Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. THE CHARACTER OF OSTENTATIOUS RELIGION. It is a theatrical performance, carried through before the eyes of men and in order to secure their admiration. In so far as it is ostentatious it does not aim at the service of God at all Attention is not given to his will and approval. The lower sphere is all that is thought of.
1. Ostentatious charity. This was largely practised in the days of Christ, so that the very word "righteousness" came to be narrowed down to the meaning of almsgiving. But it is still prevalent. A person gives not to help the needy or to honour God, but to gain a reputation for generosity. His name must figure in the subscription list. If he were to have no public acknowledgment of his charity, he would withdraw his contributions. Why is it that some people will give more when they "subscribe" than when they put an offering in a "collection" for the very same object?
2. Ostentatious payer. We do not observe the Oriental practice of praying out in the streets. But great attention to public services with neglect of private devotion is of the same character. Or if when at church there is the utmost decorum of behaviour with bent knee and bowed head, while the mind is not in the worship but wandering after idle fancies, this is a show and a sham.
3. Ostentatious self-denial. There are numerous opportunities for self-denial in ways invisible to man. It, therefore, a person passes these by and studies his own comfort in private, while he makes a show of fasting in public, he proclaims himself an "actor;" he is but playing a part. His self-denial is self display, for his own glory, and therefore no real self-denial at all.
II. THE FAILURE OF OSTENTATIOUS RELIGION.
1. Its inutility. It has its reward in the admiration of beholders. The hypocrite is praised - till he is found out. Nevertheless, he really fails. For if religion means anything, it means the soul's relations with God. But if in all this foolish display the thought of God is lost, the supposed worshipper is not worshipping. Praying so as to be seen of men, he forgets the one Being whom it is his supreme duty to please.
2. Its positive wickedness. The conduct of the ostentatious worshipper is odious in the sight of God.
(1) It is false. Pretending to be what it is not, claiming admiration for a charity, a piety, and a self-denial that do not really exist.
(2) It is selfish. Worship should be the surrender of self to God.:But this show of worship is all for the sake of self.
(3) It is worldly. The admiration of men is cultivated, but there is no thought of a higher Witness. A purely temporal, earthly gain is all that such a religion can contemplate.
(4) It is an insult to God. What can be more awfully impious than to prostitute the soul's great privilege of communion with God so as to make it a mere decoration of personal vanity? This is rank hypocrisy, of all things the most hateful in the sight of God. - W.F.A.
I. THAT THE PRINCIPLE CONTAINED IN THE INJUNCTION CHRIST HERE UTTERS IS NOT THAT HIS DISCIPLES SHOULD ARTIFICIALLY AND UNNATURALLY SMOTHER AND COVER UP IN DARKNESS EVERY ACT OF CHARITY.
1. This would be to the derogation of a previous and important injunction of this very discourse, that they should "so let their light shine before men that," as a consequence, "they might see their good works, and glorify their Father in heaven."
2. The present injunction is explicitly worded to the effect that such good works as almsgiving are not to be done for the purpose of being seen of men, and thereby winning a most superficial glory of them.
II. THE INJUNCTION IS THAT THE WORKS OF CHARITY SHOULD TRAVEL SO DIRECT FROM THE HEART TO THE OBJECT OF THEM THAT THEY SHOULD IN NO WISE CONTEMPLATE ANY OUTER OBSERVATION, AND SHOULD, SO FAR FROM THIS, EVEN ELUDE THAT OF THE LEFT HAND WHEN DONE BY THE RIGHT HAND.
III. THAT ANYTHING SHORT OF THIS, ANY ADMIXTURE OF SECRET, UNSAFE, UNHEALTHY, CRAVING FOR HUMAN NOTICE AND PRAISE, IS OF A DISENABLING SORT, AND PRECLUDES THE CONTINUAL DEW OF THE DIVINE APPROVAL AND REWARD.
IV. THAT NEVERTHELESS OUR WORKS OF CHARITY ARE FREE AND OPEN - NAY, RATHER, ARE EVEN TO BE ENCOURAGED TO SUBMIT THEMSELVES - TO THE INSPECTION OF THE ONE CLEAR, CALM, UNERRING, AND UNHARMING GAZE OF THE DIVINE EYE, AND THERE HAVE THEIR REWARD. - B.
I. ALMSGIVING has been recognized as one of the first duties by most religions. Under the Jewish Law the poor were well provided for. It was probably in connection with the receptacles for alms in the women's court of the temple that ostentatious liberality was most frequently indulged in. "Sounding a trumpet" is not to be taken literally, but is only a figure implying that when you do a charity you are not to make a noise about it, but do it so quietly that your own left hand may not know what your right hand is doing, not even letting it dwell much before your own mind, much less craving for acknowledgment from others. We are not beyond the danger of giving, either that we may not be outdone by others, or because our love of applause is stronger than our love of money, and we think it a good use of it if by giving it away we can purchase the good will of our acquaintances.
II. IN CONNECTION WITH PRAYER THERE WAS MUCH ROOM FOR OSTENTATION IN THE JEWISH RELIGION. AS the Mohammedan of the present day spreads his prayer-carpet wherever the hour of prayer overtakes him, so the Jew was called on three times a day to pray towards the temple. In every town the synagogues were open at the hour of prayer, and there were also places of prayer, chiefly on the banks of the rivers, that the necessary ablutions might be made on the spot. The Pharisee often allowed himself to be surprised by the hour of prayer in the public square. Ostentation implies insincerity, and insincerity begets vain repetition. Our Lord sets this down as a specially heathen trait, and it is one which abundantly characterizes their practice to this day. But his warning against long prayers and vain repetitions applies to all affectation of continuance in prayer merely because it is the custom and is expected; and to that which arises from indifference and from a want of some clear definite object of desire which we can ask for in plain, simple terms. For the correction of these faults our Lord gives us an example of simple brief prayer, and also adds the assurance that no elaborate explanations are required, because before we pray our heavenly Father knoweth the things we have need of. He does not shape his answer with only our petition for his guidance, but, knowing before we do what we have need of, he gives us that good gift which we only vaguely conceive. This may suggest the thought - Why pray at all? Does not even the earthly parent consider and seek his child's good without waiting to be asked? Is it otherwise with God? But we are commanded to pray, and this of itself is sufficient justification. Also it is natural - the great mass of men having prayed without command. This, if not a justification of the practice, shows we should see clearly before refusing to fall in with it. Moreover, it is by coming in practical contact with his father's ideas that a child learns to know his father and himself; and the father often keeps back a gift till the uttered request of the child shows he is ripe for it. So by measuring our desires at each step of our life with the will of God, we learn to know him and ourselves, and through the things of this life are brought into true relation with things eternal. The form of prayer which our Lord here gives, he gives chiefly as a model To argue from it that he meant us to use forms of prayer is inconsequent. They have their uses - in private to suggest and stimulate; in public to provide for uniformity and seemliness of worship. But when they are used to the extinction or discouragement of unwritten prayer they do harm in private and in public. The practice of private prayer here inculcated is one of the most difficult duties we have to attempt in life. It is often at this point the battle is lost or won. None of the deeper elements of character can grow without much prayer and converse with God. There are some virtues which can be produced by strength of will, but those which spring from the deeper root of reverence, penitence, tender and solemn feeling, can only grow in the retired and peaceful atmosphere of God's presence. Prayer is the door opened for God into the whole life of man, and to shut him out here is to shut him out wholly. Our Lord himself could not sustain his life without prayer; it is vain, therefore, for us to expect to do so. But, though all this is recognized, private prayer decays. If we can use in the world only that power for good which we receive from God, and if prayer is the gauge of this power, it will register an almost infinitesimal strength. We grudge to our intercourse with God either the time or the consideration we give to any communication that concerns our business or our friendship. And this means that duties that are seen of men we do, but such as are only seen of our Father, who "seeth in secret," we neglect. It means that we are practically atheists, and do not believe there is a Father who sees in secret. The general scope of the passage is a warning against hypocrisy. The hypocrite who is so intentionally is rare. The hypocrisy which is common is that which is unconscious, and in which the hypocrite is himself deceived. He seeks the praise of men more than the praise of God; but he is not himself aware of it. This makes it a fault most difficult to eradicate. But to such men there can be no religion; human judgment is the highest they seek to be approved by. It is their supreme. Even in the religious world men are liable to put the expectations of their co-religionists above the judgment of God. They fear to rebel lest they be considered as falling away from religion. Such persons, as our Lord says, have their reward. They earn the reputation of sanctity by sacrificing the real possession of it. Is it another reward that awaits you? Are you conscious that God, who sees in secret, has laid up in his remembrance many true prayers, many holy desires, many earnest searchings of heart that he has seen in you? Nothing but learning to live in his presence will deliver us from falseness and self-deceit and from courting the favour of men. - D.
I. SOCIAL INEQUALITY IS A BENEFICENT ARRANGEMENT.
1. It aids the progress of civilization.
(1) Civilization lies in the development of the resources of nature. Such developments are embodied in arts and sciences.
(2) Stimulus is necessary to this progress. Man in his original purity and elevation might, for sheer love of science and art, develop the resources of nature; but in his fallen state his tendencies are savage-ward. When the spontaneity of the soil is overtaxed by the increase of population, then comes the alternative of labour or exterminating war.
(3) Under Christian influence labour is preferred to war. Here social inequality comes in. For industry will be rewarded with plenty, while idleness has to suffer privation, Civilization meanwhile is advanced by industry. The continued growth of population stimulates inventiveness. This reaps its rewards and gives employment to labour. New elements of social inequality now come in, and the arts and sciences are further advanced.
2. It educates the moral qualities.
(1) Social virtues are called forth. If no labouring class existed, no class could be exempt from toil. The rich, therefore, are indebted to the poor for their ease and honour. Were there no poor there could be no rich. Gratitude and equity alike require that the rich should treat the poor with consideration. Hence what is given to the poor is said to be their due (see Proverbs 3:27).
(2) The poor, in like manner, are bound to treat their employers with respectful gratitude for finding for them remunerative employment.
(3) We are herein reminded of our duties to our Maker. We could have no conception of our dependence upon God but for our experience of dependence upon the things he has made. The mutual dependence of the social classes brings this lesson more forcibly home. The beast and devil in our fallen nature are restrained by the sense of our responsibility to God.
(4) Scope is afforded for the exercise of Christian graces. Patience is tested and educated. Opportunity is afforded for beneficence. Thought is raised to the contemplation of the suffering and love of Christ.
3. Poverty is not without advantages.
(1) The poor are comparatively free from artificial wants and cares. They can relish plain and wholesome food. They are relieved from the cares of fashion. They are free from the anxiety of keeping wealth, which is much greater than that of getting it. Of all poverty the artificial is the deepest.
(2) The poor are free from the temptations of affluence. To the indulgence of self. To the forgetfulness of God. Let no man murmur at his lot.
(3) The poor are not so mean as they seem. The possession of human nature is vastly grander than the possession of estates. To be a man is greater than to be a monarch. Christ did not refuse to become a man, though he refused to be made a king. The purest aristocracy is that in which manhood is honoured by virtue. This bluest of all blue blood may be acquired by the poorest.
II. BENEFICENCE SHOULD BE WITHOUT OSTENTATION,
1. Otherwise it will encourage hypocrisy.
(1) Obviously it will encourage this in the almsgiver. His very object is to gain the applause of men. He seeks this by an affectation of piety towards God.
(2) It will encourage it likewise in the recipient. There is fearful hypocrisy in ostentatious poverty. Vagabonds moving compassion by feigning fits, wounds, mutilations, lameness, etc. These public hypocrites are the people who catch the charity of ostentation. They hear the sound of the Pharisee's trumpet. They trumpet the Pharisee that he may have his reward.
(3) True beneficence will search out this hypocrisy and expose it, so that the worthy poor may not be cheated by it. It will seek out the worthy poor who suffer in seclusion. To do this may entail trouble, but the steward of wealth should make it his business to disburse faithfully his Lord's money.
2. Unostentatious charity will encourage industry.
(1) God helps those who help themselves. We should imitate God in helping the industrious. Charity should find employment for the needy. It may be "business" to buy in the cheapest market, but this' is not the rule of charity.
(2) In helping a poor man in his trade, his self-respect is not wounded as it must be by an ostentatious charity. We should remember that every poor man is another one's self.
3. Charity should seek its rewards from God.
(1) In condemning ostentation modesty is enjoined. Barely being "seen" while doing good is a circumstance purely indifferent. To be seen so as to glorify God is positively good (cf. Matthew 5:16; Matthew 10:32, 33). To be seen that we may be admired and honoured of men is the offence. For God, not man, is the Source of reward.
(2) "Let not thy left hand know," etc. So do good things as to be, as little as possible, conscious of it yourself. Moses wist not that the skin of his face shone. So the godly shine, though to themselves their shining is unseen.
(3) To the truly charitable God is a Rewarder. The pocket of poverty is a safe bank, for God is the Banker. He converts paper into gold - returns spiritual value for material gifts (cf. Proverbs 11:24; Proverbs 19:17; 1 Timothy 6:17-19).
LESSONS. Avoid monopoly. Spend not upon the rich. Be your own executor. - J.A.M.
I. ALMSGIVING IN ITS SOCIETY FORM For, apart from all religious considerations, the sympathetic care of the poor is a society duty. And it should be seen that the poor among us have their mission to society, as truly as society has its mission to them. The poor bless us as well as receive a blessing from us.
1. They culture the hallowing sentiment of the "brotherhood of humanity," by calling for brotherly help.
2. They nurture the finer graces of human character; sympathy, gentleness, charity. It is the dark side of civilization that it has so changed our relation to the poor. Hospitality and personal service were the virtues of the simple East. Family isolation, and delegation of service, are the weaknesses of the guileful West. Modern society-relations seem to multiply the poor, so that they get beyond society-control. There are the poor
(1) by bodily disability;
(2) by unfortunate birth-associations;
(3) by exigencies of trade;
(4) by temporary distress;
(5) by the wrong-doing of others. Almsgiving is still a great society claim and duty.
