Page images
PDF
EPUB

3. Christ condemns the Jews for confining their benevolence to their own nation; and Christians are equally or more worthy of censure, if they confine their good ottices to members of their own community, and do not extend them to heathens and Jews. But how little the precepts of Christ on this head are regarded, the continent of Africa, the islands of the west, and every part of the globe can testify. I cannot help mentioning one particular instance in which this law is grossly violated by us, towards nations who possess the same nature with ourselves, in the same degree of perfection, and differ from us only in colour, in religion and in manners. On account of these differences we think oursclves authorized to treat them like brutes, and, because we regard them as savages, to act the part of savages towards them. We pay them to wage perpetual war with each other, that we may have the diabolical satisfaction of reaping the fruits of their dissensions: we subject them to a cruel and everlasting bondage in a foreign land; and, that they may be transported thither at the cheapest price, we thrust them into a dungeon, in which we know that many thousands of them must annually perish. Could publicans and sinners, could murderers and assassins do worse? Yet we pretend that we have no share in producing these calamities; they are all to be attributed to those whom we have hired; they are necessary to procure for us, in the cheapest method, luxuries which we can easily do without, and which we ought certainly never to taste any more, if they can be obtained in no other way.

Let us not call ourselves Christians when, instead of performing acts of kindness to strangers, we do them the greatest injuries: let us not pretend to humanity while we encourage men to sell or to murder one another. Let every one lift up his voice against measures which are so disgraceful to a nation of Christians, and so inconsistent with the rights of human nature: les every one publicly condemn them, that the guilt of them may lie only upon the heads of those who have it in their power to suppress them, but refuse to do it.

Matthew vi. 1----8. 1. Take heed that ye do not your alms, rather, your righteous deeds," for so the best copies read the passage, before imen, to be seen of them; otherwise ye have no reward of, or, “ with,your Father which is in heaven.

In the preceding chapter Christ has been employed in correcting some corrupt interpretations of the law, which had been made by the Scribes and Pharisees; here he proceeds to point out some blemishes in their conduct, for which they could find no kind of countenance in the law. These blemishes relate to their almsgiving, their praying and their fasting, which are all included under the name “righteous deeds." Christ begins with a general caution to his disciples upon these duties, that they should not perform any of them merely with a view to obtain the praises or the favour of men; for that in that case they would obtain no reward from God in heaven, who could not approve of actions founded on no better motives.

2. 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.

Vain and ostentatious as the Scribes and Pharisees were, they did not literally sound a trumpet before them, when they were ready to bestow alms; but this

is a figurative and proverbial expression, founded upon the customs of the Jews and other eastern nations; for as the people were called together to their public assemblies by the sound of the trumpet, Christ, when he prohibits his disciples from sounding a trumpet, forbids them to seek men to be witnesses of their good deeds. The Pharisees, by performing them in public, in large assemblies of the people, or in the streets, shewed that their object was to obtain applause from men; nor would they be disappointed of their purpose; they would obtain the empty and useless praises of men; but they would not secure the favour and approbation of God, which was the only thing worth having.

3. But, when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doth.

This is another proverbial expression, signifying the greatest secrecy, and is opposed to sounding the trumpet. As if he had said: When you give alms, let no one know what you do, not even those who are most intimately acquainted with you: be ignorant of it yourselves, if possible, or forget it as soon as you can.

We are not to suppose, however, that Christ means hereby to prohibit all public charity; for this is frequently necessary to set before others a good example; nor is it possible, in many cases, to do good effectually without doing it publicly: but wherever men feel themselves inclined to ostentation in performing public acts of beneficence, or can accomplish the relief of the indigent or distressed in secret as well as in public, let them bestow their charity in this manner. Serve your brethren, in whatever way it may be in your power; but endeavour to do it in secret, if you can; that your good actions may not be polluted by a desire of human applause.

4. That thine alms may be in secret, and thy Father, which seeth in secret, himself shall reward thee openly..

Christ here intimates to us what should be the motive by which we are governed, in performing acts of charity----a regard to the will of God, a desire of his favour and approbation. If we are influenced by this principle, we shall find a sufficient inducement to do good in secret; for although we are removed from the observation of men, and cannot expect their praises or rewards, yet the Being whom we seek to please, sees what we do in private, and will not fail to reward it in the most public manner at the last day. Accorda ingly we find that the judge is represented, Matt. xxv. S1. as rewarding the righteous with eternal life, in a great measure, on account of their acts of beneficence and charity. “I was hungry, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in," &c.

5. And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray, standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men: verily I say unto you, they have their reward.

The affectation here censured did not consist in praying standing; for this was the ordinary posture of the Jews in prayer: thus we find, Neh. ix, 5, they are called upon to stand up and bless God; and it was only on occasion of extraordinary humiliation that they feil upon their knees, or prostrated themselves upon the ground. But it was individuals' offering up their private prayers in the streets and the synagogues, that they might be heard and seen of men, which he condemned. This is such an instance of ostentation of devotion as we could hardly believe any people would practise in the present day, had we not so recent an example of the same conduct in the members of the church of Rome. Such ostentatious worshippers of God have their true character, when they are called hypocrites; the applausc which they seek from men is

all that they must expect; the favour of God, which they despise and do not think worth seeking for, they must not hope to enjoy.

6. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, 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.

Christ is here speaking of prayers offered up for the benefit of individuals, and not of those which are offered up by a society of persons: his language therefore must not be interpreted as a prohibition of such united supplications. On another occasion he supposes that his disciples would assemble for religious worship, and has encouraged them to do it, although they should be few in number, by promising them the presence and blessing of God. Matt. xviii. 19. “Wherever two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them, to bless them.” The reason why the prayers of individuals, offered to God in the presence of our fellow creatures, and with a view to please them, are not acceptable to the Divine Being, is obvious: they are destitute of every principle which can recommend them to him; they are not founded upon love, gratitude or reverence towards him; they are a homage paid to men, and not to him to whom they are pretended to be offered.

7. But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathens do; for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking . We are not here forbidden to prolong our prayers, when we shall see occasion for it: for we find that Christ and his apostles did so; nor to repeat sometimes that which we earnestly desire; for Christ did so in

« PreviousContinue »