Matthew Poole's 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 6:1-4 Christ continuing his sermon, giveth directions about
Matthew 6:5-13 prayer,
Matthew 6:14-15 forgiving our brethren,
Matthew 6:16-18 fasting,
Matthew 6:19-21 laying up treasure in heaven,
Matthew 6:22-23 keeping a single eye,
Matthew 6:24-31 and exhorteth not to be anxious about worldly things,
but principally to seek God’s kingdom and
Alms are any acts of kindness freely done by us for the relief of any that are in distress and misery, which, when they are done from a principle of love to God, his precepts commanding them, obedience in faith to his promises made to the giving of them, and that he may be glorified, are truly good works, acts of religion, and acceptable to God, Acts 10:31, though meritorious of nothing from him; otherwise they are merely acts of humanity and morality, to the reward of which God is by no promise obliged. Therefore Christ’s disciples are obliged to take heed, that in the doing of their alms, though they may do them before men, God may he glorified, Philippians 2:15 1 Peter 2:12; yet they do them not before men on purpose that they should take notice of them, and applaud them for them, for God rewardeth no action of which he is not the end.
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.See Poole on "Matthew 6:3".
But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth:See Poole on "Matthew 6:4".
That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.There are some who think that our Saviour here reflects upon some practice of the Pharisees then in use for ostentation, who, under a pretence of a means to call people together, caused a trumpet to be sounded when they distributed their alms; but those learned in their writings assure us they could never find in them any foundation for such an opinion. The speech is rather metaphorical, prohibiting all ostentation in acts of charity, and inviting others to take notice of them, as Jehu invited Jonadab to come and see his zeal, 2 Kings 10:16; as the third verse is but a proverbial expression expounded Matthew 6:4,
That thine alms may be in secret. Not that it is not lawful to give a poor body money or bread, &c., in the sight of others; but only to do it for that end, that we might be seen of others. The thing forbidden under the metaphorical expression is ostentation, and seeking our own honour and applause. The thing commanded is sincerity with respect to our end. The apostle calls it a giving with simplicity, singly aiming at the glorifying of God, by an obedient performance of our duty. He tells us those who give their alms to be honoured of men have their reward, that is, all which they are like to have; men applaud and cry them up, there is their reward: others shall have their reward from God,
who seeth in secret, and so needeth not such a publication of our good deeds; and he will reward them openly before men and angels at the last day, Matthew 25:31,32,34, and ordinarily in this life, Psalm 37:25 41:1 Psalm 112:9,10.
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.Our Saviour here cautions them against the same thing in prayer, as he had done before in giving alms, viz. hypocrisy and ostentation, doing this duty upon that design, merely to be taken notice of and applauded by men; it was lawful to pray
standing in the synagogues, but not to do it merely to be taken notice of by men for devout persons, nor yet to confine themselves to praying in the synagogues. If they chose to pray standing, that they might be more conspicuous, and in the synagogues, because those places were more holy, (as they might dream), or, which seems rather to be here meant, because there most people would see them, for which purpose only they chose corners of streets, as was the old popish custom upon which account they set up crosses at three way leets?, &c., these things were sinful: but to pray standing was usual, Mark 11:25; and to pray in the synagogues and in the temple standing was usual, Luke 18:13. But those who do it merely for vain glory
have their reward, and must expect none from God.
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.By this public prayer is not condemned, but secret prayer is established, and made every Christian’s duty; and Christians are warned not to think that their duty of prayer is discharged by their going to places of public worship, and praying there: but that which our Saviour here cautions us against is ostentation, by which men may as much offend in their closets as elsewhere. Wherever we pray, we must take heed that our ends be right, that the glory of God be our principal end, and yielding obedience to his command; and there is no better means in order to this than the right setting of God before our eyes, as he that seeth in secret, and knoweth the most secret designs, scopes, and intentions of our hearts, and who, if we thus perform our duty, will reward us of his free grace and mercy; not as persons who by our prayers have merited any thing at his hand, (for what merit can there be in our prayers?) but as having showed our obedience to his will, and in the fulfilling of those many promises which he hath made to those that seek his face for the hearing of their prayers.
