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Bible Commentaries

Joseph Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments
Matthew 6

 

 

Other Authors
Verse 1

Matthew 6:1. Take heed that ye do not your alms, &c. — As some copies and very ancient versions read δικαιοσυνην, righteousness, instead of ελεημοσυνην, alms-deeds, and several of the fathers quote the passage so, “I choose, with Beza,” says Dr. Doddridge, “to follow that reading; because it prevents the appearance of a tautology in the following words, and makes this verse a general and very proper introduction to the remaining part of the section, in which the caution is branched out into the particular heads of alms, prayer, and fasting.” The doctor therefore reads, Take heed that ye practise not your righteousness, in which interpretation of the clause, and for similar reasons, he is followed by Dr. Campbell. The verse is a general caution against vain glory in any of our good works, all which are here summed up together in the comprehensive word, righteousness. This general caution our Lord applies, in the sequel, to the three principal branches of it, relating to our neighbour, Matthew 6:2-4; to God, Matthew 6:5-6; and to ourselves, Matthew 6:16-18. Before men to be seen of them — Barely the being seen, while we are doing any of the things hereafter mentioned, is a circumstance purely indifferent; but the doing them with a view to be seen and admired, this is what our Lord condemns.


Verses 2-4

Matthew 6:2-4. Therefore, &c. — The caution is so important, that our Lord illustrates it in various particulars. When thou doest thine alms — Exercisest thy charity by performing works of mercy; do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do — From this it would appear that, in our Lord’s time, persons who affected the reputation of being extremely charitable, sometimes sounded a trumpet when they distributed their alms, on pretence, no doubt, of calling together the poor to receive them, while their real intention was to proclaim their own good works, and receive glory of men. Wherefore, as his disciples were to do no work of charity from the motive of vanity, he absolutely forbade this custom of the hypocrites. Verily, I say unto you, they have their reward — All they will have; for they shall have none from God. Let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth — A proverbial expression for doing a thing secretly. Do it as secretly as is consistent, 1st, with the doing it at all; 2d, with the doing it in the most effectual manner. And never speak of it afterward, unless there be good reasons for making it known. That thine alms may be in secret — May be known to none but God, whose glory thou must have in view in all thy works, whether of piety, justice, or charity, and whose will it must be thy intention to obey in all things. And thy Father, which seeth in secret — Who knows every circumstance of mews most retired and private actions; himself shall reward thee openly — Viz., before men and angels, at the day of final judgment. For, though it be true, as Grotius here observes, that God often visibly rewards the charitable actions of pious persons, performed from true love to him, with temporal blessings in this life; yet will he chiefly do it in the sight of men and angels in the world to come. See Matthew 25:34; Luke 14:14.


Verse 5-6

Matthew 6:5-6. When thou prayest — Which, if thou art my disciple indeed, thou wilt often do: thou shalt not be as the hypocrites — Praying out of vain ostentation. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues — In the sight of numbers of people. Of the synagogues see note on Matthew 4:23. And in the corners of the streets — Where several ways meet, that they may be seen of men — May be beheld by many, and admired as persons of singular piety. Verily, they have their reward

This admiration of those that observe them, is all the reward they ever shall have. But thou, when thou prayest — And dost not intend to use a social, but a private means of grace, enter into thy closet — Or any other retired apartment; and when thou hast shut thy door — To prevent interruption, and to exclude spectators, pray to thy Father which is in secret — Perform the duty without noise or show, by which it will appear that thou art influenced by a principle of true piety, by the fear or love of God, and a regard to his will and glory. It must be observed, that Christ does not here condemn all prayer made in places of public worship, seeing both he and his disciples often prayed with the Jews in the synagogues, Luke 4:16; nor any public devotions in the house of God; but, speaking only here of private prayer, he would have that performed agreeably to the nature of it, and so in secret; and condemns them only who affected to do that duty in public places, that others might take notice of them, and regard them as devout religious persons for so doing.


