Saturday, May 27th, 2023
Eve of Pentacost
Eve of Pentacost
Simeon's Horae Homileticae Horae Homileticae
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Matthew 6". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ shh/ matthew-6.html. 1832.
Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Matthew 6". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://studylight.org/
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DIRECTIONS RESPECTING ALMS-DEEDS
Matthew 6:1-4. Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven. Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, thai they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: that thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret, himself shall reward thee openly.
THERE are some duties so plain and obvious, that it is scarcely necessary to insist upon men’s obligation to perform them. Amongst these is the duty of relieving our fellow-creatures in distress, and making our abundance instrumental to the supply of their necessities. Our blessed Lord takes it for granted that all his disciples will be found observant of the duty itself; and therefore does not stop to inculcate the necessity of it; but merely gives directions respecting it, that it may be performed most beneficially to themselves, and most honourably to God. Instead of the word, which in the first verse is translated “alms,” there is, in the margin of our Bibles, the word “righteousness;” which, on the whole, is the preferable reading; as it avoids the tautology which there manifestly is in the passage as it now stands. The passage according to this reading requires, first, that our righteousness in general should be devoid of ostentation; and, next, that we should guard against ostentation, more especially in those several duties, which, as Christians, we are bound to perform. We are called to serve God with our souls, our bodies, and estates; and we must do the first by prayer, the second by fasting, and the third by alms.
Whichever reading we adopt, our subject will be the same: we shall be led to consider the directions which our Lord gives us in reference to alms. He tells us,
What we are to avoid—
A very principal feature in the character of the Pharisees was, ostentation: “they did all their works in order to be seen of men.” Against this in particular our Lord cautions us—
It is an evil to which we are prone—
[Whilst tlie caution itself implies this, (“Take heed,”) the experience of every individual attests it. Who does not feel a desire after the applause of man? Who does not consult in too great a degree the opinion of those around him? The more decent amongst the unconverted seem to be actuated by no other motive: whilst even the godly themselves are by no means exempt from its influence. It is not, however, without much self-knowledge and self-examination that we can discern the workings of this principle within us. We give ourselves credit for better motives and better principles, at the time that impartial observers mark distinctly the obliquity of our dispositions and conduct.]
It is an evil most carefully to be avoided—
[The bestowing of alms, like every thing else, must be judged of by the motive from which it springs: when done in order to acquire a character for benevolence and liberality, it is pride; when with a view to the obtaining of influence, it is ambition. It is then only to be deemed piety and charity, when it is produced by a concern for God’s honour, and from real love to our fellow-creatures. Precisely in proportion as any sinister motive actuates us, the action, how good soever it may be in other respects, is debased. It is not only stripped of all the good which it might otherwise have, but has in it a positive infusion of evil. Our blessed Lord called those “hypocrites,” who in distributing their alms, sought to draw the attention and admiration of the public: and such are all who tread in their steps. If our actions proceed from principles different from those which are pretended and avowed, we may palliate them as we please; but God will affix to them no other name than that of vile hypocrisy. It is scarcely needful, methinks, to say, that such a disposition must be put away with abhorrence.
But there is yet a farther reason for guarding against this evil; namely, that actions proceeding from such a principle can never be accepted of God. They may, and probably will, procure us the reward we seek after: they may render us popular, gain us applause, increase our influence, and bring us into high repute for liberality and goodness: but they will never receive any reward from God: they are not done for him; and therefore he will not accept them: they have no real piety in them; and therefore he will not reward them. We can easily see, that, if a person should spend ever so large a sum in feeding those by whose suffrages he is to be raised to eminence and distinction, he would not for a moment imagine that he laid God under any kind of obligation, or was entitled to expect any remuneration from him: the sums he lavished were the price of his worldly honours. Thus, as far as pride, or ostentation, or vanity, or worldly interest, excite us to liberality, we renounce all claim upon God. He has said indeed, that “what we give to the poor, we lend to him; and that he will repay it [Note: Proverbs 19:17.];” but he will never acknowledge as a loan to him, what was given by us to purchase the applause of man. Supposing it was pure gold in the first instance, we turn it all to dross the very moment we begin to pride ourselves in it.
In both these views then the caution deserves our deepest attention, and ought to be followed with the greatest care.]
Having told us what to avoid, our Lord proceeds to inform us,
What we should observe and do—
We should, to the utmost of our power, affect secresy—
[Doubtless there are occasions whereon we are called to dispense charity in a more public manner, and when the concealment of our name would have an injurious effect. On such occasions we do right to “let our light shine before men.” But, in all such instances, we should have the testimony of our own consciences, that it is the honour of God, and not our own honour that we seek. Where no such necessity is imposed upon us, we should “not let our left hand know what our right hand doeth:” we should hide our good deeds from others; we should hide them also from ourselves. Where we have not made an open parade of our charities, but have conformed to this precept as it respects others, we yet are too apt to contemplate our own actions with a very undue measure of self-complacency. Though we have not studied to make them public, we are delighted to find that they are known; and are pleased with the thought that we stand high in the estimation of others. The oblique hints which are suggested to us respecting the extent of our benevolence, and the greatness of the benefits we have conferred, are very gratifying to our proud hearts; and the accidental discovery of our goodness is relished by us, as a rich equivalent for the self-denial we exercised in concealing it. Alas! what deceitful hearts we have! At the very time that we profess to avoid the notice of others, we are “sacrificing to our own net, and burning incense to our own drag!” If we view our actions aright, they will furnish us rather with grounds of humiliation and gratitude. For, how small are our utmost exertions, in comparison with the greatness of our obligations, or the extent of our duty! What reason have we also to be ashamed of the mixture of principle, which has often operated to the production of them! And more particularly, what reason have we to adore and magnify our God, who has deigned to make use of such unworthy instruments for the good of his people and the glory of his name! This is the light in which our benevolence should be viewed; this is the spirit in which it should be exercised.]
What we do secretly for God shall be openly rewarded by him—
[He notices with approbation the hidden purposes of our heart: and every man who seeks only the praise of God shall assuredly obtain it: God will look not at the sums we give, but at the motive and principle from which we give it: and even “a cup of cold water given with a single eye to his glory, shall in no wise lose its reward.” Even a desire which we were not able to carry into effect shall be accepted of him, just as David’s was, who desired to build a house for the Lord: “Thou didst well, in that it was in thine heart.” How far God will recompense our liberality with present comforts, we cannot absolutely determine; but he will surely “recompense it at the resurrection of the just; and he would account himself unrighteous, if he were to forget to do so [Note: Hebrews 6:10.]. This, however, we must ever bear in mind, that our actions are always exalted in God’s estimation in proportion as they are lowered in our own: and that the persons whom he represents as honoured and rewarded by him, are those who were altogether unconscious of their own excellencies, and were surprised to hear of services noticed by their Judge, which were overlooked and forgotten by themselves [Note: Matthew 25:44.].]
From this subject we may learn,
How impossible it is for any man to be justified by the works of the law—
[We inquire not now into any kind of gross sin: we will suppose that all of us are free from any imputation of that kind; and that our lives have been altogether spent in doing good: yet who amongst us would present his alms-deeds before the heart-searching God, and defy him to find a flaw in them? — — — If we cannot do that, we must renounce all confidence in the flesh, and rely only on the meritorious sacrifice of the Lord Jesus — — —]
How thankful we should be that a Saviour is provided for us—
[The Lord Jesus Christ is come into the world to seek and save us. He is that Great High Priest who “bears the iniquity of our holy things,” and will clothe us with the unspotted robe of his righteousness, provided we are willing to put off “the filthy rags of our own.” Let us look then to him, whose works alone were perfect. Let us remember, that “though we know nothing by ourselves, yet are we not hereby justified:” God may have seen much obliquity in us, where we ourselves may have been perfectly unconscious of it: but if, on the whole, our “eye has been single,” our imperfections shall be pardoned, and our services be recompensed with “an eternal great reward.”]
DIRECTIONS RESPECTING PRAYER
Matthew 6:5-8. And when thou prayest, thou shall not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly. But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.
WHAT David spoke respecting the Pentateuch is strongly exemplified in the Sermon on the Mount; “By it are God’s servants warned.” Both sins and duties are here exhibited to us in their proper light: the sins of the heart are reprobated, no less than those of the outward act: and the duties which are performed without proper motives and dispositions are shewn to be void of any real worth. Hence we are warned to look chiefly at the heart, and to judge of our state entirely by what we find there. If, for instance, we have been in the habit of dispensing alms, we must not therefore conclude that we have pleased God, unless, upon an examination of our own hearts, we have the testimony of our conscience that we desired to please him. In like manner, if we have been given to prayer, we must not imagine that our prayers have been accepted, unless they have been offered in sincerity and truth. To this effect our Lord teaches us in the words of our text; in which he gives us directions respecting prayer, and guards us against those dispositions which are too frequently indulged in the performance of that duty.
An ostentatious display of devotion is most hateful to God—
[The Pharisees of old were intent only on gaining the applause of man. Hence, on every occasion, they acted a part, as players on a stage [Note: Πρὸς τὸ θεαθῆναι, in ver. 1, seems to convey this idea.]. Even their private devotions were made subservient to their main design; and were ostentatiously displayed in places of public concourse. They pretended to have so much reverence for God, that they would not defer their accustomed services even for a few minutes, but would perform them in the corner of a street, or in any other place, however conspicuous and frequented; whilst, in reality, the whole was a contrivance, in order to attract notice, and obtain a high reputation for sanctity. Such persons our Lord justly calls “hypocrites,” and their services he declares to be altogether unacceptable to the heart-searching God.
These precise habits are no longer seen; but the disposition from whence they arose, prevails as much as ever. We shall not now speak of formalists, who frequent the house of God in order to be accounted religious, because we shall notice them under another head: but there are many in the religious world who very nearly resemble the Pharisees of old, whilst they themselves have not the least idea that there is any such defect in their character. I refer to those who are forward to pray and to expound the Scriptures in religious societies, whilst they have no delight in secret prayer, but only in displaying their gifts and talents. I would notice those also, who, in the house of God, use unnecessary peculiarities, whether of voice or gesture, in order that they may appear to be pre-eminently devout. Nor must we overlook those who carry the same hypocritical desires even into their own closets, and contrive, either by the loudness or the length of their devotions, to convey to their families an idea of transcendent piety. But such dispositions, by whomsoever indulged, are hateful to God: and in proportion as we are actuated by them, we debase our best services, and render them an abomination to the Lord.]
In all our approaches to God, we should rather affect privacy and retirement—
[Doubtless, when in the house of God, we ought to conduct ourselves with the deepest reverence: nor should we be afraid of the observations which may be made upon us by ungodly men. Whatever consequences may attend a reverential regard for God, we ought not to put our light under a bushel; but should, like Daniel, brave death itself, rather than for a moment deny our God [Note: Daniel 6:10.]. But where our devotions are professedly private, and no necessity is imposed upon us, we should shun every thing which has the appearance of ostentation or vain-glory, and study to approve ourselves to Him only, “who seeth in secret.” It is his approbation only that we should regard; and from him only should we seek “a recompence of reward.”]
At the same time it becomes us to be equally on our guard,
Superstitious services are scarcely less common than those which are hypocritical—
[The Heathen imagined that their gods were to be moved by long services and vain repetitions. Hence the worshippers of Baal cried to him, “O Baal, hear us! O Baal, hear us!” and continued their cry from morning to noon, and with increased earnestness from noon to evening [Note: 1 Kings 18:26-29.]. And to this hour a great part of the Christian world (the Papists, I mean) continue a superstition as absurd as any that can be found in the heathen world: they repeat their Ave-Marias and their Paternosters a great number of times; (keeping an account thereof with their beads;) and then think that they have performed an acceptable service to the Lord, though they have not offered to him one spiritual petition. Happy were it if such superstition were confined to them: but the same thing obtains also amongst ourselves. What is more common than for persons to attend the house of God, and to go through the service in a dull formal manner, and then to return home satisfied with having performed a duty to their God? Yet the religion of many who fancy themselves devout, consists in nothing but a repetition of such services: and if these services be repeated on the week days as well as on the Sabbath, they take credit to themselves for possessing all the piety that God requires. In some things, I confess, these persons set an example worthy the imitation of the religious world: they are always in their places at the beginning of the service; and they shew a becoming attention to it throughout the whole, both in their reverent postures and their audible responses: and, if my voice could reach to every professor of religion throughout the world, I would say, Learn of them; and as far as these things go, Imitate them. Still, however, inasmuch as the religion of these persons consists in forms only, without any suitable emotions of the heart, it is no better than the worship of the heathen: our Lord himself says, that “in vain do any persons worship him, who draw nigh to him with their lips, whilst their hearts are far from him [Note: Matthew 15:7-9.].”
Some who are truly enlightened, have yet the remains of this old leaven within them; and are apt to judge of their state, rather by the number and length of their services, than by the spirituality of their minds in them: and it would be well if some who minister in holy things, and who multiply their services beyond what their strength will endure, would attend to this hint.]
But we should have more correct notions of the Deity, than to imagine that he requires, or accepts, such services as these—
[We mean not to say, that persons may not profitably and acceptably prolong their services to any extent, when their spirits are devout and their hearts are enlarged; for our Lord himself spent whole nights in prayer and in communion with his God: nor do we say, that all repetitions of the same requests must necessarily be superstitious; for our Lord himself, thrice within the space of one hour, retired for prayer, and poured out his soul in the very same words [Note: Matthew 26:44.]: but we must be understood to say, that the acceptableness of our prayers does not depend on the length of them. God does not need to be informed, or to be persuaded, by us: he is omniscient, and “knows what we need, before we ask him;” and he is all-merciful, and is infinitely more ready to give than we are to ask. We mistake the nature of prayer altogether, if we think that God is prevailed upon by it to do what he was otherwise averse to do. It is true, he requires us to be importunate [Note: Luke 11:8-10; Luke 18:7-8.]: but such expressions as these are not to be strained beyond their proper import: the use of prayer is, to affect our own souls with a deep sense of our guilt and misery; to acknowledge our entire dependence upon God; to raise our expectations from him; and to prepare our hearts for a grateful reception of his blessings; that, when he has answered our petitions, we may give him the glory due unto his name. It is a truth not generally known, that the very disposition to pray is a gift from God; and that God does not give because we pray, but stirs us up to pray, because he has before determined to give: and this truth, well digested in the mind, will keep us equally from a presumptuous neglect of prayer, on the one hand, and from a superstitious use of it, on the other.]
