ŇBut when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.Ó Matthew 6:3,4

 

 

II.

ŇBut when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doethÓ (v.3)

 

These words contain ChristŐs second commandment touching the manner of alms-giving, with the reason thereof. The commandment is in the third verse, and it beareth this sense; that if the left hand could understand, yet it should not know what our right hand gave; and therefore much more must we conceal the same from men. Yet here Christ forbids not all giving of alms in open place, or in the sight of men, but his meaning is to restrain the ambition of the heart after the praise of men. The giver must not intend or desire that men should see him give alms, that they might praise him; but his heart must simply and sincerely seek to approve itself unto God. This will appear to be the right meaning of our Saviour Christ, by comparing this verse with the first; for here Christ reneweth the commandment there given, and forbiddeth the corrupt desire of the heart after vain glory in the giving of alms.

 

Now for our better understanding of this commandment, first, we will shew what is here forbidden; and secondly, what is commanded. Here are two things forbidden: first, all desire or intention of menŐs beholding us when we give out alms; and secondly, all respect and intent to please ourselves in alms-giving; for the left hand must not know what the right hand giveth. The thing here commanded is this; that he which gives alms must do it simply, intending and desiring only to please God and to approve his work unto God without all by-respects of menŐs praise or approbation.

 

1. Here then first is condemned the doctrine of the church of Rome, which teacheth men to do good works, with opinion of meriting life everlasting thereby at the hands of God; for that is far more than to do them for this end to get praise of men, which yet is here forbidden; and therefore the other must needs be abominable.

 

2. Secondly, seeing in our well-doing we must simply intend to approve ourselves unto God, it shall not be amiss here to shew how we may so do our good works that God may approve thereof. Hereunto four things are required: faith, love, humility and sincerity or simplicity.

 

(1) For the first, in every good work there must be a twofold faith: justifying faith and a general faith. Justifying faith, whereby the person doing the work must be reconciled to God, and stand before God a true member of Christ; for of this it is said (Heb. 11:6), Without faith it is impossible to please God. And Christ saith (John 15:2,5), Every branch that beareth not fruit in me, the Father taketh away; and without me ye can do nothing; where it is plain that whosoever would do a work acceptable to God, must first be in Christ; and the reason is evident; for first the person working must be acceptable to God before his works can be approved. But no manŐs person is approved of God before we be in Christ; and therefore justifying faith, whereby we are united to Christ, is chiefly necessary. By general faith, I mean that whereby a man believes that the work he doth is pleasing to God Hereof Paul  saith (Rom. 14:23), Whatsoever is not of faith is sin. A work may be good in itself, and yet sinful in the doer, if he want this general faith. Now unto this are two things required: first, a word of God commanding the work, and prescribing the manner of doing it; secondly, a promise of blessing upon the doing of it; for every good work hath its promise, both of the things in this life, and of a better. These things must be known and believed. Upon these grounds we must pray, give alms, and do every good work, and so shall they be approved of God. Now by this double faith required in every good work, we see how those that are bound to practise good works (as everyone is more or less) ought to labour to be acquainted with the Word of God, that they may do their works in faith; for else, though the work be good, it may be sin in them because it is not of faith; which is the miserable state of ignorant persons, who through want of faith cannot do good works in a good manner.

 

(2) The second thing required in the doing of a good work is love; love (I say) joined with faith; for faith worketh by love (Gal. 5:6). Indeed faith doth some things of itself; as apprehend, receive and apply Christ and His righteousness to the believer, which is the proper work of faith; but other things it doth by the help of another; and so faith brings forth the works of mercy, and performeth the duties of the first and second tables; not properly by itself, but by the help of love; and therefore here I say that in every good work is required that love whereby faith worketh. Now the kinds of love required in well-doing are two: first, the love of God in Christ; for as we know God in Christ, so must we love Him; secondly, the love of our brethren, yea of our enemies; for howsoever in our understanding these two may be distinguished, yet in practice they must never be severed; but must always go hand in hand, to move us to do the works of mercy, and all the duties of our calling; as Paul saith of himself (2 Cor. 5:14), and the rest of the apostles, The love of God constraineth us to preach the gospel.

