Sunday, May 28th, 2023
Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible Barnes' Notes
These files are public domain.
These files are public domain.
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Matthew 6". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ bnb/ matthew-6.html. 1870.
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Matthew 6". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://studylight.org/
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Take heed that ye do not your alms - The word “alms” here denotes liberality to the poor and needy. In the margin, as in the best editions of the Greek it is “righteousness;” either referring to almsgiving as eminently a righteous act, or more probably including all that is specified in this and the following verses - almsgiving, prayer, fasting, Matthew 6:2-18. Our Saviour here does not positively command his disciples to aid the poor, but supposes that they would do it of course, and gives them directions how to do it. It is the nature of religion to help those who are really needy; and a real Christian does not wait to be “commanded” to do it, but only asks for the opportunity. See Galatians 2:10; James 1:27; Luke 19:8.
Before men ... - Our Lord does not require us never to give alms before people, but only forbids our doing it “to be seen of them,” for the purposes of ostentation and to seek their praise. To a person who is disposed to do good from a right motive, it matters little whether it be in public or in private. The only thing that renders it even desirable that our good deeds should be seen is that God may be glorified. See Matthew 5:16.
Otherwise - If your only motive for doing it is to be seen by people, God will not reward you. Take heed, therefore, that you do not do it to be seen, “otherwise” God will not reward you.
Do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do - The word “hypocrite” is taken from “stage-players,” who act the part of others, or speak not their own sentiments, but the sentiments of others. It means here, and in the New Testament generally, those who “dissemble” or hide their real sentiments, and assume or express other feelings than their own - those who, for purposes of ostentation, gain, or applause, put on the appearance of religion. It is probable that such persons, when they were about to bestow alms, caused a trumpet to be sounded, professedly to call the poor together to receive it, but really to call the people to see the proofs of their liberality and piety; or perhaps it may mean that they should not make a great noise about it, like sounding a trumpet.
In the synagogues - The word “synagogue” commonly means the place of assembling for religious worship known by that name. See the notes at Matthew 4:23. It might mean, however, any “collection of people” assembled for any purpose, and it is not improbable that it has that meaning here. It does not appear that they made a noise in bestowing charity in the synagogues, or that charity was commonly bestowed there; but it was probably done on occasion of any great assemblage, in any place of concourse, and at the corners of the streets, where it could be seen by many.
They have their reward - That is, they obtain the applause they seek the reputation of being charitable; and as this applause was all they wished, there is, of course, no further reward to be looked for or obtained.
Let not thy left hand know ... - This is a proverbial expression, signifying that the action should be done as secretly as possible. The Hebrews often attribute actions to members which properly belong to persons. The encouragement for performing our acts of charity in secret is that it will be pleasing to God; that he will see the act, however secret it may be, and will openly reward it. If the reward is not granted in this life, it will be in the life to come. In multitudes of cases, however, alms given to the poor are “lent to the Lord” Proverbs 19:17, and will be repaid in this life. Rarely, perhaps never, has it been found that the man who is liberal to the poor has ever suffered by it in his worldly circumstances.
And when thou prayest ... - Hypocrites manifested the same spirit about prayer as almsgiving; it was done in public places. The word “synagogues,” here, clearly means, not the place of worship of that name, but places where many were accustomed to assemble - near the markets or courts, where they could be seen of many. Our Lord evidently could not mean to condemn prayers in the synagogues. It might be said that he condemned ostentatious prayer there, while they neglected secret prayer; but this does not appear to be his design. The Jews were much in the habit of praying in public places. At certain times of the day they always offered their prayers. Wherever they were, they suspended their employment and paid their devotions. This is also practiced now everywhere by Muslims, and in many places by Roman Catholics. It seems, also, that they sought publicity, and regarded it as proof of great piety.
Enter into thy closet - Every Jewish house had a place for secret devotion. The roofs of their houses were flat places, well adapted for walking, conversation, and meditation. See the notes at Matthew 9:2. Professor Hackett (“Illustrations of Scripture,” p. 82) says: “On the roof of the house in which I lodged at Damascus were chambers and rooms along the side and at the corners of the open space or terrace, which constitutes often a sort of upper story. I observed the same thing in connection with other houses.” Over the porch, or entrance of the house, there was frequently a small room of the size of the porch, raised a story above the rest of the house, expressly appropriated for the place of retirement. Here, in secrecy and solitude, the pious Jew might offer his prayers, unseen by any but the Searcher of hearts. To this place, or to some similar place, our Saviour directed his disciples to repair when they wished to hold communion with God. This is the place commonly mentioned in the New Testament as the “upper room,” or the place for secret prayer.
