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1.Beware In this passage, Christ exhorts his people to devote themselves sincerely to good works; that is, to endeavor, with simplicity, to do what is right before God, and not to make a parade before men. (424) A very necessary admonition; for in all virtues the entrance of ambition is to be dreaded, and there is no work so laudable, as not to be in many instances corrupted and polluted by it. Under one class he lays down, by a synecdoche, a general doctrine: for he speaks of alms only, as he speaks shortly afterwards about prayers: though some copies, instead of
2.When thou doest alms He expressly reproves a long established custom, in which the desire of fame might not only be perceived by the eye, but felt by the hands. In places where streets or roads met, and in public situations, where large assemblies were wont to be held, they distributed alms to the poor. There was evident ostentation in that practice: for they sought crowded places, that they might be seen by multitudes, and, not satisfied with this, added even the sound of trumpets. (425) They pretended, no doubt, that it was to call the poor, as apologies are never wanting: but it was perfectly obvious, that they were hunting for applause and commendation. Now, when our service is rendered to the eyes of men, we do not submit our life to the judgment and approbation of God. Justly, therefore, does Christ say, that those persons, who exhibit themselves in this manner, have their reward: for they whose eyes are held by such vanity cannot look upon God.
For the same reason, all who are desirous of vain-glory are called hypocrites. Profane authors gave the name of
(425) There is no necessity for giving a literal acceptation to the sounding of trumpets, particularly as no trace of such a practice, so far as we are aware, is to be found in history. Similar phrases are used, in many languages, to denote, that ostentation has been carried far beyond the bounds of ordinary propriety. — Ed.
(426) This is the true etymology of the word, and rests, not on conjecture, but on historical facts
3.Let not thy left hand know By this expression he means, that we ought to be satisfied with having God for our only witness, and to be so earnestly desirous to obey him, that we shall not be carried away by any vanity. It frequently happens, that men sacrifice to themselves rather than to God. Christ therefore wishes, that we should not be distracted by indirect thoughts, but go straight to this object, that we may serve God with a pure conscience.
4.That thy alms may be in secret This statement appears to be opposed to many passages of Scripture, in which we are commanded to edify the brethren by good examples. But if we attend to the design of Christ, we must not give a more extensive meaning to the words. (427) He commands his disciples to devote themselves to good works purely, and without any ambition. In order to do this, he bids them turn away their eyes from the sight of men, and to reckon it enough that their duties are approved by God alone. Such simplicity of views does not at all interfere with anxiety and zeal to promote edification: and, indeed, a little before, he did not expressly forbid them to do good before men, but condemned ostentation.
Thy Father, who seeth in secret He silently glances at a kind of folly, which prevails everywhere among men, that they think they have lost their pains, if there have not been many spectators of their virtues. He tells them, that God does not need a strong light to perceive good actions: for those things, which appear to be buried in darkness, are open to his view. We have no reason, therefore, to suppose that what escapes the notice, and receives not the testimony of men, is lost: for “the Lord dwells in the thick darkness,” (2 Chronicles 6:1.) A most appropriate remedy is thus applied for curing the disease of ambition, when he reminds us to fix our eye on God: for this banishes from our minds, and will utterly destroy, all vain-glory. — In the second clause, which immediately follows, Christ reminds us that, in looking for the reward of good works, we must wait patiently till the last day, the day of resurrection. Thy Father, says he, shall reward thee openly But when? It will be, when the dawn of the last day shall arise, by which all that is now hidden in darkness shall be revealed.
5.When thou shalt pray He now gives the same instruction as to prayer, which he had formerly given as to alms. It is a gross and shameful profanation of the name of God, when hypocritcs, in order to obtain glory from men, pray in public, or at least make a pretense of praying. But, as hypocrisy is always ambitious, we need not wonder that it is also blind. Christ, therefore, commands his disciples, if they wish to pray in a right manner, to enter into their closet Some expositors, thinking that this has the appearance of absurdity, give it an allegorical turn, as referring to the inward recesses of the heart: but there is no necessity for such trifling. We are commanded, in many passages, to pray to God or to praise him, in the public assembly, amidst a crowd of men, and before all the people: and that for the purpose, not only of testifying our faith or gratitude, but also of exciting others, by our example, to do the like. Christ does not withdraw us from such an exercise, but only admonishes us to have God always before our eyes when we engage in prayer.
We must not literally interpret the words, enter into thy closet: as if he ordered us to avoid the presence of men, or declared that we do not pray aright, except when there are no witnesses. He speaks comparatively, and means, that we ought rather to seek retirement than desire a crowd of men to see us praying. (428) It is advantageous, indeed, to believers, and contributes to their pouring out, with greater freedom, their prayers and groans before God, to withdraw from the gaze of men. Retirement is also useful for another reason, that our minds may be more free and disengaged from all distracting thoughts: and accordingly Christ himself frequently chose the concealment of some retired spot for the sake of prayer. But this is not the present subject, which is only to correct the desire of vain-glory. To express it in a few words, whether a man prays alone, or in the presence of others, he ought to have the same feelings, as if he were shut up in his closet, and had no other witness but God. When Christ says, thy Father shall reward thee, he declares plainly that all the reward, which is promised to us in any part of Scripture, is not paid as a debt, but is a free gift.