Verse 7-8

Matthew 6:7-8. When ye pray, use not vain repetitions — A multiplicity of words without meaning, or uttered without seriousness, reverence for God, sincerity, or faith. The original word, βαττολογησητε, is derived from βαττος, a stutterer, or foolish talker, and λογος, speech. The former word was the name of a certain prince of the Cyrenæans, who was a stammerer, and also of a babbling foolish poet, who frequently repeated the same things, and whose rhapsodies were full of tautologies. Our interpretation of the words, Use not vain repetitions, Dr. Campbell thinks is too confined, and does not include all that is meant to be signified by our Lord’s expression, which, he says, comprehends “every thing, in words, that may justly be called vain, idle, or foolish.” The word πολυλογια, much speaking, applied to the same fault in the latter part of the verse, is a further elucidation of its meaning. As the heathen do — When invoking their false gods: for they think they shall be heard — In the prayers which they address to them; for their much speaking — Thus we find the priests of Baal crying from morning till noon, O Baal, hear us. Hence it appears, partly at least, what the repetitions were which Christ forbade his disciples to use in their prayers, namely, such as proceeded from an opinion that they should be heard for their much speaking, after the manner of the heathen. This opinion, implying a denial of the power, or the knowledge, or the goodness of God, is highly injurious to him; and therefore repetitions in prayer, flowing from it, are highly culpable, as also is the repeating of any words without meaning them, or the expressing in words any petitions or thanksgivings which do not proceed from the heart. Therefore, we should be extremely careful, in all our prayers, to mean what we say, and to desire what we ask, from the very bottom of our hearts. The vain and heathenish repetitions which we are here warned against, are very common, and a principal cause why so many who profess religion are a disgrace to it. Indeed, all the words in the world, however well chosen and uttered in prayer, are not equivalent to one holy desire; and the very best prayers are but vain repetitions, if they are not the language of the heart. But let it be observed, on the other hand, that repetitions proceeding from a deep sense of our wants, and a vehement desire of divine grace, and the spiritual blessings flowing therefrom, or connected therewith, are by no means prohibited here by the Lord Jesus, otherwise indeed he would condemn his own practice, Matthew 26:39-44. For your Father knoweth what things ye have need of before you ask him — We do not pray to inform God of our wants. Omniscient as he is, he cannot be informed of any thing which he knew not before: and he is always willing to relieve them. The chief thing wanting is, a fit disposition on our part to receive his grace and blessing. Consequently, one great office of prayer is to produce such a disposition in us; to exercise our dependance on God; to increase our desire of the things we ask for; to make us so sensible of our wants, that we may never cease wrestling till we have prevailed for the blessing.


Verse 9

Matthew 6:9. After this manner pray ye — He who best knew what we ought to pray for, and how we ought to pray; what matter of desire, what manner of address would most please himself, would best become us, has here dictated to us a most perfect and universal form of prayer, comprehending all our real wants, expressing all our lawful desires; a complete directory, and full exercise of our devotions. By the expression ουτως, thus, or after this manner, our Lord could not mean that his disciples were to use the words of this prayer in all their addresses to God, for in the Acts and Epistles we find the apostles praying in terms different from this form; but his meaning is, that we must frame our prayers according to this model, and that in respect both of matter and manner; that we must pray for the things here mentioned, and often in these very words.

This prayer, it must be observed, consists of three parts; the preface, the petitions, and the conclusion. The preface, Our Father, who art in heaven, lays a general foundation for prayer, comprising what we must first know of God, before we can pray in confidence of being heard. It likewise points out to us that faith, humility, and love of God and man, with which we are to approach God in prayer.

Our Father which art in heaven — Almighty God has a peculiar right to the title of Father, as from every creature, so particularly from mankind, being the father of their spirits, Hebrews 12:9, the maker of their bodies, and the continual preserver of both: and he is in a yet higher sense the father of his believing and obedient people, whom he adopts into his family, regenerates by his grace, and restores to his image: so that, partaking of his nature, they become his genuine children, and can with holy boldness call him their father. Being, in this sense, made his children, we are here directed to call him our father, in the plural number, and that even in secret prayer, to put us in mind that we are all brethren, and that we ought to love one another with pure hearts fervently, praying not for ourselves only, but for others, and especially for our brethren in Christ, that God may give them likewise the blessings requested in this divine prayer. The words, which art in heaven, do not confine God’s presence to heaven, for he exists everywhere; but they contain a comprehensive, though short description of his divine glory, of his majesty, dominion, and power; and distinguish him from those whom we call fathers on earth, and from false gods, who are not in heaven, the region of bliss and happiness; where God, who is essentially present through all the universe, gives more especial manifestations of his presence to such of his creatures as he has exalted to share with him in his eternal felicity. Hallowed be thy name — The name of God is a Hebraism for God himself, his attributes, and his works. To sanctify a thing is to entertain the highest veneration for it, as true, and great, and good, and to manifest that veneration by our dispositions, words, and actions. Thus it is used 1 Peter 3:15; Isaiah 8:13. The meaning of this first petition, therefore, is, May thy existence be universally believed; thy perfections revered, loved, and imitated; thy works admired; thy supremacy over all things acknowledged; thy providence reverenced and confided in. May we, and all men, so think of thy divine majesty, of thy attributes, words, and works, and may we and they so express our veneration of thee, and subjection to thee, that thy glory may be manifested everywhere, to the utter destruction of all idolatry, sin, and misery. “The phraseology of this and other prayers recorded by the inspired writers, wherein the worshippers addressed God in the singular number, saying, thou, and thy, is retained by all Christians among us, with the highest propriety, as it intimates their firm belief that there is but one God, and that there is nothing in the universe equal or second to him, and that no being whatever can share in the worship which they pay him.” — Macknight.


