Commentary Critical and Explanatory
on the Whole Bible
SERMON ON THE
ILLUSTRATION OF THE
RIGHTEOUSNESS OF THE
General Caution against Ostentation in Religious Duties
1. Take heed that ye do not your alms--But the true reading seems
clearly to be "your righteousness." The external authority for both
readings is pretty nearly equal; but internal evidence is decidedly in
favor of "righteousness." The subject of the second verse being
"almsgiving" that word--so like the other in Greek--might easily be
substituted for it by the copyist: whereas the opposite would not be so
likely. But it is still more in favor of "righteousness," that if we so
read the first verse, it then becomes a general heading for this whole
section of the discourse, inculcating unostentatiousness in all
deeds of righteousness--Almsgiving, Prayer, and Fasting being, in that
case, but selected examples of this righteousness; whereas, if we read,
"Do not your alms," &c., this first verse will have no reference
but to that one point. By "righteousness," in this case, we are to
understand that same righteousness of the kingdom of heaven, whose
leading features--in opposition to traditional perversions of it--it is
the great object of this discourse to open up: that righteousness of
which the Lord says, "Except your righteousness shall exceed the
righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter
into the kingdom of heaven"
To "do" this righteousness, was an old and well-understood
expression. Thus, "Blessed is he that doeth righteousness at all times"
It refers to the actings of righteousness in the life--the
outgoings of the gracious nature--of which our Lord afterwards said to
His disciples, "Herein is My Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit;
so shall ye be My disciples"
before men, to be seen of them--with the view or intention of being
beheld of them. See the same expression in
True, He had required them to let their light so shine before men that
they might see their good works, and glorify their Father which is in
But this is quite consistent with not making a display of our
righteousness for self-glorification. In fact, the doing of the former
necessarily implies our not doing the latter.
otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven--When
all duty is done to God--as primarily enjoining and finally judging of
it--He will take care that it be duly recognized; but when done purely
for ostentation, God cannot own it, nor is His judgment of it even
thought of--God accepts only what is done to Himself. So much for the
general principle. Now follow three illustrations of it.
2. Therefore, when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before
thee--The expression is to be taken figuratively for blazoning it.
Hence our expression to "trumpet."
as the hypocrites do--This word--of such frequent occurrence in
Scripture, signifying primarily "one who acts a part"--denotes one who
either pretends to be what he is not (as here), or dissembles what he really is (as in
Lu 12:1, 2).
in the synagogues and in the streets--the places of religious and
that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you--In such august
expressions, it is the Lawgiver and Judge Himself that we hear speaking
They have their reward--All they wanted was human applause, and they
have it--and with it, all they will ever get.
3. But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right
hand doeth--So far from making a display of it, dwell not on it even in
thine own thoughts, lest it minister to spiritual pride.
4. That thine alms may be in secret, and thy Father which seeth in
secret himself shall reward thee openly--The word "Himself" appears
to be an unauthorized addition to the text, which the sense no doubt
(Mt 6:5, 6).
5. And when thou prayest, thou shalt--or, preferably, "when ye pray
not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the
synagogues and in the corners of the streets--(See on
that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have,
&c.--The standing posture in prayer was the ancient practice, alike
in the Jewish and in the early Christian Church. But of course this
conspicuous posture opened the way for the ostentatious.
6. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet--a place of
and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in
secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee
openly--Of course, it is not the simple publicity of prayer which
is here condemned. It may be offered in any circumstances, however
open, if not prompted by the spirit of ostentation, but dictated by the
great ends of prayer itself. It is the retiring character of true
prayer which is here taught.
Supplementary Directions and Model Prayer
7. But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions--"Babble not" would be
a better rendering, both for the form of the word--which in both
languages is intended to imitate the sound--and for the sense, which
expresses not so much the repetition of the same words as a senseless
multiplication of them; as appears from what follows.