7.Use not vain repetitions He reproves another fault in prayer, a multiplicity of words. There are two words used, but in the same sense: for
8.For your Father knoweth This single remedy is sufficient for removing and destroying the superstition which is here condemned. For whence comes this folly of thinking that great advantage is gained, when men weary God by a multiplicity of words, but because they imagine that he is like a mortal man, who needs to be informed and solicited? Whoever is convinced, that God not only cares for us, but knows all our wants, and anticipates our wishes and anxieties before we have stated them, will leave out vain repetitions, and will reckon it enough to prolong his prayers, as far as shall be necessary for exercising his faith; but will reckon it absurd and ridiculous to approach God with rhetorical embellishments, in the expectation that he will be moved by an abundance of words.
But if God knows what things we have need of, before we ask him, where lies the advantage of prayer? If he is ready, of his own free will, to assist us, what purpose does it serve to employ our prayers, which interrupt the spontaneous course of his providence? The very design of prayer furnishes an easy answer. Believers do not pray, with the view of informing God about things unknown to him, or of exciting him to do his duty, or of urging him as though he were reluctant. On the contrary, they pray, in order that they may arouse themselves to seek him, that they may exercise their faith in meditating on his promises, that they may relieve themselves from their anxieties by pouring them into his bosom; in a word, that they may declare that from Him alone they hope and expect, both for themselves and for others, all good things. God himself, on the other hand, has purposed freely, and without being asked, to bestow blessings upon us; but he promises that he will grant them to our prayers. We must, therefore, maintain both of these truths, that He freely anticipates our wishes, and yet that we obtain by prayer what we ask. As to the reason why he sometimes delays long to answer us, and sometimes even does not grant our wishes, an opportunity of considering it will afterwards occur.
Matthew 6:9Do ye therefore pray thus Instead of this Luke says, when ye pray, say: though Christ does not enjoin his people to pray in a prepared form of words, (431) but only points out what ought to be the object of all our wishes and prayers. He embraces, therefore, in six petitions what we are at liberty to ask from God. Nothing is more advantageous to us than such instruction. Though this is the most important exercise of piety, yet in forming our prayers, and regulating our wishes, all our senses fail us. No man will pray aright, unless his lips and heart shall be directed by the Heavenly Master. For that purpose he has laid down this rule, by which we must frame our prayers, if we desire to have them accounted lawful and approved by God. It was not the intention of the Son of God, (as we have already said), to prescribe the words which we must use, so as not to leave us at liberty to depart from the form which he has dictated. His intention rather was, to guide and restrain our wishes, that they might not go beyond those limits and hence we infer, that the rule which he has given us for praying aright relates not to the words, but to the things themselves.
This form of prayer consists, as I have said, of six petitions. The first three, it ought to be known, relate to the glory of God, without any regard to ourselves; and the remaining three relate to those things which are necessary for our salvation. As the law of God is divided into two tables, of which the former contains the duties of piety, and the latter the duties of charity, (432) so in prayer Christ enjoins us to consider and seek the glory of God, and, at the same time, permits us to consult our own interests. Let us therefore know, that we shall be in a state of mind for praying in a right manner, if we not only are in earnest about ourselves and our own advantage, but assign the first place to the glory of God: for it would be altogether preposterous to mind only what belongs to ourselves, and to disregard the kingdom of God, which is of far greater importance.
Our Father who art in heaven Whenever we engage in prayer, there are two things to be considered, both that we may have access to God, and that we may rely on Him with full and unshaken confidence: his fatherly love toward us, and his boundless power. Let us therefore entertain no doubt, that God is willing to receive us graciously, that he is ready to listen to our prayers, — in a word, that of Himself he is disposed to aid us. Father is the appellation given to him; and under this title Christ supplies us with sufficiently copious materials for confidence. But as it is only the half of our reliance that is founded on the goodness of God, in the next clause, who art in heaven, he gives us a lofty idea of the power of God. When the Scripture says, that God is in heaven, the meaning is, that all things are subject to his dominions, — that the world, and everything in it, is held by his hand, — that his power is everywhere diffused, — that all things are arranged by his providence. David says, “He that dwelleth in the heavens shall laugh at them,” (Psalms 2:4); and again, “Our God is in heaven: he hath done whatever he hath pleased,” (Psalms 115:3).
When God is said to be in heaven, we must not suppose that he dwells only there; but, on the contrary, must hold what is said in another passage, that “the heavens of heavens do not contain him,” (2 Chronicles 2:6). This mode of expression separates him from the rank of creatures, and reminds us that, when we think of him, we ought not to form any low or earthly conceptions: for he is higher than the whole world. We have now ascertained the design of Christ. In the commencement of the prayer, he desired his own people to rest their confidence on the goodness and power of God; because, unless our prayers are founded on faith, they will be of no advantage. Now, as it would be the folly and madness of presumption, to call God our Father, except on the ground that, through our union to the body of Christ, we are acknowledged as his children, we conclude, that there is no other way of praying aright, but by approaching God with reliance on the Mediator.
May thy name be sanctified This makes still more manifest what I have said, that in the first three petitions we ought to lose sight of ourselves, and seek the glory of God: not that it is separated from our salvation, but that the majesty of God ought to be greatly preferred by us to every other object of solicitude. It is of unspeakable advantage to us that God reigns, and that he receives the honor which is due to him: but no man has a sufficiently earnest desire to promote the glory of God, unless (so to speak) he forgets himself, and raises his mind to seek God’s exalted greatness. There is a close connection and resemblance between those three petitions. The sanctification of the name of God is always connected with his kingdom; and the most important part of his kingdom lies in his will being done. Whoever considers how cold and negligent we are in desiring the greatest of those blessings for which we are here commanded to pray, will acknowledge that nothing here is superfluous, but that it is proper that the three petitions should be thus distinguished.