In addition to the foregoing cautions, we will suggest two or three others, arising out of a more minute attention to the text, which will serve as a further application of the subject—
Against neglect of prayer—
[Our Lord does not here directly enjoin prayer as a duty, but he takes for granted that all his followers will pray. On any other supposition than this, his directions would lose all their force. In a subsequent part of this sermon he both enjoins it as a duty, and suspends on the performance of it all hopes of obtaining blessings from God. In truth, it is not possible for a child of God to neglect prayer. Prayer is the very breath of a regenerate soul: and “as the body without the spirit is dead,” so the soul, without those spiritual affections which go forth to God in prayer, is dead also. As soon as ever Saul was converted to God, the testimony of God respecting him was, “Behold, he prayeth [Note: Acts 9:11.].” Those who neglect prayer, are decidedly ranked among the workers of iniquity [Note: Psalms 14:4.], on whom God will pour out his everlasting vengeance [Note: Jeremiah 10:25.]. Think then, beloved, how many there are amongst us, who have reason to tremble for their state! O that every prayerless person would lay this thought to heart! — — —]
Against formality in prayer—
[Prayer is a service of the heart, and not merely of the lip and knee. It is a “pouring out of the soul before God,” and “a stirring up of ourselves to lay hold on God.” Let none then deceive themselves with mere formal services, whether public or private. As to the circumstance of using a preconcerted form of words, that makes no difference either way: a person may pray spiritually with a form, or formally without one. The true point to be ascertained is, Do the feelings and desires of our souls correspond with the expressions of our lips? If they do, that is acceptable prayer; if not, it is altogether worthless in the sight of God. In the foregoing address, we have warned the infidel and profane: in this we would warn the superstitious and hypocritical. Yes: we must testify against them, that God looketh at the heart; and that they never will find acceptance with him, till they come to “worship him in spirit and in truth” — — —]
Against unbelief in prayer—
[It is our duty not only to pray, but to pray in faith. We are to draw nigh to God as “a Father,” and as “our” Father. It is our privilege to “have access to him with boldness and with confidence by faith in the Lord Jesus.” We “should lift up holy hands to him, without doubting.” We are told that “if we waver in our minds, we must not expect to receive any thing at his hands [Note: James 1:6-7.].” Let us then come to him with enlarged hearts: let us “open our mouths wide, that he may fill them.” Let us ask, whatever we feel that we stand in need of: and, when we have asked all that we are able to express, let us think what unsearchable gifts he has further to bestow: and when we have exhausted our store of words and thoughts, let us remember that he is “able to give us exceeding abundantly above all that we can ask or think.” Petitions offered in such a frame as this, will never be unacceptable: such addresses will never be considered as “vain repetitions,” even though they were offered every hour in the day. Indeed, such a frame as this is intended by the Apostle, when he bids us to “pray without ceasing:” and such devotions will surely bring with them a rich reward: even in this world will God “reward” them, and “openly” too, by the manifestations of his love and the communications of his grace: and, in the world to come, he will say concerning us, as of Nathanael of old, “Behold an Israelite indeed,” a man of prayer: “I saw him under the fig-tree,” and in other places whither he retired for prayer; and I now, in the presence of the assembled universe, bear testimony to him as a faithful servant, that shall inherit the kingdom, and possess the glory which I have prepared for him.]
HALLOWING GOD’S NAME
Matthew 6:9. After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.
IT is of the utmost importance to every human being, to know how he shall approach his God with acceptance. Hence some even of the heathen philosophers endeavoured to instruct their disciples how to pray [Note: Plato, in his Dialogue on Prayer, represents Socrates as teaching Alcibiades how to pray.]. We do not find indeed any form of prayer provided for the Jews, with the exception of some short passages which may be regarded in that light [Note: Numbers 6:22-26; Num 10:35-36 and Hosea 14:2-3.]. But in the New Testament we are informed that John the Baptist gave special instructions to his disciples respecting prayer; and our blessed Lord composed a prayer which should be used by his followers, and should serve also as a pattern for prayer to his Church in all ages [Note: Compare the text with Luke 11:2.]. If it be thought that it was intended only for his disciples in their infantine state, previous to the out-pouring of the Spirit upon them, let it be remembered, that it was recorded by the Evangelists a great many years after the full establishment of Christianity, without any hint of its use having been superseded: and consequently, we have the same reason to use it as the form and pattern of our supplications, as the Apostles themselves had: the only difference is, that as our Lord more clearly taught them afterwards to offer their petitions in his name, we must avail ourselves of that further information, to render our prayers more acceptable to God.
It being our intention to enter at large into the consideration of this prayer, we shall confine ourselves at present to that portion of it which we have read; in which are two things to be noticed:
It is to God alone, and not to creatures, whether angels or men, that we are to address our prayers: “God is a jealous God, and will not give his glory to another.” But to him we are invited to draw nigh; and are taught to regard him,
As a loving Father—
[Under this title God was known to his people of old. Indeed it was the appellation, which, in their eyes, was the surest pledge of his love [Note: Isaiah 63:16.]: the appellation too in which he himself appeared peculiarly to delight [Note: Jeremiah 3:4; Jeremiah 3:19.]. And well may it be a comfort to us to be permitted to address him by this endearing name: for, if he be a Father, he will pity our weakness [Note: Psalms 103:13.], and pardon our sins [Note: Luke 15:20.], and supply our every want [Note: Luke 11:11-13.]. True, if we have no nearer connexion with him than the ungodly world, and are his children only by creation, we can derive comparatively but little comfort from it, because we are in rebellion against him: but if we be his children by adoption and grace, what may we not expect at his hands? When we come to him as members of that great family, pleading for ourselves individually, and for the whole collectively, and addressing him in the name of all, as “our Father,” methinks he cannot turn away his ear from us: “We may ask what we will, and it shall be done unto us.” Only let us come with “a spirit of adoption, crying, Abba, Father!” and, however “wide we may open our mouths, he will fill them.”]
As an almighty Friend—
[When we are taught to address God as our Father “which is in heaven,” we are not to understand it as distinguishing him from our earthly parents, but as intended to impress our minds with a sense of his majesty: to remind us, that he sees every thing which passes upon earth, and that he has all power to relieve us, to the utmost extent of our necessities. The consideration that he is our Father, encourages us to come “with boldness and with confidence;” but the thought that he is that “high and lofty One who inhabiteth eternity,” and dwelleth in the light which no man can approach unto; the thought that he knows even the most secret motions of our hearts, and is alike able to save or to destroy; these considerations, I say, are calculated to beget a holy fear in our minds, and to temper our boldness with reverential awe.
Such are the feelings which should be blended in our hearts, whenever we draw nigh to a throne of grace. We should go to God as our Father; but, remembering that “he is in heaven and we upon earth, we should address him in words select and few [Note: Ecclesiastes 5:2.].”]
Let us now turn our attention to,
In this prayer there are six different petitions; three for the advancement of God’s honour, and three for the promotion of our happiness. The former having the precedence, may fitly teach us, that a regard for God’s honour ought to be first in our intention and desire. Yet it may well be doubted whether the address which is presented to God in our text, is a petition, or a thankful acknowledgment. Perhaps, in so concise a form as this, both may be properly included. Agreeably to this idea we shall consider the address,
[Though not generally regarded in this light, it seems naturally enough to bear this construction, inasmuch as it accords exactly with the feelings of a devout soul, when impressed and animated with a sense of God’s paternal love. Suppose a person to have been meditating on the perfections of his God, the stupendous display of his love and mercy in Christ Jesus, his covenant engagements to his believing people, and the innumerable benefits conferred upon them; suppose him also to be warmed with the thought that this God is his God, his Father, and “his eternal great reward;” what would be the first effusions of his soul? Would he not burst forth into praises and adorations, and even labour for words whereby to express his love and gratitude towards him? Thus it was with David on many occasions [Note: Psalms 9:1-2; Psalms 103:1-5.]; and thus it will be with all who truly delight themselves in God. Sometimes, no doubt, the believer’s mind will be led to dwell rather on other subjects, whether of confession or petition, as circumstances may require: but where nothing extraordinary has occurred to distract his attention, sure I am that the language of adoration is most expressive of his feelings, and most suited to his state.]
[The Christian will not be satisfied with his own personal endeavours to honour God. But will wish and pray that the whole universe may render him the honour due unto his name. Hence he will beg of God to banish from the world all ignorance and error; and so to reveal himself to mankind, that all may be constrained to shew forth his praise — — — This, I say, is nigh unto the heart of the believer: he will long to promote it to the utmost of his power [Note: Psalms 57:7-11.]: he will pant after it, as an object of his most anxious desires [Note: Psalms 67:2-5.]: and he would be glad if every creature, rational and irrational, animate and inanimate, could unite in this as their one blest employ [Note: Psalms 148:1-11.].]
Hence we may learn,
How glorious is the liberty of God’s praying people—
[They are rescued from the dominion of slavish fears and selfish desires. “Happy art thou, O Israel, O people saved by the Lord!” Inexpressibly happy are all whose hearts accord with the language of our text! Methinks they resemble, as nearly as such imperfect creatures can, the inhabitants of the realms of light. The cherubim around the throne veil their faces and their feet, in token of that reverential awe which they feel in the presence of the Deity: and the glorified saints cast down their crowns before the footstool of their Lord, to express their sense of their unworthiness of the mercies vouchsafed unto them; whilst the whole united choir vie with each other in hallelujahs to God and to the Lamb. Thus it is with the saints on earth, both in their secret chambers and in the house of God: they are filled with adoring thoughts of God their Saviour, and “rejoice in him with joy unspeakable and glorified.” Doubtless they experience changes in their frames, and seem at times almost to have forgotten their high privileges: but in their better seasons they shew forth the power of divine grace, and enjoy an antepast of heaven. O that all of us might know their blessedness, by sweet experience!]
What losers are they who neglect prayer—
[The generality of people account prayer a drudgery: but they are bitter enemies to their own souls. What loss do they suffer in having God for an enemy, when they might have him for their Friend and Father! As for God, he suffers no loss: if they refuse to glorify him willingly, he will glorify himself upon them against their will. Reflect then, brethren, what sufferers you are, whilst you are turning your back on God! You have no Father to go to in the time of trouble; no sweet assurance that Almighty wisdom and power are exercised for your support; no anticipations of the blessedness of heaven. On the contrary, all your enjoyments are empty, all your prospects dark. In this world you have little happiness above the beasts; and in the world to come, an eternity of unavailing sorrows. O that you would now begin to pray! O that God might say of you this day, as he did of Saul immediately after his conversion, “Behold, he prayeth!” Then, however desperate your case may now appear, you should soon be received into the family of your God, and be partakers of his inheritance for evermore.]
THE LORD’S PRAYER
Matthew 6:10. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.
HIGHLY as the Lord’s Prayer is esteemed amongst us, and frequently as it is used, there is scarcely any part of Scripture less considered: we are contented with repeating the words, without ever attending to its true import. The fact is, that though it is written for the use of all, none can use it aright but the true Christian: it is the Christian only, whose heart can embrace the subjects contained in it.
The first petition which we are taught to offer, is, that God’s “name may be hallowed” and adored. The two next petitions (which now come under our consideration) are intimately connected with it; they have respect to,
The universal establishment of his kingdom—
The kingdom, for the establishment of which we pray, is that of the Messiah—
[The dominion which God exercises by his providence, cannot be more universal than it is: “his kingdom ruleth over all.” But the government which he maintains over the souls of men has in every age been extremely limited and partial. That is the kingdom which God has determined to erect: of that the prophets have distinctly prophesied [Note: Daniel 2:44.], and declared that it should be subjected to “Messiah the Prince [Note: Daniel 7:13-14.]:” its extent is to be universal [Note: Ibid.], and its duration to the end of time [Note: 1 Corinthians 15:24-25.].
The time was now at hand when the foundations of this kingdom were to be laid: and there was a general expectation, both among the godly [Note: Luk 2:38 and Mark 15:43.] and the ungodly [Note: Luke 17:20-21.], that measures for its establishment would speedily be adopted. True it is, that few, if any, sufficiently advert to the spiritual nature of this kingdom: but our Lord gradually rectified the apprehensions of his followers respecting it: and taught them to expect the long-wished-for period; and to pray that nothing might be able to retard its arrival. Some have thought, that, since the establishment of Christianity in the world, there is no further occasion for this petition: but there is, in fact, the same occasion for it now as there was at the first moment it was suggested to the disciples: the only difference between their use of it and ours is, that they prayed for the commencement of this kingdom, and we for its progressive and final establishment. Indeed, the kingdom itself will never have attained its utmost bounds, till every enemy of it be put under the Messiah’s feet, and every subject of it be perfected in glory.]
Nor can this event have too prominent a place in our prayers—
[After the general petition that God’s name may be glorified, we are taught immediately to desire the advent of the Messiah’s kingdom. Nor is this without reason: for it is by the establishment of this kingdom, and by that alone, that God’s name can ever be sanctified in the earth. Look at the Heathen world, who are worshipping devils, or bowing down to stocks and stones: what glory has the Lord from them? Look at those who are carried away by the Mahometan delusion, or hardened by Jewish infidelity: these profess indeed to acknowledge the one true God; but they cast his word behind them, and are avowed enemies to his only-begotten Son. Look at the Christian world, by whom he is dishonoured no less than by any of those whom we have before mentioned: with the exception of a little remnant whom he has renewed by his grace, there is not one on earth that truly loves him, or cordially adores him: all have some idol in their hearts which they prefer to him, some darling lust which they will not sacrifice for his sake. Here surely is abundant reason why we should entreat him to put forth his almighty power for the conversion of the world.