II. ALMSGIVING IN ITS CHRISTIAN FORM. Then it is seen as service directly rendered to Christ. It is a part of the way in which we do his work in the world; and, in doing it, express our love to him. But the loyalty to Christ makes the Christian wholly indifferent to the opinion of men concerning his almsgiving. It leads him
(1) to estimate his means so that he may be able to give;
(2) to carefully consider the claims presented, so that he may give wisely;
(3) to strive to make his gifts a help to moral character, and a witness for his Lord; and
(4) to cherish a holy indifference to men's praise or blame. - R.T.
our charity finds expression for Christian character.
I. NATURAL CHARACTER FINDING NATURAL EXPRESSION. There is such a thing as the "milk of human kindness." Some people are born with amiable, sympathetic, charitable dispositions. Doing kind things is simply natural to them. It costs no effort. It involves no self-denial. They give freely. They give so pleasantly that we do not realize how little the giving costs them. We may thank God for the "charitably disposed" among us, and accept thankfully their help toward the perfecting of the human brotherhood.
II. DETERIORATED CHARACTER FINDING REPRESENTATIVE EXPRESSION, This is the case which Christ presents as a warning. Guileful persons, with lowered characters, will make their charity serve their selfish ends. You will see, by the way in which the gilt is made, the publicity of it; the anxiety about a suitable report being made of it; the mean advantage taken of the recipient of it; and the continuous after-brag about it; that a very deteriorated character, with very low and poor motives ruling it, was at the back of the gift. If we accept the gift, we cannot approve the giver.
III. SANCTIFIED CHARACTER FINDING PIOUS EXPRESSION. Our Lord puts the pious expression into these forms. The disciple with the qualities indicated in the Beatitudes
(1) keeps his giving secret from other people;
(2) he even keeps it a secret from himself, and tries not to think about it (ver. 3); and
(3) he does his kindness for his heavenly Father's sake, and because he wants to be a worthy child of him who is continually doing good. - R.T.
secret ways." Probably the "open reward" is promised because the man who makes a show of religion does so in order to get open and public fame. (It should, however, be duly noticed that the best manuscripts and most modern editors omit the word "openly.") Plumptre thinks the addition of the word "openly" weakens and lowers the force of the truth asserted. The difficulty of dealing with the word is clearly seen in the notion of some writers that "openly" must mean "before men and angels at the resurrection of the just," about which, at the time, our Lord was neither speaking nor thinking. A good point, and one which is practically important, is this: sincere and humble piety, finding gracious expression in kindly, thoughtful, generous, and self-denying service, will be sure to gain open and public recognition. Christian goodness is no violet "born to blush unseen, and waste its sweetness on the desert air." Men want that Christian goodness in all the life-spheres; and they are quick enough at recognizing it when they see it.
I. CHRISTLY-TONED CHARITIES WIN MEN'S ADMIRATION. We are all keen enough to discern the differences in gifts. We qualify our admiration when we recognize giving on mere impulse; or to get credit; or to outdo others; or to bring business. We keep our highest admiration for evident cases of self-denial, simple benevolence, and Christian principle. Those who abuse Christianity admire the Christian charity which it inspires.
II. CHRISTLY-TONED CHARITIES WIN MEN'S CONFIDENCE. This is clearly shown in the very patent fact that, whenever there is a local or a national calamity, application is first made for help to the Christian people. There is a universal public confidence that, if any good work needs to be done, the Christians will be found ready for the doing. This is their open reward. Place, influence, power, in every generation comes into the hands of the sincerely good; and in this way God gives the reward which men are ever seeking, to those who do not seek it. - R.T.
I. THAT IT BE PERFORMED WITHOUT ANY OSTENTATION OF SANCTITY BEFORE MEN.
II. THAT IT BE ADDRESSED TO GOD WITH UNDIVIDED HOMAGE, UNDISTRACTED THOUGHT.
III. THAT IT CONSIST OF PETITIONS OF KNOWN AND DISTINCT MEANING, NOT VAGUE, NOT REPETITIOUS, NOT MULTIPLIED FOR MUCH SPEAKING'S SAKE ONLY.
IV. THAT WE REMEMBER THAT IT IS NOT EITHER TO TELL GOD WHAT HE DOES NOT ALREADY KNOW, OR TO DICTATE OR SUGGEST TO HIM WHAT TO DO OR WHAT TO GIVE; BUT TO CONFESS TO HIM THAT WE DO KNOW AND FEEL OUR OWN NEEDS, TO ACKNOWLEDGE THAT WE KNOW HE ONLY CAN SUPPLY THEM, AND TO SUBMIT THE TIME AND THE CHOICE OF THE WAY TO DO SO, TO HIM AND HIS ALL-SOVEREIGN WISDOM. - B.
Acts 9:11). Prayer is the language and homage of dependence. The idea is that of coming to God for a blessing with a vow (προσεχῦη, from πρὸς," with," and εὔχη," a vow"), viz. to fulfil the conditions upon which his blessings are promised. The elements of acceptable prayer are -
1. The prayer of the hypocrite is deception.
(1) He deceives his fellow. His object is to be seen of men to pray. But his piety to God is but a semblance. God sees no prayer in it. The men who credit the hypocrite with piety are deceived.
(2) He deceives himself. He gets what he seeks, viz. the praise of men. But what is it? It is inconsiderate. It is fickle. It is short-lived. And vain as it is, it is not deserved.
2. The prayer of the hypocrite is idolatry.
(1) The true God is not worshipped. The hypocrite's prayer is a slight upon him. His praise is not even sought.
(2) In seeking the praise of men, the hypocrite, like other idolaters, makes his god in his own image. His prayer is to men. They are his idols.
(3) In seeking the praise of men, the hypocrite worships himself. He sees himself in his idol. Idolatry is an inverted self-worship.
3. The true man's prayer is true.
(1) He prays to God as his Father. He has kindredness of nature to the God of truth. To be seen of men is not in his calculation.
(2) He seeks the commendation of his God. This is to him the one thing infinitely desirable.
II. SIMPLICITY. The expedients of hypocrisy are avoided.
1. As to posture.
(1) Standing is not, in itself, a posture unsuitable to prayer (cf. Nehemiah 9:4; Mark 11:25; Luke 18:11-13). The change of posture from kneeling to standing may be found helpful to the spirit of prayer.
(2) Standing "to be seen of men" is quite another thing. Kneeling, if this be its purpose, is equally reprehensible.
(3) The spirit may kneel to God in humility, or stand before him in ready obedience, when the body is otherwise engaged.
2. As to place.
(1) The "synagogue" was the proper place for public prayer. Note: In public worship we should avoid whatever might tend to make our personal devotion remarkable.
(2) The synagogue was not the place for private devotions. The custom of opening churches for private worshippers tends to encourage hypocrisy.
(3) The "corners of the streets" where the people were in concourse were favourable to ostentation. The hypocrites "loved to pray" there. They did not love to pray.
(4) Secret prayer should be in secret. The true God is himself in secret. In secret he is sought and found. God seeth in secret (cf. John 1:48; Acts 9:11). By secret prayer we give God the glory of universal presence. The true man may find a closet in the busy throng. The closet is in the heart. There we may shut the door against the world, the flesh, and the devil. Secret prayer should be in retirement to avoid
Isaac went into the field (Genesis 24:63); Christ went up into a mountain; Peter found a closet on the housetop.
3. As to manner.
(3) They are to be avoided as encouraging vain repetitions. To repeat words without meaning is especially vain. Repetitions suppose ignorance or inattention on the part of God. They are heathenish (see 1 Kings 18:26, 36). True prayer is not the language of the lip, but of the heart.
(4) Those who would not be "as the hypocrites" in action and manner must not be "as the hypocrites" in spirit and temper.
1. Prayer gives no information to God.
(1) "Thy Father seeth in secret." God reads all hearts.
(2) "Your Father knoweth what things ye have need of." God knows his own resources.
(3) He knoweth "before ye ask him." "Known unto God are all his works from the beginning."
2. -Prayer is enjoined to help us to feel our need.
(1) God requires the sense of their need in suppliants for their own sake, viz. that they may value the blessings they may receive.
(2) Prayer is admirably suited to awaken and deepen this sense of need.
(3) By the sense of our need we "make known our requests to God" (Philippians 4:6).
3. It is also enjoined to encourage our faith in God.
(1) We come to God as our "Father." He is our Father by creation. By covenant.
(2) He has the heart and resources of a Father. What merit is there in our prayers? Yet such is the heart of kindness of our Father that he places them amongst our services. "Thy Father which seeth in secret shall recompense thee."
(3) He is our heavenly Father. So his rewards contrast with those received from men by the hypocrite. While the hypocrite in gaining the praises of men "has received his reward," and has no more to expect, the true man will evermore continue to receive his rewards from the everlasting Father. That eye of God which is formidable to the hypocrite is bliss to the sincere and true. - J.A.M.
I. TEST THE CASE SUPPOSED BY THE PROPER OBJECT OF PRAYER, Here is a man who prays so as to draw attention to himself - prays for the sake of getting men's admiration of his praying. Now, is that the proper aim to set before us in praying? Does it matter what our fellow-men may think of us? We ought to pray simply to gain God's help and blessing. Prayer should be the expression of conscious need; it should be the utterance of fervent desire; it should be wholly concerned with the need, and with God, from whom the supply of the need is sought.
"Men heed thee not: men praise thee not. II. TEST THE CASE SUPPOSED BY THE PROPER SPIRIT OF PRAYER. Prayer is uttered dependence. Prayer is supplication. It is precisely the feeling of dissatisfaction with self which inspires us to pray. And anything like self-exhibition is altogether foreign to prayer. A man must be satisfied with himself who confidently makes an exhibition of himself; and such a man wants nothing, and has nothing to pray for. In illustration of this point, reference may be made to the subtle peril which lies in emotional moods. There is a pride in religious feelings, which gets expression in beautiful prayers; and when pride is at the heart of them they cease to be prayers at all. There is much danger of insincerity in extempore public prayers, which must fail to be real prayers if they are "addressed to an audience," and intended to be admired by them rather than heard and answered by God. - R.T.
II. TEST THE CASE SUPPOSED BY THE PROPER SPIRIT OF PRAYER. Prayer is uttered dependence. Prayer is supplication. It is precisely the feeling of dissatisfaction with self which inspires us to pray. And anything like self-exhibition is altogether foreign to prayer. A man must be satisfied with himself who confidently makes an exhibition of himself; and such a man wants nothing, and has nothing to pray for. In illustration of this point, reference may be made to the subtle peril which lies in emotional moods. There is a pride in religious feelings, which gets expression in beautiful prayers; and when pride is at the heart of them they cease to be prayers at all. There is much danger of insincerity in extempore public prayers, which must fail to be real prayers if they are "addressed to an audience," and intended to be admired by them rather than heard and answered by God. - R.T.
I. THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE PRAYER. Jesus is very explicit in regard to these details, although his object is simply to obtain reality and spirituality of worship, because we are largely influenced by the scenes among which we live. The private chamber and the closed door are necessary for the devotion which Christ approves of.
1. Unostentatiousness. This is readily secured. We cannot think of winning the applause of men when we have shut out all observers. Yet even here the danger may return if we let it he known that we resort to seclusion for prayer. Therefore the very act of retirement should be kept private.
2. Freedom from distraction. The noise and glare of the world are withdrawn, and we are left alone with God. This need not l)e in a room. Christ found it on the mountain.
3. A personal approach to God. Each soul must seek God separately. There is a loneliness of personality, a deep seclusion of the interior life. We do not really pray until we open this up to God.
II. THE OBJECT OF THE PRAYER. The end is not secured by the mere act of going into seclusion. We may carry the world into our chamber; and we shall do so if the world is in our hearts. We may not meet God there; and we shall not find him if he is "not in all our thoughts." The accessories are but favourable conditions. Still, we need the spiritual effort of devotion, which is to draw near to our Father - the highest act of human experience. When that is truly attained, the accessories cease to be very important. We may find the soul's secret chamber in the heart of a crowd, while walking through the busy street, or while rushing over the country in a railway carriage full of fellow-travellers, if we can withdraw our minds into inwardness of thought, into the seclusion of private meditation; we have but to shut to the door of observation, and we are alone with God. But this is only possible in proportion as our worship is a really spiritual approach to God. We have just to consider what worship is - not a performance, but a communion.
III. THE RESULT OF THE PRAYER.
1. Observed by God. He sees in secret. He sees the secret hollowness, vanity, falsehood, and blasphemy that lie behind the decorous worship of ostentation. He also sees the prayer that is but a thought,
"Prayer is the soul's sincere desire, Prayer is the burden of a sigh, 2. Rewarded by God. The reward of prayer is to hear and answer it. We are not to expect to be paid for our goodness in being unostentatious. It is enough that God meets us in secret prayer, that he condescends to respond and to visit our chamber, transforming it into a temple. That is the reward. - W.F.A.
Prayer is the burden of a sigh, 2. Rewarded by God. The reward of prayer is to hear and answer it. We are not to expect to be paid for our goodness in being unostentatious. It is enough that God meets us in secret prayer, that he condescends to respond and to visit our chamber, transforming it into a temple. That is the reward. - W.F.A.
2. Rewarded by God. The reward of prayer is to hear and answer it. We are not to expect to be paid for our goodness in being unostentatious. It is enough that God meets us in secret prayer, that he condescends to respond and to visit our chamber, transforming it into a temple. That is the reward. - W.F.A.