The meaning of the Saviour is, that there should be some place where we may be in secret - where we may be alone with God. There should be some “place” to which we may resort where no ear will hear us but “His” ear, and no eye can see us but His eye. Unless there is such a place, secret prayer will not be long or strictly maintained. It is often said that we have no such place, and can secure none. We are away from home; we are traveling; we are among strangers; we are in stages and steamboats, and how can we find such places of retirement? I answer, the desire to pray, and the love of prayer, will create such places in abundance. The Saviour had all the difficulties which we can have, but yet he lived in the practice of secret prayer. To be alone, he rose up “a great while before day,” and went into a solitary place and prayed, Mark 1:35. With him a grove, a mountain, a garden, furnished such a place, and, though a traveler, and among strangers, and without a house, he lived in the habit of secret prayer. What excuse can they have for not praying who have a home, and who spend the precious hours of the morning in sleep, and who will practice no self-denial that they may be alone with God? O Christian! thy Saviour would have broken in upon these hours, and would have trod his solitary way to the mountain or the grove that he might pray. He did do it. He did it to pray for thee, too indolent and too unconcerned about thy own salvation and that of the world to practice the least self-denial in order to commune with God! How can religion live thus? How can such a soul be saved?
The Saviour does not specify the times when we should pray in secret. He does not say how often it should be done. The reasons may have been:
(1)That he designed that his religion should be “voluntary,” and there is not a better “test” of true piety than a disposition to engage often in secret prayer. He intended to leave it to his people to show attachment to him by coming to God often, and as often as they chose.
(2)An attempt to specify the times when this should be done would tend to make religion formal and heartless. Mohammed undertook to regulate this, and the consequence is a cold and formal prostration at the appointed hours of prayer all over the land where his religion has spread.
(3)The periods are so numerous, and the seasons for secret prayer vary so much, that it would nor be easy to fix rules when this should be done.
Yet without giving rules, where the Saviour has given none, we may suggest the following as times when secret prayer is proper:
1. In the morning. Nothing can be more appropriate when we have been preserved through the night, and when we are about to enter upon the duties and dangers of another day, than to render to our great Preserver thanks, and to commit ourselves to His fatherly care.
2. In the evening. When the day has closed, what would be more natural than to offer thanksgiving for the mercies of the day, and to implore forgiveness for what we have said or done amiss? And when about to lie down again to sleep, not knowing but it may be our last sleep and that we may awake in eternity, what more proper than to commend ourselves to the care of Him “who never slumbers nor sleeps?”
3. We should pray in times of embarrassment and perplexity. Such times occur in every man’s life, and it is then a privilege and a duty to go to God and seek his direction. In the most difficult and embarrassed time of the American Revolution, Washington was seen to retire to a grove in the vicinity of the camp at Valley Forge. Curiosity led a man to observe him, and the father of his country was seen on his knees supplicating the God of hosts in prayer. Who can tell how much the liberty of this nation is owing to the answer to the secret prayer of Washington?
4. We should pray when we are beset with strong temptations. So the Saviour prayed in the garden of Gethsemane (compare Hebrews 5:7-8), and so we should pray when we are tempted.
5. We should pray when the Spirit prompts us to pray; when we feel lust like praying; when nothing can satisfy the soul but prayer. Such times occur in the life of every Christian, (and they are “spring-times” of piety - favorable gales to waft us on to heaven. Prayer to the Christian, at such times, is just as congenial as conversation with a friend when the bosom is filled with love; as the society of father, mother, sister, child is, when the heart glows with attachment; as the strains of sweet music are to the ear best attuned to the love of harmony; as the most exquisite poetry is to the heart enamored with the muses; and as the most delicious banquet is to the hungry.
Prayer, then, is the element of being - the breath the vital air; and, then, the Christian must and should pray. He is the most eminent Christian who is most favored with such strong emotions urging him to prayer. The heart is then full; the soul is tender; the sun of glory shines with unusual splendor; no cloud intervenes; the Christian rises above the world, and pants for glory. then we may go to be alone with God. We may enter the closet, and breathe forth our warm desires into his ever-open ear, and He who sees in secret will reward us openly.
In secret - Who is unseen.
Who seeth in secret - Who sees what the human eye cannot see; who sees the real designs and desires of the heart. Prayer should always be offered, remembering that God is acquainted with our real desires; and that it is those real desires, and not the words of prayer, that he will answer.