as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their
much speaking--This method of heathen devotion is still observed by
Hindu and Mohammedan devotees. With the Jews, says
LIGHTFOOT, it was a
maxim, that "Every one who multiplies prayer is heard." In the Church of
Rome, not only is it carried to a shameless extent, but, as
justly observes, the very prayer which our Lord gave as an antidote to
vain repetitions is the most abused to this superstitious end; the
number of times it is repeated counting for so much more merit. Is not
this just that characteristic feature of heathen devotion which our Lord
here condemns? But praying much, and using at times the same words, is
not here condemned, and has the example of our Lord Himself in its
8. Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what
things ye have need of before ye ask him--and so needs not to be
informed of our wants, any more than to be roused to attend to
them by our incessant speaking. What a view of God is here given, in
sharp contrast with the gods of the heathen! But let it be carefully
noted that it is not as the general Father of mankind that our Lord
says, "Your Father" knoweth what ye need before ye ask it; for it is not
men, as such, that He is addressing in this discourse, but His own
disciples--the poor in spirit, the mourners, the meek, hungry and
thirsty souls, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, who
allow themselves to have all manner of evil said against them for the
Son of man's sake--in short, the new-born children of God, who, making
their Father's interests their own, are here assured that their Father,
in return, makes their interests His, and needs neither to be told nor
to be reminded of their wants. Yet He will have His children pray to
Him, and links all His promised supplies to their petitions for them;
thus encouraging us to draw near and keep near to Him, to talk and walk
with Him, to open our every case to Him, and assure ourselves that thus
asking we shall receive--thus seeking we shall find--thus knocking it
shall be opened to us.
9. After this manner--more simply "Thus."
therefore pray ye--The "ye" is emphatic here, in contrast with the
heathen prayers. That this matchless prayer was given not only as a
model, but as a form, might be concluded from its very nature.
Did it consist only of hints or directions for prayer, it could only be
used as a directory; but seeing it is an actual prayer--designed,
indeed, to show how much real prayer could be compressed into the fewest
words, but still, as a prayer, only the more incomparable for that--it
is strange that there should be a doubt whether we ought to pray that
very prayer. Surely the words with which it is introduced, in the second
utterance and varied form of it which we have in
ought to set this at rest: "When ye pray, say, Our Father."
Nevertheless, since the second form of it varies considerably from the
first, and since no example of its actual use, or express quotation of
its phraseology, occurs in the sequel of the New Testament, we are to
guard against a superstitious use of it. How early this began to appear
in the church services, and to what extent it was afterwards carried,
is known to every one versed in Church History. Nor has the spirit
which bred this abuse quite departed from some branches of the
Protestant Church, though the opposite and equally condemnable extreme
is to be found in other branches of it.
According to the Latin fathers and the Lutheran Church, the petitions
of the Lord's Prayer are seven in number; according to the Greek
fathers, the Reformed Church and the Westminster divines, they are only
six; the two last being regarded--we think, less correctly--as
one. The first three petitions have to do exclusively with God:
"Thy name be hallowed"--"Thy kingdom come"--"Thy
will be done." And they occur in a descending scale--from
Himself down to the manifestation of Himself in His kingdom; and from
His kingdom to the entire subjection of its subjects, or the complete
doing of His will. The remaining four petitions have to do with OURSELVES: "Give us our daily bread"--"Forgive
us our debts"--"Lead us not into temptation"--"Deliver
us from evil." But these latter petitions occur in an
ascending scale--from the bodily wants of every day up to our
final deliverance from all evil.
Our Father which art in heaven--In the former clause we express His
nearness to us; in the latter, His distance from us. (See
Holy, loving familiarity suggests the one; awful reverence the other.
In calling Him "Father" we express a relationship we have all known and
felt surrounding us even from our infancy; but in calling Him our
Father "who art in heaven," we contrast Him with the fathers we all
have here below, and so raise our souls to that "heaven" where He
dwells, and that Majesty and Glory which are there as in their proper
home. These first words of the Lord's Prayer--this invocation with
which it opens--what a brightness and warmth does it throw over the
whole prayer, and into what a serene region does it introduce the
praying believer, the child of God, as he thus approaches Him! It is
true that the paternal relationship of God to His people is by no means
strange to the Old Testament. (See
Jer 3:4, 19;
Mal 1:6; 2:10).
But these are only glimpses--the "back parts"
if we may so say, in comparison with the "open face" of our Father
revealed in Jesus. (See on
Nor is it too much to say, that the view which our Lord gives,
throughout this His very first lengthened discourse, of "our Father in
heaven," beggars all that was ever taught, even in God's own Word, or
conceived before by His saints, on this subject.
Hallowed be--that is, "Be held in reverence"; regarded and
treated as holy.
thy name--God's name means "Himself as revealed and manifested."
Everywhere in Scripture God defines and marks off the faith and love and
reverence and obedience He will have from men by the disclosures which
He makes to them of what He is; both to shut out false conceptions of
Him, and to make all their devotion take the shape and hue of His own
teaching. Too much attention cannot be paid to this.
