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There are three subjects brought before us in this part of our Lord’s sermon on the mount. These three are fasting, worldliness, and singleness of purpose in religion. Fasting, or occasional abstinence from food in order to bring the body into subjection to the spirit, is a practice frequently mentioned in the Bible, and generally in connection with prayer. David fasted when his child was sick; Daniel fasted when he sought special light from God; Paul and Barnabas fasted when they appointed elders; Esther fasted before going in to Ahasuerus. It is a subject about which we find no direct command in the New Testament. It seems to be left to everyone’s discretion, whether he will fast or not. In this absence of direct command we may see great wisdom. Many a poor man never has enough to eat, and it would be an insult to tell him to fast: many sick people can hardly be kept well with the closest attention to diet, and could not fast without bringing on illness. It is a matter in which everyone must be persuaded in their own mind, and not rashly condemn others who do not agree with him. One thing only must never be forgotten: those who fast should do it quietly, secretly and without ostentation. Let them not “appear to men to fast.” Let them not fast to man, but to God.
Worldliness is one of the greatest dangers that beset man’s soul. It is no wonder that we find our Lord speaking strongly about it: it is an insidious, specious, plausible enemy; it seems so innocent to pay close attention to our business! It seems so harmless to seek our happiness in this world, so long as we keep clear of open sins! Yet here is a rock on which many make shipwrecked to all eternity. They “lay up treasure on earth,” and forget to “lay up treasure in heaven.” May we all remember this! Where are our hearts? What do we love best? Are our chiefest affections on things in earth, or things in heaven? Life or death depends on the answer we can give to these questions. If our treasure is earthly, our hearts will be earthly also. “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be.”
Singleness of purpose is one great secret of spiritual prosperity. If our eyes do not see distinctly we cannot walk without stumbling and falling. If we attempt to work for two different masters, we are sure to give satisfaction to neither. It is just the same with respect to our souls. We cannot serve Christ and the world at the same time: it is vain to attempt it. The thing cannot be done: the ark and Dagon will never stand together.God must be king over our hearts: his law, his will, his precepts must receive our first attention; then, and not till then, everything in our inward man will fall into its right place. Unless our hearts are so ordered, everything will be in confusion. “Thy whole body shall be full of darkness.” Let us learn from our Lord’s instructions about fasting the great importance of cheerfulness in our religion. Those words, “anoint thy head and wash thy face” are full of deep meaning. They should teach us to aim at letting men see that Christianity makes us happy. Never let us forget that there is no religion in looking melancholy and gloomy. Are we dissatisfied with Christ’s wages and Christ’s service? Surely not! Then let us not look as if we were.
Let us learn from our Lord’s caution about worldliness what need we have to watch and pray against an earthly spirit. What are the vast majority of professing Christians round us doing? They are laying up treasure on earth: there can be no mistake about it. Their tastes, their ways, their habits, tell a fearful tale. They are not laying up treasure in heaven. Let us beware that we do not sink into hell by paying excessive attention to lawful things. Open transgression of God’s law slays its thousands, but worldliness its tens of thousands.
Let us learn from our Lord’s words about the single eye, the true secret of the failures which so many Christians seem to make in their religion? There are failures in all quarters. There are thousands in our churches uncomfortable, ill at ease, and dissatisfied with themselves; and they hardly know why. The reason is revealed here: they are trying to keep in with both sides. They are endeavouring to please God and please man, to serve Christ and serve the world at the same time. Let us not commit this mistake. Let us be decided, thorough-going, uncompromising followers of Christ. Let our motto be that of Paul: “One thing I do” (Philippians 3:13). Then we shall be happy Christians: we shall feel the sun shining on our faces; heart, head, and conscience will all be full of light. Decision is the secret of happiness in religion. Be decided for Christ and “thy whole body shall be full of light.”
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