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approbation of a dying worm. This is the meaning of the caution.
Secondly. We are also to guard against giving an ostentatious notoriety to deeds of piety and beneficence. “ Do not sound a trumpet before thee as the hypocrites do, in the synagogues and in the streets.” The “ synagogues” may mean any public assembly, ecclesiastical or civil; but the probability is, that it here refers to the former, and that the Scribes and Pharisees carried their pompous pride so far, as to publish both their devotions and their donations in the temple by the blowing of a trumpet. It was a common custom in the East to convene the poor by the sound of such an instrument, whenever the nobles assembled in their national conventions, to deliberate on state affairs : and it is natural to suppose that the Jews learnt the custom from them, and used it on religious occasions. In the former case it might have been not only commendable, but necessary, thus to apprise their dependents that the council was about to sit, and that they should, therefore, come to receive the usual distribution ;—but, in the latter case, it was consummate hypocrisy; for surely they could have dispensed their gifts at their own door, and not have made a display of their liberality, under pretence of greater piety. Had they been truly charitable, they would have made no proclamation of their charity. “It is the shallow stream that cannot flow,-it is the empty vessel that cannot be touched without telling it.”* For this reason our Lord calls them “ hypocrites,” stage-players, as the word signifies; men who exhibit an assumed character to obtain “ glory" of others. And, inasmuch as it was common for persons of affluence among the eastern nations, to furnish those whom they relieved with a trumpet, which they were commanded to blow " in the streets" before their benefactors, whenever they went abroad, in honour of their munificence, it is by no means improbable that these “hypocrites” followed the same method of causing their bounty to be proclaimed ; and that they confined it very much to such miserable spirits as would submit to the degradation. Take heed,” my brethren, of this dangerous snare—the admiration of your fellow-creatures. Carefully guard against every thing like a display of your religious fervours, and charitable doings, for the sake of such a fluctuating, worthless, pernicious, and dangerous bauble. The man who allows himself to be moved by its influence, may insensibly become the victim of folly, envy, deceit, flattery, low cunning, and the most detestable hypocrisy. Suspect, therefore, even your best motives on this point; resist the love of earthly praise, in lesser as well as in greater things, and “ study to show yourselves approved of God” in every transaction of your hands. There is danger of our being seduced by this delusive evil before we are aware. Then let us pray, “Hold thou me up, and I shall be safe; and I will have respect unto thy statutes continually."*
III. THE MANNER IN WHICH DEEDS OF RIGHTEOUSNESS AND CHARITY ARE TO BE PERFORMED.
“ Let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: that thine alms may be in secret.” In this direction, our Lord probably alludes to the secret chamber attached to the temple, in which stood a chest, called by a Hebrew name, which signifies the chest of justice, into which charitable contributions were put for the relief of the poor, especially for the support of the needy children of pious men. In process of time, instead of this apart
Psalm cxix. 117.
ment being private, it became the most public place of the sanctuary, through which the people passed to the inner court to their devotions. Thus we read, that our Lord “sat over against the treasury, and saw the people casting in their money.”* And as the Jews were accustomed to deposit their offerings before they made their supplication to God, our Lord gives directions as to the right manner of their performance, before he mentions that holy exercise of the soul.
But what is the spirit of this precept—" let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth ?" Surely it cannot mean that we are never to allow others to know that we give any thing to the calls of charity or the cause of Christ? The expression is proverbial, and teaches us, that we are rather to conceal than publish our deeds of mercy, and that we are to observe the utmost modesty in their discharge,-concealing, if it were possible, even from ourselves, as well as others, the amount of our conscientious and willing benefactions. This is done, when we exclude all inferior considerations of what others give, or what may be expected of us from our station in society, and act from a cheerful respect to divine precepts. Thus saith David, • Thou hast commanded us to keep thy precepts diligently.”+ Seen or unseen, applauded or condemned by the world, we have one plain duty to perform, and one Divine Master to obey, and no earthly circumstances whatever are to turn us aside from this course. It is enough to know, that we are required to observe it by an authority which it will be at our peril to despise : and, therefore, no worldly calculations, of any description, are to be suffered to over-rule it. We must also aim at the advancement of the honour of God. This will be in accordance with the injunction in the preceding chapter,
“ Let your light so shine before men, that others seeing your good works may glorify your Father which is in heaven.” And also with the precepts of St. Paul to Christian servants, that by showing all honesty, courtesy, and fidelity, “ they may adorn the doctrine of God their Saviour in all things."* This was the end they were to have in view—they were to be “ zealous of good works for the necessary purpose" of recommending the faith they professed to the favourable consideration of their heathen masters. And no one fulfils the design of his redemption who does not endeavour to promote his cause. are bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's.”+ Moreover, we exemplify this direction when we act from Christian compassion and fellowship towards the poorer saints, as members “ of the household of faith.” While we are “ to love our enemies, and do good to them that despitefully use us and persecute us,” we are yet allowed a preference as to the principal objects of our warmest beneficence. Thus speaks our Lord, “ Whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward." And thus an apostle directs us: As we have therefore opportunity let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith."$ But, finally, to follow this direction, we must depend on divine assistance, and ascribe the praise of all to Him who enables us to live in any measure to bis glory. We have two eminent illustrations of this in the Acts of the Apostles. Peter and John having healed a cripple, who had been lame from his birth, and who was laid as a pauper daily at the “ Beautiful gate of the temple, for alms—the people ran together unto them in
- For ye
* Titus ii. 10.
+ 1 Cor. vi. 20.
Matt. x. 12.
Gal. vi. 10.
the porch that is called Solomon's, greatly wondering. And when Peter saw, it, he answered unto the people, Ye men of Israel, why marvel ye at this? or why look ye so earnestly on us, as though by our own power or holiness we had made this man to walk ? The God of Abraham and of Isaac and of Jacob, the God of our fathers, hath glorified his Son Jesus; and his name through faith in his name hath made this man strong, whom ye see and know: yea, the faith which is by him hath given him this perfect soundness in the presence of you all.”* The other case to which I refer you, is recorded in the fourteenth chapter of the same book, and occurred at Lystra, a city of Lycaonia, on occasion of Paul and Barnabas having also healed a cripple. Let us, therefore, like these honoured men, renounce all the praise, and give the glory to God for every religious duty his grace enables us to perform. Then shall we substantially follow the admirable counsel which we have in our text.
IV. THE ARGUMENT STATED BY OUR LORD.
It comprises two points. The first is the unprofitableness of human applause,-and the other, the advantage of performing Christian duties from right principles, and in a proper manner. Observe, therefore,
First. The futility of ostentatious displays of piety. It is twice mentioned in the words before us: at one time, as being fruitless before God—“ otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven;" at another, as obtaining, indeed, what they seek—but with a most significant intimation, that when they have their desire they are still miserable losers: “ Verily I say unto you, they have their reward.” A poor compensation, indeed, for all the toil, anxiety, and pain, which they have under
* See Chap. iii.