William Kelly Major Works Commentary
Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.Matthew Chapter 6
Matthew 6 begins with what is higher even than what we have had. The various exhortations of chapter 5 brought out Christian principle in contradistinction to what was required or allowed under the law. Now the law is dropped: there is no longer any express allusion to it in our Lord's discourse. The first principle of all godliness comes out now in its sweetest shape, namely, the having to do with our Father in secret; who understands us, sees all that is passing within and around us, hears and counsels us, as, indeed, He takes the deepest interest in us. It is the inner, divine relationship of the saint that comes out in this chapter - our spiritual bonds with God our Father, and the conduct that ought to flow from them. Hence, says our Lord, "Take heed that ye do not your righteousness before men, to be seen of them." I take the liberty of altering the word "alms" into "righteousness" (ver. 1), which last a few of the very best authorities support. There are those that differ here as elsewhere, but, at the same time, internal and spiritual reasons confirm the external grounds. Thus, if you use the word "alms" in the first verse, is there not a mere repetition in the next verse? On the other hand, take the word as "righteousness" (so the margin), and all is plain. The context supports it. For it will be observed in the following verses our Lord divides righteousness into three distinct portions: first, almsgiving; next, prayer; thirdly, fasting. That these are the three parts of the righteous ways of the saint, as viewed by our Lord in this discourse, is evident.
(1) With regard to alms, which was a very practical thing, the principle of mercy comes in, as it might not in all cases of giving. It is a thing done seriously and solemnly, and the heart is drawn out. It is done in the sight of God. The general admonition is this: "Take heed that ye do not your righteousness before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven. Therefore" (founded upon this exhortation) "when thou doest thine alms," which was one branch of this righteousness, "do not sound a trumpet before thee "; alluding to certain ways of notoriety and self-commendation then adopted by the Jews - the spirit of which belongs to men at all times. There are few things in which human vanity betrays itself more glaringly than the desire to be known by almsgiving. And what is it that brings true deliverance from this snare of nature? "When thou doest alms (observe, He now makes it entirely individual), do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: that thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret Himself shall reward thee openly. That is, it is not merely that one is not to blazon abroad what is done, but not to oneself even. Not only another's left hand is not to know what your right hand does, but your own left hand ought not. Cutting are the Lord's words to everything like self-gratulation. The grand point is this: that all be done to our Father. It is not a question of duty simply; but our Father's love has been brought out, and this is His will concerning us. He knows what is best, - and we are ignorant of it. We might think to supply the greatest happiness by surrounding ourselves with what we most like; but the letting slip the means of personal enjoyment will open to us fresh sources of blessing. Besides, what we ought to desire is that the alms may be "in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret Himself shall reward thee openly." We shall find this repeated at every point of what is here called our "righteousness." Room is ever made for the flesh where there is not the cultivated habit of what is done being between our Father and ourselves. Nay, more, our Lord would have us dismiss the very thought into the bosom of the Father, who will not forget it.
(2) We have the same thing as to prayer. The allusion is, it would seem, to the practice that every day, when a particular hour came round, people were found praying in public rather than miss the moment. It is clear that all this was, at best, most legal, and opened the door for display and hypocrisy, It utterly overlooks the grand truth which Christianity brings out so fully, that. to do things for testimony, or as a law, or in any way for others to see, or for ourselves to think of, is totally wrong. We have to do with our Father, and our Father in secret. Therefore our Lord says, "Thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly" (ver. 6). This is in no way denying the propriety of public prayer; but united supplication is not at all referred to here.
