

Note thence, that such as our judgment is concerning happiness, such will our desires and endeavours be for the attainment of that happiness. Our affections are guided by our apprehensions; where the esteem is high, endeavours will be strong.

Verse 24

Observe here a two-fold master spoken of, God and the world. God is our master by creation, preservation, and redemption; he has appointed us our works, and secured us our wages. This world is our master by intrusion, usurpation, and a general estimation: too many esteeming it as their chief good, and delighting in it as their chief joy.

Observe, 2. That no man can serve these two masters, who are of contrary interests, and issue out contrary commands; when two masters are subordinate, and their commands subservient each to the other, the difficulty of serving both is not great; but where the commands interfere, and interests clash, it is impossible. No man can serve God and the world, but he may serve God with the world: no man can seek God and mammon both as his chief good and ultimate end; because no man can divide his heart betwixt God and the world.

Learn, That to love the world as our chief good, and to serve the world as our chief and sovereign commander, cannot stand with the love and service which we bear and owe to God. The world's slaves, whilst such, can be none of God's freemen.

Verse 25

The next sin which our Saviour cautions his disciples against, is immoderate care for the things of this life, such a solicitous and vexatious care for food and raiment as is accompanied with diffidence and distrust of God's fatherly providence over us, and provision for us; and the arguments which our Saviour uses to dissuade from this sin, are many and cogent, laid down in the following verses.

Learn here, 1. That Almighty God will provide for every servant of his, food and raiment, and a competency of the comforts and conveniencies of life.

Learn, 2. That want of faith in God'd promise, and a distrust of his fatherly care, is a God-provoking and wrath-procuring sin.

Learn, 3. That notwithstanding God's promise to supply our wants, we not only may, but must, use such prudential and provident means as are in our own wants. Dr. Hammond's Pract. Catech.

Verse 27

Four arguments are here used by our Saviour to dissuade us from the sin of anxious care; it is needless, it is fruitless, it is heathenish, it is brutish.

1. It is needless; Your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of these things, and will certainly provide for you; and what need you take care and God too?

2. It is fruitless; Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit his stature? that is, by all our solictous care, we can add nothing either to the length or comfort of our lives.

3. It is heathenish; After all these things do the Gentiles seek.

4. It is brutish; nay, worse than brutish: the fowls of the air, and the beasts of the field, are fed by God; much more shall his children. Has not God a breakfast for every beast in the wilderness, that comes leaping out of its den? and will he not much more provide for you, O ye of little faith? Surely he that feeds the ravens when they cry, will not starve his children when they pray.

Naturalists observe of the raven, that she exposes her young ones as soon as they are hatched, leaves them meatless and featherless, to shift and struggle with hunger as soon as they come into the world; and whether by the dew from heaven, or flies or worms, God feedeth them; when they gape and cry, they are provided for: from whence our Saviour infers, that man being much better, that is, a more considerable creature than the fowls, the providence of God will provide for him, though no solicitude and anxious thoughtfulness of his contributes thereunto.

Verse 33

That is, let your first and chief care be to promote the kingdom of grace in this world, and to secure the kingdom of glory in the next; and in order unto both, seek after an universal holiness and righteousness, both of heart and life, and then fear not the want of these outward comforts, they shall be added in measure, though not to satiate; for health, though not for surfeit.

Observe, 1. That Christians must here on earth set themselves to seek heaven or the kingdom of God.

2. That God's kingdom cannot be sought without God;s righteousness: holiness is the only way to happiness.

3. That heaven, or the kingdom of God, must be sought in the first place, with our chief care and principal endeavour.

4. That heaven being once secured by us, all earthly things will be superadded by God, as he sees needful and convenient for us.

Verse 34

Here our Saviour re-inforces his exhortation from solicitous care for worldly things, assuring us, that every day will bring with it a sufficient burden of trouble, and therefore we ought not to torment ourselves, by antedating our own sorrows, and foretelling what may or may not come to pass.

Learn, That it is a painful sinful and unprofitable evil, to perplex ourselves with distrustful and distracting fears of what may come upon us: every day has its own duty and difficulty; and though sufferings must be expected and prepared for, yet we must not torment ourselves to-day with fears of what may be tomorrow; but every day cast our burden of care upon that God who daily careth for us.

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Bibliographical Information
Burkitt, William. "Commentary on Matthew 6". Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/wbc/matthew-6.html. 1700-1703.