10. Thy kingdom come--The kingdom of God is that moral and spiritual
kingdom which the God of grace is setting up in this fallen world, whose
subjects consist of as many as have been brought into hearty subjection
to His gracious scepter, and of which His Son Jesus is the glorious
Head. In the inward reality of it, this kingdom existed ever since there
were men who "walked with God"
and "waited for His salvation"
who were "continually with Him, holden by His right hand"
and who, even in the valley of the shadow of death, feared no evil when
He was with them
When Messiah Himself appeared, it was, as a visible kingdom, "at hand."
His death laid the deep foundations of it. His ascension on high,
"leading captivity captive and receiving gifts for men, yea, for the
rebellious, that the Lord God might dwell among them," and the
Pentecostal effusion of the Spirit, by which those gifts for men
descended upon the rebellious, and the Lord God was beheld, in the
persons of thousands upon thousands, "dwelling" among men--was a
glorious "coming" of this kingdom. But it is still to come, and this
petition, "Thy kingdom come," must not cease to ascend so long as one
subject of it remains to be brought in. But does not this prayer stretch
further forward--to "the glory to be revealed," or that stage of the
kingdom called "the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus
Not directly, perhaps, since the petition that follows this--"Thy will
be done in earth, as it is in heaven"--would then bring us back to this
present state of imperfection. Still, the mind refuses to be so bounded
by stages and degrees, and in the act of praying, "Thy kingdom come,"
it irresistibly stretches the wings of its faith, and longing, and
joyous expectation out to the final and glorious consummation of the
kingdom of God.
Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven--or, as the same words
are rendered in Luke, "as in heaven, so upon earth"
--as cheerfully, as constantly, as perfectly. But
some will ask, Will this ever be? We answer, If the "new heavens and
new earth" are to be just our present material system purified by fire
and transfigured, of course it will. But we incline to think that the
aspiration which we are taught in this beautiful petition to breathe
forth has no direct reference to any such organic fulfilment,
and is only the spontaneous and resistless longing of the renewed
soul--put into words--to see the whole inhabited earth in entire
conformity to the will of God. It asks not if ever it shall be--or if
ever it can be--in order to pray this prayer. It must have its
holy yearnings breathed forth, and this is just the bold yet simple
expression of them. Nor is the Old Testament without prayers which come
very near to this
(Ps 7:9; 67:1-7; 72:19,
11. Give us this day our daily bread--The compound word here rendered
"daily" occurs nowhere else, either in classical or sacred Greek, and
so must be interpreted by the analogy of its component parts. But on
this critics are divided. To those who would understand it to mean,
"Give us this day the bread of to-morrow"--as if the sense thus slid
into that of Luke "Give us day by day"
(as BENGEL, MEYER, &c.) it may
be answered that the sense thus brought out is scarcely intelligible,
if not something less; that the expression "bread of to-morrow" is not
at all the same as bread "from day to day," and that, so understood, it
would seem to contradict
The great majority of the best critics (taking the word to be
compounded of ousia, "substance," or "being") understand
by it the "staff of life," the bread of subsistence, and
so the sense will be, "Give us this day the bread which this day's
necessities require." In this case, the rendering of our authorized
version (after the Vulgate, LUTHER and some
of the best modern critics)--"our daily bread"--is, in sense, accurate
Among commentators, there was early shown an inclination to understand
this as a prayer for the heavenly bread, or spiritual nourishment; and
in this they have been followed by many superior expositors, even down
to our own times. But as this is quite unnatural, so it deprives the
Christian of one of the sweetest of his privileges--to cast his bodily
wants in this short prayer, by one simple petition, upon his heavenly
Father. No doubt the spiritual mind will, from "the meat that
perisheth," naturally rise in thought to "that meat which endureth to
everlasting life." But let it be enough that the petition about bodily
wants irresistibly suggests a higher petition; and let us not
rob ourselves--out of a morbid spirituality--of our one petition in
this prayer for that bodily provision which the immediate sequel of
this discourse shows that our heavenly Father has so much at heart. In
limiting our petitions, however, to provision for the day, what
a spirit of childlike dependence does the Lord both demand and
12. And forgive us our debts--A vitally important view of sin,
this--as an offense against God demanding reparation to His dishonored
claims upon our absolute subjection. As the debtor in the creditor's
hand, so is the sinner in the hands of God. This idea of sin had indeed
come up before in this discourse--in the warning to agree with our
adversary quickly, in case of sentence being passed upon us, adjudging
us to payment of the last farthing, and to imprisonment till then
(Mt 5:25, 26).