As to "the Lord's Prayer," it was for those disciples individually who required to be instructed in the very first principles of Christianity. For this is part of what the apostle calls "the word of the beginning of Christ" when he says, "Therefore, leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection: not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. And this will we do if God permit." The apostle allows that all these were very important truths; they are truths that godly Jews ought to have known before redemption was accomplished, but these did not bring in the full power of Christianity. They were quite true, and will ever remain true. There never can be anything to weaken the importance of repentance from dead works and faith toward God. But it is not even said, faith in Christ. No doubt faith Godward always abides; but still, till Christ died and rose, there was a great deal of truth that even the disciples were not able to bear. Our Lord Himself says so. Therefore the apostle tells them, "Leaving the word of the beginning of Christ" (that which Christ here below brought out, and which was perfectly suited to the then state of the disciples), "let us go on unto perfection." There is no such thought as giving that up; but assuming that as a settled truth, let us go on to the understanding of Christ as He now is, which is the meaning here of the word "perfection." It is not a better state of our own flesh; neither does it refer to anything that we are to be in a future life; but to the full doctrine of Christ as He now is, and glorified in heaven - as brought out in this epistle. Christ is in heaven; there is His priesthood; He entered in the power of His own blood, having obtained eternal redemption. It is Christ as He is now above; there you have this perfection. In the same epistle he speaks of Christ as "made perfect" through sufferings. He was always perfect as a person - never could be anything else. Had there been any flaw in Christ on earth, He must have been, like the offering that had a blemish in it, incapable of being offered for us. In the Jewish sacrifices, if the animal died of itself it could not even be eaten. So, as to our Lord, had there been the principle of death in Him at all, if He were not the living one in every sense. without the smallest tendency to death, never could He be God's foundation, nor ours. He did truly suffer death, the willing victim on the cross; but this was just because death had no hold on Him. Every son of Adam has mortality at work in him. The Second Man could say even here below, "I am the resurrection and the life." Such is the truth as to Christ Himself. While it is perfectly true that Christ was always morally perfect - perfect, too, not only in His divine nature, but in His humanity - absolutely stainless and acceptable unto God; yet for all that there was a mountain of sin that needed to be removed from us, and a new condition to be entered, in which He could associate us with Himself. Though absolutely sinless in Himself, He was made perfect through sufferings; He passed through this course of sufferings into the blessedness in which He stands now as our High Priest before God.
Upon the subject of the Lord's Prayer I will only make a few remarks now. But again I would notice that it is entirely individual. Many might unite in saying, "Our Father;" but a soul in his own closet still would say "Our Father," because he thinks of others, disciples, elsewhere. , Yet it is plain that the Lord does not anticipate the use of this prayer, save in the closet and for the condition in which the disciples were. We have no hint that it was employed formally after the day of Pentecost. There were other wants and desires, other expressions of affection toward God, brought out then, into which the Holy Ghost would lead those who were passed out of the condition of nonage by having received Him into their hearts, whereby they could cry, "Abba, Father." Such is the key to the change, and the New Testament is perfectly clear upon it. (Compare Galatians 3:23-26; Galatians 4:1-7.)
However, let us look at the prayer itself; for nothing can be more blessed, and all the truth of it abides for us. "When ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do, for they think they shall be heard for their much speaking" (ver. 7). Now it is plain that our Lord does not forbid repetition, but vain repetition. We find our Lord Himself, when He was in an agony in the garden, repeating three times the same words. But vain, formal repetition, whether words read out of a book, or framed sentences of the mind, He does positively forbid. Again, let me press the plain fact, that our Lord here is not providing for the public wants of the Church; nor do we hear that it was so understood. There is not the smallest thought of such a thing after the gift of the Holy Ghost, when the Church was formed and at work in this world. So that while the Lord's Prayer was given as the most perfect model of prayer, and may have been used as it stands by the disciples previously to the death of our Lord and the gift of the Holy Ghost, yet it seems plain that afterwards it was not so. The New Testament is, of course, the only test of this. When we come to tradition, we shall find all sorts of difficulty on this as on other subjects, but the word of God is not obscure. In no way does it leave us uncertain as to what God's mind is: else indeed the very purpose of a revelation would be defeated. What then is the permanent use of the prayer? Why is it given in Scripture? The principle always abides true. There is not a clause of that prayer, I believe, but what one might proffer now, even to "Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors." For it is a mistake to suppose that it puts the sinner upon the ground of prayer in order to acquire forgiveness of his sins. Our Lord speaks of the believer - the child of God, Our daily faults and short-comings we need to spread before our God and Father, as He encourages us to do day by day. It is a question of His government who, without respect of persons, judges according to the work of each; and hence He will not own the petition of one who cherishes an unforgiving disposition toward others, even if they have done us ever so grievous wrong.