Let this petition then be offered by us with constancy, and with an earnestness proportioned to its importance. Let us pray that “the word of the Lord may have free course and be glorified amongst us:” that he would “gird his sword upon his thigh, and ride on in the cause of meekness and truth and righteousness;” till “all the kingdoms of the world become the kingdom of the Lord and of his Christ.”
God requires this at our hands; nay more, the creation itself demands it of us. “The whole creation are represented as groaning and travailing in pain together” in expectation of this event [Note: Romans 8:21-23.]; and therefore may well be considered as calling on us to exert ourselves in every possible way for their complete deliverance. Whenever then we contemplate the state of those around us, or extend our views to the Heathen world, let us lift up our hearts to God, and pray, “Thy kingdom come.”]
Closely connected with this petition is that which next occurs, for,
The unlimited execution of his will—
This will flow from the former, as an effect inseparable from it. We cannot approve ourselves subjects of the Redeemer’s kingdom in any other way than by our obedience to his will. Hence we are taught to pray, that God’s will may be done by ourselves and all mankind, even as it is done in heaven: and that too,
In a way of cheerful acquiescence—
[The angels, notwithstanding they dwell immediately in the presence of their God, and behold “the works which he doeth for the children of men,” are yet not privy to his ultimate designs; nor do they understand the full scope of all that they behold. As, under the Mosaic dispensation, the cherubim upon the mercy-seat were formed in a bending posture, looking down upon the ark, in order, as it were, to search out the mysteries contained in it, so are the angels represented by St. Peter as “desiring to look into” the Gospel salvation [Note: 1 Peter 1:12.]; and St. Paul says, that the revelation which God has with progressive clearness made of himself unto the Church, is no less instructive to them than to us [Note: Ephesians 3:10.]. But we are well assured that they never for a moment doubt either the wisdom or goodness of God in any of his dispensations [Note: Revelation 16:5-7; Revelation 19:1-4.]. In this they are a fit pattern for our imitation. We know not the secret purposes of God in any thing that he does: his ways are in the great deep, and his footsteps are not known. But we should be satisfied in our minds, that “he does, and will do, all things well;” and that, though “clouds and darkness are round about him, righteousness and judgment are the basis of his throne.” However mysterious his ways may appear, we should at all times solace ourselves with this, that “what we know not now, we shall know hereafter.” Were this spirit universally prevalent, discontent would be utterly banished from the world. Under the most afflictive dispensations we should maintain a humble composure and a thankful frame [Note: Isaiah 39:8. 1 Samuel 3:18. 2 Samuel 15:25-26.]. What a desirable state! how honourable to God! and what a source of happiness to man!]
In a way of active obedience—
[Here also are the angels a pattern for us: they are “ministers of God, to do his pleasure; and they do his commandments, hearkening unto the voice of his word [Note: Psalms 103:20-21.].” The very first intimation of the Divine will is quite sufficient for them. Whatever the office be, whether to deliver Lot from Sodom, or to destroy a hundred and eighty-five thousand Assyrians, they execute it with equal readiness and equal pleasure. Thus should we engage in the service of our God: it should be “our meat and our drink to do his will:” we should hearken diligently to his word, in order to learn what we have to do; and then we should do it without hesitation, without weariness, without reserve. Nor should we be satisfied with having our own souls brought into this state; we should long to see every sinner upon earth, and “every thought of his heart, captivated in like manner to the obedience of Christ.” The Apostle’s prayer should be the language both of our hearts and lips [Note: Hebrews 13:20-21.].
But who can effect this change? Who can subdue the unruly wills and affections of sinful men? None but God: he must “make them willing in the day of his power, or they will continue in their rebellion even to the end. To him therefore we should look; and to him should we make our supplication, that he would “reveal his arm,” and subdue the nations to the obedience of faith.]
From this directory for prayer, we cannot but observe,
What elevation of mind religion inspires—
[Statesmen and philosophers, however enlarged their minds, are occupied solely about the things of time and sense: whereas the Christian, even though he be poor and illiterate, “separates himself” for the pursuit of higher objects, and “seeketh and intermeddleth with heavenly wisdom [Note: Proverbs 18:1.].” The universal establishment of the Messiah’s kingdom, and the unlimited execution of the Divine will, the bringing down of heaven to earth, and the assimilating of earth to heaven, these are the subjects of his daily meditation: these are the objects of his most ardent desire. The men of science justly value themselves on having enjoyed the blessings of education: they know and feel the benefit of having their thoughts raised to the contemplation of objects that are out of the reach of vulgar and illiterate minds. But the Christian surpasses them incomparably more than they surpass the lowest of mankind: his meditations are more noble; his mind is more enlarged. Let us learn then to form a proper estimate of religion; and to regard it with the veneration it deserves.]
What happiness it is calculated to produce—
[Let these petitions be answered; let this state of things prevail; let the Messiah reign in the hearts of all mankind; let the example of angels be emulated by every human being. Will any one say, that this would lessen the happiness of the world? Will any one say that he even feels a doubt upon the subject? No: we are all convinced in our consciences, that in proportion as we approximated to the holiness of angels, we should also participate their bliss. See what it is that occasions by far the greater part of misery in the world: “Whence spring wars and fightings amongst us, but from the lusts which war in our members?” It is to the same source that we must trace the greater part of our bodily disorders and our mental troubles. Sin is the parent of misery in ten thousand different forms: and it is religion alone that can heal the wounds which sin has made. If any who profess religion are not happy, the fault is not in religion, but in them: they have either erroneous notions of God’s kingdom, or a partial regard for his will. Let them only possess the dispositions implied in these prayers, and they will have a very heaven upon earth [Note: See Isaiah 60:19-20.].]
THE LORD’S PRAYER
Matthew 6:11. Give us this day our daily bread.
IN those petitions which relate to the glory of God, that occurs first which is the most comprehensive and the most important: in these which relate to the welfare of man, a different order is observed. The comfortable support of our bodies, instead of being of chief importance, is, when compared with spiritual blessings, quite insignificant. Yet is a petition respecting that with great propriety placed first; because, unless our bodies be preserved in life, there will be no further scope for the communication of grace on God’s part, or the exercise of it on ours. The subject of this petition indeed is such, as many would think scarcely worthy of a place in so short a summary of prayer as that before us: but our Lord did not account it so; and therefore we should not.
That we may form a right judgment concerning it, let us consider,
The import of this petition—
There are two things in it which call for explanation:
The general scope of it—
[Some have thought, that, because Christ is represented as “the bread of life” which every one must eat, we are here taught to pray for the knowledge and enjoyment of Him: whilst others have thought, that the prayer referred to the sacramental bread, which in the primitive Church was partaken of daily by the whole body of believers. But neither of these interpretations accords with the terms in which the petition is conveyed. The plain and literal sense of the words seems to be that which was intended by our Lord. It may be thought strange indeed, that, when three petitions only are suggested for the welfare of man, one of them should be confined to his bodily concerns. But it must be remembered, that those are the concerns in which we are most apt to overlook the interpositions of Heaven; and consequently, that we particularly need to have this very direction given us. Nor is it a small matter to acknowledge the agency of God in things of such apparently inferior moment: for it leads us to realize the thought of an overruling Providence in every thing, even in the death of a sparrow, or the falling of a hair of our head.]
The particular limitations contained in it—
[The thing which we pray for, is limited to the necessaries of life. This is the general acceptation of the term “bread” in Scripture: it comprehends all the things which are needful for the body, but not any luxuries or superfluities. Doubtless those necessaries will vary according to our rank and situation in life, and according to the numbers we have dependent on us for support: and what would be a superfluity under some circumstances, would be no more than absolutely necessary under other circumstances: but, due respect being had to these things, this must be the limit of our requests. If we ask for any thing, “to consume it upon our lusts, we ask amiss [Note: James 4:3.].”
The measure also of these necessaries is limited. We are not to ask for a store on which we may subsist for a time independent of God; but simply for such things as are requisite for our present subsistence. The term that is used in our text [Note: ἐπιοῦσιον.] is indeed variously interpreted: but, when compared with the corresponding passage in St. Luke [Note: Luke 11:3. τὸ καθʼ ἡμέραν.], its meaning will evidently appear to be that which our translators have affixed to it: we pray from day to day, that God will give us what is necessary for the day. We are not even to “take thought for the morrow;” at least, not so as to feel any anxious care respecting it [Note: ver. 34.]: for we know not that we shall be alive on the morrow; or, if we be spared, we know that He who provided for us yesterday and to-day, can do the same to-morrow: on Him therefore we should “cast our care, believing that he careth for us,” and that he will provide whatever in his wisdom he shall see good for us. In every place, in every event, in every thing, we should see, as it were, that name inscribed, “Jehovah-jireh,” The Lord will provide [Note: Genesis 22:8; Genesis 22:14.].]
Now this petition will be found extremely important, if we consider,
The instruction to be derived from it—
We need not put any forced interpretation on our text in order to render it instructive; for,
It teaches us many practical lessons that are of great importance:
That we should be moderate in our desires of earthly things—
[Our hearts are naturally set on earthly things. Our Lord tells us, that the Gentiles think of little except what they shall eat, and drink, and wear [Note: ver. 32.]. And it is precisely thus with the great mass of those who bear the Christian name. The heathen themselves do not exceed us in an eager pursuit after the good things of this life. Nor is perfect contentment known even among those who possess the largest fortunes: there is always something beyond their present attainments, which they are aspiring after, and anxious to possess. But it should not, nor indeed can it, be thus with any true Christian. The man who sees the worth and excellence of heavenly things can no longer pant after the worthless things of time and sense: he is like a man, who, having looked at the sun, sees a dark spot upon every earthly object. From that moment, Agur’s wish is his [Note: Proverbs 30:8-9.]: in his addresses to his heavenly Father, he can ask for nothing more than food and raiment [Note: Genesis 28:20.]: possessing that, he is content [Note: 1 Timothy 6:8.]: or even if he do not possess it, he “knows how to suffer need as well as to abound [Note: Philippians 4:11-12.];” and, when “having nothing, feels that he possesses all things [Note: 2 Corinthians 6:10.].”
Let this lesson then be learned by us: and let every one of us apply to himself that solemn caution, “Seekest thou great things unto thyself? Seek them not [Note: Jeremiah 45:5.].”]
That we should depend on God’s providence for the supply of them—
[God is the true source of temporal, no less than of spiritual blessings. It is he who causeth the earth to bring forth [Note: Psalms 104:14-15.], and instructs men how to cultivate it to advantage [Note: Deuteronomy 8:17-18.]: and, without his blessing, all our labours would terminate in disappointment [Note: Haggai 1:6.]. The whole creation subsists upon his kind and bounteous provision [Note: Psalms 104:27-28.]. Now because we have so long been habituated to receive the productions of the earth, either spontaneously presenting themselves to us, or rewarding the labours of our hands, we are very apt to overlook the Donor, and to forget our dependence upon God. But we are in fact as dependent on him as “the fowls of the air, which neither sow, nor reap, nor gather into barns:” and we should in the habit of our minds live upon his providence, precisely as the Israelites did in the wilderness; and receive “our daily bread” at his hands, as much as if it were daily given to us from the clouds. We are indeed to labour for the things which are necessary for the body, as well as for those which pertain to the soul. The prohibition which our Lord gave respecting this, is not absolute, but only comparative [Note: John 6:27.]. If we will not labour for ourselves, we have no claim for assistance either from God or man [Note: 2 Thessalonians 3:12.]. Nevertheless, when we have laboured with ever so much skill and diligence, we must bear in mind, that “our daily bread is as truly the gift” of God, as if we had not laboured for it at all: and our hope for the future must be in him alone, as much as if we were, like Elijah, subsisting daily on provision brought to us by ravens.]
That, whatever be the portion which God sees fit to give us, we should be therewith content—
[A person who should form his judgment by outward appearances, would think that there is an exceeding great difference between the comforts of the rich and of the poor. But there is really far less difference than we are apt to imagine. The richest man has no security for his possessions: experience proves, that kings may be hurled from their thrones, and nobles be reduced to subsist on charity. Moreover, whilst men possess their wealth, they may, by disease of body or perturbation of mind, be deprived of all comfort, and be made to envy the poorest man who is in the enjoyment of health and peace. But the pious poor have necessaries secured to them on the most inviolable of all tenures, the promise of a faithful God [Note: Matthew 6:33.Psalms 34:10; Psalms 34:10.]. Besides, the rich have very little conception of the happiness that is derived from seeing the hand of God in their daily provision. This happiness is reserved for the poor. They are constrained to feel their dependence on God: and, when they receive their supplies, they often behold such peculiar circumstances attending them, as mark in the strongest manner the interposition of the Deity in their behalf. Can any one doubt whether provision sent in such a way be enjoyed with a greater zest than that which is supplied out of our own store? Surely the thoughts which arise in the mind of a poor man on such occasions, which fill his eyes with tears of gratitude, and his mouth with songs of praise, are an infinitely richer feast than all the luxuries which even royal wealth could procure. Let not any then be discontented with their lot: “the rich and the poor meet together” far more nearly than is generally supposed [Note: Proverbs 22:2.]: “A man’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things that he possesseth,” but in the blessing which he enjoys along with it: “The blessing of the Lord, it maketh rich; and he addeth no sorrow with it [Note: Proverbs 10:22.].” Our blessed Lord, who often wanted bread to eat, and “a place where to lay his head,” has sanctified a state of want, and shewn that the Father’s love is not to be judged of by his external dispensations, or his children’s happiness materially affected by them. Are any of you then under circumstances of trial? Be of good cheer: it is a small matter: it is a small matter for your bodies to be in want, provided “your souls be satisfied with the plenteousness of your Father’s house.” Only “eat abundantly” of “the living bread,” “which is meat indeed;” and then the scantiest pittance that you can subsist upon shall be sweet as honey or the honeycomb. Feed richly, I say, on that; and “you shall never hunger,” as long as the world shall stand [Note: John 6:35; John 6:55.]. As it respects your body, “your bread shall be given you, and your water shall be sure;” and, as it respects your soul, you shall evermore “delight yourself in fatness [Note: Isaiah 33:16; Isaiah 55:2.].”