But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.See Poole on "Matthew 6:8".
Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.Ver. 7,8. It appeareth from hence, and from what followeth also, that the praying here spoken of is vocal prayer; not the mere homage which the heart payeth to God, by a recognition of him as the fountain of all good, and our secret desires that God would supply our wants, but the expression of those desires by the words of our mouths, which is that duty which the Scripture generally calleth prayer, and is most certainly a duty incumbent on every person. Nor are repetitions of the same requests in prayer, or much speaking, ( that is, praying to some length of time), here absolutely forbidden: our Saviour before his passion prayed thrice for the same thing within a short compass of time, (though he did not use the same words), and, Luke 6:12, he continued all night in prayer to God. But that which is here forbidden, is an opinion of being heard for over long prayers, and using vain repetitions, as the priests of Baal continued from morning to night crying, O Baal, hear us! O Baal, hear us! as if their god had been asleep, or gone a journey, as the prophet mocketh them, 1 Kings 18:26,27. Repetitions are then vain, when they are affected, and flow from some irreverent thoughts we have of God; not when they are as it were forced from the heat and intention of our affections. The like is to be said of much speaking in prayer. Long prayers are not to be condemned, but the affectation of them is, and long prayers upon pretences and designs are: but when the mind is attent, and the affections fervent, length of prayer is no fault, especially upon solemn occasions, when we come not to ask a particular mercy at the hand of God, nor for a particular person or family. But repetitions after the manner of heathens are condemned, as proceeding from irreverent thoughts of God, as if he did not know what things we have need of, or were, like a man, to be prevailed upon by a multitude of words.
After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.Not always in these words, but always to this sense, and in this manner. None ever thought Christians obliged to use no other words than these in prayer, though none must deny the lawfulness of using those words which Christ hath sanctified.
After this manner; first seeking the kingdom of God, and begging those things which more immediately concern God’s glory, and then those things which more immediately concern yourselves. Or, After this manner, praying only in particular for such things as are more generally couched in the following petitions.
Our Father which art in heaven: a compellation speaking our faith both in the power and in the goodness of God; our eyeing him as in heaven speaketh his power, Psalm 115:3, our considering him as our Father speaks our faith in his goodness, Matthew 7:11.
Hallowed be they name. God’s name is whatsoever he hath made himself known by: Let the Lord be glorified in every thing whereby he hath made himself known.
Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.Let the Lord rule over all the nations of the earth, and let them be freely subject to his laws, and to his Son Jesus Christ; let the gospel of the kingdom be published, and prosper, by bringing all thoughts into a captivity to it. And let the kingdom of God come more within the hearts of all men, and hasten the revelation of the kingdom of glory. Let the will of the Lord be every where done, and that on earth, with as much freedom and cheerfulness, and with as little reluctancy, as it is done by the angels and saints in heaven. These three first petitions are of great cognation one to another; God is then glorified when his kingdom is advanced, and his kingdom is then promoted when there is most free and cheerful obedience yielded to his will: the sum is, Let God be glorified.
Give us this day our daily bread.And forasmuch as in thee we live, and move, and have our life, so the means for the upholding and the preserving of our lives, and the blessing upon them, must be from thee. We beseech thee to give us food convenient for us, that which thou hast ordained for our nourishment and preservation; and that thou wouldst preserve it to us, that we may have it from day to day while we live in the world, with thy blessing upon it; that we may not be tempted to take bread which is not ours, nor be over solicitous and careful for tomorrow, but by daily prayer may obtain daily supplies from thee, so far as shall be necessary or convenient for us.
And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.Our Saviour here doth not teach us the order in which we should pray for good things for ourselves, only in three petitions comprehends whatsoever we should ask of God. For doubtless we are obliged, according to Matthew 6:32, first to seek the kingdom of God, and the righteousness thereof. That by our debts are here meant our sins is plain from Luke 11:4, as also from Matthew 6:14 of this chapter, where they are called trespasses. The sense is, then, Discharge us from that obligation to death which our sins have laid us under; give us a pardon for our sins past and present; for who liveth, and sinneth not against thee?