 

(3) The third thing required in doing a good work well is humility, whereby a man esteemeth himself to be but a voluntary and reasonable instrument of God therein. This virtue will make a man give the honour of the work to the principal agent, that is, to God Himself, who worketh in us both to will and to do of His good pleasure (Phil. 2:13).

 

(4) The fourth thing required in well-doing is simplicity or singleness of heart; whereby a man in doing a good work, intendeth simply and directly to honour and please God, without all by-respects to his own praise, or the pleasing of men. This is a special virtue directing a man to the right end in every good work, which is the obedience and honour of God in manŐs good. This virtue was in Paul (2 Cor. 1:12), who in simplicity and godly pureness, had his conversation in the world. Thus he preached the gospel; and so ought we to do every good work. Now that this sincerity may shew itself, we must take heed of a special vice which is contrary unto it, namely, the guile of the spirit, mentioned (Psa. 32:2); which maketh a man intend and propound false ends and by-regards in doing good works; as his own praise and delight, and to please men thereby. And that we may avoid this spiritual guile, we are to know that it may and doth usually prevail with men in four cases:

 

(i) When those do practise virtue in whom God only restrains the contrary vice. Thus civil honest men that have no religion may practise justice, temperance, mercy and other moral virtues, because they are not inclined to injustice, intemperance and the contrary vices. But these actions in them are no good works before God, because they proceed not from sanctified hearts, sincerely intending to obey and glorify God hereby.

 

(ii) When men do good works for fear of avoiding justice and the penalties of menŐs laws; and such for the most part is the repentance of the sick. I grant indeed that some do truly repent in this estate, but commonly such repentance is unsound, and proceedeth not from a single heart, but from fear; whereby, being under GodŐs hand, they seek to avoid His judgment. Such also are the outward duties of religion performed by our common Protestants, who come to church and receive the sacraments chiefly for customŐs sake and to avoid the dangers of menŐs laws.

 

(iii) When men do good works for the honour and praise of men. This is a dangerous thing. Upon this ground a man may preach the Word, use prayer, and profess the gospel; yea, and be zealous for GodŐs glory as Jehu was. And hence it comes that many fall away to looseness of life from a strict profession of religion, because they received not the truth in simplicity of heart, with purpose only to obey and please God, but rather to get the praise of men.

 

(iv) When men do good works from some corruption of heart prevailing in them; as when a man is both proud and covetous, yet more proud than covetous. Covetousness bids him not to give to the poor; but yet pride desiring the praise of men prevailing in him, causeth him to give to the poor. And so, when covetousness prevails in a proud man, it will cause him to abstain from riot and proud apparel, which yet his pride would persuade him unto. In all these cases, spiritual guile corrupts the work that otherwise is good in itself; and therefore we must have a watchful eye unto singleness of heart in our well-doing and to the rest of the virtues before-named, that so we may be able to say with good conscience that our works are such as God approveth.

 

 

ŇThat thine alms may be secret, and thy Father that seeth in secret, He will reward the openlyÓ (v.4)

 

Here is the reason whereby Christ enforceth the former commandment; and it hath two parts; the first is drawn from a special property in God, to see in secret; the second is from His bounty, in rewarding openly.

 

1. For the first, the words are thus in the original, And thy Father which is a seer in secret; for the word there used signifieth  a discerning seer; whereby Christ would teach us that God sees and beholds things that no man can see, even the secret thoughts and desires of manŐs heart.

