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The Sermon on the Mount.
(a Mountain Plateau Not Far from Capernaum.)
Almsgiving, Prayer, and Fasting to Be
Performed Sincerely, Not Ostentatiously.
A Matt. VI. 1–18.
a 1 Take heed that ye do not your righteousness before men, to be seen of them: else ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven. [This verse refers back to verse 20 of the previous chapter, where the disciple is told that his righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees. Matthew's fifth chapter deals with the actions themselves, but this sixth chapter treats of the motives and manners of our actions.] 2 When therefore when thou doest alms, sound not 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 received their reward. [Trumpets were sounded as signals to large bodies. This fact gave to the word trumpet a symbolic significance. Anything which is noised or blazoned abroad is spoken of as being trumpeted. The figure also conveys the idea of pompous self-laudation. Hence we still speak of an egotistical man as one who “blows his own trumpet.” The hypocrites of that day did not blow a literal trumpet to call attention to their gifts any more than the hypocrites of this day do. But they used methods to call attention to their generosity as those of our time do when they publish an account of their munificence in the newspapers. Almsgiving was a prominent feature of Jewish life. Transplanted from Judaism, almsgiving became one of the characteristic features of the early church (Acts ix. 36; x. 2; Gal. ii. 10). Christ corrected the error as to it in what he said about the widow's mites. As these hypocrites sought the praise of men, they had their reward when they received it.] 3 But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: 4 that thine alms 251may be in secret: and thy Father who seeth in secret shall recompense thee. [Jesus here recommends secret and noiseless giving, by the never-to-be-forgotten metaphor of the left and right hand. Our generosity is to come so spontaneously, and with so little thought, that the liberality of one part of the body shall not be communicated to the other. The command does not forbid publicity, but that spirit which desires publicity. “The true Christian cares not how much men hear of his public charities, nor how little they hear of his private ones” (Toplady). Good deeds may be published by others to stimulate good in others; but care should be taken lest they be stimulated to give for the sake of like notoriety (Mark xii. 41–44; Acts iv. 36, 37). Salvation is a matter of favor, and not of merit. But there is, nevertheless, a recompense attendant upon it. The joys of the world come, and the blessings in this world are included in that recompense—Matt. xxv. 34–40.] 5 And when ye pray, ye shall not be as the hypocrites: for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and in the corners of the street. that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have received their reward. [Jesus deals with our conduct toward God as well as toward man. However perfectly we may act toward man, our life is one-sided and imperfect if we omit or improperly perform our duties toward God. The Pharisaical habit of standing in a prayerful attitude, to be seen of men, was certainly not prayer. In their case public opinion, and not the praise of God, “was the wind that set the wind-mill a-work” (Trapp). As Pharisees loved the standing and not the praying, so Christians should love the praying and not the standing. Yet prayer for the edification or comfort of others is not here condemned. Prayer itself is nowhere condemned. It is the ostentatious prayer-attitude which Jesus stamps with his displeasure. Needless attitudes of private prayer in pulpit and pew are here condemned.] 6 But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thine inner chamber, and having shut thy door, pray to thy Father who is in secret, 252and thy Father who seeth in secret shall recompense thee. [The inner chamber was properly a little room in the interior of the house or on the housetop, but it is here used to indicate any place of privacy, and the shut door emphasizes the strictness of the privacy, for in all personal prayer we should strive to be alone with God. Jesus found a prayer-chamber upon the mountain-top and in the garden.] 7 And in praying use not vain repetitions, as the Gentiles do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. 8 Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him. [For samples of repetitions, see I. Kings xviii. 26; Acts xix. 34. Strictly speaking, Jesus does not here forbid either a long prayer, or the use of the same words in a prayer when the heart sincerely prompts the utterance. He himself prayed at great length, even continuing in prayer all night (Luke vi. 12), and in the garden he thrice repeated the same words. What he does forbid is making the number and length of prayers an object of consideration or a source of trust. This command is especially violated by the repetitions of the Roman Catholic rosary. Speech to God can not be ordered too carefully (Eccl. v. 2). In stating that God knows our desires before we ask, Jesus gives the reason against vain repetitions. God does not need elaborate explanations, and prayer is not uttered to inform him, but to put ourselves in such communion with him as to make us fit to receive. Moreover, prayer is a matter of asking and receiving, and not a meritorious service, as Mohammedans and Catholics still hold, and as the Pharisees held. With them, as public prayers were to gain credit with men, so long and repeated prayers were to obtain merit before God. Christ teaches contrary to all this.] 9 After this manner therefore pray ye [having pointed out the errors which then characterized prayer, Jesus proceeds to give a brief outline as a model in matter, arrangement, and expression]: Our Father who art in heaven. [The common Jewish invocation was, “O Lord God of our fathers.” Jesus, as the brother of man, 253introduced this new and precious invocation, which puts us in prayer's proper attitude], Hallowed be thy name. 10 Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so on earth. [This is the first section of the prayer.] 