THE LORD’S PRAYER
Matthew 6:12. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
THE petitions of men to the Supreme Being will be presented in a different order, according to the general state of their minds, or according to the particular circumstances in which they are placed. A person just awakened to a sense of his guilt and danger, would most probably assign the first place in his petitions to that which, at such a season, would press most forcibly upon his mind—the obtaining of reconciliation with an offended God. But when he has obtained peace with God, and is enabled to come to him as a child unto his father, his slavish fear gives way to an ingenuous concern for his father’s honour, and his own personal safety occupies a less prominent situation in his prayers. Not that he is less interested in the welfare of his soul than before; but he is more interested in other concerns, which, at the first, had no place in his thoughts. Accordingly we find, in that form of prayer which our Lord himself has prescribed as the most perfect, this order is observed. The devout soul is first led to express its concern for the universal establishment of the Redeemer’s kingdom; and then, after one petition for the preservation of its existence in the body, it is taught to implore the pardon of all its multiplied transgressions. This is the portion of that prayer which we are at this time to consider: and in it we shall notice,
The petition itself—
To pray for the forgiveness of our sins is,
[Sins are here spoken of under the notion of debts: for as by the preceptive part of the law we are bound to obedience, so by the sanctions of the law there is laid upon us an obligation to suffer punishment in case of disobedience. Our sins therefore are debts which we owe to divine justice for our violations of the laws of God. And who is there among the children of men that has not many debts to be forgiven? That there is a great difference between different persons in respect to the guilt they have contracted, we readily acknowledge; but “there is no man that liveth and sinneth not:” “in many things we all offend:” “if any say that they have not sinned, they make God a liar, and his word is not in them:” for his testimony respecting the whole race of mankind is, that “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God;” and, consequently, that “every mouth must be stopped, and all the world become guilty before him.”
What then must be done? Can any one discharge his own debt? If any will attempt it, what method will he pursue? If he will obey the law in future, that will no more satisfy its demands for past disobedience than the ceasing to increase a debt will discharge a debt that is already contracted. If he will endeavour to atone for his sins by tears of penitence, rivers of tears will never suffice to wash away one sin. There is but one possible remedy remaining for him; and that is, to cast himself upon the mercy of God, and to implore forgiveness for the Redeemer’s sake. In this respect all are upon a level: whether our sins have been greater or less, this is the only way in which we can return to God with any hope of acceptance. The proud self-justifying Pharisee will be dismissed with abhorrence; and those only who come in the spirit of the self-abasing publican will obtain mercy at his hands.
There are two sorts of persons indeed, who are apt to indulge very erroneous conceptions on this subject: some suppose that they are so completely justified as not to need any renewed applications for pardon: and others, that they are so perfectly sanctified as not to have any fresh occasion for pardon. But as David, after God by Nathan had sealed his pardon, still implored mercy at the hands of God [Note: Compare 2 Samuel 12:13. with Psalms 51:0.], so must we; and they who fancy themselves living in a sinless state, are proud deceivers of their own souls [Note: 1 John 1:8. James 3:2.]. There is not a day or an hour in which any human being has not just occasion to offer the petition in our text; the corruption of his nature, the transgressions of his former life, and the imperfections of his very best services, all require it of him [Note: See John 13:10. As they who have walked in a bath yet need to wash their feet on account of the defilement contracted in coming from it, so, &c.].]
[Consider the state of a man whose iniquities are not forgiven; God, the Almighty God, is his enemy [Note: Psalms 7:11-13.] — — — He is every moment in danger of dropping into hell [Note: Luke 12:20.] — — — He neither has, nor can have, any solid peace in his mind [Note: Isaiah 57:20-21.] — — — He lives but to aggravate his guilt, and augment his condemnation [Note: Romans 2:5.] — — — Can any one reflect on this, and not see the importance of urging the petition in our text? The only wonder is, that any person in an unforgiven state can close his eyes in sleep, or give attention to any of the concerns of time or sense, till he has implored mercy at the hands of his offended God.]
But whilst the general importance of this petition is obvious, there certainly is some obscurity in,
The limitation or condition annexed to it—
To understand this part of the Lord’s Prayer aright, we must compare the expressions as recorded by St. Luke, with those which are used in the text. St. Luke says, “Forgive us, for we forgive others [Note: Luke 11:4.]:” but in the text we pray, “Forgive us, as we forgive others.” Now we cannot doubt but that both the Evangelists have given the prayer with accuracy, so far at least as not to comprehend in it any thing which was not intended by our Lord. We, therefore, shall take the petition in both views, and consider it as importing,
A profession of our readiness to forgive others—
[This is a frame of mind which God requires in all who come to him for mercy; and he warns us not to expect mercy at his hands whilst we are indisposed to exercise it towards others [Note: James 2:13.]. Such is the explanation which our Lord himself gives of his own words [Note: ver. 14, 15.]: and, taken in this sense, they are a kind of plea with God to grant us our desire, and an encouragement to ourselves to expect it. The duty of forgiving others being imposed upon us as a condition, without the performance of which God will not forgive us, a consciousness of having performed the duty emboldens us to ask forgiveness at his hands. Moreover, whilst we thus appeal to God respecting our endeavours to obey his commandments, we do in effect acknowledge the agency of his Spirit, and the efficacy of his grace; without which we should have neither the ability nor inclination to fulfil his will [Note: Philippians 2:13.]. In this view then it is also encouraging; for, if God has already bestowed his grace upon us, and we have a clear evidence of it by its operation on our hearts and lives, we may reasonably hope, that he will yet further extend his mercy to us in the pardon of all our sins: we may regard his past favours as a pledge and earnest of others yet to come, and especially of those which our souls most need, and which he himself is most ready to bestow.]
A consent that the mercy we shew to others should be made the pattern of God’s mercy to us—
[We cannot with propriety request, that the forgiveness which we exercise towards others may be the measure of that which we would receive from God; (because every thing we do is so extremely imperfect:) but the pattern it may and ought to be. Of course, as in the former case, when we speak of a condition, we are not to be understood as if there were any thing meritorious in forgiving others, or as if God bargained with us, as it were, and bartered away his mercies: so, in the present case, we are not to be understood as if there were, or could be, any thing in us that was worthy of God’s imitation. There is a sense in which we are to be “pure, as God is pure,” and “perfect, as he is perfect:” and, in a similar sense, though not with equal strictness, we may beg of God to forgive us our offences, as we forgive our offending fellow-creatures; that is, freely, fully, cordially, and for ever.
True it is that, in offering this petition, we need to speak “with fear and trembling;” lest there be in our hearts any root of bitterness unperceived by us, and lest, when praying for forgiveness, we do in effect pray, that we be not forgiven. And, that no doubt may exist respecting our sincerity in forgiving others, we ought to be rendering good for evil, and “heaping thereby coals of fire on the heads” of our enemies, to melt them into love. Then may we use this petition with safety, with confidence, and with comfort.]
From this view of our subject, we learn,
The temper of a Christian—
[Knowing that his own debt to God is ten thousand talents, and that his fellow-creature can at the utmost owe to him only a few pence, the Christian dares not take him by the throat unmercifully, lest God should retaliate on him, and require at his hands the debt, which the whole universe could never pay. Freely has he received remission; and freely does he grant it, even to those who may have injured him in the highest degree. All bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, are put away from him, with all malice: and he is kind, tender-hearted, and forgiving towards others, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven him [Note: Ephesians 4:31-32.].
Let us examine then whether this be indeed our character: let us search whether our mode of speaking of others, and of acting towards them, accord with it: for, if we bring our gift to the altar with an unforgiving spirit, God bids us to “go our way,” and not presume to expect any tokens of his favour, till the most perfect reconciliation has been sought with our offending or offended brother [Note: Mat 5:23-24 and especially 18:35.].]
The privilege of a Christian—
[Here God permits, encourages, commands us to ask of him the free and full pardon of all our sins. No consideration whatever is had to the number or greatness of them: the command is given to every human being; and the fullest possible assurance, that none shall ask in vain [Note: Matthew 7:7-8. Isaiah 1:18.].
Some however have thought, that, because no mention is here made of Christ and his atonement, we need not to have respect to him in our addresses at the throne of grace. But we must remember, that our Lord had not yet declared the whole of what he was come to reveal. This sermon was delivered quite at the commencement of his ministry, and before the minds of his followers were sufficiently prepared for the clearer manifestation of divine truth. What therefore he afterwards declared respecting the intent of his death and resurrection, must direct us in our use of this prayer. He has told us, that he “shed his blood for the remission of sins;” and that we must present our petitions to God in his name; consequently we must have respect to the merit of his blood, and to the efficacy of his intercession, whenever we approach our God, whether in the use of this prayer, or of any other, which we may think suited to our state. If the consideration of an atonement seem to detract from the freeness of the pardon, St. Paul saw no ground whatever for such an objection [Note: Romans 3:24.].
Be it known then to all, that a way of access unto the Father is opened to us through the crucifixion of the Son of God; and that, if only we ask forgiveness in the Redeemer’s name, our iniquities, whatever they may have been, shall be “blotted out as a morning cloud,” and be irrecoverably “cast into the depths of the sea.”]
THE LORD’S PRAYER
Matthew 6:13. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever Amen.
ON a review of the Lord’s Prayer, we cannot but be thankful that such a summary is here given us, not only because we are hereby instructed what to pray for, but are assured that, great as the petitions are, they shall all be granted, if we offer them up in faith. The conclusion of the prayer which we have now read, is not contained in St. Luke’s Gospel. But we must remember, that the prayer was given to the disciples at two different times, and on different occasions: and that in the one it might be contained, though it might be omitted in the other. Doubts indeed have been suggested whether it originally formed any part of the prayer before us: but, whilst the Latin versions and fathers omit it, it is found in most of the Greek manuscripts, and is quoted by most of the Greek fathers: from whence the translators of our Bible have admitted it as a part of the sacred text; as we also may safely do on their authority. Certain it is that there is in these words a perfect correspondence with the prayer itself; and that they admirably express the feelings of a devout soul. This may be understood in a twofold view;
As a devout acknowledgment—
It is often called a doxology, or an ascription of praise to God: and in this view we may observe concerning it,
That it accords with many other passages of Holy Writ—
[Such effusions of praise are frequent in the Holy Scriptures: indeed the very words appear to have been taken from that thanksgiving of David, which he uttered when both he and his people had been consecrating their offerings to the Lord for the building of his temple [Note: 1 Chronicles 29:10-13. Recite the passage.] — — — In the New Testament such doxologies abound. The Apostles frequently interrupt the thread of their argument, (if it can be called an interruption,) by breaking forth into rapturous expressions of praise and thanksgiving [Note: Galatians 1:5. 1 Timothy 1:17.]; and more frequently conclude their epistles with such tokens of grateful adoration [Note: Romans 16:27. 1 Peter 5:11. Jude, ver. 24, 25.]. Sometimes also we find, that, after pouring out their souls before God in prayer, the Apostles address their thanksgivings to him, just in the way that we are taught to do in the prayer before us [Note: Ephesians 3:14; Ephesians 3:20-21.]. The propriety therefore of addressing God in this manner is evident, since it is sanctioned by the example of the saints in all ages.]
That it is well calculated for the use of the Christian Church—
[Every work of God, whether animate or inanimate, renders unto him a tribute of praise: the beauty and order of the whole creation, and the adaptation of every thing to its proper end, declares aloud the wisdom, the power, and the goodness of the Creator. But the people of God must be active in rendering praise to him; according to that distinction of the Psalmist, “All thy works praise thee, O God; and thy saints shall bless thee [Note: Psalms 145:10.].” The redeemed of the Lord are called upon to testify their obligations to him in this manner day and night [Note: Psalms 107:1-2; Psa 145:1-2 and Psalms 146:1-2.]: it is “comely” for them so to do [Note: Psalms 147:1.], and, “if they should hold their peace, the very stones would cry out against them.” And where shall we find words more proper for our use? They are so concise as to be easily remembered, and so comprehensive as to include every thing that we could wish to say. They are, in fact, an epitome of that song which saints and angels are singing in the realms above [Note: Revelation 5:13.] — — — and, if we offer them in a becoming manner, we shall have an earnest and foretaste of the heavenly bliss.
Nor is there a small emphasis to be laid on the word with which the prayer concludes. “Amen,” when annexed to praise and thanksgiving, denotes the full concurrence of the soul in all that has been uttered. In the fourth century, it was customary for the whole Church to utter this word aloud, in order to express their cordial assent to every thing that had been spoken; and at times, as St. Jerome tells us, the sound was like thunder [Note: “In Ecclesiis urbis Romζquasi tonitru cleste audimus populum reboantem Amen.” Prζf. in Epist. ad Galat.]. As far as respects their earnestness, we approve of their custom: but we think that true devotion would be less clamorous: and we far prefer that mode adopted by the Church in the days of Nehemiah, when the earnestness was equally, but more suitably, expressed; being chastened and tempered with ardent affection and reverential awe [Note: Nehemiah 8:6.] — — —]
But we have observed that the words of our text may be also interpreted,
As an humble plea—
Pleading with God is the very essence and perfection of prayer—
[In all the more solemn addresses to the Deity recorded in the Scriptures, pleading bears a very conspicuous part. We must not however imagine that such a mode of prayer was adopted with a view to prevail upon God to grant what he was otherwise averse to give: we mistake the nature of prayer altogether, if we think that it has any such power, or is to be used for any such end. Prayer is rather intended to impress our own minds with a sense of our manifold necessities, and of our dependence upon God for a supply of them; and thus to prepare our souls for a grateful reception of the Divine favours: and consequently, the more urgent our prayers are, the more will these ends be answered; and God will be the more glorified by us, when he has imparted to us the desired benefits. It was with such views that Moses [Note: Exodus 32:11-13.], Jehoshaphat [Note: 2 Chronicles 20:5-12.], Hezekiah [Note: Isaiah 37:15-20.], and all the saints of old, presented their petitions, enforced and strengthened with the most urgent pleas [Note: Isaiah 51:9-10; Isa 63:15-19 and particularly Jeremiah 14:21-22.]. And it is impossible to feel our need of mercy, without following their example in this particular.]