 

Hence we must learn three things: (1) To examine ourselves strictly not only of our gross and open sins, which all the world may see; but also of our most inward and hidden corruptions; and when we cannot see them, yet we must suspect ourselves of our secret wants; for though men know them not, no nor we ourselves, yet God the secret seer beholdeth them. (2) Never to hide our sins within ourselves, but freely to lay them open before God to our own shame, yea, to confess our unknown sins. We must not like Adam, sew fig leaves together to cover our nakedness, or flee from God thinking to hide ourselves from His sight. (3) To be careful not only to do good works, but also to do them in an holy manner, from good grounds, and to a right end; for God seeth secrets, and will not be shifted off with false shews. David saith (Psa. 119:168), I have kept thy precepts and thy testimonies, because all my ways are before thee. And the rather must we be moved hereunto, because God knowing what is in manŐs heart, doth oftentimes prove men with temptations that He may discover the guile of their hearts; and therefore that we may escape the judgments of God due unto hypocrisy, we must labour to do all good duties in singleness of heart.

 

2. The second reason drawn from GodŐs bounty unto them that in singleness of heart do good works, is in these words: He will reward thee openly; wherein He preventeth this objection which some of His hearers might make against His former precept: If I may not do good works to be seen of men, then shall I lose my labour. Christ answers, Not so; for God the Father will reward thee openly, if thou do good from a single heart, only respecting the praise and honour of God in manŐs good. If it be asked how this can stand with that saying of Christ (John 5:22), that the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment to the Son; I answer, that in regard of deliberation, of authority, and consent, the last judgment shall be executed by the whole Trinity; but yet in regard of immediate execution, the Father judgeth not, but Christ only; for He alone giveth the sentence both of absolution and condemnation.

 

The second reason teacheth us sundry things concerning praise:

 

(1) First, that God Himself is the sole author of true praise. Paul saith (2 Cor. 10:18), He which praiseth himself is not allowed, but whom the Lord praiseth; where He compareth the world to a theatre wherein men are actors and men and angels be spectators. But God alone is the judge, who giveth praise and good name to everyone that deserveth it, not only in this life, but in the world to come; in regard whereof, we must endeavour ourselves so to do all our good works, that God Himself may approve thereof. To seek the praise of men is a fond thing, seeing that not man, but God, is the author of true praise. Yea, this must teach us not to depend upon man for praise and commendation for the good things we do, but upon God Himself, from whom all praise cometh.

 

(2) Secondly, that God as He is a Father, is the sole author of praise, for Christ saith, your Father will reward you. Now God is our Father only in Christ, and therefore our union with Christ is the ground of all true praise. He is a true Israelite (saith Paul, Rom. 2:29) which is one within, and the circumcision is of the heart, in the spirit, not in the letter, whose praise is not of men but of God. This then discovereth the error of the world in seeking praise and reputation; for some seek it in the comeliness of their body, some in apparel and some in  learning, etc., but all these are wrong means; the right way to get true praise is to be in Christ, and to have an humble and sanctified heart, set purposely to keep GodŐs commandments. (Psa. 119:22), David prayed God to remove from him shame and contempt, because he kept GodŐs testimonies; as though the keeping of GodŐs commandments had been the only means to avoid contempt, and to procure true praise and fame.

 

(3) Thirdly, that the life to come is the only time of true praise, for Christ here saith, He shall reward thee openly; that is, in the last day. (1 Cor. 4:5), When the Lord shall come, then shall everyone have praise of God. This must teach us not to care for the contempt of the world which followeth our profession, so that our conversation be godly; but to rest patiently contented, because it is the lot and portion of GodŐs children, and our sins deserve greater reproach, always remembering that the time of our praise is yet to come. Yea, hence we must learn not to aim at our own praise, in things of this life, but wholly to seek the glory of God in all things; for if we seek His glory now, the time will come when He will glorify us.

 

(4) Fourthly, that the praise that God shall give His children in the end of the world, shall be open and manifest, before all men and angels, both good and bad, when they shall stand to be judged by Jesus Christ; and this is true praise which shall never have end, whereunto the praise of men is not comparable. We count highly of applause and reputation with earthly princes, and all men honour him whom the prince commends; how much more then shall they be advanced, whom God Himself should vouchsafe to praise and commend.