ŇTake heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven. Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound 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 their reward.Ó Matthew 6:1,2
ŇTake heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.Ó (v.1)
In the former chapter, the evangelist hath faithfully recorded three parts of our Saviour ChristŐs sermon, and here beginneth the fourth, which reacheth to the 19th verse of this chapter; wherein our Saviour Christ goeth about to reform His hearers of all abuses in doing good works, and He instanceth in these three: Alms-deeds, prayer and fasting; not so much commanding them, as giving direction for the right manner of performing them, so as they may be acceptable unto God. From the first verse to the fifth, He entreats of alms-deeds, propounding two several commandments, touching the manner of giving alms. The first is in this first verse, Take heed that you give not your alms before men, to be seen of them; which He enforceth by an effectual reason in the words following, or else ye shall have no reward of your Father in heaven. And then exemplifieth it by a particular example of a corrupt manner in giving alms, borrowed from the ambitious practice of the Scribes and Pharisees (v.2). The second commanment touching alms-giving, is in the 3rd verse, whereof He renders a reason in the 4th verse.
For the first commandment, Take heed etc.; this may be repugnant to that precept given before (chapter 5:16), Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works. But here is no contrariety, if we mark well; for in the former chapter we are commanded to do good works before men, that they may see them, and glorify God for the same. Now here we are not forbidden simply to do good works before men, but to do them before men for this end, to have our praise of men, that we might be glorified for doing them, howsoever it went with God.
Before we come to this rule, the words are somewhat to be scanned; for whereas we read them thus, Give not your alms before men, etc., some ancient churches, after other copies and translations read them thus: Do not your righteousness or justice before men; which must not seem strange that in GodŐs book there should be diverse readings; for in former ages, before printing was invented, the Scriptures of God were conveyed from hand to hand, by means of writing; now they that wrote out the copies of Scripture, did now and then mistake some words and letters by negligence, or ignorance, and put one thing for another, whereupon do come these diverse readings. Yet we must not think that the Word of God is hereby maimed or made imperfect; for the true sense of the Holy Ghost remains sound and perfect, though it may be we cannot discern of the right reading. And the sense of Scripture is rather to be judged the Word of God, than the words and letters thereof. Now it being here uncertain whether the reading to follow (for either of them contained sense convenient to the place), therefore I will exclude neither, but from them both propound this instruction:
That in giving of alms is justice, and a part of righteousness which God requires at out hands. This the apostle sheweth plainly out of the psalms (Psa. 112:9), (2 Cor. 9:9), He hath distributed and given to the poor, His righteousness remaineth for ever . And in common reason it must be so, for a man is but a steward over the goods he possesseth; the poor with whom he liveth hath title to the part thereof, and he must give unto them by GodŐs express commandment; so as unless he give in some sort, he plays the thief, and robs the poor by keeping back that which is their due.
In regard whereof, we must learn, first, to acknowledge that providing of maintenance for the poor, is not a work of freedom or liberty, left to menŐs choice, whether they will do it or not, but a matter of justice; and the not doing of it is injustice, against the law of God and of nature, which require that the poor should be maintained at home without begging abroad. Secondly, this should move us to lay aside some portion of our goods to give unto the poor, for the poor have interest unto them; and for this cause we ought to cut off our superfluities in feasting, in attire, in sports and pleasures, that so we may be better enabled to do justice in giving unto the poor; for hereby commonly men are disabled to do this part of justice. Thirdly, this should teach us according to out places, to see those good orders well maintained and set forward, which are provided for the convenient relief and maintenance of the poor; for the neglecting of them is injustice, and a kind of theft against the poor.
Secondly, observe the word translated alms; it is very pithy, signifying mercy and pity; whence we may learn: first, what it is that makes our giving to the poor to be alms: it is not the thing given, but the merciful and pitiful heart of the giver, be the thing never so small, as was the poor widowŐs mite; and therefore all our alms must proceed from a pitiful heart. Secondly, it sheweth what a one that party must be that is to be relieved, namely, such a one as to be pitied; not our lusty beggars, but infants, orphans, the lame, blind, weak, maimed and aged persons.