Use not vain repetitions - The original word here is supposed to be derived from the name of a Greek poet, who made long and weary verses, declaring by many forms and endless repetitions the same sentiment. Hence, it means to repeat a thing often; to say the same thing in different words, or to repeat the same words, as though God did not hear at first. An example of this we have in 1 Kings 18:26; “They called on Baal from morning until noon, saying, O Baal, hear us!” It may serve to illustrate this passage, and to show how true is the description here of prevailing modes of prayer, to refer to the forms and modes of devotion still practiced in Palestine by the Muslims. Dr. Thomson (“The Land and the Book”) gives the following description of what actually occurs: “See those men on that elevated terrace. One has spread his cloak, other their Persian rugs toward the south. They are Muslims, preparing to say prayers - rather perform them, in this most public place, and in the midst of all this noise and confusion.
“Let us stop and watch the ceremony as it goes on. That man next us raises his open hands until the thumbs touch the ears, exclaiming aloud, “Allah-hu-akbar” - ‘God is great.’ After uttering mentally a few short petitions, the hands are brought down and folded Together near the girdle, while he recites the first chapter of the Koran, and two or three other brief passages from the same book. And now he bends forward, rests his hands upon his knees, and repeats three times a formula of praise to ‘God most great.’ Then, standing erect, he cries “Allah-hu-akbar,” as at the beginning. Then see him drop upon his knees, and bend forward until his nose and forehead touch the ground directly between his expanded hands. This he repeats three times, muttering all the while the same short formulas of prayer and praise. The next move will bring him to his knees, and then, settling back upon his heels, he will mumble over various small petitions, with sundry grunts and exclamations, according to taste and habit. He has now gone through one regular Rek'ah; and, standing up as at the first, and on exactly the same spot, he will perform a second, and even a third, if specially devout, with precisely the same genuflections.
“They are obliged to repeat some expressions thirty times, others many hundred times. Would that these remarks did not apply to nominal Christians in this land as well as to Muslims!”
The heathen do - The original word is that which is commonly translated “Gentile.” The world was divided into two parts, the Jews and the Gentiles; that is, in the original, the “nations,” the nations destitute of the true religion. Christ does not fix the length of our prayers. He says that we should not repeat the same thing, as though God did not hear; and it is not improbable that he intended to condemn the practice of long prayers. His own supplications were remarkably short.
And lead us not into temptation - A petition similar to this is offered by David, Psalms 141:4; “Incline not my heart to any evil thing, to practice wicked works with the workers of iniquity.” God tempts no man. See James 1:13. This phrase, then, must be used in the sense of “permitting.” Do not “suffer” us, or “permit” us, to be tempted to sin. In this it is implied that God has such control over the tempter as to save us from his power if we call upon him. The word “temptation,” however (see the note at Matthew 4:1), means sometimes “trial, affliction,” anything that “tests” our virtue. If this be the meaning here, as it may be, then the import of the prayer is, “Do not afflict or try us.” It is not wrong to pray that we may be saved from suffering if it be the will of God. See Luke 22:42.
Deliver us from evil - The original in this place has the article - deliver us from the evil - that is, as has been supposed, the Evil One, or Satan. He is elsewhere called, by way of eminence, the “Evil One,” Matthew 13:19; 1 John 2:13-14; 1 John 3:12. The meaning here is, “deliver us from his power, his snares, his arts, his temptations.” He is supposed to be the great parent of evil, and to be delivered from him is to be safe. Or it may mean, “deliver us from the various evils and trials which beset us, the heavy and oppressive calamities into which we are continually liable to fall.”
Thine is the kingdom - That is, thine is the reign or dominion. Thou hast control over all these things, and canst so order them as to answer these petitions.
Thine is the power - Thou hast power to accomplish what we ask. We are weak, and cannot do it; but thou art Almighty, and all things are possible with thee.
Thine is the glory - That is, thine is the honor or praise. Not for “our honor,” but that thy glory, thy goodness, may be displayed in providing for our wants; thy power exerted in defending us; thy praise be celebrated by causing thy kingdom to spread through the earth.
This “doxology,” or ascription of praise, is connected with the prayer by the word “for,” to signify that all these things - the reign, power, and glory of God - will be manifested by granting these petitions. It is not because we are to be benefited, but that God’s name and perfections may be manifested. His glory is, then, the first and principal thing which we are to seek when we approach him. We are to suffer our concerns to be lost sight of in the superior glory and honor of his name and dominion. We are to seek temporal and eternal life chiefly because the honor of our Maker will be promoted, and his name be more illustriously displayed to his creatures. He is to be “first, last, supremest, best,” in our view; and all selfish and worldly views are to be absorbed in that one great desire of the soul that God may be “all in all.” Approaching him with these feelings, our prayers will be answered; our devotions will ascend like incense, and the lifting up our hands will be like the evening sacrifice.