I. HAVE A PLACE. The "closet" here is really the "store-chamber" of the house. Usually a dark closet, in which the articles used by night are stored away by day. In an Eastern house privacy could be secured in it. Our Lord made a place of prayer on the hillside or in the garden. St. Peter made a place of the quiet housetop. Washington was seen to retire daily to a grove in the vicinity of the camp at Valley Forge. The late General Gordon daily put a sign outside his tent to indicate that he wished to be alone for a while. The sailor-boy made a place at the mast-head; the little servant made a place in the coal-cellar. Of this it may be said, "Where there's a will there's a way."
II. BE ALONE. And feel alone. "Shut the door." "One great advantage of a chamber set apart for prayer is that it keeps us free from many distractions. Our hearts are ready enough of themselves to wander;" and so we need every outward help we can gain. The sense of being undisturbed is most helpful to concentration of thought. Illustrate how God took Moses and Elijah to be "alone with him," before he could speak freely to them. There is nothing so solemnizing as the feeling of being shut up with God.
III. SPEAK FREELY. Then we may do so, because there is no one near to hear us, and either admire or reproach us. We can be simply and entirely our own true selves before God. Even in private prayer Easterns spoke aloud; and for us to do so would give directness, point, and power to our petitions.
IV. CHERISH CONFIDENCE. Always keep in mind that you are speaking to the Father, and may have the good child's assurance. And confidence asks much. John Bunyan tells how beggars used to carry with them a bowl when they went to beg at a house. Some of them brought only small bowls; and so, however rich and bountiful the householder might be, he could not give them more than their bowl could contain; others brought great bowls, and carried them home full. - R.T.
I. IN FORM IT IS BRIEF, CLEAR, AND SIMPLE. This is offered in contrast to the vain repetitions of the heathen. It is not the length of a prayer, but the reality of it, that finds acceptance with God. He does not need to be urged with piteous entreaties, the frantic shrieks, leaping, and gashing with knives that the dervishes of Baal resorted to. He is close at hand; he is always ready to hear; he knows what we need. Some prayers are sermons preached to God. We have neither to inform God as though he were ignorant, nor to persuade him as though he were reluctant to help. We have simply to make him the confidant of our hearts' desires.
II. IT IS ADDRESSED TO THE FATHERHOOD OF GOD. The "Pater noster" has its key-note struck in its two opening words.
1. God's fatherly nature. The character of our prayer depends on our conception of God. Christ delighted to set before us the picture of God as our Father. Here is the basis of faith. All confidence is justified by this great face.
2. Our relation to God. He is not merely the "All-Father." He is "our Father;" this personal appropriation of God is necessary for the most real prayer.
III. IT HONORS THE HOLINESS OF GOD. God loathes adulation, but he accepts adoration. High-sounding titles and elaborate ascriptions of praise mar the simplicity of genuine worship. It is enough to address God as "our Father." Still we must remember that he is in heaven. The familiarity of love must not forget the reverence due to holiness. The essence of prayer is worship.
IV. IT SEEKS THE GLORY OF GOD. Thoughts of God come first - that his Name may be treated with reverence; that his kingdom may come, his will be done. Many prayers are too narrow, selfish, and worldly. The model prayer fills our minds and hearts with large thoughts of God and his kingdom. If we have the Christian spirit in us, these thoughts will lie very near to our hearts; if that spirit is developed and enlarged, they will be predominant, so that we shall more eagerly wish for the coming of the kingdom and the doing of God's will than for the satisfaction of our personal desires. But, alas! few of us have reached that standard.
V. IT TRUSTS GOD'S DALLY CARE. Now we come down to the personal prayer. It begins with a most simple, universal want - daily bread.
1. Bodily food. This comes from God, who makes the corn grow, and finds us the providential means of a livelihood. Christ recognizes the need of common earthly things; God supplies them.
2. Necessaries. Merely "bread."
3. The moment's need. "Daily" bread. We can leave the morrow.
VI. IT CONFESSES SIN AND ASKS FORGIVENESS. This is of universal application. The saint must confess sin as well as the sinner. This is of daily necessity. We sin daily. But this recognizes God's forgiving grace - to cover all sin. Yet it is conditioned by our forgiving spirit.
VII. IT CRAVES DELIVERANCE FROM EVIL. If possible we would be spared temptation. If we must be tempted, we pray to be saved from the power of the evil one. Our Father is our great Deliverer. in view of darkest dangers we cry for his raving help. - W.F.A.
I. THE GRACIOUS AUTHORITY IT GIVES TO THE CREATURE, AS SOON AS HE TURNS HIS HEART IN PRAYER TO GOD, TO CLAIM THE RELATIONSHIP OF GOD TO HIM AS THAT OF FATHER. In whatever way this relationship of God to man might be argued from the nature of things (Psalm 103:13), or inferable from indirect permission in the teaching of God's favoured and chosen people since Abraham (Isaiah 63:16), it is certain that, previously to this teaching of Christ himself, we read no direct authorization whatsoever of it. It is the gift of this prayer, therefore, that with this title we come "boldly to the throne of grace."
II. THE LOVING AND HOPEFUL TONE OF SUPPLIANCY IT AUSPICIOUSLY AVAILS TO AWAKEN. The spirit of demand, the temper of dictation, the mutterings of discontent, the murmurings of impatience, are all held in willing, sure, sweet abeyance, when on bended knees we say, "Our Father." "How," we say rightly," will he not give to his sons, to whom first he has given this greatest gift, that they should be, and be called, sons!" And, again, how shall not we desire, in practice as in prayer, to comfort ourselves in harmony with our new-given relationship - the Divine "adoption of sons"!
III. THE HEALTHFUL, INSPIRITING, UNLIMITED, CATHOLICITY WHICH THE TWO WORDS "OUR FATHER" BETOKEN AND AUGUR. It speaks in all innocent trustfulness, instinctive expectation, grateful expanded prospect, of the vast family, of an ever-swelling brotherhood, of the one Father's many-mansioned house. It strikes the key-note of the music of universal charity.
IV. THE ELEVATED LEVEL TO WHICH OUR CONCEPTIONS OF THE DIVINE RELATIONSHIP ARE SO SILENTLY AND, AS IT WERE, SO UNSUSPECTINGLY DRAWN UP - THE FATHER IN HEAVEN. HOW helpful to our hope and confidence, how salutary to our modesty and patience, how dignifying to all our spiritual tone and aspiration, to remember that this Father is in heaven, while as yet we are at heaven's footstool - the earth! - B.
Matthew 6:9 (end of verse)
I. THE PETITION IS AN INSTANCE AND EXPRESSION OF A MOST SIGNIFICANT ACT OF OUR REGENERATE NATURE, AKIN TO ITS VERY HIGHEST REACHES OF ACHIEVEMENT, WHEN, IRRESPECTIVE OF EVERYTHING ELSE, WE DESIRE THAT FIRST OF ALL GOD'S HOLY NAME BE HELD SACRED AND BE GLORIFIED.
II. THE PETITION PURPORTS THE EXALTATION, IN MEN'S REVERENT REGARD, OF THAT NAME, SO GREAT, ADDRESSED AND APPEALED TO IN PRAYER. The petition beautifully embraces the deep wish that that Name may be ever growing in adored sacredness in the silent heart of the individual petitioner first, as well as further in and through all creation.
III. THE PETITION MANIFESTLY POSTULATES SUCH SYMPATHY, HOWEVER ELEMENTARY, WITH THE HOLY NATURE OF THE FATHER, THAT ITS FULFILLING CANNOT FAIL TO BE ALSO A SURE FULFILLING OF GOOD TO HIM WHO PRAYS IT. It evidently proceeds on the ready and willing acknowledgment of the fact that the perfect holiness of the Father in heaven is the condition and the essential that lies at the very root of the welfare of the man who is praying, and of the vast universe. - B.
say. Here, however, After this manner pray ye." The use of forms is sanctioned; so is extemporary prayer. Better a "form of sound words" than no family worship. Consider -
I. THE ADDRESS TO GOD.
1. It is a great truth that God is our Father.
(1) He is the Creator, not the Father, of his other works. Ethers; minerals; vegetables; animals. No kindredness of nature to God in these.
(2) He is the "Father of spirits." Every attribute of the human spirit is the image of a corresponding Divine attribute. Intellects; affections.
(3) Even the body of man was made after the similitude of the Lord (cf. Genesis 1:26; Genesis 2:7). The body is the material image of the soul. When God revealed himself to man, his similitude was the appearance of a man (see Ezekiel 1:26-28).
2. This Divine title is proper to the gospel dispensation.
(1) It is a notable fact that the title "Father" seldom occurs in Old Testament Scripture. Nowhere is God there invoked as a Father.
(2) There is a reason of propriety. The spirit of the Law was fear. The Law was given amidst horrors and alarms. Its rites imposed an oppressive burden.
(3) It is also a notable fact that the title "Father" is of frequent occurrence in the New Testament. It is the familiar title in Christian invocation. The Lord's Prayer is the model for all Christian prayer.
(4) There is also a reason of propriety here. The spirit of the gospel is love. It is the spirit of sonship and liberty. This is all embodied in the mystery of the incarnation of the proper Son of God (see Galatians 4:1-7).
3. Note the plural, OUR Father.
(1) The use of the singular is very sweet. It is suited sometimes to the closet. Sometimes to ejaculatory prayer.
(2) The plural recognizes the common Fatherhood of God. So the common brotherhood of man. Its use should cure war, strikes, domestic feuds.
(4) In its common use all the sons of God pray for each. This is better than each praying exclusively for himself. Better for each, better for all.
4. Note the place of his residence.
(1) God is in the mechanical heavens. He moves the spheres. He give the tides. So the seasons. The elements are his servants. His miracles evince his presence in nature. His providence in nature is constant. So he can make nature respond to prayer.
(2) He is in the supernal heaven. The heaven of heavens. The third heaven. The palace of angels. The place of vision.
(3) He that rules all heavens is our Father! What an honour! How superior should we be to the meanness of sin!
II. THE ASCRIPTION OF PRAISE.
1. The Name of God stands for himself.
2. To hallow is to revere God's Name.
(2) Cheerful obedience is the true reverence of love (see Matthew 23:9).
3. The Name of the Father should be everywhere revered.
(2) But is it so revered on earth? In the sanctuary it is revered. The Church is the kingdom of heaven upon earth. But in the world the sacred Name is horribly blasphemed.
(3) The blessed day is coming when the glory of the Lord will fill the earth as now it fills the heavens. Pray for this. Strive for this. - J.A.M.
spirit of prayer, they naturally asked him also to give them a suitable form in which that spirit might find expression. Now notice the Hebraic form in which the prayer is set. It is a series of dual sentences, the second repeating the first, with some amplification, after the familiar style of Hebrew writing.
I. THE FATHER-NAME. "Our Father." "Hallowed be thy [Father] Name." In this new name for God may be found the very essence of the revelation Jesus brought. He taught "good news of God;" right thoughts of God. Everything else follows from that; for to know God is eternal life. How far was the Father-Name a new revelation? Certainly, as used by Christ, it carries a new meaning and force. What is hallowing a Father-Name? Showing the obedience and devotion of sons. Remember Jesus called God "Holy Father," "Righteous Father."
II. THE KINGDOM OF THE WILL. "Thy kingdom come." "Thy will be done." These are plainly the same thing; for God's kingdom must be the "rule of his will." A living, active will creates a kingdom. If God's will were fully done, God's kingdom would have come. A kingdom of moral beings; ruled by a supreme and holy will. To pray for the kingdom to come is to yield ourselves to the service of the will.
III. GIVING AND FORGIVING. This part of the prayer concerns man's necessities. Our Father in heaven is interested in our daily needs. "Give!" is the cry of the needy child. "Forgive!" is the cry of the sinful child. Both attitudes are of supreme interest to our heavenly Father. "Bread" stands for all our bodily needs; "forgiveness" for all our soul-needs.
IV. DEFENDED AND DELIVERED. Treating ourselves as frail and weak, and yet exposed to evil. "No one can tell beforehand how he will be affected by persistent, insidious, and vehement temptations. If it is a duty to avoid evil, it is surely permissible to solicit Divine help thereto." This ]s the prayer of self-distrust and dependence. Compare "Hold thou me up, and I shall be safe." - R.T.
Matthew 6:10 (first part)growth and more perfect developing and advance of the kingdom and the principles of it. So far also as the word "kingdom" might be considered equivalent to "rule," that rule had always been a reality and a very patent fact in the world. But in the light of the preaching of John the Baptist, and of the preaching entrusted to the twelve and the seventy disciples in Christ's commission, it is probable that the petition in this prayer describes the final and perfect form of God's kingdom, as growing out of the truth of Christ, in all its entirety, rooted in his incarnation, vital in the efficacy of his cross and blood, and triumphantly evidenced in his resurrection, ascension, and sending or the Holy Ghost. For a kingdom, a new kingdom, a reign of "abundance of peace," and of every most distinguished type of blessing, the favoured but degenerate nation had now long been looking with very mistakenly directed vision; while the truer and the really devout of them had been earnestly longing and waiting for it - not, indeed, much better informed in their mind, but very much better disposed in their heart. These, therefore, were to some real degree disposed to understand Christ's kingdom, differently conditioned as even to them it was compared with their expectations. And now the petition is enthroned that purports this - May the kingdom of God in Christ come! Dwell on -
I. THE SPIRITUAL CHARACTER OF THIS KINGDOM. Explain what is really meant by a spiritual character, illustrating this by:
1. The wonders of the way in which the kingdom was founded on earth.
2. The methods by which it gains and holds its own.
3. The objects which it seeks both near at hand and ultimately.
II. THE SPIRITUAL FORCES WHICH GIVE IMPULSE TO THIS KINGDOM AND WHICH RULE IT, AS MANIFEST AS THEY ARE INVISIBLE. Give here leading illustrations of the mighty presence of the Holy Spirit working at the same time with human servants, but himself unchallengeably the mainspring.