To sanctify the name of God means nothing else, than to give unto the Lord the glory due unto his name, so that men may never think or speak of him but with the deepest veneration. The opposite of this is the profanation of the name of God, which takes place, when men either speak disrespectfully of the divine majesty, or at least without that reverence which they ought to feel. Now, the glory, by which it is sanctified, flows and results from the acknowledgments made by men as to the wisdom, goodness, righteousness, power, and all the other attributes of God. For holiness always dwells, and permanently remains, in God: but men obscure it by their malice and depravity, or dishonor and pollute it by sacrilegious contempt. The substance of this petition is, that the glory of God may shine in the world, and may be duly acknowledged by men. But religion is in its highest purity and rigour, when men believe, that whatever proceeds from God is right and proper, full of righteousness and wisdom: for the consequence is, that they embrace his word with the obedience of faith, and approve of all his ordinances and works. That faith which we yield to the word of God is, so to speak, our subscription, (433) by which we “ set to our seal that God is faithful,” (John 3:33;) as the highest dishonor that can be done to him is unbelief and contempt of his word.
We now see, what wickedness is displayed by most men in judging of the works of God, and how freely they allow themselves to indulge in censure. If any of us are chastised, they grumble, and murmur, and complain, and some break out into open blasphemies: if he does not grant our wishes, we think that he is not sufficiently kind to us. (434) Many turn into matter of idle talk and jesting his incomprehensible providence and secret judgments. Even his holy and sacred name is often treated with the grossest mockery. In short, a part of the world profane his holiness to the utmost of their power. We need not then wonder, if we are commanded to ask, in the first place, that the reverence which is due to it may be given by the world. Besides, this is no small honor done to us, when God recommends to us the advancement of his glory.
10.May thy kingdom come Though the Greek verb (
This is done partly by the preaching of the word, and partly by the secret power of the Spirit. It is his will to govern men by his word: but as the bare voice, if the inward power of the Spirit be not added, does not pierce the hearts of men, both must be joined together, in order that the kingdom of God may be established. We therefore pray that God would exert his power, both by the Word and by the Spirit, that the whole world may willingly submit to him. The kingdom of God is opposed to all disorder (
There is still another way in which God reigns; and that is, when he overthrows his enemies, and compels them, with Satan their head, to yield a reluctant subjection to his authority, “till they all be made his footstools” (Hebrews 10:13.) The substance of this prayer is, that God would enlighten the world by the light of his Word, — would form the hearts of men, by the influences of his Spirit, to obey his justice, and would restore to order, by the gracious exercise of his power, all the disorder that exists in the world. Now, he commences his reign by subduing the desires of our flesh. Again, as the kingdom of God is continually growing and advancing to the end of the world, we must pray every day that it may come: for to whatever extent iniquity abounds in the world, to such an extent the kingdom of God, which brings along with it perfect righteousness, is not yet come.
May thy will be done Although the will of God, viewed in itself, is one and simple, it is presented to us in Scripture under a twofold aspect. (436) It is said, that the will of God is done, when he executes the secret counsels of his providence, however obstinately men may strive to oppose him. But here we are commanded to pray that, in another sense, his will may be done, — that all creatures may obey him, without opposition, and without reluctance. This appears more clearly from the comparison, as in heaven For, as He has the angels constantly ready to execute his commands, (and hence they are said to do his commandments, hearkening to the voice of his word, Psalms 103:20,) so we desire that all men may have their will formed to such harmony with the righteousness of God, that they may freely bend in whatever direction he shall appoint. It is, no doubt, a holy desire, when we bow to the will of God, and acquiesce in his appointments. But this prayer implies something more. It is a prayer, that God may remove all the obstinacy of men, which rises in unceasing rebellion against him, and may render them gentle and submissive, that they may not wish or desire any thing but what pleases him, and meets his approbation.
But it may be objected: Ought we to ask from God what, he declares, will never exist to the end of the world? I reply: When we pray that the earth may become obedient to the will of God, it is not necessary that we should look particularly at every individual. It is enough for us to declare, by such a prayer as this, that we hate and regret whatever we perceive to be contrary to the will of God, and long for its utter destruction, not only that it may be the rule of all our affections, but that we may yield ourselves without reserve, and with all cheerfulness, to its fulfillment.
11.Give us today our daily bread Of the form of prayer which Christ has prescribed to us this may be called, as I have said, the Second Table. I have adopted this mode of dividing it for the sake of instruction. (437) The precepts which relate to the proper manner of worshipping God are contained in the First Table of the law, and those which relate to the duties of charity in the Second. Again, in this prayer, — “I have formerly divided it thus, in order to instruct more familiarly.” our Lord first instructs us to seek the glory of God, and then points out, in the second part, what we ought to ask for ourselves. But it must be observed, that the prayers which we offer for our salvation, or for our own advantage, ought to have this for their ultimate object: for we must not be so exclusively occupied with what is advantageous to ourselves, as to omit, in any instance, to give the first place to the glory of God. When we pray, therefore, we must never turn away our eyes from that object.