Amen - This is a word of Hebrew origin, from a verb signifying “to be firm, secure, to be true and faithful.” It is a word expressing consent or strong approbation; a word of strong asseveration. It means “verily, certainly, so be it.” It is probable that this word was used by the people in the synagogue to signify their assent to the prayer that was uttered by the minister, and, to some extent, it was probably so used in the Christian Church. See 1 Corinthians 14:16.
It may be proper to remark that this doxology, “for thine is the kingdom,” etc., is missing in many manuscripts, and that its authenticity is doubtful.
For if ye forgive men their trespasses - If ye forgive others when they offend or injure you.
Your heavenly Father will also forgive you - This is constantly required in the Bible. See the notes at Matthew 6:12. Our Saviour says we should forgive even if the offence be committed seventy times seven times, Matthew 18:22. By this is meant, that when a man asks forgiveness, we are cordially and forever to pardon the offence; we are to declare our willingness to forgive him. If he does not ask forgiveness, yet we are still to treat him kindly; not to harbor malice, not to speak ill of him, to be ready to do him good, and be always prepared to declare him forgiven when he asks it, and if we are not ready and willing to forgive him; we are assured that God will not forgive us.
Moreover, when ye fast - The word “fast” literally signifies to abstain from food and drink, whether from necessity or as a religious observance. It is, however, commonly applied in the Bible to the latter. It is, then, an expression of grief or sorrow. Such is the constitution of the body, that in a time of grief or sorrow we are not disposed to eat; or, we have no appetite. The grief of the “soul” is so absorbing as to destroy the natural appetites of the “body.” People in deep affliction eat little, and often pine away and fall into sickness, because the body refuses, on account of the deep sorrow of the mind, to discharge the functions of health. “Fasting, then, is the natural expression of grief.” It is not arbitrary; it is what every person in sorrow naturally does. This is the foundation of its being applied to religion as a sacred rite. It is because the soul, when oppressed and burdened by a sense of sin, is so filled with grief that the body refuses food. It is, therefore, appropriate to scenes of penitence, of godly sorrow, of suffering, and to those facts connected with religion which are suited to produce grief, as the prevalence of iniquity, or some dark impending calamity, or storm, or tempest, pestilence, plague, or famine. It is also useful to humble us, to bring us to reflection, to direct the thoughts away from the allurements of this world to the bliss of a better. It is not acceptable except it be the “real expression,” of sorrow; the natural effect of the feeling that we are burdened with crime.
The Jews fasted often. They had four “annual” fasts in commemoration of the capture of Jerusalem Jeremiah 52:7, of the burning of the temple Zechariah 7:3, of the death of Gedaliah Jeremiah 41:4, and of the commencement of the attack on Jerusalem Zechariah 8:19. In addition to these, they had a multitude of occasional fasts. It was customary, also, for the Pharisees to fast twice a week, Luke 18:12.
Of a sad countenance - That is, sour, morose; with assumed expressions of unfelt sorrow.
They disfigure their faces - That is, they do not anoint and wash themselves as usual: they are uncombed, filthy, squalid, and haggard. It is said that they were often in the habit of throwing ashes on their heads and faces; and this, mixing with their tears, served still further to disfigure their faces. So much pains will people take, and so much suffering will they undergo, and so much that is ridiculous will they assume, to impose on God and people. But they deceive neither. God sees through the flimsy veil. Human eyes can pierce a disguise so thin. Hypocrites overact their part. Not having the genuine principles of piety at heart, they know not what is its proper expression, and hence they appear supremely contemptible and abominable. Never should people exhibit outwardly more than they feel; and never should they attempt to exhibit anything for the mere sake of ostentation.
They have their reward - They have all that they desired - the praise of men and “the pleasure of ostentation.” See the notes at Matthew 6:2.
But thou when thou fastest, anoint ... - That is, appear as you do daily. Do not assume any new appearance, or change your visage or dress. The Jews and all neighboring nations were much in the habit of washing and anointing their bodies. This washing was performed at every meal; and where it could be effected, the head, or other parts of the body, was daily anointed with sweet or olive oil. In a warm climate, exposed to the great heat of the sun, this practice conduced much to health, preserved the skin smooth and tender, and afforded a most grateful sensation and odor. See Mark 7:2-3; James 5:14; Mark 11:13; John 12:3.
