Take heed that you do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise you have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.
Underlying this subject is that of social inequality. Without the latter there would be no necessity and therefore no opportunity for alms-giving. Poverty is not an unmitigated evil. Affluence is not an unmixed good.
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).
(4) The burden of hoarded property is heavy upon the pillow of death. God will confront the miser in the judgment (cf. Luke 16:9; James 5:1-4).
LESSONS. Avoid monopoly. Spend not upon the rich. Be your own executor. - J.A.M.
Parallel VersesKJV: 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.