Verse 10

Matthew 6:10. Thy kingdom come — This cannot with propriety be understood of that general kingdom, by which God ruleth over all the world, that being always come, and not capable of any amplification. But the kingdom of God under the Messiah, to be set up, enlarged, and perfected by the preaching of the gospel, and the exercise of Christ’s kingly power, is evidently here intended; even that kingdom which the Jews thought would immediately appear, Luke 19:11; which the pious among them expected and waited for, Luke 2:38; Mark 15:43; which both the Baptist and our Lord announced as at hand, chap. Matthew 3:2; Mark 1:15; and which Christ, in this chapter, Matthew 6:33, directs his followers to seek, in preference to all other things; and here to pray for. This kingdom of God is twofold, namely, his kingdom of grace and his kingdom of glory; the coming of both which we may be well understood to mean, when we put up this petition; desiring, 1st, that we and all men may receive the kingdom of divine grace into our hearts, and that God may reign in and over us in such a manner, that we may be his willing and loyal subjects; 2d, that, in order thereto, it would please him to give success to his gospel in all parts of the earth; that he would enlarge the borders of his Church, and bring all nations within the pale of it; and, where it is already established, that he would proceed by his grace more and more to destroy the power of sin, and the dominion of Satan; and to implant his fear and love in the hearts of all his professing people; that thus, 3d, his eternal and glorious kingdom may also be enlarged, the number of his saints be accomplished, and the blessed time come when we shall all be translated into his heavenly kingdom, when, all other powers and dominions being done away, God alone shall be exalted, and rule for ever and ever.

Thy will be done in earth, as it is heaven — It is justly observed by Dr. Whitby, that we do not pray in this petition that God may do his own will, nor that the will of his providence may be done upon and respecting us, but that, in consequence of the coming of his kingdom of grace, in the sense above explained, we, and all men, with as much readiness, alacrity, and perfection, as the imperfection of human nature will admit of, may yield obedience to his wise, holy, and good will, however made known to us, whether by revelation, natural conscience, or the dispensations of providence; and may imitate the blessed angels in a sincere, ready, constant, persevering compliance with it: and that, in order to this end, he would vouchsafe us those aids of his Spirit whereby our understanding may be enlightened, rightly to discern what is his good and acceptable will, and our wills and affections powerfully inclined, and all our executive faculties so strengthened, that we may sincerely, readily, and cheerfully perform such obedience.


Verse 11

Matthew 6:11. Give us this day our daily bread — As the original word, επιουσιον, here rendered daily, is not found anywhere else; neither in the LXX. nor in any Greek author, nor in any other part of the New Testament, save in the parallel passage in Luke, commentators differ in their interpretation of it. That given by Theophylact, one of the most approved of the Greek fathers, seems the best: “Bread sufficient for our sustenance or support:” which is the sense in which the word is understood by Chrysostom, and in Etymol. Magna, where it is explained thus: ο επι

τη ουσια ημων αρμοζων, “that which is sufficient to our life;” or what will strengthen us from day to day for serving God with cheerfulness and vigour. Thus, also, Mr. Mede interprets the expression. The Latin version, in Jerome’s time, had panem quotidianum, daily bread, which our translators have copied, because in the parallel passage, Luke 11:3, το καθημεραν, day by day, is joined with επιουσιον. Daily bread, it must be observed, according to the Hebrew idiom, signifies the whole provision of the table, see Genesis 18:5; and here it includes raiment also, and every thing necessary to life. “Since, therefore, we are not allowed to ask provision to gratify a luxurious appetite, but only the necessaries of life, and that not for many years, but from day to day, the petition forbids anxious cares about futurity, and teaches us how moderate our desires of worldly things ought to be. And whereas, not the poor only, whose industry all acknowledge must be favoured by the concurrence of Providence to render it successful, but the rich are enjoined to pray for their bread, day by day, it is on account of the great instability of human affairs, which renders the possession of wealth absolutely precarious; and because, without the divine blessing, even the abundance of the rich is not of itself sufficient so much as to keep them alive, far less to make them happy.” Indeed, the petition teaches all men to exercise an humble dependance on Divine Providence for the most necessary supplies, be their possessions or abilities ever so great. It may be observed further here, that Erasmus, Heylin, and many others, following the fathers, understand it in a spiritual sense also. Bread, says Heylin, here signifies, “all things needful for our maintenance; the maintenance of the whole man, both body and soul; for each of these have their proper sustenance; to one belongs the natural bread, to the other the spiritual, and both are included in this petition.”