There is this difference, however, between the two kinds of petitions which we have mentioned. When we pray for the kingdom of God and the sanctification of his name, our eyes ought to be directed upwards, so as to lose sight of ourselves, and to be fixed on God alone. We then come down to ourselves, and connect with those former petitions, which look to God alone, solicitude about our own salvation. Though the forgiveness of sins is to be preferred to food, (438) as far as the soul is more valuable than the body, yet our Lord commenced with bread and the supports of an earthly life, that from such a beginning he might carry us higher. We do not ask that our daily bread may be given to us before we ask that we may be reconciled to God, as if the perishing food of the belly were to be considered more valuable than the eternal salvation of the soul: but we do so that we may ascend, as it were by steps, from earth to heaven. Since God condescends to nourish our bodies, there can be no doubt whatever, that he is far more careful of our spiritual life. This kind and gentle manner of treating us raises our confidence higher.
Some are of opinion, that
That Christ speaks here of bodily food may easily be inferred: first, because otherwise the prayer would be defective and incomplete. We are enjoined, in many passages, to throw all our cares into the bosom of God, and he graciously promises, that “ he will withhold from us no good thing,” (Psalms 84:11.) In a perfect rule of prayer, therefore, some direction must be laid down as to the innumerable wants of the present life. Besides, the word
The meaning is now obvious. We are first commanded to pray, that God would protect and cherish the life which he has given to us in the world, and, as we need many supports, that he would supply us with every thing that he knows to be needful. Now, as the kindness of God flows in uninterrupted succession to feed us, the bread which he bestows is called
But here an objection may be urged. It is certain, that Christ has given a rule for prayer, which belongs equally to all the godly. Now, some of their number are rich men, who have their yearly produce laid up in store. Why does he command them to ask what they have at home, and to ask every day those things of which they have an abundant supply for a year? The reply is easy. These words remind us that, unless God feed us daily, the largest accumulation of the necessaries of life will be of no avail. Though we may have abundance of corn, and wine, and every thing else, unless they are watered by the secret blessing of God, they will suddenly vanish, or we will be deprived of the use of them, or they will lose their natural power to support us, so that we shall famish in the midst of plenty. There is therefore no reason to wonder, if Christ invites the rich and poor indiscriminately to apply to their Heavenly Father for the supply of their wants. No man will sincerely offer such a prayer as this, unless he has learned, by the example of the Apostle Paul, “to be full and to be hungry, to abound and to suffer need,” (Philippians 4:12,) to endure patiently his poverty or his humble condition, and not to be intoxicated by a false confidence in his abundance.
Does any one inquire, why we ask that bread to be given to us, which we call OUR bread? I answer: It is so called, not because it belongs to us by right, but because the fatherly kindness of God has set it apart for our use. It becomes ours, because our Heavenly Father freely bestows it on us for the supply of our necessities. The fields must, no doubt, be cultivated, labor must be bestowed on gathering the fruits of the earth, and every man must submit to the toil of his calling, in order to procure food. But all this does not hinder us from being fed by the undeserved kindness of God, without which men might waste their strength to no purpose. We are thus taught, that what we seem to have acquired by our own industry is his gift. We may likewise infer from this word, that, if we wish God to feed us, we must not take what belongs to others: for all who have been taught of God, (John 6:45,) whenever they employ this form of prayer, make a declaration that they desire nothing but what is their own.
12.And forgive us our debts Here it may be proper that we should be reminded of what I said a little before, that Christ, in arranging the prayers of his people, did not consider which was first or second in order. It is written, that our prayers are as it were a wall which hinders our approach to God, (Isaiah 59:2,) or a cloud which prevents him from beholding us, (Isaiah 44:22,) and that
“he hath covered himself with a cloud, that our
prayer should not pass through,” (Lamentations 3:44.)
We ought always, therefore, to begin with the forgiveness of sins: for the first hope of being heard by God beams upon us, when we obtain his favor; and there is no way in which he is “ pacified toward us,” (Ezekiel 16:63,) but by freely pardoning our sins. Christ has included in two petitions all that related to the eternal salvation of the soul, and to the spiritual life: for these are the two leading points of the divine covenant, in which all our salvation consists. He offers to us a free reconciliation by “ not imputing our sins,” (2 Corinthians 5:19,) and promises the Spirit, to engrave the righteousness of the law on our hearts. We are commanded to ask both, and the prayer for obtaining the forgiveness of sins is placed first.
In Matthew, sins are called debts, because they expose us to condemnation at the tribunal of God, and make us debtors; nay more, they alienate us entirely from God, so that there is no hope of obtaining peace and favor except by pardon. And so is fulfilled what Paul tells us, that “ all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God,” (Romans 3:23,)
“ that every mouth may be stopped, and all the
world may become guilty before God,” (Romans 3:19.)
For, though the righteousness of God shines, to some extent, in the saints, yet, so long as they are surrounded by the flesh, they lie under the burden of sins. None will be found so pure as not to need the mercy of God, and if we wish to partake of it, we must feel our wretchedness. Those who dream of attaining such perfection in this world, as to be free from every spot and blemish, not only renounce their sins, but renounce Christ himself, from whose Church they banish themselves. For, when he commands all his disciples to betake themselves to him daily for the forgiveness of sins, every one, who thinks that he has no need of such a remedy, is struck out of the number of the disciples.
