Page images
PDF
EPUB

vice: he has therefore bound us to perform it by the strongest possible tie, the hope of receiving mercy from God. When our hearts therefore revolt against it, let us remember how much we shall lose by yielding to the corrupt dictates of nature; that if we cannot forgive, we cannot be forgiven. While we think and speak of human crimes with indignation and abhorrence, let us beware lest resentment for personal injuries mix itself with our passions, and bring upon us the guilt of malevolence.

3. We see hence the importance of prayer. Christ condescends to teach us to pray: he shews us what we ought to ask for, and what we may reasonably expect to receive. A duty which he shews so much concern that we perform well, cannot be a matter of little consequence; how inexcusable then are those who neglect prayer, after Christ has given them such plain directions in what manner they may conduct this service with propriety and efficacy! They omit that which they must know is expected and required from them, and which they know how to perforin acceptably, if they please. Let those however who pray, take care that they do not rest in prayer alone, as if they had discharged the whole of their duty; let them not imagine that by repeating, frequently and regularly, this or any other prayer, their work is done: it is only the means which God has appointed for begetting and strengthening devout affections towards himself, and benevolence towards our brethren, and for hereby fitting us for the performance of our duty to both; if prayer produce not these effects it is of no value, but will deceive and ruin us.

4. This prayer shews us to whom our petitions are to be addressed in prayer; not to stupid matter, to stocks and stones, the work of men's hands: not to a saint or an angel or a super-angelic being, but to God the Father only; for the government of the world is in his hands, nor has he given it to another. He alone is always present with us, and acquainted with our desires and wants; it is to him that Christ directs us to make them known: to apply to others is to address ourselves to those who cannot hear or who cannot help us : but this practice may involve us in something worse than oifering fruitless prayers, even in the guilt of idolatry. To praise other beings for mercies which they never bestowed; to ascribe to them excel lencies which they never possessed, and which belong to God alone; to offer to them our supreme affection---is to thrust the Almighty from his throne; to give to others the peculiar prerogative of his nature, and to substitute a creature in his place. Far from us, my brethren, be such conduct, although only inadvertently; for God is jealous of his own honour, and cannot, without offence, behold it given to another. Let us ever keep in mind this fundamental truth of all revcaled religion----that all blessings come from God, and that he alone should be the object of religious worship.

Matthew vi. 16. to the end. . 16. Moreover, when ye fast, be not as the hypocrites, of a sad, “ gloomy," countenance ; for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast: verily I say unto you, they have their reward.

Christ is not here treating of the common fasts of the people, such as that ordained by God about the day of expiation, and three others that were added in times of captivity; but concerning those which any one might impose upon himself in private; whether for certain successive days, without any fixed rule, or upon stated days, such as those which were observed by many of the Pharisees, every Monday and Wednesday; to which those who wished to appear more religious than ordinary, added Tuesday and Friday. .

On these occasions the Pharisees practised great severities, beside abstaining from meat; putting thorns under their clothes to draw blood, and beating their heads against the walls. We are not therefore to be surprised at what our Saviour here says of them, that they disfigured their countenances, that is, assumed a sorrowfulness of countenanee and gesture which quite altered their appearance, and would prevent them from being known by their friends: this method of hunting for the reputation of sanctity he censures; although he does not prohibit fasting in general as unlawful.

17. But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thy head and wash thy face;

Exhibit thy common face and habit; for the Jews, as well as their neighbours, used to wash their faces and anoint their heads, every day, except in seasons of mourning. The practice of daily anointing themselves with perfumed oil, which is so disagreeable to our manners, was necessary to the comfort of life in a country where the heat of the climate produced scents, which could in no other way be counteracted, · 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.

It appears then that fasting has its reward, if performed with a view to promote pious dispositions in the mind, and not to obtain praise from men: the mere act. of abstaining from food has in itself no kind of merit. ' i 19. Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust, “ worm," doth corrupt, rather, destroy

eth," and where thieves break through and steal :

20. But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor worm destroyeth, nor thieves break through and steal.

All that follows to the end of the chapter, is intended to guard men against worldly mindedness, which was the most likely thing to hinder their coming into the kingdom of heaven, or to prevent their continuing in it. Christ seems here to forbid entirely the laying up treasures on earth; whence some have inferred, that Christians ought to collect for themselves nothing beyond the necessaries of life: but he means no more by this language, than that a preference should be given to laying up treasures in heaven, according to the Jewish way of speaking, frequent in the Scripture. Thus it is said that God will have mercy and not sacrifice; meaning that he prefers the one to the other; and, in another place, “ labour not for the bread which peiisheth, but for that which endureth to everlasting life;" that is, not so much for the one as for the other. Let no one however conclude from this explanation, that none are here intended except those who deny themselves the necessaries of life, watch over their hidden treasure with the most anxious solicitude, and pursue gain by unlawful means, by open violence or wicked arts: for it is the love of money which Christ has here in view, and which he wishes to discourage. The argument which he employs for this purpose, is taken from the perishable nature of those objects, in which : the wealth of this world consists, and from the stability of that which he recommends to our pursuit. By treasures in heaven, we are to understand treasures with God in heaven; in the same manner as when it is said that the baptism of John was from heaven, the meaning is, that it was from God. In what these treasures are to consist we may learn from Paul; in

doing good, being rich in good works, ready to distribute, and willing to communicate; for hereby he says that rich men may lay up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come. That acts of beneficence to the poor are to compose a principal part of this treasure, we may learn from our Saviour himself, Luke xviii. 22. “sell all that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven." ;

21. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

The object of Christ, in the preceding verses, was to teach his disciples to form a right judgment of things: in this verse he shews the importànce of forming it; because, as we judge concerning things, so are we affected towards them: what we esteem of great value, we preserve with great care. If we think our happiness consists in riches, the consequence will be that the desire of getting money will obtain a superiority over every other desire: but if we believe true virtue to be solid good, we shall apply all our endeavours to obtain it; for from the judgment of the mind the actions follow. Hence we may infer how solicitous we ought to be to estimate every thing according to its real value: for this purpose we have an understanding given us by our Creator, that, by bringing things to this standard, we may discover their value. Following this guide, the opinions which we have already formed ought to be renounced, if they are found to be false, and none to be admitted but such as, by careful examination, we have ieason to apprehend to be true..

22. The light, or, lamp," of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, ci sound,” thy whole body shall be full of light, rather, will be enlightened :"

« PreviousContinue »