Verse 12

Matthew 6:12. And forgive us our debts, &c. — The suffering of punishment for transgressing God’s laws is a debt which sinners owe to the divine justice; and “when we ask God, in prayer, to forgive our debts, we beg that he would be mercifully pleased to remit the punishment of our sins, particularly the pains of hell; and that, laying aside his displeasure, he would graciously receive us into favour, and bless us with eternal life. In this petition, therefore, we confess our sins, and express the sense we have of their demerit, namely, that they deserve condemnation and wrath from God, than which nothing can be more proper in our addresses to him. The condition on which we are to ask forgiveness is remarkable. Forgive us, as we forgive. We must forgive others in order to our being forgiven ourselves, and are allowed to crave from God only such forgiveness as we grant to others; so that if we do not pardon our enemies, we, in this fifth petition, seriously and solemnly beg God to damn us eternally!” — Macknight.


Verse 13

Matthew 6:13. And lead us not into temptation — Or, into trial, as the word πειρασμος, here used, signifies: see note on Matthew 4:1 : that is, into such trial or temptation, as will be too hard for our weakness to endure. But deliver us from evil απο του πονερου, from the evil one, viz., the devil; enabling us to resist and overcome him in all his assaults, of whatever kind they may be. Or, perhaps, the clause may be translated, Lead us not into temptation, but so as to deliver us from the evil, viz., either by removing the temptation, when it is too strong for us to withstand; or by mitigating its force, or by increasing our strength to resist it, as God shall see most for his glory. This correction of the translation, suggested by Macknight, is proposed on this ground; that to pray for an absolute freedom from temptation is to seek deliverance from the common lot of humanity, which is absurd; because temptations are wisely appointed by God for the exercise and improvement of piety and virtue in good men, and that others may be encouraged by the constancy and patience which they show in trials. Hence, instead of praying to be absolutely delivered from them, we are taught to rejoice when, by the divine appointment, we fall into them. See James 1:2-3. This petition teaches us to preserve a sense of our own inability to repel and overcome temptation, and of the necessity of assistance from above, to enable us to stand in the evil day. For thine is the kingdom, &c., for ever — The government of the universe is thine for ever, and thou alone possessest the power of creating and upholding all things; also the glory of infinite perfections remains eternally with thee, therefore all men ought to hallow thy name, submit themselves to thy government, and perform thy will; also, in an humble sense of their dependance, should seek from thee the supply of their wants, the pardon of their sins, and the kind protection of thy providence.

After the preceding exposition of the different clauses of this divine prayer, the reader will not be displeased to see a summary of the whole, in the following concise, clear, and instructive paraphrase, taken from the short notes of Mr. Wesley.

I. Our Father — Who art good and gracious to all, our Creator, our Preserver: the Father of our Lord, and of us in him, thy children by adoption and grace: not my Father only, who now cry unto thee, but the Father of the universe, of angels and men: who art in heaven — Beholding all things, both in heaven and earth; knowing every creature, and all the works of every creature, and every possible event from everlasting to everlasting: the Almighty Lord and Ruler of all, superintending and disposing all things: In heaven — Eminently there, but not there alone, seeing thou fillest heaven and earth.

II. 1st, Hallowed be thy name — Mayest thou, O Father, be truly known by all intelligent beings, and with affections suitable to that knowledge: mayest thou be duly honoured, loved, feared, by all in heaven and in earth, by all angels and all men. 2d, Thy kingdom come — May thy kingdom of grace come quickly, and swallow up all the kingdoms of the earth: may all mankind, receiving thee, O Christ, for their king, truly believing in thy name, be filled with righteousness, and peace, and joy; with holiness and happiness; till they are removed hence into thy kingdom of glory, to reign with thee for ever and ever. 3d, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven — May all the inhabitants of the earth do thy will as willingly as the holy angels: may these do it continually even as they, without any interruption of their willing service; yea, and perfectly as they; mayest thou, O Spirit of grace, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make them perfect in every good work to do thy will, and work in them all that is well pleasing in thy sight. 4th, Give us — O Father, (for we claim nothing of right, but only of thy free mercy,) this day — (for we take no thought for the morrow,) our daily bread — All things needful for our souls and bodies; not only the meat that perisheth, but the sacramental bread, and thy grace, the food which endureth to everlasting life. 5th, And forgive us our debts as we also forgive our debtors — Give us, O Lord, redemption in thy blood, even the forgiveness of sins: as thou enablest us freely and fully to forgive every man, so do thou forgive all our trespasses. 6th, And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil — Whenever we are tempted, O thou that helpest our infirmities, suffer us not to enter into temptation; to be overcome or suffer loss thereby; but make a way for us to escape, so that we may be more than conquerors through thy love, over sin and all the consequences of it. Now the principal desire of a Christian’s heart being the glory of God, (Matthew 6:9-10,) and all he wants for himself or his brethren, being the daily bread of soul and body, (or the support of life, animal and spiritual,) pardon of sin, and deliverance from the power of it and of the devil; (Matthew 6:11-13;) there is nothing besides that a Christian can wish for; therefore this prayer comprehends all his desires. Eternal life is the certain consequence, or rather completion, of holiness.