III. THE CATHOLICITY OF THIS KINGDOM. Point out the implications of this fact. Show the enormously strong, growing indications, or evidences, or already concluded proofs of it. - B.
Matthew 6:10 (latter part)
I. IT WILL IT BE DONE BY ALL. It is done by all in heaven, and the very form of this petition is not worded for the individual, but for all the wide, the various, the saddened but the beautiful world.
II. IT WILL BE DONE WITH THE FULLEST CONSENT OF THE HEART, AND WITH THE UNITED, UNDISTRACTED CONSENT OF ALL THE POWERS.
III. IT WILL BE DONE WITH AN EVER-GROWINGLY SYMPATHETIC UNDERSTANDING OF IT. It is beyond us to say that God's will is done even in heaven with (or much less for the mere reason of) a perfect understanding of it. Nay, some of its value may result there, as here, from its being both accepted and "done" in spite of its not being understood. But how much of our understanding of it is blocked by weak sympathy with it, or by absence of sympathy with it; and surely these obstacles will be gone, or ever be giving way! The clearness of sight and of understanding that a perfect sympathy gives, as compared with fitful and imperfect sympathies, must be all gain to the doing of God's will on earth as in heaven.
IV. IT WILL BE DONE WITHOUT THAT BITTER PAIN, THAT WORST WEARINESS, THAT COME OF VAIN ENDEAVOUR AND EFFORT SO OFTEN FAILURE. Such descriptions, or even such mere glimpses, as are given to us in Scripture of the worship or the work in heaven are ravishing indeed to meditate. To these we can never absolutely attain "in earth.". To them, nevertheless, we may ever be approximating. The petition teaches us this; and, as offered by countless millions of lips, generation after generation, it is gradually and blessedly leading on to this. - B.
I. THAT THE KINGDOM OF GOD MIGHT COME.
1. God's absolute empire is in his arm.
(1) It was there before the creation. From everlasting. Essentially.
(2) Millions of possible universes now slumber in that arm.
2. The kingdom coming is the gospel in triumph.
(1) The kingdom came in the advent of the King. It was manifested in his mighty works of wisdom and love. The essence of sovereignty resides in laws. The gospel laws are immutable wisdom and love. They are the laws of heaven, and therefore the voice of the sovereignty of heaven.
(2) The kingdom comes spiritually when the gospel triumphs in the believer. When it informs his mind. When it directs his will. When it captivates his affections. When it rules his life.
(3) It will come visibly. The fifth monarchy of Daniel describes the coming kingdom (see Daniel 2:44; Daniel 7:26, 27). In this kingdom the Lord from heaven will bring with him the angels of heaven. It will be the kingdom of the first resurrection (Revelation 20.). In it the Redeemer will be "King of kings, and Lord of lords; "for his saints will then be "kings and priests unto God."
3. We should pray for the coming of Christ in his kingdom.
(1) Visibly. Righteousness will then replace oppression and distraction. Peace will replace violence and war. Joy will replace misery and sorrow.
(2) Spiritually. The suppliant should seek himself to become an epitome of heaven. Loyalty to Christ the King. No rebel in the soul. Perfect love.
II. THAT THE WILL OF GOD MIGHT BE DONE.
1. In the heavens it is perfectly done.
(1) In the mechanical heavens. The stellar heaven. The atmospheric heaven.
(2) In the angelic heaven. The ear of angelic obedience is sensitive. The wing of angelic obedience is swift. "They go and return like a flash of lightning."
(3) There is no prayer here that the will of God may be done in heaven or in the heavens. The way in which it is done there is taken as a pattern for us.
2. The will of God is man's highest wisdom.
(1) Necessarily so, for it is the wisdom of God. See its expressions in nature. Uses; adaptations; balancings.
(2) See its expressions in the gospel. Design; means to the end.
(4) The will of love pledges help. We cannot trust ourselves to fulfil God's Law. We may trust the help of his Spirit.
III. THAT WE MAY BE NOURISHED IN HIS SERVICE.
1. Bread stands for the necessaries of life.
(1) Ἄρτον, like לחם, expresses all these (cf. Genesis 49:20).
(2) Things necessary for the life of the body. Food. Coverings, viz. raiment and habitation. "Our bread." This is a prayer for remunerative labour (cf. Genesis 3:19; 1 Thessalonians 4:11, 12; 2 Thessalonians 3:10). What we eat without labour is not our own bread.
(3) Things necessary for the life of the Spirit. Nourishment. From the Word - in the ordinances. Protection. From the wrath of God. From the power of evil.
2. This is the language of pilgrims.
(1) "This day." Life is a day.
(2) "Daily bread." The manna was gathered daily. So is our spiritual as well as our natural food. Supply us with profitable subjects for thought - affection. These are the food of the mind. God gives angels what to think and love.
(3) God is the Giver and the Gift. The Lord himself is the Bread. Still he cometh down from heaven.
(4) Take no anxious thought for the morrow. As to the temporal supply. As to the spiritual. We do not receive the grace for dying until we are called to die. We should now be most solicitous about the grace to live. God knows our need. His resources are ample. His heart is good. - J.A.M.
portion needful and allotted to him by parental care and love. Then the petition may be vivified, and a grateful realizing of its significance and beauty may be helped by speaking of it as -
I. THE HUMBLE PRAYER OF CREATURE-NEED. Instance comparisons of the dependence of all life,
(2) animate and conscious;
The very sense of creature-need may be comfort, and help lead us to think on whom that need is permitted and invited to draw. How different our youth's presumptuous challenge of responsibility from the craving after relief from that very thing in maturer life, mellower character, and declining age!
II. THE HAPPY PRAYER OF CHILD-DEPENDENCE. The youngest child unconsciously depends for its portion every day upon its parents. And it becomes so natural to it that it knows not a doubt or fear for the same as years go on, till with the springing up of thought and the teaching of goodness and wisdom it becomes an effort to acknowledge its child-dependence and the grace that supplies it. That effort is healthful and useful. The very beginning of this prayer warrants us in this petition to ask, as the asking of the dependence that gives the child its claim, and a claim in its character something in advance of that which it utters as a creature.
III. THE TRUSTFUL PRAYER OF NECESSITY INDEED, YET UNANXIOUS NECESSITY. When the portion that the day wants has changed from milk to bread, and from milk and bread to wine and strong meat, there are yet other imperious forms of necessity that it takes. In one known word, there is "strength equal to the day" wanted. Various is the day, very various such days! The strength of healing, of pity, of pardon, of gracious and unusual intervention, is wanted; and is to be prayed for, and may be even begged for; but then most successfully when from the calm, deep heart of trustful unanxiety (Psalm 37., passim). - B.
Luke 11:4), the prayer reads, "Forgive us our sins, as we forgive our debtors" It might, possibly, and not altogether unplausibly, be held that this last form of the words designs to avoid bringing into near comparison the dread reality we call sin against God, with our sins (though still justly so called) against one another. At any rate, the version may suggest profitably the thought. Vast also and indeed immeasurable the difference between what we owe to God and what any one can owe to us; still these facts more naturally both fall under the description of "debts." Again, though the words "debts" and "debtors" are virtually commented upon by the "trespasses" of ver. 14, it is not impossible that they suggest the sequence of this petition upon the one preceding it. We have just prayed, "Give us this day," etc. What debts, indeed, God's daily innumerable givings, as Creator to all creation, as Father to all his family, entail upon them! These are not less to be thought of because they partake so much of a moral character, and are so analogous to those which children owe to their earthly parents. Though parents must give for the sake of the life of those to whom they give, their claim upon the gratitude, obedience, devotion, of their offspring is indefeasible, and the high, solemn sanctions of that claim in Scripture are second to none. Dwell on the consideration of -
I. THE EXISTENCE OF THIS GREAT THING, THIS GREAT FACT, IN THE WORLD - "FORGIVENESS:" WHAT DOES IT MARK?
1. It is a convincing proof of a moral element present in the world's social structure.
2. It is a convincing proof that that moral element is not of the nature of a level, stern, logical justice by itself, without elasticity, without any possible method of compensation, without any provision of remedy, in the event of incursions of error, accident, fault.
3. The outward practice of forgiveness (leaving out of question any cultivating of the spirit of forgiving)is found an absolute necessity for carrying on the community of social life.
4. The three foregoing particulars may be viewed as a strong supporting argument of the species of analogy, justifying the article of the apostolic Creed, that says, "I believe in the forgiveness of sins." And they may be viewed so yet the more in the light of the second clause of the petition now before us, "as we forgive our debtors."
II. THE WIDE RANGE THROUGH WHICH PRAYERS FOR GOD'S FORGIVENESS NEED TO BE OFFERED.
1. For debts in the matter of mercies innumerable and priceless, of which so little account has been made, and for which so little fruitful return has been shown.
2. For our debts in the matter of innumerable faults - faults of omission and of carelessness.
3. For our debts in the solemn matter of what can be described as nothing less than sin against God; and which we must know to be such by reason, by conscience, by education, by the education further of his revealed Word, and by the most explicit and most tender revelation of his love in Christ Jesus.
4. For all the debts of all that vast family of which we are a part, and for which our "prayers and intercessions" are permitted and invited.
III. THE EXCEEDINGLY SOLEMN FORM UNDER WHICH WE ARE TAUGHT TO ENTREAT GOD'S FORGIVENESS OF OUR SINS, VIZ. "AFTER THE MANNER" OF OUR OWN FORGIVENESS OF OUR BROTHER. The thrilling suggestions of warning that lie plain to every gaze in these words of prayer fitted to our lips by Jesus, emphasized in vers. 14, 15, and so often repeated by us, are only equalled by the matchless condescension of them. - B.
I. THE FORGIVENESS OF EVIL.
1. We need this.
(1) For we inherit depravity with its guilt. God deals with individuals as belonging to a race. We are our brothers' keepers. We are responsible for our children. So are we responsible for our fathers. The individual is not lost in the public conscience. Directors of joint-stock companies should remember this.
(2) For sins of personal rebellion. From our youth up. Ever since we have professed to be Christians.
(3) For service imperfectly rendered. Imperfect obedience does not meet the requirements of a Law which, like the Lawgiver, is perfect. Has our conduct before men been faultless? Has our spirit before God bees faultless?
2. It is conditionally promised.
(1) "Forgive us our debts, as we " The Bible knows nothing of unconditional mercy. Man is ever treated by God as a moral agent.
(2) The atonement of Christ is a condition of mercy. "Our debts," equivalent to "trespasses" (ver. 14), equivalent to "sins" (Luke 11:4). Sin contracts a debt to be paid in suffering. If we shelter not in the vicarious suffering of Christ, we must still suffer in person for the satisfaction of the Law of God.
(3) Repentance also is a condition of mercy. Note: A condition not of merit, yet of necessity. We cannot receive the atonement without it. The hearty reception of the atonement is the perfecting of repentance.
(4) There is no mercy for the unmerciful. "Forgive us as we also have forgiven." Not that our forgiving merits God's forgiveness. Here it is as in earth so in heaven (see vers. 14, 15). Confer also the parable of the debtors (Matthew 18:35). The ten thousand talents are equivalent to £2,400,000; while the one hundred pence are equivalent to £3 10s. Can the sinner ever pay all his debt to God? He asks eternal vengeance on himself who, with an implacable heart, prays this prayer.
II. DEFENCE AGAINST THE EVIL ONE.
1. Lead us not ,into temptation.
(1) God is not the Author of temptation (see James 1:13). Note: Temptation is ever in our way.
(3) This prayer implies that we should have such diffidence of our own strength as to lead us to deprecate any severe trial of our fidelity. We should not covet martyrdom, lest in the trial we should fail.
(4) The spirit of this prayer will restrain us from rushing into circumstances of exposure to temptation. It is wanting in those who make haste to be rich (see 1 Timothy 6:9). This passion leads to business gambling. To lotteries. Raffling at Church bazaars gives a sacred sanction to some of the worst evils of the world. The spirit of this prayer is wanting in those who coquette with the world in any of its evils.
2. Deliver us from the evil one.
(1) Then is Satan ubiquitous? For this petition ascends simultaneously from millions scattered over the world. In his emissaries he is, as the British monarch is representatively in all our colonial dependencies and in all foreign courts.
(2) Satan's representatives are "legion." His hosts are marshalled under his generalship. What a call to us for vigilance!
(3) God alone can curb the power of Satan. The power of Satan was sufficient to delay Gabriel for one and twenty days. To triumph over Satan Gabriel needed the help of Michael, i.e. of Christ (see Daniel 10:6, 13). Foolish is the man that would at his own charges engage in a warfare with such an antagonist. Foolish is the man who holds out in rebellion against the Conqueror of Satan.
(4) To be delivered from the evil one is equivalent to the hallowing of the Name of God. The petitions of this prayer, first and last, are wondrously interdependent. - J.A.M.
Matthew 6:13 (first part)carry," and the Revised Version renders "bring;" and for this may be substituted such other words as "put," or "place." Though indeed circumstances, as we call them (and God certainly uses not unfrequently the ministry of circumstance), may be largely described as partaking of the nature of leading, yet the last intended implication of the petition is that God would, by unconscious leading, betray us into temptation, so that we should be more liable to fall by it. Consider -
I. THE NATURE OF THE THING CALLED TEMPTATION.
1. It is not the word rightly used, unless the person is free to choose, to do, or to refuse to do.
2. It is not the word rightly used, unless the thing that tempts is for some reason evil - evil not necessarily in itself, but for us at the time being.
3. It involves our facing what is either intrinsically evil, or in this sense evil; wishing or being inclined to wish or liable to wish it; and finally either mastering and banishing the wish, or yielding to it, and turning it into action.
II. THE OBJECTS OF TEMPTATION.
1. To reveal to the nature of an inquiring, intelligent being what forces there are without him, for good or for bad, in this world.