The meaning of this whole commandment is, when you regard it to be your duty to fast, do it as a thing expressing deep feeling or sorrow for sin, not by assuming unfelt gravity and moroseness, but in your ordinary dress and appearance; not to attract attention, but as an expression of feeling toward God, and he will approve and reward it.
Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth - Treasures, or wealth, among the ancients, consisted in clothes or changes of raiment, as well as in gold, silver, gems, wine, lands, and oil. It meant an abundance of “anything” that was held to be conducive to the ornament or comfort of life. As the Orientals delighted much in display, in splendid equipage, and costly garments, their treasures, in fact, consisted much in beautiful and richly-ornamented articles of apparel. See Genesis 45:22, where Joseph gave to his brethren “changes of raiment;” Joshua 7:21, where Achan coveted and secreted “a goodly Babylonian garment.” Compare also Judges 14:12. This fact will account for the use of the word “moth.” When we speak of “wealth,” we think at once of gold, and silver, and lands, and houses. When a Hebrew or an Orientalist spoke of wealth, he thought first of what would make a “display;” and included, as an essential part, splendid articles of dress. The “moth” is a small insect that finds its way to clothes and garments, and destroys them. The “moth” would destroy their apparel, the “rust” their silver and gold; thus all their treasure would waste away. The word rendered “rust” signifies anything which “eats into,” and hence, anything which would consume one’s property, and may have a wider signification than mere rust.
And where thieves break through and steal - The houses in the East were not unfrequently made of clay hardened in the sun, or of loose stones, and hence it was comparatively easy, as it was not uncommon, for thieves to “dig through” the wall, and effect an entrance in that way. See the notes at Job 24:16.
Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven - That is, have provision made for your eternal felicity. Do not exhaust your strength and spend your days in providing for the life here, but let your chief anxiety be to be prepared for eternity. Compare the notes at Isaiah 55:2. In heaven nothing corrupts; nothing terminates; no enemies plunder or destroy. To have treasure in heaven is to possess evidence that its purity and joys will be ours. It is to be heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ, to an inheritance incorruptible, undefiled, and that fadeth not away, 1 Peter 1:4. The heart, or affections, will of course be fixed on the treasure. To regulate the heart, it is therefore important that the treasure, or object of attachment, should be right.
The light of the body ... - The sentiment stated in the preceding verses - the duty of fixing the affections on heavenly things - Jesus proceeds to illustrate by a reference to the “eye.” When the eye is directed steadily toward an object, and is in health, or is single, everything is clear and plain. If it vibrates, flies to different objects, is fixed on no one singly, or is diseased, nothing is seen clearly. Everything is dim and confused. The man, therefore, is unsteady. The eye regulates the motion of the body. To have an object distinctly in view is necessary in order to correct and regulate action. Rope-dancers, that they may steady themselves, fix the eye on some object on the wall, and look steadily at that. If they should look down on the rope or the people, they might become dizzy and fall. A man crossing a stream on a log, if he will look across at some object steadily, will be in little danger. If he looks down on the dashing and rolling waters, he will become dizzy, and fall. So Jesus says, in order that the conduct may be right, it is important to fix the affections on heaven. Having the affections there - having the eye of faith single, steady, unwavering - all the conduct will be correspondent.
Single - Steady, directed to one object. Not confused, as persons’ eyes are when they see double.
Thy body shall be full of light - Your conduct will be regular and steady. All that is needful to direct the body is that the eye be fixed right. No other light is required. So all that is needful to direct the soul and the conduct is, that the eye of faith be fixed on heaven; that the affections be there.
If, therefore, the light that is in thee ... - The word “light,” here, signifies “the mind,” or principles of the soul. If this is dark, how great is that darkness! The meaning of this passage may be thus expressed: The light of the body, the guide and director, is the eye. All know how calamitous it is when that light is irregular or extinguished, as when the eye is diseased or lost. So the light that is in us is the soul. If that soul is debased by attending exclusively to earthly objects - if it is diseased, and not fixed on heaven how much darker and more dreadful will it be than any darkness of the eye! Avarice darkens the mind, obscures the view, and brings in a dreadful and gloomy night over all the faculties.