And it comes up once and again in our Lord's subsequent teaching--as in
the parable of the creditor and his two debtors
(Lu 7:41, 42,
&c.), and in the parable of the unmerciful debtor
&c.). But by embodying it in this brief model of acceptable prayer, and
as the first of three petitions more or less bearing upon sin, our Lord
teaches us, in the most emphatic manner conceivable, to regard this
view of sin as the primary and fundamental one. Answering to this is
the "forgiveness" which it directs us to seek--not the removal from our
own hearts of the stain of sin, nor yet the removal of our just dread
of God's anger, or of unworthy suspicions of His love, which is all
that some tell us we have to care about--but the removal from God's own
mind of His displeasure against us on account of sin, or, to retain the
figure, the wiping or crossing out from His "book of remembrance" of
all entries against us on this account.
as we forgive our debtors--the same view of sin as before; only now
transferred to the region of offenses given and received between man and
man. After what has been said on
it will not be thought that our Lord here teaches that our exercise of
forgiveness towards our offending fellow men absolutely precedes and is
the proper ground of God's forgiveness of us. His whole teaching,
indeed--as of all Scripture--is the reverse of this. But as no one can
reasonably imagine himself to be the object of divine forgiveness who
is deliberately and habitually unforgiving towards his fellow men, so
it is a beautiful provision to make our right to ask and expect daily
forgiveness of our daily shortcomings and our final absolution and
acquittal at the great day of admission into the kingdom, dependent
upon our consciousness of a forgiving disposition towards our fellows,
and our preparedness to protest before the Searcher of hearts that we
do actually forgive them. (See
Mr 11:25, 26).
God sees His own image reflected in His forgiving children; but to ask
God for what we ourselves refuse to men, is to insult Him. So much
stress does our Lord put upon this, that immediately after the close of
this prayer, it is the one point in it which He comes back upon
(Mt 6:14, 15),
for the purpose of solemnly assuring us that the divine procedure in
this matter of forgiveness will be exactly what our own is.
13. And lead us not into temptation--He who honestly seeks and
has the assurance of, forgiveness for past sin, will strive to avoid
committing it for the future. But conscious that "when we would do good
evil is present with us," we are taught to offer this sixth petition,
which comes naturally close upon the preceding, and flows, indeed,
instinctively from it in the hearts of all earnest Christians. There is
some difficulty in the form of the petition, as it is certain that God
does bring His people--as He did Abraham, and Christ Himself--into
circumstances both fitted and designed to try them, or test the
strength of their faith. Some meet this by regarding the petition as
simply an humble expression of self-distrust and instinctive shrinking
from danger; but this seems too weak. Others take it as a prayer
against yielding to temptation, and so equivalent to a prayer for
support and deliverance when we are tempted; but this seems to go
beyond the precise thing intended. We incline to take it as a prayer
against being drawn or sucked, of our own will, into
temptation, to which the word here used seems to lend some
countenance--"Introduce us not." This view, while it does not put into
our mouths a prayer against being tempted--which is more than the
divine procedure would seem to warrant--does not, on the other hand,
change the sense of the petition into one for support under
temptation, which the words will hardly bear; but it gives us a subject
for prayer, in regard to temptation, most definite, and of all
others most needful. It was precisely this which Peter needed to
ask, but did not ask, when--of his own accord, and in spite of
difficulties--he pressed for entrance into the palace hall of the high
priest, and where, once sucked into the scene and atmosphere of
temptation, he fell so foully. And if so, does it not seem pretty clear
that this was exactly what our Lord meant His disciples to pray against
when He said in the garden--"Watch and pray, that ye enter not
But deliver us from evil--We can see no good reason for
regarding this as but the second half of the sixth petition. With far
better ground might the second and third petitions be regarded as one.