2. To reveal to that nature the forces that are within it also; and to waken its knowledge as much of their difference in kind as of their existence.
III. THE USES OF TEMPTATION.
1. To challenge, determine, fix the tone and direction of the character of any and every person.
2. To strengthen greatly, by decision and by exercise, goodness, if temptation is resisted and mastered; or if the opposite, at any rate to acquaint the sufferer with what is going on in his life.
IV. THE JUSTIFICATION OF PRAYING AGAINST THE ORDEAL OF TEMPTATION.
1. Such praying expresses a very permissible, just, modest distrust of self. It expresses the opposite of self-confidence.
2. It expresses a just and natural dread of being worsted of our worst enemy.
3. It expresses a justifiable shrinking from the conflict, and the pain of being tempted, even if we are not victims to the danger of it. That "the cup may pass away" we know is a lawful and even hallowed prayer, if coupled with submission still to the Divine will, and with the resolute drinking of it if it be still held to our lips. Such praying may be regarded as the fit response also to the most gracious utterances of all the ages; e.g. "Like as a father pitieth his children... for he knoweth our frame, and remembereth that we are dust." - B.
Matthew 6:13 (latter part)i.e. draw us away, rescue us, save us, "from evil," or from the evil one, in every form and in every degree. The petition is, therefore, certainly not mere repetition of the former, nor the former put in somewhat different shape, but it is substantial addition to it. Notice, then, that the prayer -
I. BREATHES THE EARNEST DESIRE TO BE DELIVERED FROM THE WHOLE BODY OF EVIL. That which was ever round us; that which is ever too likely to he within us, though dormant, perhaps; that which might still invade our peace and safety. We need to be set free from that which has in past time, and perhaps long, dominated us.
II. EXPRESSES THE CONVICTION THAT THE FINAL, COMPREHENSIVE THING TO BE DESIRED IS TO BE DRAWN BY DIVINE POWER FROM EVIL. We need to be both
(1) weaned from the love of it and all native inclination to it, so far as it takes any shape, by virtue of which we may wish for the time to east in our lot with it; and
(2) rescued and, if need be, snatched from its tyrannical hold and merciless thraldom. The significance of the position of this petition, last of all, so placed by Christ himself, well deserves notice and enforcing.
III. RECOGNIZES AND RECORDS OUR CREED THAT EVIL HAS ITS MASTER; AND THAT WE KNOW WHO THAT MASTER ALONE IS; OUR DEPENDENCE ON HIM, AND OUR INDEBTEDNESS TO HIM. To him we rightly carry our solemn, suffering, last appeal against it, whether the fault of it be more or less chargeable on ourselves. A short life, which nevertheless dragged even its very briefness, its "days few and evil," as though tedious time needed to be "killed," may have witnessed a careless indifference to evil on our part; again, an utter misestimate of its nature, malignity, mass of resistance; again, a mere defiant attitude towards it; again, a self-confident assurance of our own power over it, when only we should choose to rise to the occasion, and put forth that supposed power; and once again, after many a shameful fall, as the natural reaction, a crouching, craven, crushed, despairing dread of it! The humbling tale of these self-condemning transformations, and of the innumerable by-victories of evil, own to one safe outcome, one only! It is this - put into our lips by Jesus himself - the sad, intensely earnest, all-trusting, last appeal against it, addressed to that Master of it, before whom itself has ever quailed, "Deliver us from evil." - B.
manner of almsgiving," and the second on "the manner of praying," have had their gracious treatment; so now the third follows, on "the manner of fasting. We have not here any express injunction to fast, nor had we any to give alms or to pray. In each case the prefatory words are in the same form, when thou doest thine alms;" "when thou prayest;" and now, "when ye fast." However, not only is there not one disparaging word uttered at the expense of fasting, but directions are given for the right observance of it; and, above all, it is to be noted that it is ranked with the two ever undisputed duties and virtues of the Christian life, viz. charitableness and prayer.
I. THE OSTENTATION OF SANCTITY IS STRUCK AT. No two things could less agree, no two extremes less conceivably for one moment meet.
1. The very origin and reason of fasting disallow display; for its design is to search out and reckon with certain discreditable, subtle tendencies and temptations to sin, ever too actively working in the body, and through the lower appetites of our nature, and unfailingly warring against the soul - hindrances to religious life, the poison of devotion. Of the genuine, solemn attempt to sap the strength of such enemies within as these, who could dare to take opportunity to make parade? And if the solemnity of that attempt be nothing but an occasion of seeking the praise of men, and itself an "art of deceit," what can measure the guilt of the vanity of that "hypocrite"? The spiritual vanity, and yet more the spiritual pride, that sows itself in the spare soil of fasting, only then good if spare, is too sure, by the surest Nemesis, to grow a crop, briar, bramble, thistle, malignant in their fertility.
2. The meagre littleness of human sanctity, at its best, disallows display under any conditions. Nothing so certainly proves to demonstration that littleness as any proffer of ostentation on the part of it. Sanctity can only grow in the prevailing sense and overshadowing conviction of that Divine holiness from which exclusively it comes, and by the side of which it is meantime ever reduced to a drop in the ocean. "Fasting," said one of old, "should show you, but not you your fasting." And again, "Christ says not, 'Be not sad,' but 'Make not yourselves sad of countenance.'" And, once more, "If he who fasts, and makes himself of a sad countenance, is a hypocrite, how much worse he who does not fast, yet assumes a fictitious sadness of face as a token of fasting!"
II. THE NATURAL METHODS, OF HONEST MOTIVE AND OF DEEP RELIGIOUS DESIRE, HELD UP FOR IMITATION. The unconsciousness of daily habit is recommended by Christ for the outward appearance of the man most deeply convinced of the need of strenuous measures to cope with spiritual danger within. The sable garb and habit may well be left unstudied, unaffected, unput on, because of the sabler penitential habit of the heart. No "artifice of deceit" is anything but out of place and out of season, except it be that most skilled artifice of all, to make the least show of self, and over self's own sacreder self to throw the concealing veil of voluntary retiringness. The man who fasts as a Christian and for Christian purpose is not to proclaim it by word or by sign, nor is he to proclaim it at all. If in the light of his life it proclaims itself by his own light, he is then free from the responsibility of the disclosure, and it will be found that he is the very last to know of that disclosure.
III. THE EVER-OBSERVING EYE, WHICH MEN MAY RIGHTLY OBSERVE. Having guarded against all possible variety of danger that may arise from men's notice, or our own supposition of it, consciousness of it, or craving for it, our one legitimate desire and "contrivance" in the matter should be that nothing divert, distract, or disturb the singleness of eye that should feed its gaze on God - himself secret from the world, accepting and receiving us secret from the world. Where singleness of eye and simplicity of heart and transparency of motive are so indistinguishable from one another, one look aside from God, one moment relish for human praise, one listening for report of self, will dispel the holiness, and the holy fruit of any spiritual exercise. It is to the eye that is as unseen as it sees, as kind as it is searching, as searching as it is all-seeing and everywhere seeing, that the one safe appeal of our eye is to be directed, for guidance here, for encouraging approval here, and for its final unerring award. - B.
Luke 2:37; Acts 10:30; Acts 13:3). The spirit of the fast is in the heart (cf. Psalm 35:13; Isaiah 58:5-7). The usefulness of fasting is recognized in the directions here given as to the manner of its use. It is useful as a means to dispose us to the fulfilment of duties enjoined. Note -
I. THAT THE PIETY OF OSTENTATION IS SPURIOUS,
1. It is an inversion of the highest propriety.
(1) For it prefers human to Divine applause. However indebted we may be to our fellows, we are infinitely indebted to God. For life. For health. For all things.
(2) To seek the praise of men rather than the praise of God is the superlative of impudence and folly.
(3) It is supreme ingratitude to take all from God and give him no thanks.
2. It is shameful hypocrisy.
(1) Fasting is an expression of humiliation and mourning (cf. Psalm 35:13; Isaiah 58:5-7). The disfigured face was produced by ashes and earth, with disordered hair and austere and doleful looks (see 1 Kings 20:38). Under such disguises the Pharisee concealed proud and contemptuous thoughts and a callous heart.
(2) The falsehood is aggravated by its affectation of religion. The Pharisee seeks the praise of men on account of a religion towards God which he does not possess, else he would rather seek the praise of God. The cheat is played off upon God.
3. This is fearfully demoralizing.
(1) The habit of falsehood becomes the character of falsehood. The devil is the original liar. He is here the model in his most odious character of the angel of light.
(2) We seek to resemble those with whom we would ingratiate ourselves. Imitation is the sincerest praise. We cannot rise higher than our standard. Men are our standard when we seek the praise of men.
(3) If our standard be below us, the result is degradation. Instead of growing into the "increase of God," the hypocrite is shrivelling into the degradation of a devil.
4. The piety is doubtful of our ostentatious mourning for the dead.
(1) If we believe the departed to be enjoying the exquisite bliss of Paradise, what reason have we to mourn (cf. John 14:28)? Is it not heathenish to mourn for the glorified?
(2) If we fear the departed are suffering the torments of perdition we may well mourn. But is it decent to publish this to the world in our clothes?
(3) If our mourning be simply that of natural affection, is it necessary to proclaim to the world that we have natural affection? Should we parade our grief? If the grief be not there, why, in deference to fashion, hang out the symbol of a lie?
(4) Ostentations mourning for the dead is often ruinously expensive to the poor.
II. THAT GOD REWARDS AND PUNISHES MEN BY GIVING THEM THE DESIRES OF THEIR HEARTS.
1. True men have praise of God.
(1) They seek this above all things.
(a) By the fasting of the mind from the delights of sin.
(b) By hungering and thirsting for righteousness.
(c) By trusting in the blood of Christ with a heart unto righteousness.
(d) By delighting in good works - works of piety, works of benevolence.
(2) They have it:
(a) In the assurance of his favour. By the Spirit of adoption and regeneration.
(b) In the light and guidance of his grace.
(c) In triumph over death.
(d) In the "Well done!" of the judgment.
(e) In the rewards of immortality.
(3) The true man performs the duties of his spiritual fasting with cheerfulness. His face is "washed" in purity - " anointed" with benevolence. Rejoicing in the favour of God, he is dead alike to the praise and censure of men (see Psalm 69:10, 13).
2. False men receive the praise of their fellows.
(1) They seek this in preference to the praise of God, and they get what they seek. But what do they get? Dishonesty. The hypocrite is dishonest in taking praise he has not deserved.
(2) From whom do they get this? From the simple, who cannot see through their knavery. Or from the sycophant, who does not object to be the accomplice of the knave.
(3) True men would reprove their wickedness after the example of Christ with the Pharisees of his time.
3. From God they have no praise.
(1) They do not seek his reward. To ensure this they must sacrifice sin and pride, which they are unwilling to do.
(2) In greed after the finite they miss the infinite. In greed after the evanescent they miss the enduring. They forfeit heaven.
(3) Moreover, they incur the anger of God. The perdition of hell is his retribution upon their insolence and folly. - J.A.M.
I. FASTING IS AS ACT OF SELF-RESTRAINT. It belongs to the sphere of self-discipline. And that is strictly a personal and private matter. A man may help his brother by his example, showing the results of self-discipline. No man is called to show his brother the process of self-discipline; indeed, he must spoil the process if he attempts to show it. There is a growth of the plant which must go on in the soil and in the dark. You can never safely expose rootings. Our Lord teaches, that all moral discipline and bodily restraint - which may be gathered up and represented by fasting - belong to a man's private life, and should not even be made publicly known by the man's appearance. It is, indeed, a distinct failure of self-restraint to want to show others our self-restraint.
"Else let us keep our fast within,
II. FASTING AS AN ACT OF HUMILIATION. Distinctly the design of fasting is to enfeeble appetite and to humiliate passions. It is noticed that appetites for self-indulgence are strong when the body is pampered with luxurious food. But it is no humiliation to show our humiliation, and get our restrainings praised. That does but change body-pride for heart-pride, which is more defiling. Note this danger: in fasting to restrain bodily appetite we may come to think that evil is in the body. - R.T.
I. THE EARTHLY TREASURY.
1. Its locality. A treasury on earth. The thought is of the accumulation of material wealth. This may be of the choicest kind - works of art, gold, and jewels. Still, it is all earthly, and it does not imply any share in heavenly things, any portion in the unseen world.
2. Its imperfection. Even while its treasures remain in it they may be spoiled. The moth devours the Babylonish garment; the rust corrodes the bright steel and tarnishes the polished silver. Shares depreciate in value while we hold the scrip. Worse than all this, the value to us of earthly treasure may be corrupted; because we may toil successfully for wealth, and yet when we have got it we may discover to our dismay that we have lost the capacity to enjoy it.
3. Its insecurity. What cannot be spoiled by insect or atmosphere may be stolen. Without waiting for the slow action of rust and moth, riches may take themselves wings and flee away. The thief may dig through the mud-built house (see Job 24:16); the skilled burglar may break open the iron safe; the trusted banker may abscond with the stock that is lodged with him. At last the great thief death will rob us of all our earthly store by one irresistible stroke.
II. THE HEAVENLY TREASURY.
1. Its nature. What is this heaven in which we are to store our treasures? Heaven is not an astronomical locality, nor is it simply the abode of the blessed dead; it is wherever God's presence is manifested and enjoyed. Therefore to lay up treasure in heaven is to store it with God; to have our possessions in him; to entrust our all to him; to know that when we go to God we shall find our wealth.
2. Its riches. The nature of the treasury determines the sort of wealth that is to be stored in it. Possessions of land cannot be kept in a cash-box; works of art must not be stowed away in a wine-cellar. If heaven is our treasury, only heavenly riches can be collected there. It will not do for us to reckon our property by gold or any material things, for heaven has no room for such sordid wealth. The "unsearchable riches of Christ" are there - faith and love, pardon and peace, life and gladness, purity and power.