The habit of self-searching and confessing to our Father is a very important one in Christian experience; so that this clause I believe to be as true and applicable at the present time as it was to the disciples then. When the poor publican said, "God be merciful to me a sinner," we have another thing as appropriate in his case as this was to the child of God saying "Our Father." Again, when the Holy Ghost was given, and the child was able to draw near to the Father in the name of Christ, you have something different still. The Lord's Prayer does not clothe the believer with the name of Christ. What is meant by asking the Father in that name? Can it be merely saying, "In His name" at the end of a prayer? When Christ died and rose again, He gave the believer His own standing before God; and then to ask the Father in the name of Christ is to ask in the consciousness that my Father loves me as He loves Christ; that my Father has given me the acceptance of Christ Himself before Him, having completely blotted out all my evil, so as to be made the righteousness of God in Christ. To pray in the value of this is asking in His name * (Compare John 16.) When the soul draws near, consciously brought nigh to God, it may be said to ask in His name. There is not a soul using the Lord's Prayer as a form that has a real understanding of what it is to ask the Father in the name of Christ. They have never entered into that great truth. Hence, perhaps in their very next petition, they take the place of miserable sinners, deprecating the wrath of God, and still under law. Is it possible for a soul that knows what it is to stand before God as Christ is, to be thus systematically in doubt and uncertainty? It was the case with the Jew; but as a Christian, my place is in Christ, and there is no condemnation: otherwise there cannot be the spirit of adoption, or the exercised function of priests to God. We are made priests to God by virtue of this blessed standing - here upon earth, and we need to exercise it. The conscience is brought to this - you cannot walk with Christ and with the world. And the Christian is properly a man who enters into heavenly thoughts and relationships while he is walking through the world. This is the vocation wherewith we are called. Whether Christians know and do it or not, nothing less does Christ look for from them. "They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world." This is true from the time that we receive Christ. From that moment we owe it to Christ, if we would be true soldiers of His, to take our place as those who are not of the world, even as He is not.
This will suffice to show that while the Lord's Prayer always remains inestimably precious, yet it was given to meet the individual wants of the disciples, and that the further revelation of divine truth modified their condition, and would thus lead into another strain of desires, which, in fact, were not then given expression to. It seems to me a happy reflection that it is our Lord Himself who tells us this. "Hitherto have ye asked nothing in My name." What do I gather from this? That one may use the Lord's Prayer every day, and never have asked anything in the name of Christ. "Hitherto have ye asked nothing in My name; ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy maybe full. "At that day ye shall ask in My name." What day does this mean? A still future time? No, but the present; the day that the Holy Ghost brought in when He came down from heaven. It is this which is connected with that full revelation of truth which is so essential to Christian joy and blessedness, and to the unworldly and heavenly walk of the children of God; and where the one is not entered into, the .other cannot be. There may be vigour of faith and personal love to Christ, but for all that a soul will still savour. of the world in spirit and religious position till he has entered into this blessed place which the Holy Ghost now gives us of drawing near to God in the name of Christ.
I must now pass on to one of the most important practical exhortations which our Saviour gives us in connection with prayer - the spirit of forgiveness. He has known little of prayer who does not know the hindrances which austerity of spirit brings with it. This was one of the things that our Lord had specially in view. "For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: but if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses" (vers. 14, 15). He does not mean that the disciples would not have their sins forgiven in the day of judgment, but speaks of forgiving trespasses as a matter of the daily care and training of God. I may have a child guilty of something that is wrong, but does it therefore lose its relationship? It is my child still, but I do not speak to it in the same way that I would had it been walking in obedience. The father waits till the child feels its sin. In the case of earthly parents, we sometimes do not take sufficient notice of what is wrong, at other times we may deal with things only as they touch ourselves. We may correct, as it is said in Hebrews, "after our own pleasure," but God for our profit. Our Father always keeps His eye upon what is most blessed for us, but for this very reason He does betimes chasten us. "What son is he whom the father chasteneth not?" If we were not sons, we might perhaps get off; but as surely as we are, the Father's rod comes upon us for our wrongs, though we may think them little; but though painful for the present, if it be His will, we may be assured that He will make the things that may seem most against us to be unquestionably for us. To maintain the spirit of love, and specially of love toward those that wrong us, costs somewhat; but blessing will be ours in the end, and indeed also by the way.