The "but" connecting the two petitions is an insufficient reason for
regarding them as one, though enough to show that the one thought
naturally follows close upon the other. As the expression "from evil"
may be equally well rendered "from the evil one," a number or superior
critics think the devil is intended, especially from its following
close upon the subject of "temptation." But the comprehensive character
of these brief petitions, and the place which this one occupies, as
that on which all our desires die away, seems to us against so
contracted a view of it. Nor can there be a reasonable doubt that the
apostle, in some of the last sentences which he penned before he was
brought forth to suffer for his Lord, alludes to this very petition in
the language of calm assurance--"And the Lord shall deliver me from
every evil work (compare the Greek of the two passages), and
will preserve me unto his heavenly kingdom"
The final petition, then, is only rightly grasped when regarded as a
prayer for deliverance from all evil of whatever kind--not only from
sin, but from all its consequences--fully and finally. Fitly, then, are
our prayers ended with this. For what can we desire which this does not
carry with it?
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever.
Amen--If any reliance is to be placed on external evidence, this
doxology, we think, can hardly be considered part of the original text.
It is wanting in all the most ancient manuscripts; it is wanting in the
Old Latin version and in the Vulgate: the former mounting up to
about the middle of the second century, and the latter being a revision
of it in the fourth century by JEROME,
a most reverential and
conservative as well as able and impartial critic. As might be expected
from this, it is passed by in silence by the earliest Latin fathers; but
even the Greek commentators, when expounding this prayer, pass by
the doxology. On the other hand, it is found in a majority of
manuscripts, though not the oldest; it is found in all the Syriac versions, even the Peschito--dating probably as
early as the second
century--although this version lacks the "Amen," which the doxology, if
genuine, could hardly have wanted; it is found in the Sahidic or
Thebaic version made for the Christians of Upper Egypt, possibly as
early as the Old Latin; and it is found in perhaps most of the later
versions. On a review of the evidence, the strong probability, we think,
is that it was no part of the original text.
14. For if ye forgive men, &c.--See on
15. But if ye forgive not, &c.--See on
Having concluded His supplementary directions on the subject of prayer
with this Divine Pattern, our Lord now returns to the subject of
Unostentatiousness in our deeds of righteousness, in order to give
one more illustration of it, in the matter of fasting.
16. Moreover, when ye fast--referring, probably, to private and
voluntary fasting, which was to be regulated by each individual for
himself; though in spirit it would apply to any fast.
be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure
their faces--literally, "make unseen"; very well rendered "disfigure."
They went about with a slovenly appearance, and ashes sprinkled on their
that they may appear unto men to fast--It was not the deed, but
reputation for the deed which they sought; and with this view those
hypocrites multiplied their fasts. And are the exhausting fasts of the
Church of Rome, and of Romanizing Protestants, free from this taint?
Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
17. But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy
face--as the Jews did, except when mourning
so that the meaning is, "Appear as usual"--appear so as to attract no
18. That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which
is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee
openly--The "openly" seems evidently a later addition to the text
of this verse from
Mt 6:4, 7,
though of course the idea is implied.
ILLUSTRATIONS OF THE
RIGHTEOUSNESS OF THE
19. Lay not up for ourselves treasures upon earth--hoard not.
where moth--a "clothes-moth." Eastern treasures, consisting partly
in costly dresses stored up
were liable to be consumed by moths
Isa 50:9; 51:8).
there is an evident reference to our Lord's words here.
and rust--any "eating into" or "consuming"; here, probably, "wear and
doth corrupt--cause to disappear. By this reference to moth and rust
our Lord would teach how perishable are such earthly treasures.
and where thieves break through and steal--Treasures these, how
20. But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven--The language
is very bold--"Sell that ye have, and give alms; provide yourselves
bags which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that faileth
where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not
break through nor steal--Treasures these, imperishable and
21. For where your treasure is--that which ye value most.
there will your heart be also--"Thy treasure--thy heart" is
probably the true reading here: "your," in
from which it seems to have come in here. Obvious though this maxim be,
by what multitudes who profess to bow to the teaching of Christ is it
practically disregarded! "What a man loves," says LUTHER, quoted by THOLUCK, "that is
his God. For he carries it in his heart, he goes about with it night
and day, he sleeps and wakes with it; be it what it may--wealth or
pelf, pleasure or renown." But because "laying up" is not in itself
sinful, nay, in some cases enjoined
and honest industry and sagacious enterprise are usually rewarded with
prosperity, many flatter themselves that all is right between them and
God, while their closest attention, anxiety, zeal, and time are
exhausted upon these earthly pursuits. To put this right, our Lord adds
what follows, in which there is profound practical wisdom.