No man can serve two masters ... - Christ proceeds to illustrate the necessity of laying up treasures in heaven from a well-known fact, that a servant cannot serve two masters at the same time. His affections and obedience would be divided, and he would fail altogether in his duty to one or the other. One he would love, the other he would hate. To the interests of the one he would adhere, the interests of the other he would neglect. This is a law of human nature. The supreme affections can be fixed on only one object. So, says Jesus, the servant of God cannot at the same time obey him. and be avaricious, or seek treasures supremely on earth. One interferes with the other, and one or the other will be, and must be, surrendered.
Mammon - Mammon is a Syriac word, a name given to an idol worshipped as the god of riches. It has the same meaning as Plutus among the Greeks. It is not known that the Jews ever formally worshipped this idol, but they used the word to denote wealth. The meaning is, ye cannot serve the true God, and at the same time be supremely engaged in obtaining the riches of this world. One must interfere with the other. See Luke 16:9-11.
Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought ... - The general design of this paragraph, which closes the chapter, is to warn his disciples against avarice, and, at the same time, against anxiety about the supply of their needs. This he does by four arguments or considerations, expressing by unequalled beauty and force the duty of depending for the things which we need on the providence of God. The “first” is stated in Matthew 6:25; “Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?” In the beginning of the verse he charged his disciples to take “no thought” - that is, not to be “anxious” about the supply of their wants. In illustration of this he says that God has given “life,” a far greater blessing than “meat;” that he has created the body, of far more consequence than raiment. Shall not he who has conferred the “greater” blessing be willing to confer the “less?” Shall not he who has formed the body so curiously, and made in its formation such a display of power and goodness, see that it is properly protected and clothed? He who has displayed “so great” goodness as to form the body, and breathe into it the breath of life, will surely “follow up” the blessing, and confer the “smaller” favor of providing that that body shall be clothed, and that life preserved.
No thought - The word “thought,” when the Bible was translated, meant “anxiety,” and is so used frequently in Old English authors. Thus, Bacon says, “Haweis died with ‘thought’ and anguish before his business came to an end.” As such it is used here by our translators, and it answers exactly to the meaning of the original. Like many other words, it has since somewhat changed its signification, and would convey to most readers an improper idea. The word “anxiety” would now exactly express the sense, and is precisely the thing against which the Saviour would guard us. See Luke 8:14; Luke 21:34; Philippians 4:6. “Thought” about the future is right; “anxiety, solicitude, trouble” is wrong. There is a degree of “thinking” about the things of this life which is proper. See 1 Timothy 5:8; 2 Thessalonians 3:10; Romans 12:11. But it should not be our supreme concern; it should not lead to anxiety; it should not take time that ought to be devoted to religion.
For your life - For what will “support” your life.
Meat - This word here means “food” in general, as it does commonly in the Bible. We confine it now to animal food. When the Bible was translated, it denoted all kinds of food, and is so used in the old English writers. It is one of the words which has changed its meaning since the translation of the Bible was made.
Raiment - Clothing.
Behold the fowls of the air - The second argument for confidence in the providence of God is derived from a beautiful reference to the fowls or feathered tribes. See, said the Saviour, see the fowls of the air: they have no anxiety about the supply of their wants; they do not sow or reap; they fill the grove with music, and meet the coming light of the morning with their songs, and pour their notes on the zephyrs of the evening, unanxious about the supply of their needs; yet how few die with hunger! How regularly are they fed from the hand of God! How he ministers to their unnumbered wants! How cheerfully and regularly are their necessities supplied! You, said the Saviour to his disciples, you are of more consequence than they are; and shall God feed them in such numbers, and suffer you to want? It cannot be. Put confidence, then, in that Universal Parent that feeds all the fowls of the air, and do not fear but that he will also supply your needs.
Better than they - Of more consequence. Your lives are of more importance than theirs, and God will therefore provide for them.
Which of you, by taking thought - The third argument is taken from their extreme weakness and helplessness. With all your care you cannot increase your stature a single cubit. God has ordered your height. Beyond his appointment your powers are of no avail, and you can do nothing. So of raiment. He, by His providence, orders and arranges the circumstances of your life. “Beyond” that appointment of His providence, beyond his care for you, your efforts avail nothing. Seeing, then, that he alike orders your growth and the supply of your needs, how obvious is the duty of depending upon him, and of beginning all your efforts, feeling that He only can grant you the means of preserving life.