11 Give us this day our daily bread. [So long as it is “this day” we do not need to-morrow's bread.] 12 And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. [God can not forgive the temper that is unforgiving, for it can only exist in a heart blind as to the amount of its debt. Forgiveness, too, must be a completed act before we begin to pray. Our Lord lays stress on this one point in the prayer, returning to it after he had closed the form, that he may assure us that the divine procedure will, in this respect, be fashioned to our own. Debt is a mild word for our sin, and is broader than trespass. Trespass indicates a misstep, a wrong-doing, but debt an unfulfilled obligation of any kind. We must not be hard in exacting our rights, when to do so would be oppressive.] 13 And bring us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. [This petition, to be effective, must be followed by an earnest effort on our part to fulfill it. We prefer to read “the evil,” rather than “the evil one,” for the neuter is more comprehensive (II. Tim. iv. 18), and includes deliverance from the evil thoughts of man's own heart, and from evils from without as well as temptations of Satan. As to the prayer generally, we note the following: It is divided into two sections, and each section is subdivided into three heads. Of these the first three are invocations for the glory of God; thus: 1. That God may be glorified in his name, so that it shall be universally reverenced; 2. That God may be glorified in his kingdom—that kingdom before which every power of evil shall eventually fall; 3. That God may be glorified in the hearts of humanity by all men becoming obedient unto his will. These petitions come first, for it is of first importance to us that God should be honored in his person, in his authority and in his desires. The three petitions represent three stages of spiritual growth in the communion and fellowship with God. We first know and revere his name 254as God. From that we advance to the full recognition of his royal and divine authority. And from this in turn we again advance until we know him fully as Father, and, forgetting his authority, perform his wishes through the joyous constraint of love, as do the angels in heaven. The second three petitions are for humanity; thus: 1. For their bodies, that they may have sustenance. It is not a petition for milk and honey, symbols of luxury, but for bread, life's staff and necessity, and for bread in moderation—bestowed day by day, like the manna. 2. For their souls in things concerning the past—that past trespasses may be forgiven. This is the one thing needful to the soul in regard to the past. Since a certain soul condition is necessary (viz.: the spirit of forgiveness), as a condition precedent to obtaining this petition, that condition is plainly stated in the petition itself. 3. For their souls as to the future, that they may be enabled to avoid temptation, and that they may be finally delivered from evil. God does not tempt us (Jas. i. 13), but he can permit us to be led into temptation, or he can shield us from it, only permitting us to enter so far into it as to come off victorious over it (I. Cor. x. 13; II. Pet. ii. 9); so that it shall prove unto us a blessing instead of a curse—Jas. i. 12; v. 11.] 14 For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. [Forgiveness may be difficult, but it is essential: we should realize that as we pray. Jesus presents this truth positively and negatively, that we may make no mistake about it. Those who are accustomed to repeat the Lord's Prayer will notice that the doxology with which it closes is omitted. It was probably inserted from some early liturgy. It is absent from the oldest manuscripts, and interrupts the connection of the thought about forgiveness. All textual editors omit it.] 16 Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces. [by omitting to wash their faces and neglecting to dress or anoint their beards], that they may 255appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have received their reward. 17 But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; 18 that thou be not seen of men to fast, but of thy Father who is in secret: and thy Father, who seeth in secret, shall recompense thee. [Fasting, as an aid to meditation and prayer, is a wholesome practice, but stated fasts lead to hollow formality, and fasts which are endured for public praise are an abomination. Christ admonishes us to conceal the fast, and so avoid the temptation to be hypocritically ostentatious, for fasting is intended for self-abasement, and not to cultivate pride. His words allude to the practice of anointing. Rich Jews were accustomed to anoint their bodies daily with olive or sweet oil. This was refreshing, and prevented many of the disease which the dry, hot air of Palestine made prevalent. The custom still prevails among Eastern nations.]
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