Moreover when you fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces…
This is nowhere in the gospel enjoined as a duty. It is, like the profession of the Nazarite, left to individual freedom. The service of freedom is the service of love (cf. 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.
Parallel VersesKJV: 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.
WEB: "Moreover when you fast, don't be like the hypocrites, with sad faces. For they disfigure their faces, that they may be seen by men to be fasting. Most certainly I tell you, they have received their reward.