As we forgive our debtors; not as perfectly, but in like manner as we, according to the imperfect state of our natures, forgive those who have done us injury, not seeking any revenge upon them, nor bearing them any malice: so as indeed those who, retaining their malice in their hearts, put up this prayer unto God, do in effect pray down Divine vengeance upon their souls: well therefore doth the apostle command, that we should lift up pure hands unto God, without wrath or doubting, 1 Timothy 2:8. So that not only faith but charity also, is necessary to our praying acceptably.
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.The term temptation in the general signifieth a trial, and is sometimes used to express God’s trials of his people’s faith and obedience, but most ordinarily to express Satan’s trials of us, by motions to sin; which may be from our own lusts, Jam 1:13,14; or from the devil, who is therefore called the tempter; or from the world. These are the temptations which we are commanded to pray against: not that God leads any persons into such temptations, unless by the permission of his providence.
But deliver us from evil; from the evil one, as some read it, because of the article prefixed; but others think it not material whether we understand the devil, who is the evil one, or the evil of temptations, which harm us not if we be not overcome by them.
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen. These words are omitted by Luke, Luke 11:4; but many think that Luke speaks of another time, when he dictated this prayer. The words both show us that the honour and glory of God ought to be the end and scope of all our prayers, and that we can expect no audience but upon the account of God’s grace and mercy; and they likewise confirm our faith, that God is able to grant what we ask of him.
Amen: this in the close of a sentence is a particle of wishing, and signifieth our desire to be heard; and as it is a term that signifies truth and certainty, it likewise signifieth our faith in God that we shall be heard.
For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you:See Poole on "Matthew 6:15".
But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.Ver. 14,15. Not that our mere forgiving our brethren the injuries done unto us is all that God requireth of us in order to the forgiveness we expect from him, the contrary is plain from several other texts, John 3:18,36 Ac 2:38 16:31 &c.; but that without this forgiveness of our brethren, God will not forgive us, Matthew 18:35. It is one piece of that obedience which we owe to God, and also of our gratitude, without the performance of which it is vain for us to hope for forgiveness from God.
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.See Poole on "Matthew 6:18".
But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face;See Poole on "Matthew 6:18".
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.Ver. 16-18. Our Saviour in these words returns to his former work, to caution his disciples against hypocrisy, vain glory, and ostentation in their religious duties, the doing them to be seen of men. What he before said as to giving alms and prayer, he here again applies as to private fasting, which is by this discourse of our Saviour confirmed, though not as a stated, yet as an occasional duty of Christians, in order to, and as an indication of, their humbling of their souls for their sins, or under the mighty hand of God; but he requireth that it should be in sincerity, not in hypocrisy, for the glory of God, not for ostentation and appearance unto men. Our Saviour probably in this discourse hath a respect to some hypocritical usages of the Pharisees, using to disfigure their countenances, and look demurely or sourly upon their fasting days. Not that he prohibits here habits or gestures suited to the duty, himself sometimes commanded the Jews to put off their ornaments, nor was any thing more ordinary for good men than to cover themselves with sackcloth, and put ashes on their heads. All that our Lord prohibits is the affecting of these things, to cover the hypocrisy of their hearts. Nor must we think that it is the will of God, that we on such days should indeed anoint our heads and wash our faces; or (which is the same thing with us) adorn, paint, or perfume ourselves, or use any habits or gestures unsuitable to mourning, and not indicative of afflicted souls; but that we should rather do this than the other, viz. put on a mask and vizard of sorrow for sin, when indeed we had no sense of it; for still we must appear to our heavenly Father to fast, which we cannot very well do, if our outward habit and demeanour be not something proportioned to the inward sorrow and affliction of our souls; for the putting on of fine dresses and ornaments must be an imperate act of the soul, and not like to be commanded by a soul in affliction, it being natural to such a soul to neglect the culture of the body, being wholly swallowed up with bitter thoughts relating to its own spiritual and eternal state. Our Saviour addeth the same argument to press sincere fasting, which he had before used concerning the duty of giving alms and secret prayer, where I have before spoken to those words.
Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:See Poole on "Matthew 6:21".
But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:See Poole on "Matthew 6:21".
For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.Ver. 19-21. A treasure (according to the notation of the word) signifieth something laid up for tomorrow, for future time; more largely it signifieth any riches, or what we judge a valuable portion. Make not the things of the earth your riches, or portion, with reference to future time; for all the riches of the earth are perishing, contemptible things; silver and gold is what rust will corrupt, clothes are what moths will spoil, any other things are subject to casualties, and, amongst others, to the violence of unreasonable men, who, though they have no right to them, will ordinarily take them from you. But let your riches, your treasure, be that which is heavenly, those habits of grace which will bring you to heaven, the things which accompany salvation, Hebrews 6:9, which make you meet to be partakers of the saints in light, Colossians 1:12: be rich in good works, laying up in store for yourselves a good foundation against the time to come, that you may lay hold on eternal life, 1 Timothy 6:18,19 Mt 19:21 25:34 Luke 18:22. Those treasures will not be liable to such accidents as all earthly treasures are. Wherever you fix your treasure, your heart will be there also, thinking upon it, delighting in it. &c.
The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light.See Poole on "Matthew 6:23".
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!Ver. 22,23. You had need look to your hearts, your understanding, judgment, and affections; for look what proportion there is betwixt your bodily eye and the rest of the bodily members, with regard to their guidance and conduct, the same proportion there is betwixt your heart and whole conversation, with reference to the guidance of it with relation to God. The eye is the window by which the soul looks out to guide the body; if that be not impaired by the defluxion of humours, &c., but be single, it directs all the motions of the body right; but if that be defective, or any way impaired, the whole body is at a loss how to move safely, and with advantage to it. So if your hearts be set right, if you have a right and sound judgment, a true and sanctified affection, they will influence and guide all your actions, your whole conversation will be regular and holy: but if that inward eye be evil, through covetousness, too much adherence to the earth, or through envy, (both which are called evil eyes in Scripture), or through the prevalence of any other lusts or passions, your darkness will be exceeding great, you will not be able to set one step right; for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh, and according to the dictates and affections of the heart the hand and the whole man acts.
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.No man can serve two masters, that is, two masters that command contrary things each to other, for that is the present case of God and mammon. Or, No man with the like diligence, and alacrity, and faithfulness, can serve two masters. It is a proverbial speech, and in reason to be understood of contrary masters. He will either hate the one, or the first, and love the second, or else he will cleave to the first, and contemn the other, that is, so in his actions behave himself, that he will appear a true servant but to one of them, and despise or slight the other.
Ye cannot serve God and mammon. It is not improbable that some of the ancients have thought, that amongst some of the heathen they had an idol called Mammon, which they made the god of money; thence mammon by a figure signifieth riches, as Luke 16:9. So as it is of an equivalent sense to, no man can serve God and Bacchus, or God and Venus; that is, none can be a drunkard, or an unclean person, and a true servant of God. So no man can serve God, and yet make the getting of riches, right or wrong, his study; hence the apostle calls covetousness idolatry, Colossians 3:5. So that by serving here must be understood a giving up of ourselves chiefly or wholly to the service of God, and to the business of getting the world; or, serving the latter, in what it tempteth or commandeth us to, contrary to the will of God.
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?This text must not be interpreted in a sense contradictory to those many other texts, which forbid an idle life, an command us in the sweat of our face to eat our bread, or to provide for our families, 2 Thessalonians 3:10,11 1 Timothy 5:8: nor did Christ himself live such a life; he went about doing good, finishing the work which his Father had given him to do. It must be therefore understood:
1. Of no such thoughts as are inconsistent with the service of God, mentioned in the last words.
2. Of no anxious and distracting thoughts.
3. Of no such thoughts as should show any distrust and diffidence in God’s providing for us.
God hath given us our lives and our bodies, without our care for the existence of them; why should we, in a lawful and moderate use of means, distrust God for a subsistence for them? He hath given us the greater, will he not (think you) give us the less?