(3) We now come to the subject of fasting. I believe there is a real value in fasting that few of us know much about. If, on particular occasions which call for special individual prayer, one were to unite fasting with it, I have no doubt the blessing of it would be felt. There is humbling of spirit expressed in it. There are prayers which are most suitably accompanied by standing, others by kneeling. Fasting is one of those things in which the body shows its sympathy with what the spirit is passing through; it is a means of expressing our desire to be low before God, and in the attitude of humiliation. But lest the flesh should take advantage of even what is for the mortifying of the body, the Lord enjoins that means be taken rather not to appear unto men to fast than to permit any display. For although a true Christian would shrink from putting on false appearances, the devil would cheat him into doing it unless he is very jealous in self-watchfulness before God. "Thou, when thou fastest, anoint thy head and wash thy face; that thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly" (vers. 17, 18).
Then follow the exhortations with regard to the things of this life. And, first, as to the laying up of treasures upon earth. The Lord brings in a principle, not of natural interest, but of spiritual wisdom and freedom from care, which the soul enjoys that does not want anything here below. Supposing there is something that one very much values upon earth, there is proportionate fear lest the thief or some corroding thing should spoil our treasure. Very different is that which the Lord enjoins that we should seek: "Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal," a most solemn test for examining ourselves by. "For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also" (vers. 19-21). We may detect where we are by that which our thoughts chiefly rest upon. If they are heavenward, blessed are we; but if earthward, we shall find that those very things upon which our hearts are set will prove a sorrow one day or another. The Lord traces all this to one grand root - you cannot serve two masters. You have not two hearts, but one; and your heart will be with that which you value most. Everything is thus followed up to its source: God on the one hand and mammon on the other. Mammon is what sums up the raises of the heart of man as to all things here. It may manifest itself in different forms, but this is the root - covetousness. "Ye cannot serve God and mammon." "Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought [be not anxious] for your life, what ye shall eat or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on." The great point is indifference to present things, or rather, a peaceful trust about them; not because we do not value the mercies of God, but because we have confidence in our Father's love and care about us. The apostle Paul shows us the most beautiful expression of this when he says, "I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content." He had known changes of circumstances - what it was to have nothing, and what it was to have abundance; but the great point was his thorough content with God's portion for him. This was not a thing that he passed through lightly, but he had learned it. It was a matter of attainment - of judging of things in the light of God's presence and love. The blessing is to be looking onward with this thought: our Father deals with us now with a view to glory; as the apostle adds, "My God shall supply all your need, according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus." How sweet that is! "My God" - the God that I have proved, whose affection I have tasted. I can count upon Him for you as well as for me; and He "shall supply all your need," not merely according to the riches of His grace, but according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus. He has taken you from this world as His children: He is going to have you the companions of His Son above; and he deals with you now according to your place and position then. Whatever is suitable to this great plan of His glory and love, l he Lord will give us to prove the consequence of that.
May the Lord strengthen us, that we may accept this with thankful hearts, knowing that we are not our own masters! The Lord will preserve us from the dangers, the snares, the pains, which our haste or wilfulness in leaving Him out of these outward things brings with it. He shows us in this chapter the exceeding folly of it, even as to the body. He takes instances from the outward world to show how God may be confided in to accomplish His own purposes best. And more than that, He reminds us that these outward things, on which we are tempted to lay such great stress, are only the objects that the Gentiles seek after. A Gentile was a term used in speaking of a man without God, in contrast with a Jew who had God in an outward manner in this world. A Christian is a man who has God in heaven as his Father. "Your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things." Therefore, as our Father knows this, why should we doubt Him? We do not distrust our earthly father; much less then should we doubt our heavenly Father.
"But seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you." It is not that we are to seek first the kingdom of God and then these things; but seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all the rest will come.
"Take, therefore, no thought for the morrow; for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself." That is, our Lord prepares us for this, that the anxiety which dreads an evil thing on the morrow is nothing but unbelief. When the morrow comes, the evil may not be there; if it comes, God will be there. He may allow us to taste what it is to indulge in our own wills; but if our souls are subject to Him, how often the evil that is dreaded never appears. When the heart bows to the will of God about some sorrow that we dread, how often the sorrow is taken away, and the Lord meets us with unexpected kindness and goodness. He is able to make even the sorrow to be all blessing. Whatever be His will it is good. 'Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof."
Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth:
That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.
And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.
But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.
Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.
After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.
For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you:
But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face;
That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.
Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:
But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:
For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light.
But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!
No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.
Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?
Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?
Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?
And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin:
And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?
Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?
(For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.
But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.
Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.