22. The light--rather, "the lamp."
of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single--simple,
clear. As applied to the outward eye, this means general soundness;
particularly, not looking two ways. Here, as also in classical
Greek, it is used figuratively to denote the simplicity of the
mind's eye, singleness of purpose, looking right at its object, as
opposed to having two ends in view. (See
thy whole body shall be full of light--illuminated. As with the bodily
vision, the man who looks with a good, sound eye, walks in light, seeing
every object clear; so a simple and persistent purpose to serve and
please God in everything will make the whole character consistent and
23. But if thine eye be evil--distempered, or, as we should say, If we
have got a bad eye.
thy whole body shall be full of darkness--darkened. As a vitiated eye,
or an eye that looks not straight and full at its object, sees nothing
as it is, so a mind and heart divided between heaven and earth is all
If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that
darkness!--As the conscience is the regulative faculty, and a man's
inward purpose, scope, aim in life, determines his character--if these
be not simple and heavenward, but distorted and double, what must all
the other faculties and principles of our nature be which take their
direction and character from these, and what must the whole man and the
whole life be but a mass of darkness? In Luke
the converse of this statement very strikingly expresses what pure,
beautiful, broad perceptions the clarity of the inward eye
imparts: "If thy whole body therefore be full of light, having no part
dark, the whole shall be full of light, as when the bright shining of a
candle doth give thee light." But now for the application of this.
24. No man can serve--The word means to "belong wholly and be entirely
under command to."
two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or
else he will hold to the one, and despise the other--Even if the two
masters be of one character and have but one object, the servant must
take law from one or the other: though he may do what is agreeable
to both, he cannot, in the nature of the thing, be servant to more
than one. Much less if, as in the present case, their interests are
quite different, and even conflicting. In this case, if our affections
be in the service of the one--if we "love the one"--we must of necessity
"hate the other"; if we determine resolutely to "hold to the one," we
must at the same time disregard, and (if he insist on his claims upon
us) even "despise the other."
Ye cannot serve God and mammon--The word "mamon"--better written
with one m--is a foreign one, whose precise derivation cannot
certainly be determined, though the most probable one gives it the sense
of "what one trusts in." Here, there can be no doubt it is used for
riches, considered as an idol master, or god of the heart. The
service of this god and the true God together is here, with a kind of
indignant curtness, pronounced impossible. But since the teaching of the
preceding verses might seem to endanger our falling short of what is
requisite for the present life, and so being left destitute, our Lord
now comes to speak to that point.
25. Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought--"Be not
solicitous." The English word "thought," when our version was made,
expressed this idea of "solicitude," "anxious concern"--as may be seen
in any old English classic; and in the same sense it is used in
&c. But this sense of the word has now nearly gone out, and so the mere
English reader is apt to be perplexed. Thought or forethought,
for temporal things--in the sense of reflection, consideration--is
required alike by Scripture and common sense. It is that anxious
solicitude, that oppressive care, which springs from unbelieving doubts
and misgivings, which alone is here condemned. (See
for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for
your body, what ye shall put on--In Luke
our Lord adds, "neither be ye unsettled"--not "of doubtful mind," as in
our version. When "careful (or 'full of care') about nothing," but
committing all in prayer and supplication with thanksgiving unto God,
the apostle assures us that "the peace of God, which passeth all
understanding, shall keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus"
(Php 4:6, 7);
that is, shall guard both our feelings and our thoughts from undue
agitation, and keep them in a holy calm. But when we commit our whole
temporal condition to the wit of our own minds, we get into that
"unsettled" state against which our Lord exhorts His disciples.
Is not the life more than meat--food.
and the body than raiment?--If God, then, gives and keeps up the
greater--the life, the body--will He withhold the less, food to sustain
life and raiment to clothe the body?
26. Behold the fowls of the air--in
"observe well," and in
"consider"--so as to learn wisdom from them.
for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your
heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?--nobler
in yourselves and dearer to God. The argument here is from the greater
to the less; but how rich in detail! The brute creation--void of
reason--are incapable of sowing, reaping, and storing: yet your heavenly
Father suffers them not helplessly to perish, but sustains them without
any of those processes. Will He see, then, His own children using all
the means which reason dictates for procuring the things needful for the
body--looking up to Himself at every step--and yet leave them to starve?