III. For thine is the kingdom — The sovereign right of all things that are or ever were created: the power — The executive power, whereby thou governest all things in thy everlasting kingdom: and the glory — The praise due from every creature for thy power, and all thy wondrous works, and the mightiness of thy kingdom, which endureth through all ages, even for ever and ever. It is observable, that, though the doxology, as well as the petitions of this prayer, is threefold, and is directed to the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost distinctly, yet is the whole fully applicable both to every person, and to the ever-blessed and undivided Trinity.


Verse 14

Matthew 6:14. If ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you — We are not to infer from this, that the forgiving of injuries alone will entitle us to pardon. Surely not. Repentance toward God, and fruits worthy of repentance, as also faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, working by love, overcoming the world, and purifying the heart, are absolutely necessary, as is frequently stated elsewhere in the discourses of our Lord, and in the writings of the apostles and evangelists.


Verses 16-18

Matthew 6:16-18. When ye fast — Our Lord does not enjoin either fasting, alms-deeds, or prayer, all these being duties which were before fully established in the Church of God. Be not as the hypocrites, &c. — Do not follow the example of the hypocrites, who, in order to show that they fast, assume a sad countenance; a dejected, austere, and mortified look, such as false devotees affect, who make piety to consist in outward show, rather than in true goodness. For they disfigure their faces — Viz., by dust and ashes put upon their heads, as was usual in times of mourning and solemn humiliation. Verily, I say unto you, they have their reward — I assure you, persons of this character shall have no other reward but the esteem of those whom they deceive by such appearances. But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thy head, &c. — Come abroad in thine ordinary dress. The Jews often anointed their heads. That thou appear not, &c. — That, desiring the approbation of God, and not the applause of men, thou mayest chiefly be solicitous to appear before God as one that fasts; and God, who is ever with thee, and knows thy most secret thoughts, shall openly bestow on thee the blessings which belong to a true penitent, “whose mortification, contrition, and humility he can discern without the help of looks, or dress, or outward expressions of any kind. But it must be remembered, that our Lord is speaking here of private fasting, to which alone his directions are to be applied; for, when public sins or calamities are to be mourned over, the duty of fasting ought to be performed in the most public manner.”


Verses 19-21

Matthew 6:19-21. Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth — Our Lord here makes a transition from religious to common actions, and warns us of another snare, the love of money and earthly things, as inconsistent with purity of intention as the love of praise: where moth and rust doth corrupt, &c. — Where all things are perishable and transient. “In the eastern countries, where the fashion of clothes did not alter as with us, the treasures of the rich consisted not only of gold and silver, but of costly habits, and finely-wrought vessels of brass, and tin, and copper, liable to be destroyed in the manner here mentioned.” But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven — Build your happiness on a more noble and certain foundation, where none of these accidents can happen; but the arms of everlasting power and love shall secure you from every calamity and invasion. “Nothing can be conceived more powerful to damp that keenness with which men pursue the things of this life, than the consideration of their emptiness and uncertainty; or to kindle in them an ambition of obtaining the treasures in heaven, than the consideration of their being substantial, satisfying, durable, and subject to no accident whatever. These considerations, therefore, were fitly proposed by our Lord on this occasion.” — Macknight. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also — A most undoubted truth, and a most weighty reason why we should not make any thing on earth our treasure: for whatever we make our treasure gains possession of our hearts; we set our affections upon it, and of consequence, according to St. John, (1 John 2:15,) the love of the Father is not in us, and we are not his children.