Now, the forgiveness, which we here ask to be bestowed on us, is inconsistent with satisfaction, by which the world endeavors to purchase its own deliverance. For that creditor is not said to forgive, who has received payment and asks nothing more,—but he who willingly and generously departs from his just claim, and frees the debtor The ordinary distinction between crime and punishment has no place here: for debts unquestionably mean liability to punishment. If they are freely forgiven us, all compensations must disappear. And there is no other meaning than this in the passage of Luke, though he calls them sins: for in no other way does God grant the pardon of them, than by removing the condemnation which they deserve.
As we forgive our debtors This condition is added, that no one may presume to approach God and ask forgiveness, who is not pure and free from all resentment. And yet the forgiveness, which we ask that God would give us, does not depend on the forgiveness which we grant to others: but the design of Christ was, to exhort us, in this manner, to forgive the offenses which have been committed against us, and at the same time, to give, as it were, the impression of his seal, to ratify the confidence in our own forgiveness. Nor is any thing inconsistent with this in the phrase used by Luke,
13.And lead us not into temptation Some people have split this petition into two. This is wrong: for the nature of the subject makes it manifest, that it is one and the same petition. The connection of the words also shows it: for the word but, which is placed between, connects the two clauses together, as Augustine judiciously explains. The sentence ought to be resolved thus, That we may not be led into temptation, deliver us from evil The meaning is: “We are conscious Of our own weakness, and desire to enjoy the protection of God, that we may remain impregnable against all the assaults of Satan.” We showed from the former petition, that no man can be reckoned a Christian, who does not acknowledge himself to be a sinner; and in the same manner, we conclude from this petition, that we have no strength for living a holy life, except so far as we obtain it from God. Whoever implores the assistance of God to overcome temptations, acknowledges that, unless God deliver him, he will be constantly falling. (441)
The word temptation is often used generally for any kind of trial. In this sense God is said to have tempted Abraham, (Genesis 22:1,) when he tried his faith. We are tempted both by adversity and by prosperity: because each of them is an occasion of bringing to light feelings which were formerly concealed. But here it denotes inward temptation, which may be fitly called the scourge of the devil, for exciting our lust. It would be foolish to ask, that God would keep us free from every thing which makes trial of our faith. All wicked emotions, which excite us to sin, are included under the name of temptation Though it is not impossible that we may feel such pricks in our minds, (for, during the whole course of our life, we have a constant warfare with the flesh,) yet we ask that the Lord would not cause us to be thrown down, or suffer us to be overwhelmed, by temptations
In order to express this truth more clearly, that we are liable to constant stumbling and ruinous falls, if God does not uphold us with his hand, Christ used this form of expression, (
Deliver us from evil The word evil (
For thine is the kingdom It is surprising that this clause, which agrees so well with the rest of the prayer, has been left out by the Latins: (444) for it was not added merely for the purpose of kindling our hearts to seek the glory of God, and of reminding us what ought to be the object of our prayers; but likewise to teach us, that our prayers, which are here dictated to us, are founded on God alone, that we may not rely on our own merits.
(443) Chrysostom’s words are
(444) That part of the Lord’s Prayer, which we commonly call the conclusion, is not found in the Gospel by Luke, and its genuineness has been questioned. None of the Latin copies (as Calvin mentions) have it: but even those who have most zealously maintained that it is spurious, admit that it exists in the greater number of the Greek manuscripts. Erasmus, Grotius, Witsius, Griesbach, Matthaei, and Scholz, may be consulted by those who wish to examine the question for themselves, and to hear all that has been said on both sides. Any thing like the summing up of the argument here would exceed the limits of a note. — Ed.
Here Christ only explains the reason why that condition was added, Forgive us, as we forgive The reason is, that God will not be ready to hear us, unless we also show ourselves ready to grant forgiveness to those who have offended us. If we are not harder than iron, this exhortation ought to soften us, and render us disposed to forgive offenses. (445) Unless God pardon us every day many sins, we know that we are ruined in innumerable ways: and on no other condition does he admit us to pardon, but that we pardon our brethren whatever offenses they have committed against us. Those who refuse to forget the injuries which have been done to them, devote themselves willingly and deliberately to destruction, and knowingly prevent God from forgiving them. (446)
He again returns to the former doctrine: for, having begun to rebuke vain ostentation in alms and prayer, he laid down, before proceeding farther, the rule for praying in a right manner. The same injunction is now given to his disciples about fasting, which he had formerly given about prayers and alms, not to be too solicitous to obtain the applause of spectators, but to have God as the witness of their actions. When he bids them anoint their head, and wash their face, his language is hyperbolical: (448) for Christ does not withdraw us from one kind of hypocrisy, to lead us into another. (449) He does not enjoin us to counterfeit splendor, or exhort us to temperance in food in such a manner, as to encourage the luxuries of ointments and of dress: but merely exhorts us to preserve moderation, without any thing new or affected;—in short, that the fastings, in which we engage, should make no change in our accustomed way of living.
Thy Father will reward thee When he promises a reward from God to fastings, this mode of expression, as we said a little before with respect to prayer, is not strictly accurate. There is a wide difference, indeed, between prayer and fastings Prayer holds the first rank among the antics of piety: but fasting is a doubtful operation, and does not, like alms, belong to the class of those actions which God requires and approves. It is pleasing to God, only so far as it is directed to another object: and that is, to train us to abstinence, to subdue the lust of the flesh, to excite us to earnestness in prayer, and to testify our repentance, when we are affected by the view of the tribunal of God. The meaning of Christ’s words is: “God will one day show that he was pleased with those good works, which appeared to be lost, because they were concealed from the eyes of men.”
