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Concerning Almsgiving


“Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.

2 “So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.

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1. Beware In this passage, Christ exhorts his people to devote themselves sincerely to good works; that is, to endeavor, with simplicity, to do what is right before God, and not to make a parade before men.424424     “Sans chercher la louange des hommes;” —”without seeking the praise of men?” A very necessary admonition; for in all virtues the entrance of ambition is to be dreaded, and there is no work so laudable, as not to be in many instances corrupted and polluted by it. Under one class he lays down, by a synecdoche, a general doctrine: for he speaks of alms only, as he speaks shortly afterwards about prayers: though some copies, instead of ἐλεημοσύνην, alms, read δικαιοσύνην, righteousness, which is also the rendering of the old translator. But the difference is of little moment: for in either way there is no room to doubt, that the design is, to correct the disease of ambition, when, in doing what is right, we seek glory from men.

2. When thou doest alms He expressly reproves a long established custom, in which the desire of fame might not only be perceived by the eye, but felt by the hands. In places where streets or roads met, and in public situations, where large assemblies were wont to be held, they distributed alms to the poor. There was evident ostentation in that practice: for they sought crowded places, that they might be seen by multitudes, and, not satisfied with this, added even the sound of trumpets.425425     There is no necessity for giving a literal acceptation to the sounding of trumpets, particularly as no trace of such a practice, so far as we are aware, is to be found in history. Similar phrases are used, in many languages, to denote, that ostentation has been carried far beyond the bounds of ordinary propriety. — Ed. They pretended, no doubt, that it was to call the poor, as apologies are never wanting: but it was perfectly obvious, that they were hunting for applause and commendation. Now, when our service is rendered to the eyes of men, we do not submit our life to the judgment and approbation of God. Justly, therefore, does Christ say, that those persons, who exhibit themselves in this manner, have their reward: for they whose eyes are held by such vanity cannot look upon God.

For the same reason, all who are desirous of vain-glory are called hypocrites. Profane authors gave the name of ὑποκριταὶ, hypocrites, to those who personated assumed characters in plays and on the stage; and Scripture has applied this term to men who are double in heart and insincere.426426     This is the true etymology of the word, and rests, not on conjecture, but on historical facts. ̔Ψποκρίνεσθαι was used in the same sense as the more modern term ἀποκρίνεσθαι,, to reply. An actor was called ὁ ὑποκρινόμενος τῶ χορῶ, one who replies to the chorus, alluding to the form of the ancient dramas. The circuitous phrase was altered to ̔Ψποκριτὴς, which was, for some time, used occasionally in a good sense, to denote “one who assumed, for a temporary purpose, a character different from his own;” but came afterwards to be uniformly used in a bad sense, as denoting “one who assumed a character which did not belong to him.” It is a curious instance of the facility with which a word passes, by a few changes, into a meaning altogether different from what it originally bore; and may serve to show, how rashly some philologists have maintained, that in all the successive meanings of a word the generic idea may be traced. The second will resemble the first, and the third either the first or the second, and every new meaning will have an analogy to a former one, from which it has been derived: but it may happen that, ere long, all traces of the original meaning have disappeared. To reply and to be insincere are ideas which have no resemblance. — Ed. There are various kinds of hypocrites. Some, though conscious of being very wicked, impudently give themselves out for good men before the world, and endeavor to conceal their vices, of which they have an inward conviction. Others allow themselves to proceed to such a pitch of audacity, that they venture to claim even perfect righteousness before God. Others do good, not from a desire to do what is right, nor on account of the glory of God, but only to obtain for themselves fame and a reputation for holiness. This last mentioned class Christ now describes, and he properly calls them hypocrites: for, having no proper object in view in the performance of good works, they assume a different character, that they may appear to be holy and sincere worshippers of God.