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?God takes care of all his creatures. For example, consider
the fowls, and those not the tame fowls about your houses, but the fowls of the air, for whom the housewife’s hand doth not provide, neither hath God fitted them for any labour by which they can procure their livelihood, nor doth he require any such thing of them, nor do they labour; yet their Creator (who is
your heavenly Father) feedeth them. You have much more reason to trust in God, if you could not labour, being hindered by his providence, for you are more excellent beings than sensitive creatures, and you have a further relation to God than that of creatures to the Creator, for God is your heavenly Father; you are in the order of nature, and especially considering that God is your Father, much better than they.
Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?How vain a thing is it to distract yourselves with anxious thoughts about your body and your life! All your thinking will not add a cubit to your stature: as your being and existence derives from God, so the increase of your stature depends upon him; likewise he maketh the child to grow to the just proportion which he hath intended him, and beyond that he cannot pass. If God’s blessing be necessary to this, and so necessary that no thoughts, no means, will add any thing without the Divine blessing, what reason have you to take any such thoughts, as you cannot expect he should bless to their desired effect and issue?
And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin:See Poole on "Matthew 6:30".
And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.See Poole on "Matthew 6:30".
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?Ver. 28-30. From sensitive creatures our Lord proceedeth to vegetables, an order of creatures which have more than mere being, they have also life, though no sense, but yet two degrees beneath man, wanting not only reason, but sense. He shows us from an instance in these, that we have no more reason to be troubled and anxious about clothing, than about meat or drink. Clothing is of no other use than for warmth or ornament: for such clothing as will serve us for warmth, a little care will serve the turn; Sundamus ad supervacanea, our sweating thoughts are mostly for superfluities in clothing; if God see them fit for us, he will also give us them, without so many thoughts about them. Look upon
the lilies; ( whether he means what we call tulips, or other flowers called lilies, which probably those countries had in greater variety and beauty, is not worth the arguing); God designing to glorify himself in those creatures, though of meanest orders, hath given them a greater beauty than Solomon had in all his rich array; to let us know that art must not contend with nature, and that beauty and glory in apparel is no more than is to be found in creatures much inferior to our order; which made Solon (though a heathen) prefer the sight of a peacock to that of Croesus. And therefore this is a thing not worthy of any anxious thoughts, for if God seeth such things good for us, he that so clothes
the grass of the field, which is but of a few days’ continuance, will much more clothe us; and if we distrust him for such provision, we show ourselves persons of little faith.
Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?See Poole on "Matthew 6:32".
(For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.Ver. 31,32. Our Lord repeateth the precept before given, Matthew 6:25, wherein he forbids not all moderate and provident thoughts for things necessary, but only such thoughts as shall argue our distrust in God, or perplex and distract our minds, or be inconsistent with our duty, and the employment of our thoughts about higher and better things. This he here presseth by two arguments.
1. Because these are the things which people spend all their thoughts upon, who are not aware that they have souls to take care for, or do not understand the providence of God, or have no such relation to God as Christians have, who call God Father.
2. You have (saith he) a heavenly Father, who, being the God of heaven, knoweth what you need, and, being your Father, will also supply your needs.
But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.The kingdom of God, and his righteousness, in this verse, are terms comprehensive of whatsoever appertaineth to the honour and glory of God, either as means, or as the end. Let your principal care and study be how to get to heaven, and how to promote the kingdom of God in the world; to bring your hearts into subjection to the will of God, that the kingdom of God may be within you, and how to bring others to the obedience of faith and of the will of God. And for the things of this life, it shall fare with you as it did with Solomon, 1 Kings 3:12, who asked not riches and honour, but had them. You shall have for your necessities, Psalm 37:4 Mark 10:30 1 Timothy 4:8.
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.No such thoughts as before mentioned, for God will provide for you tomorrow when tomorrow cometh. Besides, every new day will bring forth some new cares; you know not what tomorrow will bring forth, nor what you will have need of tomorrow; and if you did, why should you torment yourselves before the time? It will be time enough when you feel the evils of a succeeding time. You need not torment yourselves with prophesying against yourselves, what it may be shall never be; or if it be, you had not need weaken yourselves for the encountering such evils, by a previous disturbance of your thoughts about them.