Thus much for the words; now followeth the commandment itself: Take heed that you give not your alms before men to be seen of them. This commandment tendeth to this end, to teach men how to avoid the unlawful manner of giving alms; for a good thing may be done in an ill manner, and usually men offend this way in their good deeds. Now this commandment prescribes a double circumspection in giving alms: first, touching the ground; secondly, touching the end of alms-giving.
1. The ground of our alms must not be the pride of our hearts. This Christ forewarns us of, if we look it should be good and acceptable in the sight of God. This is a point of great importance, and therefore for the better observing of it, I will here shew two points: (1) What this pride is; (2) Why it must be so carefully avoided in our alms-deeds.
(1) By pride I mean not outward pride in apparel, but that which is inward in the soul, consisting partly in the mind, and partly in the will and affections. Pride of mind is a corrupt disposition thereof, whereby a man thinks himself to be better and more excellent than indeed he is. This was the sin of the Pharisee, who boasted unto God of his own goodness (Luke 18:11,12). And hence it came that the church of Laodicea (Rev. 3:17) glorified herself saying, I am rich and increased in wealth and lack nothing; whenas indeed she was poor and blind and miserable and naked. This conceit is most dangerous, especially in the point of grace, causing many to deceive their own souls by thinking they have grace when they have none, and overweening that which they have. Pride in will is an inward affection, whereby a man is not contented with that estate wherein God hath placed him, but desires a better. This befell Adam and Eve (Gen. 3), who sought to be like unto God Himself; and this taketh hold of most men in every age. Now from these two proceedeth that practice of pride in manŐs life, whereby he endeavours to do whatsoever he can for his own praise and glory. This pride is not in some few persons alone, but in every man naturally that comes of Adam, Christ Jesus only excepted. And where it takes place it is so strong, that it will not be crossed; for rather than a man will not have his will in this, he will commit any sin. This caused Absalom to banish his father out of his own kingdom; and Ahithophel to hang himself, when his counsel was refused; and some popes (as histories make mention) to bequeath their souls unto the devil for the obtaining of the popedom. And this is that inward corruption which Christ here forbids to be the ground of our alms-deeds.
(2) Secondly, the reasons why this inward pride must be carefully avoided, are these two: First, because whatsoever outward good work the child of God can do by grace, the same may a wicked man do through pride; as conceive a prayer, preach the Word, and practise the outward duties of repentance, of love, and such like; for pride is a sin that will counterfeit grace, and man cannot discern it, but God only. Secondly, many other sins prevail in the wicked, but pride is the sin that troubleth the children of God; and when other sins die, then will pride revive; yea, it will arise out of grace itself; for the child of God will be proud, because he is not proud; therefore Paul (2 Cor. 12:7) must be buffeted by the messenger of Satan, lest he should be puffed up with abundance of revelations.
Now the way to avoid this dangerous sin stands in two things: First, we must be careful to know the pride of our own heart, for every man hath it in him more or less, and the more we see it, the less it is; but the less we see it, the more it is in us indeed; and though we know nothing by ourselves, yet let us suspect ourselves hereof, and labour to see it in our hearts; for he that is most humbled, is not altogether free from this inward pride. Secondly, when we see our pride, we must labour to subdue it; which we shall do, first, by considering the judgments of God upon this sin. Were not our first parents cast out of Paradise when they would needs be as gods? And Herod was eaten up of worms when he took unto himself the glory due unto God (Acts 12:23). Therefore Peter saith (1 Pet. 5:5) God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble. A man that would beg an alms, must not go in proud apparel; and so he that would procure the favour of God, must not come with a proud heart. Secondly, we must search into ourselves, and labour to see our own wants and corruptions, as our blindness of mind and ignorance, our unbelief etc., and the sight of our sins will be a means to humble us; for they that feel no wants in themselves, cannot choose but be puffed up. Thirdly, we must meditate upon the death and passion of Christ, which He endured for our redemption; how He sweat water and blood, and suffered the wrath of God both in soul and body for our sins. Now how can a man think that Christ endured all this for him, and yet be not cast down with the sight of his own sins, which had a part in the cause of all the curse that caused Christ to cry, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?