One cubit - The cubit was originally the length from the elbow to the end of the middle finger. The cubit of the Scriptures is not far from 22 inches. Terms of “length” are often applied to life, and it is thought by many to be so here. Thus, it is said, “Thou hast made my days as a handbreadth” Psalms 39:5; “Teach me the measure of my days” Psalms 39:4. In this place it is used to denote a “small length.” You cannot increase your stature even a cubit, or in the smallest degree. Compare Luke 12:26.
Stature - This word means “height.” The original word, however, means oftener “age,” John 9:21; “He is of age;” so also John 9:23. If this be its meaning here, as is probable (compare Robinson, Lexicon), it denotes that a man cannot increase the length of his life at all. The utmost anxiety will not prolong it one hour beyond the time appointed for death.
Consider the lilies of the field - The fourth consideration is taken from the care which God bestows on lilies. Watch the growing of the lily. It toils not, and it spins not; yet night and day it grows. With a beauty with which the most splendid monarch of the East was never adorned. it expands its blossom and fills the air with fragrance. Yet this beauty is of short continuance. Soon it will fade, and the beautiful flower will be cut down and burned. God “so little” regards the bestowment of beauty and ornament as to give the highest adorning to this which is soon to perish. When He thus clothes a lily - a fair flower, soon to perish - will he be unmindful of his children? Shall they dear to His heart and imbued with immortality - lack that which is proper for them, and shall they in vain trust the God that decks the lily of the valley?
Even Solomon in all his glory ... - The common dress of Eastern kings was purple, but they sometimes wore white robes. See Esther 8:15; Daniel 7:9. It is to this that Christ refers. Solomon, says he, the richest and most magnificent king of Israel, was not clothed in a robe of “so pure a white” as the lily that grows wild in the field.
Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field - What grows up in the field, or grows wild and without culture. The word “grass,” applied here to the lily, denotes merely that it is a vegetable production, or that it is among the things which grow wild, and which are used for fuel.
Which today is - It lives today, or it lives for a day. It is short-lived, and seems to be a thing of no value, and is so treated.
Is cast into the oven - The Jews had different modes of baking. In early times they frequently baked in the sand, warmed with the heat of the sun. They constructed, also, movable ovens made of clay, brick, or plates of iron. But the most common kind, and the one here probably referred to, was made by excavating the ground 2 1/2 feet in diameter, and from 5 to 6 feet deep. This kind of oven still exists in Persia. The bottom was paved with stones. It was heated by putting wood or dry grass into the oven, and, when heated, the ashes were removed and the bread was placed on the heated stones. Frequently, however, the oven was an earthen vessel without a bottom, about 3 feet high, smeared outside and inside with clay, and placed upon a frame or support. Fire was made within or below it. When the sides were sufficiently heated, thin patches of dough were spread on the inside, and the top was covered, without removing the fire as in the other cases, and the bread was quickly baked.
For after all these things do the Gentiles seek - That is, those destitute of the true doctrines of religion, and unacquainted with proper dependence on Divine Providence, make it their chief anxiety thus to seek food and clothing. But you, who have a knowledge of your Father in heaven; who know that He will provide for your needs, should not be anxious. Seek first His kingdom; seek first to be righteous, and to become interested in His favor, and all necessary things will be added to you. He has control over all things, and He can give you what you need. He will give you what he deems best for you.
1. Christ has here forcibly taught the necessity of charity, of prayer, and of all religious duties.
2. We see the necessity of sincerity and honesty in our religious duties. They are not to be done to be seen by people. If they are, they cannot be performed acceptably. God looks upon the heart, nor is it possible to deceive Him. And of what avail is it to deceive people? How poor and pitiable is the reward of a hypocrite! How contemptible the praise of people when God is displeased! How awful will be the condition of such a one beyond the grave!
3. Christ has here, in a particular manner, urged the duty of prayer. He has given a model for prayer. Nothing can equal this composition in simplicity, beauty, and comprehensiveness. At the same time that it is so simple that it can be understood by a child, it contains the expression of all the needs of man at any age and in every rank of life.
The duty of prayer is urged by every consideration. None but God can provide for us; none but He can forgave, and guide, and support us; none but He can bring us into heaven. He is always ready to hear us. The humble He sends not empty away. Those who ask receive, and they who seek find. How natural and proper, then, is prayer! How strange that any man can live, and not pour out his desires to God! How strange that anyone is willing to go to eternity with this sad reflection: “I have gone through this world, spent my probation, wasted my strength, and am dying, and have never prayed!” How awful will be the reflection of the soul through all eternity: “I was offered eternal life, but I never asked for it. I lived from day to day and from year to year in God’s world, breathed His air, rioted on His beneficence, forgot His goodness, and never once asked Him to save my soul!” Who will be to blame if the prayerless soul is lost?