Matthew 6:19.Lay not up. This deadly plague reigns everywhere throughout the world. Men are grown mad with an insatiable desire of gain. Christ charges them with folly, in collecting wealth with great care, and then giving up their happiness to moths and to rust, or exposing it as a prey to thieves. What is more unreasonable than to place their property, where it may perish of itself, or be carried off by men? (450) Covetous men, indeed, take no thought of this. They lock up their riches in well-secured chests, but cannot prevent them from being exposed to thieves or to moths They are blind and destitute of sound judgment, who give themselves so much toil and uneasiness in amassing wealth, which is liable to putrefaction, or robbery, or a thousand other accidents: particularly, when God allows us a place in heaven for laying up a treasure, and kindly invites us to enjoy riches which never perish.
20.But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven They are said to do so, who, instead of entangling themselves in the snares of this world, make it their care and their business to meditate on the heavenly life. In Luke’s narrative, no mention is made of the contrast between laying up treasures on the earth and laying up treasures in heaven; and he refers to a different occasion for the command of Christ to prepare bags, which do not grow old: for he had previously said, Sell what you possess, and give alms It is a harsh and unpleasant thing for men to strip themselves of their own wealth; and with the view of alleviating their uneasiness, he holds out a large and magnificent hope of remuneration. Those who assist their poor brethren on the earth lay up for themselves treasures in heaven, according to the saying of Solomon,
“He that hath pity upon the poor lendeth to the Lord, and that which he hath given will he pay him again,”
The command to sell possessions must not be literally interpreted, as if a Christian were not at liberty to retain any thing for himself. He only intended to show, that we must not be satisfied with bestowing on the poor what we can easily spare, but that we must not refuse to part with our estates, if their revenue does not supply the wants of the poor. His meaning is, “Let your liberality go so far as to lessen your patrimony, and dispose of your lands.”
21.Where your treasure shall be By this statement Christ proves that they are unhappy men who have their treasures laid up on the earth: because their happiness is uncertain and of short duration. Covetous men cannot be prevented from breathing in their hearts a wish for heaven: but Christ lays down an opposite principle, that, wherever men imagine the greatest happiness to be, there they are surrounded and confined. Hence it follows, that they who desire to be happy in the world (451) renounce heaven. We know how carefully the philosophers conducted their inquiries respecting the supreme good. (452) It was the chief point on which they bestowed their labor, and justly: for it is the principle on which the regulation of our life entirely depends, and the object to which all our senses are directed. If honor is reckoned the supreme good, the minds of men must be wholly occupied with ambition: if money, covetousness will immediately predominate: if pleasure, it will be impossible to prevent men from sinking into brutal indulgence. We have all a natural desire to pursue happiness; (453) and the consequence is, that false imaginations carry us away in every direction. But if we were honestly and firmly convinced that our happiness is in heaven, it would be easy for us to trample upon the world, to despise earthly blessings, (by the deceitful attractions of which the greater part of men are fascinated,) and to rise towards heaven. For this reason Paul, with the view of exciting believers to look upwards, and of exhorting them to meditate on the heavenly life, (Colossians 3:1,) presents to them Christ, in whom alone they ought to seek perfect happiness; thus declaring, that to allow their souls to grovel on the earth would be inconsistent and unworthy of those whose treasure is in heaven
Matthew 6:22.The light of the body is the eye We must bear in mind, as I have already hinted, that what we find here are detached sentences, and not a continued discourse. The substance of the present statement is, that men go wrong through carelessness, because they do not keep their eye fixed, as they ought to do, on the proper object. For whence comes it, that they so shamefully wander, or dash themselves, or stumble, but because, having corrupted their judgment by choosing rather to follow their own lusts than the righteousness of God, they not only extinguish the light of reason, which ought to have regulated their life, but change it altogether into darkness.
When Christ calls the eye the light of the body, (456) he employs a comparison which means, that neither the hands, nor the feet, nor the belly, serves to direct men in walking, but that the eye alone is a sufficient guide to the rest of the members. If the hands and feet are foolishly and improperly directed, the blame of the mistake ought to be charged on the eyes, which do not perform their duty. We must now apply this comparison to the mind. The affections may be regarded individually as its members: but as they are blind in themselves, they need direction. Now, God has given reason to guide them, and to act the part of a lantern in showing them the way. But what is the usual result? All the soundness of judgment which had been given to men is corrupted and perverted by themselves, so that not even one spark of light continues to dwell in them.
A simple eye means an eye that has no speck, or diseased humor, or any other defect. An evil eye (
The inference which the Papists draw from this passage, that men possess as much reason and wisdom, as to be free to choose either good or evil, is mere trifling. For Christ does not here inform us what ability we possess, but how we ought to walk, by having our eye fixed on a certain object; and at the same time shows, that the whole course of human life is dark, because no man proposes for himself a proper object, but all permit themselves to pursue eagerly what is evil. I confess, indeed, that men naturally possess reason, to distinguish between vices and virtues; but I say that it is so corrupted by sin, that it fails at every step. Meanwhile, it does not follow, that men do not voluntarily bring darkness on themselves, as if they shut their eyes to avoid the light which was offered to them, because they are knowingly and willingly carried after their own lusts.