Verse 22

Matthew 6:22. The light — Or lamp rather, as ο λυχνος should be translated, of the body, is the eye — That is, it is by the eye that a person has light to direct him in his bodily motions, and in the use of his bodily members. If therefore thine eye be single απλους, simple, not mixed with noxious humours, but clear and sound; so both Chrysostom and Theophylact understand the expression, considering it as synonymous with υγιης, whole; thy whole body shall be full of light — Every member of thy body shall be enlightened by the light of thine eye, and directed to perform its proper office. But if thine eye be evil — Gr. πονηρος, rendered νοσωδης, morbid, by Theophylact, and distempered, by Dr. Campbell, who observes, “that there is no reference to the primitive meaning of απλους, single, is evident from its being contrasted to πονηρος, evil, bad, or disordered, and not to διπλους, double. Our Lord’s argument,” adds he, “stands thus: The eye is the lamp of the body: from it all the other members derive their light. Now if that which is the light of the body be darkened, how miserable will be the state of the body! how great will be the darkness of those members which have no light of their own, but depend entirely on the eye!” Thus “if the conscience, that mental light which God has given to man for regulating his moral conduct, be itself vitiated, what will be the state of his appetites and passions, which are naturally blind and precipitate?” To the same purpose speaks Macknight, only using the term reason, instead of conscience. “As the body must be well enlightened if its eye is sound and good, or greatly darkened if it is spoiled with noxious humours; so the mind must be full of life, if reason, its eye, is in a proper state; or full of darkness, if it is perverted by covetousness, and other worldly passions; but with this difference, that the darkness of the mind is infinitely worse than the darkness of the body, and attended with worse consequences, inasmuch as the actions of the mind are of far greater importance to happiness than those of the body.” Baxter and Dr. Doddridge understand the words in nearly the same sense, interpreting the word eye of the practical judgment. “If thy judgment be sound,” says the former, “and thou knowest the difference between laying up treasure in heaven and on earth, it will rightly guide all the actions of thy heart and life: but if thy judgment be blinded in this great affair, it will misguide thy love, thy choice, and all the tenor of thy life: if thy judgment then be blind, which must guide thee, what a miserable erroneous wretch wilt thou be! and how dismal will that error prove!” Or, as the doctor expresses it, “If the maxims you lay down to yourselves are wrong, how very erroneous must your conduct be!”


Verse 24

Matthew 6:24. No man can serve two masters — Whose interests and commands are directly contrary to each other; for either he will hate the one and love the other — And therefore, while he employs himself in the service of the one, will, of course, neglect the interest of the other: or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other — That is, will adhere entirely to the love and service of the one, and quite abandon the other. Do not therefore impose upon yourselves so far as to imagine that your hearts can be equally divided between heaven and earth. Ye cannot serve God and mammon, that unworthy idol, to which many devote their hearts and their lives. “Mammon is a Syriac word for riches, which our Lord here beautifully represents as a person whom the folly of men had deified. It is well known that the Greeks had a fictitious god of wealth; but I cannot find,” says Dr. Doddridge, “that he was ever directly worshipped in Syria under the name of Mammon.” According to some, the term is derived from

אמן, amen, and signifies whatever one is apt to confide in. And, because men put their trust generally in external advantages, such as riches, authority, honour, power, &c., the word mammon is used to denote every thing of that kind, and particularly riches, by way of eminence. The word hate, in this verse, signifies, to have a less value for, and to love, is to have a greater regard for, as appears from the remaining part of the verse, and from Matthew 10:37, compared with Luke 12:16. See Bishop Newton’s Notes on Paradise Lost, 1:620.