As a plea, this part of the prayer admirably enforces every petition in it—
[Great are the things which we have asked in it: and utterly unworthy are we to offer such petitions at the throne of grace: but God is a mighty Sovereign, who “may do what he will with his own,” and therefore may hear and answer us, though we be the meanest and the vilest of the human race. It is this idea which we express, when we say, “for thine is the kingdom.” The word for shews that it has respect to what goes before, and that we urge this consideration as a plea, to enforce the preceding petitions. Next to the sovereign right of God to answer us, we plead his power. Nothing short of omnipotence can effect the things which we desire of God in this prayer: but he is almighty, and all-sufficient: “with him all things are possible:” and we acknowledge our conviction, that “there is nothing too hard for him.” Lastly, we plead “the glory” which he will derive from granting all the things which we have prayed for; in the conversion and salvation of the world at large, and in every mercy vouchsafed to ourselves in particular, whether in the supply of our bodily wants, or in the pardon of our sins and the preservation of our souls. This sovereignty and this power are his immutable perfections; and this glory will result to him through all eternity, even “for ever” and ever.
Such considerations may well animate us in our addresses at the throne of grace, and encourage us in a further confirmation of our petitions by the word “Amen.”
We have already mentioned one sense of the word “Amen;” namely, that it is a full assent to all that has been uttered. But it has another meaning also, and imports a desire that the things which have been asked may be granted [Note: Revelation 22:20.]. In this latter sense it is often doubled, in order to express more strongly the ardour of that desire [Note: Psalms 72:18-19.]. Would we understand its just import? we may see it illustrated in the prayer of Daniel; where, having enforced his petitions by many urgent pleas, he comes at last to renew them all with redoubled ardour; not indeed by the word “Amen,” but in a more copious strain, expressive of the idea contained in it [Note: Daniel 9:17-19.].
In the Apostolic age the use of this word was universal in the Church: whilst one person addressed the Lord in the name of the whole assembly, all who were present added their “Amen,” and thereby made every petition and thanksgiving their own [Note: 1 Corinthians 14:16.]. Nor has the word lost its use and emphasis even in heaven: for the whole choir, both of saints and angels, are represented as using it in both the senses that we have mentioned; “saying, Amen: Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power, and might, be unto our God for ever and ever. Amen [Note: Revelation 7:11-12.].” O that, in adding our Amen to the prayer before us, we might resemble them; and so utter it now from our inmost souls, that we maybe counted worthy to utter it in full concert with them to all eternity!]
A FORGIVING SPIRIT NECESSARY TO OUR ACCEPTANCE WITH GOD
Matthew 6:14-15. For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: but if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
THE different petitions of the Lord’s Prayer are collected from different parts of the Old Testament, and concentered so as to form a concise and comprehensive summary of all that we need to pray for. But there is annexed to one of the petitions a limitation, which was altogether new, and which greatly needed some elucidation. Our Lord however did not stop to explain it at the time, but finished the prayer first, and then added, in confirmation of it, the words which we have now read; shewing us thereby that the clause had not been lightly introduced, but was of great importance, and indispensable necessity. It certainly appeared strange, that we should presume to make our own compassion towards others the pattern and the measure of God’s compassion towards us: but our Lord would have us to know, that it will be in vain to expect mercy at God’s hands, unless we exercise it towards our fellow-creatures: on this condition, and on this only, can we hope for acceptance with him in the day of judgment.
Having already had repeated occasion to consider the subject of forgiveness of injuries, we shall now advert rather to the manner in which that duty is here enjoined; and shall shew,
In what sense the salvation of the Gospel may be called conditional—
This subject has been a fruitful source of controversy in the Church of Christ: but both sides of the question are true according to the sense which we annex to the word “condition.”
Salvation is not conditional in a way of compact—
[There are those who think that God engages to give us heaven, if we will perform so many good works; and that, when we have performed those good works, we may claim heaven as a debt. But to affirm that salvation is conditional in any such sense as this, would entirely make void the Gospel of Christ. Salvation would then be of works, and not of grace. It would be to no purpose to say, that these terms were procured for us by Jesus Christ, and that we must therefore refer the honour of our salvation unto him, and accept our reward as the purchase of his blood: for, though the procuring of the terms might be his act, the performing of them must be ours: and when we had performed them, we should have whereof to glory before God. But by the Gospel all glorying is excluded [Note: Romans 3:27.]: and therefore salvation cannot be conditional in the way that we are now speaking of.]
But salvation is conditional in a way of inseparable connexion—
[“God has chosen men to salvation;” but it is “through sanctification of the Spirit, and through belief of the truth [Note: 2 Thessalonians 2:13.].” Faith and holiness are required of us; but the performance of them gives us a claim upon God only so far as he has freely engaged himself by his own gracious promises: it does not warrant us to expect any thing on the ground of merit: we cannot go to God, as labourers that have performed their task, and say, “Pay me that thou owest:” on the contrary, “if we had done all that was commanded us, we should still account ourselves unprofitable servants;” and must accept life as the free gift of God for Christ’s sake [Note: Romans 6:23.]. But still we must do these things; and without doing them we cannot possibly be saved. God has appointed the means as well as the end; and the end is to be attained only in and by the means. It is certainly true that “the purpose of God according to election shall stand [Note: Romans 9:11.];” but it is no less true, that it shall be effected only in the way that he has appointed; and that, whatever men may fancy about their predestination to eternal life, “except they repent they shall all perish;” and “if they believe not, they shall not see life;” and “without holiness no man shall see the Lord.” In this sense therefore salvation is conditional: the obligations that are upon us are indispensable; and no person whatever shall be saved who disregards them.]
The import of the term condition being fixed, we shall proceed to shew,
The reasonableness of the condition here imposed—
Here it will be proper to mark the precise nature and limits of the condition imposed—
[The forgiving of others is not so to be understood as to supersede the exercise of magisterial authority. God has appointed magistrates as his vicegerents in the world, and has put the sword into their hands “for the punishment of evildoers, and the support of them that do well:” and if they should forbear “to execute wrath” upon those who violate the laws, they would themselves be guilty of a dereliction of their public duty. Such lenity therefore is not comprehended in the duty which is here inculcated. Neither does the duty here spoken of altogether prohibit us from the personal exercise of our just rights, either for self-defence, or for the obtaining of legal redress. The Apostle Paul pleaded his right as a Roman citizen in order to protect himself against the injuries with which he was menaced; and appealed to the tribunal of Caesar to obtain that justice which was denied him in the inferior courts. He has indeed expressed his disapprobation of a litigious spirit, and especially such a shameful exercise of it as led Christians to drag one another before the tribunals of Heathens. But he does not prohibit Christians from submitting their claims to the arbitration of judicious persons among themselves; and consequently he does not require us so to forgive those who injure us, as in no case to seek redress. If the only alternative be to suffer an injury, or by angry contention to embroil ourselves in difficulties and quarrels, our Lord has determined the point for us, and bidden us to “turn the other cheek to a man who has smitten us,” rather than retaliate the injury, or do ourselves a still greater injury by yielding to a vindictive spirit. But to a certain extent, the support of our just rights is necessary for the preservation of the peace of the community; and consequently we not only are permitted, but bound, in some instances, to maintain our rights, and to punish those who would rob us of them.
But nothing is ever to be done from a vindictive spirit. The smallest disposition to revenge is strictly prohibited. We not only must not avenge ourselves, but must not for a moment be pleased with the news that any evil has happened even to our most inveterate enemy. So fax from wishing him evil, we ought to the uttermost to do him good: to love and bless him when he hates and curses us; and to pray fervently to God for him, at the very time he is doing us all the injury in Iris power. The work of retribution must be left to God, “to whom alone vengeance belongeth;” and we must content ourselves with “heaping coals of fire upon his head,” to melt him into love.
Now on our performance of this duty God suspends the salvation of our souls.]
The reasonableness of this condition will easily appear—
[If we exercise this grace of forgiveness from proper motives, and in a becoming manner, it will be a clear evidence that we are renewed in the spirit of our minds. There are, it is true, some persons of so easy and gentle a disposition, that they would rather pass by an offence than be at the trouble to resent it. But the forgiving spirit of which we are speaking must proceed from a sense of our own utter unworthiness, and of the exceeding greatness of that debt which has been forgiven us. It must proceed also from a sense of love and gratitude to our Lord and Saviour, and from a desire to honour him by treading in his steps and “walking as he walked.” Now where such principles and such conduct are found, there will every other grace be found also: there is in an eminent degree the image of God enstamped upon the soul; and there is “a meetness for the inheritance of the saints in light.” It is reasonable therefore that such a person, possessed of such humility, such faith, such love, such patience, such self-denial, and such an obediential frame, should be forgiven by his God. There is a perfect correspondence between his work and his reward.
On the contrary, a person of an unforgiving spirit shews, beyond a doubt, that he is altogether unhumbled for his own sins. If he had a proper consciousness of the guilt which he himself has contracted, he would feel no disposition to cast a stone at others: nor would he take a fellow-servant by the throat for a few pence, when he was sensible how many talents he himself owed unto his God. Who, that reads the parable by which our Lord has illustrated this subject, does not see the equity of the sentence passed upon the unforgiving servant [Note: Matthew 18:23-35.]? So must also that universal sentence be accounted reasonable by every dispassionate man, “He shall have judgment without mercy, who hath shewed no mercy [Note: James 2:13.].”
On whichever side then we view the condition, it appears most reasonable: it is most reasonable that the forgiving should be pardoned, and the unforgiving punished: and knowing as we do, the determination of God to act agreeably to this rule, we must prepare to expect our sentence of condemnation or acquittal according to it.]
From this one subject we may obtain a deep insight into Christianity: we may behold,
[Persons from different motives are apt to represent the declarations of God in his word as at variance with each other; and, according to their respective views, to wrest the meaning of them for the purpose of maintaining their own particular system. Some, because the grace of God is freely proclaimed to sinners, will not endure the mention of a condition, or admit that there is any kind of conditionality in such passages as that before us. Others, because of such passages, will not endure to hear of God’s electing grace, which they suppose to be inconsistent with them. Others again, because of the difficulty of reducing every thing to their comprehension, are ready to reject Christianity as altogether inconsistent with itself. But there are no two positions in the whole book of God, which are inconsistent with each other. That there are difficulties, we admit: but so there are also in every other work of God, whether of creation or providence: and if there were none in the work of redemption, we should have reason to think that it was not really of divine original. No man that ever lived could reconcile the existence of sin with the holiness of God: but is there therefore an absolute inconsistency between them? Does not every one see that the inability to reconcile them arises from the weakness of our intellect and the narrow limits of our knowledge? The same difficulty is complained of by some in reference to the subject before us; but it is obvious, from the statement we have made, that enough may be said to satisfy an humble mind, though there may still be difficulties left for the confounding of a proud spirit. This is really the case with respect to every other doctrine in the Bible: there may be, as in some works of human art, wheels moving in a variety of directions, and appearing to an ignorant person to obstruct each other; but there is an unity in the whole design, and a subserviency in every part to the production of one common end.
Let us then be on our guard against that controversial spirit that leads men to wrest or stumble at the word of God: and, if there be difficulties which we cannot reconcile, let us be content to say, “What I know not now, I shall know hereafter.”]
[It is astonishing to hear with what presumption many will arraign the justice of God: ‘If he has not elected me, how can I help myself? If he imposes on me conditions which I cannot perform, with what equity will he condemn me?’ The Apostle’s answer to such proud objectors is that which most befits their state: “Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God?” Yet the subject before us may suffice to shew, that “God will be justified in his sayings, and be clear when he judgeth:” the day of judgment is called “the revelation of the righteous judgment of God;” and such it will appear to all. Those who now quarrel with the deep doctrines of predestination and election, will then find, that God has ordered every thing in perfect wisdom and equity. None will then presume to arraign his counsels. None will then object that any are saved or condemned contrary to strict justice. Not one ungodly person will be found amongst those that are saved, nor one godly person amongst those that perish. Both the forgiving and unforgiving will have judgment “measured to them, according as they have meted unto others;” and every man’s happiness or misery will be exactly apportioned to him, according to his works. The godly indeed will feel no difficulty in ascribing their salvation to God and to the Lamb; but the ungodly must for ever ascribe their condemnation to their own incorrigible folly and wickedness.]
[The evils which Christianity is intended to remedy, are guilt and wickedness: and these it does remedy most effectually. Forgiveness of sins is freely offered to every penitent believer, without any respect to the number or greatness of his offences: “the blood of Jesus Christ shall cleanse him from all sin:” if only the sinner believe in Jesus, “he shall be justified from all things,” without exception. But does Christianity make no provision for holiness? Does it leave men a prey to evil dispositions, and a torment to each other? No: it requires a change both of heart and life: it requires the exercise of universal love: it requires a conformity to God himself: it saves not one single person, whom it does not first of all change into the image of God, and make “perfect as God himself is perfect.” Were Christianity universally prevalent, and if it had its full operation in every heart, there would be no unkindness in men towards each other, nor any trouble in their own minds. O that its influence were more generally known, and more deeply felt! Let those at least who profess to have embraced it in sincerity and truth, shew forth its power. Let them shew what amiable tempers it produces in the mind, and what a lovely carriage it produces in the life. If at any time they receive an injury, instead of meditating revenge, let them say, ‘Now has my God given me an opportunity of recommending religion, and of glorifying his name: now has he called me to display the excellency of his Gospel and the efficacy of his grace.’ Such conduct would serve as an evidence to our own minds that we are the Lord’s, and would constrain others also to acknowledge that God is with us of a truth.]