(457) This Greek word has two meanings, which depend on accentuation. The proparoxytone
23.If the light which is in thee be darkness Light signifies that small portion of reason, which continues to exist in men since the fall of Adam: and darkness signifies gross and brutal affections. The meaning is, we ought not to wonder, if men wallow so disgracefully, like beasts, in the filth of vices, for they have no reason which might restrain the blind and dark lusts of the flesh. The light is said to be turned into darkness, not only when men permit the wicked lusts of the flesh to overwhelm the judgment of their reason, but also when they give up their minds to wicked thoughts, and thus degenerate into beasts. For we see how wickedly men change into craft any measure of wisdom which had been given them, how they “dig deep (as the prophet says) to hide their counsel from the Lords” (Isaiah 29:15,) how they trust to their own resources, and openly dishonor God; in a word, how desirous they are to show their ingenuity, in innumerable ways, for their own destruction. Christ has good grounds for declaring, that thick and appalling darkness must of necessity reign in the life of men, when they choose to be blind.
This is also the meaning of the words which are found in the Gospel of Luke, with this difference, that Christ there connects the present statement with one which was formerly explained, that men do not light a candle, and put it under a bushel, (Matthew 5:15) and again, instead of this clause, if the light which is in thee be darkness, gives the exhortation, see that the light which is in thee be not darkness The meaning is, “See that thy mind, which ought to have shone, like a candle, to guide all thy actions, do not darken and mislead thy whole life.” He afterwards adds, that, when the body is enlightened by the eye, the greatest regularity is found in all its members, as the light of a candle spreads and penetrates into every part of the room.
24.No man can serve two masters Christ returns to the former doctrine, the object of which was to withdraw his disciples from covetousness. He had formerly said, that the heart of man is bound and fixed upon its treasure; and he now gives warning, that the hearts of those who are devoted to riches are alienated from the Lord. For the greater part of men are wont to flatter themselves with a deceitful pretense, when they imagine, that it is possible for them to be divided between God and their own lusts. Christ affirms that it is impossible for any man to obey God, and, at the same time, to obey his own flesh. This was, no doubt, a proverb in common use: No man can serve two masters He takes for granted a truth which had been universally admitted, and applies it to his present subject: where riches hold the dominion of the heart, God has lost his authority. True, it is not impossible that those who are rich shall serve God; but whoever gives himself up as a slave to riches must abandon the service of God: for covetousness makes us the slaves of the devil.
I have inserted here what is related on a different occasion by Luke: for, as the Evangelists frequently introduce, as opportunity offers, passages of our Lord’s discourses out of their proper order, we ought to entertain no scruple as to the arrangement of them. What is here said with a special reference to riches, may be properly extended to every other description of vice. As God pronounces everywhere such commendations of sincerity, and hates a double heart, (1 Chronicles 12:23,) all are deceived, who imagine that he will be satisfied with the half of their heart. All, indeed, confess in words, that, where the affection is not entire, there is no true worship of God: but they deny it in fact, when they attempt to reconcile contradictions. “I shall not cease,” says an ambitious man, “to serve God, though I devote a great part of my mind to hunting after honors.” The covetous, the voluptuaries, the gluttons, the unchaste, the cruel, all in their turn offer the same apology for themselves: as if it were possible for those to be partly employed in serving God, who are openly carrying on war against him. It is, no doubt, true, that believers themselves are never so perfectly devoted to obedience to God, as not to be withdrawn from it by the sinful desires of the flesh. But as they groan under this wretched bondage, and are dissatisfied with themselves, and give nothing more than an unwilling and reluctant service to the flesh, they are not said to serve two masters: for their desires and exertions are approved by the Lord, as if they rendered to him a perfect obedience. But this passage reproves the hypocrisy of those who flatter themselves in their vices, as if they could reconcile light and darkness.
Throughout the whole of this discourse, Christ reproves that excessive anxiety, with which men torment themselves, about food and clothing, and, at the same time, applies a remedy for curing this disease. When he forbids them to be anxious, this is not to be taken literally, as if he intended to take away from his people all care. We know that men are born on the condition of having some care; and, indeed, this is not the least portion of the miseries, which the Lord has laid upon us as a punishment, in order to humble us. But immoderate care is condemned for two reasons: either because in so doing men tease and vex themselves to no purpose, by carrying their anxiety farther than is proper or than their calling demands; or because they claim more for themselves than they have a right to do, and place such a reliance on their own industry, that they neglect to call upon God. We ought to remember this promise: though unbelievers shall “rise up early, and sit up late, and eat the bread of sorrows,” yet believers will obtain, through the kindness of God, rest and sleep, (Psalms 127:2.) Though the children of God are not free from toil and anxiety, yet, properly speaking, we do not say that they are anxious about life: because, through their reliance on the providence of God, they enjoy calm repose.
Hence it is easy to learn, how far we ought to be anxious about food Each of us ought to labor, as far as his calling requires and the Lord commands; and each of us ought to be led by his own wants to call upon God. Such anxiety holds an intermediate place between indolent carelessness and the unnecessary torments by which unbelievers kill themselves. But if we give proper attention to the words of Christ, we shall find, that he does not forbid every kind of care, but only what arises from distrust. Be not anxious, says he, what you shall eat, or what you shall drink That belongs to those who tremble for fear of poverty or hunger, as if they were to be in want of food every moment.