Verses 25-27

Matthew 6:25-27. Therefore I say, Take no thought, &c. — Our Lord here proceeds to caution his disciples against worldly cares, these being as inconsistent with the true service of God as worldly desires. But the expression used by our translators, Take no thought, is too strong, and not warranted by the original, μη μεριμνατε, which properly signifies, Be not anxious, or, anxiously careful, as is evident from Luke 10:41; Luke 12:11; Luke 21:34; Philippians 4:6; and almost every other place, where μεριμναω occurs. For we are not to suppose that our Lord here commands us absolutely to take no thought for our life, food, and raiment; because, in other parts of Scripture, diligence in business is inculcated, and men are commanded to labour with their hands, that they may provide for the supply of their own wants, and also those of others, Romans 12:11; Ephesians 4:28; and that, instead of being useless loads on the earth, they may, at all times, have it in their power to discharge the several duties of life with decency, Titus 3:14. What Christ therefore here forbids is, not that thought, foresight, and care which prudent men use in providing sustenance and needful support for themselves, and those dependant upon them; but it is such an anxious care, as arises from want of faith in the being, perfections, and providence of God, and in the declarations and promises of his word, and therefore such an anxious solicitude as engrosses the thoughts and desires of the soul, so as either utterly to exclude or greatly damp and hinder spiritual affections, pursuits, and labours; or which prevents our receiving or our retaining and increasing in the love of God, and the true religion connected therewith. Is not the life more than the meat, needful to support it? And the body than the raiment, necessary to clothe it? and will not he, who has given the greater blessings, give the less also? Behold the fowls of the air — Learn a lesson from the birds that now fly round you. For they sow not, neither do they reap, &c. — Without foreseeing their own wants, or making provision for them, they are preserved and nourished by the unwearied benignity of the divine providence. Are ye not much better than they? — Are ye not beings of a nobler order, and destined for a higher end than they, and therefore more the objects of the divine care? Moreover, which of you, by taking thought — Gr. μεριμνων, by being anxiously careful, can add one cubit unto his stature? Can add one moment to the length of your lives; that is, which of you could profit yourselves at all by anxious thoughts and cares, if you should indulge them? It is evident, as several learned writers have observed, that the word ηλικια, here rendered stature, ought to have been translated age, because the caution is against anxious care about the preservation of life, and about food, the means of prolonging it; not to mention that Jesus is speaking here to full-grown men, who probably had no solicitude about their stature. Besides, the measure of a cubit agrees much better to a man’s age than to his stature, the smallest addition to which would have been better expressed by a hair’s breadth, or the like, than by a cubit, which is more than the fourth part of the whole height of most men. This interpretation of the word is confirmed by Luke in the parallel passage, Luke 12:25-26, where he calls the adding of a cubit, that which is least — That is the thing in which the interposition of the divine providence least appears, as it really is, if understood of the addition of a single moment to the length of one’s life.


Verses 28-30

Matthew 6:28-30. And why take ye thought — Why are you anxious about raiment? Consider the lilies of the field — Observe not only the animal, but, what is yet much lower, the vegetable part of the creation, and mark how the flowers of the meadows grow; they toil not — To prepare the materials of their covering; nor do they spin — Or weave them into garments. “The expression ου κοπια, here rendered, they toil not, denotes rural labour, 2 Timothy 2:6; and therefore is beautifully used in a discourse of clothing, the materials of which are produced by agriculture.” — Macknight. Even Solomon in all his glory — In his royal magnificence, and when sitting on his throne of ivory and gold, 1 Kings 10:18; was not arrayed like one of these — Namely, in garments of so pure a white, and of such curious workmanship, as one of these lilies presents to your view. The eastern princes were often clothed in white robes, (and they were generally accounted a magnificent apparel; see Esther 8:15, Daniel 7:9;) and therefore Calmet and Doddridge properly refer this dress of Solomon to the whiteness of the lilies, rather than to tulips of various colours. or a purple kind of lily, supposed by Ray (On the Creation, page 107,) to be here intended by κρινα, the word we render lilies. Wherefore if God so clothe the grass of the field, &c. — If an inanimate thing, so trifling in its nature, and uncertain in its duration, is thus beautifully adorned, will not God take care to clothe you, who are more valuable, as ye are men endowed with reason, but especially as ye are my servants and friends? The grass of the field, is a general expression, including both herbs and flowers. Dr. Campbell renders the original expression, τον χορτον, the herbage, and observes, that it is evident from the lily being included under the term, that more is meant by it than is signified with us by the word grass; and he quotes Grotius as remarking that the Hebrews ranked the whole vegetable system under two classes, עצ, gnets, and עשּׁב, gnesheb, the former including all sorts of shrubs, as well as trees, and the latter every kind of plant, which has not, like trees and shrubs, a perennial stalk. Which to-day is — Namely, in the field; and to-morrow is cast into the oven — The word κλιβανον, here rendered the oven, is interpreted by some a still, for distilling herbs; but “there is no reason,” says Macknight, “to alter the translation, since it appears from Matthew 13:10, that they used some kind of vegetable substances for fuel, particularly tares, which, if they were annuals, might be sufficiently dry for immediate use by the time they were cut down, as the herb of the field is here said to be; or to-morrow, in the text may mean, not the day immediately after the herbs are cut down, but any time soon after, the expression being proverbial, and easily admitting of this signification.” Dr. Campbell is of the same mind, observing that he had not seen a vestige of evidence in any ancient author, that the art of distillation was then known, or any authority, sacred or profane, for translating the word κλιβανος, a still. He thinks the scarcity of fuel in those parts, both formerly and at present, fully accounts for their having recourse to withered herbs for heating their ovens. It accounts also, he supposes, for the frequent recourse of the sacred penmen to those similitudes, whereby things found unfit for any nobler purpose, are represented as reserved for the fire. Add to this, Shaw (Trav. page 25,) and Harmer (chap. 4. obs. 6,) inform us, that myrtle, rosemary, and other plants, are made use of in Barbary to heat their ovens. Our Lord, to check every kind of distrust of the divine providence, and to encourage confidence therein, adds, O ye of little faith — Or, O ye distrustful, as Campbell renders the word ολιγοπιστοι, observing, that “it is quite in the genius of the Greek language to express, by such compound words, what in other languages is expressed by a more simple term.” It is hardly necessary to observe here, that “it does not follow from our Lord’s application of the expression, O ye of little faith, that it is an exercise of faith to sit with our arms folded, expecting support from the divine providence, without any action of our own; but after having done what prudence directs for providing the necessaries of life, we ought to trust in God, believing that he will make our labours effectual by his blessing.” It is remarked here by Dr. Doddridge, that the word αμφιεννυσιν, rendered clothe the grass of the field, properly implies the putting on a complete dress, that surrounds the body on all sides; and beautifully expresses that external membrane, which (like the skin in a human body) at once adorns the tender fabric of the vegetable, and guards it from the injuries of the weather. Every microscope in which a flower is viewed, gives a lively comment on this text.