Secret and family prayer should be daily. We daily have the same necessities, are exposed to the same dangers, tread upon the borders of the same heaven or hell. How should the voice of praise and prayer go up as incense in the morning, and rise as a rich perfume in the shades of each evening! What more lovely object on earth is there than that of one in the bloom of health and the dew of youth, bending with reverence before the King of heaven, seeking forgiveness, peace, guidance, and salvation! And what a strange, misguided, and piteous object is a soul that never prays!
4. Forgiveness is essential in prayer. If we come to God harboring malice and unwilling to forgive, we have his solemn assurance that we shall not be ourselves forgiven.
5. “Avarice” is alike foolish and an insult to God, Matthew 6:19-24. It is the parent of many foolish and hurtful lusts. It alienates the affections from God produces envy of another’s prosperity; leads to fraud, deception, and crime to obtain wealth, and degrades the soul. Man is formed for nobler pursuits than the mere desire to be rich. He lives for eternity, where silver will not be needed and where gold will be of no value. That eternity is near; and though we have wealth like Solomon, and though we be adorned as the lily, yet like Solomon we must soon die, and like the lily our beauty will soon fade. Death will lay us alike low; the rich and the poor will sleep together; and the worm will feed no more sweetly on the unfed and unclothed son of poverty, than on the man clothed in fine linen, and the daughter of beauty and pride. As avarice is moreover the parent of discontent, he only that is contented with the allotments of Providence, and is not restless for a change, is happy. After all, this is the true source of enjoyment. Anxiety and care, perplexity and disappointment, find their way more readily to the mansions of the rich than to the cottages of the poor. It is the mind, not mansions, and gold, and adorning, that gives ease; and he that is content with his situation will “smile upon his stool, while Alexander weeps upon the throne of the world.”
6. We see how comparatively valueless is “beauty.” How little it is regarded by God! He gives it to the lily, and in a day it fades and is gone. He gives it to the wings of the butterfly, and soon it dies and its beauty is forgotten. He gives it to the flowers of the spring, soon to fall; to the leaves of the forest, soon to grow yellow and decay in the autumn. How many lilies and roses does he cause to blossom in solitude where no man is, where they “waste their sweetness on the desert air!” How many streams ripple in the wilderness, and how many cataracts age after age, have poured their thunders on the air, unheard and unseen by mortals! So little does God think of beauty. So the human form and “face divine.” How soon is all that beauty marred; and, as in the lily, how soon is its last trace obliterated! In the cold grave, among the undistinguished multitudes of the dead, who can tell which of all the mouldering host was blessed with a “lovely set of features or complexion?” Alas, all has faded like the morning flower. How vain, then, to set the affections on so frail a treasure!
7. We see the duty and privilege of depending for our daily needs on the bounties of Providence. Satisfied with the troubles of today, let us not add to those troubles by anxieties about tomorrow. The pagan, and they who know not God, will be anxious about the future; but they who know him, and have caught the spirit of Jesus, may surely trust him for the supply of their wants. The young lions do roar, and seek their meat at the hand of God, Psalms 104:21. The fowls of heaven are daily supplied. Shall man only, of all the creatures on earth, vex himself and be filled with anxious cares about the future? Rather, like the rest of the creation, let us depend on the aid of the universal Parent, and feel that he who hears the young ravens which cry will also supply our necessities.
8. Especially is the remark just made of value in reference to those in early life. Life is a stormy ocean. Over that ocean no being presides but God. He holds the winds in his hands, and can still their howlings, and calm the heaving billows. On that ocean the young have just launched their frail bark. Daily they will need protection; daily will they need supplies; daily will they be in danger, and exposed to the rolling of the billows that may ingulf them forever. Ignorant, inexperienced, and in danger, how should they look to God to guide and aid them! Instead of vexing themselves with anxious cares about the future, how should they place humble reliance on God! Safe in His hand, we shall outride the storm and come to a haven of peace. he will supply our wants if we trust him, as he does those of the songsters of the grove. He will be the guide of our youth and the strength of our manhood. If we seek Him, He will be found of us; if we forsake Him, He will cast us off forever, 1 Chronicles 28:9.
9. From all this, how manifest is the propriety of seeking first the kingdom of God! First in our affections, first in the objects of pursuit, first in the feelings and associations of each morning, be the desire and the aim for heaven. Having this, we have assurance of all that we need. God, “our” Father, will then befriend us, and in life and death all will be well.