3. Its security. This heavenly treasury is safe. No corruption can breathe in the pure atmosphere of heaven; no thief can break open its mighty gates; death is powerless to enter its realm of eternal life. Nothing can destroy or rob us of our spiritual possessions in Christ.
III. THE GROUNDS OF CHOICE. Enough reason for preferring the heavenly treasury might be found in the great contrast between its security and the deceptive insecurity of all earthly treasuries. But Christ introduces a much higher consideration. "Where thy treasure is, there will thy heart be also." Therefore if the treasury is on earth, the heart will dwell in this lower region; but if the treasury is in heaven, the heart will soar to the heights of God. Our thoughts, our very selves, dwell with what we prize most highly. Here is a greater danger than that of the disappointment of loss - viz. that of the permanent degradation of a low affection. The chief reason for choosing heavenly treasures is that we may not set our affections on things of the earth, that we may have our thoughts and desires drawn up to what is heavenly. Thus only shall we escape from the sordid mind that gloats over sordid treasures, and win the pure and heavenly mind that aims at highest good. - W.F.A.
becomes plain, let us love to notice it, and to learn its continual contribution to the instructiveness and beauty of the teaching. Otherwise there is no incumbent necessity or advantage in stringing such pearls as these, at any rate. With this proviso, it is possible to suggest that there is a connection to be traced, not fanciful, between what we have here and the foregoing eighteen verses - that whereas the solemn refrain of each of the three examples which they comprise has been that no heritage of human praise be sought, but only that surest intrinsic reward, the approving eye of him who sooth in secret, now the subject launches out into the open; he who speaks, lovingly admonishes all, at all times, under all conditions, whether they give alms, or pray, or fast, "or whatsoever they do," to take heed and beware, not only of the lust of human praise - one particular shape of earthly treasure - but of seeking or storing in any sort the unsafe treasures of earth. The ground now rested upon for this admonition is, in one general word, the untrustworthiness of treasures laid up on earth. But this untrustworthiness has deepening shadows and a deepening suspicion as it is deeper looked into. The place, indeed, Jesus Christ says, of treasure laid up upon earth lays it open to suspicion, and to more than suspicion, to condemnation, in the matter of a right and wise investment. For of such treasure it is to be said that -
I. IT IS INSECURE. By the perfection of figurative language, in brevity, force, and clearness, this insecurity is set forth by the operation of:
1. Rust; an agent so silent, so constant, so natural, so certain, that nothing seems wanting to perfect the figure, for all that wide sweep of earthly wealth which iron, the king of metals, may be held to typify.
2. The moth; the stealthy destroyer of all the vesture and texture by which, again, another such wide stretch of earthly wealth is typified; but not only so, such a wide field of human vanity of wealth displayed.
3. The thief; who the more precious and less destroyable what remains may be, so much the more eagerly and skilfully compasses the grasping of it. So earthly treasure is cumulatively insecure by its unconscious and inanimate enemy, by its unconscious but animate enemy, and by its very conscious and very animate enemy.
II. IT IS TEMPORARY, EVEN WHEN AT THE SECUREST. If it is laid up on earth, it is bound to be left down on earth. The whole wide world of men all always have known that earth is not their abiding country; that if they are to be always, it is just the opposite of fact that they are to be always on earth; and that if the earth, in a sense, "abideth for ever," its fleeting generations the very opposite.
III. IT Is LOWERING INSTEAD OF ELEVATING, IMPOVERISHING INSTEAD OF ENRICHING, EVEN WHEN LEAST "TEMPORARY," AND EVEN WHEN MOST "SECURE." This is not said of a right use of earthly advantages, a use that does not abuse. But neither is it this at which Christ aims when he says, "Lay not up treasure on earth." No; the "for" which Christ uses here so emphatically, and the most weighty clause which it leads in, tells his most significant meaning. A treasure laid up on earth chains the heart with it to earth; "for" wherever the treasure is the heart is; whatever the treasure is, it is fashioning the heart to it. "What folly to store your treasure in the place you must soon leave!" What folly to have as treasure that which enslaves but never ennobles! What folly to have as treasure that which condemns thought never to think high, and which dooms affection's growth to be opposite of lasting in any upward direction, and, so far as its downward direction goes, the deeper its roots, the deeper its torments! Human nature and character only then rise, grow, purify, and are blessed as the heart of man rises and becomes purer, till its upward tendency is secured and its sanctification safe. - B.
I. IF GOD GIVES YOU LIFE, HE WILL ALSO GIVE YOU SUITABLE FOOD AND CLOTHING. The greater gift implies the less. The heavenly Father who could produce so marvellous a work as the body, and who could originate life, has certainly power for the common, everyday achievement of providing you with food and clothing.
II. YOU ARE MORE VALUABLE IN GOD'S ESTIMATION THAN THE LOWER ANIMALS, and, if even they are well provided for, much more will you be cared for. The strength of the argument lies in two points. First, we are better equipped for providing against the future than the birds are, and should therefore be more free from care. No doubt their cheerfulness arises from ignorance, but our ability to look forward is abused if it only makes us despondent and fearful. Second, it is your heavenly Father who feeds them. The other creatures are only a kind of step-children. And if God delights in the happiness of myriads of creatures who cannot know and thank him, is it justifiable that we should in any circumstances question his desire to bless us? Clearly this amounts to an assertion of the doctrine of special or particular providence, and there is no one who may not from our Lord's words draw encouragement to expect providential care and intervention.
III. UNDUE SOLICITUDE ABOUT THE FUTURE DOES NO GOOD. "Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit to his stature?" There is a legitimate and necessary consideration of the future with which our Lord has no quarrel. Reckless improvidence is a fault no less than over-providence. The taking thought which our Lord rebukes is a vain inoperative brooding over possible disasters - a brooding to which the mind returns for the very reason that nothing is effected by it; were anything effected by it, it would cease.
IV. EACH DAY HAS SUFFICIENT BURDEN OF ITS OWN. "Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof." If the evil that should be met to-day is not to lie over and follow on into to-morrow, then your whole strength is needed for immediate duty. You must adopt the great military rule if you are to be successful; you must break up your life into small portions, and conquer in detail. The best preparation for to-morrow is to do the duty of to-day. This is a great practical rule which, if followed, eases life of most of its burden. For what causes anxiety is commonly something that has not happened, which belongs to to-morrow rather than to to-day. Are you sufficient for the duty of today? Then be satisfied, and leave to-morrow till it comes. Learn to live one day at a time. But all these considerations only serve to lead up to the great precept, "Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you." All men would be willing to make the kingdom of God the second thing, but each man would like to choose his own first thing. Every man has some first object, it may be life, or honour, self-respect, or a pure conscience which he would rather preserve than anything else. But the demand here made is no more than saying we are moral creatures, made in God's image; and morality, if not supreme, is not morality. To put it in the second place is to annul it. Further, we all admire the men who have conspicuously practised this precept; who have shown themselves superior to the world, that they might be free to find the truth or to relieve the miseries of their fellow-men. Such men have shown us bow independent of the world a man of free spirit can be, and how he can give himself to the highest work of man as freely and effectively here and now as in any conceivable world. Greatness of character in this respect is nothing else than greatness of love. Practically this precept is in most cases reversed. We must secure food and raiment; we shall welcome righteousness afterwards. The earthly is the essential, the heavenly the supplementary. Our earthly interests are so pressing, we must in the first place put them on a satisfactory basis, and we do not recognize the highest conceivable morality as that which can alone put our business on a satisfactory footing. But righteousness is not to be postponed to anything else; and if the spirit of Christ cannot be carried into the forms which business has taken, these forms must go. Those who would postpone the kingdom of heaven to other interests should consider whether it is likely that, after they shall have lived for the world for a few years longer, they will be more inclined than now to seek the kingdom of God. - D.
I. MAKING PROPER PROVISION FOR THE FUTURE IS NOT HERE CONDEMNED.
1. God commends this prudence in his system of nature.
(1) He has so ordered the seasons that one harvest yields enough to serve us until the next. The elements that ripen fruits in the soil tend to rot those gathered the preceding year. God cannot be displeased at our following his providence.
(2) He impresses his providence upon the instincts of animals. Thus the bee stores in summer the honey that will serve it for the winter. The morals of nature are for our profit.
2. He commends it in the economy of grace.
(1) The term of our natural life is given as a probation to be utilized for eternity. It is the seedtime which, if neglected, will leave us to reap a harvest of thorns and thistles.
(2) The God of grace is also the God of providence. The principles of grace, therefore, have their lessons of providence for us.
3. He commends it in the lessons of providence.
(1) History and experience teach us that not only in Egypt in the days of Joseph, but in all lands and in all ages, seasons of plenty are followed by seasons of scarcity. Hence the proverbial "rainy day."
(2) We see the sufferings of improvidence. The artisan, in times of plenty thrifty, will not need in duller times to sing through the streets for charity. While the asylum of the workhouse is no disgrace to the unfortunate, it is a disgrace to the improvident. The injunction of the text is that we are not so to lay up treasures upon the earth as to deprive us of the more precious and enduring treasure in heaven.
II. HOARDING IS DEPRECATED AS SINFUL AND PERNICIOUS.
1. The hopes of riches are delusive.
(1) They do not give immunity from anxiety. The moth, the rust, and the thief, like spectres, haunt the dreams of the wealth-lover. He finds more anxiety in preserving than he found in acquiring his treasure. Men are killed by money.
(2) They do not raise us above the fear of want. Millionaires have been so haunted with this fear, that to relieve them their friends procured for them parish relief, and have set them to work for wages on their own estates.
(3) Gold cannot purchase health.
(4) It cannot remove the terrors of a guilty conscience.
2. The love of riches is degrading.
(1) The heart will be with its treasure. Its treasure, therefore, should be worthy of it. If heaven be the treasure, then the heart will be ennobled; for the God of purity is its glory. No moth, no rust, no thief, can deprive us of that treasure:
(2) If the hoard be the treasure of the heart, degradation is inevitable. The heart cannot be separated from its treasure. Upon this principle it is that "it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle," etc. (Matthew 19:24).
(3) It hardens the heart. Monopoly is selfishness. The heart of the miser is hardened by a systematic resistance to the promptings of benevolence. We may challenge the world to produce a tender-hearted miser (see 1 John 3:7).
3. Riches invest death with additional terrors.
(1) For they have to be relinquished. Garrick conducted Johnson over his mansion, and, directing his attention to valuable pictures and other articles of treasure, expected to be praised for his taste; but the moralist said, "Ah, David, these are the things that make death terrible!" A clergyman walking with an elder brother through his grounds in Yorkshire remarked, "This is a lovely place. You ought to be happy here." "Yes, man," was the reply, "but there is that damned death!"
(2) The guilty steward is also haunted by the terror of the account he will have to render to his judge (see James 5:1-4). The wail, not of the poor only, but of lost souls who might have been saved had the Lord's money been invested in Christian enterprise, will pierce and alarm his conscience when death stares him in the face.
4. Hoarded treasure is often a pernicious inheritance.
(1) How often is such an inheritance dissipated in prodigality! Young men who hope to inherit fortune are seldom disposed to grapple with the difficulties of gaining a profession. Habits of indolence lead to dissipation.
(2) Sometimes the hoard inherited becomes the nucleus of a greater. To become a millionaire, or something like it, the inheritor will sell his very soul for gain.
(3) How different is the history of the youth who has to rely upon his education and the blessing of God, and who helps the cause of God and humanity with the fruits of his industry! His heart is light. He dies in faith.
III. HOW DOES THE GOOD STEWARD MANAGE HIS ESTATE?
1. He claims no absolute right of acquisition.
(1) He owns the Source of his prosperity (see Deuteronomy 8:17, 18).
(2) He confesses that God could instantly reverse the tide of his success.
(3) He never says, "I can do what I like with my own."
2. He accepts his maintenance from God.
(1) He is entitled to his food, raiment, and habitation, for himself and those depending upon him.
(2) He is, moreover, entitled to a provision against sickness and old age.
(3) He is authorized in giving his family an education and a start in life.
(4) God will himself add to all this the spiritual rewards of well-doing.
3. With the rest his problem is to secure the maximum of good.
(1) To this end he will study the needs of men. This may be troublesome; but it is the business of the steward. God will not approve a slovenly disbursement of his money.
(2) He will also study the best means of meeting the needs of men. The merits and claims of the great evangelical and philanthropical societies will have due consideration.
(3) He will cultivate the spirit of Christ, so that he may relieve the needs of men without wounding their sensibilities or injuring their self-respect.
(4) In all things he will seek direction from God in prayer. - J.A.M.
are, wherever we are.
I. THE INSECURITY OF ALL TREASURE IN' THINGS. Everything man sets value on is a perishable thing. To him it is perishable, either by decaying as he holds it, or by removal from him. "The fashion of this world passeth away." "Riches take to themselves wings, and flee away." "We've no abiding city here." This hardly seams so evidently true in our modern times, when wealth gains more apparent fixity, as it did in Eastern lands, when wealth largely consisted in garments, and governments failed to ensure stability and security. Moth and rust (corrosion) would destroy most things, and the thieves would carry off the rest. The truth is as true to-day as it ever was - man can never guarantee his hold on anything he may possess. He has it to-day; he is never sure of it to-morrow. This is true not only of purely material things, but even of such things as skill of body and furniture of mind - things that a man may gain, but which still are outside the real man; only things that he has. Whatever a man only has is in peril.
II. THE SECURITY OF ALL TREASURE IN CHARACTER. What a man is, and what a man becomes, are unaffected by any known decaying forces. Character is the investiture of the soul, in which it passes to the eternal realms. Illustrate the forces that affect our things, and show how powerless they are against our character. See the case of Job. Try death as against the sanctified character that a man may have become. Death can strip a soul absolutely bare of all acquired things. "We brought nothing into this world, and it is certain that we can carry nothing out." Death can take the soul from the body. But death cannot touch character, which is the soul's garment. So he is rich for ever who has won "character." - R.T.