Verse 31-32

Matthew 6:31-32. Therefore take no thought — Be no more distracted and torn in pieces, as it were, with anxious and unbelieving thoughts, Saying, What shall we eat, &c. — How shall we be provided for during the remainder of our lives? For after all these things do the Gentiles seek — Who are strangers to the promises of God’s covenant, and to the hopes of his glory. “It was the general character of the heathen, that they prayed to their gods, and laboured themselves, for no blessings but the temporal ones here mentioned, as is plain from the tenth Sat. of Juvenal; and that because they were in a great measure ignorant of God’s goodness, had erred fundamentally in their notions of religion, and had no certain hope of a future state.” See Ephesians 2:12. For your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of these things — Your heavenly Father is far better acquainted with all your wants than you yourselves are, and does not disregard them. There is a noble antithesis in this passage. Christ sets God’s knowledge of our wants in opposition to the anxiety of the heathen about having theirs supplied, to intimate that the one is much more effectual for that purpose than the other.


Verse 33

Matthew 6:33. But — You my disciples have more important business to employ your minds about, and have higher hopes to encourage you. Therefore seek ye first — That is, in the first place, and with the greatest earnestness and concern, as being the principal things, the kingdom of God — As described Romans 14:17, namely, that God, reigning in your heart, may fill it with the holiness above described, and the happiness consequent thereon; and, in order thereto, his righteousness — Not your own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness of God by faith. Compare Romans 10:3; Philippians 3:9. For it seems most natural to interpret the expression of that way of becoming righteous which the gospel proposes, and by which alone we can be put in possession of the kingdom of God on earth, or in heaven. And all these things shall be added unto you — For if you seek, as now directed, the kingdom of God, first and principally, all things pertaining to this life shall, in the course of the divine providence, be bestowed on you as far as they can contribute to your real welfare, and more you would not desire.


Verse 34

Matthew 6:34. Take therefore no thought for the morrow — That is, for futurity, according to the Hebrew idiom, as the word is used, Genesis 30:33. Since the extent and efficacy of the divine providence is so great, and since you are the objects of its peculiar care, you need not vex yourselves about futurity. For the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself — That is, be careful for the morrow when it comes. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof — Speaking after the manner of men. Every time has abundant necessary troubles of its own; so that it is foolish to increase present distresses by anticipating those that are to come, especially as by that anticipation it is not in your power to prevent any future evil. All trouble, however, is upon the whole a real good. It is good physic which God dispenses daily to his children, according to the need and strength of each. Here we may reasonably reflect, with the pious Dr. Doddridge, How kind are these precepts! The substance of which is only this, Do thyself no harm! Let us not be so ungrateful to him, nor so injurious to ourselves, as to harass and oppress our minds with that burden of anxiety, which he has so graciously taken off. Every verse speaks at once to the understanding, and to the heart. We will not therefore indulge these unnecessary, these useless, these mischievous cares. We will not borrow the anxieties and distresses of the morrow, to aggravate those of the present day. Rather we will cheerfully repose ourselves on that heavenly Father, who knows we have need of these things; who has given us the life, which is more than meat, and the body, which is more than raiment. And thus instructed in the philosophy of our heavenly Master, we will learn a lesson of faith and cheerfulness from every bird of the air, and every flower of the field.

 


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Bibliography Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Matthew 6:4". Joseph Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/rbc/matthew-6.html. 1857.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, December 11th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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