DIRECTIONS RESPECTING FASTING
Matthew 6:16-18. Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; that thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.
IN temporal concerns, men rarely, if ever, confound the means with the end: they expect not the end, but in the use of the means; nor do they use the means, but in reference to the end: they put both in their proper place, subordinating the one to the other; and using the one in order to the other. But in religion, nothing is more common than either to separate or confound them: to separate, by expecting the end without the means; or to confound them, by resting in the means, as if they were the end. For instance: God has appointed fasting as the means of advancing our souls in holiness; but whilst some expect to attain holiness without any such self-denying exertions, others rest in the duty itself, and make that their righteousness. Of the former description are the generality of Christians at this day: of the latter were the Pharisees of old, against whose errors our Lord is guarding his disciples throughout the whole of this sermon on the mount. In the foregoing chapter he has rectified our views in relation to sin: he now rectifies them in relation to duty.
In considering the words before us, we shall notice,
What is implied in them—
It is obvious, that, whilst our Lord gives us directions how to fast, he intimates,
That fasting is a duty—
[Of this there can be no doubt. Some indeed have thought, that the only fast required of us was to abstain from the commission of sin: but, by the same mode of interpreting other parts of this chapter, they will set aside prayer and almsgiving; both of which are required here, not by a positive precept, but by implication only, precisely as fasting is required in the text.
Under the Jewish economy there was an annual fast, which all were bound to observe with great strictness, namely, that on the great day of atonement [Note: Leviticus 23:26-31.]. On particular occasions other fasts were instituted: by Joshua, when some of his men had been slain by the men of Ai [Note: Joshua 7:6.]: by the eleven tribes of Israel, when in two successive conflicts they had been defeated with great slaughter by the tribe of Benjamin [Note: Judges 20:26.]. Besides other public fasts ordered by those in authority, we find the most eminent of God’s servants observing fasts in private. David, as well on account of the unhappy state of his enemies, as on account of his own personal afflictions, “wept and chastened his soul with fasting [Note: Psalms 35:13. 2 Samuel 12:16.]:” and Daniel, desirous of knowing the time which God had fixed for the deliverance of his people from Babylon, sought the Lord, not in prayer only, but “with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes [Note: Daniel 9:3.].” These things, though observed under the law, shew that fasting was not a mere legal ordinance, which in due time was to be disannulled; but a mode of worship suited to the necessities of our fallen nature, and acceptable to God at all times. Indeed, the heathens themselves saw the propriety of approaching God in this manner; insomuch that the governors of Nineveh, when threatened with the divine judgments, proclaimed a fast, and caused it to be strictly observed, not by the people only, but even by the beasts themselves [Note: John 3:6-8.].]
That all his followers would be observant of it—
[This he takes for granted: for why should he give them directions respecting an ordinance which he did not intend them to observe, and which he knew they would not observe? It is manifest that he expected his people to fast, as well as to give alms and pray; and indeed, on another occasion, he declared they should fast. During his presence with them, it would not have been expedient for him to require it, (because his disciples were not yet prepared for such austerities;) nor would it have been suited to their state and condition, (because it was rather a season proper for holy joy:) but after his removal from them, there would be abundant occasion for such self-denying duties; and his disciples would be strengthened for the performance of them [Note: Matthew 9:14-17.]. Accordingly we find that they were “in fastings often,” and that they rarely addressed themselves to any extraordinary duty, such as that of ordaining elders, or separating persons to the work of the ministry, without having first implored direction from God in fasting and prayer [Note: Acts 13:2-3; Acts 14:23.].]
Having shewn that there is a duty implied in the text, we proceed to consider,
What is expressed—
Here are directions given for the due performance of this duty. It should he performed,
[Religion, of a certain kind at least, was in high repute among the Jews: and consequently there was a great temptation to assume an appearance of piety amongst them. Hence the Pharisees observed frequent fast-days, (generally “twice in the week,”) and studiously endeavoured to attract the attention of others by their squalid appearance. They omitted to cleanse and anoint themselves, as at other times; and “disfigured their faces,” probably by dust and ashes which they had strewed on their heads, or, at all events, by downcast and gloomy looks.
Similar temptations do not occur to us: the habits of modern times are not such as to render that kind of sanctity an object of applause: it would rather be thought an indication of insanity: and therefore hypocrisy is rarely seen amongst us in that garb. Nevertheless, the caution against an ostentatious display of piety is at no time unseasonable. Diversity of customs, however they may produce a change in the modes of shewing hypocrisy, make no change at all in the dispositions of the heart: and therefore we must understand this caution as extending to every thing whereby our religious exercises may be ostentatiously displayed.]
[As on the one hand, we are not to desire to be seen of men, soon the other hand, we should act as in the presence of the all-seeing God. But here we fail. In seasons of great public calamity, our government has always called us to humble ourselves before God: and the words which we have uttered at such times have been well suited to the occasion. But how little of real repentance has God seen amongst us! The true way to keep a fast unto the Lord, is by deep humiliation of our souls, and a resolute amendment of our lives. The former is inculcated by the Prophet Joel [Note: Joel 2:12-13.], — — — the latter by the Prophet Isaiah [Note: Isaiah 58:5-7.] — — — But in how few instances have our professions been realized! Well may God complain of us, as of his people of old, “When ye did fast, did ye fast unto me, even unto me [Note: Zechariah 7:5-6.]?” Truly, in sincerity of heart we have been as deficient as ever the Pharisees of old were: and the only difference between them and us has been, that they had the appearance of piety without the reality, and we have been equally destitute of both: we have, with the exception of uttering a few words in a place of worship, rejected even the form of that duty, which we ought to have observed in deed and in truth. But “God is not deceived; nor will he be mocked:” if we thus pour contempt on him and his ordinances, he will require it at our hands at the last day. Let us then, on every renewed occasion, endeavour so to approve ourselves to God, that “he who seeth in secret may reward us openly.”]
In the review of this subject, we may learn,
Whence it is that religion is at such a low ebb amongst us—
[Many are convinced of their lost estate, and live miserably under a sense of guilt, without ever obtaining either pardon of their sins, or victory over them. The reason is precisely that which is stated by our Lord himself: “they seek to enter in at the strait gate, but are not able, because they do not strive.” They do not rise to the occasion: if a few wishes would be effectual, they would soon become new creatures: but if days of fasting and humiliation be found requisite, they will not submit to such a task: they will rather lose heaven, than be at so much cost to obtain it. They find by experience, that what our Lord said respecting some evil spirits whom his disciples could not cast out, is true respecting some of their deep-rooted lusts and habits: “That kind goeth not forth, but by prayer and fasting:” but, as they will not use the means of deliverance, God leaves them still in bondage; and “they are led captive by the devil at his will.”
The want of proficiency in many religious people must be traced to the same source: they do not aspire after high degrees of piety; they are satisfied with low attainments, and with scanty measures of peace and joy. What might they not attain, if they would even learn of a heathen centurion to abound in fasting and prayer [Note: Acts 10:30.]! How much happier too, as well as holier, would married persons be, if they were occasionally to practise those habits which obtained frequently in the primitive Church [Note: 1 Corinthians 7:5.]! Let it be remembered by us, that they who will build high, must dig deep; and, that the more we are abased in humiliation and contrition, the more shall we be exalted in peace and joy.]
Whence it is that our nation is still under the afflicting hand of God [Note: This was preached in 1810, when war had continued almost twenty years, and we had disregarded as many calls to public humiliation; or rather had made them so many occasions of increasing and aggravating our guilt.]—
[To those who would shew true patriotism, we would recommend the example of Nehemiah [Note: Nehemiah 1:4.]; confident that such intercessors are the real bulwark of the nation — — — If the humiliation of so wicked a prince as Ahab succeeded so far as to defer the judgments of God to the next generation, we may well hope, that the genuine repentance of many would prevail for the entire removal of them from our land. “As long as we continued to seek the Lord, the Lord would make us to prosper.”]
LAYING UP TREASURES IN HEAVEN
Matthew 6:19-21. Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
MUCH of our Lord’s sermon on the mount was intended to explain the true import of the Law, in opposition to the false glosses with which the Scribes and Pharisees had obscured it. But in many parts of it the instruction is general, and unconnected with any particular persons or circumstances. The Pharisees indeed were covetous: but the whole human race are more intent on earthly than on heavenly things; and therefore the exhortation in our text may be considered as equally important in every age and place.
In discoursing upon it, we shall consider,
The direction given—
This consists of two parts, the one negative, the other positive:
The negative part—
[This is not to be understood as though there were no situation or circumstances wherein it were allowable to lay up money: for it is certainly the duty of all persons to make provision for those whose subsistence depends upon them: those who should refuse to support their aged parents or relatives would be deemed worse than infidels [Note: 1 Timothy 5:8.]: nor, by parity of reasoning, can they be considered as acting more suitably to their Ciiristian profession who neglect to make a necessary provision for their children [Note: 2 Corinthians 12:14.]. But we may gather from the very terms in which the direction is expressed, what are the limitations with which it is to be understood. The measure, the manner, the end, are all clearly defined. We are not to lay up “treasures.” What is necessary for the carrying on of our trade, or for the supporting of ourselves in old age, or for the enabling of our family to maintain that rank of life wherein they have been educated, may be considered as allowable: but what is laid up for the sake of enriching and aggrandizing our family, may be justly included in the prohibition before us. Of course, no precise sum can be fixed; because what would be wealth to one man, would be poverty to another: but whatever argues discontent, and a desire of elevating ourselves and our families above the rank which Providence has allotted us in life, should be regarded with a jealous eye and a trembling heart. The “treasuring up treasures,” as the original term imports, may not unfitly represent to us that kind of solicitude which our Lord forbids. Though it is a mode of expression quite common in the Greek, yet it conveys an idea of eagerness and covetousness which are altogether contrary to the Christian character. Christianity does not require a man to cast away, or even to give away, his paternal inheritance, or all the fruits of his own labour: but it absolutely forbids him to find delight in treasuring up his wealth, or in looking to it as a source either of safety or happiness. The laying up of treasures “for ourselves” is also particularly forbidden: and in this view there is little difference, whether we have respect to our own personal comfort, or the comfort of our children, who are, in fact, a part of ourselves. The saying, “Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years,” argues a sordid and earthly mind; and renders us peculiarly obnoxious to the Divine displeasure.
Thus the prohibitory part of this direction must be taken somewhat in a qualified sense, as it respects the act: though it is altogether unqualified, as it respects the habit of our minds.]
The positive part—
[Here there is not the same necessity for assigning any limits to the expression, or for guarding persons against excess in their endeavours to follow the Divine command. Here the measure, the manner, the end of our desires should accord with the lull import of the words themselves. What we lay up in heaven should be considered as our richest “treasure:” and we should “treasure it up” with insatiable avidity. We should lay it up also with an especial view to “ourselves.” What we now possess we should dispose of for the good of others; but what we lay up in heaven can be enjoyed by ourselves only; and should be regarded by us as the only portion deserving our pursuit.
This then is the direction which we are to follow: and herein we may well take for our guides those persons who go abroad for the acquisition of wealth. They go thither for one fixed purpose, which they follow uniformly during their continuance there. They never for a moment forget that they are labouring with a view to their future happiness in their native country. They never suffer a year to pass without inquiring how far they have succeeded in expediting or securing the great object before them. They lose no opportunity of remitting home the produce of their labour: and they feel increasing satisfaction in proportion as the time approaches for the termination of their present exertions, and the complete fruition of their long-wished-for enjoyments. So should it be with us. We should follow our present occupations as subservient to future happiness: we should account every day lost which has not added somewhat to our store, and laid a foundation for eternal bliss. We should make our remittances from time to time, depositing to the utmost of our power in the bank of heaven; and should consider ourselves as rich, not in proportion to what we spend at present, but rather in proportion to what we can lay up for future enjoyment.]
Let us now turn our attention to,
The reasons with which it is enforced—
These are taken from different sources:
From the comparative value of the different kinds of treasure—
[Earthly treasure, of whatever kind it be, is perishable in its nature, and uncertain in its duration: whereas heavenly treasure is incorruptible, and eternal. The wealth of the ancients consisted much in the number of their superb garments, which “moths” might easily destroy. Even their precious metals might at last be consumed by “rust” and canker; and at all events they might be taken away by deceit or violence. The uncertainty of earthly possessions was never more manifest than in the present age. But if we be rich in faith and in good works, if we have laid up treasures of that kind in heaven, what shall ever lessen their value, or who shall ever rob us of the enjoyment of them? “No moth or rust shall ever corrupt them; no thief shall ever break through to steal them.”
Say then, Whether this be not reason sufficient for laying up treasures in heaven, rather than on earth? Even if we could realize all our expectations with respect to this world, our happiness must be short, because life itself is coming speedily to a close: but there is not a human being who does not feel the insufficiency of earthly things to make him happy: What then can they contribute to our happiness in that day, when nothing of them shall remain, except the fearful responsibility for having idolized and abused them, and the tremendous judgments of God for having suffered them to alienate our minds from him? But the very exercise of grace is happiness, independent of the reward which it will receive in glory; and the more we abound in good works now, the happier shall we be to all eternity; for “every one shall receive according to his own labour.”]
From their uniform influence upon the heart—
[Whatever our treasure be, it will occupy the supreme place in our affections, and engage in its service the noblest powers of our souls. But is such regard due to any earthly thing? Does not God claim our heart as his throne, on which he is to reign without a rival? Has he not required us to “love him with all our heart, and all our mind, and all our soul, and all our strength?” If then we make any thing else our treasure, we rob him of his honour, and cast him down from his throne. And will he not fearfully resent such conduct? Will he not say, “Bring hither those that were mine enemies, who would not that I should reign over them, and slay them before me?” Surely this consideration may well instruct us in the path we are to pursue: it proclaims loudly to us, “Set your affections on things above, and not on things on the earth.” If, indeed, God would be contented with a divided heart, we might be less scrupulous about the objects of our pursuit: but as “he is a jealous God,” and “will not give his glory to another,” it becomes us to live in this world “as pilgrims and sojourners,” and to direct all our efforts towards the attainment of his favour and his inheritance.]