I. CONSCIENCE IS THE EYE OF THE SOUL. It is to our spiritual nature what the organ of vision is to the bodily structure. It is the avenue through which light enters. A man without a conscience could know no spiritual truth. He might understand a multitude of facts about religion. The history of Israel and the biography of Jesus Christ might be very familiar to him. Doctrines of theology might be studied by him as systems of philosophy or theories of science are studied. But the knowledge thus acquired would not be spiritual. God would be hidden; the way of life would remain undiscovered. Righteousness and sin, faith and redemption, would be but names for abstract ideas; and the conception of these ideas would not help practically. But God speaks in the conscience. There his Spirit touches our spirit. There he impresses us with the force of moral distinctions, and draws us on to the better life.
II. CONSCIENCE NEEDS TO BE SIMPLE IN ORDER THAT IT MAY BE CLEAR. It is possible for the inward vision to see double. This will not happen so much when we seem to have a conflict of duties as when we confuse the very idea of duty with lower considerations. If we act conscientiously even when perplexed by a diversity of claims, we cannot make a very great mistake. But the terrible confusion arises when Conscience is not permitted to speak by herself; when she is interrupted by a babel of clamorous voices speaking out of self-interest, insisting on worldly maxims, and assuming wisdom and pleading policy. These interruptions are fatal to a sound decision. Conscience must be cleared of all accessories. We must look straight to one point. The one question for conscience is - What is right? It is absolutely necessary to keep this question simple by separating it from every other consideration.
III. THE PERVERSION OF CONSCIENCE IS THE GREATEST SPIRITUAL DARKNESS. He is in the dark who turns from the light; but far greater is the darkness of a blind man who cannot see in the light; and darkest of all is the mistake of one so deluded and demented as to take night for day, darkness for light, so that he follows darkness as a guide. It is bad to disregard conscience. Still, conscience remains, a warning beacon that cannot be utterly quenched, and we are aware that we are going without its guidance. Far worse is it to pervert the conscience. Better face a dark coast than the false lights of wreckers; better have no compass than one that will not point to the north; better be without a pilot than be steered by a pirate. The scribes and Pharisees darkened conscience with casuistry; Jesuits have been accused of doing the same; but our own hearts are our greatest deceivers. "Keep conscience as the noontide clear." - W.F.A.
light of the body" should be rendered "the lamp of the body;" and that the word is distinct from the last word of the verse, rightly rendered "light." From the inattention that arises from so great familiarity with one of the grandest wonders of our life, both bodily and intelligent, strive to win this gracious illustration of Christ, and seek to secure solemn heedfulness to it. Consider -
I. A MARVELLOUS WORK OF GOD - THE BODY FULL OF LIGHT - HOW HE DOES IT. The living lamp, the eye, lets light into "the whole body," and even pours light into it. The mysterious susceptibility and energy of the brain receive and distribute it, and that brain acts accordingly. It is so that the body, or rather the man, is said to have sight. Sight avails for two things:
1. To admit a wide variety of impression and knowledge.
2. To initiate, and direct, and conduct, a wide variety of intelligent action. The body, which otherwise would be only an opaque mass of living, throbbing energy, but groping because of darkness, losing the right way, missing aim and vainly beating the air, wasting terribly the vital force it had, becomes by that "lamp all suddenly, as it were, endowed with capability. It is a capability of the higher sort - based on immense contributions of knowledge, and not on mere addition of physical strength. It is perhaps impossible to make any well-founded comparisons among the works of God, and it approaches irreverence to attempt it; but among them all, when we think fixedly of it, where can we find one more to amaze us, and more to be admired for the way it is obtained and the results it obtains, than the body full of light"?
II. A MARVELLOUS WOE OF MAN - THE BODY ALL DARK - AND HOW HE COMES WITH IT SO. The body is "all dark" when the lamp that God made for it or meant for it is not there or is not alight. And this may be so, whereas it never was there, the man being born blind; or whereas it was once there and alight, yet some "accident" has put it out and destroyed it; or whereas it was once there and alight, yet disease, and perhaps disease that was more or less the direct consequence of sin and vice, had put it out and destroyed it. In each and all of these cases what suggestion of serious thought and solemn wonder or searching inquiry there is!
III. A MARVELLOUSLY AGGRAVATED FORM OF THIS HUMAN WOE - WHAT AND WHENCE IT IS. This is when the lamp is there, and when it is lighted, but its light is contradictory, confusing, bewildering, and worse than any ordinary darkness. It is a distemper of the eye, that falsifies all incoming impressions, misleads and misdirects all outgoing action. The result may be termed "darkness," but only because it is not light, and of this darkness it must be added, "how great it is! Or, as there is present the lamp, and as there is in action the eye, the result may for one briefest moment be termed light," but only the very next moment to incur the comment and. criticism of the unerring Discerner and Judge of all things: "If therefore the very light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!"
IV. A MARVELLOUS PORTRAIT AND TYPE - OF THE MIND - TAKEN FROM THE BODY. Reason, instinct, conscience, the instruction of revelation, the highest possible instruction, that of the Spirit, each and all are the lamp and light of the mind. But what are they when they are not each severally "single;" when they are made "evil;" when error adulterates truth; when impurity, and self-seeking, and self-confidence, and undocility, and resistance of holy motions, and the doing of despite to the Spirit; - when one or more or all of these baulk or block the straight, steady advance and operating of the good and true and holy? If error prostitutes truth, and an evil spirit usurps the seat of the good Spirit, then the state of that man, in whom scenes of mischief and disaster such as these have their way, is worse than if he had not reason or conscience, and had been left unvisited of Divine instruction and Divine importunity. - B.
I. THE EYE IN RELATION TO THE LIGHT.
1. The eye is not self-luminous.
(1) It is the "lamp" rather than the "light" of the body. God is the Light. True motives are from God.
(2) The "single eye" is the motive to serve God alone. So in ver. 24 it is thus stated: "We cannot serve God and mammon."
(3) We have nothing that we do not receive.
2. It is the capacity for receiving light.
(1) The light of the world would avail little without the lamp of the body. The spirit of man is the lamp of the Lord (Proverbs 20:27).
(2) The image of God in man capacitates him for union and fellowship with God.
(3) The capacity for receiving light partakes of the nature of light. Hence the eye is said to enlighten the body.
3. The capacity for God may be destroyed.
(1) The eye - the motive - may become constitutionally evil. "If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness." The eye may lose its lustre by disuse. It may lose it by abuse,
(2) The evil eye is the perverted heart, the covetous heart, the envious heart, the avaricious heart (cf. Proverbs 23:6, 7; Matthew 20:15; Mark 7:22). The evil eye of the Pharisee sought the applause of men rather than the glory of God.
(3) The double eye is the hypocritical heart. The eye is double when we profess to honour God and contrive to honour ourselves. When we seek our own things under colour of seeking the things of Christ.
II. THE EYE IN RELATION TO THE BODY.
1. Motive gives quality to conduct.
(1) As the eye stands for the motive, so does the body stand for the whole deportment, conversation, or conduct of the man.
(2) The eye brightens while looking at God, the essential Light; and it enlightens the whole body.
(3) The dark eye involves the body in darkness. Evil motives corrupt the conversation (cf. Psalm 82:5).
2. The matter is therefore momentous.
(1) Truth is satisfying. The whole body shall be full of light, as if all eye. Truth brings grace; it brings comfort.
(3) How great is that light! It enlightens the whole body. It is infinitely greater than the body.
(4) Conversely, how great is that darkness! Error here; despair hereafter for ever. - J.A.M.
Christ-likeness. "Singleness of intention will preserve us from the snare of having a double treasure, and therefore a divided heart." The question to press on attention is - What are you living for?
I. NOTHING. There are thousands of persons who are just living on, they know not and care not how or why. Enough for them is the butterfly-life of self-indulgence. Neither whence they came, nor what they are here for, nor whither they are going, troubles them in the least. And theirs is but as the life of the "dumb, driven cattle," who have no "uplooking eyes."
II. SOMETHING LOW AND POOR. Such things as wealth for wealth's sake, position for position's sake, power for power's sake. A soul has but a low aim who only asks, "What shall we eat? what shall we drink?" and lets the "lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life '" decide what his aim shall be.
III. SOMETHING NOBLE FROM HUMAN STANDPOINTS. The world has its heroes in all its spheres. We may fix on one, find his aim, and make it ours, and let it inspire us to noble things.
IV. SOMETHING DIVINE. Here show that God has been pleased to come into our human spheres, in the Person of Jesus Christ, that he might make himself our inspiring and sanctifying aim. - R.T.
I. WE MUST HAVE A MASTER. This is assumed. Christ considers two forms of service. He does not contemplate the absolute freedom in which we are our own masters. We profess to be free, and claim to rule our own conduct; but that is only because the chains are gilded, or because the silken threads are invisible, because our obedience to our chosen master has become a second nature, i.e. because we serve from love and not from constraint. But all true service is heart-service; it springs from love; it is given willingly; and therefore it does not perceive the yoke of servitude. Yet he who escapes from the service of God as an irksome burden, irksome because his heart is not in the service, will certainly fall into the clutches of some other master - mammon, sin, evil habit, lust, fashion, etc. - all of them being but representatives of the great usurper.
II. WE HAVE A. CHOICE OF TWO MASTERS.
1. God. It is not enough to think of God as our Benefactor; we must remember that he claims our service. This is implied by his Fatherhood, because a father expects obedience on the part of his children. Now, it is not to be denied that the service of God is a very difficult service. It involves the renunciation of sin and the practice of self-denial. It requires absolute submission of the will in interior desire as well as in visible work. In our own strength it is impossible (Joshua 24:19). But God gives strength equal to the task. The reward of his service is immeasurable, not only in subsequent wages, but in the present joy of serving so good a God, delighting to do his will (Psalm 40:8).
2. Mammon. One form of low service. The unworthy service may assume other forms. But this is most prevalent and tempting. It is seen in the race for wealth, in the greed of covetousness, in the slavery of material pleasures and earthly desires. It is degrading to the soul, and it ends in weariness, disgust, and bitter disappointment (ver. 19).
III. WE CAN SERVE BUT ONE MASTER. This is not a question of simple inconsistency and incongruity; it is a matter of absolute impossibility. Christ does not say, "Ye ought not;" he says, "Ye cannot." There can be but one true service rendered by our real selves. Yet nothing is more common than the foolish attempt to achieve the impossible. The result is the miserable failure of a distracted life. The man who would serve two masters has no success or joy in either pursuit. When trying to serve mammon, he is haunted by a disturbing conscience that restrains him from going as far as he would, and vexes him with muttered reproaches. When endeavouring to serve God, he is invaded by a host of foolish fancies and worldly anxieties. He cannot give himself to the worship and service of God, and therefore these things are a weariness of the flesh. Thus he fails, and. is miserable whatever he does. The secret of happiness is whole-heartedness. There is no joy on earth like the deep and satisfying gladness of a complete surrender to God as our one Lord and Master. Happily the principle is a safeguard for the true servant of God. The service of God excludes the service of mammon, and so keeps us safe. - W.F.A.
this - that he cannot "serve two masters." Lead in the great lessons belonging to this language of our Lord by generally and lightly dwelling upon the meditation of. -
I. HOW PERVADING AND PENETRATING A FACT OF HUMAN LIFE SERVICE IS; THAT IT VINDICATES ITSELF AS NOTHING LESS THAN A LAW OF HUMAN NATURE, INEVITABLE, USEFUL, HONOURABLE; AND THAT ITS VARIOUSNESS, DRAWING WITHIN ITS BENEFICENT RANGE EVERY AGE AND EVERY MANNER OF INTEREST, IS MOST NOTABLE.
II. HOW SERVICE IS BOUND UP IN THE VERY NAME, THE NATURE, AND HIGHEST ASPECTS AND OBLIGATIONS OF WHAT MEN CALL RELIGION.
III. HOW, THEN, IT MUST BE THE GREATEST OUTRAGE ON REASON, RIGHT, CONSCIENCE, AND THE SOUL SO TO SERVE AS TO UNDO WITH THE ONE HAND WHAT IS DONE WITH THE OTHER; AND THAT THIS IT IS, WITH THE MOST CHARITABLE CONSTRUCTION, TO ESSAY TO "SERVE TWO MASTERS."
IV. BUT, LASTLY, HOW (WHEN A LITTLE MORE CAREFULLY CONSIDERED) THAT OUTRAGE IS ONE WHICH MEANS VERY TREASON IN THE HEART ITSELF. IT MEANS NOT WASTE ONLY NOR FOLLY ONLY, BUT INFIDELITY; AND THE SETTING AT NOUGHT OF ALL PROMISE AND ENGAGEMENT OF THE HEART TO THE "FIRST AND GREAT COMMANDMENT." - B.
I. THE SERVICE OF GOD.
1. This implies trust in him.
(1) Trust in God, viz. for deliverance from the tyranny of sin. Ilia help is pledged in his holiness.
(2) Trust in God for his help against temptation. He urges us to resist the evil one. He expressly promises his aid.
(3) Trust in God for strength to obey him. We need this, for our nature is prone to evil His grace is sufficient.
2. It implies love to God.
(1) His Law surveys the motives of the heart. Love is the fulfilling of the Law.
(2) The spiritual Master cannot be served without love. Love is the master of the heart.
(3) God is infinitely lovable. Truth itself. Essential goodness. The eye will be to the Master's hand (Psalm 123:1, 2). The servants of God will not serve mammon.
3. It implies imitation of God.
(1) Imitation is the sincerest love.