2. The second branch of circumspection in alms-giving here commanded, respects the end thereof: We must not give alms to be seen of men; that is, to get praise and fame among men. This caveat Christ gives for a weighty cause; for the corruption of manŐs nature through the instigation of the devil, causeth everyone almost to do all good works for wrong ends. Why do many men toil themselves so much in their ordinary callings? Is it not partly for honour, partly for pleasure, partly for profit? And do not the most men propound this end to themselves herein, to maintain their families? But though this be a good and commendable thing, yet neither that, nor the rest, are the right ends for which man should labour and travail. The right end of all, is the glory of God in manŐs good, or the good of man in GodŐs glory. Now when our good works proceed from an humble heart, which sincerely intends the glory of God in manŐs good, then is the work pleasing unto God. Other ends or beginnings do profane menŐs labours; and therefore Christ giveth this caveat, to look both to the beginning, and the end of our alms-deeds.
Thus much of the commandment. The reason of it is this: Or else ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven. So the words are, ye have no reward; and they are very significant, importing thus much: If you do your works from an humble heart, for GodŐs glory in manŐs good, then you have a reward laid up for you in heaven; which though it appears not presently, yet it is as sure as if you had it already in possession. But if you do not so, you have no reward laid up for you by your heavenly Father.
From this reason in general we may gather that he which hath grace to do, if it be but one good work (as to give alms) upon a good ground, and for a good end, shall never perish, but shall receive eternal life; which may be a notable motive to provoke every man to do good works; as also it proves that the child of God can never perish or finally fall away; for nothing is lost that is laid up with God.
More particularly, first, observe that the word reward is not taken properly, but by resemblance, thus: like as a labourer after he hath done his work, receiveth his wages; so the child of God having done that which God commandeth him, receiveth a reward. Secondly, it is said of your Father, to signify that this reward is not merited, but is the free gift of a father unto His children. Lastly, Christ saith your Father, speaking to all His hearers, among whom was Judas, whom elsewhere He calls a devil, and others whom He knew to be none of GodŐs children, and yet being here a preacher and minister of circumcision (as the apostle speaketh (Rom. 15:8)) He leaveth the secret judgment unto God, and following the judgments of hope and charity, taketh all His hearers to be the children of God; which is a notable precedent to all GodŐs ministers, for Christ here preaching of love, practiseth it; and so ought His servant do. This also condemneth the practice of those that upon a little falling out will not stick to call others damned wretches, or reprobates. There is no charity in such censures; for love always hopes the best (1 Cor. 13).
ŇTherefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound 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 their reward.Ó (v.2)
Here Christ propoundeth by way of prohibition, a particular example of the corrupt manner of alms-giving, proceeding from pride of heart and ambition, borrowed from the practice of the Scribes and Pharisees; and withal He annexeth in the end of the verse an effectual reason to move men to circumspection about the ground and the end of their alms-deeds.
The original is this: Thou shalt not blow a trumpet before thee; so that our translation doth also expound the words of Christ according to the common rule of divines; that words of fact are oftentimes put for words of speech; which being well observed, will clear many places from false interpretation. God saith to Moses (Exod. 13:2), Sanctify unto me all the firstborn; and to Joshua (Josh 5:2), Make thee sharp knives, and circumcise the sons of Israel; that is, command them to be sanctified and circumcised. (Jer. 1:10) I have set thee over nations and kingdoms (saith God to Jeremiah), to pluck up, to root out, to destroy, and throw down, to build, and to plant; that is, to preach, and by preaching to pronounce that the Lord will do these things. (John 4:1) Christ is said to baptise, that is (as the next verse imports), He commanded His disciples to baptise. And (Acts 10:15), God is said to purify things; that is, He pronounceth things to be pure.
As hypocrites do in the synagogue. The word hypocrite, betokeneth one that takes upon him to represent the person of another as players do, who sometimes represent mighty kings, at other times poor beggars, and to them it properly belongeth. Now by resemblance it is applied to any that outwardly feign themselves to have that goodness and honesty which they have not; for hypocrisy is nothing else but a shew of that goodness outwardly, which indeed is not in the heart. Now in this instance is included a second reason of the former commandment touching the manner of alms-giving, serving to make all ChristŐs hearers circumspect, both for the ground and end of their good works. And the reason stands thus: That which hypocrites do, you must not do. But they do their alms to be praised of men, as is plain in this example. And therefore you are not to give alms to be seen and praised of men.