This subject affords abundant occasion,
[Would one not suppose, from the conduct of the world at large, that our Lord’s instructions had been the very reverse of what they are? If he had bidden us lay up treasures on earth, and not in heaven, he had found us a very obedient people. But his command is plain; and it is at the peril of our souls to disobey it. True it is, that a compliance with it is deemed folly; and an habitual violation of it is accounted wisdom [Note: Psalms 49:18.]: but “God seeth not as man seeth:” his judgment respecting this is the very reverse of theirs [Note: Luke 12:20.]: and by that shall our doom be regulated in the eternal world — — —
Think not that we mean to decry industry; for diligence in earthly pursuits is recommended and enjoined by God himself [Note: Romans 12:11.Ecclesiastes 9:10; Ecclesiastes 9:10.]: but it is the regarding of earthly things as the sources of our happiness that is condemned in the text: and if we will make them our treasure, they are the only treasure which we shall ever possess — — —]
[If it were necessary to lay up treasures on earth, you might well be discouraged. One might say, I have not abilities for it: another, I have no capital to trade with: another, There are too many competitors in my line of business: another, I have been robbed and impoverished by a treacherous partner, or a dishonest debtor. But no such grounds of discouragement exist in relation to heavenly treasures. The wisest philosopher has no advantage over the most illiterate peasant: there is equal access afforded to every one to the inexhaustible riches of Christ, by the improvement of which alone any one can be made “rich towards God:” competitors for heavenly wealth promote, instead of impeding, each other’s success: nor shall either deceit or violence ever prevail against those who commit their cause to God. Let all of us then unite in this glorious work: let us be satisfied with no attainments; but “covet earnestly the best gifts:” let us be ever “pressing forward, forgetting what is behind, and reaching forth to that which is before.” Whatever we have of this world’s goods, let us lay them out for the Lord with prudent generosity: let us “lend” them to him, and he will repay us again. But if we are poor in this world, let us honour the Lord by cheerful contentment; assured that every grace we exercise, whether passive or active, shall be richly “recompensed at the resurrection of the just.”]
THE SINGLE EYE
Matthew 6:22-23. The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!
REASON is certainly the richest endowment of the human mind. When regulated by the word and Spirit of God, it will direct our paths, and enable us to guard against every dangerous or important error; but it is capable of being so warped by specious reasonings, and selfish considerations, as to become an engine of Satan, and an instrument of our more aggravated ruin: there is nothing, however unreasonable, which a perverse spirit will not do; nor any thing, however criminal, which it will not justify. Hence our blessed Lord, in the passage before us, inculcated on his followers the necessity of having “a single eye,” and of acting on all occasions with a well-informed and upright intention.
Let us consider,
The instruction here given us—
There is “a light within us,” which is to the soul what the natural eye is to the body; and, if preserved in healthful exercise, will serve, in most instances, to direct our steps: but if it be vitiated and obscured by the film of vile affections, it will itself become as darkness.
But it may be asked, Can reason or conscience ever be so perverted as to become darkness? I answer, Yes: and this is actually the case,
When, though it does shine, we will not follow its direction—
[The eye, supposing it to be free from any defects, is capable of directing all the motions of the body. So reason or conscience, if freed from all undue bias, will serve in a great measure to regulate the active powers of the soul [Note: Proverbs 20:27.]. But as a person who should keep his eyes shut in order that he might not behold the light, would be in the same predicament with one who was really blind; so the person, who either will not bring his reason and conscience to the light of God’s word, or obstinately determines to persist in the paths of error, is, in effect at least, as much in darkness, as if he did not possess any such faculties—]
When it is obscured by any defect in the organs of vision—
[As vicious humours will destroy the sight of our bodily eyes, so will sinful affections impair the powers of the mind. Prejudice, passion, or interest, will often blind us to such a degree, that we cannot discern the things that are most obvious to others. We all are sensible of this weakness in others; and it would be well if we were more on our guard respecting it in ourselves. Not to mention the innumerable instances which manifest themselves in our conduct towards each other, how universally are men blinded in their conduct towards God! While Christianity in general, is allowed to be both good and necessary, there is scarcely any regard paid to its particular, and most distinguishing tenets. Its fundamental doctrines, such as original sin, justification by faith, regeneration by the Holy Spirit, are discarded as erroneous; and its most essential precepts of holiness and self-denial are ridiculed as preciseness and enthusiasm. Where the jaundiced eye receives such an impression respecting the most important truths, its light must be considered as no better than darkness—]
When under a professed regard to it, we do what is in itself evil—
[It is no uncommon thing to put “evil for good, and darkness for light,” and to engage earnestly in some evil conduct under the idea that we are doing what is right [Note: Isaiah 5:20.]. Our Lord has taught us to expect that men would persecute and even “kill his faithful followers, and imagine all the time that they were doing God service.” And Paul, in the midst of all his boasted morality, persecuted the Christians even unto death, and persuaded himself that “he ought to do” so [Note: John 16:2.Acts 26:9; Acts 26:9.]. A similar conduct yet obtains in the world. There are thousands who yet think it their duty to oppose the progress of the Gospel, and to repress by every means in their power its influence over their friends and relatives. The light of such persons surely is, not only dark, but darkness itself—]
It appears then, that our Lord cautions us not to neglect or violate the dictates of our conscience. And to impress this lesson more deeply on our minds, I will mark,
The vast importance of it to every child of man—
The Jews had manifested a most astonishing per- verseness in resisting all the evidences of our Lord’s mission; and he well knew how fatal it would prove to them, if they should persist in it any longer. Hence he gave them this solemn caution, which may, for similar reasons, be given also unto us,
The evil against which we are guarded, is a common evil—
[Though there is much ignorance in the world, yet there are few, if any, whose practice does not fall very far short of what they know to be their duty. There certainly are different degrees of light in the minds of unconverted men; but all in some measure “resist the truth,” and “imprison it in unrighteousness [Note: Romans 1:18. κατεχόντων. A heathen felt this: “Video meliora, proboque; deteriora sequor.”].” When therefore this evil is so general, should we not be on our guard against it? When all of us see how much it prevails in others, should we not suspect its influence over ourselves? Let every one tremble for his own house, when he sees it standing in the midst of a general conflagration—]
It is an evil to which we are prone—
[The heart is justly said to be “deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.” It is ready and ingenious in colouring over its own devices, and in justifying whatever tends to its own satisfaction. The world also presents to us ten thousand pleas that serve to confirm our delusions. And Satan, who beguiled our first parents in Paradise, doubtless lends his aid to lead us astray, and to keep us ignorant of our real state. Who is there amongst us that has not experienced this proneness to self-deception? The very Apostles on some occasions “knew not what spirit they were of.” And who has not repeatedly found, that the things, which seemed right in his eyes at one time, have, in an hour of sober reflection, appeared to have been the extremest folly? Surely then we never can be too watchful against the treachery of our own hearts—]
It is an evil that greatly aggravates our guilt—
[God has given us a conscience capable of “accusing or excusing” us according to the true tenour of our actions [Note: Romans 2:15.]. Now if we either warp it by vile affections, or silence it by continued opposition to its dictates, our sin is aggravated a hundred-fold. This is repeatedly declared both by Christ and his Apostles [Note: James 4:17. John 15:22; John 9:41; John 3:19-21.]. And can we suppose that our punishment also will not be proportionably enhanced? Will not “the servant who knew his Lord’s will and did it not, be beaten with more stripes than he who transgressed through ignorance?” Will not those, who improved a less degree of light, “rise up in judgment against” those who enjoyed more ample means of instruction, and yet neglected to improve them? No doubt, it were “better never to have known the will of God at all, than, having known it,” to live in an allowed opposition to it—]
It is an evil that involves us in the greatest danger—
[If we will not receive the truth in the love of it, we have reason to fear that God will give us up to our own delusions, that we may believe a lie, and receive the condemnation due to our perverseness [Note: 2 Thessalonians 2:11-12.]. He sometimes suffers the light itself to have no other effect than to blind our eyes [Note: Isaiah 6:9-10.]. And what a tremendous judgment would that be! We should only wander further and further from God, till we had “filled up the measure of our iniquities,” and be thus “treasuring up for ourselves wrath against the day of wrath.” Should we ever be left to this state, “better were it for us that we had never been born.”]
Having thus explained the reasons of this caution, we shall conclude with a few words of advice—
Get your conscience truly enlightened—
[It needs the illumination of God’s word and Spirit. Without that it will be but a blind guide at best. God however has promised, for the comfort of those who seek him, that “The meek he will guide in judgment, the meek he will teach his way.”]
Regard the dictates of conscience in little things;—
[Conscience must maintain an uncontrolled, unlimited sway. You must “exercise yourself daily to keep it void of offence towards God and man.” If you violate its dictates in small things, you will soon cease to reverence it in greater matters. But listen to its voice on all occasions, and it will never suffer you to err materially. There shall always be a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk ye in it [Note: Isaiah 30:21.].”]
Guard against worldly and carnal lusts—
[It is astonishing to what a degree even the most sensible men, as David and Solomon, may be blinded by “foolish and hurtful lusts.” The love of money, of pleasure, or of honour, alas! how will they warp the judgment, how will they divert us from the path of duty! Love not the world if you have any wish to possess the love of God. The two attachments are inconsistent and incompatible with each other [Note: 1 John 2:15.].]
Set the Lord Jesus ever before you—
[He is the light of the world; and if you will follow him, you shall never walk in darkness [Note: John 8:12.]. If you can find what Christ would have done in your situation, do that resolutely and universally.]
THE SERVICES OF GOD AND MAMMON INCONSISTENT
Matthew 6:24. No man can serve two masters: for either he will hale the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and Mammon.
THE dictates of pure and undefiled religion are so remote from the apprehension of the natural man, and so contrary to his inclinations, that they need to be presented to him with the clearest evidence, and most convincing energy. Hence our blessed Lord continually illustrated his doctrines by images taken from common life, or by truths universally known and acknowledged. The irreconcileableness of the service of God with the service of Mammon is very little considered: the world in general have no idea of it: but the impossibility of being wholly at the disposal of two earthly masters is obvious enough; because, when their commands interfere with each other, the servant, in obeying one, must disobey the other; and in cleaving to one, must, virtually, renounce the other. This being acknowledged, we are prepared to confess the same in relation to God and Mammon. It is thus that our Lord introduces and confirms the aphorism before us: in discoursing upon which, we shall shew,
The import of our Lord’s assertion—
“Mammon” is a Syriac word, signifying riches; and it is the great idol to which all the world are bowing down. But as wealth is principally sought for on account of its connexion with pleasures and honour, we need not confine ourselves to the precise idea of riches; but consider Mammon as signifying the world with all its poor vanities, of whatever kind they be.
But what are we to understand by “serving” God and Mammon? Here is the difficulty; and this is a point that must be determined with much caution and judgment. When our Lord says, “Ye cannot serve God and Mammon,”
He does not mean that we cannot render them any services—
[This is not the case even with earthly masters: for we may serve two or three masters, provided they be contented with services that are partial, subordinate, or successive — — — And in such a manner as this, we may serve both God and Mammon.]
He does not mean that we cannot render them the services which are their due—
[If only we clearly ascertain what services are due to each, we shall find that they are not at all incompatible with each other. Those who are averse to perform their duties to God, are very apt to represent them as inconsistent with the duties of relative and social life. But this is without any just foundation. It would be strange indeed if the duties of the two tables opposed each other: on the contrary, we cannot truly perform the one without performing the other also: in serving God, we shall serve the world; and in serving the world, we shall serve our God.]
His meaning is, that we cannot render them the services which they require—
[God requires that we should love and serve him with all our heart, and mind, and soul, and strength. He requires, that every thing bad shall be renounced for him; every thing indifferent be subordinated to him; and every thing good be done with a direct reference to his will as the rule, and his glory as the end.
The world, on the contrary, prescribes laws and maxims for our conduct which God has never prescribed, yea, which he has expressly forbidden. And it is in this contrariety of the one to the other, that we must look for the fuller explanation of the words before us.]
Let us then proceed to state, in reference to this assertion,
The grounds and reasons of it—
If it be asked, Why can we not serve both God and Mammon? we answer, Because,
Their interests are different—
[God has a cause which is exceeding dear to him; a cause which occupied his mind from all eternity, and for the promotion of which he has given his only-begotten Son to die for us, and his blessed Spirit to instruct us. The interest he pursues, is the reign of Christ on earth, and the establishment of his kingdom throughout the world [Note: Revelation 11:15.]. He longs to bring down heaven upon earth, that men may be, as nearly as possible, in a paradisiacal state, and in a constant meetness for glory [Note: 2 Peter 3:13.].
The world knows nothing of such an interest as this: it proposes nothing of the kind: on the contrary, to please and gratify the carnal mind is the one scope of all its plans. In pursuit of this it labours to draw away its votaries from the consideration of heavenly things, and to fix their attention upon the things of time and sense.
What prospect have we then of rendering acceptable service to those whose interests are so widely different?]
Their commands are contrary—
[God commands us to “make our light shine before men:” he tells us “not to be conformed to this world,” but to “come out from it,” and to be “crucified to it through the cross of Christ;” and not only to “have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather to reprove them.”
Against all this the world sets its face. It does not approve that we should serve God even in secret: but that we should trouble others with our light, this is insufferable. How peremptory it is in its commands respecting this, may be seen in every age, from the time of Cain to this present moment [Note: John 7:7. 2 Timothy 3:12. See a specimen, Esther 3:8-9. Acts 16:19-24; Acts 17:6-7.].