(2) There are things of God which are inimitable, e.g. omnipotence, infallibility. To attempt to imitate these would be outrageous presumption.
(3) The imitable things of God are those qualities in which we were created after his image. Knowledge, righteousness, holiness.
(4) To aid us in this we have the Spirit of Christ, who is emphatically the Image of God.
II. THE SERVICE OF MAMMON.
1. This is the service of sin.
(1) Mammon is a name for worldly riches (cf. vers. 19-21; James 4:13).
(2) It is any illicit love - anything of which money may be taken as the exponent. It may be appetite (Philippians 3:19). It may be ease. It may be honour: Pharisees.
2. It is the service of Satan.
(1) Mammon is supposed to have been a Chaldean idol corresponding to the Greek Pluto. It is here put for Satan as opposed to God. Sinners do not sufficiently consider the kind of master they serve.
(2) Mammon has still his images. Sometimes they take the form of coin, of bonds, of scrip, of estates. Sometimes of furniture, equipages, dress, food.
III. THESE SERVICES ARE IRRECONCILABLE,
1. God is an imperial Lord.
(1) He claims the complete homage of all our powers by his absolute right of creation. This high claim is consistent with all legitimate secondary claims.
(2) By his right of providence. By his providence our existence is every moment preserved.
(3) By his right of redemption. Service here is claimed as gratitude for love.
(4) Servitude to God is blessed slavery. It is such a slavery as brings perfect liberty. It is slavery to truth and love.
2. Satan is an imperious tyrant.
(1) Half-service will not satisfy him. Lucifer would be like the Most High.
(2) Where he cannot drive, he will lure his victims to destruction. His resources of ingenuity are vast. His persistency is unflagging.
(3) Slavery to Satan is drudgery to cruelty. Human nature is too willing to be ruined.
3. The masters are contrary.
(1) "God and mammon;" "light" and "darkness."
(2) The services are as the masters. The orders of the masters are contrary. A man of the world cannot be a religious character. The servants of mammon hate God in their hearts.
(3) The attempt to reconcile these services is folly. Those persons try to serve two masters who strain consistency to steer close to the vortex of worldliness. Those who try to make religion serve their secular interests. "The pretending mother was for dividing the child." The Samaritans found the attempt sorrowful to fear the Lord and serve other gods (2 Kings 17:33). "It is but supposition that gain is godliness." - J.A.M.
I. THE NATURE OF THE EVIL. We are misled by the word "thought," which has dropped one of its old meanings since the Authorized Version of the New Testament was issued. Christ is not depreciating an intellectual exercise, much less is he encouraging improvidence. What he really says is, "Be not anxious for your life."
1. The evil is in vexatious anxiety. If, after we have done all that is in our power, we fret ourselves with presentiments of possible mischief; or if, in the midst of our work, we let care about its issue take possession of our minds, we make the mistake our Lord deprecates.
2. The evil is concerned with bodily needs. The life, the food, the raiment. The idea is of being absorbed with deep concern for these temporal and external things.
3. The evil prevents concern for our higher interests and duties. Here is its greatest condemnation, not simply that it pains us, but that it injures us. Jesus does not advise freedom from anxiety merely on its own account, that we may have the satisfaction of being at peace. He sees that worldly anxiety fills the mind and heart,-and so keeps out thoughts of the great purpose of life. "The cares of this world" are tares that choke the Word. "The life is more than the food." We are to cast aside anxiety about food and clothes, that we may be free to "seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness."
II. THE CURE OF THE EVIL. All deplore it; but few see how to conquer it. Some even regard the words of Christ as applicable only to an idyllic state of society - possible among the flowers and sunshine of Galilee in those old dreamy days, but quite impracticable in the busy, crowded West of to-day. Let us see if there are not permanent lessons in this teaching of our Lord.
1. The spirit of nature. Our Lord was preaching on a mountain, with flowers at his feet and birds above his head. His illustrations lay close at hand; but his choice of them was evidently suited to his object. He touches on the beauty and fresh life of nature, so that his very language is soothing. It carries us quite away from the fret and fever of life. If we would spend more time in considering the lilies we should be calmed and refreshed. Wordsworth re-echoes this wholesome lesson.
2. The analogy of the lower world. God cares for the grass that is enamelled with flowers in the spring, then scorched by the sun and burnt as fuel in the summer. He feeds the wild birds. Nature is wonderfully adjusted in its mutual ministries so as to support its most fragile creatures. If we can "live according to nature" we shall be provided for. This does not mean becoming savages - who are not in a state of nature at all. It means observing the laws of nature, as flowers and birds are bound to do, but as men do not.
3. The revelation of our Father's care. He knows our need. He does not despise it, or suppose that we can face it with Stoical indifference. Therefore we can entrust it to him. Faith is the great antidote to care.
4. The call to higher duty. It is wrong to waste our lives in anxiety. It is incumbent on us to give ourselves to the service of God. When we do this we shall find it easier to trust God. Then the evil may come; but we need not snatch at it prematurely. It can wait for its day, and when that arrives we shall find that as our day is so our strength will be. - W.F.A.
I say unto you." We are not in any doubt as to it, and the fact guides us to the understanding of the principle that forms the basis of the section. Notice here four ways in which this section may be exhibited.
I. THE CONDESCENSION - AN UNDIVIDED SERVICE IS CLAIMED; BUT IT IS MET BY THE OFFER OF AN UNDIVIDED TRUSTINGNESS TO BE REPOSED AND TO BE REWARDED.
II. SIN'S NATIVE DOOM OF TOIL LIFTED OFF BY THE INVITING GOSPEL OF TRUSTING DEPENDENCE; IT IS THE GOSPEL OF A LEGITIMATELY AUTHORIZED DEPENDENCE; AND OF ONE GUARDED FROM SLOTH.
III. THE ABJECT SLAVERY OF AN UNREASONABLE TOIL SUPERSEDED BY THE SWEET FREEDOM OF CHILDREN'S ATTITUDE TOWARDS THEIR FATHER.
IV. THE LOYAL SEEKING AND FOLLOWING OF THE SOVEREIGN GOOD FOR LIFE AND HEART, THE SUREST EARNEST OF ALL OTHER THINGS FINDING THEIR PLACE; AND OF TO-DAY AND TO-MORROW BEING PROVIDED FOR. - B.
I. THE FIELDS TEACH US TO BLESS GOD.
1. They serve admirable material uses.
(1) They furnish us with food (see Genesis 1:29, 30). From the Creation to the Deluge vegetable food only was used. This diet is still, especially in warm climates, the more wholesome.
(2) Vegetables are also useful for medicine. Partly because of its medicinal properties the tree of life appears to have had its name. The principal remedies of the pharmacopoeia are from the vegetable kingdom.
(3) Vegetables have also valuable economic uses. Timber, fibres, gums, and oils.
2. They soothe and delight the sense.
(1) Colour. The elements of all calorific harmony are found in the prevailing green of the earth, with the blue and red of the heavens.
(2) Form. This may be admired in the graceful curvature and flexure of branches of trees and plants. Also in the varieties of leaves and flowers.
(3) Texture. So exquisite is the clothing of the lily, that the dress of an Eastern monarch, rich in the choicest productions of the loom and needle, with its gorgeous colouring and profusion of jewellery, sinks in the comparison. Test them severally under the microscope.
3. They serve high moral purposes.
(1) They raise our thoughts to God (see Psalm 145:15, 16). The food and medicine of vegetable nature suggest the nourishment and healing of the economy of grace.
(2) The eloquence of the fields stirs our gratitude to God. It raises our thoughts to the Creator blessing us in the benevolence of acts. To our Redeemer blessing us in the benevolence of suffering.
II. THE FIELDS TEACH US TO TRUST PROVIDENCE.
1. As they illustrate our dependence.
(1) Plants are dependent for nourishment upon the earth.
(2) The rain also is necessary for their life.
(3) They need likewise the sun and the air, in the vibratory motion of which they breathe.
(4) The birds of the air and animals of the earth in turn depend upon vegetation.
2. As they illustrate God's thoughtful care.
(1) The comparison of the flower of the lily to clothing is not only poetically beautiful; it is botanically just. The flower serves the purpose of clothing to the seed-vessel.
(2) This is evinced in the many exquisite contrivances, such as the provision of tendrils and claspers by which the tender vine avails itself of the strength of the oak.
(3) The instincts by which birds are fed, without their sowing, or reaping, or gathering into barns, have their lessons of providence.
III. THE FIELDS TEACH US TO DESIRE DIVINE CLOTHING.
1. There is a laudable attention to dress.
(1) When our Lord asks, "Why take ye thought for raiment?" he does not advise that we should be reckless as to our attire. He tells us, on the contrary, that our heavenly Father "knoweth that we have need of these things" - that he will "add" them to those who seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.
(2) Our clothing exerts a moral influence. By it we may create prejudice favourable to usefulness or otherwise.
(3) But there is another extreme. There are those who make clothing more than the body. There are those who plume themselves rather upon their clothes than their virtues. Who despise those who do not appear in gay attire.
(4) How this vanity is rebuked in the clothing of the lily that goes into the oven, and by the plumage of insignificant birds! When Croesus sat upon his throne in all the glory of his ornaments, and asked Solon whether he had ever seen a fairer spectacle, the philosopher replied, "Pheasants and peacocks; for they are clothed with a natural splendour and exceeding beauty."
2. We should be clad in virtues rather than in velvets.
(1) Is there no reference to the clothing of the spirit in the beauties of holiness in ver. 317 God does not, in his providence, clothe our bodies in the sense in which he clothes the grass of the field. In this sense he does clothe our souls in righteousness. The robe of righteousness is emphatically a Divine robe.
(2) This is clothing of surpassing beauty. The spiritual is greatly superior to the material. Then "shall he not much more," not only as a matter of certainty, but also in glory and beauty, "clothe you" (see 1 Peter 3:3, 4)?
(3) This spiritual raiment is put on by faith. "Shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?" (cf. Romans 3:21, 22).
3. We should look for the clothing of the resurrection.
(1) The body of the resurrection is represented as a clothing (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:2 4). Under the expression "much more" this idea also may be included.
(2) The resurrection is aptly illustrated by vegetable similes. The revival in spring (cf. Job 14:1, 2-7, 9-14, 15).
(3) Our Lord compares the resurrection to the revival of seed-corn (see John 12:23, 24).
(4) What is there incredible in a resurrection (see 1 Corinthians 15:35-38)? What exquisite floral forms bloom from the dunghill! - J.A.M.
I. THE EARTHLINESS OF THE UNEARTHLY MAN. Think of the Christian as the "unearthly man," and then see that his unearthliness ought not to be all-absorbing. It should be placed under wise limitations. He is in the body. He stands in relations. He has duties and responsibilities. It is no true spirituality to escape from common earthly responsibilities into monasteries, nunneries, and hermit-cells. "The Son of man came eating and drinking." Human interests were sought by him, and human cares were borne by him. A saint must never forget that he is husband, or father, or brother, or friend, or citizen. Earthly anxiety is God's present burden for his saints; and it has to be cheerfully taken up and borne.
II. THE UNEARTHLINESS OF THE EARTHLY MAN. This is turning the figure round, in order to warn the spiritual man how very absorbing earthly care may become, and to advise him that his supreme anxiety should be soul-culture. "Taking thought" is but an older form of our idea of "worrying," which is "anxiety overdone." "What the Lord bids us guard against is conjectural brooding over the possible necessities of the future, and our possible lack of the resources required for their supply." The spiritual man should be "using the world as not abusing it." In safe limitations keeping both earthly and unearthly. - R.T.
I. Man is a part of God's creation, just as truly as fowls and flowers are, and must be just as fully included in the Creator's daily care. "The eyes of all wait on thee."
II. But, if included, man must he included as man, and as God knows man, and all his wants, bodily and spiritual, seeing that God created him, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.
III. For God's care - if we are to conceive of it as worthy of God - must be in precise adaptation to each creature for whom he cares.
IV. Then we may be sure that God cares for man so far as man is kin with the fowls and the flowers.
V. Then we may be sure that God cares for man so far as man is superior to the fowls and the flowers. Remember Mungo Park's reflection when, in a time of utter despair, he found a small moss, and, admiring its root, leaves, and capsule, thought thus: "Can that Being who planted, watered, and brought to perfection, in this obscure part of the world, a thing which appears of so small importance, look with unconcern upon the situation and sufferings of creatures formed after his own image? Surely not." That reflection inspired new effort, which resulted in Park's rescue. - R.T.
dom, or rule, of God's will. There is a traditional sentence given by Origen, and by Clement of Alexandria, which our Lord might have uttered, for it is very like this authentic passage: "Ask great things, and little things shall be added to you; ask heavenly things, and earthly things shall be added to you." Man is made for God. "What is the chief end of man? To glorify God, and enjoy him for ever." "Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee." In this text our Lord says, "There is one great end and purpose of your being, and that you must voluntarily make your one, first, chief end." There may be intermediate ends and objects which rightly call for your attention, but there is one which must never be forgotten. You were made for God; to love him, to serve him, to praise him, to live in fellowship with him, to do and to bear his holy will. The true order of our human pursuits should be - first, God; second, others; third, self. Or, to put it in another way - first, righteousness; second, duty; third, pleasure. Or some point and freshness may be gained by making a distinction between the kingdom and the righteousness.
I. GOD'S KINGDOM IS THE REIGN OF HIS WILL. And that concerns conduct. God's will covers and concerns all our doings and relations.
II. GOD'S RIGHTEOUSNESS IS HIMSELF. And that is character; concerns character; stands as model for the moulding of character. Then man's two supreme ends - which are really erie - which he must always and everywhere put in the first places, are:
1. God's character - to be like him.
2. God's will - to serve him. It will be a joyful surprise to any man to find how all life goes into place, and everything gets provided for, when he seeks first the kingdom and righteousness. - R.T.