Out of this example we may learn these instructions:
1. First, that it is the property of an hypocrite to do good works for false ends, as to be seen of men, and to be praised of men. For indeed an hypocrite in his heart makes choice not of God, but of men to be the judges and approvers of his good works. And this is gross hypocrisy, because hereby the honour due to God is taken from him and given to men, for God ought to be the judge and approver of all our actions.
Now as Christ lays this sin upon the Scribes and Pharisees, so ought every one of us to lay it on ourselves, considering ourselves as we are by nature out of Christ; for so we make not God, but men the judges and approvers of our actions. This will hereby appear evidently, for when we do a good thing, and yet thereby incur the dispraise of men, are we not more grieved thereat, than when by sin we offend God Himself? Which could not be, but that our hearts do more respect the censure of men, than of the Lord. And to clear this point yet further, consider this: that the root of hypocrisy and of atheism is in our nature, whereby naturally we do these three things: we love, fear and trust in men more than in God, and therefore do make men the judges of our actions.
(1) For love; are we not grieved when we ourselves or our friends are dishonoured; and on the contrary, when we ourselves or our friends are praised, are we not glad and rejoice? But when God is dishonoured, who is grieved? Or whose heart doth leap for joy when God is glorified? Which argues plainly that our affection of love is more inclined towards ourselves and to our friends than unto God.
(2) For fear; are not most men more afraid when they offend a mortal man like themselves, than when they offend the ever-living God?
(3) For trust and confidence in time of affliction; most men are more comforted if some friend promise them help than they are by all the promises of God Himself in the Word. But men will say that they love and fear and trust in God above all. This indeed is the ordinary profession of ignorant people; but the truth is that by nature we refuse God to be our judge and our approver, and appeal unto them. And therefore we must labour to see and feel, and to bewail this hypocrisy, and to be endued with the contrary grace whereby we may simply and sincerely seek to be approved of God in all our actions.
2. Secondly, in this example, note one evident cause of the disorder which was among the Jews in respect of their poor; for they begged in the highways, in the streets of the cities, and gates of the temple, flat against GodŐs commandment, who would not have such a beggar in Israel. Other occasions there were of this abuse, but one principal cause is here noted; namely, that private persons were permitted to give their private alms unto the poor with their own hands in public places. This was a great disorder, and the cause of many beggars; for private men could not discern the particular wants of all that begged so; and therefore God had otherwise provided for them in the Old Testament, as He sheweth before. And in the New Testament there were chosen faithful men called deacons in every congregation, who were to look unto their poor, to collect for them, and to distribute to everyone according to their necessity. It is not unlawful for a private man to give alms in public place if need require; but where the poor are no otherwise provided for than by such private relief, it is a great disorder; like as it is in a family, where the children and servants know not where and when to have their dinners; for the poor are GodŐs children in His family, and ought to be provided for in better sort than by such private relief; and therefore when good order is wanting for provision for the poor, it ought in conscience to be begun, and where it is begun, men must carefully maintain and continue the same.
3. Thirdly, in this example of a corrupt manner of alms-giving, see the concurrence of sundry sins. First, here is noted hypocrisy, which were enough to condemn a man; but yet with this there goes ambition, and with both, an open contempt and breach of good order in providing for the poor; which shews evidently that no sin goes alone, but ordinarily hath its companions; for sins are so enfolded one in another, that he which commits one, is not free from any other. This may plainly be shewed by many examples. In AdamŐs sin there was the breach of the whole law in every commandment, either directly or by consequence; for he shewed evident want of love to God, in believing Satan more than God; therein he chose Satan, and took GodŐs name in vain; he shewed also evident want of brotherly love, for hereby he became a murderer not only of himself, but of all his posterity; and thus do sins concur in every wicked action, in which regard it may be said with James (Jam. 2:10), He which faileth in one commandment, is guilty of all; which must admonish us to make conscience of every sin; for we cannot live in any one, but we must needs run into many others.
Verily I say unto you, they have their reward. These words contain the reason of the former prohibition, wherein we may see the vanity of this giving of alms; for the praise of men is all their reward; they have none with God, as we shewed in the former verse.