Now how is it possible that we should render obedience to both these masters? The one says, “Arise, shine:” the other says, “Make the Holy One of Israel to cease from before us.” It is evident, that, whichever we obey, we must of necessity disobey the other.]
Their services are inconsistent—
[This appears in part from what has been already spoken. But the inconsistency is expressly and frequently stated by God himself. “If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him [Note: 1 John 2:15-16.]:” “the friendship of the world is enmity with God [Note: James 4:4.]:” “the minding of earthly things marks us enemies of the cross of Christ [Note: Ephesians 3:18-19.]:” “the carnal mind is enmity against God [Note: Romans 8:7.];” and “we must mortify it, if ever we would live [Note: Romans 8:13.].”
Here the point is determined by God himself: and it is carried further than under the preceding head: for, if we would serve God acceptably, we must not only in some things disobey the commands of the world, but must utterly renounce all kind of allegiance to it. We must even oppose it, and fight against it. To parley with it, is perfidy; to make a truce with it, is treason.]
People standing very differently affected towards the world, we must address,
Those who are altogether servants of the world—
[Too many, alas! think not of any thing but the world: they find no pleasure but in its services. Now, we grant that its service is pleasing to flesh and blood: but to whom has it ever afforded solid and permanent satisfaction? — — — But suppose it could satisfy us here, what can it do for us hereafter? If we have served it, we must look to it for our reward. We cannot expect any reward from God, except indeed that which our contempt of him has merited, “indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish.”]
Those who are endeavouring to unite the services of God and Mammon—
[Notwithstanding our Lord has so plainly declared the absurdity of all such attempts, men will not be persuaded to desist from them. They think that they may serve God sufficiently to secure his blessing, and yet serve the world in such a manner as to retain its favour. But, in addition to what our Lord has spoken, such persons have also within themselves a demonstration that their wishes are impracticable. What is the state of their minds after mixing with worldly company, and drinking of the cup of worldly pleasures? Can they go to their God with freedom, and find access to him with confidence? Have they any enlargement of heart in their addresses to him? Are not their services a mere form—a cold, lifeless ceremony, in which they find no pleasure, and from which they derive no benefit? Is it not manifest that they make no progress in religion, and that, while their services are divided, the world has their hearts? Such people’s religion answers no other end than to deceive and ruin them for ever: for God is “a jealous God;” and will despise the offerings of a divided heart.]
Those who are halting between the two—
[Many are convinced that they ought to serve God alone; and yet they know not how to turn their backs upon the world: they are afraid of the contempt and ridicule which they shall incur, or of some losses which they shall sustain: and therefore they are undecided in their minds, how to act. But what folly is this! Is not the approbation of God and of our own conscience sufficient to counterbalance all the frowns of the world? and is not heaven sufficient to compensate for any sufferings which we can be called to endure on earth? Let it only be remembered that eternity is at hand; and that will be sufficient to make all the concerns of time to appear lighter than vanity itself. Our Lord has plainly told us, that we must “hate even our life itself, if we would be his disciples.” Let us then make our choice: “If Mammon be God, let us serve him; but if Jehovah be God, let us serve him [Note: 1 Kings 18:21.].” Let us say, with Joshua, “We will serve the Lord [Note: Joshua 24:15.].”]
Those who are decidedly in the service of their God—
[Who amongst you has ever found reason to regret that he took a decided part? Who has not found it a ground of exceeding thankfulness to God for enabling him so to act? Go on then, having the world under your feet, and God in your hearts. Be bold, yet be meek, in the service of your Lord. Be meek, I say, and patient under any trials you may meet with. You must carefully distinguish between the ways of the world and the people of it: the former you are to regard with aversion; the latter with pity. Let it be seen in your temper, as well as in your conduct, “whose you are, and whom you serve.” Shew that, though you refuse to be servants to the world, you are its greatest benefactors. And look forward to the day when God will acknowledge and reward your services in the presence of the assembled universe.]
Matthew 6:25-34. Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature? And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: and yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to-day is, and to-morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (for after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.
IF we affirm that men must serve God only and with their whole hearts, we appear to them to require more than is necessary, and to assign them a task which it is impossible to perform. But, whilst they are so averse to hear of what God requires, they do not consider how closely privilege and duty are united: for, whilst we yield up ourselves wholly unto God, he, on the other hand, permits us to look to him for a supply of all our wants. As an earthly master provides for the necessities of his servants, so much more will God, who therefore commands us to leave all our affairs to his disposal, and requires an affiance in him as a very essential part of our duty. Hence our blessed Lord having taught us how inconsistent are the services of God and Mammon, adds, “Therefore take no thought for your life;” that is, whilst you are serving God with fidelity, commit all your concerns to him with full confidence in his paternal care.
Let us consider,
The caution here given—
The evil against which we are cautioned is anxious carefulness—
[St. Paul to the Corinthians, says, I would have you without carefulness [Note: 1 Corinthians 7:32.].” The word which he uses, is the same as that used by our Lord throughout this whole passage. A thoughtfulness about the future is by no means improper: there is a care and a foresight which Christian prudence requires [Note: Proverbs 24:27.]: and they who go forward without due deliberation, invariably involve themselves in difficulties [Note: Proverbs 22:3.]. The Apostles themselves, who under peculiar circumstances were supported without any care of their own, were afterwards commanded to use such means for their support as prudence dictated [Note: Luke 22:35-36.]; and by this rule St. Paul himself walked [Note: 2 Thessalonians 3:8.]. The ants are proposed to us as examples; and, in truth, we cannot conceive the instinct of animals to be in any thing more worthy of imitation, than theirs is in the particular to which Solomon alludes. They, in the harvest, lay up what will be necessary for their sustenance in winter: and in like manner should we improve all present opportunities with a view to our future good, both temporal and spiritual [Note: Proverbs 6:6-8; Proverbs 30:24-25.]. But they know nothing of anxious care. Thus precisely should it be with us. We cannot be too industrious in our respective callings, if only we leave events to God, and rest satisfied with his dispensations.
There are few perhaps who will not acknowledge, that all anxiety about superfluities, or about very distant events, is wrong: but yet they will vindicate it in reference to things which are near at hand, or are of prime and indispensable necessity. But it is respecting these very things that our Lord speaks: he bids us take no thought about “food or raiment;” no, not even “for the morrow:” and, because we should be ready to pass over such a caution if it were only once or obscurely given, he repeats it no less than four times in the passage before us, sometimes in a way of plain direction, “Take no thought;” at other times in a way of expostulation, “Why take ye thought?” This marks the vast importance of the subject: and it should dispose all our minds to humble submission and cordial acquiescence.]
How much need there is for such a caution, every man’s observation and experience will tell him—
[Even the rich, who on account of their opulence should be thought most out of the reach of this evil, are as much under the power of it as any. No man indeed is exempt from it, unless he have been delivered from it by the grace of God. The worldly man feels it in reference to the things on which his heart is fixed: and even those who are in pursuit of heavenly things, are too often, through the prevalence of unbelief, still subject to its dominion; insomuch that they are harassed continually with disquieting fears, when they ought rather to be “filled with joy and peace in believing.” There is therefore no order of men to whom this caution is not proper to be given; since all, from the highest to the lowest, stand in need of it; and it is no less applicable to the people of God than to the ignorant and ungodly world; to those who have “a little faith,” as well as those who have no faith at all.]
Let us now attend to,
The arguments with which it is enforced—
In this beautiful address, (which cannot be too much admired,) our Lord shews in a very convincing manner that anxious carefulness ought on no account to be indulged.
It is unnecessary—
[Let us only look around us, and see what God is doing in the animal and vegetable creation; how he feeds the fowls of the air, which make no provision for themselves; and clothes with unrivalled beauty the flowers of the field, which have so short a continuance, and such an ignominious end. Can we conceive that God will take less care of us, who are so much higher in the scale of being, and whom he condescends to call his children?
Let us see also what he is doing in and to ourselves. He has given us a body, exquisitely wrought, and fitted to be a temple of the Holy Ghost. He has endued it not only with animal life, but with a rational and immortal soul. These also he has preserved even to the present hour; and altogether without any aid from us, or any anxiety on our part. If then he has given and upheld these noble faculties and powers, will he not give such provision as shall be necessary for the preservation of them? Can we suppose that He who has bestowed upon us so much, will withhold or grudge the food or raiment that are necessary for us?
Above all, let us see what he has engaged to do for his believing people. They “seek the kingdom of God” to be established in their hearts: they “seek his righteousness” and salvation: they seek “in the first place,” and as their one great object, an interest in the Lord Jesus Christ, and the enjoyment of those blessings he has purchased with his blood: and whilst they do this, God has promised that all earthly comforts, as far as they are necessary, “shall be added unto them.” Thus, in fact, they have a more secure title to earthly things, and a more certain possession of them, than any other people upon earth. What need is there then for such persons to indulge anxious cares about the world? Both around them and within them they have an evidence of what God is doing; and in the Scriptures of truth they have a pledge of what God will do. Surely, then, it becomes them to suppress every anxious thought, and to commit all their concerns to the disposal and government of a faithful God.]
It is unprofitable—
[What good can any man obtain by all his anxious cares? Can he add “one cubit to his stature,” or one moment to his age [Note: ἡλικίαν.]? Can he make one hair black or white; or “do even the least thing,” which would not as easily be done without any solicitude at all [Note: This is certainly the meaning of ver. 27. Compare Luke 12:25-26.]? On the other hand, does not every man who indulges anxiety greatly injure himself by it? Every day brings evils enough along with it: and every man shall find scope enough for the exercise of all his patience, without multiplying sources of discontent. What should we think of a man, who, being doomed every day to carry a burthen which he was but just able to support, should be constantly augmenting his labours by taking on him to-morrow’s burthen, in addition to that which he was compelled to bear? Yet such is the conduct of those who harbour anxious thoughts about the morrow. And what is a man profited by such folly? What is the effect which he finds invariably produced upon him? Were he to act more wisely, he might pass comfortably through life; but by his own folly he is oppressed and overwhelmed, and his very existence is embittered to him, so that he is almost ready to “choose strangling rather than life.”
The manner in which our Lord argues this point, deserves to be attentively considered. We are ready to think in general that carefulness is a fruit and evidence of our wisdom; but he again and again appeals to our reason, to convince us of the folly of such a disposition; and defies any human being to give him a satisfactory reason for indulging it. If therefore we will persist in indulging it, let us prepare an answer to that question of his in the text, “Why take ye thought for raiment?”]
It is atheistical—
[“After all these things,” says our Lord, “do the Gentiles seek.” That the Gentiles should be making anxious inquiries about the things of this life, we do not wonder, because they know of no higher objects to be pursued, nor of any God who is able and willing to undertake for them. But does such conduct become us?—us, who know that there is a God, and have been taught to call him by the endearing name of Father?—us, who profess to regard this world but as a passage to a better, and to have our affections set entirely on things above? To what purpose have we been instructed in the knowledge of God, and in the great mystery of redeeming love? To what purpose have the unsearchable riches of Christ been opened to us, and the ineffable glories of heaven revealed, if, after all, we are to live like Heathens; careful about the body, as if we had no soul; and depending on ourselves, as if there were no God? Venial as anxiety may appear, it proceeds from atheism in the heart; it overlooks God’s providence; it usurps his power; it places self upon his throne. If then we would not perish with the Heathen, or rather under a heavier condemnation than they, in proportion to the superior light we have abused, let us guard against this evil disposition, and look to God to supply all our wants according to his own sovereign will and pleasure. Let us “cast all our care on him,” assured and satisfied that “he careth for us.”]
Our Lord traces this evil to a want of faith [Note: ver. 30.]: hence we see what is its proper antidote; and what advice should be given to all who would avoid it. It is that which our Lord himself repeatedly gave to his Disciples, to compose their minds under trials [Note: John 14:1.], and to qualify them for every part of their arduous undertaking: “Have faith in God [Note: Mark 11:22.].” Believe in him,
As a God of providence—
[Men think they honour God when they limit his operations to what they call great things: but, in fact, they dishonour him exceedingly, for they judge of him by themselves; and, because they would be distracted by a multitude of little concerns, they think that He would be also; or, at least, that they are unworthy of his attention. But there is nothing, however minute, which he does not order and overrule with as much care as he does the rise and fall of empires. “The very hairs of our head are all numbered.” Let this then be a fixed principle in the mind, that “there is neither good nor evil in the city, but the Lord himself is the doer of it.” As for men and devils, they are all, however unconscious of it, mere agents of his, “a sword in his hand,” with which he effects his own gracious purposes. Be it so then, that we are destitute both of food and raiment for the morrow, and that we know not where to obtain a supply of either, we need not be anxious: for “godliness hath the promise of the life that now is, as well as of that which is to come;” and if we call upon him, his word shall be verified, which saith, “They who seek the Lord, shall want no manner of thing that is good:” yea, the very straits and difficulties which we now feel, are “working together for our good,” and shall hereafter form a ground of praise and thanksgiving to our God.]
As a God of grace—
[It is this view of God that will in a moment silence every doubt and fear. Who can reflect on what he has done, in giving his only dear Son to die for us, and his Holy Spirit to renew and sanctify us, and doubt whether he will overlook our necessities, either of soul or body? Hear St. Paul’s opinion of that matter: “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” The Apostle seems surprised that such a doubt should enter into the mind of man. Be ashamed then, ye who are filled with such anxiety about the issue of your warfare, and are saying, like David, “I shall one day perish by the hand of Saul.” Be ashamed, I say, and learn rather, like Paul, to say, “I know in whom I have believed.” You may be reduced to straits in spiritual as well as temporal concerns; but they shall only issue in the fuller manifestation of God’s faithfulness and truth. His promise to you is, that “your place of defence shall be the munitions of rocks; that bread shall be given you, and your water shall be sure [Note: Isaiah 33:16.]:” and “He is faithful that hath promised.” Trust then in him, and “he will keep you in perfect peace;” trust in him, and he will “give you all things that pertain unto life and godliness;” nor shall you ever be “ashamed or confounded world without end.”]