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say unto you, they have their reward. But 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
In the same manner with regard to prayer; the rule is, “ Whien 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. But thou, 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 t." · Lastly, a similar precaution applies also to the act of fasting; “ When ye fast, be not as the hypocrites of a sad countenance, for they disfigure their faces that they may appear unto men to fast; verily I say unto you they have their reward. But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thy head and wash thy face, that thou appear not untó men to fast, but unto
thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly*.”
In all these passages the point to be noticed is a strong and marked disapprobation of every thing that looks like ostentation, parade, vain-glory, insincerity, or hypocrisy, in the discharge of our Christian duties. They show in the clearest light the spirit and temper of the Christian religion, which is modest, silent, retired, quiet, unobtrusive, shunning the observation and the applause of men, and looking only to the approbation of him who seeth every thought of our hearts, and every secret motive of our actions. .
They establish this as the grand principle of action for every disciple of Christ, that in every part of his moral and religious conduct he is to have no other object in view but the favour of God. This is the motive from which all his virtues are to flow, If he is actuated by any other; if he courts the applause of the world, or is ambitious to acquire, by a show of piety, a character of sanctity among men, he may perhaps gain his point; but it is
. * Matth. vi. 16–18.
all he will gain. He will have bis reward here ; he must expect none hereafter.
Having made this general observation upon the whole, I shall now proceed to remark on the particular instances adduced, in order to establish the leading principle.
And first, we are directed to give our alms so privately, that (as our Lord most emphatically and elegantly expresses it) “ our left hand shall not know what our right hand doeth.” This evidently implies the utmost secresy in the distribution of our charity; and this is undoubtedly the rule we are in general to observe. But it is by no means to be inferred from hence that we are never, on any occasion, to give our alms in public. In some cases, publicity is so far from being culpable, that it is necessary, useful, and laudable. In contributing, for instance, to any public charity, or to the relief of some great calamity, private or public, we cannot well conceal our beneficence, or if we could we ought not. Our example may induce many others to exert a similar generosity; and besides this there are persons in certain situations who are expected to be charitable, and who should give proofs to
the world that they are so. And accordingly in these and in such like cases we are required to make our “light so shine before men, that they may see our good works, and glorify our Father which is in heaven *,” As far therefore as the reason of this command goes, it is not only allowable, but our duty, to let our generous deeds be sometimes known to the world. But then we ought to take especial care at the same time that we bestow a much larger proportion of our alms in secresy and in silence; that we suffer no one to witness our beneficence but Him who must see every thing we do, and that we have no other object whatever in view but his approbation, and his immortal rewards.
The next instance adduced to confirm the general principle of seeking the approbation not of men but of God, is that of prayer.
“ 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 mens verily I say unto you, they have their reward. But thou when thou prayest, enter into thy * Matth. v. 16.
closet, closet, andwhen thou hastshut the door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.”
This passage has been made use of by some writers as an argument against all public prayer, which they say is here plainly prohibited. But for this there is not the smallest. foundation. It is of private prayer cnly that our Lord is here speaking; and the hypocrites whom he condemns were those ostentatious Jews who performed those devotions which ought to have been confined to the closet, in the synagogues, and even in the public streets, that they might be noticed and applauded for their extraordinary piety and sanctity. But this reproof could not possibly mean to extend to public devotions in places of worship. This is evident from the corners of streets being mentioned; for those are places in wbich public devotions are never performed. But besides this, we find in Scripture that public worship is enjoined as a duty of the highest importance. It made a considerable part of the Jewish religion, and the Mosaic law is filled with precepts and directions concerning it. God declares by the