Matthew 6:25.Is not the life of more value than food? He argues from the greater to the less. He had forbidden them to be excessively anxious about the way in which life might be supported; and he now assigns the reason. The Lord, who has given life itself, will not suffer us to want what is necessary for its support. And certainly we do no small dishonor to God, when we fail to trust that he will give us necessary food or clothing; as if he had thrown us on the earth at random. He who is fully convinced, that the Author of our life has an intimate knowledge of our condition, will entertain no doubt that he will make abundant provision for our wants. Whenever we are seized by any fear or anxiety about food, let us remember, that God will take care of the life which he gave us.
26.Look at the fowls of the air This is the remedy I spoke of, for teaching us to rely on the providence of God: for of all cares, which go beyond bounds, unbelief is the mother. The only cure for covetousness is to embrace the promises of God, by which he assures us that he will take care of us. In the same manner, the Apostle, wishing to withdraw believers from covetousness, confirms that doctrine: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee, (Hebrews 13:5.) The substance of the exhortation is, that we ought to trust in God, by whom none of his own people, however mean their condition may be, are disregarded.
Your heavenly Father feedeth them This deserves careful attention: for, though we are unable to explain the manner in which their life is supported, which of us is in the habit of considering that their life depends on the providence of God, which he is pleased to extend even to them? But if it is thoroughly fixed in our minds, that the fowls are supplied with food by the hand of God, there will be no difficulty in expecting it for ourselves, who are formed after his image, and reckoned among his children. They neither sow nor reap By these words it is far from being our Lord’s intention to encourage us to indolence and sluggishness. All that he means is, that, though other means fail, the providence of God is alone sufficient for us, for it supplies the animals abundantly with every thing that they need.
Instead of fowls, (
27.Which of you by anxious care, etc ? Here our Lord condemns another fault, which is almost always connected with immoderate anxiety about food: and that is, when a mortal man, claiming more than he has a right to do, does not hesitate, in sacrilegious hardihood, to go beyond his limits.
“O Lord, I know (says Jeremiah) that the way of man is not in himself it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps,”
You scarcely meet with one person in a hundred, who does not venture to make any promises that he thinks fit on his own industry and power. The consequence is, that those who take credit to themselves for their prosperity, do not hesitate to lose sight of God, when they enter into any undertaking. To restrain this mad rashness, Christ tells us, that whatever contributes to the support of our life depends wholly on the blessing of God. The meaning is: “It is foolish in men to weary themselves, because all our labors are unnecessary and fruitless, and all our anxieties are to no purpose, unless so far as God blesses them.” This is more clearly expressed by Luke, If you cannot do even that which is least, why are you anxious about the rest? These words show plainly, that Christ reproves not only distrust, but pride, because men ascribe much more than they ought to their own skill.
29.Not even Solomon in all his glory This means, that the kindness of God, which is gloriously displayed in herbs and flowers, exceeds all that men can accomplish by their wealth or power, or in any other way. Believers ought to be convinced that, though all means fail, they will want nothing that is necessary for their full satisfaction, provided they continue to enjoy the blessing of God alone. O you of little faith In this respect Christ justly accuses us of deficiency or weakness of faith: for the more powerfully we are affected, according to our own grovelling views, by anxiety about the present life, the more do we show our unbelief, if every thing does not happen to our wish. Many persons, accordingly, who in great prosperity appear to possess faith or at least to have a tolerable share of it, tremble when any danger of poverty presents itself.
This has the same object with the former doctrine. Believers ought to rely on God’s fatherly care, to expect that he will bestow upon them whatever they feel to be necessary, and not to torment themselves by unnecessary anxiety.
He forbids them to be anxious, or, as Luke has it, to seek, that is, to seek in the manner of those who look around them in every direction, without looking at God, on whom alone their eye ought to be fixed; who are never at ease, but when they have before their eyes an abundance of provisions; and who, not admitting that the protection of the world belongs to God, fret and tease themselves with perpetual uneasiness.
Matthew 6:32.For all those things the Gentiles seek This is a reproof of the gross ignorance, in which all such anxieties originate. For how comes it, that unbelievers never remain in a state of tranquillity, but because they imagine that God is unemployed, or asleep, in heaven, or, at least, that he does not take charge of the affairs of men, or feed, as members of his family, those whom he has admitted to his friendship. By this comparison he intimates, that they have made little proficiency, and have not yet learned the first lessons of godliness, who do not behold, with the eyes of faith, the hand of God filled with a hidden abundance of all good things, so as to expect their food with quietness and composure. Your heavenly Father knoweth that you have need of those things: that is, “All those persons who are so anxious about food, give no more honor, than unbelievers do, to the fatherly goodness and secret providence of God.”
Matthew 6:33.But rather seek first the kingdom of God This is another argument for restraining excessive anxiety about food. It argues a gross and indolent neglect of the soul, and of the heavenly life. Christ reminds us that there is the greatest inconsistency in men, who are born to a better life, being wholly employed about earthly objects. He who assigns the first rank to the kingdom of God, will not carry beyond moderation his anxiety about food. Nothing is better adapted to restrain the wantonness of the flesh from breaking out in the course of the present life, than meditation on the life of the heavens. The word righteousness may be either understood as applying to God, or to the kingdom: (463) for we know that the kingdom of God consists in righteousness, (Romans 14:17,) that is, in the newness of spiritual life. All other things shall be added This means, that those things which relate to the present life are but favorable appendages, and ought to be reckoned greatly inferior to the kingdom of God
(463) On the latter supposition, we would naturally have expected that, instead of
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Calvin, John. "Commentary on Matthew 6". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20