27. Which of you, by taking thought--anxious solicitude.
can add one cubit unto his stature?--"Stature" can hardly be the
thing intended here: first, because the subject is the prolongation
of life, by the supply of its necessaries of food and clothing: and
next, because no one would dream of adding a cubit--or a foot and a
half--to his stature, while in the corresponding passage in Luke
(Lu 12:25, 26)
the thing intended is represented as "that thing which is
least." But if we take the word in its primary sense of
"age" (for "stature" is but a secondary sense) the idea will be
this, "Which of you, however anxiously you vex yourselves about it, can
add so much as a step to the length of your life's journey?" To compare
the length of life to measures of this nature is not foreign to the
language of Scripture (compare
&c.). So understood, the meaning is clear and the connection natural.
In this the best critics now agree.
28. And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider--observe well.
the lilies of the field, how they grow: they toil not--as men, planting
and preparing the flax.
neither do they spin--as women.
29. And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not
arrayed like one of these--What incomparable teaching!--best left in
its own transparent clearness and rich simplicity.
30. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass--the "herbage."
of the field, which to-day is, and to-morrow is cast into the
oven--wild flowers cut with the grass, withering by the heat, and
used for fuel. (See
shall He not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?--The argument
here is something fresh. Gorgeous as is the array of the flowers that
deck the fields, surpassing all artificial human grandeur, it is for but
a brief moment; you are ravished with it to-day, and to-morrow it is
gone; your own hands have seized and cast it into the oven: Shall, then,
God's children, so dear to Him, and instinct with a life that cannot
die, be left naked? He does not say, Shall they not be more beauteously
arrayed? but, Shall He not much more clothe them? that being all
He will have them regard as secured to them (compare
The expression, "Little-faithed ones," which our Lord applies once and
again to His disciples
(Mt 8:26; 14:31; 16:8),
can hardly be regarded as rebuking any actual manifestations of
unbelief at that early period, and before such an audience. It is His
way of gently chiding the spirit of unbelief, so natural even to
the best, who are surrounded by a world of sense, and of kindling a
generous desire to shake it off.
31. Therefore take no thought--solicitude.
saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal
shall we be clothed?
32. (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek)--rather,
"pursue." Knowing nothing definitely beyond the present life to kindle
their aspirations and engage their supreme attention, the heathen
naturally pursue present objects as their chief, their only good. To
what an elevation above these does Jesus here lift His disciples!
for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these
things--How precious this word! Food and raiment are pronounced
needful to God's children; and He who could say, "No man knoweth the
Father but the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal Him"
says with an authority which none but Himself could claim, "Your
heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things."
Will not that suffice you, O ye needy ones of the household of
33. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and
all these things shall be added unto you--This is the great summing
up. Strictly speaking, it has to do only with the subject of the present
section--the right state of the heart with reference to heavenly and
earthly things; but being couched in the form of a brief general
directory, it is so comprehensive in its grasp as to embrace the whole
subject of this discourse. And, as if to make this the more evident, the
two keynotes of this great sermon seem purposely struck in it--"the
KINGDOM" and "the
RIGHTEOUSNESS" of the kingdom--as the grand objects,
in the supreme pursuit of which all things needful for the present life
will be added to us. The precise sense of every word in this golden
verse should be carefully weighed. "The kingdom of God" is the primary
subject of the Sermon on the Mount--that kingdom which the God of heaven
is erecting in this fallen world, within which are all the spiritually
recovered and inwardly subject portion of the family of Adam, under
Messiah as its Divine Head and King. "The righteousness thereof" is
the character of all such, so amply described and variously illustrated
in the foregoing portions of this discourse. The "seeking" of these
is the making them the object of supreme choice and pursuit; and the
seeking of them "first" is the seeking of them before and above all
else. The "all these things" which shall in that case be added to us
are just the "all these things" which the last words of
assured us "our heavenly Father knoweth that we have need of"; that is,
all we require for the present life. And when our Lord says they shall
be "added," it is implied, as a matter of course, that the seekers
of the kingdom and its righteousness shall have these as their proper
and primary portion: the rest being their gracious reward for not
seeking them. (See an illustration of the principle of this in
2Ch 1:11, 12).
What follows is but a reduction of this great general direction into a
practical and ready form for daily use.
34. Take therefore no thought--anxious care.
for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of
itself--(or, according to other authorities, "for itself")--shall
have its own causes of anxiety.
Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof--An admirable practical
maxim, and better rendered in our version than in almost any other, not
excepting the preceding English ones. Every day brings its own cares;
and to anticipate is only to double them.